Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Fabulous Baker Estate

From Dave Brigham:

During the time I've been wrestling with this post you could've written, cast, shot, edited, promoted, released, reaped awards from and released both regular and director's cuts on DVD a movie about how long I've been wrestling with this post.

In the early days of this blog I started chasing the ghosts of Ridge Hill Farms, an 800-acre amusement park/fantastic folly built by industrialist William Baker in the late 1800's in Needham, Mass., currently a well-to-do bedroom community of Boston but at the time a much quieter, more bucolic town. I'd read about the park in a Boston Globe article several years ago and kept its fascinating details in the back of my mind.

"There were monkey cages, bear pits, buffaloes, and a 'Sanitary Piggery,’ in which pigs slept in linen sheets," H.D.S. Greenway writes. "There were stables with animated stuffed horses that could nod their heads. There were elaborate mechanical jokes. You would be invited to drink at a fountain labeled 'Laughing Water,’ only to find the floor tilting to simulate drunkenness as you walked out. There were gardens, and shaded paths, and boats."

Take some time to read Greenway's article; it's fascinating. I've always loved his work for the newspaper.

Greenway mentioned that while nearly all traces of Baker's folly had been erased, there were, among other scattered remnants, some "classic columns...on the ground along Wellesley’s Sabrina Farms Road, looking as forlorn as Carthage after the onslaughts of Rome." After reading the article, I conducted a few half-hearted drive-bys to scope out Ridge Hill Farms.

Some of the remnants Greenway mentioned are located in the lush backyards of Needham and Wellesley (the park, also known as the Baker Estate, found itself straddling two towns after what was then known as West Needham seceded and in 1881 became Wellesley) and along private roads. I stopped at the end of one such road but could see a security vehicle parked just a short distance away so I retreated.

That was several years ago. After doing research online I pinpointed some locations to explore. In the meantime, I pursued other backside leads and wrote tons of posts about things in other parts of Greater Boston. I made my first foray to southwest Needham in May 2016, unaware that my pursuit of the fabulous Baker Estate would take another 18 months to complete.

For an idea of what I was chasing, check out this trailer for a documentary about the amusement park.

I had no idea whether I would find any signs that this quiet town had once played host to an almost-too-good-to-believe showcase for one man's imagination. I learned through online research that Baker had his very own railroad spur for his amusement park. This is where I began my quest, which eventually led me to other interesting bits of history of Needham and neighboring Dover (see December 30, 2017, "Rail Trail Mix" and January 6, 2018, "Look, Up in the Air! It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's a Nike Missile!").

The Charles River Railroad ran from Boston to Needham, until the railroad merged with the New York and Boston Railroad, which eventually continued the line on to the Rhode Island border, per Wikipedia. Our friend Mr. Baker built a spur line splitting off from the Charles River line and on to his private fun-o-rama at Ridge Hill.

While the main line has been converted in part to a rail trail, Baker's private railroad, which evidently used horses to pull trains along the tracks, has disappeared, like the rest of his park. The station at the southern end was along Fisher Street in Needham. I made two trips to this area trying to find the stone foundation of the old station, after reading an account online about it. I walked about 3/4 of a mile down the rail trail, kicked around the underbrush alongside the tracks, but saw no sign of the old station, which I'd read about on the Train Aficionado web site. I was frustrated, as you can imagine.

(Fisher Street, where once a railroad crossed and now exists a rail trail. The station for passengers continuing on to the Baker Estate was around here but is long gone.)

On my next visit to the area I checked out a large section of Ridge Hill Reservation, the western slice of which was once part of the Baker Estate. I knew I wasn't going to find any obvious ruins from the park -- no fallen-down saloon or abandoned restaurant, no secret passage to the former "underground crystal grotto featuring the Forty Thieves" that existed, according to this article from Needham History Center and Museum. Check out this map and you'll get an idea of the scope of the place.

At this point -- May 2016 -- I hadn't yet become obsessive about this place. This resulted in my wandering around the eastern and northern portions of the park, not at all close to where the Baker Estate had been. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed my ramble and took some photos.

(As with just about every conservation area I've explored over the years, Ridge Hill has stone walls.)

(Boardwalk over swampy parts of Ridge Hill.)

After Ridge Hill Farms was sold and split up, one of the buyers was John Torrey Morse III, whose father’s summer home was at the south end of Webster Street, according to the Ecological Management Plan for the reservation I found on Needham's town government web site. Morse bought a large tract east of Pine Swamp for his summer estate and in 1906 built the stucco house that is currently on the Ridge Hill Reservation. The building is now used for summer programs.

(Former Morse homestead at Ridge Hill.)

(Outbuildings from former Morse estate.)

Before this hike I consulted a map online and realized that the Baker Estate rail spur had crossed land across Charles River Street from Ridge Hill Reservation. So I trekked through the woods, heading toward the Charles River.

When I saw this path I assumed right away that it was the former railroad right-of-way. When I got home and looked at the map again, I wasn't so sure anymore. I thought maybe the train had chugged along to and from the amusement park closer to the river. But I didn't return to this site for quite some time. Eventually I dragged my teenage son along and we strolled along further south than I'd done the previous trip.

(I know that the bench isn't historic, but I found its placement off the beaten path quite pleasing. As for the sewer drain, again I'm sure it hasn't been in this area since the time of the Baker Estate, but I found it photo-worthy.)

My son and I didn't find any evidence to convince me that the train tracks had once lain close to the Charles River. I went back home and poked around online again. The folks (or maybe it's just one guy) at the Train Aficionado web site agree with my original hypothesis: the Baker Estate railroad ran along what is now a pleasant walking path through the field, a picture of which you just scrolled past. To read the blog's research and see more photos, check out this post.

Ten days after my son and I tromped around the old railroad right-of-way, I made what I figured would be my final foray into the Baker Estate mystique. My mission that day in November 2017 was three-fold: explore the western section of Ridge Hill looking for any sign whatsoever of the old amusement park; meander around Guernsey Conservation Area to check out the man-made lake; and try, once again, to find the ruins of the Baker Estate train station.

I was rewarded relatively quickly in Ridge Hill with this cellar hole. Was the structure that once stood here part of Baker's folly? Highly unlikely, I'd say, but that doesn't make it any less exciting to me. So many questions swirled in my head: How old is this foundation? What was the building? Who lived or worked in it? Did they believe in UFO's?

Prior to this visit, I'd looked at Ridge Hill on Google Maps and noticed a wide swath separating the conservation area from nearby homes. In comparing that view to an old map of the Baker Estate (click on the map to enlarge it), it seemed to me that the straight line I was seeing through the woods corresponded with a road that once ran past the amusement park's Beaver Pond.

(Now a right-of-way for an Algonquin Gas Transmission pipeline, this might be the remnants of an old Baker Estate road, which ran close to the Civil War Diorama, Minnehaha's Wigwam and the Pavilion Hall Saloon. I still find it hard to believe that all these structures once stood here and there's just about nothing left to see.)

I saw plenty of other cool sites during my Ridge Hill trek....

I'm not sure if the stone walls pre-date the Baker Estate, are from the amusement park, or were constructed after the amusement park went out of business and the land was sold off for other estates.

Eventually I came back around to the old Morse estate buildings that I'd seen on a previous visit. It was time to mosey on over to the Guernsey Sanctuary, located just a short drive down Charles River Street. A small slice of this conservation area is located in Needham, with the bulk of it in Wellesley.

Donated by Mr. & Mrs. William Guernsey in 1961, this 25-acre haven features Sabrina Lake, the man-made body of water that was a centerpiece of the Baker Estate. I'm going to take a wild guess that the Guernsey's neighbors were none too pleased with the idea of common folk traipsing through their fairytale forest.

(The William Guernsey Memorial Bench offers a great view of the lake, and the mansions on the other, non-accessible shore.)

(This bridge is post-amusement park. It connects the mainland -- aka some rich person's back yard -- to Swan Island. During the Baker Estate era, the mainland here featured the Ladies Cottage, the Pagoda and the Gnome Drinking Fountain, among other attractions, according to the previously linked map.)

I'd like, if you don't mind, for you to play a mental drum roll right now. Or maybe this will suffice:

I stumbled across a lot of remnants/ruins/artifacts during my slog through Needham and Wellesley, in search of the almost-mythical Baker Estate. I saw stone walls, cellar holes, rail trails, old houses with outbuildings, a natural gas right-of-way that might have once been a road in the park, perhaps the former path of the railroad spur, a man-made lake that was definitely once part of the folly. But finally, as I stared across Sabrina Lake, I spied something that I knew, for certain, had to have once been part of Ridge Hill Farms.

And once I checked back on that oh-so-valuable map, I knew I was right. Right there, just a little north of Arboretum Knoll and Arboretum Lodge, a hop-skip-and-a-jump south of the Frog Fountain, stood, and still stands, Arboretum Bridge. I felt, right then, like all of my aimless wandering, more informed wandering and online wandering had paid off.

But there was still plenty more to see in Guernsey Sanctuary. And after that, I had to make one more effort to find the train station ruins.

(These steps lead to a path that eventually goes to somebody's back yard. In the woods between Sabrina Lake and the residential neighborhood someone has erected a ropes course.)

(Guernsey Sanctuary is nestled in among some very tony real estate.)

(At the northern point of Guernsey Sanctuary sits Oak Island, which was part of the Baker Estate. Not sure, again, if these stone walls had anything to do with the park or if they were already there, or erected afterwards.)

After finishing what turned out to be a really nice, and very fruitful, walk in the sanctuary, I steeled myself for my final task.

I parked at the end of Locust Lane. I dashed across Charles River Street, a road that wasn't all that busy but on which cars definitely gather up some significant speed. I knew -- finally -- from taking a closer look at the map online, and from doing a better job reading the Train Aficianado blog post that the Ridge Hill station ruins stood at this end of the rail spur, not the southern end near Fisher Street. The station was once located just west of an artificial fish pond that William Baker had built.

I walked west along the street, keeping close to the tree line to look for evidence. More than anything I wanted to walk right into the woods between Charles River Street and the river. But the "NO TRESPASSING" signs seemed like they were serious. This area is owned by the State of Massachusetts and is off-limits for some reason. Nonetheless, I knew that the station had been close to the road, so if anything remained of it, I'd spot it.

After a few minutes heading west, I remembered that the station had been close to the Artificial Pond of Baker Estate, with its pier and Fishing Pavilion. I retraced my steps and then kept heading east, looking all the while into the woods for something. Anything.

I began to think that the ruins of the station had been removed for some reason, and that the foundation I'd seen in that Train Aficionado blog post was the closest I'd ever get to the best evidence that there had once been an amazing amusement park in this area -- a park built by a man with a vision, and who had even petitioned the state to secede from Needham and establish what he called Hygeria, a "hygienic village" where he would develop ideas for healthier eating and healthier people. His petition was shot down.


Was this what was left of the train station? This scene didn't match what I'd viewed online, but I knew I had to be close. But I was at the edge of the fish pond that Baker had dug more than 125 years ago. The only way to go was back in the direction I'd just come from. So, ignoring the No Trespassing sign and venturing just a short distance down an old access road, I finally found the Holy Grail.

This was it! I knew the moment I saw it that I'd found the exact same spot that the Train Aficionado had stumbled across. Man, what a relief....

But somehow, after all of my trekking and research and doubling back I still wasn't done. I'd taken a photo of the site of the former Hotel Wellesley during my numerous trips, but I couldn't find it on my computer. According to the Globe article, "Like many of Baker’s buildings and monuments, the hotel was secondhand. It came from the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876, where Baker bought the structure, and had it dismantled and shipped to Needham. The classic columns came from a Boston post office damaged in the fire of 1872."

There's no trace of the stunning 225-room, luxury hotel, because it burned down in 1891. But I wanted to show my readers where it once stood, so I had to make one more quick hit.

(This driveway now leads to private homes, but once was the entrance to the Hotel Wellesley.)

(Located just off the former hotel's driveway were a windmill and steam pump, overlooking the artificial fish pond.)

I hope you've enjoyed learning about the Baker Estate as much as I did. And if you haven't already done so, I encourage you to click through the links I've provided to learn and see more.

For a good overview of the history of the Ridge Hill area, check out this Needham Conservation Commission document.

Here are the posts I've written about Needham and Wellesley in the past:


May 18, 2012, "Aqueduct, My Friend," about the pleasant surprise I got when I discovered a segment of the Cochituate Aqueduct and a nice trail that runs below Route 128.


November 20, 2011, "History Flows On, Part II," about my adventure in Cutler Park.

January 30, 2013, "Whimsical Woodlands," about the marvelous Martini Junction hidden in Needham Town Forest.

July 13, 2016, "Sad Gobble," about the loss of the iconic Owen Poultry Farm.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Jesus, Give Us a Sign!

From Joe Viger:

(Chichester, NH. Click on the photo if, like me, you have old eyes and need to enlarge the image.)

(I love this photo, as I love just about every photo that Joe Viger makes. I also have a thing for oddball religious folks, so this one hit a home run for me. Of course, there's more to the story of Signs4Jesus than meets the eye....Elsewhere in Chichester, the man behind this effort tore down an old farm house and the trees surrounding it, in order to erect a billboard that flashes Bible messages. As a New Hampshire state rep, Timothy Horrigan, wrote back in 2011, "I humbly suggest that God was honored more by the trees than by the billboard." -- DB)

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Look, Up in the Sky! It's a Bird! It's a Goddess of Victory! It's a Nike Missile!

From Rayannne Seacrest:

The Goddess of Victory. Has a nice ring to it, wouldn't ya say?

Inspired by the Greek deity, Phil Knight changed the name of the shoe company he co-founded with Bill Bowerman in 1964 from Blue Ribbon Sports to one that has arguably become one of the top 10 brands in the world: Nike.

The U.S. military was similarly inspired during the Cold War when it decided to call a new anti-aircraft missile system Project Nike. From 1953 until 1974, during the darkest days of the Cold War, the U.S. Army built approximately 265 Nike missile bases throughout the country. I grew up in a town, Simsbury, Connecticut, that housed one of those bases. The missile site there was paired with a radar location a few miles away in the neighboring town of Avon. For some cool photos old and new of the two sites, check out this link.

The Simsbury site was long ago bulldozed and turned into condos, and the Avon radar installation became part of Talcott Mountain Science Center. All of the U.S. sites were dismantled, although there are remnants of the projects at some locations, according to this Wikipedia list of all U.S. Nike sites.

As part of a larger effort to explore the Baker Estate, a 19th century amusement park that seems too good to be true but actually existed, I stumbled across information about paired former Nike missile sites in Needham, Mass. This is the second part in a mini-series about Needham, a suburb of Boston. The first covered a rail trail as well as a dam and former mill site just over the border in Dover (see December 30, 2017, "Rail Trail Mix"). The final installment will be quite long and take on the Baker Estate, part of which abutted the old Nike site.

The fence above is in the woods just off the driveway to the old Nike battery. The site is now owned by the town of Needham, and is home to the Needham Community Farm.

Nike sites were paired; this location is where the actual missiles were kept. There were 30 of them, along with 12 launch rails, according to this article. I assume the old silos were filled in and covered over. I was unable to find any building remnants, but you can tell by the roadway and sidewalk alignment that something used to be here.

Located two miles away from the missile site was the radar and command installation, at the top of North Hill. In 1964, as the U.S. government began to phase out Nike sites in favor of ICBMs, the Charles River ARC (now known as the Charles River Center) leased the site for 20 years at $1 per year. Eventually the non-profit, which provides services for children and adults with Down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy and other developmental disabilities, acquired the site.

(A path leading up the back of North Hill toward what is now the Charles River Center.)

To get more of an idea of what Nike missile sites around the country did during the Cold War, check out this video.

Here are links to other posts I've written over the years about Needham.

November 20, 2011, "History Flows On, Part II," about my adventure in Cutler Park.

January 30, 2013, "Whimsical Woodlands," about the marvelous Martini Junction hidden in Needham Town Forest.

July 13, 2016, "Sad Gobble," about the loss of the iconic Owen Poultry Farm.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Rail Trail Mix

From Watson T. Fuzzlebanker:

I don't recall when I began my foray into the wilds of Needham, Wellesley and Dover, Mass., the results of which you will read in this post and two subsequent installations. I set out what seems like 17 years ago but was probably more like 18 months ago to explore and find any remnants of the fabled Baker Estate, a private amusement park/folly/zoo/entertainment complex built in the late 19th century in what were then the wilds of Needham and Wellesley, two of Boston's western suburbs. I'd read about what had been -- for too short a time -- an amazing Utopia in a Boston Globe article several years ago. In more recent years I'd searched online for more information, all of which you'll read about in the third post.

During the course of exploring the southwestern section of Needham, both online and on foot, I naturally stumbled across other places of interest. One of these was an old Nike missile site, which I'll write about in the second post in this series.

In this post I'll cover an old rail line that's been turned into a (partial) rail trail, as well as a nearby dam just over the border in Dover with a few nice surprises in the abutting woods.

In May 2016, the Town of Needham celebrated the opening of a 1.7-mile stretch of the Bay Colony Rail Trail. The biking and walking path stretches from High Rock Street through Needham Town Forest, runs parallel to South Street, crosses Charles River and Fisher streets and ends short of the Charles River trestle that takes the old tracks into Dover (pronounced "Dovah" with a locked jaw). The abandoned tracks are owned by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (which operates commuter trains, subways and buses) and were most recently used by the Bay Colony Railroad, which in 1977 took over freight service in this area from Conrail.

(Rail trail crossing at Fisher Street.)

(An old utility pole along the rail trail.)

Some residents of Dover, spearheaded by the Friends of the Dover Greenway, hope to establish a section of the Bay Colony trail. These folks have been working for several years, but in chichi Dover -- the most affluent town in the Bay State -- things seem to move slowly, especially when it comes to the idea of letting their fellow citizens run, ride or roll through the exclusive enclave. The latest Friends proposal calls for the rail trail to extend from Springdale Avenue to Hunt Drive. The section of old rail right-of-way that crosses the river is not currently under discussion. According to this Boston Globe article, the trestle over the Charles River would need to be replaced before trail organizers could realize their goal of connecting Needham to Dover. The original plan for the trail calls for it to eventually extend south to Medfield.

(Looking from the tracks in Needham (which may be gone now; this photo dates to May 2016) toward the Charles River crossing, and on into Dover.)

A group called Be True to Dover opposes the idea of any rail trail in town. Perhaps they fear the "wrong element" will disrupt their croquet matches, cocktail parties and backyard tennis matches. Or maybe they've got stills and marijuana plots out there in the woods.

This sort of argument always erupts when rail trails are proposed. On one side you have normal people who enjoy exercise and seeing, ahem, the backside of their town or a neighboring burg. On the other you have snobs who don't want other people to have nice things. Of course, we all know their real fears:

Anyway, this makes a nice transition to the second part of this post, which deals exclusively with Dover, which is of course a very nice town, albeit one with a few too many busybody toffs.

Just a short equestrian jump from the old trestle discussed and pictured above, in the Charles River, is the Cochrane Dam in Dover. The river may have been dammed here as early as 1675, according to a Waymarking post I found online. In the ensuing centuries, there were grist, paper, saw and textile mills, as well as facilities making nails and automobile tires, according to various sources online. For a little more history about the mills and those who built them, read this post at the Shadowed Hills blog.

(Remnant of something alongside the Cochrane Dam.)

(Cool old fire hydrant near the dam.)

The old cement slab and fire hydrant are cool, but the most excellent things I stumbled across at the site were like monoliths from Stonehenge.

"These are remains from the mill that once stood at the site. The last use of the mill was the J E Cochran (sic) rubber factory hence the name of the dam as the Cochran (sic) dam," according to a guy named Rick Hardy on the Charles River Village page on Facebook, in response to my query.

In addition to mills and factories, this area was once home to the Charles River Power Company, according to a 1909 map of Needham I found online. I find it amazing that all that activity over a few hundred years at this site hasn't left more remnants behind. I'm sure if you started digging in the woods, you'd find some pretty cool old stuff.

Here are other posts I've written about Needham and Dover:


March 12, 2012, "Fire On the Mountain?", the first of three posts about Snow Hill. This one is about hiking to a fire tower.

March 17, 2012, "Scouting a Location," the second post about Snow Hill. This one is about a Boy Scout camp.

March 22, 2012, "Fresh-Air Salvation," the third post about Snow Hill. This one is about an outdoor worship area.

April 9, 2012, "Beyond the Mill," about the partially reconstructed Dover Union Iron Mill and the beautiful woodlands surrounding the site.


November 20, 2011, "History Flows On, Part II," about my adventure in Cutler Park.

January 30, 2013, "Whimsical Woodlands," about the marvelous Martini Junction hidden in Needham Town Forest.

July 13, 2016, "Sad Gobble," about the loss of the iconic Owen Poultry Farm.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Signing Off

From Frank N. Stein:

I'm not sure whether the Ramones ever made it onto a playlist at WNTN, a low-power AM radio station that until earlier this year broadcast from my adopted hometown of Newton, Mass. But you can't ever go wrong kicking off a blog post with some classic American punk rock.

Full disclosure: I have never listened to WNTN, and only became aware of its existence last month when the Newton-centric Village 14 blog posted the news that the station had sold its cozy studio hard by the town dump, er, recycling depot.

I took this photo shortly after learning that the building would be torn down. It is likely gone by now.

I'm happy to report that WNTN hasn't signed off, despite my wicked clever headline. The station moved to neighboring Needham and still broadcasts shows including Grecian Echoes, Reel Talk, Arabic Baptist Church and Benchwarmers, among others. The station came on the air in 1968 featuring "progressive rock music" until 1975, according to its web site. Over the years WNTN has showcased local news, "middle-of-the-road popular music," disco and, more recently, various ethnic programs.

Do yourself a favor and read the comments under that Village 14 story to get a flavor for the station. According to one commenter, "Most of what was in that building moved to [a new space]. The control boards, microphones, phones, tape and CD decks, etc were brought over to the new building."

The studio building was erected in 1950. I'm not sure whether this place was a private residence prior to WNTN taking it over in 1968, but it sure looks like it, doesn't it?

What's going to take its place? you ask. Dunno. Stay tuned....

Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the station has an extremely famous alumni. "With the [radio] license, Stern landed his first professional radio job at WNTN in Newton, Massachusetts from August to December 1975 doing air shifts, news casting, and production work," according to Wikipedia.

To read about another abandoned radio station building, this one in Connecticut, check out Mick Melvin's October 27, 2010, post, "Off the Air."

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Artist Thinks: "I HAF to Fix That Smokestack"

From Dave Brigham:

It took me 11 months, but I finally got my beer-lovin' behind to the Boston Beer Co. in Boston's Jamaica Plain neighborhood. "How was the beer?" you're asking. While I drink the company's Sam Adams beer all the time, I wasn't at the brewery to tip my elbow. You know that. I was there to check out their refurbished smokestack.

Boston Beer is one of the most well-known independent brewers in the U.S.. The building complex the company occupies was once home to the Haffenreffer brewery. When I was in high school, Haffenreffer -- known for rebus puzzles on the inside of its bottle caps -- was known as Green Death, due to its high alcohol content. You see, the stuff inside those big avocado-shaded bottles was malt liquor ("works quicker") and had an alcohol content of 5.9%. The swill we usually drank -- Old Milwaukee, Meister Brau, etc. -- rated 4.5 or 4.6%.

I could tell you the story of the time one of my friends drank a few Haffen-wreckers (another great nickname) and yakked all over the inside of my buddy Andy's Toyota Corolla station wagon, resulting in the quickest evacuation you've ever seen. But I won't.

Rather, I'll tell you about how the smokestack from the circa-1870 brewery was restored to something akin to its former glory.

After Haffenreffer left Boston for Rhode Island in the 1960s, the complex sat empty for quite some time. In 1983, the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation bought the buildings. In addition to Boston Beer, tenants include a restaurant, food companies, a design company, a woodworking shop and much more.

In 1986, the development corporation had the top 30 feet of the original smokestack removed due to its state of disrepair, according to the Boston Globe. This resulted in the monolith touting "FENREFFER BREWERS." In more recent years, more letters had to be removed in order for the smokestack -- which no longer functions -- to be repaired and restored, per the Globe.

A neighbor who's an artist, Bob Maloney, finally decided to rectify the situation after many years of looking at the shortened brewery name, according to this Globe article. He manufactured a properly scaled stainless steel structure with the letters "HAF" and had it installed on the top of the stack in December 2016.

(The restyled Haffenreffer smokestack rising over the Boston Beer Company brewing complex.)

For more about Boston's beer brewing past, check out:'s "Mapping 21 of Boston's Lost Breweries and Their Second Acts".

The Jamaica Plain Historical Society's "Boston's Lost Breweries".

Keep your eyes peeled for a follow-up post about some cool things I stumbled across in the neighborhood around the brewery complex.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Stone Cold Monuments

From Dave Brigham:

I've had my eye on this place since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. OK, maybe not that long. Perhaps it's only been about 17 years or so, since I lived in Boston's West Roxbury neighborhood.

In business since starting in Quincy, Mass., in 1896, W.C. Canniff & Sons is a family-owned and operated memorial stone company, and has made memorials through the years for legendary Thoroughbred racehorse Seabiscuit as well as the Suffolk Downs horse track, according to The Historic Shops and Restaurants of Boston by Phyllis Meras (2007, New York Review of Books). In addition to its Quincy location and this memorial showroom in West Roxbury, the company operates one in Boston's Roslindale neighborhood, as well as Cambridge.

I love everything about this old building, from the plywood sheets on the small porch, to the hints of red paint, the "BRANCH OFFICE" sign over the door to the old-school phone number, "PARKWAY 3690," near the top of the facade. The building is situated directly across LaGrange Street from rival memorial dealer Thomas Carigg & Son, which opened in 1890. The Holyhood and St. Joseph Cemeteries are located just up the street.

The company's showroom in Cambridge is located in a former comfort station and waiting room for Mount Auburn Cemetery, for visitors who took the trolley, according to Meras's book. The trolley was replaced by trackless trolleys (aka electrified buses) a long time ago.

(W.C. Canniff & Sons Cambridge showroom.)

While I love both of the above buildings, I've saved my favorite for last.

(Canniff's showroom in Roslindale.)

Built in 1935, this memorial showroom and office located in a very urban setting looks like it shares an architect with The Alamo. The place is in somewhat rough shape on the outside, and I'm guessing the inside ain't so great either, but all of that mange is saved by the presence of this in the front yard.

The American Tank and Pump Company manufactured and sold pumps from 1909 until 1949, when the company was sold, according to a posting at This is the kind of relic that the guys on "American Pickers" love to stumble across.

For more cemetery-related posts, see below:

July 18, 2013, "Cool Stones."

March 5, 2016, "Shakin' All Over."

December 17, 2015, "Bring Out Your Dead."

January 13, 2012, "Peaceful Rest."