Saturday, December 30, 2017

Rail Trail Mix

From Watson T. Fuzzlebanker:

I don't recall when I began my foray into the wilds of Needham, Wellesley and Dover, Mass., the results of which you will read in this post and two subsequent installations. I set out what seems like 17 years ago but was probably more like 18 months ago to explore and find any remnants of the fabled Baker Estate, a private amusement park/folly/zoo/entertainment complex built in the late 19th century in what were then the wilds of Needham and Wellesley, two of Boston's western suburbs. I'd read about what had been -- for too short a time -- an amazing Utopia in a Boston Globe article several years ago. In more recent years I'd searched online for more information, all of which you'll read about in the third post.

During the course of exploring the southwestern section of Needham, both online and on foot, I naturally stumbled across other places of interest. One of these was an old Nike missile site, which I'll write about in the second post in this series.

In this post I'll cover an old rail line that's been turned into a (partial) rail trail, as well as a nearby dam just over the border in Dover with a few nice surprises in the abutting woods.

In May 2016, the Town of Needham celebrated the opening of a 1.7-mile stretch of the Bay Colony Rail Trail. The biking and walking path stretches from High Rock Street through Needham Town Forest, runs parallel to South Street, crosses Charles River and Fisher streets and ends short of the Charles River trestle that takes the old tracks into Dover (pronounced "Dovah" with a locked jaw). The abandoned tracks are owned by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (which operates commuter trains, subways and buses) and were most recently used by the Bay Colony Railroad, which in 1977 took over freight service in this area from Conrail.

(Rail trail crossing at Fisher Street.)

(An old utility pole along the rail trail.)

Some residents of Dover, spearheaded by the Friends of the Dover Greenway, hope to establish a section of the Bay Colony trail. These folks have been working for several years, but in chichi Dover -- the most affluent town in the Bay State -- things seem to move slowly, especially when it comes to the idea of letting their fellow citizens run, ride or roll through the exclusive enclave. The latest Friends proposal calls for the rail trail to extend from Springdale Avenue to Hunt Drive. The section of old rail right-of-way that crosses the river is not currently under discussion. According to this Boston Globe article, the trestle over the Charles River would need to be replaced before trail organizers could realize their goal of connecting Needham to Dover. The original plan for the trail calls for it to eventually extend south to Medfield.

(Looking from the tracks in Needham (which may be gone now; this photo dates to May 2016) toward the Charles River crossing, and on into Dover.)

A group called Be True to Dover opposes the idea of any rail trail in town. Perhaps they fear the "wrong element" will disrupt their croquet matches, cocktail parties and backyard tennis matches. Or maybe they've got stills and marijuana plots out there in the woods.

This sort of argument always erupts when rail trails are proposed. On one side you have normal people who enjoy exercise and seeing, ahem, the backside of their town or a neighboring burg. On the other you have snobs who don't want other people to have nice things. Of course, we all know their real fears:

Anyway, this makes a nice transition to the second part of this post, which deals exclusively with Dover, which is of course a very nice town, albeit one with a few too many busybody toffs.

Just a short equestrian jump from the old trestle discussed and pictured above, in the Charles River, is the Cochrane Dam in Dover. The river may have been dammed here as early as 1675, according to a Waymarking post I found online. In the ensuing centuries, there were grist, paper, saw and textile mills, as well as facilities making nails and automobile tires, according to various sources online. For a little more history about the mills and those who built them, read this post at the Shadowed Hills blog.

(Remnant of something alongside the Cochrane Dam.)

(Cool old fire hydrant near the dam.)

The old cement slab and fire hydrant are cool, but the most excellent things I stumbled across at the site were like monoliths from Stonehenge.

"These are remains from the mill that once stood at the site. The last use of the mill was the J E Cochran (sic) rubber factory hence the name of the dam as the Cochran (sic) dam," according to a guy named Rick Hardy on the Charles River Village page on Facebook, in response to my query.

In addition to mills and factories, this area was once home to the Charles River Power Company, according to a 1909 map of Needham I found online. I find it amazing that all that activity over a few hundred years at this site hasn't left more remnants behind. I'm sure if you started digging in the woods, you'd find some pretty cool old stuff.

Here are other posts I've written about Needham and Dover:


March 12, 2012, "Fire On the Mountain?", the first of three posts about Snow Hill. This one is about hiking to a fire tower.

March 17, 2012, "Scouting a Location," the second post about Snow Hill. This one is about a Boy Scout camp.

March 22, 2012, "Fresh-Air Salvation," the third post about Snow Hill. This one is about an outdoor worship area.

April 9, 2012, "Beyond the Mill," about the partially reconstructed Dover Union Iron Mill and the beautiful woodlands surrounding the site.


November 20, 2011, "History Flows On, Part II," about my adventure in Cutler Park.

January 30, 2013, "Whimsical Woodlands," about the marvelous Martini Junction hidden in Needham Town Forest.

July 13, 2016, "Sad Gobble," about the loss of the iconic Owen Poultry Farm.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Signing Off

From Frank N. Stein:

I'm not sure whether the Ramones ever made it onto a playlist at WNTN, a low-power AM radio station that until earlier this year broadcast from my adopted hometown of Newton, Mass. But you can't ever go wrong kicking off a blog post with some classic American punk rock.

Full disclosure: I have never listened to WNTN, and only became aware of its existence last month when the Newton-centric Village 14 blog posted the news that the station had sold its cozy studio hard by the town dump, er, recycling depot.

I took this photo shortly after learning that the building would be torn down. It is likely gone by now.

I'm happy to report that WNTN hasn't signed off, despite my wicked clever headline. The station moved to neighboring Needham and still broadcasts shows including Grecian Echoes, Reel Talk, Arabic Baptist Church and Benchwarmers, among others. The station came on the air in 1968 featuring "progressive rock music" until 1975, according to its web site. Over the years WNTN has showcased local news, "middle-of-the-road popular music," disco and, more recently, various ethnic programs.

Do yourself a favor and read the comments under that Village 14 story to get a flavor for the station. According to one commenter, "Most of what was in that building moved to [a new space]. The control boards, microphones, phones, tape and CD decks, etc were brought over to the new building."

The studio building was erected in 1950. I'm not sure whether this place was a private residence prior to WNTN taking it over in 1968, but it sure looks like it, doesn't it?

What's going to take its place? you ask. Dunno. Stay tuned....

Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the station has an extremely famous alumni. "With the [radio] license, Stern landed his first professional radio job at WNTN in Newton, Massachusetts from August to December 1975 doing air shifts, news casting, and production work," according to Wikipedia.

To read about another abandoned radio station building, this one in Connecticut, check out Mick Melvin's October 27, 2010, post, "Off the Air."

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Artist Thinks: "I HAF to Fix That Smokestack"

From Dave Brigham:

It took me 11 months, but I finally got my beer-lovin' behind to the Boston Beer Co. in Boston's Jamaica Plain neighborhood. "How was the beer?" you're asking. While I drink the company's Sam Adams beer all the time, I wasn't at the brewery to tip my elbow. You know that. I was there to check out their refurbished smokestack.

Boston Beer is one of the most well-known independent brewers in the U.S.. The building complex the company occupies was once home to the Haffenreffer brewery. When I was in high school, Haffenreffer -- known for rebus puzzles on the inside of its bottle caps -- was known as Green Death, due to its high alcohol content. You see, the stuff inside those big avocado-shaded bottles was malt liquor ("works quicker") and had an alcohol content of 5.9%. The swill we usually drank -- Old Milwaukee, Meister Brau, etc. -- rated 4.5 or 4.6%.

I could tell you the story of the time one of my friends drank a few Haffen-wreckers (another great nickname) and yakked all over the inside of my buddy Andy's Toyota Corolla station wagon, resulting in the quickest evacuation you've ever seen. But I won't.

Rather, I'll tell you about how the smokestack from the circa-1870 brewery was restored to something akin to its former glory.

After Haffenreffer left Boston for Rhode Island in the 1960s, the complex sat empty for quite some time. In 1983, the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation bought the buildings. In addition to Boston Beer, tenants include a restaurant, food companies, a design company, a woodworking shop and much more.

In 1986, the development corporation had the top 30 feet of the original smokestack removed due to its state of disrepair, according to the Boston Globe. This resulted in the monolith touting "FENREFFER BREWERS." In more recent years, more letters had to be removed in order for the smokestack -- which no longer functions -- to be repaired and restored, per the Globe.

A neighbor who's an artist, Bob Maloney, finally decided to rectify the situation after many years of looking at the shortened brewery name, according to this Globe article. He manufactured a properly scaled stainless steel structure with the letters "HAF" and had it installed on the top of the stack in December 2016.

(The restyled Haffenreffer smokestack rising over the Boston Beer Company brewing complex.)

For more about Boston's beer brewing past, check out:'s "Mapping 21 of Boston's Lost Breweries and Their Second Acts".

The Jamaica Plain Historical Society's "Boston's Lost Breweries".

Keep your eyes peeled for a follow-up post about some cool things I stumbled across in the neighborhood around the brewery complex.