Saturday, December 30, 2023

New Business Card for David Mark

Old business card over new card
The image indicates a transition from my role as an author to my involvement with the Assabet River Rail Trail and Trail of Flowers organizations. 

As a Maynard author, I penned some 425 columns for the Beacon-Villager newspaper, starting fall of 2009 and ending May 2022 when the B-V ceased to be a newspaper in print. Pre-dating that, I had submitted the occasional letter to the newspaper with topics of local history or observations on nature. Two that became early columns were on the history of Maynard's stone walls and an observation that some robins no longer migrated south for the winter. When I contacted the editor in 2009 - Brian Nanos - he welcomed my proposal to submit columns on local history, observations on nature and outdoor activities readers might pursue in Maynard. And made clear that the paper could no longer afford to pay columnists. I agreed to those conditions. 

 Over the years I submitted 30-40 columns per year. Initially, all columns were new, but starting in 2014, I started submitting repeats, limited to 3-5 per year and not counted in that annual or cumulative total. The repeats incorporated some minor revision, and were indicated as repeats. Looking at all the articles, roughly 50% were history topics, 25% observations on nature, 20% suggestions for outdoor recreation (bicycling, kayaking, hiking, etc.) and 5% health-related. 

Some of the columns were incorporated into paperback books published by The History Press, a publisher that specializes in town histories. Maynard: History and Life Outdoors came out in 2011. Hidden History of Maynard in 2014. and Maynard Massachuetts: A Brief History in late 2020 as a Town of Maynard publication in celebration of the town's 150th anniversary. For each book I had to provide 50-75 photographs with captions. Those were either my own or sourced from the archives of the Maynard Historical Society. The second and third books have some overlap in content, specifically how Maynard became Maynard. Sales of each were in the range of 750-1000 copies. All are available via Amazon. Given the specifics of my contracts (no advance on royalties before publication, royalties on books sold equal to 7% of wholesale price) I did not get rich. In fact, in the best early years it meant a royalty check once a  year that would cover a dinner for two at a moderate-priced restaurant. 

After a no-submissions sabbatical, during which I was often triggered by an idea that I thought would make a good column, I decided in the fall of 2023 to resume posting to this website. Without the newspaper columns' mention of this website, I anticipate lower views. I am asking here that if you find my output - old or new - intersesting, that you mention to family, friends and acquaintenances, either directly or through social media, so that I can feel that I still have an audience. 

The banner across the top of the new card assumes recipients know that ARRT refers to the Assabet River Rail Trail organization. I have been a volunteer for ARRT for more than ten years. Paving of the north end - Acton and Maynard - was completed in August 2018. Much of the work before that involved clearing the future route of the rail trail in Maynard and Acton, so that all parts could be walked, run and orr-road biked. Post-paving, volunteer work has included clearing fallen branches and trees, replacing wooden railing broken by those falls, picking up trash, emptying two trash receptacles in Maynard, and removing dead standing trees that had been part of the original 2017-18 landscaping.

Last, Trail of Flowers, website provided on both cards, is an organization I started in the fall of 2018. The thinking was to create a volunteer organization that would plant and maintain flowering plants bordering the Assabet River Rail Trail. From 2018 through 2023, TOF has raised and spent a bit over $10,000. The funds have come from a mix of private donations, towns' Cultural Council grants, towns' garden clubs, corporate donations and sale of ONLY IN MAYNARD coffee mugs at several stores in Maynard. The arrival of COVID-19 was a setback in growing an organization structure for TOF that hopefully will be remedied in 2024. TOF counts itself very lucky that FTD (Florists' Transworld Delivery), the network of local florists that allows arrangements to be ordered on line, has an arrangement called "Trail of Flowers" as a casket adornment, did not ever register that as a website domain (nor did anyone else). So, our local Trail of Flowers is 

Weigela "Sonic Bloom"
Having reached the end of 2023, TOF has planted thousands of daffodils, hundreds of flowering annuals such as daylillies, irises and hostas, and close to 100 flowering shrubs and trees, mostly in Acton and Maynard, but beginning in 2021, in Marlborough. The plan is to add Hudson in 2024. Donating garden clubs recommended that TOF plantings include pollinator-friendly and bird-friendly plants in addition to the daffodils, tulips and forsythia that provide neither nectar nor pollen, so there has been diversification in the more recent plantings. Those include Beauty Bush, Winterberry (berrys for robins), Weigela and Butterfly Bush. Wild, i.e., not planted, growth of such as Queen Anne's Lace, Goldenrod, Phlox, Blackberry and Japanese Knotweed are allowed. Yes, Knotweed is an aggressive invasive species, but there are patches that are somewhat contained, and the late summer flowers are favorites of honeybees.  

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Assabet River Flood 2023

Click on photos to enlarge

Powdermill dam (behind the
Subaru dealership on Rt, 62)
The Assabet River starts in the Westborough marshes that drain into the George H. Nichols flood control basin, then works its way first north, then east. For much of its length the Assabet drops five feet for every mile. Within Maynard, river elevation is 175 feet over the top of the Ben Smith Dam and 145 feet out the east side. All this downhillness means that water moves quickly through the Assabet watershed. The rainstorm of December 17-18 dropped about four inches of rain on earth that was already near-saturated by an earlier storm. Peak water height at the official Maynard recording site was 6.0 feet, reached Wednesday morning. Over 5.0 feet is considered a mild flood, over 6.0 feet a moderate flood. This recent peak was the highest since the flood of March 2010, which had reached 7.1 feet. The last significant flood before that was 7.17 feet recorded in 1987. The highest since record keeping began in 1942 was 8.94 feet, reached after Hurricane Diane, August 1955.
Powdermill dam, non-flood

Even though this latest was quote/unquote a “moderate” flood, there was next to no street flooding or property damage in Maynard. Rather, the water stays in its channel and just moves noisily faster. Only when the river exceeds eight feet does it get into buildings, including the mill complex.

There is a delay in time between the peak rainfall of storms and peak height of rivers. This is because water takes time to drain from the tributaries into the river. For the Assabet River, flood crest levels occur two to three days after the heavy rains began. Sometimes skies are clear and the sun shining while the water is still rising. Interestingly, although the Assabet and Sudbury rivers drain watersheds of approximately the same size, and thus reach similar flood volumes after heavy rainstorms, the Assabet crests much faster because of its steepness compared to the Sudbury. Henry David Thoreau observed that when the Assabet River in flood reached Egg Rock, Concord, where it merges with the Sudbury River to become the Concord River, the surge of water caused the Sudbury River to temporarily flow backwards for a distance of several miles. 

Danforth Brook dam,
December 2023 flood
Danforth Brook dam, in
drought condition
There is a history of severe floods on the Assabet River, especially before the two flood control dams, George H. Nichols Dam and Tyler Dam, were completed in the 1960’s. The impoundment area behind Nichols is kept partially full in order to be able to provide water to the Assabet in times of drought, but usually has a 500 million gallon flood hold-back capacity. Tyler’s impoundment is kept low between floods and has a hold-back capacity of 1,800 million gallons. The amounts sound huge, but the Assabet River’s days-long March 2010 peak of 2,400 cfs (cubic feet per second) converts to 1,500 million gallons per day, and the 1955 flood, courtesy of rains from the remants of Hurricane Diana, which predated the flood control dams, peaked in Maynard at 8.94 feet and 4,250 cfs which converts to 2,650 million gallons per day! Thus, the two flood control dams on the Assabet, plus flood control dams on some of the tributaries, are enough to mute the worst outcomes of these every 10 to 20 year floods, but not enough to prevent them completely.

It's interesting to  realize that Maynard draws less than 1,000,000 gallons per day for all its water needs, but there are no plans for Maynard nor any other community on the Assabet to create reservoirs that would provide a water supply. What we do hope for is that rain and snow melt recharge the aquifers that our wells depend upon.

Mill Street bridge, 2010 flood
Back before the flood control dams were in place, the November hurricane flood of 1927 is recorded as washing away both a dam and the Waltham Street bridge. The dam dated to when there was a papermill at what is now the site of the 7-11 convenience store.  A flood in March 1936 washed out the wooden bridge for Mill Street, replaced by stone arches. Hurricane Diane in August of 1955 brought the most rain recorded in any one month since a gauge was installed in 1942. The river crested at 8.94 feet. No bridges were lost. More recent floods of note occurred in March 1968, cresting at 8.15 feet, and January 1979, cresting at 8.11 feet. Retirees from Digital Equipment Corporation remember sandbagging the buildings in 1968 in an attempt to keep water out of the production facilities. Afterwards, DEC had the river retaining wall on its side built higher along the lowest stretch next to the mill buildings complex. The wall kept the river out in 1979.

An observation: for an undammed river, each flood moves tons and tons of rocks, dirt and organic debris such as trees, branches and leaves, downriver. This can raise the level of land under the river, especially when it reaches areas with less vertical drop per mile. However, all of these solids never reach the center of Maynard because those settle out in the miles-long body of water backed up by the Ben Smith dam. Only clear water overtops the dam, and then scours the river bottom through Maynard down to bedrock, hard clay and large loose rocks.  


Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Assabet River Rail Trail - Users

A few facts and observations now that the Maynard & Acton section is in its fifth year.

ARRT dedication ceremony, August 10, 2018
The Maynard and Acton portion of the Assabet River Rail Trail was formally dedicated at a ceremony held in Acton on August 10, 2018. The trail gets heavy use. In fact, the combination of dog walkers, stroller pushers, walkers, runners, bicycle commuters and recreational bicyclists so fill the pavement that serious cyclists – the weekend Spandex-clad crew that wants to speed along 15-20 miles per hour – are perforce finding that they are at such risk of crashing into other users that they must abandon the trail. Just as well, as signage at the Ice House Landing parking lot includes posting of a 15 mph speed limit. Unfortunately, at times there are users on battery-powered bicycles that travel at speeds exceeding 25 mph.   

Sign also includes keeping dogs on lease shorter
than six feet and picking up poop
Construction: At a ceremony in Maynard on Thursday, July 21, 2016, representatives from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and the towns of Acton and Maynard met to oversee and celebrate ground-breaking for the $6.7 million construction of 3.4 miles of the Assabet River Rail Trial (ARRT) in the two towns. As noted, paving and landscaping - the planting of nearly 600 trees - was completed in August 2018.

Amenities: Mileage markers are in place. Maynard’s start at the Stow/Maynard border (White Pond Road), at 0.0 miles. Touch the stones for a surprise – granite, but clear-coated with some type of rubbery-feeling substance. For the numerically compulsive (as in runners and walkers) there are markers every quarter mile, so that the last in Maynard reads 2.25. And then, 100 yards farther is the Maynard/Acton border with a 0.0 stone to indicate the start of the Acton section. The northernmost Acton stone indicates 1.0 miles; the trailhead a bit farther on

Maynard mile marker
Of the planting of nearly 600 trees - mostly native to North America - roughly 10% died and have been cut down at ground level. The main cause was lack of watering during the first years, although some failed to prosper because of being planted where the ground was too wet or in deep shade. What remains is doing well. For example, tulip trees in the open space south of Concord Street are approaching 30 feet in height. 

Daffodils at Marble Farm Park
In addition to what was planted as part of the construction budget, a volunteer organization - Trail of Flowers ( - was started in 2018 for the purpose of adding flowering plants, shrubs and trees to the borders of the rail trail. With more than $10,000 raised and spent, TOF has planted thousands of bulbs and other perennial plants, and nearly 100 shrubs and trees. Many of the latter are indicated by small signs. Some - including nine Kousa dogwoods along High Street - will take years of growth before annual blooming begins.  

Trash receptacle
In addition to plantings, Acton has three informational kiosks (informationally underutilized) and four benches at one location. Two more benches - dedicated to long-time ARRT leaders Thomas Kelleher and Duncan Power, to be installed soonish. Maynard has two kiosks, 14 benches at six locations and two trash receptacles maintained by volunteers. Neither town has bathroom facilities or water fountains on the trail. The Bruce Freeman Trail, Lowell to Sudbury, uses donation funding to pay the communities to place and maintain Porta-Potties at convenient trail locations. 

Users: Informal observations count walkers as the most frequent trail users, followed in no particular order by runners, dog walkers and recreational bicyclists - often adults with children. The warmer months (with longer daylight) see bicycle commuters heading toward or away from the South Acton train station, where there are a combination of enclosed bicycle lockers and open-air bike racks for people to park bikes and take a train. Staff and children from the Blossom Station Childcare Center walk the Trail and also play on the lawns at the Marble Farm Historic Site, in Maynard. Neither Maynard nor Acton clear snow from the trail, so winters see some cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. 

Maintenance: At five years, the Acton and Maynard section is in good condition. The Departments of Public Health mow the borders, at times as much as four feet from the paved section. Both do leaf blowing in the fall. Neither clear snow. The Hudson and Marlborough section is approaching 20 years of age, Portions are overdue for crack sealing. In places, there is minor pushing up from underlying tree roots. High winds and ice at times bring down large branches and trees on the trail. Smaller debris is cleared by volunteers using non-powered tools. DPW use chainsaws to clear the larger stuff. 

Members of the Assabet River Rail Trail organization do some maintenance and trash removal, and also maintain the blue caboose in Hudson. Members of Trail of Flowers, a sub-organization under ARRT, plant and maintain flowering plants, shrubs and trees along the rail trail, and also mow the grass and rake leaves at the Marble Farm Historic Site (Maynard).  

Thursday, December 7, 2023

American Planning Association Awards David Mark

David Mark in collectors' item
For 2023, Maynard resident David Mark was selected to receive the Citizen Planner Award from the American Planning Association - Massachusetts Chapter (APA-MA). The AMA-MA awards were bestowed at a lunch event on December 8th, at the Colonial Inn, Concord. David attended with Jean D’Amico, his wife. Also attending from Maynard were Greg Johnson, Town Administrator, and Bill Nemser, Planning Director.

The APA-MA has annual awards in several categories. Most of these are for city and town employees. The Citizen Planner Award is described as this “For a non-professional citizen who has made a distinguished contribution to planning such as members of planning boards, zoning boards, economic development boards or other elected or appointed officials. It could also include roles of citizen activists or neighborhood leaders.”

The award is to one person for the entire state of Massachusetts. David, upon hearing from the Town of Maynard that he had received the award, professed complete surprise, as the town employees who nominated him had kept secret the nomination. The award is for David’s several-years effort to have the Town of Maynard to create a historic site/park at the north side of Maynard. 


 A dedication ceremony for the Marble Farm Historic Site was held on May 2, 2023. This was the culmination of a 3.5-year effort to convert a historic site on town property into a historic site/park. Prior to the start of the project there had been preliminary clearing of the site – as an Eagle Scout project – in 2009. The history of the site itself dates to 1705, when the Marble family had moved there from Andover. Descendants of the family lived there until 1924, when the house burned to the ground.

Initial drawing (David Mark 2020)
As for the timeline of the site project, David Mark, Maynard resident, proposed to Maynard’s Community Preservation Committee in the fall of 2019 for a landscape architect feasibility study. In the spring of 2020 this was approved at the annual Town Meeting with a budget of $8,000. CBA Landscape Architects, Cambridge, MA was contracted for the feasibility study and provided an itemized estimated budget of $101,717. In 2021 this was approved by the Select Board, with a sign-off from the Conservation Commission, and then approved in the spring of 2021 at the annual Town Meeting. Justin DeMarco, Director of Department of Public Works, supervised the project.

The project was put out to bid. Three bids were received. All were significantly higher than the landscape architect estimate. The proposal was reviewed by David Mark and the Town of Maynard to determine which parts could be cut from what was originally proposed (see figure), for possible addition as a separate project at a later time. Cut were the stone dust path around the foundation, the stone dust path connecting the parking area to the Assabet River Rail Trail, the bicycle rack, and a bridge spanning the swale between the rail trail and the site. (There is a level-ground entrance to the site next to where the bike rack was to be created.)

Landscape architect's original plan
The project was put out to bid again. Four bids were received in the fall of 2022. Low bid was accepted, and a ground-breaking event was held on October 17, 2022.

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, now surrounded by a four-foot high steel fence, two lawns, several stone walls, and an extensive planting of daffodils and flowering shrubs that began in 2018, courtesy of the Trail of Flowers organization. (, which was started by David. Construction was completed in the spring of 2023 and a dedication ceremony was held on May 2, 2023, to coincide with peak daffodil blooming. Starting with fall 2023, flowering shrubs and tulips have been added to the Marble Farm plantings. 



Sunday, December 3, 2023

Maynard MA: Unusual Businesses

Extracted and condensed from 2014 book Hidden History of Maynard

Unusual Businesses

Most New England cities and towns have had their share of businesses that elicit a sense of “You're kidding, right?” when mentioned in today's conversations. Maynard has had more than its share.

Funeral Homes and Cemeteries

Henry Fowler—a signer of the 1871 petition to create the town of Maynard—was an undertaker. His son, Orrin S. Fowler, followed into the family business in 1887. Orrin and his wife Nellie were a power couple. He was on the founding boards of banks and held many town government offices. She was a member of Daughters of the American Revolution and first president of the American Legion Ladies Auxiliary. They were among the honorables on the very first electric trolley ride, in 1901. Their son, Guyer Fowler (Harvard graduate, class of 1915, and World War I veteran who served in France), followed the family business until his death in 1956, age sixty-three years. Fowler-Kennedy Funeral Service, Inc., at its present location on Concord Street, was started by Guyer and his business partner in 1941. Although the Fowler family no longer has any connection, this is by far the oldest same-name business in Maynard.

   At one time there were four. Herbert Martin Funeral Home started in 1927. Years later, his son-in-law, John Doran, joined the business, making it Martin & Doran, which later moved to Acton. Sheehan and White Funeral Home operated on Bancroft Street into the 1970s. The W.A. Twombly Funeral Home had started out on Main Street near the Methodist Church before relocating to 42 Summer Street and then closing in the 1950s.

   Prior to the founding of the Town of Maynard in 1871, the dead would have been buried in Sudbury or Stow. But with the start of church congregations circa 1850 in what was then known as Assabet Village and the sense of becoming a community, people wanted to be buried closer to their families. Part of what is now Glenwood Cemetery was in use as a burial ground as far back as the 1850s. The first occupant after the cemetery was formally dedicated in 1871 was Thomas H. Brooks. Saint. Bridget’s Cemetery also got off to an informal start, as a man named O’Donnell was planted in 1859, a decade before James Heffernan officially reached six feet under. Both cemeteries are still active. The buried dead number an estimated 11,500, or about the same as the number of people alive in Maynard today.

The Gunpowder Mills on Powder Mill Road

Ka-boom! There was a 105-year history of gunpowder manufacture in this area. A 1921 history of Maynard noted that many local men found employment in the American Powder Mills, adding, “occasional explosions, sometimes serious, do not permit us to ignore their [APM’s] existence.” A newspaper account of an explosion on March 12, 1878 described widely scattered body parts of two workers being gathered in pails, including a detached finger bearing a gold ring. The location of this spread-out complex was along what is now Route 62, encompassing parts of Maynard, Acton, Concord and Sudbury on both sides of the Assabet River.

The black powder manufacturing process in brief: potassium nitrate, sulfur and softwood charcoal are each milled separately to a fine powder, then mixed together while dampened with water. The blend is pressed to remove water, the presscake then broken into the desired coarseness (for cannons) or fineness (for guns) in the kernel-house, sieved to remove dust, with the resulting grains glazed with graphite to prevent sticking, dried and then packed into copper-nailed oak barrels or tin containers. Because of the dangerous nature of gunpowder, this type of operation was typically composed of modest-sized wooden buildings quite a distance apart from each other.

   Thoreau’s journal mentions the gunpowder mills several times. Passing by on an 1851 walk to Lake Boon, Thoreau complained that the harsh chemicals irritated his throat. Later the same year, he recounted having asked a worker about the dangers of working with gunpowder. Per his journal, the workmen wore shoes without iron tacks, so as to reduce the risk of striking a spark. The workers considered the kernel-house the most dangerous.

   The site of all this was the gunpowder mills that Nathan Pratt built in 1835. Previously, a dam at that site had provided power for a saw mill. Pratt had learned his trade at the gunpowder mills in Barre, Massachusetts. That operation became incorporated as the Massachusetts Powder Works, which then bought Pratt’s business in 1864, moved its own equipment to Pratt’s site because his was close to a railroad and then took on his company’s name: American Powder Company. Under subsequent ownerships by the American Powder Mills (1883–1929) and American Cyanamid Company (1929–1940), the operation grew to some forty buildings scattered over 401 acres—mostly in Acton and Maynard—employing at times as many as sixty men and a dozen or more women (the latter to assemble cartridges). The company had its own small-gauge railroad to carry freight to and from the railroad a mile north.

   Descriptions of the time mention willow tree wood being brought in from Sudbury to make the charcoal, and of unshod mules being used to pull wagons within the mill compound because of the fear that horseshoe-shod horses might strike sparks. Coming off work, men would leave their gunpowder-soiled clothing in the changing room and wash thoroughly before changing into clean clothes to go home.

   American Powder Mills added production of smokeless powder for shotguns, including the renowned brand Dead Shot, but continued making black powder. Interestingly, during World War I, the facility’s entire production was contracted to the Russian government. And why weren't they selling to the United States? Because DuPont had an exclusive contact.

   The first fatal explosion mentioned in historic records occurred in 1836. The Concord Freeman reported that three men were blown to bits and a fourth succumbed hours later to burns and fractures. Various records documented twenty-three explosions—many with fatalities. A New York Times article told of five deaths in a multi-building series of explosions on May 3, 1898. A September 4, 1915 explosion was heard as far away as Lowell and Boston. The last three explosions on record took place in 1940; the mills were closed shortly thereafter. The dam still exists, with an adjoining, recently modernized hydroelectric facility operating under the name Acton Hydro Company. The body of water is named Ripple Pond, visible from Route 62.

Maydale Beverage Company

Maynard’s one-time bustling soda company, epitomized by the very popular Maydale Ginger Ale, ceased operations in the mid-1960s. The customer list was sold to Chelmsford Ginger Ale, at that time a division of Canada Dry Ginger Ale. The term “dry” in this context means a milder ginger taste and lower sugar content than was typical of the traditional (now rare) golden ginger ale.

   Maynard’s soda business originated with Waino Keto owning and operating Maynard Bottling Works, on Euclid Avenue. He started the business in 1899. Returnable glass bottles were washed, rinsed, filled, capped and labeled by hand. Production was a few dozen cases per week. Karl Paul Hilander, who went by the name K. Paul Hilander, started working for Keto in 1913, then bought the company in early 1914. A year later, he relocated to Glendale Street at a site that had access to spring water.

   Immigration records indicate that Hilander was born in 1889 in Bjarnbarg, Finland. He immigrated to the United States in 1908 and became a citizen in 1921. Somewhere along the way, his name morphed from Helander to the perhaps more American-sounding Hilander. What’s missing from this story is where, at age twenty-four, he got the money not only to buy the soda company, but also buy out the Cullen Wet Wash Laundry that had been operating at the Glendale site. One possibility is money came from his wife’s family, as her maiden name was Keto; it's possible she was related to Waino Keto, the original owner.

   In 1916, Hilander decided on the name Maydale, from combining Maynard with Glendale. His businesses provided spring water as the Maydale Spring Company and bottled soda as the Maydale Beverage Co., Inc. In addition to ginger ale, flavors included root beer, birch beer, sarsaparilla and orange.

   At its peak, Maydale was the bottled beverage of choice in Maynard and surrounding towns as far away as Fitchburg. Production topped thousands of cases per week. A nickel would buy an eight ounce bottle. The clear glass bottles are not infrequent finds whenever people dig on their property to put in gardens or paths. Hilander had between twelve and fifteen people working for him, including drivers for his delivery trucks.

   Hilander owned the business into the 1950s. The soda and spring water business continued for a while under Arnold Anderson, until he converted the site to an auto body shop for his Ford dealership, later relocated to Acton.

Taylor’s Mink Ranch

Older residents of Maynard remember when the town had a mink farm. What was the Taylor farm is now the site of the senior housing complex on Concord Street Circle, off of Concord Street, east of Route 27.

   Town directories from the 1920s onward list John W. Taylor as a fur dealer living at 60 Concord with his wife Hulda. Townspeople remember the Taylor’s farm as still in operation into the 1960s. George Walls recalled, “As kids, we would sneak over there to see the minks in rows of small cages. The smell from all the feces and urine dripping through the wire mesh was horrible.”

   Typically, a mink farm, or “ranch” in the parlance of the day, would have had two to ten thousand mink in individual cages under long, open-sided sheds. Each wire mesh cage was about twenty by twenty by thirty inches, with the bottoms thirty inches above ground. Each year started with breeding animals in early March, followed by births of four to eight kits per litter in May. Come November, most of the mink were killed and skinned at the farm. The remaining 20 percent were overwintered to be breeding stock for the next year.

   John Taylor was more than a mere mink farmer. As a furrier with a store in Boston, he partnered with Percy V. Noble, a Canadian mink rancher. Together they turned a fortuitous color mutation which had occurred in Noble’s breeding stock in 1937 into the first ever offering of natural white mink. This was just after the end of World War II.

Sonja Henie, the famous Norwegian Olympic figure skater and later ice show and movie star, was one of the early wearers of Noble-Taylor white mink coats and also incorporated white mink into skating outfits for her ice skating shows. One of her mink coats was valued at $20,000 back when a new car cost around $1,500.
Sonja Henie admires white mink pelts

   According to Frederick Johnson of Maynard, whose sister was married to Taylor’s son, Taylor’s interest in furs began after World War I with his buying pelts from local trappers. He subsequently opened up a furriers on Washington Street, in Boston, and became known for offering high quality fur coats. He bought only top-quality pelts at the annual auctions in New York City.

   In time, he started breeding mink on his property along Concord Street. As Fred tells it, “Mr. Taylor and his wife Hulda had a huge mink ranch—maybe as many as ten thousand animals. He was an expert on the rare, light-colored fur mutations. What he did not raise on his ranch he got from Percy Noble, his Canadian partner.”

   As for what the mink were fed, Fred went on to recount, “Any time a horse died in Maynard, south Acton or Stow, one of Taylor’s employees would go round with a wagon. The carcasses would be processed for food.” Purchases were also made from slaughter houses and fish processing facilities.

Powell Flutes

An inverted triangle logo and “Powell Flutes” grace the end of the Clock Tower building closest to the Farmers’ Market parking lot. The triangle displays the stylized letters VQP for Verne Q. Powell, the founder of the company.

   According to postings at and, Powell was a jeweler and engraver living in Fort Scott, Kansas. He came from a musical family and played piccolo and flute (wooden) in the town band. During a visit to Chicago he heard a European flutist performing on a silver flute. He was so impressed with the quality of the sound that he decided to craft a silver flute. As the story goes, he melted silver coins, watch cases and teaspoons to make the first silver flute made in America, in 1910. The keys were inlaid with gold from gold coins. The instrument became known as “The Spoon Flute,” and is still in the family’s possession to this day.

   This flute came to the attention of William S. Haynes, one of several wind instrument makers based in Boston. Haynes hired Powell as foreman, where he worked for over ten years before setting out on his own, in 1927. Powell’s shop was on Huntington Avenue, near the New England Conservatory of Music and Boston Symphony Hall.

   From the beginning, Powell flutes and piccolos were renowned as top-quality professional instruments. Still, the business grew slowly. It took twenty-five years to reach flute number one thousand. Verne Q. Powell sold the company to a group of employees in 1961 and retired in early 1962. The company moved from Boston to Arlington in 1970 and then to Waltham in 1989.

   Steven Wasser, a graduate of Harvard Business School, bought into the company in 1986, bought out the other co-owner in 1989, then moved the company to Maynard in 1999. Under his management Powell continued to innovate at all levels while having also launched a lower cost line of instruments to complement the higher-priced brands and custom-made flutes. In 2016, the company was purchased by Buffet Crampon, joining nine other brands of wind instruments to complete the largest group of wind instrument manufacturers in the world. Powell Flutes employs about fifty people.

   Eastern Massachusetts is a nexus of American flute manufacture. The William S. Haynes Company, from which Verne Q. Powell had left to start his own company, still exists, and, much like Powell Flutes, exited Boston after many years in the city. Haynes is now located in Acton. The Brannen brothers left Powell in 1977 to make flutes on their own, and are currently in Woburn. Lillian Burkart and Jim Phelan met while working at Powell, married, and later launched Burkart Flutes & Piccolos, currently in Shirley. Di Zhao worked for Powell and then Haynes before starting Di Zhao Flutes in Westford.

   There’s more. David Williams was at Powell, put in a stint at Brannen Brothers, and in 1990, launched Williams Flutes in Arlington. Lev Levit followed the same Powell-to-Brannen path before starting Levit Flute Company in Natick. Kanichi Nagahara started in flutes in Japan, then put in a few years at two Boston area flute companies (coyly, his website does not name names) before starting Nagahara Flutes, now in Chelmsford.

   A Powell flute (#365) commanded the highest price ever paid for a flute. This platinum flute with sterling silver mechanism was commissioned for an exhibit at the 1939 World’s Fair, in New York. In 1986, the same flute was auctioned at Christie’s for $187,000. For a time, it was on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

   Lastly, a Powell flute has journeyed into space. Massachusetts resident astronaut Catherine “Cady” Coleman had three trips into space over the period 1995–2011. Her last was a 159-day stint in the Space Station. Included in the personal belongings each Space Station inhabitant is allowed was her handmade sterling silver flute. On April 11, 2011 she played a flute duet with Ian Anderson of the band Jethro Tull (she in space, he on earth, both on Powell flutes).

Northern Recording Studio

Once upon a time, gods and demigods of rock and roll walked the streets of Maynard. It was the ’70s. Aerosmith, Talking Heads, the Cars, Tommy Bolin Band, Johnny Barnes, Thundertrain…all recorded at the Great Northern Studio, aka Northern Studio, Northern Recording Studio, Northern Sound or Northern Lights Recording Studio, located on the second floor of the brick building at 63 Main Street.

   Back then, the Rathskeller—better known as “The Rat”—was a live music club in Kenmore Square, Boston. Many Massachusetts bands that came through there became almost famous. Some of those bands, when cutting a demo tape, recording songs, taping a live radio show, or maybe just adding tracks to songs recorded elsewhere, often ended up in Maynard. The building itself has a long history. This upstairs space in Colonial Hall, which was built in 1914, served as one of Maynard’s early movie theaters, and also did duty as a dance hall and meeting room. Downstairs, Woolworths moved in with a small store in 1916, later expanding to the entire ground floor. One anecdote that connects the two comes from Joe Viglione’s History of New England Rock: “Worcester/Boston radio station WAAF broadcast Duke & the Drivers live from Northern Sound on the day Elvis Presley died, August 16, 1977, with approximately 1,000 people jammed into the studio atop a Woolworths five-and-dime.” Likely a wildly exaggerated number, but definitely crowded.

   The Great Northern Studio was started by Peter Casperson and Bob Runstein, both out of Boston. Casperson is still very active in music management. Runstein’s book, Modern Recording Techniques, now in its fifth edition, is considered the Bible of the industry. Later, the studio was taken over by Bill Riseman and operated under the name Northern Studio.

   And thus it was that up one long flight of steps, Thundertrain came to record songs for their first album, Teenage Suicide, including “Hot for Teacher!” (ten years before Van Halen’s hit of the same name). Reddy Teddy taped their first album in 1976, as did the Earl Slick Band. The Tommy Bolin Band recorded “Live at Northern Lights” during a WBCN broadcast the same year.

   One year later, the Cars did a demo tape of “Just What I Needed.” Also in 1977, side one of The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads was recorded for a WCOZ radio broadcast, but did not appear on that double album compilation until 1982. Aerosmith was in for three nights doing some early rehearsal work on what became Toys in the Attic. “Having Aerosmith record in Maynard was very exciting, and as word slowly leaked out there was a steady stream of teenagers hanging around the back door. I say ‘slowly leaked out’ but I should say ‘blasted out,’ as even the acoustically insulated walls of the studio could not contain the ripping, thundering sounds of Aerosmith.”

   Stories have it that many other bands recorded a track or two, or maybe an entire song or album at Northern Studios through those years. One of the few that bothered to credit that in the liner notes was Boston, which on the 1978 album Don't Look Back acknowledged that the piano track on “A Man I'll Never Be” was recorded in Maynard. Researching obscure discography added recording work done for Duke and the Drivers, James Montgomery Blues Band, Barbara Holliday, Cap’n Swing, Andy Pratt, Eastwood Peak, the Dawgs and the Blend. Some of this appeared on the Jelly Records label.

   Life at the studio must have been interesting. This from a forum post on “The first time I ever saw a ‘beer machine’ [soda machine stocked with cans of beer] was at Northern Sound in Maynard, MA in the late ’70s. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world!”


Wednesday, November 29, 2023

"The Ammo Dump" Maynard, MA

Wildlife Refuge visitors touring one of the bunkers
The Ammo Dump is the title of a 2023 book co-authored by Paul Boothroyd and his sons Paul Boothroyd, Jr. and Todd Boothroyd. In the spring of 1942, the U.S. Army seized by eminent domain some 3,100 acres of land spanning Maynard, Stow, Sudbury and Hudson. The purpose was to create an munitions storage facility at a distance from Boston harbor, so that if German battleships appeared off the Massachusetts coast, the munitions facility would be too far inland to be shelled from the sea. An extensive network of railroad tracks and widely spaced 'bunkers' (earth-covered warehouse buildings) would hold munitions until ships docked at harbor to take on supplies for transportation to Europe. 

The book is for sale at Russell's convenience store, Main Street, Maynard, for $21.99.

The book is broadly divided into three chronological eras; first, from Native American occupation through the colonial and post-colonial settling by European colonists; second the taking of the land by the U.S. Army for use during World War II and after; and third, turnover of the land from the Army to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, for the majority of the land to become the Assaber River Natural Wildlife Refuge. 

The land was mostly flat, with a few hills, bodies of water either contained or bordering (Puffer Pond, White Pond, Willis Pond, Bottomless Pond, Taylor Brook and Assabet River) and wetlands. On the eve of the taking, more than 80 families owned land, predominantly operating as small farms and pasture. Over years of research, the authors contacted scores of the evicted families to gather their stories, and in many instances acquire use of photographs of the homesteads and people. One odd fact: Henry Ford - of automotive fame (1863-1947) - owned 140 acres at the time of the land seizure. He also had purchased larger amounts of land in Sudbury, including Wayside Inn, for planned construction of a reproduction of a 'colonial village'. The property within the seized land may have been meant to provide food supplies for the village. 

Bunker blueprint of what the U.S. Army call 'igloos'
Occupants - some of them third and fourth generation farmers - received notice of their land being taken by eminent domain, giving them up to a month to as little as a week to find a new place to live and move out. They were paid what the federal government calculated as far market value for the land. This harsh disruption is documented in interviews of people who had been the children of landowners at the time. Farmland was replaced by a network of rail lines and 50 munitions storage bunkers. There were vague promises of being able to buy back the property after the war but that came to nothing when the Army decided to keep the land for testing of new equipment and training facilities. Testing included munitions, so Maynard residents became used to hearing the occasional explosions. The abandoned houses had long been demolished, and the fields and pastures reverted to meadows and forest.

The third act for the land, documented in Chapter 8, was the turning over of the land from the Army to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department in 2000 so that two-thirds could become the Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge (ARNWR) in 2005. The delay allowed for some of the worst polluted land to be remedied as a Superfund clean-up site. A volunteer organization - Friends of ARNWR - provides educational programs at the visitors' center and does tasks such as combating invasive plant species. Maynard residents find the Refuge a beautiful place to walk or bicycle in all seasons. Dogs not allowed. Deer hunting is allowed to prevent over-population. 

Other books by Paul Boothroyd, Sr., with Lewis Halprin:

Assabet Mills, Images of America. Mount Pleasant, SC: Arcadia, 1999.

Maynard Massachusetts, Images of America. Mount Pleasant, SC: Arcadia, 1999.

Maynard, Postcard History Series. Mount Pleasant, SC: Arcadia, 2005.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Maynard, MA: Unusual People

These people profiles were first published in Maynard's newspaper, the Beacon-Villager, and then assembled into Chapter 6 of the 2014 book "Hidden History of Maynard."

 Poet Laureate of Maynard

Men on their way to Marlboro after Maynard
voted itself 'dry' in 1915 (3rd poem)
One hundred years ago, William C. Kenyon was locally known for poems published in the Maynard News. Kenyon worked at the woolen mill. Little is known about him. Apparently, he married Eva Wilson in 1895, lived in Maynard, and then moved away in 1919. The newspaper published more than fifty of his poems over the period 1913 to 1919. The Maynard Historical Society has on file a binder containing most of Kenyon’s poems, transcribed from archived copies of the newspaper. Internet searches yield no additional information.

   His topics were local: the woolen mill, a town election, the bandstand controversy; and also general: the war, death, motherhood. Quite a number of the poems had to do with efforts to ban the sale of alcohol. This was a topic Kenyon appeared ambivalent about, as in several poems he portrayed the harmful influence of alcohol, while in another he lamented Maynard voting itself dry. Here are excerpts from some of his poems (which will benefit from being read out loud). The first example is the beginning lines from “Maynard's Woolen Mill”:

 Upon the river Assabet,

which flows by Summer Hill,

in the old town of Maynard, Mass,

stands Maynard's woolen mill.

A high imposing structure,

the largest of its kind;

it answers well the purposes,

for which it was designed.

It is not a thing of beauty,

though planned with greatest skill;

it was ugly when completed,

and it is ugly still.

 This one goes on for eight more verses of similar length. It was in print in 1918, about when the large new buildings closest to the mill pond were being completed. The next is from “A Protest.” Kenyon was castigating speculators who were driving up the price of food during the war.

 And some of our men of finance,

if I had the proper dope,

should be made to do a high dance,

with their necks inside a rope.

For the men who rob our children,

of their meat and of their bread,

should be hung from some high building,

and left there till they're dead.

 This one also had eight more verses in a similar vein. Kenyon’s style was not concise. Most of his work fell into the range of three hundred to six hundred words. He tended to rhyme alternating lines—except when he didn't.

   Next example: April 1915, and the town of Maynard had just voted itself dry. The neighboring towns were consistently dry, but Maynard flip-flopped from year to year. Prohibition was town-by-town, county-by-county or state-by-state before it became Federal law in 1919. From the start of “The Wail of the Wets”:

 Yes, Maynard went dry, and we wonder why,

For no one seems to know.

Now, just how quick can we make the trip,

from here to Marlboro?

For spring is here and we want beer,

we don't care what you say.

So we ask you, what shall we do,

after the first of May?

Titanic Disaster Affected Maynard Resident

The RMS Titanic sank in 1912. Per accounts in the February 14, 1913 issues of the Maynard News and the Concord Enterprise, Frances M. Ford filed a lawsuit against the White Star Line for losses suffered in the disaster. Miss Ford had crossed the Atlantic in 1911. She found work as a domestic servant. Her letters to her family, with glowing accounts of the prospects of a good life in America, convinced them to make the crossing.

   Back in England, Miss Ford’s mother, Margaret Ann Watson Ford, sold the family’s meager belongings and bought tickets for herself and her four other children: Dollina, age twenty; Edward, age eighteen; William, age fifteen; and Robina, age seven. Also crossing with the Ford family was Mrs. Ford’s younger sister Eliza Johnston, her husband Andrew Johnston, and their two young children. In all, a party of nine. Their one-way tickets in third class cost a bit more than seven British pounds—roughly four hundred dollars per person in today's dollars.

   None of the Fords or Johnstons survived. Miss Ford was living in New York at the time of the ship’s sinking, but she became so despondent after her loss of nine family members that she gave up her position to go live with an uncle and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Watson, in Haverhill, Massachusetts, later relocating with them to Maynard. It was while living in Maynard that Miss Ford made the local newspaper by deciding to join the many who were filing lawsuits against the White Star Line.

   The sinking of the Titanic caused many wrongful death and loss of property lawsuits to be filed in the courts of the United States and United Kingdom. Claims filed in the United States alone easily exceeded ten million dollars. A legal definition of ownership of the Titanic would be crucial to remuneration.

   The backstory: John Pierpont Morgan, a wealthy American, bought the White Star Line in 1902. A nuance of the purchase was that White Star continued to be registered as a British shipping company with British officers and crew. Hence RMS Titanic, signifying Royal Mail Ship. By doing so, Morgan avoided enforcement of U.S. anti-monopoly laws.

   There was another benefit. White Star claimed that the tragic loss occurred without any cause on their part, and filed a petition to this effect asking for a cap on their liability based on the Limitation of Liability Act of 1851. The U.S. government had passed this law to make U.S. shipping more competitive via lower insurance costs. The law specified that damages could not exceed the value of the ship at the end of the voyage in question. Even if the ship was insured by the owner, the claimants had no claim to the insurance payout, only the ship’s remaining value.

   Nothing could be salvaged from the Titanic. Morgan argued that the remnant value of the Titanic was only $96,000—calculated from the value of the recovered lifeboats—thus leaving little to file lawsuits against.

   Across the ocean, a British citizen counterclaimed that since the ship sailed under British registry, England’s maritime law should apply to his lawsuit. Under this law, the liability limit would be determined by the size and value of the ship—in this case several million dollars. Morgan initially lost his petition for U.S. jurisdiction, appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, and won there. Thus, all successful lawsuits filed in the United States would divvy up only $96,000 (minus lawyers’ fees). But because of the ship’s registry, lawsuits could be brought in Britain and would have access to the larger pool of money.

   History does not reveal if Miss Ford was successful in her lawsuit. On a different note, there was no mention of a Mr. Ford being on the Titanic with his wife and children, the reason being he had deserted the family in 1904, shortly after the birth of their last child, leaving Margaret Ford to struggle in poverty as a single mother of five. However, he joined the British lawsuits against the White Star Line and was awarded a modest annuity.

 Babe Ruth Shopped Here

Babe Ruth in RED SOX uniform
“Babe and Helen Ruth spent the winter of 1917–18 at their farmhouse in Sudbury, Massachusetts. They often took a horse and buggy into the nearby town of Maynard, where Helen would shop and Babe would buy cigars and play pool at the Maynard Smoke Shop, which was owned by Frank and Joe Sheridan. The owners' younger brother, 19-year old Ralph Sheridan, had followed the Red Sox since 2008, and he recognized Ruth the first time he walked into the store.” (From the book Babe Ruth and the 1918 Red Sox by Allan Wood)

    This raises the question: Why was the young Boston Red Sox pitcher living in Sudbury? Firstly, this was not the Dutton Road farmhouse that Babe bought in 1922, when he was already a star for the Yankees. Rather, the story goes that a couple of his teammates on the Red Sox had invited him to visit Sudbury, where they would rent cabins to fish and hunt. For the winter of 1917–18, Ruth rented a modest waterfront cottage near the end of Butler Road (which has since burned down). Maynard was the closest place to go shopping and also to drink, play pool, and otherwise carouse.

   Ruth was well off at the time but not rich. He was twenty-two years old and had been paid $5,000 for the 1917 season. In today's inflation-adjusted dollars that would have been approximately $90,000. Baseball in the era before radio or television broadcasting, and all the associated advertising, was America’s pastime, but no one got rich.

   This story is not complete without a connection to the legend of Babe Ruth’s piano. Again, Ralph Sheridan's reminisces, as recounted by Allan Wood:

 “Several times that winter, Ruth invited young men and kids from the area out to his house. Ralph Sheridan worked in a nearby woolen mill and on the weekends, he and some friends, all teenagers, would walk from Maynard, about one mile, across Willis Pond to Ruth's farm. Babe and Helen were often out playing in the snow when Sheridan and his friends came by.”

   Sheridan recalled that he and his friends would play outside with Ruth. When they got cold, Helen Ruth invited the boys into the cottage and served them hot cocoa and cookies. “Mrs. Ruth would play the piano and we would all sing along, including the Babe,” wrote Sheridan. “He loved kids and always liked to have them around. And, always when we would leave, he would say, ‘Come over again and bring the gang.’ We were thrilled to be with him.”

   So how did that piano supposedly end up in Willis Pond? As one version of the story goes, a daytime gathering at the house got overcrowded—the cottage being only twenty by fifty feet—so Ruth and others pushed the piano down the hill and out onto the ice. There, they continued the party complete with singing and dancing while Helen played the piano. When it was time to move the piano back it was too heavy to push up the hill. So, the Babe simply left the instrument on the ice, where it eventually sank to the bottom.

   Kevin Kennedy, a resident of Sudbury, has been searching for the piano for many years. Teams of expert divers have been in the pond more than once. In 2010, a group of divers pulled out pieces of wood, possibly white oak, that piano expert David Sanderson, of Sanderson Piano in Littleton, believed was the veneer of an old upright piano.

 Babe Ruth Drank Here?

Initially, lore of Babe Ruth drinking or otherwise carousing in Maynard appeared to be just that. A few neighboring town waterholes—such as the Dudley Chateau in Wayland—claim to have been speakeasies frequented by Ruth back in the day. The timing would have been in the early 1920s, i.e., after national Prohibition was in effect. What is missing from this story is confirmation of sites within Maynard that were serving booze before or during Prohibition. The two oldest bars extant—the Pleasant Cafe and Stretch’s Tavern (now Morey’s) —both postdate the end of Prohibition.

   Babe Ruth could have been buying illegally in Maynard and drinking at his Sudbury estate just two miles away. When he bought the farmhouse in 1922, it included a simple cabin on Willis Pond about half a mile from the house. Babe and his friends could head out there for an evening of drinking, card playing and whatnot without disturbing his wife and daughter in the farmhouse. His name for the cabin was “Ihatetoquitit.” (I hate to quit it.)

   A quote often attributed to Babe Ruth, but in fact the work of current-day comic writer Jack Handey: “Sometimes when I reflect on all the beer I drink, I feel ashamed. Then I look into the glass and think about the workers in the brewery and all of their hopes and dreams. If I didn't drink this beer, they might be out of work and their dreams would be shattered. I think, ‘It is better to drink this beer and let their dreams come true than be selfish and worry about my liver.’”

   On the other hand, this one appears to be true Ruth: “I learned early to drink beer, wine and whiskey. And I think I was about five when I first chewed tobacco.”

   First appearances were that Ruth was not drinking during his Red Sox years. In Ralph Sheridan’s reminisces about visiting Ruth’s cabin on Willis Pond, he said he never saw Ruth drink nor saw any alcohol in the house. Babe Ruth spent mid-1914 through 1919 with the Red Sox, initially as a pitcher, but by the end he was pitching less and putting in more time as an outfielder. He was sold to the Yankees before the start of the 1920 season.

   After two years of Ruth’s successes and shenanigans in New York, Colonel Jacob Ruppert, the owner of the Yankees, attempted to curtail Babe's drinking and partying. Thus an addendum to the contract signed in late 1922:

“It is understood and agreed by and between the parties hereto that the regulation set forth shall be construed to mean among other things, that the player shall at all times during the term of this contract [$52,000/year] and throughout the years 1922, 1923 and 1924, and the years 1925 and 1926 if this contract is renewed for such years, refrain and abstain entirely from the use of intoxicating liquors and that he shall not during the training and playing season in each year stay up later than 1 o'clock a.m. on any day without the permission and consent of the Club's manager.”

   This appears to have been the first morals clause for a professional athlete. Ruppert may have hoped that the Sultan of Swat would also curtail his compulsive womanizing, but did not try to get that into the contract. Supposedly, at the time of that meeting, the Babe told Ruppert: “I'll promise to go easier on drinking and to get to bed earlier, but not for you, $50,000 or $250,000 will I give up women. They’re too much fun.”

   While a Yankee, Ruth and his wife made one more stab at reconciling. He returned to Massachusetts, bought the farmhouse and farm at 558 Dutton Road, in Sudbury, and took up the public image of a gentleman farmer living the good, clean life in the country with his wife and their adopted daughter. Babe was in residence the winter of 1922–23. After that, his wife continued to reside in Sudbury or elsewhere in the Boston area, but Babe was mostly in New York. They formalized their separation (not a divorce) in 1925 and she sold the house in 1926. Mrs. Ruth died in a house fire in 1929. Babe Ruth remarried, and remained married until his death in 1948.

   After this column appeared in Maynard’s newspaper, I got a phone call from Bob Merriam, Maynard High School class of 1962, with stories about how his grandparents, Niilo and Saimi Hirvonen, knew all about Babe Ruth’s drinking in Maynard. According to Bob, during the time when Ruth was still with the Red Sox (and liquor was still legal), Babe would show up at the bar at Bughouse Corner with a big roll of cash in his pocket, slap it on the bar, and tell the bartender “Everyone drinks on Babe Ruth.” Not only was he buying, but he also insisted that everyone stay until the bar closed, because he liked being around lots of people. He would have been in his early twenties at the time.

   Bughouse Corner was a nickname for the intersection of Waltham and Parker, possibly due to speechifying Socialists, and came to apply to the bar also. The latter was a low-key, smoke-filled drinking haunt for workers coming off shift at the woolen mill. More than one night, Ruth was too drunk to drive the two miles back to Sudbury (where his wife was home alone in the remote cabin on Willis Pond). Instead, Niilo—himself being a drinking man—saw no problem in inviting Babe Ruth back to his place, where Ruth would sleep it off on the living room floor.

   As Bob Merriam told it, “When I was growing up, my grandfather was proud that he had known Babe Ruth, but my grandmother had nothing kind to say.” What he heard from her: “‘That man would wake up in the night and go outside and pee off the porch instead of using the bathroom.’” When Bob asked his grandfather if this was true, the diplomatic answer was “Your grandmother has a good memory.”

   Another story about the Babe and urination is not as well documented. As the story goes, he was an avid golfer, at times played the Stowaway Golf Course (in Stow), and when he did, had on occasion stepped into the woods to relieve himself. Some players joke that they may be wetting the same spot honored by Ruth, ninety years ago.

Sid’s Airport (closed circa 2017)

Sid Mason, wife, dog and his beloved plane
Start with a Google search on Maynard, Massachusetts. Select the Maps option. Zoom in a couple of clicks. Drag the map so that it is centered on the west side of town, just north of Summer Street. You will see a designation: “Sid’s Airport.” A switch to satellite view will confirm a grassy airstrip. At this point, say to yourself “Really?!?” Next time you are driving west on Summer Street, remember to glance to the right two houses after passing Durant Avenue on the right. Voila! Sid’s Airport.

   Sidney H. Mason created his backyard airstrip in 1948 (the same year Orville Wright died). Sid was twenty-eight at the time and an army veteran. He and three friends bought a used Luscombe 1946 8A in 1947 for one thousand dollars. The plane was a two-seater with an all-aluminum body and wings, powered by a sixty-five horsepower engine. The airstrip land was carved out of what had been an extensive Mason family farm that dated back to at least 1875. In fact, back in the farm days, the family had two runways, and many of the pilots in Maynard and nearby towns kept their planes there.

   Sid was still flying in the left hand (pilot’s) seat as late as 1997, at age seventy-nine. A few years before he gave up flying, he had switched over to a 1955 Cessna that needed a bit more runway than his private airstrip provided, so he started flying from Stow’s Minute Man Air Field. Meanwhile, Sid's son—Jack Mason—had taken up his father's hobby while still in his teens, earned his pilot’s license, and was flying a Vector Ultralight in and out of the backyard. This meant that their landing strip continued to be an active, FAA-numbered airstrip (MA52). Sid also soloed the ultralight now and then.

   Run the timeline forward to 2012, and Jack Mason had just become the proud owner of a 1946 Luscombe 8E (a model with a bit more horsepower than his dad's old plane). He won the plane in a lottery. By choosing a propeller that maximizes takeoff and climbing power, he has a vintage but modernized plane that can be flown in and out of the landing strip behind his house. Thus, while the plane lives at Stow’s airport, Jack can start a voyage from there, stop home for lunch, then head out again…or just step out the back door and into an ultralight.

   Sid Mason passed on to the big airport in the sky in 2005. His life-long love affair with the air is memorialized by his tombstone, as it portrays his Luscombe in flight, with the plane’s registration number N72025 on the side.

Women at Digital Equipment Corporation

October 10, 1957: A short item on the third page of the Maynard News mentioned that Kenneth H. Olsen and Harlan E. Anderson had formed a new electronics company named Digital Equipment Corporation. Both of them had been employees at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory before striking out on their own. Ken was thirty-one, Harlan twenty-eight. They started with 8,680 square feet of space, rented for $3,600 a year.

   For the first three years, they were producing electronic test modules for engineering laboratories, and in the meantime working on Phase II of their plan: Digital's first computer, to be named the PDP-1. By October 1961, the company had grown to 265 employees. In time, Digital made Maynard the “mini-computer capital of the world.”

   Olsen was a big believer in numbers. Employees were assigned consecutive numbers based on order of hire, later becoming their badge numbers. Ken was #1. Harlan was #2. The first two women hired were Alma E. Pontz, #5, and Gloria Porrazzo, #6.

   Women were not rare at Digital. From perusing a list of the first one hundred full-time employees, thirty-six were women. Years later, the main reasons Olsen gave for locating in Maynard were low rent and a local work force with lots of factory experience. Many of the women were walk-to-work Maynardites who had worked in the same buildings in the woolen mill era, ten to twenty years back. The newly refurbished work area was clean, quiet and well lit, although hot during the summers, as no air conditioning was installed until around 1970. Throughout the buildings, summer weather meant lanolin from the old wool-processing days dripping down the walls or from the ceilings above.

   Alma E. Pontz was the first woman hired. According to her 2013 obituary, she had already put in twenty-four years in the wool business before being hired by Olsen as the first administrative assistant, and thus was more than a decade older than her bosses. She stayed with DEC until she retired twenty-one years later. Gloria Porrazzo was the first woman hired to work in assembling the Laboratory Modules and Systems Modules. These products allowed Digital to be profitable from its first year onward. The women who worked in assembly, informally “Gloria's Girls,” did circuit board assembly, welds and quality control.

Barbara Stephenson, DEC engineer
   Digital was not averse to hiring women with technical expertise, but some of the customers had a hard time adapting. Barbara Stephenson, MIT graduate, employee #71, was hired the second year. As posted at “I was the first woman engineer at DEC. Customers would call for an applications engineer. They would say, ‘I want to speak with an engineer,’ and I would reply ‘I’m an engineer,’ and they would say, ‘No, I want to speak with a real engineer.’ I developed this patter: ‘Well, tell me about the application you have in mind. We have three lines of modules ranging from five to ten megacycles and…’ The line would go dead for a moment and then I’d hear, ‘Hey Joe, guess what, I’ve got a…woman…engineer on the phone!’”

   Women were promoted from within. Maynard resident Angela Cossette was hired as an administrative assistant in 1963 in support for DEC User’s Society. DECUS provided a pre-internet forum for computer users to exchange technical information and user-developed software. Cossette moved up to becoming the company’s first woman manager, in time with as many as one hundred people reporting to her. In her own words “Digital became very aggressive about giving women the opportunity to grow in their careers and making it possible for them to move into key positions.” Cossette retired in 1992.

   Her comment reflected Digital's self-realization that it had a problem with its history of male dominated culture. A Core Groups program was started in 1977, evolving into the Valuing Differences philosophy in 1984. The stated goal was for the company and its employees to pay attention to differences of individuals and groups, to be comfortable with those differences, and to utilize those differences as assets to the company's productivity.

Fleepo the Clown, aka Philip Bohunicky

November 2014 marked ten years since Philip W. Bohunicky, aka “Fleepo the Clown” passed away, a month shy of his eighty-fifth birthday. Phil had been a fixture in Maynard’s parades and celebrations for close to forty years. He, as have others, qualified for the honorary title “Mr. Maynard” in his time.

Plaque honoring Phil Bohunicky
   Phil wrote up part of his life’s story for the Maynard Historical Society shortly before he died. As he told it, he began sponsoring and coordinating Maynard’s Christmas parade in 1966 because of an event from his youth. His early memories were of growing up in a Catholic orphanage. He described a snowy winter evening when the nuns told the boys that after evening prayers they were to put on their winter outfits. They walked to the center of town, where he heard a small band playing “Jingle Bells,” and everyone joined in to sing Christmas carols.

   In his own words, “All of a sudden a huge red fire engine appeared around the corner with its sirens and horns blasting away. Standing in the back of the fire engine was a huge Santa Claus waving and yelling ‘Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas! Ho Ho Ho!’ As Santa faded slowly in the distance I was mesmerized, and to this day, oh so long, long after, I never forgot when I first saw Santa Claus when I was only six years old and living in the orphanage.”

   In addition to starting the Maynard Christmas Parade tradition, behind the scenes he also personally covered much of the cost of putting on the event, a responsibility since taken on by the Rotary Club. Phil also organized the annual Easter Egg Hunt at Crowe Park and helped provide entertainment at the Fourth of July carnivals at the same location. At many events he was joined by his children, and others in the seven to ten age range, who performed as the Happy Toe Square Dancers.

   Phil's main alter ego was “Fleepo the Clown,” but he also put in appearances at children’s and charity events as Grandpa Fleepo or Harmonica Phil. Many Maynardites remember Fleepo on WAVM’s The Fleepo Show; or in costume, on roller skates, handing out lollipops; or seeing him drive by—in costume, on his way to an event—with a very, very large stuffed panda in the car as his sidekick. His license plate read FLEEPO. One story that made local news in April 1990 was that Fleepo was hatjacked of his signature antique top hat at the Easter Egg event. Sadly, the hat was never recovered.

   As to how his clown name came to be: Philip clown-apprenticed for years with Chris Sclarppia, who went by the name “Bozo” (not the famous Bozo). Chris took the French pronunciation of Phil’s name—think “Fe-leep”—and from there mutated it to “Fleepo.”

   Out of costume, Bohunicky put in uncounted hours supporting Little League baseball, T-ball and the water safety swim program conducted at Lake Boon. He had served in the Army Medical Corp in Europe during World War II, and appeared in uniform at Memorial Day and Veterans Day remembrances. His post-war career was as an electronics technician at MIT’s Lincoln Labs, in Lexington. Bohunicky died on Veterans Day, 2004.

   Little is known about Bohunicky’s family history. One source mentions both of his parents dying when he was an infant, and with no other family member to take him, he ended up at St. John’s Catholic Orphanage in Utica, New York, until he was eleven, and then lived with a series of foster families. His good luck was the last family insisting he finish high school, and then the GI Bill putting him through Massachusetts Trade School.

   Phil's contributions to town spirit continue to be remembered. Each year, the Philip Bohunicky Humanitarian Award is presented at the WAVM banquet to a member of the town who exemplifies the same type of dedication to his/her community.