Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Gravity Can Lift You Up

From Dave Brigham:

I decelerated so quickly when I saw this building, I'm surprised I didn't get rear-ended. If I'd been in a more populated area, I would have. But since I was in rural Stow, Mass., home to numerous apple orchards and other farms, I was never in danger.

"Gravity Rock," the sign over the door says. Perhaps, like Hanging Rock of literary and film renown, Gravity Rock has some deep, dark story attached to it, I thought. Maybe this little area of Stow is rife with haunting tales of murder and depravity. But why would a church be named after such a place?

I snapped another picture, and told myself that I would look up this place as soon as I got home.

Upon my arrival home, my elation turned to disappointment and then confusion.

Gravity Rock, as it turns out, has no sordid past and doesn't refer to a place in Stow, Rather, it's a company, albeit one that seems a little shady.

There's a listing on LinkedIn for "Gravity Rock Gym" at this address, 4 Marlboro Road, Stow, Mass. Oddly, however, the business type is listed as "Computer Software." I'm guessing somebody living at this address, or a former resident, is trying to figure out his or her life and how to make money.

This building, which was erected in 1898 as the Gleasondale Methodist-Episcopal Church, doesn't seem to know what it is anymore, either.

A Google search brought up a real estate listing indicating it is a single-family home with three bedrooms, two full baths and 5,666 square feet. Also, I found a listing at Pluralism.org that says the building is the Sri Akshar Puroshottam Swaminarayan Hindu Temple, opened in 1990. Another web site says it was opened in 2000.

There's little evidence of anyone living or worshipping there, at least not mid-morning during the week. As always, I'll keep an eye on the place.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Bring Out Your Dead

From Dave Brigham:

Before visiting the Harvard (Mass.) Center Cemetery, I'd never heard of a hearse house. That's one right up there, built in 1846 to shelter the horse-drawn carriage that hauled coffins to the graveyard.

Right next to the hearse house stands the public vault, which was erected in 1884 as a temporary resting place for residents "when circumstances would not permit immediate burial," according to a sign on the building.

There are so many great headstones and ornamental pieces in this cemetery, but you know me, I always look for the elements that are bent, broken or bowed.

There's plenty of straight-up beauty here, too.

As for the title of this post, it comes from the scene below in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," one of my favorite movies of all time.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Scenes From An Old Shoe Town

From Dave Brigham:

Here are some scenes from Hudson, Mass., a one-time shoe factory town incorporated in 1866.

(Sign on the back of Chubby's Liquors.)

(International Order of Oddfellows Hall.)

(Old railroad right of way, former Boston & Maine line.)

(I believe this building is part of Larkin Custom Millwork, which was formed in 2013 subsequent to the closure of Larkin Lumber after 130 years.)

(Former train bridge, now part of the Assabet River Rail Trail.)

(Awesome old Lincoln.)

(Not sure what this building is, but it's very cool.)

(Back of the very cool building.)

(Detail of the former Hudson Mill building.)

(Old rail and stack at former Hudson Mill building.)

Monday, November 30, 2015

Walking Dead Tracks

From Dave Brigham:

In late August, my son began attending a new private school in Sudbury, Mass. For the first several weeks of the school year, I spent a lot of time at his new school, hanging out to make him feel comfortable while he adjusted to new kids, teachers and classes.

He needed to learn to trust his teachers and to become more independent, so I set out on short adventures in the first few weeks, always letting him know I'd be back before too long. My first foray was down a path indicating that it led to "White Pond." On my way to this small body of water, however, I got distracted by a familiar sight through the trees.

I find it hard to imagine just how many trains barreled through New England a hundred years ago. You can't throw a rock around here without hearing the "clang" of old rails. Seriously, if you want to see how often we write about abandoned rail beds, rail trails and other train-related sites on this blog, just type "railroad" or "train tracks" into the search box in the upper left corner. Go ahead; I'll wait for you.

These particular tracks were laid in the 1870's as part of the Framingham and Lowell Railroad, according to the Preserve White Pond web site. They were later part of the New York, New Haven and Hartford line.

They were "constructed close to the western edge of White Pond," according to the web site. "Trains continued to run until the 1970's. The old railroad bed is scheduled to be transformed into the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail in the next few years."

I've written about the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail before, in relation to another segment of these tracks located in nearby Concord (see December 11, 2012, "Concord, Part III: New Haven Rail bed."

One of the teachers at my son's school told me that you can follow the tracks to Concord center, a distance of about three or four miles. I may do that someday. I felt like I was in "The Walking Dead" as I trekked along here. Eerily quiet, a sense of peace but also sensations of impending doom.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Your Standard Empty Plant

From Dave Brigham:

I've written a lot about Waltham, the former mill city in eastern Massachusetts, because there's a lot to cover. The city is known for a) the Boston Manufacturing Company, the "first modern factory in the United States," according to the Waltham Museum's web site; b) the Waltham Watch Company, which made the "first watches with interchangeable parts and the first 100% American-made watch," according to the museum; and c) the Waltham Manufacturing Company and other companies that, during the early part of the 20th century, produced bicycles, automobiles and auto parts.

None of those companies exist any more, but thankfully most of their giant old buildings have been renovated and turned into condos, museum space, office space, restaurants and other businesses. Others sites still sit abandoned long after the last worker pushed a broom across the floor (see February 27, 2011, "UPDATE: What a Dump"), or have been torn down and partially redeveloped, with some outstanding environmental issues February 7, 2015, "The Price of Gas").

Six and a half years ago the Standard-Thomson factory went quiet. A manufacturer of automotive thermostats, the company moved its operations to other plants in the U.S. and Mexico. After scaling back operations for some time, Standard-Thomson had only 86 employees left in its last days. Some of them transferred to other company facilities, according to this news article.

I'll say this for the property: it looks pretty damn good for a place that's been vacant for several years. The grounds and exterior are well maintained, and I assume the same is true for the interior. Surrounded by homes on two sides and parking lots on two sides, the Standard-Thomson property is in a well-traveled area. Abutting businesses include a gym, an engineering firm and a natural gas company.

There is a shopping complex nearby with a grocery store, Ocean State Job Lot and other small stores. Additionally, there are several restaurants, a high-end produce/prepared foods market and many new apartment buildings within a mile radius.

So it's a good location for something. But what?

With 8.2 acres and 154,000 square feet of manufacturing space, the site is large, with plenty of parking. Other similar buildings in the area have been converted to storage space, office and R&D space, or torn down and replaced with big-box retailers and auto service companies.

Someday, something will happen here.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

This Town Ain't Big Enough....

From Dave Brigham:

When I first drove past this sign, I thought it indicated an abandoned retail complex in Maynard, Mass. Doubling back later, I realized this site was something different.

The Shoppes at Maynard Crossing have been in the planning stages for at least two years, on the site of a former Digital Equipment Corp. complex. City residents and officials have gone back and forth with the developers to arrive at a plan that satisfies both sides, never an easy task. Maynardites want to make sure that a retail complex outside of town doesn't hurt the prospect of a revitalized downtown.

I've spent some time in downtown Maynard, and it ain't pretty. There are a lot of vacant storefronts. There is great potential there -- the area is clean and many buildings face onto main streets and avenues -- but the problem is the lack of customers. For years, Digital Equipment Corp. (DEC) occupied the giant mill that dominates the downtown. Subsequent to DEC's absorption into Compaq Computer, Monster.com took over a significant portion of the building. But the job search company, too, left the area. Now the mammoth parking lots surrounding the mill are largely empty on weekdays.

If the mill's new owners can attract businesses, that will help prop up downtown businesses, and lead to the opening of new restaurants, shops and services. It's hard, though, to see a way in which the small city can also support numerous other retailers just a short drive/long walk out of town, at Maynard Crossing. Stay tuned....

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

An Armory In Need of Some Amore

From Dave Brigham:

The Waltham Armory opened in 1907, according to this blog post, which you should read all of, and closed less than 60 years later. Since 1964, the imposing brick building has stood at attention, awaiting its next assignment.

A developer bought it many years ago, according to the above-referenced blog post, and has advanced plans to turn the armory into condominiums, but neighbors fought fiercely against that concept. There are some in Waltham who want to turn the building into a military museum.

This building is in a tight neighborhood of homes and, just up the hill, several medical facilities and office buildings. The site is close to Waltham's bustling Main Street, and within walking distance of a commuter rail station. I find it hard to believe the armory has been vacant for so long. I'm sure the building's interior is in rough shape, although it seems fairly well closed up from the outside.

A museum would be a cool addition to the city, as would a community center. But those ideas aren't going to make the developer any money, so the stalemate continues.

I will, of course, keep an eye on it.

For another recent story about an armory, see Mick Melvin's June 30, 2015, post, "Hartford Arming for New National Park."

Friday, October 16, 2015

Is That Paul Bunyan?

From Mick Melvin:


I was driving in Connecticut on a Saturday afternoon and saw this giant man. I thought to myself, “Is that Paul Bunyan?” I drove closer and sure enough, it looked like a lumberjack.

The enormous lumberjack is 26 feet tall, making it easy to spot. The curious thing about this giant lumberjack is that he has no axe. Turns out his name is The Muffler Man, and he's actually supposed to be a flagpole!

The giant statue sits outside of the House of Doors. The initial placement of the statue had the Muffler Man holding an axe. However, the town of Cheshire has a law in place that prohibits signs from being taller than seven feet. The original axe was replaced by a flagpole. Now the Muffler Man is a flagpole and an official landmark in Cheshire.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Matt Foley's Van?

From Dave Brigham:

Is this the van Matt Foley sleeps in when he takes a vacation from his place down by the river?

Sunday, September 20, 2015

I Seek Newton, Part II: Auburndale

From Dave Brigham:

This is the second installment of an occasional series about my adopted hometown, Newton, Mass. The first post covered Lower Falls, one of 13 villages in Newton (see May 21, 2015, "I Seek Newton, Part I: Lower Falls"). In this post, I wander through Auburndale, which lies on the city's western edge, bordering Weston and Waltham. Split by the Massachusetts Turnpike, the village is home to Lasell College, as well as numerous beautiful old homes and a small commercial district.

One hundred years ago Auburndale was arguably Newton's hottest recreation spot. I'm sure that on more than one occasion it was referred to as the bee's knees.

Opened in 1897 along the banks of the Charles River, Norumbega Park featured canoeing, picnic areas, an outdoor theater, a penny arcade, a restaurant, a zoo, a carousel and an electric fountain, according to NorumbegaPark.com. Built by the Commonwealth Avenue Street Railway, the park was incredibly successful for decades before declining and closing in 1963. Norumbega and other nearby boathouses played host to thousands of canoeists in what was called the Lakes District of the Charles River.

Here's a Digital Commonwealth photo of the Norumbega Park restaurant. The awkwardly named Boston Marriott Newton now stands on much of the former amusement park site. There is also conservation land east of the former Norumbega Park.

Here's a picture I took a few years ago of an old light fixture that I presume once lit the walkways at the park.

Here's a shot of the conservation land. I have no idea if this rock wall and stairs were once part of the park, or if they are remnants of an estate.

A short distance up the Charles River once stood Partelow's boat house on the Newton side, and Riverside Recreation Grounds on the Weston side.

Here's a Digital Commonwealth photo of Partelow's boat house. The Riverside train station is in the background.

Here's the boat house site now, with the train bridge from the Digital Commonwealth photo in the background:

Here's the foundation of the train station, which was closed in the late 1950's:

The Riverside Recreation Grounds in Weston opened in the late 19th century and featured athletic fields, a swimming pool, tennis courts, a boat house and other facilities. In 1930 part of the grounds were turned into a golf course (now known as Leo J. Martin). Eventually other Riverside acreage was taken by the state for the building of Route 128.

My deeper appreciation for Newton was triggered by what was supposed to be a short excursion to Auburndale's portion of the Charles River Reservation. I'd been there once before to take some shots of the river and the train bridge. I wanted a closer look at the building that houses Newtron Inc., which for more than 50 years has manufactured high-tech machined parts.

Turns out this building is related to the one-time boating industry of Newton. According to Charles River Canoe & Kayak, a tenant in the building, this historic building "was once used to build Robertson Boats and Canoes. Robertson later merged with Old Town Canoe and for a short time the company was known as Robertson - Old Town Canoe."

In order to deliver canoes to the Partelow and Riverside boat houses, all employees had to do was walk through this tunnel under the railroad tracks.

After snapping a different shot of the Newtron building, I was shocked to see an entrance to this tunnel. Covered in graffiti and open for one and all to walk through, the tunnel leads to the former platform for the old Riverside train station. Back in the late '50s Riverside was moved to a different location, which I'll get to in a minute.

Off the back edge of the old platform I spied a path into the woods. This took me down along the river, where I founnd a restored foot bridge leading to the Weston side of the Charles.

This bridge was a lot rustier the first time I saw it, in 2011 (see October 12, 2011, "Troubled Bridges Over Water").

Ambling along the path I soon realized where I would end up, and I felt like Roald Amundsen discovering the long-elusive Northwest Passage. Honestly, although I knew people had obviously walked this path for decades -- who am I kidding? Centuries! -- I tingled with excitement as if I were the first to realize that there was a path leading under the (very active) railroad tracks, along the river and on to the new Riverside station, and from there, out to an access road along Route 128. If conservationists have their way, eventually old tracks crossing that bridge over the highway will be converted to a walking path leading to, wait for it, Lower Falls (see "I Seek Newton, Part I: Lower Falls").

My son was excited when I told him about this path, although for different reasons than I was. He knew at the far end of Riverside station, far from the public's prying eyes, there were wrecked Green Line trolleys. I took him there.

While there are no longer any boat houses or amusement parks, there is still at least one place where locals can be entertained. Well, there was, and depending on a developer's plans, may yet be again.

This is the former Turtle Lane Playhouse. Built in 1890 as a private residence, the building served as a boarding house and then the Auburndale Club took over in 1920. There was reportedly a bowling alley in the basement at one point. Turtle Lane took over in 1978.

In 2013, however, the playhouse closed. A developer acquired the property and has announced plans to revive the theater and add housing to the site. Stay tuned....

One of the first elements of the backside of Auburndale I noticed is this mural along the Massachusetts Turnpike:

When it was painted in the late '60s or early '70s, some people were concerned drivers on the Pike would get distracted and crash (see December 26, 2010, "Where the Sun Never Sets"). The building once housed a store that sold "hippy stuff," according to one Backside reader.

There are numerous other spots around this village, and perhaps I'll get to more of them some time in the future. The last two places I want to mention hint at somewhat of a new direction for me on this blog, and beyond. In recent months, as I pondered this project, I pored over old maps of Newton and reviewed other historical documents on the city's web site, and got a feel for what my adopted hometown was like 100 years ago. I envisioned covering the backside and the history of each of Newton's 13 villages, which is what I'm doing here. But I also decided to expand that vision and write a book incorporating historic photos and information about historical sites in Newton that still stand, as well as buildings and locations that have changed use over the years, or no longer exist.

Directly across from the Turtle Lane Playhouse is The Melrose.

I believe it's just an apartment house, but I suspect this place has some interesting history. I've been unable to find anything so far. Stay tuned....

Finally, there's this wonderful house:

Currently housing condos, this building was once known as the Nye Park Inn. I believe it was popular with students at and visitors to nearby Lasell College, which was founded in 1851 as Auburndale Female Seminary.

Monday, September 7, 2015

T and Symphony

From Dave Brigham:

I was walking down Mass. Ave. in Boston with my son, Owen recently when I noticed a small construction site right outside the Symphony subway station. We've ridden the subway a LOT over the years, but this was the first time I'd been to this stop. I realized right away that this must be a former entrance to the station; the current head house is about 30 feet away.

Owen and I went down into the station and he used his phone to look up the history of the station. He told me, thanks to Wikipedia, that there used to be a "sub passageway" connecting the inbound and outbound sides, but that it was sealed off in the 1960's. I looked at the Wikipedia entry as well, and learned that the MBTA did moderate renovations to Symphony in the 1990's.

Searching online, I found a random guy's photos posted on Facebook and Twitter of the same construction, and he indicated that there is some sort of utility replacement going on. He said the original Symphony station entrances were covered over when two large apartment buildings, Symphony Plazas east and west, were built, I'm guessing in the 1960's.

Here's a capture from Google Maps before the construction began, showing no sign of the old station entrances:

The current utility work, or whatever it is, is taking place right behind where the person is walking in this photo.

I can't find any old photos online of the original station head houses, but I'll keep looking.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Bigelow's Little Office

From Dave Brigham:

I've lost track of the number of times I've said, "Thank God for the Internet!" while working on this blog over the past 5+ years. I can't always find answers to my questions about out-of-the-way relics and long-forgotten buildings, but my success rate is pretty good.

Sometimes I think I've found what I'm looking for, but there's a nagging feeling that I'm not quite on the right trail. This happened recently after I took some photos of a small building along Route 20 on the Weston/Wayland border outside Boston.

I've driven by here numerous times over the years and long wondered what this place used to be, and what it was in the process of becoming. My search online started with something like, "Route 20 Wayland Weston old building" and before too long I found information at the Weston Historical Society's web site about a place called the Fiske Law Office.

So I saved the link and then, after I got around to snapping a few photos, went back to the site and read it more thoroughly. And something just wasn't right. I dug a little deeper and realized that the Fiske Law Office was close by, but was in much better condition.

So what the heck was this little place?

I searched on Google Maps and wrote down the address of the house directly behind this small building. Then I conducted a new search and found what I was looking for on the Weston Historical Commission web site:

"The Alpheus Bigelow Jr. House [863 Boston Post Rd], 1827, is a large Federal style building. A graduate of Harvard, Bigelow later studied law with Isaac Fiske and Tyler Bigelow. The Bigelow Law Office [3 Applecrest Rd] was built across the road and has been recorded by [the Historic American Building Survey]."

This building is similar in style to the Fiske Law Office, and obviously the two men knew each other, as Alpheus Bigelow studied law with Isaac Fiske. I may make another visit to try and speak with the guy whose house abuts this property, as it appears he's involved in the renovation.

Here's a peek into his backyard.

Here's what the building looked like a long time ago. The HABS indicates it was erected prior to 1800.

There's a nearly 8-year-old building permit taped in the window of this historic law office. Not sure if the owner plans to convert it to something private or public. I looked through the window and could see some old furniture and drapes and boxes, etc., so maybe he's just using it for storage.

The building is in a really tough spot for any use, public or private, as it sits right next to busy Route 20. I'll keep tabs on it....

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Misfit Garage

From Dave Brigham:

Beautiful, isn't it?

Known as the Winthrop Square Garage, this squat little parking facility, which is owned by the City of Boston, has been vacant for quite some time. For years I've been reading stories in the Boston Globe about how developers are salivating over the prospect of blowing this eyesore up and replacing it with a gleaming office/condo/hotel/retail palace.

The latest Globe article points out that, while still likely to get done, a deal to buy or lease the land from the city has hit a few snags. Make no mistake, though, this place will fall under the wrecking ball, and yet another awesome monument to the upper middle class will rise in its place.

Don't get me wrong: I agree that this building is ugly and beyond its usefulness. But, although I've only lived in the Boston area for half of my 50 years, I have memories of how things were when I arrived here, fresh-faced and empty-pocketed, in 1990.

My first job in Boston was through a temp agency located just down the street from the Winthrop Square Garage. In subsequent employment I worked in mailrooms, and as part of those jobs, I delivered and picked up packages around the Financial District and Downtown Crossing, passing this site quite often.

I have no sentimentality around this building, but it's nice, on my occasional visits to my old work grounds, to notice things that haven't changed, because so many things around the city have been altered. It would be nice if the developer enlisted an architect who doesn't simply want to put up another glass box that looks like all the other glass boxes going up these days in the Hub of the Universe.

I'll keep y'all up to date as a project gets selected and gets under way.