Thursday, February 15, 2018

No Farms. No Food. No Dice?

From Wile E. Coyote:

Nestled in the northeast corner of Waltham, Mass., and including a small slice of Watertown, the former Arrigo Farm has a centuries-long history and connections, through past owners, to significant American events. The City of Waltham for years has considered acquiring the long-fallow site and returning it to its purpose. After researching this issue online, I've been unable to determine who owns the farm and what might become of it.

As you can see, Arrigo Farm has known better days. The 4.2-acre site is the last farm left in Waltham. Hemmed in to the north by an industrial park and in every other direction by residential streets, the farm began producing before Marie Hedwig Auguste of Sulzbach was even born. Can you imagine?! According to the Waltham City Council's application for funding under the Massachusetts Community Preservation Act, the site "has been continuously farmed since 1650, and perhaps as early as 1635, when, according to oral tradition, Watertown founder, John Warren, purchased the land from the Watertown community."

Warren's son, Daniel, built the first house on the property when he married in 1650, per the Waltham City Council's application. He subsequently fought in King Phillips War. Daniel's great-grandsons fought in the American Revolution, two of them being injured at the Battle of Bunker Hill. The City's CPA application makes many such historic connections to bolster its case for funding to acquire the farm. How many shillings are we talking about? Oh, $3,296,250....

In the first half of the 19th century, a Warren descendant married Capt. Samuel Barnes, who tore down the house and in 1837 built the house that is the main portion of what we see on the property today, per the blah blah blah....This couple's sons fought in the Civil War.

By 1900 the Barnes family had sold off all but 4.217 acres of the farm. I'm not sure how large the property was in the 1600's when John Warren purchased it. The last Barnes descendant died in 1922. The next year, Placido Arrigo bought the farm (literally, not metaphorically) and tilled the soil until his death in 1991!

His son, John, farmed the land until his death in 2011.

(A rough-looking room added on to the original circa-1837 structure.)

(Relax, sign maker. I had no intention of going inside.)

I can't be positive, but I believe I saw signs of occupation here subsequent to 2011. Either way, in 2013 the City of Waltham began the process of trying to acquire the land.

After reviewing documents online detailing the Waltham City Council's decision to enter into negotiations with the Arrigo family to buy the property and return it to farming, I'm unclear on whether a deal was struck, and if so, why nothing has happened at this property, or if not, why the parties couldn't come to terms. At some point, the Waltham Community Preservation Committee recommended using some of the funds to demolish the farm house, which seems to have put a hold on the proceedings as of late 2013.

For a complete history of the property and the negotiations, check out this file.

As always, stay tuned....

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Casual Abandonment

From Bust Duster:

You would be forgiven if, at first glance, you thought this place was a preschool or an art gallery. I suppose in a way it's both.

Located at 482 Commonwealth Avenue in Boston's Kenmore Square, this circa-1899, 4,210-square-foot apartment building was assessed at $1.3 million in fiscal year 2017. It sits on a 2,625 square-foot lot. So why, with so much development in recent years around Kenmore Square, and the city of Boston in general, is this place plastered with graffiti and murals, instead of overflowing with Euro-trash Boston University students?

Good question! I'm not sure I have much of an answer, though. But let's see what we can cobble together/make up.

First, given what the outside looks like, let's try to imagine the interior of this place, which has been this way for perhaps 20 years, based on what I've found in online forums. Obviously people have been inside over the past two decades, because homeless people, urbex types, drug addicts and other curious folks always go into places like this. So that means people have done all the gross things that people do: gone to the bathroom (Nos. 1 and 2); had sex; ate and drank and spilled and vomited; burnt incense; read porno mags; shot up; jazzercised -- just everything bad you can think of.

Second, think what creatures enjoy the fruits of all bad human behavior: cockroaches, centipedes, rats, raccoons, lawyers. Per the City of Boston 311 web site, there have been numerous complaints over the years for graffiti, unshoveled sidewalks and rodent sightings at this address.

Now imagine being a real estate developer looking at the exterior of what was most likely once a very nice building where very nice people lived, loved and did all the gross things that people do (see above). You don't want to deal with hosing out the detritus of human existence, or risking a nasty case of scabies.

So you just let it sit there, with its celebrity-themed murals. Coco Chanel, Biggie Smalls, Michael Jackson, some other guy who could be Snoop Dogg or William Shakespeare. And like the rest of us, you may ask yourself: Well, how did I get here? And you may ask yourself: How do I work this? And you may ask yourself: Where is that large automobile?

Sorry, got a bit off track. Maybe I should be quoting from "Burning Down the House" instead.

"I think the last I've heard is that it's tied up in probate or something" -- some guy whose quote I found online.

OK, now maybe we're getting somewhere.

Nearly 10 years ago, TexasJake987 asked on the Ask MetaFilter web site: "This building @ 482 commonwealth ave has been boggling my mind. Its your typical brownstone, but its been abandoned and boarded up. On the boards, there's a bunch of artwork and murals done by some JP students. What gives? what is this place? Why is prime realty abandoned in kenmore square? Anybody know anything about it?"

So you see, it IS part art gallery and part preschool. Or some sort of school. Probably high school, but you know, kids back 10 years ago were so immature compared to the geniuses of today with their smart phones, that it was like preschool. Sorry, digressing.

In answering Jake's question, a guy named "Phil" (Collins? Silvers?) provided us with a tantalizing clue in 2008: "And continuing the cyber-sleuthing... I assume "MARGOLIS CALVIN ETAL" is actually "Margolis, Calvin, et al." Whether it's the past fashion designer or not, I have no idea. (But he does seem to be from the Boston area.)." This is in relation to the building's owners on the City of Boston web site.

Calvin Margolis co-founded a fashion retail chain called Designs in 1976. Based in Massachusetts, the business eventually grew to include 29 stores in the Eastern United States. Margolis retired as chairman and CEO in 1993, and died a year later, according to this Funding Universe history of Casual Male Retail Group, the company that Designs, Inc. acquired in 2002 and subsequently changed its name to.

Unfortunately, the online trail goes cold here. Margolis passed away in 1994, and this Kenmore Square address has been an eyesore since at least 1999. So who bought the property and then just let it go to seed?

Currently the property is owned by Four-82 Commonwealth Avenue, a trust overseen by a woman named ______ __________ (I don't want to drag somebody into this without knowing the full story). So, in the spirit of David Letterman's old "Brush With Greatness" schtick, in which audience members would relate the tale of meeting someone famous and then be asked to embellish the story, I present to you what I suppose happened with this building:

Harold Madison, Jr. was born in Worcester, Mass., in 1951. By all accounts (read: Wikipedia) he loved music from an early age. By the mid-'70s he had moved to Boston, where he studied at the illustrious Berklee College of Music. A drummer and guitarist with a big personality, he played gigs at infamous Kenmore Square club The Rat, as well as the late, lamented Channel Club in South Boston. He lived on the streets, enjoying the hospitality of friends and fellow musicians.

His father had dubbed him Butch, and eventually around Kenmore Square he became known as Mr. Butch. A tall dude with shoulder-length dreadlocks, Mr. Butch was gregarious and friendly. I saw him many times in the '90s as I made my through Kenmore Square to eat, drink, shop for records or go to nearby Fenway Park for Red Sox games. He was instantly engaging and non-threatening, despite his leather jacket that said "Goddamn Motherfucking Mr. Butch" on the back. He loved to drink and smoke weed, by all accounts.

So Mr. Butch was a fashionable guy, as evidenced by his bespoke leather jacket. In YouTube videos from the '80s and '90s he is seen wearing natty sport jackets, stylish purple down vests and a Superman t-shirt, all while rattling off original poetry.

(Editor hands this writer an embellishment and instructs him to write down what it says.)

One day while panhandling and entertaining the crowds passing through the square, Mr. Butch bumped into Calvin Margolis, the fashion retailer and designer whose stores specialized in Levi's jeans. Margolis had seen Mr. Butch around. Margolis owned a building just steps away from the busy hub of Kenmore Square where Mr. Butch hung out.

"I like your scarf," Margolis said to the bard of Kenmore Square.

"Thanks, my good sir," Mr. Butch replied.

And so was born a friendship. The couturier and the rocker were spotted eating Lord Worsley sandwiches at Cornwalls or a slice at the Pizza Pad, and were even seen once harmonizing at The Rat while the Ramones thrashed away on stage. Nobody was more heartbroken than Mr. Butch when Margolis died. But the dreadlocked one's heart was lifted when the fashion mogul's will was read, and Mr. Butch realized that his friend had bequeathed him a brownstone in the square.

Mr. Butch didn't take up residence at 482 Commonwealth Avenue, but he opened the doors to anyone and everyone for parties and raucous sleepovers. Bands turned their amps to 11 for the blowouts, artists covered the walls -- inside and out -- with crazy murals and graffiti. And supermodels and socialites flew in from London, Ibiza and Krakow for Mr. Butch's soirees. The children of the artists and musicians and the supermodels baked cookies in Calvin Margolis's old stove and scribbled on the floors and ceilings.

Ah, but it couldn't last, this grand good time. It never does, does it? Unless you've entered into cryogenic suspension, or you're one of the Gabor sisters.

The neighbors complained, the cops showed up and the party moved on -- to the Gabors house. Mr. Butch vacated Kenmore Square and took up residence on the streets of Allston, Boston's rock and roll address. The building got tied up in legal scraps over title, ownership, probate, clean-up, squatters rights, you name it.

As for Mr. Butch, he lived happily in Allston for many years until he died in a scooter accident in 2007.

Rest in peace, Mr. Butch. Rest in peace, Calvin Margolis. Let the world figure out what to do with your crazy preschool/art gallery brownstone.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Not at the Museum

From History Isbunk

"In our next exhibit here at the Boston Society of Natural History, you see two dioramas of our fair city." Those are the words you would hear if you were actually in a museum, rather than an office building in Boston's Back Bay neighborhood, while enjoying these little time capsules.

Located in the lobby of The Newbry building (formerly the New England Life Building) on Boylston Street, these dioramas "were commissioned by the Boston Society of Natural History in 1863 and created by Sarah Ann Rockwell," according to Atlas Obscura. "The backdrops were painted by Henry Brooks. The level of detail is amazing and they give an intriguing picture of everyday life at the time."

There are four scenes in this publicly accessible office building (enter from the Newbury Street side):

*The home of William Blaxton, the first European settler of modern-day Boston and Rhode Island, according to Wikipedia. In the background is a painting of Trimount, which means "three hills" and once comprised Beacon, Mt. Vernon and Pemberton hills.

*The Boylston Street fishweir, a Native American fishing structure thought to date back roughly 2,000 years and discovered in 1913 during excavation for a subway tunnel.

*The filling in of Back Bay, a process that expanded Boston's footprint from 1804 until the late 1880's.

*The Boston Society of Natural History building, with MIT's Rogers Hall under construction. Built in 1864, the BSNH building is now a Restoration Hardware. Prior to that it was home to Louis Boston, a high-end men's fashion retailer that relocated to Boston's Seaport district a few years ago. The BSNH eventually evolved into the Museum of Science.

(The BSNH and Rogers Hall diorama.)

The Atlas Obscura article doesn't make it clear how the dioramas ended up in The Newbry, or how long the exhibits have been there.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Jamaica Plain Has Plenty of Flair

From That Same Old Guy:

Driving around Boston's Jamaica Plain neighborhood searching for the Boston Beer Company (see December 9, 2017, "Artist Thinks: I HAF to Fix That Smokestack"), I cruised past this place and knew I had to make my way back. And so I will, but first I want to share some other sights from around the Egleston Square neighborhood near the brewery.

The neighborhood, like much of Jamaica Plain, is a mix of hipster gentrifiers (with their fitness clubs, tea bars and architecture firms) and long-time residents, many of them black and Hispanic (with their barber shops, small markets and nail salons). Per Wikipedia, the population in 2010 was 38% Non-Hispanic White, 33% Hispanic or Latino, 20% Non-Hispanic Black or African-American, 6% Asian-American and 3% Other.

There are a lot of cool old houses tucked in off Washington Street, alongside apartment complexes, low-slung restaurants, shops and businesses, and imposing old brick buildings. The neighborhood is in the beginning stages of transforming into a more upscale place, like much of the rest of Boston in recent years. I walked past the future home of 3200 Washington Street, a 73-unit apartment development that will have ground-floor retail. The pile-driving was constant and unpleasant.

There are at least six other housing developments in the works for Washington Street, according to this two-year-old WBUR article. Those in the neighborhood on the lower end of the economic scale are naturally worried that eventually they will be priced out of their longtime homes.

Rita Alcaráz, an Egleston Square resident, says in the article that the new developments will force out people of color. She said Latinos will have to commute to maintenance and restaurant jobs at places like 3200 Washington. "And who's going to work here? Us,” Alcaráz said in Spanish. “Because white people aren't going to work here for 9, 10, 11 dollars an hour. So we'll have to commute from far away to come and work in Egleston."

Gentrification is a complicated matter that I'm not qualified to get into further.

One of the most striking houses I saw on my stroll around the neighborhood was at 9 Germania Street.

I've been unable to find out anything about this three-story home with the fading blue paint, other than that it was built in 1880. The mansard roof and top three windows look relatively new, but the rest of the house has missing and damaged details.

Another cool, if somewhat odd-looking, house is the yellow building on Amory Street, below, which is the former German Club, according to a Boston Landmarks Commission brochure. This area of Jamaica Plain was once known as Boylston Station, named after a nearby train station (now the Stony Brook station on the MBTA's Orange line), and was home to many German immigrants and businesses such as breweries.

Built in 1890, this building became known as Boylston Hall. In 1919 the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood House Association (formerly known as the Helen Weld House) purchased Boylston Hall and began offering vocational classes, social services, a kindergarten program and social events. The JPNHA ended services in 1997, and the building is now apartments. For more on the house and the neighborhood, read this blog post.

The old Haffenreffer facility now used by Boston Beer Co., which I profiled last month, was one of two dozen breweries in Jamaica Plain and nearby Roxbury in the early 20th century. I walked past the imposing former Franklin Brewery on Washington Street and took this shot.

Like many of the other area breweries, Franklin shuttered with the onset of Prohibition in 1918. The building has been home to various moving and storage companies for much of the last 100 years. For more on the various breweries that once populated this area, read this really great article.

There's such a great stock of old brick buildings in Jamaica Plain. Can I start calling it JP now? Thanks. I had limited time so I didn't get to shoot too many of them. One of my favorites is this one.

Green Supermarket is located in the former Papineau's Livery Stable, which is right next to the one-time Patrick Meehan's Carriage factory, per some brochures I found online from the Boston Landmarks Commission and Historic Boston. I can't make out the ghost signs. If anybody can, leave a comment below.

The cool old buildings and ghost signs in the neighborhood are really great, but I was most impressed by the public art on display. I shouldn't have been surprised, as JP is a known artist enclave.

Located outside Stonybrook Fine Arts, Morris Norvin's Recycled David of course echoes Michelangelo's world-famous David sculpture.

On the outer walls of buildings in the Boston Beer complex I spied these beauties:

(There's a lot here. From the top: farming, the Haffenreffer brewery, an Egleston Square trolley and horse-drawn wagon, Hatoff's gas station, Doyle's pub (a great place), Compadres Meat Market, hippie protesters ("Bikes Not Bombs"), a nod to Clover restaurant/food truck and Crop Circle Kitchen incubator, a farmers' market and Samuel Adams beer.)

(Here we see a lovely domestic scene. A message in Spanish is along the left border. The woman is literally radiating, and perhaps is meant to suggest the Virgin Mary.)

This mural of an Orange line train is one of many adorning the outside walls of the CityPOP Egleston and Boston Makers building on Washington Street. Located in a former glass factory, the pop-up art space and maker space are only temporary, however, as the building waits for redevelopment, according to the CityPOP web site.

OK, now I've come full circle. The house in the photo at the top of this post is amazing.

Purchased in the latter half of 2016 by City Realty Group, which also owns the CityPop/Boston Makers site, this house got a make-over from the Avenue of Arts collaborative of street artists, according to this Boston magazine article.

The house was abandoned, and City Realty plans to redevelop the site. But in the meantime, "the little house on Green Street" shines as a testament to folks from different walks of life working together to improve a neighborhood.

According to Zillow, the house was built in 1835.

I definitely need to get back to Jamaica Plain, and to start exploring other Boston neighborhoods.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Fabulous Baker Estate

From Dave Brigham:

During the time I've been wrestling with this post you could've written, cast, shot, edited, promoted, released, reaped awards from and released both regular and director's cuts on DVD a movie about how long I've been wrestling with this post.

In the early days of this blog I started chasing the ghosts of Ridge Hill Farms, an 800-acre amusement park/fantastic folly built by industrialist William Baker in the late 1800's in Needham, Mass., currently a well-to-do bedroom community of Boston but at the time a much quieter, more bucolic town. I'd read about the park in a Boston Globe article several years ago and kept its fascinating details in the back of my mind.

"There were monkey cages, bear pits, buffaloes, and a 'Sanitary Piggery,’ in which pigs slept in linen sheets," H.D.S. Greenway writes. "There were stables with animated stuffed horses that could nod their heads. There were elaborate mechanical jokes. You would be invited to drink at a fountain labeled 'Laughing Water,’ only to find the floor tilting to simulate drunkenness as you walked out. There were gardens, and shaded paths, and boats."

Take some time to read Greenway's article; it's fascinating. I've always loved his work for the newspaper.

Greenway mentioned that while nearly all traces of Baker's folly had been erased, there were, among other scattered remnants, some "classic columns...on the ground along Wellesley’s Sabrina Farms Road, looking as forlorn as Carthage after the onslaughts of Rome." After reading the article, I conducted a few half-hearted drive-bys to scope out Ridge Hill Farms.

Some of the remnants Greenway mentioned are located in the lush backyards of Needham and Wellesley (the park, also known as the Baker Estate, found itself straddling two towns after what was then known as West Needham seceded and in 1881 became Wellesley) and along private roads. I stopped at the end of one such road but could see a security vehicle parked just a short distance away so I retreated.

That was several years ago. After doing research online I pinpointed some locations to explore. In the meantime, I pursued other backside leads and wrote tons of posts about things in other parts of Greater Boston. I made my first foray to southwest Needham in May 2016, unaware that my pursuit of the fabulous Baker Estate would take another 18 months to complete.

For an idea of what I was chasing, check out this trailer for a documentary about the amusement park.

I had no idea whether I would find any signs that this quiet town had once played host to an almost-too-good-to-believe showcase for one man's imagination. I learned through online research that Baker had his very own railroad spur for his amusement park. This is where I began my quest, which eventually led me to other interesting bits of history of Needham and neighboring Dover (see December 30, 2017, "Rail Trail Mix" and January 6, 2018, "Look, Up in the Air! It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's a Nike Missile!").

The Charles River Railroad ran from Boston to Needham, until the railroad merged with the New York and Boston Railroad, which eventually continued the line on to the Rhode Island border, per Wikipedia. Our friend Mr. Baker built a spur line splitting off from the Charles River line and on to his private fun-o-rama at Ridge Hill.

While the main line has been converted in part to a rail trail, Baker's private railroad, which evidently used horses to pull trains along the tracks, has disappeared, like the rest of his park. The station at the southern end was along Fisher Street in Needham. I made two trips to this area trying to find the stone foundation of the old station, after reading an account online about it. I walked about 3/4 of a mile down the rail trail, kicked around the underbrush alongside the tracks, but saw no sign of the old station, which I'd read about on the Train Aficionado web site. I was frustrated, as you can imagine.

(Fisher Street, where once a railroad crossed and now exists a rail trail. The station for passengers continuing on to the Baker Estate was around here but is long gone.)

On my next visit to the area I checked out a large section of Ridge Hill Reservation, the western slice of which was once part of the Baker Estate. I knew I wasn't going to find any obvious ruins from the park -- no fallen-down saloon or abandoned restaurant, no secret passage to the former "underground crystal grotto featuring the Forty Thieves" that existed, according to this article from Needham History Center and Museum. Check out this map and you'll get an idea of the scope of the place.

At this point -- May 2016 -- I hadn't yet become obsessive about this place. This resulted in my wandering around the eastern and northern portions of the park, not at all close to where the Baker Estate had been. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed my ramble and took some photos.

(As with just about every conservation area I've explored over the years, Ridge Hill has stone walls.)

(Boardwalk over swampy parts of Ridge Hill.)

After Ridge Hill Farms was sold and split up, one of the buyers was John Torrey Morse III, whose father’s summer home was at the south end of Webster Street, according to the Ecological Management Plan for the reservation I found on Needham's town government web site. Morse bought a large tract east of Pine Swamp for his summer estate and in 1906 built the stucco house that is currently on the Ridge Hill Reservation. The building is now used for summer programs.

(Former Morse homestead at Ridge Hill.)

(Outbuildings from former Morse estate.)

Before this hike I consulted a map online and realized that the Baker Estate rail spur had crossed land across Charles River Street from Ridge Hill Reservation. So I trekked through the woods, heading toward the Charles River.

When I saw this path I assumed right away that it was the former railroad right-of-way. When I got home and looked at the map again, I wasn't so sure anymore. I thought maybe the train had chugged along to and from the amusement park closer to the river. But I didn't return to this site for quite some time. Eventually I dragged my teenage son along and we strolled along further south than I'd done the previous trip.

(I know that the bench isn't historic, but I found its placement off the beaten path quite pleasing. As for the sewer drain, again I'm sure it hasn't been in this area since the time of the Baker Estate, but I found it photo-worthy.)

My son and I didn't find any evidence to convince me that the train tracks had once lain close to the Charles River. I went back home and poked around online again. The folks (or maybe it's just one guy) at the Train Aficionado web site agree with my original hypothesis: the Baker Estate railroad ran along what is now a pleasant walking path through the field, a picture of which you just scrolled past. To read the blog's research and see more photos, check out this post.

Ten days after my son and I tromped around the old railroad right-of-way, I made what I figured would be my final foray into the Baker Estate mystique. My mission that day in November 2017 was three-fold: explore the western section of Ridge Hill looking for any sign whatsoever of the old amusement park; meander around Guernsey Conservation Area to check out the man-made lake; and try, once again, to find the ruins of the Baker Estate train station.

I was rewarded relatively quickly in Ridge Hill with this cellar hole. Was the structure that once stood here part of Baker's folly? Highly unlikely, I'd say, but that doesn't make it any less exciting to me. So many questions swirled in my head: How old is this foundation? What was the building? Who lived or worked in it? Did they believe in UFO's?

Prior to this visit, I'd looked at Ridge Hill on Google Maps and noticed a wide swath separating the conservation area from nearby homes. In comparing that view to an old map of the Baker Estate (click on the map to enlarge it), it seemed to me that the straight line I was seeing through the woods corresponded with a road that once ran past the amusement park's Beaver Pond.

(Now a right-of-way for an Algonquin Gas Transmission pipeline, this might be the remnants of an old Baker Estate road, which ran close to the Civil War Diorama, Minnehaha's Wigwam and the Pavilion Hall Saloon. I still find it hard to believe that all these structures once stood here and there's just about nothing left to see.)

I saw plenty of other cool sites during my Ridge Hill trek....

I'm not sure if the stone walls pre-date the Baker Estate, are from the amusement park, or were constructed after the amusement park went out of business and the land was sold off for other estates.

Eventually I came back around to the old Morse estate buildings that I'd seen on a previous visit. It was time to mosey on over to the Guernsey Sanctuary, located just a short drive down Charles River Street. A small slice of this conservation area is located in Needham, with the bulk of it in Wellesley.

Donated by Mr. & Mrs. William Guernsey in 1961, this 25-acre haven features Sabrina Lake, the man-made body of water that was a centerpiece of the Baker Estate. I'm going to take a wild guess that the Guernsey's neighbors were none too pleased with the idea of common folk traipsing through their fairytale forest.

(The William Guernsey Memorial Bench offers a great view of the lake, and the mansions on the other, non-accessible shore.)

(This bridge is post-amusement park. It connects the mainland -- aka some rich person's back yard -- to Swan Island. During the Baker Estate era, the mainland here featured the Ladies Cottage, the Pagoda and the Gnome Drinking Fountain, among other attractions, according to the previously linked map.)

I'd like, if you don't mind, for you to play a mental drum roll right now. Or maybe this will suffice:

I stumbled across a lot of remnants/ruins/artifacts during my slog through Needham and Wellesley, in search of the almost-mythical Baker Estate. I saw stone walls, cellar holes, rail trails, old houses with outbuildings, a natural gas right-of-way that might have once been a road in the park, perhaps the former path of the railroad spur, a man-made lake that was definitely once part of the folly. But finally, as I stared across Sabrina Lake, I spied something that I knew, for certain, had to have once been part of Ridge Hill Farms.

And once I checked back on that oh-so-valuable map, I knew I was right. Right there, just a little north of Arboretum Knoll and Arboretum Lodge, a hop-skip-and-a-jump south of the Frog Fountain, stood, and still stands, Arboretum Bridge. I felt, right then, like all of my aimless wandering, more informed wandering and online wandering had paid off.

But there was still plenty more to see in Guernsey Sanctuary. And after that, I had to make one more effort to find the train station ruins.

(These steps lead to a path that eventually goes to somebody's back yard. In the woods between Sabrina Lake and the residential neighborhood someone has erected a ropes course.)

(Guernsey Sanctuary is nestled in among some very tony real estate.)

(At the northern point of Guernsey Sanctuary sits Oak Island, which was part of the Baker Estate. Not sure, again, if these stone walls had anything to do with the park or if they were already there, or erected afterwards.)

After finishing what turned out to be a really nice, and very fruitful, walk in the sanctuary, I steeled myself for my final task.

I parked at the end of Locust Lane. I dashed across Charles River Street, a road that wasn't all that busy but on which cars definitely gather up some significant speed. I knew -- finally -- from taking a closer look at the map online, and from doing a better job reading the Train Aficianado blog post that the Ridge Hill station ruins stood at this end of the rail spur, not the southern end near Fisher Street. The station was once located just west of an artificial fish pond that William Baker had built.

I walked west along the street, keeping close to the tree line to look for evidence. More than anything I wanted to walk right into the woods between Charles River Street and the river. But the "NO TRESPASSING" signs seemed like they were serious. This area is owned by the State of Massachusetts and is off-limits for some reason. Nonetheless, I knew that the station had been close to the road, so if anything remained of it, I'd spot it.

After a few minutes heading west, I remembered that the station had been close to the Artificial Pond of Baker Estate, with its pier and Fishing Pavilion. I retraced my steps and then kept heading east, looking all the while into the woods for something. Anything.

I began to think that the ruins of the station had been removed for some reason, and that the foundation I'd seen in that Train Aficionado blog post was the closest I'd ever get to the best evidence that there had once been an amazing amusement park in this area -- a park built by a man with a vision, and who had even petitioned the state to secede from Needham and establish what he called Hygeria, a "hygienic village" where he would develop ideas for healthier eating and healthier people. His petition was shot down.


Was this what was left of the train station? This scene didn't match what I'd viewed online, but I knew I had to be close. But I was at the edge of the fish pond that Baker had dug more than 125 years ago. The only way to go was back in the direction I'd just come from. So, ignoring the No Trespassing sign and venturing just a short distance down an old access road, I finally found the Holy Grail.

This was it! I knew the moment I saw it that I'd found the exact same spot that the Train Aficionado had stumbled across. Man, what a relief....

But somehow, after all of my trekking and research and doubling back I still wasn't done. I'd taken a photo of the site of the former Hotel Wellesley during my numerous trips, but I couldn't find it on my computer. According to the Globe article, "Like many of Baker’s buildings and monuments, the hotel was secondhand. It came from the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876, where Baker bought the structure, and had it dismantled and shipped to Needham. The classic columns came from a Boston post office damaged in the fire of 1872."

There's no trace of the stunning 225-room, luxury hotel, because it burned down in 1891. But I wanted to show my readers where it once stood, so I had to make one more quick hit.

(This driveway now leads to private homes, but once was the entrance to the Hotel Wellesley.)

(Located just off the former hotel's driveway were a windmill and steam pump, overlooking the artificial fish pond.)

I hope you've enjoyed learning about the Baker Estate as much as I did. And if you haven't already done so, I encourage you to click through the links I've provided to learn and see more.

For a good overview of the history of the Ridge Hill area, check out this Needham Conservation Commission document.

Here are the posts I've written about Needham and Wellesley in the past:


May 18, 2012, "Aqueduct, My Friend," about the pleasant surprise I got when I discovered a segment of the Cochituate Aqueduct and a nice trail that runs below Route 128.


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.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Jesus, Give Us a Sign!

From Joe Viger:

(Chichester, NH. Click on the photo if, like me, you have old eyes and need to enlarge the image.)

(I love this photo, as I love just about every photo that Joe Viger makes. I also have a thing for oddball religious folks, so this one hit a home run for me. Of course, there's more to the story of Signs4Jesus than meets the eye....Elsewhere in Chichester, the man behind this effort tore down an old farm house and the trees surrounding it, in order to erect a billboard that flashes Bible messages. As a New Hampshire state rep, Timothy Horrigan, wrote back in 2011, "I humbly suggest that God was honored more by the trees than by the billboard." -- DB)

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Look, Up in the Sky! It's a Bird! It's a Goddess of Victory! It's a Nike Missile!

From Rayannne Seacrest:

The Goddess of Victory. Has a nice ring to it, wouldn't ya say?

Inspired by the Greek deity, Phil Knight changed the name of the shoe company he co-founded with Bill Bowerman in 1964 from Blue Ribbon Sports to one that has arguably become one of the top 10 brands in the world: Nike.

The U.S. military was similarly inspired during the Cold War when it decided to call a new anti-aircraft missile system Project Nike. From 1953 until 1974, during the darkest days of the Cold War, the U.S. Army built approximately 265 Nike missile bases throughout the country. I grew up in a town, Simsbury, Connecticut, that housed one of those bases. The missile site there was paired with a radar location a few miles away in the neighboring town of Avon. For some cool photos old and new of the two sites, check out this link.

The Simsbury site was long ago bulldozed and turned into condos, and the Avon radar installation became part of Talcott Mountain Science Center. All of the U.S. sites were dismantled, although there are remnants of the projects at some locations, according to this Wikipedia list of all U.S. Nike sites.

As part of a larger effort to explore the Baker Estate, a 19th century amusement park that seems too good to be true but actually existed, I stumbled across information about paired former Nike missile sites in Needham, Mass. This is the second part in a mini-series about Needham, a suburb of Boston. The first covered a rail trail as well as a dam and former mill site just over the border in Dover (see December 30, 2017, "Rail Trail Mix"). The final installment will be quite long and take on the Baker Estate, part of which abutted the old Nike site.

The fence above is in the woods just off the driveway to the old Nike battery. The site is now owned by the town of Needham, and is home to the Needham Community Farm.

Nike sites were paired; this location is where the actual missiles were kept. There were 30 of them, along with 12 launch rails, according to this article. I assume the old silos were filled in and covered over. I was unable to find any building remnants, but you can tell by the roadway and sidewalk alignment that something used to be here.

Located two miles away from the missile site was the radar and command installation, at the top of North Hill. In 1964, as the U.S. government began to phase out Nike sites in favor of ICBMs, the Charles River ARC (now known as the Charles River Center) leased the site for 20 years at $1 per year. Eventually the non-profit, which provides services for children and adults with Down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy and other developmental disabilities, acquired the site.

(A path leading up the back of North Hill toward what is now the Charles River Center.)

To get more of an idea of what Nike missile sites around the country did during the Cold War, check out this video.

Here are links to other posts I've written over the years about Needham.

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.