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, 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....