Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Roam If You Want To

From Dave Brigham:

Often times when I set out with my camera to take pictures for this blog, I have a destination in mind. I've made note of an aqueduct head house, a named building, an abandoned factory or a stretch of long-forgotten railroad tracks and circled back to document the place in advance of doing research.

Almost as frequently, I'm going somewhere -- my accountant's office, Target, dropping my son at an appointment -- and remember to bring along my camera bag, in case I have time to poke around looking for my favorite places on the fringe. While I love exploring with a purpose in mind, it's these wild goose chases that raise my excitement level to that of a little kid under the tree on Christmas day.

Sometimes I get a lump of coal in my Backside stocking. Other times I drive around, pass a few promising places but continue on hoping for the equivalent of a new bike or a Red Ryder BB Gun (look it up....), only to run out of time. On enough occasions, however, I stumble across some cool places to take some interesting photos. Not everything has a story that I need to research. I just like hiking around, exploring and finding the less-traveled spots.

Here are some of the results.

As part of my ongoing mission to document the Backside of my adopted hometown, Newton, Mass., I've come across places that don't easily give themselves away. I suppose a knock on the door might lead to an answer, but I'm not usually willing to do that.

This fancy, rounded bench looks like it's made of cement. The letters "PD" are inscribed on the lower left section. I spotted this seat as I was trying to figure out where the one-time Stanley Steamer plant on the Newton-Watertown line once stood. The bench is in the corner of the yard of a rundown house situated in the most northeastern point of Newton.

Does the "PD" stand for Police Department? Was this bench originally sited in front of a local constabulary? Or are the initials attached to a person? Lots of questions about this oddly located, uncomfortable seat.

Built in 1900, this two-family house is, like the property in the previous photo, located in Newton Corner. I like the look of this place, which was recently rehabbed. Stalking the house on Google Maps, I noticed while on "street view" that there was a historic marker of some sort on the house. When I arrived with my camera a day or two later, however, I noticed that the marker was gone. Again, I could knock on the door and ask about the house and any historic significance, but I'm not very comfortable prying into people's lives that way.

Recently, I was on the other side of town, the southwest section of Newton called Oak Hill. I'd picked up my tax return in nearby Dedham, and had some time to kill before picking my son up at school. It was cold and overcast, with light hail falling as I walked into the woods just over the border in Boston's West Roxbury neighborhood. The trees provided decent cover from the precipitation as I walked a trail along the fringe of a cemetery and the remains of the Brook Farm. Across a thin stretch of trees I could see the Baker Street Jewish Cemeteries, 42 individual cemeteries run by the Jewish Cemetery Association. The path took me right past the far southwest corner, where I easily scrambled over a low wall and took this picture.

I continued on the path to the outskirts of Millennium Park in West Roxbury.

This is obviously a major teen hangout. There are dirt bike trails winding through the trees, and the odd beer bottle and piece of trash here and there.

I'm drawn to places like this because I grew up in places like this. Sure, I get excited by checking out urban decay and dream about undertaking actual urban exploration, instead of just snapping pictures of the outside of dilapidated buildings. But as a kid I explored the woods and streams and railroad tracks near my home. Some people look at these environments and don't see much, but there's always more there than meets the eye.

OK, twisted vines and a dried out ear of corn aren't typically what I feature here. But these are the types of things other people overlook on their way past little patches of woods and tiny fields that don't look like much. I took these shots in Concord, right near a place called Brigham Farm, which has been operated by distant relatives of mine (whom I've never met) since 1824.

In nearby Sudbury, I stopped to take pictures of a long-abandoned place that I'd seen (and taken pictures of) a few years ago.

Known as Bowker's Store, this place in the northern section of town was among a few spots that sold all manner of goods, and served as gas stations and local post offices, too, according to the Sudbury Chamber of Commerce.

According to, Mr. Bowker passed away in 1965 and a man named George Sharkey took over ownership of the store. Shortly thereafter, the store applied for (and was denied) a liquor permit. It appears to have gone out of business soon after, according to the Geocashing site.

Founded in 1639, Sudbury was the third inland, Colonial town established in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, according to the town web site. As such, the settlement has quite a lot of history related to Native Americans, the Revolutionary War and even slavery.

I've never seen a street sign like this. It's pretty cool.

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