Friday, December 16, 2022

Assabet River - a No Flood Year

With 2022 drawing to a close, this was a year with no recorded floods for the Assabet River. Daily data is generated by an automated gauge located about 150 feet upriver from the Waltham Street bridge. It posts river depth and volume in cubic feet per second (cfs) at The default is to show data for the last seven days, but that can be increased. A minor flood is officially defined at water depth exceeding 5.0 feet, which requires a flow of 1,200 cfs. A moderate flood, 6.0 feet; a major flood 7.0 feet. 

Looking back to 1942, which is when the tracking system was installed, in roughly one in five years, there were no official floods, or conversely, in four out of five years there were one or more floods. 

From the footbridge over the Assabet River, looking toward the Main Street bridge, March 2010

Floods do not necessarily equate with property damage. The Assabet River's transit through Maynard is so channeled that at 5.0 feet, 6.0 feet, or even up to 7.0 feet, parts of backyards are under water, but no buildings or streets are flooded. The tracking system recorded only five instances where the river topped 7.0 feet, the last being mid-March 2010 at 7.14 feet and 2,400 cfs. Records before 1942 add severe flooding in 1927, 1936 and 1938 but without depth or flow data. The on-record largest flood for Maynard was due to Hurricane Diane, August 1955, cresting at 8.94 feet and 4,250 cfs. 

Maynard wastewater discharge

Looking to the future, the long-term trend for eastern Massachusetts has been increasing precipitation overall and stronger storms, so we can expect that at some point in the future either a nor-easter or a hurricane will hit big and wet, and deliver the next severe flood despite the existance of three major and several minor flood control dams on the Assaber River and tributaries.

The summer of this year was an extended drought, lowering river depth at the gauge to 1.0 feet and the flow to under 10 cfs. Most of that volume is from the discharge of wastewater from upriver towns. Wastewater treatment specification mean that the discharged water is cleaner than the river. Maynard's wastewater is discharged at the Maynard:Acton border. In the winter, the warmth of the discharge water keeps an area of the river from freezing. Ducks, geese and swans congregate there. 



Saturday, October 22, 2022

Marble Farm Park, Maynard, MA - Groundbreaking Event

On the morning of October 17th, a modest audience attended a groundbreaking event celebrating the creation of a new town park and historic site. Funding for the project comes from a grant by the Community Preservation Committee, which supports open space and historic preservation efforts. The work, to start this fall, will be done by Belko Landscaping LLC, of Salem, NH.

In the early 1700s, the Marble family moved from Andover to land that is now adjacent to the Assabet River Rail Trail, on the north side of town. The family’s descendants lived there until 1919; the house burned down to the foundation in 1924. In time, the land was seized by the town for non-payment of property taxes.

The location is just north of Rockland Avenue and across from Christmas Motors. The site, approximately two-thirds of an acre, encompasses the basement stone walls of the foundation of the house, two lawns, several stone walls, and an extensive planting of daffodils that began in 2018, courtesy of a project called Trail of Flowers (

From left to right, Natalie Robert (Planning Board), Sam Webb (resident at the nearby Marble Farm Road development), D.J. Chagnon (CBA Landscape Architects), David Mark (Maynard historian and Trail of Flowers founder), John Dwyer and Ellen Duggan (Community Preservation Committee), Paul Boothroyd (Maynard historian and author), and Justine St. John (Select Board member), all posed with a motley collection of shovels and pickaxes.

An initial clearing of the site was performed in the spring of 2009 by Maynard’s Boy Scout Troop 130 as an Eagle Scout project led by Jason Shomacker. Volunteers from ARRT and TOF did some site improvement starting in 2018, including creating the lawns. Going forward, creation of the park will include erecting a steel fence around the foundation, and removal of more than a dozen dead trees, two large brush piles, a deteriorating pump house building and a crumbling brick entranceway. All of these actions address site safety issues.

Initial plan led to bids well over budget, so the project was
reduced to essential for safety, with nice-to-have left to a pos-
sible second proposal to Community Preservation Committee
Gregory Johnson, Maynard Town Administrator, led off the event with a mention that town resident David Mark was instrumental in getting volunteers to do initial site improvements, and then submitting a proposal to the Community Preservation Committee. Select Board member Justine St. John added how this becomes a third town ‘pocket’ park on the Rail Trail, joining Tobin Park by the Assabet River bridge, and Ice House Landing. David Mark spoke to the old and recent history of the site. John Dwyer explained CPC’s involvement of seeing the process through from proposal to accepted bid. D.J. Chagnon from CBA Landscape Architects LLC added a few words about the evolution from initial plan to the formal project description, with its prioritization of site safety. 

A construction start date has not yet been set, but is expected to be early November.

UPDATE: All major construction completed as of mid-January 2023. A sign will be added indicating the name as MARBLE FARM HISTORIC SITE. There may be a dedication cermony coinciding with the peak daffodil bloom. 

Monday, October 17, 2022

Maynard's Historic Fires

There are more than a handful of historic fires that changed Maynard, or at least the architecture of Maynard. These can be roughly divided into businesses and schools. All are well documented in the collection of the Maynard Historical Society, including many photographs.

The paper mill fire was reputed to be arson. At the gunpowder mill, fires caused explosions and explosions caused fires so frequently that the company had its own fire-fighting equipment. A compilation of various records show 24 explosions and 29 fatalities. The wool mill fire of 1920 meant the end of original wooden buildings from 1846.

DATE       WHAT BURNED              BUILT AFTER                THERE NOW

1835-1940 Gunpowder mill                gunpowder mill              Stop & Shop; car dealers

5/14/1894  Paper mill                          ?????                              Tedeschi's/Dunkin Donuts [7-11]

11/26/12    Music Hall                        Tutto's Bowling Alley    recently torn down buildings

9/20/16      Nason St. School               Roosevelt School           Maynard Public Library

2/11/17      Naylor Block                     one-story storefronts      Gallery Seven, Serendipity

1/25/18      Trolley building                rebuilt                             office building

2/1/19        Bent Ice House                 another ice house           that one burned in 1950

8/17/20      Wool mill                          more mill buildings        Mill & Main buildings

1/29/21      Maynard Hotel                  Memorial Park               Memorial Park

7/14/34      Riverside Block                same building, fixed      Gruber Bros Furniture [gone]

1/30/36      Riverside CO-OP              brick building                 Knights of Columbus [KoC left]

12/17/52    Woodrow Wilson School  Town hall and library     Town hall and police station

3/13/55      Fraternal Order Eagles      two story building          Masciarelli Jewelry [gone]

7/29/65      Amory Maynard's house   apartment building         apartment building

Not listed above, but Booth's Bowling Alley burned in July 6, 1906. Suspicions at the time were that a pet monkey, which had the run of the place at night and knew how to strike matches, was responsible for the fire (the monkey suffered burns, but survived). 

Naylor Block, corner of Nassan and Main, the morning after the
February 11, 1917 fire (courtesy Maynard Historical Society)
After the trolley's building and rolling stock went up in flames the brick building was rebuilt and replacement cars purchased, but the line was already in financial decline. Trolley service ended with a last run on January 16, 1923. Today, the building houses offices. The back of the parking lot provides access to the Assabet River downstream of the Ben Smith Dam. Upstream of the dam, the Bent Ice House burned in February 1919. A replacement was built on the same foundation. That one burned in November 1950. 

Amory Maynard's mansion is the only private dwelling listed here. It was built on the hill south of the mill in 1873, went up in flames in an early morning fire on July 29, 1965. The Maynard family was long-gone from town and the building divided into apartments. His son's former house still stands at 5-7 Dartmouth Street. It, too, was divided into apartments, but still provides semblance to Amory's even larger mansion. Both were capped with a Mansard roof. Copying this style became quite the vogue for well-to-do Maynard residents. See south end of Maple Street for examples.

In the modern era, the two-story building on Main Street that housed Salsalito's Restaurant and T.C. Lando's Sub & Pizzeria was consumed by flames in 1998, NAPA Auto Parts ditto in 2001, and Gruber Bros. Furniture suffered a smoky fire a handful of years ago.    

To paraphrase Robert Frost, someone there is that doesn't love a school. Often a student. This is not to believe that school fires do not happen by accident. But history records five school fires (two in the table plus Nason Street School in 1879, Emerson-Fowler School in 1977 and Maynard High School in 1992) - and no record of any major church fires.

This write-up was not published in the Beacon-Villager 

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Alexander Calder Forgery

 Calder, Warhol and Dali are among the most frequently forged 20th century artists.

 Alexander Calder (1898-1976) is best known for his mobiles and stabiles, the former made of metal shapes and wire, moving in response to air currents, the later to pieces that stand on the ground – some quite monumental in size – without movement. Auction prices for these one-of-a-kind pieces range from $1,000,000 to $15,000,000. As Calder's professional reputation expanded in the late 1940s and 1950s, so did his production of paintings and of lithographs (prints), the latter typically produced as a limited edition, each copy signed and numbered by Calder. Current prices for signed lithographs range from $1,000 to $10,000.

In 1987, the Calder Foundation ( was established by Calder's family, "dedicated to collecting, exhibiting, preserving, and interpreting the art and archives of Alexander Calder.” The Foundation identifies misattributed works, either complete forgeries or unauthorized lithographs of his art (see Forgeries, often two-dimensional lithograph abstracts in the Calder-associated red, blue, yellow and black, are an ongoing problem. Owners of work thought to be by Calder can be submitted to the Foundation for examination and registration in the Foundation’s archive.

A catalogue raisonné (critical catalogue) is a comprehensive, annotated listing of all the known artworks by an artist either in a particular medium or all media. The works are described in such a way that they may be reliably identified by third parties. There have been several serious authenticity issues concerning Calder’s work. In 1993, the owners of Rio Nero (1959?), a sheet-metal and steel-wire mobile ostensibly by Calder, went to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia charging that it was not by Alexander Calder, as claimed by its seller. Klaus Perls, a recognized Calder expert and manager of sales of Calder’s output from 1954 to 1976, had declared it a copy. There were also issues of work supposedly designed by Calder but not created until after his death. For example, stage sets designed by Calder but built after his death were rejected by the Calder Foundation. The Foundation was known at times to err – in 1999 it had declared a hanging glass dove to be fake and had it destroyed; it was later confirmed as a genuine work from 1955.

Ironically, after Perls death in 2008, the Calder Foundation sued his estate for $20,000,000, accusing it for holding and selling hundreds of Calder works that were not known to the Foundation, then channeling the proceeds into his Swiss bank account, and also knowingly or unknowingly selling counterfeits. The lawsuit was dismissed in 2013, with Judge Kornreich of the New York Supreme Court describing it as “An incoherent stew of irrelevance and innuendo.”

In 1995, questions arose about another purported Calder, Two White Dots. Calder had created a model for a stabile in 1973 and sent it to the Segré Foundry in Connecticut, a business that had for decades created the full-size stabiles and mobiles so submitted. In this instance, the Foundry constructed a full-size version in 1982 and sold it in 1983 for $70,000. Subsequent sales, all claiming it was a Calder artwork, ended with a purchase for $1,000,000 in 1995. It was subsequently submitted to and rejected by the Foundation. The gallery that had sold the work refunded the million dollars and sued the Foundry. The suit was settled out of court.   

Alexander Calder "Squash Blossoms"
unsigned, not numbered, circa 1972
Back to lithographs, and specifically to Squash Blossoms, a lithograph print I purchased for $125 in 1974, shortly after starting my first post-college job as a lab technician at Harvard Medical School. Mine is signed and marked a/p, signifying artist’s proof, a term applied to test copies run for the artist’s approval before a numbered run is printed. This artwork was created by Calder in 1972 for a book titled XXe Siecle - a Homage to Calder, published in Paris by San Lazzaro. Each copy of the book came with an original lithograph in color, unsigned and unnumbered. No information on how many books printed. There was also a numbered run. The lithograph was done by Mourlot Printer, Paris, France.

And here is where the question of forgery arises. A Google images search on Calder "Squash Blossoms" yields many examples of the lithograph either for sale now or previously sold by galleries or at auctions. One identifies that particular lithograph as being number 6 out of production run of 100. Other are unsigned (likely separated from the book), or signed and indicated on the left lower corner as a/p, E.A, or H.C. As noted, a/p signifies artist’s proof; E.A for épreuve d'artiste, meaning the same in French. Unnumbered prints that are gifted to someone the artist knows personally or are for some reason unsuitable for sale are marked "H. C.", meaning "hors de commerce", i.e., not for sale. My guess is that some (all?) of the E.A. and H.C. prints were separated from the books and have forged signatures. (There are copies of the book for sale which indicate the lithograph was removed.) It is also possible that fake prints were made at a later date. Sales prices appear to be under $500 for unsigned and $500 to $2,000 for signed

Monday, July 18, 2022

Surgery for Peripheral Neuropathy

Disclaimer: I am not a physician. I researched this topic for reasons of my own health.

SUMMARY: Surgery for diabetic peripheral neuropathy of the feet and lower legs – with the strongest evidence being for pain relief – is considered when there is diagnostic evidence that the nerves are enlarged in cross-section and compressed by thickened surrounding tendons, ligaments and other support structures, and when non-surgical treatments are not providing adequate relief. In contrast, the evidence for surgery as treatment for idiopathic peripheral neuropathy (IPN) of the feet and lower legs is weak, as pain is not the dominant symptom of IPN, and the evidence comes from three uncontrolled clinical trials: Valdivia 2013, Siemionow 2006, Valdivia 2005. It is possible that Valdivia 2013 represents adding more subjects to those already reported on in Valdivia 2005. 

PERIPHERAL NEUROPATHY: refers to symptoms of nerve cell damage to nerves in the legs and arms. Nuclei of these cells are in the spinal column. Axons of these cells extend to legs and arms. Axon length matters, so feet and legs are often affected before hands and arms. Sensory nerves are typically affected before motor nerves, so symptoms of pain, numbness, burning sensation, tingling, etc., appear before poor motor control. People may complain that it feels as if there are pebbles inside their shoes, or contrariwise, that they have little-to-no sensation from their feet, contributing to loss of balance. Foot injuries such as blisters, cuts and bruises may go unnoticed. 

Diabetes is a major cause of peripheral neuropathy. Nerves are enlarged. Ultrasound can be used to confirm that the cross-sectional diameter of nerves is increased by 25-50%. If the nerve is traveling through a restricted area, this increase in size can result in construction of the nerve and increased symptoms of numbness. Some researchers believe that roughly 30-60% of patients with diabetes suffering from neuropathy have a component of peripheral nerve compression. 

Other causes include autoimmune diseases, viral and bacterial infections, inherited disorders, tumors pressing on nerves, vitamin B12 deficiency, kidney disease, lover disease, and others. If no known cause is identified, the condition is referred to as idiopathic peripheral neuropathy. 

HISTORY OF DECOMPRESSION SURGERY: Starting in the early 1990s. surgery has been proposed as a treatment for peripheral neuropathy. The theory is that the nerves are compressed. For legs and feet, the surgery sites are peroneal nerve at knee, tibial nerve at ankle and peroneal nerve at dorsum of the foot. A review (Nickerson 2017) took the position that medical ‘ownership’ of treating symptoms of nerve disorders became prejudice against surgeons ‘trespassing’ where they did not belong. Nickerson referred to the opposition as “common and committed.” Reviews published circa 2006-08 that a surgical approach was “unproven.” Nickerson concluded that based on more trial results and reviews, was that the surgical approach “may deserve reassessment.” 

Per Nickerson, the strongest positive evidence is for diabetic sensorimotor polyneuropathy (DSPN), and within that patient subset, for pain relief. To a more modest degree, there are clinical improvements in sensation, balance, control of sway with eyes closed, etc. The evidence for surgery for DSPN also includes lowering risk of leg/foot ulcers, amputations and improved life expectancy (Rinkel 2021). 

There is much less surgery evidence for non-diabetic neuropathy, i.e., idiopathic peripheral neuropathy. IPN is much less likely to have pain as the major symptom, whereas pain relief is the strongest result for diabetic surgery. If surgery is to be considered for IPN, there should first be a confirmation nerve compression, followed by a progressive surgical strategy, for example, one leg, ankle only, rather than both legs, knee, ankle and foot. 

EVIDENCE FOR SURGERY: See references. Not included are several older clinical trial reports that enrolled only diabetic patients. Rinkel 2021, Rinkel 2018, Nickerson 2017 and Tu 2017 are reviews of long-term follow-up of diabetes patients. Maurik 2015 and Maurik 2014 are diabetes clinical trial reports. Valdivia 2013, Siemionow 2006 and Valdivia 2005 included both diabetic and IPN subjects. Valdivia 2013 reported on 96 subjects with diabetic neuropathy and 62 with idiopathic neuropathy, and reported “There was no difference in outcomes between patients with diabetic versus idiopathic neuropathy in response to nerve decompression.” Valdivia 2013 may have incorporated subjects from Valdivia 2005.

The clinical trials were not placebo controlled via sham surgery. Instead, there is analysis comparing before to after, or operated leg to not operated leg. There is a known strong placebo effect for pain relief across many conditions, for example, osteoarthritis or migraine, so pain relief results may in part be a placebo effect. 

DIAGNOSIS: Pain is measured with a subjective Visual Analog Scale (VAS) ranking zero to ten. Touch sensation is measured in several ways, including increasing pressure until touch is perceived, and with the ability to distinguish between one-point and two-point touching. “Tinel Sign” is considered positive if finger tapping on a nerve elicits tingling. Temperature perception (cold or hot) can be impaired. All of these can be improved after surgery, but pain is the most sensitive marker. 

A skin biopsy can determine whether nerve cell endings are present. Nerve conduction velocity and electromyography are tests. Ultrasound checks for nerve enlargement, and can be before and after surgery for change. Mysteriously, surgery on one leg has been shown to reduce nerve cross-sectional area and pain in the non-operated leg, perhaps suggesting a reduction in circulating inflammatory compounds. 

NON-SURGICAL TREATMENTS: There is a long list, with varying degrees of efficacy: Aspirin and other NSAIDS, topical products such as capsaicin, Transcutaneous electronic nerve stimulation, anti-depressant drugs can relieve chronic pain, corticosteroids, opiods, dietary supplements, etc. 

REFERENCES (chronological) 

Abstracts for these refs can be seen by searching on "PubMed" and within PubMed, on PMID # 

Rinkel WD, Franks B, Birnie E, et al. Cost-Effectiveness of Lower Extremity Nerve Decompression Surgery in the Prevention of Ulcers and Amputations: A Markov Analysis. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2021 Nov 1;148(5):1135-45. PMID: 34705790. 
Rinkel WD, de Kleijn JL, Macaré van Maurik JFM, Coert JH. Optimization of Surgical Outcome in Lower Extremity Nerve Decompression Surgery. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2018 Feb;141(2):482-96. PMID: 29068902. 
Nickerson DS. Nerve decompression and neuropathy complications in diabetes: Are attitudes discordant with evidence? Diabet Foot Ankle. 2017 Sep 6;8(1):1367209 PMID: 28959382. 
Tu Y, Lineaweaver WC, Chen Z, Hu J, Mullins F, Zhang F. Surgical Decompression in the Treatment of Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. J Reconstr Microsurg. 2017 Mar;33(3):151-57. PMID: 27894152. 
Macaré van Maurik JF, ter Horst B, van Hal M, Kon M, Peters EJ. Effect of surgical decompression of nerves in the lower extremity in patients with painful diabetic polyneuropathy on stability: a randomized controlled trial. Clin Rehabil. 2015 Oct;29(10):994-1001. PMID: 25381348. 
van Maurik JFMM, van Hal M, van Eijk RPA, Kon M, Peters EJG. Value of surgical decompression of compressed nerves in the lower extremity in patients with painful diabetic neuropathy: a randomized controlled trial. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2014 Aug;134(2):325-32. PMID: 24732651. 
Valdivia Valdivia JM, Weinand M, Maloney CT Jr, Blount AL, Dellon AL. Surgical treatment of superimposed, lower extremity, peripheral nerve entrapments with diabetic and idiopathic neuropathy. Ann Plast Surg. 2013 Jun;70(6):675-79. PMID: 23673565. 
Dellon AL. The Dellon approach to neurolysis in the neuropathy patient with chronic nerve compression. Handchir Mikrochir Plast Chir. 2008 Dec;40(6):351-60. PMID: 19051159. 
Dellon AL. The four medial ankle tunnels: a critical review of perceptions of tarsal tunnel syndrome and neuropathy. Neurosurg Clin N Am. 2008 Oct;19(4):629-48, vii. PMID: 19010287. 
Ducic I, Taylor NS, Dellon AL. Relationship between peripheral nerve decompression and gain of pedal sensibility and balance in patients with peripheral neuropathy. Ann Plast Surg. 2006 Feb;56(2):145-50. PMID: 16432321.
Siemionow M, Alghoul M, Molski M, Agaoglu G. Clinical outcome of peripheral nerve decompression in diabetic and nondiabetic peripheral neuropathy. Ann Plast Surg. 2006 Oct;57(4):385-90. PMID: 16998329. 
Valdivia JM, Dellon AL, Weinand ME, Maloney CT Jr. Surgical treatment of peripheral neuropathy: outcomes from 100 consecutive decompressions. J Am Podiatr Med Assoc. 2005 Sep-Oct;95(5):451-54. PMID: 16166462.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Egg Yolk Color Can be Synthetic, Shell Color is Genetic

Egg shell color is genetic by breed. If you want brown shells, own Rhode Island Reds. Interestingly (and mysteriously), brown is the preferred shell color in New England, whereas the rest of the U.S. prefers white. The color decision is not absolute – in New England roughly 50% of consumer-bought eggs have brown shells, dropping to 11% in the mid-Atlantic states, and lower in the rest of the country. In general, white eggs are preferred in South America and the Middle East, whereas brown is preferred in Africa, Europe, China and Japan.

The process of assembling an egg is interesting. Yolks, surrounded by a membrane, increase in size in the ovary, and are then released into the oviduct. Egg white, contained inside a membrane, surrounds the yolk. That process takes about four hours. Next, the egg enters the shell gland. Adding a shell – layering hour after hour – takes about 20 hours.

Range of eggshell colors
Shell pigment is added last. The amount, translating to darkness of brown color, appears to be constant per egg. Given that as laying hens get older, they lay larger eggs, those shells will be less brown than when the same hen was younger. Shell thickness averages 0.30 millimeters, and decreases with age. Shells are made almost entirely of calcium carbonate crystals. A laying hen in good health needs 4-5 grams of calcium per day, typically provided as crushed oyster shells. (By way of comparison, the Estimated Average Requirement for adult humans is about one gram.) Hens tend to start laying eggs at 18 weeks of age. Productivity peaks at about one year, on the order of 250 eggs per year. By year three, approximately 70% of peak, by year four, 60% of peak. Hens will live 8-10 years, but egg production is not expected after year six.

“Pigment last” is not really last. As each egg leaves the oviduct, it is covered in a protein and lipid layer referred to as bloom or cuticle. Before this has time to dry, the egg will be sticky to the touch. The purpose of bloom is to prevent bacterial access to the eggshell contents. In the U.S. commercially sold eggs are washed, removing the bloom. For this reason, eggs must be refrigerated. In the European Union, eggs are not washed, and can be packaged, displayed and sold at room temperatures. In the U.S., people who raise their own chickens for eggs can do either, depending on state regulations. Unrefrigerated eggs last only about 21 days, whereas refrigerated eggs last about 50 days.

Egg yolk color depends on what the laying hens eat. Caged, and fed a diet of predominately corn will result in a pale yellow yolk. Hens with access to an area that has wild plants and insects will lay eggs with a yellow-orange yolk. This comes from carotenoids compounds being passed to the yolk. The orange hue does not mean healthier chicks if eggs are allowed to hatch, nor healthier for humans who consume those eggs. However, eggs from “free range” chickens are perceived as healthier, and priced higher, accordingly.

Egg yolk color choices offered by DSM, a Dutch-based
multinational corporation that acquired the vitamin
division of Roche in 2003
“Money is the necessity of invention.” The classic version of this belief is “Necessity is the mother of invention.” But as egg farmers consider money a necessity, the first version holds true, too. Pasture-raised hens are eating seeds and insects that contribute natural color compounds – carotenoids – will lay eggs with an orange tint to the yolks. Chrysanthemum or rose flower petals, also red bell peppers or chili pepper, can donate a darker hue. However, as an alternative to these natural methods or affected yolk color, chicken feed companies publish a yolk color chart which allows egg production companies to pick a yolk color derived from amounts of synthetic carotenoids added to the feed. The only downside to using synthetic carotenoids is that the eggs cannot be labeled organic.

While talking chicken, lets dip into “Free Range.” FR usually defined as the laying hens being outside at least six hours per day, but only requiring two square feet of outdoor space per bird. A typical set-up for the outside space is concrete, covered in sand, shredded bark and straw. The covering material is removed on a regular basis so the concrete can be hosed clean. While still a higher density habitat than most people image FR means, it is still a huge improvement over the factory farm conditions still dominant in the U.S. “Battery cages” are a few feet square. Between four and ten birds are held in each cage. Industry guidelines recommend each bird having floor space roughly the size of a piece of printer paper. This is where they live for years. Several states, including Massachusetts, have banned caged hen practices.

Trivia: Ostrich eggs are about 2.0 mm thick. Shells from the extinct elephant birds of Madagascar were about 4.0 mm thick. These flightless birds could approach ten feet in height and exceed 1,000 pounds in weight.


Thursday, May 19, 2022

Changing the Massachusetts State Seal

New content on this website/blog, as of May 10, 2022, no longer represents columns published in the Beacon-Villager, because May 5th was the last issue printed on paper, B-V continuing as an e-paper. 

The content below is copied verbatim from an email sent by David Detmold, who has been active in seeking a change to the Massachusetts State Seal, which appears, among other places, on every town name sign one sees when entering the towns. David's contact info is 

On Tuesday, May 17th, the Special Commission on the Official Seal and Motto of the Commonwealth voted unanimously to seek a complete redesign of the flag, seal and motto of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

The six Indigenous members of the special commission (co-chair Brian Weeden, chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag, Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, chairwoman of the Aquinnah Wampanoag, Melissa Harding-Ferretti, chairwoman of the Herring Pond Wampanoag, Elizabeth Solomon, treasurer of the Massachusett Tribe at Ponkapoag, and Brittney Walley, member of the Hassanamisco Band of the Nipmuc nation) met in caucus prior to the May 17th meeting to discuss the path forward. The commission had been beset with delays in the appointment process, internal obstacles and procedural problems since it was established by the passage of enabling legislation on January 6th, 2021.

On Tuesday, the Indigenous leaders on the commission pressed their colleagues to decide whether the full commission intends to seek minor revisions to the current flag, seal and motto, or to reject the current imagery entirely and start anew. After polling all the 17 members present, (Senator Marc Pacheco and the senate minority leader’s appointee, Michael Amato, were absent) the commission voted unanimously in favor of a total redesign.

The commission was originally charged with reporting back its recommendations for a new design for the seal and motto of the Commonwealth to the state legislature by October of last year. But not all members had even been appointed by that time. Since January, the commission has been meeting regularly, on the 3rd Tuesday of each month at 11 a.m., and working toward a new reporting deadline of December of 2022. The commission, anticipating the breadth of its work, now hopes the legislature will extend that reporting deadline once more, until March 31st of 2023.

As of Tuesday, the commission appears to have overcome internal hurdles to arrive at a clear consensus. On Tuesday, the united call of the Indigenous leaders for a total redesign received a ringing endorsement from the director of Mass Humanities, commission co-chair Brian Boyles, who delivered the following statement before the unanimous vote of his colleagues:

Statement from Brian Boyles, director, Mass Humanities:

I believe a full redesign of the seal and motto are necessary, given the charges of the special commission. There’s no way that I can examine the seal, or the context in which it was created,  without concluding that it is harmful, both to each of us as residents, and of the reputation of Massachusetts. There’s no interpretation that leads me back to the qualities of peace, justice, liberty, equality and education that are stated in the legislation that created this commission, and at this very historic moment, I think we have a unique opportunity as residents of Massachusetts to do the hard work to create a seal and motto that do justice to the best that this Commonwealth has to offer, and to reckon with history, both visually and in the origins of the current seal and motto. I base these feelings in the wisdom received from my colleagues on this commission, who were named to this commission because of their expertise and their leadership in their communities, and the words of our Native colleagues as expressed in the History and Usages subcommittee only drove that home to me on May 10th.

I hope we can continue to foster this historic moment with collaboration and respect as we envision the path for a new seal and motto. I serve as a leader of an organization where every day we see the will of the people of the Commonwealth to reckon with our history, to not settle for stereotypes, to respond to a changing population, to dig into the archives and records to elevate the voice of people, and in particular Native people, who were marginalized and erased from the stories we tell about Massachusetts.

I think people in Massachusetts are wicked smart, and they are bold, and they should not settle for a seal that sells all of us short.  We have discussed the context in the historical record, and I base my feelings today on a full redesign of the seal and motto in part on the historical record left by Edmund Garrett, the designer of the 1898 seal, who in 1900 wrote an artist’s statement for New England Magazine, Vol. 23, which can be located with a Google search.

I note in particular, first the charge, or the figure of the Native man, the face of that figure was taken from a photograph plucked by the Secretary of State at that time William Olin from the Bureau of Ethnography in Washington DC of Thomas Little Shell, a Chippewa leader who never resided in Massachusetts. The figure is based on a skeleton held at the Peabody Museum in Harvard University. No Native residents were consulted in its selection, a reflection of centuries of exclusion on the part of the Commonwealth from land, laws, and historical records of Indigenous residents.

The figure in the shield, secondly, holds a bow that according to Garrett was taken from an unnamed Native man shot by a settler, William Goodnough, in Sudbury, in 1665. That bow serves as a reminder that should any person know the full context and record, they would understand what emerges from the violence brought on by a people in their own land.

Finally the sword and the hand in the crest is modelled on that of Myles Standish. We know from the record that Myles Standish killed Native people. He was even reprimanded by his own Pilgrim colleagues for doing this.

These are the elements of the seal. The intentions were quite clear, and the construction was done in harmful ways. When we consider the motto: “By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty,” given the origins, and what we know of the history, those words do not ring true to me. I believe they too must go. I don’t see any way to tweak, or edit them, that can do justice to the long history of erasure and oppression of Native peoples since the arrival of the Pilgrims. I see no way to redeem those symbols. To do so would be to give priority to people whose violence should not be a source of pride but of apology and reconciliation.

Friday, April 29, 2022

The Future of Maynard

“As the mill goes, so goes Maynard.” That was a truism for over one hundred years, until the woolen mill cratered in 1950. Then true again 1953 to 1993 when the complex – more than one million square feet of space – was renting to office and industry needs of myriad businesses, in time all gradually displaced by Digital Equipment Company. DEC bought the complex in 1974, then emptied it in 1993 as part of a massive downsizing before selling itself to Compaq. Then true once more after Wellesley Management took over in 1998, and with a generous tax break from the Town of Maynard, managed to fill the complex again. The recession that began in 2008, coinciding as it did with the winding down of the tax break, crushed Wellesley Management, leading to a sale to Mill & Main at fire sale prices in 2015. Repopulation was stalled by COVID-19, so we find ourselves well into 2022 with a partially filled complex of buildings that date to being 103 to 163 years old.   

Two generations ago, Maynard was a live, work, shop, play and pray community, but no more. Most working people commute, shop on line, play video games ditto, and if they pray, do so at a house of worship that has its own parking lot. The twenty-first century has seen the closing of the Episcopal, Methodist, Congregational and Evangelical churches. Candlepin bowling lanes and pool halls are no more.

“As the mill goes, so goes Maynard” is no longer true. Despite the partially rented status of the mill complex, the population of Maynard is at an all-time high, having increased by ten percent between the 2010 census and the present. New housing – owned and rented – is being squeezed in everywhere, the construction at 129 Parker Street added huge amounts of commercial space, and the cost of housing is at an all-time high. New houses on Wisteria Lane, with two-car garages, are selling for more than $800,000. If ever the mill complex fill again – be it some combination of office, industry, retail, housing (?), community college (??) or mid-sized hotel (?!?) – Maynard has moved on from being wholly dependent. According to the 2020 federal census, residents report an average work commute time of 30 minutes. Maynard, to some degree, has become JABS (just another bedroom suburb).

Can Maynard remain ‘special’ against a gentrification trend? The existing infrastructure of the downtown triangle lends itself to Maynard staying host to non-chain shops, restaurants, bars and live entertainment venues. This envisions downtown Maynard being a destination for residents and people from neighboring towns. Think a smaller Waltham or a lower rent Concord. Doing so will require the Town of Maynard to continue to be friendly to commercial development. Being designated by the state as having a “Cultural District” helps, as would a rescue of ArtSpace, but there has to be fostering of live cultural events. Diversity contributes to urban vitality, but Maynard is lagging on affordable housing.

David Mark in ONLY IN MAYNARD shirt
One unforeseen consequence of the COVID pandemic is that there appears to be a trend away from needing to be physically at a place of work five days a week. This plays in Maynard’s favor, as commuting from Maynard – at significant distance from I-95, I-495, Route 2 and the train station – made commuting a bit of a struggle. The other side of the coin is easy access to attractive recreational opportunities such as offered by the Assabet River Rail Trail, the Assabet River National Wildlife Reserve, town-managed woodland trails and parks, plus small boat recreational opportunities on the Assabet River.

It will all take work, but who knows? Perhaps some day Maynard will be such a vibrant cultural nexus that people will say “As Maynard goes, so goes the mill.”

With the end of Beacon-Villager as a printed newspaper, this is Mark’s last column. He thanks the paper and Maynard for given him a forum for twelve years, 425 columns and three books.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Maynard's Poor Farm

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, distinctions were made in the definitions for hobos, tramps and bums. “Hobo”, may derive its roots from homeward bound, in reference to a time after the Civil War, when discharged soldiers hopped on trains in order to get home. Two generations later, the term was popular again during the Great Depression, to describe men again hopping trains, traveling from place to place looking for work, either steady or seasonal. A “tramp”, on the other hand, was someone who traveled from place to place but did not seek regular work. Tramps depended on the kindness of strangers or other means of support besides gainful employment. The term probably comes from the idea of tramping from place to place. Lastly, a “bum” does not travel and does not seek work, although earlier in life may have held a steady job. A bum is often an alcoholic. The term was probably taken from the German slang word ‘bummler’, meaning loafer.

The song, “Big Rock Candy Mountains,” dates to the hobo era. It describes a lush outdoor life for the unemployed, with perfect weather, empty boxcars, food aplenty, cigarette trees and streams of whiskey. Furthermore, “There ain't no short-handled shovels, No axes, saws nor picks, I'm goin' to stay, Where you sleep all day, Where they hung the jerk, That invented work, In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.” Versions later recorded for children substituted candy canes and lemonade for the cigarettes and whiskey.

Long before there were state or federal programs to support the poor and infirm, responsibilities fell on families and towns. A person or family appearing in town would be “warned off,” i.e., made to leave if they had no proof of financial support, such as a job or relatives to take them in. If an existing resident came into hard times, the town would arrange to pay for that person to be taken into someone’s household via auction at town meeting – lowest bid winning.

The "William Smith" house was built circa 1780, added to over the 
years. In 1892 it was purchased by the Town of Maynard to serve 
as housing for resident and transient poor. Closed 1920. Image
courtesy of Maynard Historical Society.
In time, towns established a workhouse, poorhouse or poor farm, with a paid resident manager. In 1891, the Town of Maynard rented a building owned by Lorenzo Maynard to function as a poorhouse. Mr. and Mrs. Alonzo Knapp were hired for $325 for the year to manage the house and farmland, and to put up transient hobos and tramps. The next year the town purchased the “William Smith” house at 206-208 Great Road as a poor farm. The Smith family were extensive land-owners in what later became Maynard, including land sold to Amory Maynard for the construction of the mill and mill pond. Poor Farm residents and transients (the aforementioned hobos and tramps) were expected to work according to their ability, which included working the farm fields on the other side of Great Road, that in 1928, was transferred to the school department “for athletic and playground purpose,” in time becoming Alumni Field.

Transients were expected to report to the police station before evening. They were taken to the Poor Farm where they got a meal of herring and crackers, and a bed for the night. Those caught ‘sleeping rough’ were arrested and spent the night in a jail cell without a meal. This system was needed to reduce the numbers of non-resident men wandering about town evenings and nights, scaring homeowners by knocking on doors and asking for food and permission to sleep in a barn or shed. The number of transients spending nights in Maynard rose and fell with the national economy, suggesting that men were roaming in search of work after having lost their regular jobs. In good years the counts for the year were in range of 100-200 men, but in bad times, often exceeded 1,000. In return for a meager meal, access to a washroom and an outhouse, plus a roof over their heads for the night, the men were expected to cut firewood for the schools.   

By 1910, Maynard’s Poor Farm had steam heat, electric lights and a telephone. Mr. and Mrs. Dunham, the managers, received a salary of $500 a year. The Poor Farm was closed in 1920. The few remaining residents were transferred to the Hudson Poor Farm. The building became a rental property, finally sold off in 1947.

In time, state and federal agencies and programs took on care of the institutionalized, the indigent, the mentally ill, the homeless, with varying degrees of successes and failures. One Stow-related anecdote: March 1911, Phineas Feather, former superintendent of the Gleasondale Mills, attempted to murder Alfred Gleason, mill owner. Feather and Robert Bevis were injured in the struggle for Feather’s two guns; Gleason was unharmed. Feather was remanded to the Bridgewater Hospital for the Criminally Insane, an institution under supervision of the wonderfully named Massachusetts State Board of Health, Charity and Lunacy. He was released in 1915.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Maynard Rod & Gun Club

Trout fising derby (1960) (courtesy of Maynard Historical Society) 

After several short-lived starts,  April 15, 1915, saw the beginnings of what became, in time, the Maynard Rod and Gun Club. Growth was rapid. The first annual banquet, held at the Masonic Hall on January 21, 1921, drew a crowd of 90 members and guests. During the early years, the Club purchased and used land near White Pond, in Hudson. This era ended after the U.S. Army has seized adjacent land in 1942 for the creation of a munitions complex, and then forbade shooting events on the too-near Club grounds.

As World War II drew to a close, the Maynard Gun Club leased its clubhouse to the Army, and then turned its eye to acquiring land in Maynard. Over years, several purchases were made, cumulating in 93 acres of club-owned property, about half in Maynard and half in Sudbury. For a while, the Club made do with renting space for meetings, but in late 1948, committed to constructing a clubhouse on the grounds. Plans were drawn in 1949, construction followed, and on May 21, 1950, the Maynard Rod & Gun Club held a Grand Opening of the clubhouse and grounds, soon followed by building a dam on the Second Division Brook, so as to create a fish pond.

(courtesy of the Maynard Historical Society) 
Weekend mornings, if it is quiet enough (no lawnmowers or leaf blowers), one can hear the dulled bang of shotguns from club members and guests shooting at clay targets flung into the air be spring-powered devices. The sound can be disconcerting to new residents.

Clay targets are also referred to as clay pigeons. Their use began to replace live pigeon shooting around 1875. In the United Kingdom, live-bird shooting competitions were made illegal in 1921, but a target may still be called a "bird", a hit, a "kill", a missed target, a "bird away", and the machine which powers the targets is still known as a "trap". In “trap shooting”, the targets are launched singly in a direction generally away from the shooter. In “skeet shooting”, targets are launched across the shooter’s field of view from either side, either singly or two at once.

Present-day, the Club offers a complete set of pistol, rifle, trap and skeet ranges for members to hone their skills, an archery range, and a trout-stocked pond. Access is via Old Mill Road, off of Waltham Street. The main lodge houses the member’s lounge, a function hall and an indoor pistol range. The Club is in the process of renovating the indoor range. There is also an open pavilion first built in 1984, refurbished in 1996. Indoor and outdoor spaces often hosts weddings. An annual fishing derby – suspended in 2020 and 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic – is expected to take place this May, and be open to the public. In past years, children have much-enjoyed this opportunity.  

Some of the club’s land on the east side is leased to Boston Paintball, which has several fields for paintball events and competitions. Fields include building-to-building, an outdoor field with terrain and structures, and competition fields that comply with National Xball League specifications. Equipment can be rented or bring-your-own. Access to this is via Sudbury’s Powder Mill Road.

For a not directly related piece of history, years ago the Maynard Rod and Gun Club was host to an annual event that brought hundreds of motorcycle riders. Memories are of more than an hour of rumbling roar as bikes were guided west on Summer Street, down Nason Street, then east on Main Street, to finally finish at RGC for an afternoon of family picnic and entertainment. Given such a visually striking event, it’s a glaring omission that the Maynard Historical Society has no photographs. Finding a written history was also difficult. The only documents found so far are a 2011 write-up in the Somerville newspaper, describing the “7th Annual Massachusetts Motorcycle Ride for Recovery” as an all-day event, with a police-escorted, road-closed ride to Maynard, also a copy of a 2013 flyer for the “9th Annual Bob Herne Motorcycle Ride for Recovery” culminating in Maynard as a family picnic, with musical entertainment provided by James Montgomery Band, with guitarist Jon Butcher. This was put on by the Massachusetts Organization for Addiction Recovery.


Saturday, April 9, 2022

The End of a Newspaper (Maynard, MA)

Beacon-Villager ends print, goes digital only, after May 5, 2022
A few years back, I stepped out our front door to get the Sunday New York Times, which is delivered in a blue plastic bag. Across the street was my neighbor and his young son. The boy pointed to what I was about to pick up, and asked "What's that?" 

His father answered "Mr. Mark gets a newspaper delivered to his house every morning. It's inside the bag."

Then, the boy asked, "What's a newspaper?"

And now, this announcement: “The Beacon-Villager will cease publishing a print newspaper and will instead exclusively offer news online at, on social media, via digital newsletters and other platforms. The final print edition of The Beacon Villager will be May 5, 2022.” Thus ends 135 years of Maynard having a print newspaper. The transition is not unique. Weekly newspapers of some neighboring towns (Acton/Boxborough, Sudbury, Chelmsford/Westford) will also cease. The Concord Journal and Lexington Minuteman will remain in print – as least for now.

These were GateHouse Media/Gannett Co. decisions. Across the country, GateHouse owned more than 100 daily newspapers, including MetroWest Daily News, and hundreds of weekly town newspapers.  In November 2019, GateHouse acquired Gannett, making it the largest newspaper publisher in the United States, and in the process assumed the Gannett name. Gannett is a publicly traded company, but it is managed by Fortress Investment Group, which in turn is owned by the Japanese-based, international conglomerate, Softbank.

There have been trends that foretold the end of print. The Beacon-Villager, serving Maynard and Stow is a weekly. It shows up Thursdays, home delivery and in stores. Starting in December 2021 it had shrunk to 12 pages, down from 16, but in recent past had been 24 pages. Here and across the nation, the demise of print advertising tore the financial hearts out of newspapers. Subscriptions to digital-only versions have not replaced lost revenue. According to an article in the Washington Post, more than 2,200 local newspapers have closed in the past 15 years, creating “news deserts” for some regions. Not surprising consequences from a decline in local news coverage are declines in civic engagement of citizens, less competition for local office and lower voter turnout for local elections.

Maynard’s history of having its own weekly newspaper dates back 135 years. “The Enterprise Weekly” later renamed to “Maynard Enterprise,” started print in 1888. Individual copies were three cents, a year’s subscription $1.50. Advertisements are interesting reading: Distasio’s Market offered beef at 15-25¢ per pound. Lerer’s Clothing Store had men’s shoes for $2 and suits for $10-20. An oak dining room table with six chairs for only $25. Ford Motor Company offered car models starting at $700. To put all this into perspective, factory pay was less than two dollars a day. The Enterprise ceased publication in 1970.

“The Maynard News,” a weekly published in Hudson, serviced the towns of Maynard, Hudson, South Acton, Stow and Concord Junction (West Concord). It started in 1899, ceased publication in 1943. What is surprising is how little actual “news” was in the paper. Week after week, the pages were filled with announcement-type items, such as a wrestling match at the Finnish Hall, a lecture on the “White Slave Trade,” engagement announcements and school concerts. Apparently, the main function of the newspapers of a century ago appears to have been akin to what we now think of social media - personal items people wanted to share with the community. Most of the old issues exist as bound folios at the Maynard Historical Society and on microfilm at the Maynard Public Library.

“The Beacon” was the forerunner of the Beacon-Villager. It launched in 1945. In the summer of 1953, the Beacon Publishing Company was the first business to move into Maynard’s mill after the conversion from woolen factory to rentable office and industry space. As “The Beacon” and later “The Assabet Valley Beacon” it served several towns. In time this evolved to papers for each town, including Acton’s “Beacon,” the “Concord Free Press” and the “Sudbury Citizen.”

How Wickedlocal digital will work for Maynard and Stow is not entirely clear. Until now, the digital version of the Beacon-Villager has been free. Going forward, not clear if part of the content will continue to be free and part by paid subscription, or all within paid. There appears to be an introductory subscription offer of $1 for the initial six months, then $7.99 per month thereafter. The digital appearance may emulate the layout of a printed paper.

This column was not published in the Beacon-Villager. 

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Was Maynard a “Sundown Town?” Part 2

After the end of slavery in Massachusetts in 1780, and the abandonment by the freed Blacks or their children to cities where there was a significant Black community, the remaining rural population were people of English and Scottish descent. Their progeny, other than the oldest sons who inherited the family property, either moved west or gravitated toward the factory towns of the developing Industrial Revolution. On the Sudbury:Stow border, Amory Maynard was hiring. By the time the Town of Maynard was created, in 1871, the available workforce also included Irish immigrants. The population was static (and all White) until the American Woolen Company (AWC) bought the mill in 1900 and expanded, resulting in a population doubling by 1910, and then relatively unchanged through 1960.

The AWC hiring was all European immigrants: Irish, Italians, Finns, Russians, Poles… and hence all White. What is missing from historic documentation is whether hiring only White immigrants was an AWC policy across its 60 New England woolen mills, or just taking advantage of the arriving millions of European immigrants as cheap and non-union labor. The Great Migration of Blacks from the south to the north, 1910-1970, was too late to contribute to Maynard’s completed population boom. More to the point, people move to where there are other people like them (also for jobs, housing, schools and safety). For the northbound Blacks that meant cities rather than small mill towns.     

Poster for a Maynard Minstel Show
All this history is more likely the reason Maynard’s population was nearly 100 percent White until well into the 20th century, rather than any disorganized or organized racism. One sad consequence of there not being a significant minority population to point out the offensiveness was the perpetuation of local amateur minstrel shows long after this form of entertainment had faded elsewhere. Well into the 1940s, Maynard’s churches and organizations raised money this way. James B. Farrell, a talented singer, wrote in a monograph for the centennial history book, “I can recall in being in over sixty shows with most every society and club being a sponsor.”

Earlier, circa 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan had been active in Maynard and surrounding towns, including cross burnings on Summer Hill. The focus was primarily anti-Catholic. A critical event occurred the night of August 9, 1925, when a Klan night rally at a farm on the Sudbury:Framingham border was violently opposed by Catholic Irish, Italians and Poles, who attacked cars traveling to the KKK event with bats and thrown stones. Returned gunfire injured five, and led to arrests of dozens of Klan members, including the son of the Sudbury Chief of Police. Klan presence faded soon after, locally and nationally.

Does racism still exist in Maynard? Let’s go with “Yes.” ‘Old’ racism refers to the belief systems that perpetuated the inferiority of people of color and provided the means for legalized discrimination and segregation. ‘Modern’ racism first denies that discrimination still occurs, second, maintains resentment towards minorities for their gains in the social and political arena as being unfair preference, third, opposition toward political and educational programs designed to support social equality, and fourth, fear of the unfamiliar.

That last – fear of the unfamiliar – is something Americans have not yet overcome, and can result in massive racial and demographic changes over relatively short periods of time. White flight and recently, gentrification, have whipsawed Roxbury and Jamaica Plain. Both have recently seen affordable apartment buildings replaced by upscale condos. Or as one person put it, “The neighborhood went to hell when we got a Whole Foods.”

Closer to Maynard, which per the 2020 census is 92 percent self-identifying as White, there have been some interesting demographic changes. According to the census, 26 percent of residents in Acton self-identify as Asian. Some of the draw is Acton-Boxborough High School being ranked in the top 20 high schools in Massachusetts. Over a 20-year period, Marlborough has gone from 88 to 69 percent White, with most of the share countered by Hispanic and Brazilian newcomers. Maynard itself used to have a reputation of being a housing low-cost town surrounded by high-cost communities, basically the hole in the donut, but in 2021 the average house sale was above $500,000 and some of the newly built homes have been selling above $800,000.

Not having affordable housing to buy or rent is one powerful means of discriminating against low-income people and families, which consist of a higher percentage of people of color. By Massachusetts state law – Chapter 40B – cities and towns are required to strive to have 10 percent of their housing stock as affordable. Municipalities that are well below 10 percent or oppose proposed 40B projects are in effect discriminatory. Maynard’s housing stock is at 9.5 percent affordable, but that will soon to be recalculated lower, as it is based on current number of affordable units (419) divided by the 2010 census count of total units (4,430). Obviously, there has been an increase in total number of housing units over ten years. A revised percent affordable figure based on the 2020 census should be available later this year. When it does, it will confirm that Maynard is trending toward stronger economic discrimination, which can only be countered by construction of more affordable housing.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Was Maynard a “Sundown Town?” Part 1

Was Maynard a “sundown town?” Let’s start with “No.” In the strictest sense of the definition, Maynard was never an all-white town that practiced a form of racial segregation by excluding people of color after sunset, the idea being that such people could work in and patronize the businesses in town during the day, but had to be gone be nightfall. This was accomplished by combination of discriminatory local laws, intimidation and violence, enforced by (White) police and threat of vigilante action. Black travelers were guided by the Negro Motorist Green Book (1936-66) as to where it was safe to stop at gas stations, restaurants and places to stay at night.

Image of sign used on the cover of
James W. Loewen’s book “Sundown Towns”

The most common late nineteenth and twentieth century occurrences were in the southeast states that had made up the Confederacy during the Civil War. These states had large percentages of Black people – freed slaves and their descendants – who lived in Black-only neighborhoods on the fringes of White-only towns and cities. However, there were many places outside the Deep South that enacted similar restrictions, not only against Blacks, but also Native Americans, Mexicans, or Chinese brought in as railroad laborers in the West.

The U.S. history of limiting when people of color could be permitted to be out in public dates back much earlier. The earliest legal restrictions on the nighttime activities and movements of Blacks and other ethnic minorities were in the colonial era, when slavery was legal in all 13 colonies (Massachusetts 1640-1780). Coastal cities such as Boston and New York had Black populations on the order of 10 percent – a mix of Free Blacks and slaves. Rather than a slave-only curfew, laws were written applying to everyone of color. The general court and legislative assembly of New Hampshire passed "An Act to Prevent Disorders in the Night" in 1714: “Whereas great disorders, insolencies and burglaries are oft times raised and committed in the night time by Indian, Negro, and Molatto Servants and Slaves to the Disquiet and hurt of her Majesty's subjects, No Indian, Negro, or Molatto is to be from Home after 9 o'clock.” Notices emphasizing and re-affirming the curfew were published in The New Hampshire Gazette in 1764 and 1771.

From that era to the current day, semi-permanent or short-term curfews have been enacted in neighborhoods that are predominantly populated by people of color, cities have passed (and repealed) “stop and frisk” laws, and “Driving While Black” has had risks that all too frequently have escalated from a traffic stop to a driver death. All of this represents legislated harassment, all enforced by a predominantly White police force, designed to limit places where people of color can be in public without fear. Curfew laws potentially criminalize people of color who want to safely use the same public spaces – streets, sidewalks and parks – as White people.

James W. Loewen, author of “Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism” (2006), adds a broader definition: “towns that were all White on purpose.” This ranged from driving out by violence the resident people of color, a horrific example being the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, to creation of new communities that were all White by design. A famous example of the latter was Levittown, on Long Island, New York. The company Levitt & Sons, Inc., built the district as a planned community of thousands of identical homes, primarily for returning World War II veterans, between 1947 and 1951. Clause 25 of the standard lease agreement signed by the first residents of Levittown, stated in capital letters and bold type that the house could not "be used or occupied by any person other than members of the Caucasian race." Same applied to house purchases. Seventy years later, according to the 2020 federal census, the Levittown population is 52,000 and 1.2 percent Black in a state that is 15.7 percent Black. Darien, Connecticut prohibited sale of houses to Blacks and Jews. Today, 0.9 percent Black in a state that is 10.7 percent Black.

At a federal level, laws were passed to restrict Chinese immigration in the West. Early waves of immigrants were men hired to work in gold mining, railroad construction and as farm labor. The Page Act of 1875 prohibited the immigration of Chinese women. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1888 expanded that to men, and ended the pathway to becoming citizens. The Scott Act of 1888 stated that Chinese who were legally in the U.S. but left to visit China (primarily meaning men visiting their wives and children, to whom they had been sending money) could not return. The acts remained in effect until 1943, after which immigration was by quota.

The continuation of this column in next week’s newspaper will present a possible gray area to the “Sundown Town” definition: New England towns that had no or few Black residents for demographic reasons rather than organized discriminatory policies and actions. For an early example, during the late Colonial era, west of Boston (with its 10 percent Black population (free plus slaves)), well-off towns such as Concord and Sudbury had slave populations on the order of one percent. Stow, poorer, was home to one slave. Maynard did not yet exist. After the end of slavery in Massachusetts in 1780, the rural percentages decreased toward zero as the children of freed slaves moved to Boston or other cities with a significant Black population.

Mark noted that he grew up in a New Jersey community that was 100 percent White until the mid-1960s; now 1.8 percent Black versus all of NJ at 15 percent.

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Maynard Garden Club (1938-1962)

On March 17, at 7:00 p.m., the Maynard Public Library will present a Zoomed talk titled: “Urban Planting: 150 Years of Trees and Gardens,” sponsored by Maynard Community Gardeners. Registration (required) at

The garden club we have now – Maynard Community Gardeners, 1995-present, is not a continuation or rebirth of the Maynard Garden Club that came into being September 1938 and apparently ended circa 1962. Perhaps a bit too glibly, the differences between previous and present-day could be described as “White gloves versus Dirty Knees.” The Maynard Historical Society has copious notes on the original garden club, including minutes from many of the early meetings.

Maynard Garden Club (undated, courtesy of 
Maynard Historical Society)
The 1938 decision to form a local garden club was triggered by a presentation by Mrs. Walsh, President of the Winthrop Garden Club, on the topic “Garden Clubs.”  Early on, a constitution and by-laws were composed. Membership was limited to 25 and annual dues were $.50, later changed to 35 members and $1.00. Per the MGC constitution: “The object of the Club shall be to stimulate the knowledge and love of gardening among amateurs.” In comparison, the present-day Maynard Community Gardeners has approximately 90 dues-paying members, dues of $20/year and as its mission statement: “Dedicated to sharing a common interest in horticultural activities, promoting town beautification, and creating gardening opportunities for all.”

There is an interesting letter from 1939, advice from the same Mrs. Walsh, on whether the Maynard club should join the Federation. This was apparently the Garden Club Federation of Massachusetts. Mrs. Walsh wrote “The Federation activities are run by a group of wealthy women, Groton, Lexington, Concord, Newton, etc., with large estates and they have plenty of money to do things with…there is quite a feeling that the smaller clubs are like ‘poor relations’ if you know what I mean.” There is no record that MGC joined.

The club’s finances were modest in the extreme. The 1940 Treasurer’s report noted $13.00 collected in dues and $4.50 in entry fees for the annual flower show. Expenditures included $16.50 paid to speakers and $3.00 for membership in the Massachusetts Agricultural Society.

The annual programs, which for most years described planned monthly meetings spanning September to June, were printed on card stock with an artist’s drawing of a flower arrangement on the front cover. In addition to educational speakers presenting at the meetings, the club also performed public service – there are thank-you notes from the Bedford Veterans Hospital expressing thanks for the donation of flower arrangements, and a note that at least for a time the club was helping maintain a garden at Emerson Hospital. Gifts to other organizations were modest in nature. A record of donations for 1951 to 1955, inclusive, totaled $23.00. That included $5.00 to Maynard Girl Scouts, $5.00 to the Jimmy Fund, $5.00 to MA Heart Fund and $4.00 to Red Cross. 

There were parallels between the garden club then and the garden club now, including bringing in outside speakers, corresponding with other garden clubs, field trips to places such as Garden in the Woods, a holiday season party with exchanges of gifts, and an annual plant sale.

One difference is that the present-day garden club does not have a judged flower arrangement contest. A second difference is that the present-day club has a community outreach program that includes the perennial plantings at Maplebrook Park, plantings at the “Welcome to Maynard” signs and the historic horse watering troughs, plus flower barrels scattered about downtown on Nason and Main Streets. For the last, the town provides the barrels; members adopt a barrel and are then responsible for planting and watering. The town gathers up the barrels in the fall.

World War I Victory Garden
(where new fire station is)
Toward the end of the existence of the Maynard Garden Club there were 24 members. Meeting presentations were mostly by members. Topics included such as: Flower Arrangements, Dried Flower Arrangements, Christmas Corsages, Valentine Arrangements, Day Lilies, and a joint meeting with the Maynard Woman’s Club (itself in existence 1904-1976). There is nothing in the files to show that the Maynard Garden Club continued beyond the 1961-62 year.

In addition to the two garden clubs, the March 17th presentation will touch on World War I and World War II Victory Gardens, and on efforts during the Great Depression to produce produce (pronounced, respectively, proh-DOOS and PROH-doos) for local consumption. And trees. Lots about the history of trees. So much about trees.

This column is a lightly revised repeat of a column from August 2018.