Extracted and condensed from 2014 book Hidden History of Maynard
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
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
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
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
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 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
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 powellflutes.com
and flutebuilder.com, 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
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
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.
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
Life at the studio must have been interesting. This from a forum post on gearslutz.com: “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!”