Thursday, March 29, 2018

Udderly Monstrous

From Dave Brigham:

The wind was cold one recent day when I walked my son down a desolate strip of roadway toward this bleak mastodon of a building. He didn't want to go, which I understood. "They're locking you up for your own good," I told him, tears rolling down my cheeks. "You're too good. They want to toughen you up and get you ready for the Trumpocalypse."

OK, this is too morbid. This isn't a prison, and I wasn't turning my son over to The State in advance of a nuclear war.

But holy cow! Doesn't this place absolutely scream Victorian penal institution? Straight out of a Charles Dickens fever dream, or perhaps a late '70s Pink Floyd video?

The Calf Pasture Pumping Station -- the name tells you everything you need to know. But let's talk some more about it anyway. Located in Boston's windblown and perhaps-on-the-rise Columbia Point neighborhood, this incredible hulk was built in 1883 to help expel the city's waste out to Moon Island. The city closed the station in 1968 when the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority completed the Deer Island waste treatment facility (see February 27, 2015, "Digesting Deer Island," for a bit of history and some of my photos of the non-island.)

The Calf Pasture Pumping Station is so named because, well you know why, but let me tell you anyway: it was a calf grazing area for the residents of Dorchester for a few centuries. For decades after Boston built the pumping station, the city added fill to the original 14-acre peninsula, until the land mass was more than 350 acres, and featured Day Boulevard, Morrissey Boulevard and Columbus Park, according to this UMass Boston timeline of the facility, which now sits on the college's campus. For more information about the pumping station, read this and/or this. To learn more about Columbia Point and how the campus of UMass Boston was sited on a former dump, read this Boston Globe article.

For the past 50 years the granite complex -- which once included more buildings than the three currently standing -- has sat empty, haunted by the ghosts of so many lowing cows. For much of that time, I'm led to understand, there has been talk among city officials, college muckety-mucks and developers with slot-machine jackpots for eyes about what to do with this behemoth.

(One of the pumping station's satellite buildings. You can see a residence hall under construction in the background.)

So what's going to happen to this -- I hate to use the word -- eyesore?

UMass Boston acquired the pumping station from the Boston Water and Sewer Commission in 2012, after a dozen years of discussions and negotiations with the city, which didn't want to give up Calf Pasture because that would mean building a station elsewhere (the site was still used as occasional back-up. I'm unsure whether a new pumping station was built somewhere). Five years ago, the college posted an article, "Deciding the Future of the Calf Pasture Pumping Station," on its blog. Among the issues raised about the difficulty of renovating and repurposing the colossus: environmental remediation is required; a structural assessment needs to be done (and perhaps was); great financial resources are required to rehab the building, which has been nominated for the National Historic Register; and just what the hell do you do with a building that looks out of place amid the modern campus buildings, and brings to mind visions of sewage and rot and looks like a mental hospital or a prison for the mentally deranged?

Nobody seems to have any answers, at least none that are available online. After lying delinquent for so many years, the pumping station continues to deteriorate. My guess is that it will eventually be torn down, but since UMass Boston is a bit strapped for cash these days (look it up online), I imagine even that fate is several years off. As for the Columbia Point neighborhood, things are looking up. Sort of. UMass Boston is selling the land where the former Bayside Expo Center once stood (look for a future post about this), and I have to imagine that many of the parking lots in the area will get developed before too long. A Red Line subway stop is close by, as is the John F.Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. Also, there is a plan afoot to turn the former Boston Globe HQ on nearby Morrissey Boulevard into a "tech-centric office space," according to this article.

(The backside of the backside.)

Stay tuned....

Thursday, March 22, 2018

WASP Wanderings and Wonderings

From D. Anathopolous Brigham III:

I have a bit of a WASP hang-up. I am a descendant of British settlers who landed in America in the 1630's, but who either squandered the family fortune or never had one to begin with. Thomas Brigham, my many-times-over great grandfather, once owned land that eventually was sold to Harvard University. But by the time that transaction occurred, my family no longer owned that property. I felt I should have dated Ethel Walker girls during high school, joined the Skull and Bones Club at Yale and been fitted for a personalized golf cart at The Country Club in Chestnut Hill.

I grew up among the preppie set in Simsbury, Conn., including one kid who once simultaneously wore more than two dozen alligator shirts and button-down Oxfords just for kicks. But although I share a last name with a guy who founded a well-known hospital in Boston, as well as a dude who started a locally famous Greater Boston ice cream/restaurant chain, I didn't fit into the espadrilles-and-penny-loafer crowd. My family didn't have money to throw away on scads of wide-wale pants and boat shoes.

Still, I love adopting a Thurston Howell III locked-jaw, old-money accent and pretend-shopping online at J. Peterman's web site. I dream of mahogany-paneled private libraries stained by decades of Three Nuns pipe smoke. My eyes light up when I read about any of the dwindling numbers of Boston Brahmin socialites (my favorite -- OK, the only one I know -- is Smoki Bacon. I know, sounds like a drag queen or porn star, but no.). I always wanted to eat at the famous Locke-Ober -- open for 137 years until 2012, host to JFK, business tycoons, politicians of all stripes, blue bloods galore, a place where gentlemen were required to wear jackets -- but never got to do so.

Now, what was my point? Oh yes, old boy! The cluster of pleasant-looking condominiums in the above photo. Built in 1900, the buildings are situated across the street from the Brimmer and May School in Newton, Mass. The school straddles Newton and Brookline in an area called Chestnut Hill that also includes part of Boston. There is a LOT of money in this special corner of the world. Business, sports, entertainment and political success stories abound, as do legacies of Chestnut Hill's WASP origins (see December 5, 2016, "I Seek Newton, Part VI: Chestnut Hill").

I first noticed the backside of the condo complex located along Middlesex Road on Green line trolley trips. Among the stately mansions and well-groomed private school properties, the buildings definitely look a bit out of place. Still, with their bright-white paint jobs, refined porches, circular driveway and elegant foliage, these edifices look like half-scale Southern plantation houses.

My first guess was that perhaps the buildings had once housed the well-to-do students of Brimmer. After quite a bit of searching online, I disabused myself of that surmise (listen to me talking like Charles Emerson Winchester III! -- RIP, David Ogden Stiers). The six buildings currently house at least 19 units. I suppose at one time there may have been fewer units, perhaps as low as six. In my mind, there were a few down-on-their-luck WASPs living here in the early 20th century, cousins to luxury whose trust funds were just a tad underfed, making do in shabby chic quarters just down the road from the Longwood Cricket Club, where perhaps they might cadge a drink once in a while.

For another, shorter entry about a WASP-y property in Dedham, Mass., check out September 9, 2010, "The Privilege Is All Mine."

OK, I'll let the fops from the Upper Crust have the last word.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

I Seek Newton, Part VIII: Upper Falls (Section 3)

From Dave Brigham:

Congratulate yourself. You made it! The third and final segment of my epic review of the Upper Falls village of my adopted hometown of Newton, Mass. These three posts make up the eighth installment of my series, which means there are five more villages to cover. For links to the previous two segments of Upper Falls, and the previous seven villages, see the bottom of this post.

To date, I've covered mills, dams, churches, parks, rail trails, railroad tracks and much more. This post is all about cool houses; old hotels, inns and taverns; a former school; classic commercial blocks; and more.

There are countless photo-worthy homes in Upper Falls. Some are big, beautiful Victorians; others quaint and quirky. I sought out houses that stick out from the crowd a bit, ones that I sensed had back stories. As with the previous two installments of this Upper Falls mini-series, I relied heavily on Kenneth Newcomb's invaluable book, Makers of the Mold, A History of Newton Upper Falls.

I'd long wondered about this duplex at 347-349 Elliot Street, which the Newton Assessors' Database indicates was built in 1900. Situated across from Dunn-Gaherin's Food and Spirits, the building, like much of the Upper Falls village, evokes the working-class roots of Newton. In Makers of the Mold, Newcomb indicates that this is most likely an old tenement or boarding house for workers of the Elliot Manufacturing Company. "Although it has since been enlarged," Newcomb writes, "the original building could be one of the tenements referred to in the deed covering the sale of the mill property in 1814 by General Simon Elliot to the Perkins brothers of the subsequent Elliot Mfg. Co." While I rely heavily on the assessors' database, I've learned that sometimes I need to use other sources to determine the ages of older houses.

Around the corner, at 993-997 Chestnut Street, is another multi-unit building.

Built circa 1825, this building comprises condos now. I'm guessing this was mill worker housing at some point a hundred years ago or so.

I live in a more traditional neighborhood of Newton, where houses, for the most part, have only ever been, well, houses. I grew up in the same type of area, in Connecticut. I am intrigued by houses like the ones above, and others to follow below, that had past lives as tenements or businesses.

(Located at 92 High Street, this converted carriage house caught my eye.)

The house above is 22 Cliff Street. It is located next to the stone barn on Oak Street that I featured in the second part of the Upper Falls installment. Built at the same time as the well-known barn, this house was formerly a caretaker's residence and then used for storage. It was converted to a home many years ago.

This building made me do a double-take as I walked around Upper Falls. I could just tell it used to be something other than a house. Located at 10 Mechanic Street, and built in 1850, at one point it contained businesses including a tailor and grocer, according to Makers of the Mold.

There are some really cool, repurposed houses on High Street. As they are located right around the corner from my buddy Ray's house, I've seen them a lot.

86 High Street was at one time the waiting room for an electric trolley, per Newcomb's book. You can see that the second floor doesn't quite match the first, and was obviously added once the waiting room had been converted to a home. Yes, you saw this photo in the first part of the Upper Falls installment.

Just next door is 80-82 High Street, which was built 1900, according to the assessors' database. According to Makers of the Mold, this address was used by a fruit and confections seller in 1923. I'm guessing the building is older.

Just a bit up the road is 48-50 High Street, which was built in 1900, according to the Newton Assessors' Database. I'm guessing -- wait for it -- that it's older. I believe this address was once known as Arcanum Hall. Arcanum means "mysterious or specialized knowledge, language, or information accessible or possessed only by the initiate," according to the Merriam-Webster web site. Sounds like they had some wild times at this place back in the day!)

54 High Street, below, was built 1842, per a Historic Newton brochure, as a firehouse. It was converted to a private residence in 1872 when a more modern station was built on Pettee Street.

51-53 High Street was built in 1842 as a Universalist church, the first of that denomination in Newton, according to the Historic Newton brochure. It operated as a church for only about seven years before it became Elliot Hall. It was used as a school, for all types of entertainment, as a lodge hall, etc., until 1879, when it was converted to a private residence, per the brochure. And, yes, you saw this in the first part of the Upper Falls installment.

And speaking of churches....Around the corner, on Summer Street, sit two houses built in 1840 [top] and 1835 [bottom]. Because of these cool windows, and the fact that they sit across the street from a church, I'm wondering if they were once owned by the church.

And finally, the top contender for the smallest house in Newton, this 251-square foot, two-room bungalow near the intersection of Chestnut and Boylston streets may have been a gas station in a prior life.

Now, let's move on from residential to commercial concerns and former schools.

Located on Oak Street next door to Jean and Lee Kitchen sits this long-abandoned barber shop. Makers of the Mold lists this address as a barber shop as far back as 1923!

At the intersection of Elliot, Oak and High streets sits the Prospect Block.

Erected in 1901, the building was once home to the Echo Bridge Hotel, per Makers of the Mold. Apartments long ago replaced hotel rooms. All along there have been businesses on the ground floor, ranging from a drug store and a post office in the early 20th century, to a sandwich shop and a hair salon today.

The quaint little building below sits at 8 Hale Street. Most recently home to Knits & Pieces, it was constructed in 1895. I suspect it was once part of a mill, in which case it's likely older than the assessors' database indicates, or that it has served as a small shop of varying purposes for a long time. That's my hope, anyway. I'm not sure what may move into the recently vacated space.

Home since 1991 to the aforementioned great neighborhood bar and restaurant Dunn-Gaherin's, this cool chalet-style building below has a loooooooong history. Located at 344 Elliot Street, the building is actually two structures joined together, according to Makers of the Mold: "The rear half was called the 'back store' and, commencing about 1820, was one of the village’s early 'general stores,' the first known to have been operated by partners Plimpton & Clark in the 1830s and 1840s and also as a store by Otis Pettee in the 1840s.... Dr. Joseph Huckins Warren owned and practiced in the building at 344-346 Elliot Street in the 1850s. During the Civil War, he was personal physician to President Lincoln." I'm not sure what the front half of the building was. The Newton assessors' database lists the built-in date as 1900, which may be when the buildings were combined.

Just a few steps away is Echo Bridge Restaurant. Open since 1962, it isn't much to look at. And I don't have anything else to say.

1007 Chestnut Street was built in 1836, and is now home to a handful of offices. I believe it was once home, on the second floor, to Nahaton Hall, per Makers of the Mold. It may have been mill worker housing at some point, I suppose.

A quick jog and you're looking at this attractive building.

1028 Chestnut Street, a former school built in 1846, is now home to EverPresent, a company that digitizes old VHS tapes, photos and other media. I've used them and they provide excellent service. The building also housed Quinobequin Hall and some stores over the years, and is the oldest former school still standing in Newton, per the Historic Newton brochure.

Speaking of former schools, here's the old Ralph Waldo Emerson School on Pettee Street, circa 1904. It is named for the famous essayist, poet and transcendentalist, who lived in Upper Falls for a time. It is now condos.

The building below, at 1269 Boylston Street, is the former Ellis Hotel [aka Manufacturer's Hotel], circa 1829, per a Historic Newton brochure. It is now a residence.

And now, to wrap it up on a completely mediocre note -- the Mazzone Block!

Built circa 1923, on Chestnut Street, it was converted to condos in 2005. All I've been able to find out about this place is that grocer Andrew Mazzone’s store was here. The name and date chiseled into the lower right corner are not original to the building.

So there you go, as near a comprehensive look at Newton Upper Falls as I could pull off. There are still so many houses and commercial establishments to explore and learn about. And surely some village secrets as well. I hope you've enjoyed my three-part canvassing effort. Here are the links to the other two parts of this mini-series.

Section 1 of Upper Falls -- March 1, 2018, "I Seek Newton, Part VIII: Upper Falls (Section 1)"

Section 2 of Upper Falls -- March 8, 2018, "I Seek Newton, Part VIII: Upper Falls (Section 2)"

And here are the previous seven parts:

March 7, 2017 I Seek Newton, Part VII: Thompsonville

December 5, 2016: Chestnut Hill (#6)

September 26, 2016: Oak Hill (#5)

June 3, 2016: Waban (#4)

March 23, 2016: Newton Highlands (#3)

September 20, 2015: Auburndale (#2)

May 21, 2015: Newton Lower Falls (#1)

And finally, here is a link to a video presentation on local access TV about the history of Upper Falls.

I still have five villages to go: Nonantum, Newton Corner, Newton Centre, West Newton and Newtonville. I'm not sure which one will be next.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

I Seek Newton, Part VIII: Upper Falls (Section 2)

From Dave Brigham:

I'm just gonna go ahead and say it: Upper Falls has the biggest backside of any of the 13 villages of Newton, Mass. It's not only big, but quite often beautiful and always worth a second look. Hey, wait, where have I read that before?

Welcome to the second part of the eighth installment in my series about my adopted hometown. For links to posts about the previous seven villages, see the bottom of this page. There will be a third part about Upper Falls.

In this post I'll share photos and information about memorials to residents of the village; a bridge that's a signature element of Upper Falls, and its accompanying dam and surroundings; churches; an assortment of random buildings that I find pretty cool; and a park.

Observant readers of the first section of my Upper Falls compendium will recall the name Kenneth Newcomb. Newcomb, who died in 2002 at age 93, compiled an amazing history of the village: The Makers of the Mold: A History of Newton Upper Falls, Massachusetts, without which I would have been unable to provide so much rich background on this village. While Newcomb never published the book, several volunteers brought it to the Internet in 1998, and then to hard-copy shortly after. The memorial in the photo above sits in a beautiful spot in Hemlock Gorge, looking up at Echo Bridge and very near the original heart of the village: the mill complex that is now home to numerous shops and other small businesses, which I detailed in my first Upper Falls post (see March 1, 2018, "I Seek Newton, Part VIII: Upper Falls (Section 1")).

Below is the other memorial to Upper Falls residents I found during my exploration of the village.

This one honors the memory of soldiers from Upper Falls who died and also those who served. I'm not sure whether it commemorates only World War II veterans, or also those from the Great War. This plaque is located along High Street, in front of the old Emerson school.

Having covered "country" with the plaque above, I shall move on to the religious part of "For God and Country."

I have a thing for churches. The more quaint-looking they are, the more likely I am to take a picture of them. I am, however, quite unlikely to step foot inside. Upper Falls has some nice churches, as well as some private residences that used to be houses of worship.

(The First United Methodist Church on Summer Street is, according to a Historic Newton brochure, the second oldest church still standing in Newton. Built by Elliot Mfg. Co. and Newton Factories in 1827, it s now home to the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation.)

(Built in 1833 and organized in 1835, the Second Baptist Church stands on Ellis Street and is the third-oldest church still standing in Newton.)

(The oldest Roman Catholic Parish in Newton and Needham, this church was founded as St. Mary’s in 1870 and renamed Mary Immaculate of Lourdes when this building was dedicated in 1910, when it was built.)

(The Saint Elizabeth's Center is next to Mary Immaculate and was formerly owned by the church. Built circa 1838 and eventually moved to this spot on Elliot Street, the center was acquired by a local couple two years ago. They announced plans to turn the facility into a community center. I'm not sure where that plan stands.)

The house in the photo above, located at 51-53 High Street, was built in 1842 as a Universalist church, the first of that denomination in Newton, according to the Historic Newton brochure. It is the fourth-oldest church building in the city. It operated as a church for only about 7 years before it became a public hall known as Elliot Hall. It was used as a school, for all types of entertainment, as a lodge hall, etc., until 1879, when John Howe had it turned a quarter turn and after alterations, made it over into a private dwelling, per the brochure.

And finally, the house of worship with the most intriguing story. The house at 1276 Boylston Street, below, was once a combination store and church (Church of Yahweh), according to the brochure. The church was organized in 1886 by a group of Second Adventists.

(Former Church of Yahweh on Boylston Street).

I'll turn now from spiritual buildings back to the industrial matters that made up a large portion of the first Upper Falls post. As I mentioned in that post, this village was built around mills. While the mill complex bounded by Chestnut and Elliot streets was once the beating heart of Upper Falls, it is Echo Bridge that is arguably the most stunning feature of the village. The bridge -- 500 feet long with seven arches -- carries the Sudbury Aqueduct, a dormant system that was reactivated on an emergency basis several years ago. Visitors may walk across the bridge, which connects Newton to Needham, spans the Charles River and offers views of the old mill complex.

(Looking from the Needham side across Echo Bridge into Upper Falls.)

(Looking into Hemlock Gorge from just south of Echo Bridge. Notice the observation deck at bottom right, from which visitors can yell "echo" or "fart" or whatever in order to learn why the span is called Echo Bridge.)

While there have been numerous mills and dams at this point in the Charles River over the past 300 years, the dam that stands today dates only to 1905. Known as a horseshoe or circular dam, the structure exists only to control the river's flow, not for any industrial purposes. Still, it's quite a sight to behold.

(The circular dam just south of the Route 9 bridge that spans the Charles River.)

(Remnants of a gate across a small channel that diverted water from the river toward what is now New Pond, over the border in Wellesley. The pond served as a holding area for water used for power, during dry periods, according to The Friends of Hemlock Gorge web site.)

While the Stone Barn below is in Wellesley, it is part of Hemlock Gorge and can't be ignored simply because I'm writing about Newton. Comprising 23 acres, the gorge features some steep walking paths, lovely views from underneath Echo Bridge and a cool perspective on the old mill complex. The State of Massachusetts acquired the site in 1895.

After doing some research online, I'm uncertain exactly when the barn was built. According to Newcomb's book, "Some historians believe that it was erected either as an office building for the Newton Iron Works or as a storehouse for the nail and iron products produced in the factory erected across the street by Rufus Ellis in 1853. It is known to have been the meeting place and clubhouse of the Quinobequin Club when they had a golf course across the street before 1900, between the river and Chestnut Street."

See, this is why I love Newcomb's book so much. He gives readers the straight dope about everything, including the existence of a golf course that I haven't found on any old map! From what I've read in Newcomb's book and elsewhere, I'm guessing the club was pretty loosely organized, which may explain why its existence isn't documented on maps.

Let's move on from this funky old barn to other buildings of interest, starting with another stone barn.

(Built in 1839, this barn on Oak Street was rumored at the time to be used for a nursery of silk worms, according to Newcomb's book. But this seems to be an apocryphal tale, and the barn was used as a stable and for machine storage. The barn has been used for a variety of purposes in the intervening decades.)

(This building on Linden Street has been home since 1993 to Hammersmith Studios, which creates and restores ironwork. The city's assessors database lists the construction date as 1938, but I found a listing online for the Newton Graphic in 1928 that lists this property as a three-car garage owned by the Gamewell Company, an alarm company that I referenced in the first post about Upper Falls.)

(Part of Stone Rehabilitation & Senior Living was once the home of Otis Pettee, namesake of the mills I wrote about in the first section of my Upper Falls review. That part of the building dates to 1828. Read about the site's history here.)

(The former 3-in-1 Superette on Elliot Street closed at the end of 2016, after 44 years in business, according to the Village14 blog, which tracks all things Newton. According to former City Councilor Brian Yates, the store was around for "decades beyond" the 1972 opening of the last iteration. The owners have filed a petition for a special permit to convert the building to an art studio, and add a second floor for a residence. The building dates to at least 1927.)

And finally, amid all the mills, churches, cool houses, funky stone buildings and old stores, some green space.

Established in 1909 as the Upper Falls Playground, the Officer Bobby Braceland Playground features tennis courts, soccer fields, a tot lot and a baseball field. The only reference I can find to the policeman who the park was named after comes from Jonathan T. Melick's "Oak Hill Park History" that I found online:

"Officer Bobby Braceland would park his cruiser near the Friendly’s restaurant, in Chestnut Hill, to keep an eye on those Newtonites with access to cars. He was concerned for our safety – but that concern was unappreciated, of course, by those he stopped for some violation or another."

On June 18, 2011, I wrote about the park and shared some photos, a few of which you see here: "Play Ball?"

Several years ago I took these photos. The park looks about the same now, except the building with graffiti is somewhat cleaner.

OK, one more part to go. That one will cover cool houses; former hotels, inns and taverns; restaurants; old schools; commercial blocks, retail locations and shops.

Here are the previous seven parts:

March 7, 2017 I Seek Newton, Part VII: Thompsonville

December 5, 2016: Chestnut Hill (#6)

September 26, 2016: Oak Hill (#5)

June 3, 2016: Waban (#4)

March 23, 2016: Newton Highlands (#3)

September 20, 2015: Auburndale (#2)

May 21, 2015: Newton Lower Falls (#1)

Thursday, March 1, 2018

I Seek Newton, Part VIII: Upper Falls (Section 1)

From Dave Brigham:

As I was saying....

I didn't plan to set aside my series looking at the villages of my adopted hometown of Newton, Mass., for so long. The last installment -- I Seek Newton, Part VII: Thompsonville -- went live nearly a year ago, on March 7, 2017. I was on a nice roll up until that point, but other things have taken priority lately. I was also a bit daunted by Upper Falls. When I drive through the village I feel like Mike and Frank on "American Pickers" when they stumble across a honey hole. There's just so much to look at, take photos of and schedule! And, of course, research after the fact....

As such, I will be writing three posts about Upper Falls, covering railroad track remnants, aqueducts, old mills, walking paths, a historic dirt road, a dam and surrounding area, bridges, hotels and inns, schools, commercial blocks and much more. Some of the photos I will feature in these posts are of places or features that no longer exist. For links to the previous posts in this series, see the bottom of this installment.

So let's get to it!

In this first part I will focus on abandoned railroad tracks, unused aqueducts, buried brooks, old mills and related structures, walking paths and a dirt road with quite a pedigree.

Mills defined Upper Falls for more than two hundred years. The first mill was built along the east bank of the Charles River in 1688, according to a brochure issued by the Newton Historical Commission, the Newton Upper Falls Historic District Commission and the Newton Planning & Development Department. Saw mills, grist mills, fulling mills, snuff mills, wire mills, cotton mills, silk mills -- all of these were in business at some point along the river until 1962, according to the brochure, when the mill complex was sold and eventually turned into what stands there today: Echo Bridge Park, home to jewelry and antique stores, a musical instrument shop, medical offices and more.

(View from below Echo Bridge of the former mill complex.)

Above the mill complex on a small, wooded hill just off the intersection of Chestnut and Ellis streets, I experienced one of my proudest moments of backsiding. As I walked around the village snapping photos I looked at this little mound that I'd driven past countless times and thought, "I bet there's something up there." So I climbed up in my slides, as inappropriate a set of hiking footwear as you can find, pushed past a few small trees and found this:


An 1874 atlas I downloaded from the City of Newton web site identifies this site as "Reservoir." I don't know enough about old mill complexes to get a handle on this relic. I assume the reservoir was constructed not only of brick and stone, but also wood. What was the water in the reservoir used for? Obviously the Charles River below provided the power, or most of it anyway, for the mills. Anybody got any answers or guesses?

I'll include photos and information about nearby Echo Bridge and Hemlock Gorge in a future post in this series about Newton Upper Falls. While the complex at Echo Bridge is the oldest in Upper Falls, and indeed the city, I find the Saco-Pettee Machine Shops complex far more interesting. So get ready for a bunch of pictures.

The multiple buildings on the site at Oak and Needham streets were built between 1892 and 1912, per Wikipedia. There were cotton mills and machine shops here over the decades until the 1930's, per Wikipedia. Other, smaller companies took over some of the buildings in subsequent decades, according to the indispensable The Makers of the Mold: A History of Newton Upper Falls, Massachusetts, by Kenneth Newcomb, which is available for free online (although you can also buy a hard copy, of which I own). Some of the mill buildings were eventually torn down to make way for a shopping plaza. Many of the buildings left have been abandoned for years.

Some of the buildings, however, have been restored and house businesses including a dance studio.

(At the corner of Oak and Needham streets you can spy a remnant of South Meadow Brook, which, like so many small streams in Newton, was mostly buried many years ago.)

There have been numerous proposals over the years for redeveloping this massive site. The latest comes from Northland Investment Corp., which has announced plans to raze the dilapidated buildings and other nearby retail buildings and construct new retail, apartment, office and restaurant space.

I exchanged emails with a vice president at Northland about gaining access to the site to document the old mill buildings before they are demolished or altered. Unfortunately, the company's lawyers were unwilling to grant me that chance. I was told that a professional photographer was commissioned to conduct such a project, and that his or her work will be available to the public at some point.

The circa-1890 mill building below, at 1254 Chestnut Street and not far from the Saco-Pettee complex, once made fire alarm systems.

According to Makers of the Mold, Moses Crane made fire alarm systems in this building for Gamewell Fire Alarm & Telegraph Co. Crane had previously made fire alarms in a building near Crystal Lake in Newton Centre.

Gamewell was eventually acquired by Honeywell, which later merged with a company called FCI.

I want to get back to the Pettee operation. In addition to the abandoned hulks and restored buildings I showcased above, there are other buildings in Upper Falls that were once part of the mills. But unless you own the building (and maybe not even then) or have read Newcomb's Makers of the Mold, you would have no idea that some current-day houses were once mill buildings.

At top is 50 Oak Street, at bottom, 50 Hale Street. Newcomb has this to say about these houses: "They were formerly part of the old Pettee Machine Works plant and are believed to have been moved to their new sites about 1895 when the Pettee shops were rebuilt." Sure enough, the Newton Assessors' Database lists 1895 as the construction date for the Hale Street house. Newcomb, however, assures us that such buildings are certainly older, but it's hard to determine just how old because they were moved from mill properties to private lots. As for the Oak Street house, I'm pretty sure it's the same one that Newcomb referenced in his book, but the assessors' database lists a build date of 2007. But since the database contradicts itself and lists assessments going back to 1992, I'm guessing the house was significantly modified in 2007.

Directly behind 50 Oak Street are sited three more former Pettee Machine Works buildings that were long ago converted to homes. I find it hard to picture these quaint homes as part of what was most likely a smelly, dirty mill complex, possibly being used as a blacksmith shop or storage facility.

(12, 16 and 20 Shawmut Park, former mill buildings, top photo. #20 Shawmut in bottom photo.)

The Saco-Pettee mill wasn't the only one whose buildings were repurposed. 353-357 Elliot Street, which I believe was formerly numbered 351-353, was an old building at the Echo Bridge mill complex, according to Newcomb. This house and three others along Elliot Street, if they were original mill buildings "their date of construction would be about 1785, shortly after Simon Elliot purchased the old mill site for his snuff mill operation," according to Makers of the Mold. The Newton Assessors' Database lists the construction date as 1830.

With all these mills around, of course there were eventually railroads. Before I get to the main line and what it's become, I want to mention one more house that has a past life....

86 High Street was at one time the waiting room for an electric railroad, per Newcomb. "The Newton & Boston Street Railway was the one more closely associated with Newton Upper Falls," Newcomb writes. "It had been organized in 1891 with permission to establish other lines in the city if desired. In 1892 an extension of its lines was granted on Walnut and Beacon Streets and although delayed by sewer construction it was carried to Newton Highlands and later, in the same year, to the corner of High and Summer Streets in Newton Upper Falls." You can see that the second floor doesn't quite match the first, and was obviously added once the waiting room had been converted to a home.

Now, to the more traditional railways.

Otis Pettee, namesake of the Saco-Pettee Machine Shops, tried to lure the Boston and Worcester Railroad to Upper Falls, according to the folks at the Upper Falls Greenway. Upon being snubbed, Pettee decided to build his own line! Eventually the railroad was folded into the Boston & Albany line.

And now, as you might imagine if you have spent time near abandoned railroad tracks in the past 20 years, Pettee's labor of love has been turned into a walking/bike path.

(A picture from a few years ago after the tracks had been torn up to make way for the Newton Upper Falls Greenway).

(Looking northeast from the greenway's terminus at the Charles River.)

(View from the greenway. I love the back of 1211 Chestnut Street, which was built in 1918 and now houses a dry cleaner, a hair salon and two apartments.)

(Former Newton Upper Falls train depot, built in 1852, now a coffee shop. The walking path goes right behind it.)

(Old something-or-other along the Upper Falls Greenway.)

(Old sewer structure along the greenway.)

(Tower for WHDH TV, along the greenway. According to Makers of the Mold, this site once housed the United States Fireworks Company, which moved to Upper Falls in 1886. The company went into decline after an explosion and fire in 1919, per Newcomb's book.)

There was a spur track that ran from just a little north of where this tower stands now, across Needham and Christina streets, over the Charles River and into a Needham industrial park. There are still remnants of this system.

(Long-abandoned rail spur on the property of H.C. Starck, a "supplier of technology metals, high-performance ceramics and thermal spray powders," per the company LinkedIn page.)

The H.C. Starck complex sprawls across several buildings along Charlemont Street. Perpendicular to the very busy retail strip of Needham Street, Charlemont used to connect all the way through to a quiet residential neighborhood. At the back of the Starck property there is a small walkway that knits the two ends of this street perhaps named after a town in County Armagh, Ireland.

(Looking south across the Charles River, at a set of tracks that isn't there any more, although the bridge is. I took this photo several years ago.)

Now, back to the greenway. At its western terminus, an easy slide down the embankment next to the Charles River, is the Charles River Pathway. Acquired by the City of Newton in 1980, this 1.5-acre conservation area is one of many great little nature preserves in the city.

(The Charles River Pathway.)

(Anchors for the WBUR radio tower, which is located on the other side of the greenway.)

In addition to the Upper Falls Greenway and the Charles River Pathway, this village is home to part of the Quinobequin Trail, much of which (and, honestly, perhaps all of it; as I've said, it's often hard to tell exactly where the boundary is between villages) lies in Waban (see June 3, 2016, "I Seek Newton, Part IV: Waban").

(Funky blue hydrant on the Wellesley side of the Charles River, seen from Upper Falls section of Quinobequin Trail.)

The Charles River is a prominent and obvious feature in Newton. But there are two other water systems running through the city that fewer people are aware of.

What, you don't see this one? It's right there!

It's the Sudbury Aqueduct. Built between 1867 and 1876, the underground conduit brought water from the Sudbury Reservoir to Boston until 1978, when use was discontinued. The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority maintains the system as a backup source of water (for more on Newton's aqueducts, the other of which is the Cochituate Aqueduct, see November 11, 2011, "History Flows On, Part I").

I've covered walking paths and aqueducts, which provide great trails for touring Newton. Finally for this first of three installments about the village of Upper Falls, I want to discuss two old streets.

This is the middle section of Pennsylvania Avenue. Not quite as impressive as the one in our nation's capital that the White House sits alongside, is it? Still, it's kinda cool. Located in a neighborhood that includes Ohio Avenue and Indiana Terrace, Pennsylvania Ave. appears as though it was washed out at some point. In the 1929 Newton Atlas available on the city's web site, Pennsylvania Ave. goes straight from Oak Street to Chestnut Street. Now, as you can see here (I hope), the road dies just a short distance up from Chestnut. There is then a paved walkway up the hill, where Pennsylvania reconnects and heads on up to Oak Street.

I'll wrap up this post with another dirt road with an even better story, and one that I didn't even have to make up.

Curving from Chestnut Street to Elliot Street, Sullivan Avenue is "all that remains of an ancient highway laid out in 1688 by a joint agreement between Cambridge and Cambridge Village (Newton) from 'the Village Meeting-house to the Falls,'" according to the above-referenced brochure for walking tours of historic Newton. As Vanessa Bayer channeling Miley Cyrus on "Saturday Night Live," would say, "That's pretty cool!"

Thanks for checking out the first of three posts about Upper Falls, the eighth village of Newton I've covered on the blog. The next two parts will feature memorials, bridges, parks, houses, hotels, restaurants, churches, schools, retail stores and much more.

The link to the seventh post in my Newton series is near the top of this page; below are the links for the other six, beginning with the most recent.

December 5, 2016: Chestnut Hill (#6)

September 26, 2016: Oak Hill (#5)

June 3, 2016: Waban (#4)

March 23, 2016: Newton Highlands (#3)

September 20, 2015: Auburndale (#2)

May 21, 2015: Newton Lower Falls (#1)