Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Amusement Park Ghosts

From Dave Brigham:

From 1897 to 1963 Norumbega Park in Newton, MA, was one of the premier trolley parks in New England. As was the fashion of the day, the park was built by the Commonwealth Avenue Street Railway in an effort to increase ridership. The park featured canoeing, a picnic area, an outdoor theater, a penny arcade, a restaurant, a zoo and a carousel, and several rides among other attractions. In 1930, the Totem Pole Ballroom opened; it was considered the best and most elegant ballroom in the area, according to, a site offering a history of the park as well as sales of a documentary DVD of the park.

The park took its name from Norumbega Tower, a large stone structure across the Charles River in Weston that was built by a Harvard professor to honor the Viking explorers he believed had visited the area in 1000 A.D. (this tower is the subject of my next post).

I'd known about the park's legacy for many years, but only recently got around to visiting the former site. Much of the land formerly occupied by the park now houses a Marriott Hotel. The remainder is conservation land.

At the entrance to the park, there is an overgrown, sunken garden surrounded by stone walls. I have no idea if this is a remnant of the amusement park. What I do know, is that local kids use it as to bomb around on their BMX bikes, as evidenced by this ramp, one of three I spied.

Bike ramp #1

Just a little way down the path there are sections of stone wall that look like they were built before the amusement park.

Old wall

And not much further down the path I found this light stuck in a tree. Now this I can picture as part of the park.

Tree light

Behind the hotel there's a nice space that opens up to the Charles River. There's a gazebo there, as well as this old stairway leading up to some benches.

Goin' up

At the northern end of the park, where it meets with a nice residential neighborhood, I found this sagging barbed wire fence. Strange.

Keeping out or in?

Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Holidays!

From Mick Melvin:


My wife and I were in New Britain, CT, to see an exhibit at the New Britain Museum of Art and I stumbled upon this backside opportunity. Across the street from the museum was a large display of Christmas lawn ornaments. I walked over to take a look and was amazed by the variety of decorations. I then spied a sign on the front lawn with dates of an open house. I never did make it back for the open house, but I did take a few shots.


As it turns out, the woman who lives at the house has been putting on the display since 1978. The admission fee for the open house is as little as a non-perishable food item. Rita Giancola, who is 87, opens up her house every year. This year it was open from December 18-22. Many schools and local folks come to view the Christmas extravaganza. The lawn is covered with many Christmas-themed items such as plastic Santa Claus, Toy Soldiers, Mickey Mouse, Winnie the Pooh and Snoopy to name a few. She also decorates the inside and the balcony of her home with a plethora of Christmas ornaments. It is said to be the largest lawn display in the area.

If viewing this display doesn't get you in the holiday spirit, you need to check your pulse. Happy Holidays to you all and best wishes for the new year!


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

History Flows On, Part III

From Dave Brigham:

This is the final installment in a three-part series providing some history of Greater Boston water works. See November 11, 2011, "History Flows On, Part I," and November 20, 2011, "History Flows On, Part II."

In the second part of this series, I wrote about a long hike I took in Cutler Park. The photos below were taken in another section of the park, hard by the Charles River and close to major retailers and business parks in both Newton and Needham, Mass. Here is a pump house similar to the one I featured in part two of the series.

Pump house #4

Cutler Park was for a time used by the city of Newton, MA, as water storage before the Quabbin Reservoir in central Massachusetts was built in the 1930s. As such, pump houses like this one were surely more common sights in the Greater Boston area.

As I mentioned above, this area of Cutler Park is close to major thoroughfares. There is a bridge that carries abandoned train tracks across the Charles River from Newton into Needham. This is the underside of that bridge:

Damn kids

And here are the tracks, looking from Needham into Newton:

Leafy tracks

The tracks used to go all the way into the Needham Industrial Park (now known as the New England Business Center), a massive spread of buildings built in the 1950s. The tracks now end just behind a new housing complex on the fringe of the park:

End of the line

I'm not sure if a resident of that complex dumped this side table, or if a hobo passing through couldn't fit it on his wagon:

Hobo night table?

OK, so this post wasn't really about Greater Boston water works, but it shows how you can find abandoned bits of history just about anywhere you look. And in a hundred years, the pump house might be gone, and the railroad tracks might have been torn up, but there will always be something else for curious Backsiders to tromp around and see.