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. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Windthrow, Windsnap and Blowdown

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

Windthrown tree, Maynard, 1938 hurricane
What a wonderful word is “windthrow.” A user of it wields word poetic. The word itself warrants this column and a definition: “In forestry, windthrow refers to trees uprooted by wind. Breakage of the tree trunk instead of uprooting is called windsnap. “Blowdown” refers to both windthrow and windsnap,” plus branches lost to high winds. And there it is - windthrow is blow me over, windsnap another evocative word, is break me in two, and blowdown encompasses all. Maynard suffered severe blowdown from the hurricane of 1938.

The risk of windthrow is related to the tree's surface area presented by its crown, the anchorage provided by its roots, its health, age, and chronic exposure to wind. The last actually reduces storm damage risk because being chronically exposed to wind causes a tree to increase and widen its root mass, and thus provide greater rooting strength.

Having experienced a hurricane first hand in Mobile, Alabama, it became clear that different species of trees are differently affected. Post-storm, helicopter views of pecan orchards showed the trees all knocked over in the same direction. Southern live oaks survived, but lost branches. In contrast, where several species of southern pine trees had been landscaped into newer suburbs because of their fast growth, many of the trees had snapped in two at heights 10 to 20 feet off the ground, leaving the shorn tops to fly through the air, in some instances stabbing down into house roofs like a toothpick through an olive.

Windthrown tree, 1938 hurricane
courtesy Maynard Historical Society
Atlantic Ocean tropical storms and hurricanes were first formally named starting in 1950 (each year as Able, Baker, Charlie…), then changed to using women’s names from 1953 onward, then switched to alternating women’s and men’s names in 1979. Naming is currently the responsibility of the Hurricane Committee of the World Meteorological Organization. This group maintains six alphabetic lists of 21 names, with one list used each year. Letters Q, U, X, Y and Z are not used. This normally results in names being recycled every six years. However, in the case of a particularly deadly or damaging storm, that storm's name is retired. To date, 94 names have been retired. There is a reserve list of names for when named storms exceed 21. To date, only two years have exceeded 21: 2005 tallied 28 and 2020 reached 30.

After-the-fact, the hurricane of September 21, 1938 was referred to as the Long Island Express because it bisected Long Island before quickly moving north through Connecticut and Massachusetts. There were more than 700 deaths across New England. Boston Edison reported that two-thirds of its customers lost power; getting power restored to everyone took two weeks. In Maynard, the official report tallied 487 trees blown down: 329 on public streets, 81 on private houses and garages. Most of the street-bordering trees lost were windthrown rather than windsnapped, their root systems weak due to being overlaid by paved streets and sidewalks. Many of the spruce trees in Glenwood Cemetery were lost to the storm, later replaced by sugar maples. That tree tally would have been in-town-only. Forested areas suffered uncounted losses. The Great Depression program WPA (Works Progress Administration) put men to work clearing downed trees and planting hundreds of new trees.

Beech tree, snapped by storm winds
Here in New England, trees known for shallow root systems are ash, beech, sugar maple, Norway maple, Norway spruce and willow. In contrast, white oak and hickory have deep root systems. Of course, any tree can end up with a shallow system if the terrain is thin soil over clay or rock, or if there is a high water table saturating the deeper soil. And hurricanes are not a requirement for windthrow or windsnap. Nor’easters can generate near-hurricane-strength winds, as can downbursts or derecho (look it up). Santa Ana winds are a southern California phenomenon that knocks down trees and makes wildfires impossible to control. Tornados primarily plague the middle states, although, surprisingly, Massachusetts averages a few each year, mostly short-track, low intensity events. On August 23, 2021, a small, short-track tornado touched down in Stow, causing minor damage along Route 117 near the police department building. Similar tornado touchdowns occurred in Marlborough and Bolton, all associated with the passage of Tropical Storm Henri.

Mark’s experience with Hurricane Frederic, September 1979, included afterwards, with no electricity for ten days, everyone was grilling whatever was thawing in their freezers before it went bad.