Saturday, December 29, 2012

Exploring Back Home

From Dave Brigham:

I've lived in the Boston area for most of the last 22 years, and have explored a lot of out-of-the-way spots in the last few. I've had a great time doing so, but recently I've been drawn to the history of the town in Connecticut where I grew up.

Founded in 1670, Simsbury is a suburb of Hartford. My family moved there in 1962, three years before I was born. In those days, the town was still quite rural. I remember tobacco barns less than a half-mile from our house, and many more spread throughout the town.

Simsbury was along the route of the Farmington Canal, a waterway system that ran from New Haven to Northampton, Mass. Begun in 1825 and completed ten years later, the canal never did well, especially once railroads were built.

Still, I remember a section near my house where water sometimes pooled, and when it froze over we played hockey on it.

Trains also once ran through the town. I remember seeing and hearing them when I was a kid. I spent a lot of time with my friends walking along the tracks near my house, to get to the market to buy candy, gum and soda; the country store for penny candy; or to just explore the brooks, ponds and woods alongside the raised track bed.

In August 2011 I went back to Simsbury (my parents no longer live there; they're in nearby Windsor) trying to solve a mystery. When I was a teen, my friends and I explored an abandoned house near the tracks, and I'd long wondered what the circumstances were around that scene.

Through good ol' Facebook, I learned that a man named President Little had lived there, and that he'd been quite a character. While in town for a golf tournament, I decided to see if I could find any remnants of the old house.

Read "In Search of President Little" to find out what I discovered. Then come back.

This year, ahead of the golf tournament -- which is held annually in late August -- I found out about an abandoned road in the Tariffville section of Simsbury, once again through Facebook.

I decided to check it out.

Mountain Road begins in T'ville (as us locals call it), at the bottom of a hill, near the intersection of Route 189 and Elm St. (Route 315). Part way up, you cross into Bloomfield, and shortly after that, the road ends.

There's a sign indicating that the adjacent 28 acres, known as the Frederick C. Bidwell Forest Area, were donated by the Bidwell family for hiking purposes. According to current and former Simsbury residents (via Facebook), there's a path that takes you up to the top of the ridge, from which you can see Hartford. There's a chimney up there that marks where a dance hall once stood.

Unfortunately, I was pressed for time and didn't have time to hike up to find that spot. Next time.

But I did explore the road, which was closed in the late '70s or early '80s because the curves were so close to the edge of the ridge that the road became unstable.

Old mountain road #1 Old mountain road #2 Old mountain road #4

I plan to get back to Simsbury when I can to explore more of the town's historical backside.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

From David Burke:

Fireplace and chimney

This chimney was located off Route 44 in Canton, CT, and was decorated every year. It was recently removed and replaced by a shopping complex.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Friday, December 14, 2012

Concord, Part IV: Rusty truck

From Dave Brigham:

I've driven past the Brigham Farm Stand in Concord, Mass., numerous times over the years. I'm sure I'm a distant cousin to these folks.

On a recent drive, I noticed for the first time some rusty vehicles across the road from the farm stand. So after having visited the town's Old Rifle Range (see December 4, 2012, "Concord, Part I: Old Rifle Range"), Mattison Field conservation area (see December 8, 2012, "Concord, Part II: Mattison Field") and bit of abandoned railway (see December 11, 2012, "Concord, Part III: New Haven rail bed"), I made this little farm my last stop in Concord.

Old Jeep #2

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Concord, Part III: New Haven rail bed

From Dave Brigham:

Between checking out the Old Rifle Range trail in Concord, Mass. (see December 4, 2012, "Concord, Part I: Old Rifle Range") and that town's Mattison Field conservation area (see December 8, 2012, "Concord, Part II: Old Water Tower"), I took a quick walk along an abandoned rail bed.

Old rail bed

Part of the old New Haven Line, this section is slated to become part of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail project. As much as I love walking, running and riding on paths that have been converted from old rail lines, I have no problem with some of these old routes being left to nature.

Camouflaged rail

Stay tuned for the last installment, about a a local farm.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Concord, Part II: Mattison Field

From Dave Brigham:

Concord, Mass., used to be much more of a farming town than it is now. The town still has plenty of open space, and some small farms, but it's more well known these days for high-priced estates and politically correct moves like banning bottled water.

While driving a bit off course recently on my way to the town's Old Rifle Range (see December 4, 2012k "Concord, Part I: Old Rifle Range"), I stumbled across an old water tower situated between two of the above-mentioned lovely homes. I made a mental note to return after checking out the range.

I wasn't disappointed.

Restored water tower

Located on town-owned conservation land known as Mattison Field, the tower was recently restored. One of only two remaining wooden stave water towers in Concord (the other is on private property), the structure provided water to the dairy farm that stood for nearly 140 years.

After passing the tower, I took a nice walk around the field, and into the woods, where I spied an old, overgrown metal gate.

Old farm gate

Mattison Field is a nice place to stroll, with or without a dog. There are other old gates and stone walls, in addition to rusty barb wire, around the perimeter. Through the woods one can see the newer estates that have pushed out farms such as this one.

For more about Concord's farming history, and Mattison Field and the water tower, read this.

Stay tuned for parts three and four....

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Concord, Part I: Old Rifle Range

From Dave Brigham:

Concord, Mass., is well known for the important role it played in the Revolutionary War, and for the famous authors who lived there in the 19th century, among them Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau and Louisa May Alcott.

Over the 20+ years I've lived in and around Boston, I've explored Concord and nearby towns a little bit. I've gone to Minute Man National Historical Park and Walden Pond, and shopped in the town center.

But the four-part series about the town's out-of-the-way spots that I'm launching here, doesn't cover any of those topics. Rather, I focus on places that I'd never heard of until one recent day when, after consulting Google Maps, I took a drive and did some hiking through the quaint former farming town.

Google Maps has become my go-to tool for Backside adventures. This time, I focused on the area about 15 miles northwest of where I live. I scanned the map and almost immediately "Old Rifle Range" popped out at me.

That was all I needed to see.

I found the site without too much trouble, and began hiking in. I wasn't sure exactly what I would find, but the map at the beginning of the trail indicated that there were four "targets" along the trail.

I didn't know exactly what I was looking for, however, so when I saw a few shallow areas that looked a bit like foxholes, I somehow thought that's all I was going to get. But before too long I came across the first cement berm, and I got excited.

Rifle range berm #2

There are metal spikes driven into the berm. I don't know anything about guns or firing ranges, so I'm not sure what the spikes did. After a short hike up the path, I found the second berm, which had hardware positioned in front.

Rifle range gear #2

I presume these racks held targets, and that the gears moved the targets forward and back. I learned after doing some research online that the range dates to World War I. The Army used it to train troops from distances of 200, 300, 600 and 1,000 yards.

The last target area was the most distinctive for a few reasons. First, there was graffiti on the wall.

Rifle range graffiti

Second, a tree had grown up and around a piece of the old hardware, making for a very, shall I say intimate, arrangement.

Together forever

In the next three parts I'll post about abandoned railroad tracks, a restored water tower at a defunct farming site, and some rusty vehicles near a farm with my family's name on it.

Friday, November 30, 2012

After the Flood

From Heidi Waugaman-Page:

RoadWork_6273-5x7 RoadWork_6279-5x7

Refuse from road work done after the flooding that washed many roads away in Ashland, NH, in 2008.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Schedule Conflict

From Dave Brigham:

Where my money goes

I took my son, Owen, for his first ride on a commuter train recently. As we waited at the station, I noticed this. Seems there used to be a handwritten schedule tacked here, and the writing pressed through to the board above the bench I was sitting on. Or maybe somebody just wrote it right on the board.

Round trip cost: $14.00 (if I'd known enough to buy a round-trip ticket when I first got on, it would've been cheaper). You'd think for that amount of money, I'd get a full schedule, laminated and handed to me on a silver platter.

I kid the Massachusetts public transportation system, but I love it.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Crouching Barn, Hidden Mill

From Dave Brigham:

Ever since I discovered the remnants of a torn-down house in my hometown 15 months ago (see September 20, 2011, "In Search of President Little"), I find myself looking at patches of woods wherever I go and wondering what archeological wonders are buried there, perhaps never to be discovered.

Even when I go on excursions to places that I know I can learn more about later by researching online, I always think, "What else is hidden around here that's been forgotten?"

Sometimes I have the opposite problem: I know that a site contains a certain element that I want to explore and take pictures of, and I can't find it. This happened to me recently.

I set out toward the former Fernald School in Waltham, motivated in part by a comment at this blog about a post about an abandoned factory in the Watch City (see February 27, 2011, "UPDATE: What a Dump").

Long story, short: Fernald is still in operation, albeit in a limited capacity. As such, there are people around and I stopped at the bottom of the driveway and decided against snooping around. I'm not an urbex guy, mostly for the reason that it wouldn't look good if my two kids were waiting at school for me to pick them up and saw me ride by in the back of a police car, having been arrested for trespassing.

Here's what other people have documented from the site.

After leaving Fernald, I doubled back and looked through the woods at an old house or barn. I took the next left turn I could, and *snap* just like that, I was pulling into the parking lot for the Beaver Brook Reservation in Belmont.

I looked at the map at the beginning of the small network of trails, and saw two words that got my heart beating a little faster: "mill remains." Yes, I know that's pretty nerdy, but obviously if you're reading this blog, you share my desire to discover hidden pieces of the past.

I set out first to snap some pictures of the building I'd seen from the road. I found it without any trouble and took a few shots:

Handyside Barn Barn door Hay loft door

Then I set out on a few other trails, but couldn't find any mill remains. I went back to the map, consulted with a fellow visitor and hit the trail again. Still, no luck.

I took a third look at the map and finally got a pretty good idea of where to look. But evidently the site where mill once stood was overgrown and there wasn't much to see anyway. I looked and looked in the underbrush, but couldn't see any evidence of a structure or ruins. The mill in question was a fulling mill, in which wooden hammers are employed to clean cloth.

Here's somebody's else's write-up about their own effort to find the mills (apparently there were a few on site from the 1600's to 1800's).

Maybe I'll go back this winter once the leaves have fallen and see if I can get a better look.

Monday, November 19, 2012

In the Round

From Dave Brigham:

I spent a recent Sunday in Connecticut with my brother and sister, taking our parents our to lunch for their 55th wedding anniversary. We had a nice time catching up with each other. We realized that the five of us hadn't had a meal together (without spouses, kids, aunts, uncles, cousins) in a few decades.

On my drive back to Massachusetts, I realized I had time to check out some of the potential Backside sites I'd noticed in recent years along Route 84. I was, of course, excited by this prospect.

The first place I stopped was a former sports complex in Vernon, CT. At one time, the facility included multiple softball fields that you could see from the highway. I'm not sure what else was there.

In recent years, though, the place went out of business, and nature has taken over. From the highway, you get great views of weed-choked fields with dugouts seemingly randomly placed in the middle.

Unfortunately, when I got off the exit and drove past the place, I found no good vantage points to take pictures. Bummer.

The next place I had in mind is a vacant filling station and garage in Holland, CT, just south of the Massachusetts border. The property is fairly well kept and easy to access, but the "No Trespassing" signs and the presence of a house directly across the street from it kept me out. Call me chicken if you want.

With my time getting short, I decided to get off just a few miles up the road in Sturbridge, before getting on the Mass. Pike and completing my trip home.

The town was hit by a tornado in June 2011, and on drives through there on Route 84 over the last 16 months, I'd noticed a lot of damage. One of the most obvious targets was a Days Inn on Route 15, which parallels the interstate.

I drove past the motel, but once again was deterred by "No Trespassing" signs and the feeling that I wasn't really documenting the Backside, as much as the Downside of Nature.

Here's a video somebody took the day after the tornado, focusing on the motel and the immediate environs:

On my way to check out the Days Inn, I'd noticed an attractive stone building with a "For Sale" sign on it, and an odd, round building at the back of the parking lot. So I doubled back for a second look.

The stone building, as it turns out, was once a Hebert Candies retail store. At the back of the building's parking lot stand two buildings: one that looks like a cottage, or the office for an old motel; the other that looks like this:

Gettin' around in Sturbridge

In between the buildings stands a large wooden sign with a map of Sturbridge highlighting all the tourist destinations, the most well-known of which is Old Sturbridge Village.

I approached the round building cautiously, unsure if anyone was inside, or whether anyone in either of the two buildings might come out to ask me why I was trespassing. But as I made my way around the little building, I encountered no resistance.

With the sun directly behind me, I found it hard to get a good look inside. Here's the best shot I could get:

Round building interior

I was surprised by the intricacy of the beams and lights. Otherwise, there wasn't much of note in the building. I noticed a chalk board and some boxes and random pieces of furniture. I thought perhaps it had been used recently as a preschool or an office.

I couldn't find out anything online, but I entered into a dialogue with a helpful guy named Wally, who runs the Sturbridge Common blog. He said the place dates to the 1960's, but he didn't know anything more about it.

He asked his readers if they had any clue about the place, and then put up a post about how he thinks the town of Sturbridge or local Chamber of Commerce should buy the site and turn it into a gateway to the town, complete with an information center, gift shop, a restaurant, and a headquarters for Trek Sturbridge, which could offer trail maps, outdoor books, canoes and supplies.

He envisions the round building as a museum featuring Sturbridge history. This post set off quite a lively discussion on the blog about other ideas for the site. Amid all of this, one commenter yielded a bit of information about the round building.

"Many years ago the round building housed what I seem to remember as a place that displayed and sold unusual objects. I think there were exotic, ethnic masks and other interesting artsy things in there."

This person suggested the building be used for a similar purpose if the gateway idea ever came to fruition.

This is one of the things I love about doing this blog: finding out-of-the-way places, learning a bit about their history, and connecting to a larger community.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Walk-in Cooler

From Pete Zarria:

TD Refrigeration

I just liked the look of this place in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. I walked in to a chilly reception....

Friday, November 9, 2012


From Dave Brigham:

Lights out

Visible from Route 93 in Braintree, Mass., one of the two screens at the long defunct South Shore Plaza Twin Drive has long intrigued me. I finally got around to taking a look, but I couldn't get any closer than this because there's a pay-to-park lot for bus service to Logan Airport there now.

Closed in 1986, the theater had two screens, at least one of which used to entertain drivers passing by on the highway.

I loved going to drive-ins during high school and summers home from college. I saw such fine fare as "Senior Snatch," "Eager Beavers," "Last House on the Left" and "Slumber Party Massacre."

The last time I went to a drive-in movie was in the summer of 2002, in Wellfleet, Mass. We saw an odd double bill of "Signs" and "Austin Powers."

For more on old drive-ins, see April 24, 2010, "Cars, Flicks & Weiners."

Monday, November 5, 2012

Where's the Gondolier?

From Dave Brigham:

This is another one that falls into the category of Places That I've Passed Countless Times But Never Really Noticed.

Broad Canal in Cambridge, Mass., is a shadow of its former self. Once part of an extensive system of waterways, the canal now extends just a short distance from the Charles River near Kendall Square.

Toward Boston

From Wikipedia:

The canal began in 1806 when Henry Hill, Rufus Davenport, and others laid out a canal system in the land and tidal flats along the Charles River. Broad Canal was dug before 1810, and 80 feet (24 m) wide from the low-water mark to Portland Street. In 1874 the lower part of the canal, between First and Third Streets, was 100 feet (30 m) wide. Connecting canals ran through much of today's East Cambridge.

No visible trace remains of that system, and extensive landfills have removed all remnants of Cambridge's seaport docks and wharves. Broad Canal's truncated remnants can now be found just north of Broadway, entering the Charles River immediately north of Longfellow Bridge.

I found out about the canal while doing a Google search, scanning the map for a waterfront location in the Boston area to do some Backside work.

I spied the words "Broad Canal Walkway" on the map and realized it was a spot I'd driven by numerous times on the way to and from various points, including the Museum of Science, the CambridgeSide Galleria and baseball games in Charlestown.

The walkway is hard by the massive Kendall Cogeneration Station. I saw two small boats tied up along the stone wall that defines the border between the canal and the power plant.

Jammed up

These wharf pilings are silently elegant in their quest to defy the modern world.


But the modern world, alas, presses in from the end of the canal.

Broad Canal, Cambridge Mass.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

New England's Most Haunted

Thanks to Backside contributor Heidi Waugaman-Page for pointing us to this great story and photo set, "New England's Most Haunted Asylums."

Monday, October 29, 2012

Creepy Garage

From Heidi Waugaman-Page:

Old garage in Sunapee, NH. Very creepy. I have visited it many times. Many of the buildings have been torn down since the property was sold last spring. I at least got to get into the garage for another visit.

These make me think of a Nine Inch Nails video or Brothers Quay-style videos. I had way too much fun.

Sunapee Garage #1 Sunapee Garage #5 Sunapee Garage #11 Sunapee Garage #7

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Church Worth Crowing About

From James M. Surprenant:

Abandoned Church

I was in Eden, NC, for the annual Argus Camera Collectors Group Gathering. It was Sunday morning and I was out around town taking photos with several vintage and toy cameras.

When I spotted the church, I pulled over and got out of the car with my cameras. As I walked along the sidewalk, taking photos as I approached the building, I was being "followed" by a very large crow on the power line.

Double Cross

The crow seemed upset that I was there because it was scolding me very loudly and it hopped along the wire following right behind me. When I stopped to shoot, it stopped.

When I got to the church walk, I took a few steps towards the church and knelt down to shoot. Then I heard something solid land behind me, like a rock or something. I turned and the crow flew away, and I didn't see what hit the path behind me.

Weird/creepy and yet oh so cool!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Window Dressing

From Dave Brigham:

Dainty Dot

I used to walk by the Dainty Dot Hosiery building a lot. I worked in the mail room of a small banking and real estate publishing company in Boston's Leather District, just a few blocks from the late 19th century building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

On occasion, I made deliveries on foot, walking through the Financial District, along the waterfront, through Chinatown and, quickly and with eyes in the back of my head, among the pimps and prostitutes of the Combat Zone (R.I.P.).

The Dainty Dot building was on the edge of Chinatown, facing Surface Road, which separated the ethnic enclave from the smaller Leather District. I loved the character of the building -- rich, brown bricks, nice details at the top, a real solid place of industry -- and of course I thrilled at the name on the side.

Dainty Dot Hosiery

Unfortunately, the building was recently torn down. A developer has finally begun to realize a plan to build a 26-story residential tower after years of financing issues.

For more about the history of the Dainty Dot building, and the former Shreve, Crump & Low building in Boston's Back Bay, read this post from the Evolving Critic blog.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Found My Quarry

From Dave Brigham:

I'm becoming more attracted to Greater Boston's waterfront. I've enjoyed checking out the sights in the city, but I'm ready to branch out a bit. This is what brought me to Quincy's Rock Island Cove Salt Marsh.

Through a Google map search of the area just south of Boston, I found a bunch of places, and once I did a quick investigation into Rock Island Cove, and learned there used to be a quarry there, I knew I had to check it out.

The salt marsh, of course, is beautiful.

Salt marsh

But my quarry was the quarry. Having read just a little online about the site, I wasn't sure what to expect. I was hoping for building remnants; what I found was some steep rock walls leading into what seems to be a fairly shallow pit.

And of course, there was graffiti.

Quarry tag #2 Quarry tag #3

The pit was filled with trees and grasses and trash.

Bad seat

I suspect if I'd ventured down there I would've found more interesting pieces of history. But drilled into a rock a good distance from the pit I found this pin:

Big pin

I don't know anything about quarry operations, so I have no idea what was secured here. I assume a cable was strung through here that was perhaps used to hoist rock from the hole.

From two sources online, I learned that the company that quarried the stone was called the Tidewater Broken Stone company. Founded in 1906, the company owned 26 acres of "the best quality trap rock suitable for crushing purposes," according to "United States Investor, Volume 21, Part 2" by Frank P. Bennett and Company. I tell ya, Google documents is awesome.

According to the same source, Tidewater supplied "practically all the stone used in water front construction, both in government and city works."

It's no surprise this place is called Rock Island. The quarry seems fairly small, but there is certainly plenty of stone in the general area, so I imagine Tidewater had quite an operation in its day.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Watering Hole

From Pete Zarria:

Bud Light

Back alley watering hole in Amboy, Illinois.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

State of Confusion

In 2005, through a federal grant, Massachusetts began putting into action a plan to close state facilities for the elderly and people with disabilities and to move those clients into home-based environments. Translation: the commonwealth wanted to deinstitutionalize some of its most vulnerable residents by moving them out of hospitals where they had received care for most or all of their lives.

As a result, more hulking, Gothic hospitals around Massachusetts joined the growing ranks of aging facilities that were already favorites of urban explorers.

On June 30 of this year, the Monson Developmental Center, which opened in Palmer in 1854, moved the last few remaining residents out. Most of the facility's buildings have been empty for years.

Peter Arnemann took these amazing pictures a few years back.

What will become of the Monson site? As with so many other similar facilities in the state, the answer is, "Who the hell knows?" There is no master plan for the site, according to Palmer town officials. -- DB.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Shoes Required

From Dave Brigham:

My daughter, Amelia, and I joined a fellow stay-at-home dad and his two girls for a trip to the USS Constitution in Charlestown, Mass., recently. I brought along my camera, of course, but wasn't expecting this advertising nugget:

Safety Shoes

I searched online and found photos of this great sign before it was restored, but I don't know when that was done. Some folks indicate that the sign dates to around World War II, but I don't know.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Fall On the Backside

Fall is my favorite season. I love the cool temps; the apples, pumpkins and cider at local farm stands; the porters and dark ales on tap at neighborhood bars; the soups and hearty meals on menus at my favorite restaurants; watching football and hockey on TV (especially after this latest dismal Red Sox season); Halloween and Thanksgiving; and, of course, the full palette of colors you witness as the foliage changes from its monochromatic green.

With the falling of the leaves (in New England and elsewhere, although unfortunately not everywhere across America), more of the Backside reveals itself. Buildings that during the spring and summer are hidden behind vines and overgrown trees, reappear during fall and winter.

And landscapes that look beautiful in lush greens become transformed in reds, yellows and oranges.

Below are some shots from various members of the Backside Gang that reflect the wonders of autumn, whether because of their subject, their colors or their feel -- DB.


(Photo by Dave Brigham: Abigail Draper Mann Woodland Worship Center, Dover Massachusetts)

Abandoned campsite

(Photo by Kristen Smith: Abandoned camp site, Litchfield State Forest, New Hampshire)

Hungry Canyon

(Photo by lostlosangeles: Mendocino County, California)


(Photo by Pete Zarria: Milan, Illinois)


(Photo by Dave Brigham: Watertown, Massachusetts)


(Photo by Pete Zarria: Tucson, Arizona)

Double Deuces

(Photo by Joe Viger: Conway, New Hampshire)


(Photo by Kristen Smith: New Hampshire)


(Photo by Heidi Waugaman-Page: Antrim, New Hampshire)