Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Down the Drain

Remains of N. Conway Water Park

From Dave Brigham:

The demise of the Banana Village water slide in North Conway, NH, is partly my family's fault. When we visited that tourist town in the summer of 2009 we played mini golf at the village, as well as at one other place. We didn't use the water slide, but it looked like a great time. This year, however, when we made our northern pilgrimage to Story Land , we stayed at the Red Jacket Resort in North Conway, which has its own indoor water park, Kahuna Laguna. We availed ourselves of the park for the three days we were there, and had a great time.

But when we hit Banana Village for mini golf on the way out of town, we saw that it obviously couldn't compete with Kahuna Laguna, and had dismantled its water slide (although it's still featured on the web site). I don't feel too bad about the slide's swirl down the drain. I'm sure the owners will come up with some other trap to ensnare tourists and their money.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Charles River Speedway Update

From Dave Brigham:

For 20 years I lived in and around Boston, and had no idea what the long-abandoned buildings at the corner of Western Ave. and Soldiers Field Road in Brighton were. Long story short: I took some pictures, posted them on Flickr, and through a fellow user of the photo-sharing web site, learned that the buildings were once part of a horse track called the Charles River Speedway (see UPDATED: Horsing Around at the Old Barracks from Sept. 6, 2010).

In July the buildings were added to the National Register of Historic Places, which unfortunately affords the complex no protection. The Boston Globe ran an article yesterday about the century-old site, detailing how Preservation Massachusetts has added the former speedway headquarters to its Most Endangered Historic Resources list. The listing is part of the group's effort to pressure the buildings' owner, the state Department of Recreation and Conservation, to preserve the site and find alternative uses for it.

The state recently committed $132,000 to shore up foundations, replace rotted sills and restore exterior walls, according to the Globe, but all involved agree much more is needed. State lawmakers recently passed legislation to renovate the buildings and move the nearby State Police barracks there, but the current economic climate means that's not going to happen any time soon.

Here's hoping the renovations get funded, one way or another, and this site sees new life.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Caboose on the Loose

From Mick Melvin:

Caboose in Mansfield

This past April, I was on a drive to capture some “backside” pictures when I passed a caboose along Route 44 in Mansfield, CT. I didn't know the area, but turned around on Brigham Tavern Rd. (That was for you, Dave.) I pulled into a lot with a deserted building to the left and the wooden, weather-beaten caboose to the right nestled next to some railroad tracks. Being low on time, I only snapped a few shots, but vowed to go back after I found some information on this old car.

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I did go back in May to take more pictures, but was having trouble finding information about the old caboose. I found one article about a caboose that sat outside of the Mansfield Depot Restaurant, but not being from Connecticut, I didn't even know if this was the location of the restaurant. Also, there was no real description of the red wooden car with blue-framed windows, so I wasn't sure this was “my” caboose.

Well, I was surprised and delighted recently to see an article in the Hartford Courant about an old caboose being transported from Mansfield, CT, to the Connecticut Trolley Museum in East Windsor. As it turns out, it is “my” red, weather-beaten caboose. The article describes the wooden caboose with the table set with silverware and wine glasses like I remembered. The caboose was spared in a 2003 fire that destroyed the Mansfield Depot Restaurant. The caboose has sat basically untouched since the fire. I'm glad to hear it will be restored and utilized for special events. I'm also glad that this is one time that the backside has a happy ending.

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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Pig Out

Pig 'n' Whistle Diner, Boston #1

From Dave Brigham:

I ate at the Pig 'n Whistle in Brighton just once, and I have to say, the food wasn't memorable. I recall that it was on Patriot's Day, a Massachusetts-only holiday that also happens to be Boston Marathon day. I went to the race with my girlfriend (now wife), Beth, and my friend, Jeff. Afterwards, Jeff and I went to the diner, and strangely enough the only thing I remember eating was green beans, which I rarely eat. I believe there were mashed potatoes, too. The main course was probably steak or pot roast.

Despite this less-than-memorable meal, I love diners and was sorry to see this place close up a few years back. Web searches have turned up no useful information about why the place closed, or what the fate of the property might be. I did find something kind of cool, though: a "Zippy the Pinhead" cartoon from February 2001 featuring the diner.

I pass by the diner with some regularity, and have long wondered about the significance of the name. Turns out it's a popular name for British pubs (along with more colorful names such as The Dog and Duck, The Slug and Lettuce and The Goat and Compasses), but that the origin of the name is somewhat confusing. Take your pick:

1) Pig derives from drinking vessel names, i.e., peg, piggin or, most obviously, pig. Whistle might come from "wassail," a spiced ale.

Or

2) Servants were obliged to whistle when they went to the basement to get "pigs" for beer in order to prove that they weren't drinking the ale.

Or

3) Pigs and whistles might mean odds and ends.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Cool Your Jets!

Abandoned Pratt & Whitney Turbine Lab, East Hartford #3

From Dave Brigham:

As I noted in the inaugural post for this site more than six months ago, rivers offer some of the best views of the backside of America (see Take Me to the River, 3-1-10). On a recent cruise down the Connecticut River on the Hartford Belle, I enjoyed seeing the wooded banks, the osprey nests and the boats. But I was more interested in the Wethersfield Cove warehouse, which is operated by the local historical society, and, especially, the hulking green slab you see above.

I asked the Belle's captain about it. He told me it was an old Pratt & Whitney jet engine testing facility. "They used to do things like toss dead birds into the engines to see how they held up," he said.

The facility's official name is the Pratt & Whitney Andrew Willgoos Turbine Laboratory. After a little research online, I found out that the lab was built in the late '40s, and that the with help of acoustical engineers, "none of the noisy operations inside the building [could] be heard at nearby residences," according to a 1952 report from the Acoustical Society of America.

I also found a real web gem (to steal an ESPN phrase): a copy of The Tech, , M.I.T.'s official newspaper, from 1956 that describes in -- surprise! -- very technical terms the kind of work done at the facility. Check out the file here; you'll have to scroll down a bit to find it.

As for the dock shown below, it seems as though supply boats tied up there to transfer oil to the facility. The lab also used an incredible volume of water from the Connecticut River to cool the engines and testing equipment, so it's possible that the wharf helped facilitate that process as well.

As usual with these places, there's no way to know what's next. I imagine taking this facility apart and cleaning it up will take millions upon millions of dollars, lots of time and effort and that it probably won't happen for a long, long time.

Dock at abandoned Pratt & Whitney lab, East Hartford #1

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Smokestack Lightnin'

From Mick Melvin:

On a trip to Pennsylvania to visit my family, I took a side trip to Delaware to visit my best friend. As I drove on Route 72, I noticed a lone smokestack in a vacant lot in Newark. It got me thinking of its origins. On my way back to PA, I took some shots of the structure and noticed the name Curtis embedded on the smokestack. When I returned home, I went to the Internet to investigate and was quite surprised to find plenty of info on this site.

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The smokestack is the only structure left from The Curtis Paper Mill. The complex was purchased by the Curtis brothers in 1848, although a mill had existed on the site since the late eighteenth century. The mill was also known as the Nonantum Mill, which refers to the Indian name for an area in Newton, Mass., where the Curtis brothers grew up (an area known colloquially as The Lake, and which is about a five-minute walk from my house -- ed.).

The James River Corp. later purchased the plant, but the mill closed in 1997. The plant was eventually demolished in December 2007, leaving the smokestack as the lone reminder of years past. An effort is under way to save the stack from demolition.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Privilege Is All Mine

MIT Endicott House Property Line #2

From Dave Brigham:

There's no shortage of scenes like this in the Greater Boston area: old stone walls and dilapidated fences keeping people out (although there are surely more sophisticated security devices as you get closer) of magnificent old-money properties, leaving everything to the imagination.

While I love looking at such architectural gems up close and personal, or in magazine spreads, I find it more interesting and exhilarating to put together a picture in my mind's eye based on peeks through the hedges, up the long driveways or through the surrounding woods. I imagine that everyone who lives in such places lives like the Gatsbys, strolling the grounds in linen suits and Lilly Pulitzer dresses, kids decked out in Polo wear, sipping gimlets and and planning how to maximize profits from their trust funds.

In this case, we're looking at the boundary of a property with ties to prominent WASP families including the Welds, Saltonstalls and Endicotts. But alas there are no penny loafer-wearing fops or Izod-sporting debutantes roaming the grounds. The house and grounds were donated to M.I.T. a half century ago for use as a conference and special event facility, known as the M.I.T. Endicott House, in Dedham, MA.

If you have business there, you can drive right up and check it out. Just don't tell me about it; I've got a better picture in my mind.

Monday, September 6, 2010

UPDATED: Horsing Around At the Old Barracks

Detail, Old State Police Barracks, Brighton MA

From Dave Brigham:

UPDATE: Well, better late than never, I found out what the deal is with these buildings. In my original online searches, I used terms the following search terms -- "brighton mass. state police barracks abandoned" -- and found absolutely nothing. Just goes to show you, that the Internet will tell you just about anything you want to know, but only if you know what you're looking for.

Here's my revised entry.




Thanks to a guy named Mike Rubino, Jr. opting to make the photos you see here "favorites" on Flickr, I checked out his Flickr page and discovered that the buildings on Western Ave. and Soldiers Field Road in Brighton, Mass., aren't former state police barracks, but rather something more interesting and colorful.

Mike, who runs the M.D.C. Police Photos web site, has a picture of one of these buildings on his Flickr page, under the title "Speedway Headquarters, Charles River Reservation." I read that and thought, "Huh, what the heck is the Speedway?"

A search turned up good information from both the Boston Public Library and Brighton Allston Historical Society web sites. From the BAHS site:

"One of the functions the Speedway served was to accommodate the recreational vehicles that had previously used the Brighton Road (the portion of Commonwealth Ave lying west of Kenmore Square) as well as Beacon St in Brookline for driving and racing horse drawn conveyances. As these roadways experienced increased development and automotive traffic in the early years of the century, the focus of such activity switched to the Charles River Speedway."

In other words, the powers that be saw that this race track was built in order to accommodate speed-crazy teenagers and their horse-drawn buggy races! If the History Channel made a show about this phenomenon, they'd have to call it, "Gone in 60 Minutes."

Anyway, the BAHS site continues:

"The Superintendent's Building was located at the intersection of Western Ave and Soldier's Field Rd. and is the only portion of the complex that still remains."

Old State Police Barracks, Brighton MA #3

So that's what we're looking at here. The race course survived into the 1960s, amazingly enough. The superintendent's building and the other buildings were used until about 10 years ago, for use by the old Metropolitan District Commission and the Public Access Board.

The former race track area is now of mixed use, from parkland to office buildings and housing.

In my original post, when I thought that the buildings were former State Police barracks, I speculated that the state would eventually tear down the complex and a) build a proper facility for the State Police, who use an ugly brick building adjacent to this property, or, b) sell the land for retail, office or housing or, c) clear it for a park, which is what the site was originally.

Well, turns out that just three months ago, the Massachusetts Historical Commission filed a National Register of Historic Places registration form with the National Park Service, looking to preserve the buildings, and, presumably, restore them. That would be much more interesting than my original speculations about what might become of the site. Here's hoping the site makes it to the national register.

Old State Police Barracks, Brighton MA #4