Middlesex Canal Association P.O. Box 333 Billerica, Massachusetts 01821
|Volume 56 No. 3||April 2018|
Please mark your calendars
MCA Sponsored Events
Spring Walk, 1:30pm, Sunday, April 22
Wilmington Town Park
Spring Meeting, 1:00pm, Sunday, May 6
A colloquy on Robert Thorson’s Book, The Boatman
16th Annual Bike Tour, 9:00am., Sunday, September 30
Fall Walk, 1:30 P.M., Sunday, October 14
Fall Meeting, 1 P.M., Sunday, October 28
The Visitor/Center Museum is open Saturday and Sunday, noon – 4pm, except on holidays.
The Board of Directors meets the 1st Wednesday of each month, 3:30-5:30pm, except July and August.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
MCA Sponsored Events and Directions to Museum
President’s Message: “Progress on New Museum” – by J. Jeremiah Breen
Winter Meeting Recap – by Deb Fox
The Baldwin Seven-Dollar Bill – by Howard Winkler
Thoreau in Billerica – by Marlies Henderson
A Social History of the Middlesex Canal – by Alan Seaburg
Part Two of the Series – Interlude I: “The Canal 1803 and 1804”
A Social History of the Middlesex Canal – by Alan Seaburg
Part Three of the Series – Interlude II: “The Canal 1814”
After three bad storms in a row, loss of power for days, and broken branches everywhere, there are finally signs of spring. Robins are back, plants are popping up, keep your fingers crossed!
Progress is being made in other areas as well. President J. Breen has provided us with an update on the new museum and the beginning travails of the Building Committee through the maze of town government in search of approval sign-offs. Diagrams and renderings are included.
The next two submissions are from Howard Winkler and Marlies Henderson. Mr. Winkler has some insight into that small paper item in the museum cabinet signed by Loammi Baldwin and Ms. Henderson takes us on a journey with Henry David Thoreau.
Our favorite section includes the next two parts of Alan Seaburg’s opus, A Social History of the Middlesex Canal. Interlude I: “The Canal 1803 and 1804” and Interlude II: “The Canal 1814” are included. We hope you find both thought provoking.
Our usual feature on upcoming events should keep you busy and check the miscellaneous section for information and the Web Site for updates. Enjoy the issue. Although the books are now closed on this issue, we begin the process of preparing for the next, Towpath Topics #57-1. Please consider submitting an item for consideration.
MCA Sponsored Events and Directions to Museum
Spring Walk: The Spring Walk will take place on Sunday, April 22, 2018. Participants are encouraged to meet at 1:30pm at the Wilmington Town Park across from 760 Main Street (Rte. 38). The Appalachian Mountain Club and the MCA will host the 2-mile walk, roundtrip, along a section of the historic Middlesex Canal. Points of interest along the route will include the Ox Bow Turn where striations from the tow ropes are imbedded in the ledge along the canal, the signs of spring as the trek continues through the 14-acre tract gifted to the MCA by Stanley Weber and his daughter, Julia Ann Fielding, and finally Patches Pond. MCA member, Robert Winters will lead the walk accompanied by co-leader Marlies Henderson. Additional information is available at www.middlesexcanal.org.
Spring Meeting: The Spring Meeting (Annual Meeting) of the MCA is scheduled for Sunday, May 6, 2018 at 1:00pm in the Reardon Room of the Middlesex Canal Museum and Visitors’ Center located at 71 Faulkner Street, North Billerica, MA 01862. A colloquy on Robert Thorson’s book The Boatman: Henry David Thoreau’s River Years is planned. Readers of the book will discuss the ideas presented in it. A short business meeting of the proprietors of the Middlesex Canal Association will precede the discussion.
John Williams’ New York Times Book Review: The Boatman,”about Thoreau’s relationship to the Concord River and alterations made to it during his lifetime, promises what publisher, Harvard University, calls, “the most complete account to date of this ‘flowage controversy.’”
16th Annual Bicycle Tour North: On Sunday, September 30, 2018 riders are encouraged to meet at 9:00am at the Middlesex Canal plaque, Sullivan Square MBTA Station (1 Cambridge Street, Charlestown, MA 02019). The ride will head north following the canal route for 38 miles to Lowell. There will be a stop for snacks at Kiwanis Park across from the Baldwin Mansion (2 Alfred Street, Woburn, MA 01801 ~12:30pm), stop for a visit at the Canal Museum (71 Falkner Street, North Billerica, MA 01862 ~ 3:00pm) and arrive in Lowell in time for the 5:00pm train back to Boston. Riders can choose their own time to leave or join the tour by using the Lowell line which parallels the canal. The ride is easy for most cyclists. The route is pretty flat and the tour group will average 5 mph. Steady rain cancels; helmets are required. For changes and updates see www.middlesexcanal.org. The leaders of the tour are Bill Kuttner and Dick Bauer.
Fall Walk: The Fall Walk will take place on Sunday, October 14, 2018. Participants are encouraged to meet at 1:30pm at the southeast corner of the parking lot behind the Woburn Cinemas. The Appalachian Mountain Club and the MCA will host the three-mile walk along two level sections of the historic Middlesex Canal. MCA member, Robert Winters will lead the walk accompanied by co-leader Marlies Henderson.
Directions: From Rte. 128, take Exit 35, Rte. 38S. Proceed 1/10 of a mile and take a left turn off Rte. 38 onto Middlesex Canal Drive past the Crowne Plaza to the meeting place. Additional information is available at www.middlesexcanal.org.
Fall Meeting: The Fall Meeting of the MCA is scheduled for Sunday, October 28, 2018 at 1:00pm in the Reardon Room (possibly) of the Middlesex Canal Museum and Visitors’ Center Located at 71 Faulkner Street, North Billerica, MA 01862. At the time of the publication a program and lecture are TBA.
Directions to Middlesex Canal Museum and Visitors’ Center
By Car: From Rte. 128/95
Take Route 3 toward Nashua, to Exit 28 “Treble Cove Road, North Billerica, Carlisle”. At the end of the ramp, turn left onto Treble Cove Road in the direction of North Billerica. At about ¾ mile, bear left at the fork. After another ¾ mile, at the traffic light, cross straight over Route 3A (Boston Road). Go about ¼ mile to a 3 way-fork; take the middle road (Talbot Avenue) which will put St Andrew’s Church on your left. Go ¼ mile to a stop sign and bear right onto Old Elm Street. Go about ¼ mile to the falls, where Old Elm Street becomes Faulkner Street; the Museum is on your left and you can park across the street on your right, just beyond the falls. Watch out crossing the street!
Take Exit 37, North Billerica, south roughly 2 plus miles to the stop sign at Mt. Pleasant Street, turn right, then bear right at the Y, go 700’ and turn left into the parking lot. The Museum is across the street (Faulkner Street).
The Lowell Commuter line runs between Lowell and Boston’s North Station. From the station side of the tracks at North Billerica, the Museum is a 3-minute walk down Station Street and Faulkner Street on the right side.
President’s Message, “Progress on New Museum”
by J. Breen
“I’m not fixing the roof! How would you like the building?”, Bill Donovan, president of Pace Industries’ Cambridge Division in the Talbot Mills, exclaimed after written notice from the Billerica Historic Districts Commission of the need for repairs.1
On May 5, 2012, the directors of the Middlesex Canal voted to accept the gift of 2 Old Elm Street. The first cost of this gift was paying lawyer Dave Fitch for 4½ hours to review the purchase and sale agreement. Dave was president of the association in 1987- 1990 and first chairman of the Historic Districts Commission in 1990. The cost of the gift so far has been more than $26,000, mostly for architectural fees. That cost does not include the work of the building committee, J, lead director Betty Bigwood, the artist Dahill, and the late Tom Raphael. Nor the efforts of Bill Gerber, Bob LeBlanc, et al.
A milestone this past March was the Middlesex Canal’s first application to the government for permission to renovate 2 Old Elm St for adaptive reuse as a visitor center/museum. Permission would be needed from the Conservation Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals, Board of Health, etc. The building committee chose to apply for permission first from the Historic Districts Commission. Presumably a majority of the commission would vote for adaptation of the 150-year-old warehouse as planned by the Middlesex Canal Association rather than let the crumbling building be demolished by nature. The substantive basis for permission was the following before and after JPEGs:
After renovation for use as a visitor center/museum
The report of the architect after meeting with the commission on March 14, 2018, is below. Permission from the commission to renovate 2 Old Elm is required by town law as the building is in the Billerica Mills Historic District.
The commissioners favored the attempt at the major project of renovating a dilapidated, 150-year-old warehouse by the volunteers of the Middlesex Canal Association. Changes were recommended with only one commissioner having a “must” of muntins on the exterior.2 The ballpark estimate for slate-colored architectural shingles of asphalt and fiberglass is $9,000. Metal is $27,000. A majority vote in favor of the project with the modern adaptations for reuse of the 150-year-old warehouse as a visitor center/museum is likely.
The next commission from which permission will be requested is Conservation.
Previously one or more commissioners have considered requiring that work be done from a barge. Since that meeting, a demolition sub-contractor has said he can remove the collapsed roof by working inside the building with scaffolding on the exterior for brick repair. The building committee for Old Elm Street still thinks reuse of the building is worthwhile, notwithstanding possible costly requirements, e.g., a slate-like roof and working from a barge, and necessary given the recent $1200 increase in annual rent for 71 Faulkner Street with more increases to come.
Report of the architect, John Caveney, after March 14, 2018 meeting with the Historic Districts Commission.
Hi Betty and J,
We were the only item on the agenda at the meeting this evening, and it went very well. We received approval of concept and approval to re-purpose the building to its new use subject to submission of final drawings and material selections. They will be interested in all materials selected, including but not limited to, roofing, windows, railings, decking, shutters, columns, etc. Below are my bullet point comments:
- Roofing: Do you all know if the building’s original material was slate? If so, they would like a material that mimics slate in color and appearance. One member mentioned that if the original material was cedar shakes, then Certainteed Presidential has an asphalt shingle line that matches cedar shakes. Another board member stated metal could be nice. I believe we have some leeway with material choice here.
- Shutters: Solid wood (no slats). They like the dark green.
- Windows: 6 over 6 are fine as long as we mimic the original windows. Muttons must be on the exterior versus in-between the glass panes.
- Exterior Doors: Solid wood door at both entrances
- Decks and Rails: details and materials to match throughout
- South Entrance: No glass is preferred (meaning they would like energy code required vestibule on the inside of building). For the entrance roof, they recommended possibly incorporating gable end details.
- West Entrance: If we go with a covered entrance here, they would like it to match the character of the South entrance.
- Industrial Feel: multiple members thought it would be nice to incorporate industrial elements (@ entryways and @ railing details). They recommended looking at details from surrounding mill buildings.
Overall a very good meeting. Let’s plan to discuss soon and we can start to incorporate into our drawings.
1 See Towpath Topics, Vol. 53, No.1, “President’s Message”.
2 Exterior muntins are one of the most important features of an historic building in maintaining its architectural integrity. Comment in a March 17 email from Deb Fox, a Middlesex Canal Association director. Deb has a master’s degree in preservation and was part of the establishment of the Historic Districts Commission with lawyer Fitch.
Winter Meeting Recap
by Deb Fox
The Winter Meeting of the Middlesex Canal Association was blown to order again by President J. Breen on February 11, 2018 at 1:00pm in the Reardon Room of the Faulkner Mill in North Billerica. He reminded members that the Annual Meeting would be held on May 6, 2018, to vote on new Proprietors.
President Breen then introduced the guest speaker, long-time association member, Fred Lawson. Mr. Lawson narrated his beginnings with the Association dating to 1961, at a meeting he attended at the Billerica Historical Society, through his interesting and varied life, including his reenactment of Colonel Baldwin and his foray into traditional basket-making.
Fred Lawson, February 11, 2018
Questions from the audience changed topics frequently, with audience members responding to each other as well, creating interesting discussions. Helen Potter wanted members to know how her husband rescued the Talbot Mill glass negatives from the trash at the urging of his mother, Marion Potter. Prints now hang in the Reardon Room.
There were approximately 20 to 25 attendees who filled the room. When the lecture was completed and every question answered, Betty Bigwood’s ham biscuits made their much-anticipated appearance and everyone left the building fully satisfied.
Winter Meeting , February 11, 2018
The Baldwin Seven-Dollar Bill
by Howard Winkler
In the April 2017 issue of Towpath Topics, I wrote an article that included the inscriptions on the pedestal of the statue of Loammi Baldwin, located on Route 38 near its intersection with Route 128. The particular words A MEMBER OF THE COMMITTEE TO SIGN THE PAPER MONEY OF MASSACHUSETTS COLONY caught my attention.
An Internet search brought forth a seven-dollar bill issued by the State of Massachusetts-Bay and signed by Baldwin.
The words on the bill follow:
State of Massachusetts-Bay.
No. 5730 Seven Dollars.
The Possessor of this BILL shall be paid
SEVEN Spanish milled DOLLARS by the Thirty-
first Day of December, One Thousand Seven Hundred and
Eighty-six, with Interest in like Money, at the Rate
of Five per Centum per Annum, by the State of MASSACHU-
SETTS-BAY, according to an Act of the Legislature of
said State, of the Fifth Day of May 1780.
Interest, s. d. q.
Annually, 2 1 1
Monthly, 0 2 0½
It was nice to find an example of Baldwin’s handwriting. He had good penmanship, but this is not surprising in the age in which he lived.
I found an Internet site that indicated a Spanish milled dollar was worth six shillings (s.). Five percent of seven Spanish dollars is 2.1s. There are 12 pence (d.) in a shilling, so 0.1s. equals 1.2d. There are four farthings (q.) in a pence, so 0.2 d. equals 0.8q. Five percent of seven Spanish dollars equals 2s.1d.1q. rounded up as indicated on the bill so the per annum percentage and interest paid annually, agree, and not surprising. (This was check on my understanding.)
At the beginning of the War of Independence, the Continental Congress authorized the issuance of paper money, Continentals. War cost money to outfit, feed, and arm an army. Continentals proved to be a poor economic instrument as they were backed by nothing more than the promise of “future tax revenues” and prone to rampant inflation, and ultimately had little fiscal value.
Bills were issued by Massachusetts in denominations of $1, $2, $3, $4, $5, $7, $8, and $20 bills, and represented shares of commodities such as corn, grain, cattle, and, ultimately, silver. When they were redeemed, a hole was punched in the bill or it was stamped “Interest paid one year.” There are two signatures on the front and a guaranty signature on the back of the bill. Signers were selected from among the outstanding men of Massachusetts and were paid a small fee for their service.
Editors’ Note: US Inflation Rate, 1786-2018 ($7): According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index, the dollar experienced an average inflation rate of 1.4% per year. Prices in 2018 are 2434.9% higher than prices in 1786. In other words, $7.00 in 1786 is equivalent in purchasing power to $177.44 in 2018, a difference of $170.44 over 232 years.
Inflation Calculator, Alioth Finance, http://www.in2013dollars.com
Thoreau in Billerica
by Marlies Henderson
If all claims for oaks where George Washington rested were true, this founding father would have slept through his presidency without ever waking up. Similarly, James J. Kilroy (1902-1962) would be an omnipresent graffiti artist long after he died. But in 1839 Henry David Thoreau really was in Billerica, with an overnight along the Concord River. He slept on Billerica soil! The value of this fact is not to be swept under the rug. Let’s memorialize where the pop star roamed, and harvest the fruits of his fame. Billerica can ride this wave, particularly on its Concord River and multiple remnants of the Middlesex Canal - Thoreau’s highways, as journaled in his book “A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers”.
First published in 1849, the book seems to be the travel log of a boat trip from Concord, MA to Hookset, NH and back. Thoreau took the trip with his brother John. After John had died from tetanus in 1842, Thoreau sought seclusion at Walden Pond with the aim to write about that excursion, ten years after, and process the grief of having lost his late brother. The actual trip took two weeks, but artistic license permitted Thoreau to fill hundreds of pages describing one week; seven daily chapters. The book didn’t sell at the time. Thoreau quipped in a journal that his library consisted of 900 volumes, 700 of which he wrote himself; all unsold copies of “A Week” returned to him by the publisher. Two and a half centuries and many editions later the title has grown popular, and I bought and browsed it.
Musketaquid. Replica of Thoreau’s Boat most well known boat; the dory the Thoreau brothers
built in the spring and used as their mode of travel in August and September.
Boat loan courtesy of Concord Museum.
Photo taken by Juliet Wheeler on the shore of Fairhaven Bay, September, 2016.
Mourning his brother between the lines, Thoreau mulls religion, love and friendship, but also fishing, poets, and heroes of mythology. He puts forward countless digressions, spending a fraction of his writing on the subject matter of my quest: The trip itself: they set out, relatively late on Saturday, from the Sudbury River where the dory they had built a few months before was moored. Loaded with melons and potatoes, they rowed until sunset, about 7 miles to Billerica where they camped “on the west side of a little rising ground which in the spring forms an island in the river.”
Continuing the next morning, Thoreau notes they “passed various islands”. “The one on which we had camped we called “Fox Island””, and an island overrun with grapevines is baptized Grape Island. In other work, Thoreau uses ‘Grape’ and ‘Jug’ interchangeably to describe the rocky island in deep water, located one mile downstream from Fox Island.
When I planned to visit the Concord Free Public Library last winter to research Thoreau’s boat trip on the Middlesex Canal for a Wayside Exhibit on Lowell Street, the Billerica Historian urged me to also study Thoreau’s manuscripts relative to this first campsite in Billerica in 1839.
Running a Winter Walks program in Billerica, I sometimes, due to storms, have to make multiple pre-treks to ensure a seamless event. One trail tangent in Carlisle Greenough Land drew me out each time to a captivating spot in the floodplain. The view arrested me. Ultimately, at that same attractive area, when I had thirty followers in tow, I pointed across the Concord River. The voice booster amplified my words: “if we’d go from here, straight as the crow flies, we’d find Great Meadows Wildlife Refuge, but we can’t see it, because there is sort of a dividing ridge, a little rising ground …”, and that’s when a sprite sprung it upon me: Thoreau was there!
Based on this epiphany as well as on abundant topographical and literary evidence, the location of Thoreau’s first campsite is obvious. Frequent paddles, hikes and waders complement desk research. With all due respect for federal institutions and Thoreau aficionados, they have so far either wisely avoided conclusive statements, or assumed misguided guesses. A Jug Island photograph from the Herbert Wendell Gleason collection is mistakenly matched with the Saturday on page 38 of a 1906 edition of “A Week”. Illustrator Henry Bugbee Kane gets it right with a detailed map on the endpaper of a 1954 edition.
The famed recreational reputation of Billerica during turn of the 20th century clouds the memory of Thoreau passing through Billerica; the “Bretton Woods of Massachusetts”. In 1906 Gleason visited the Riverhurst Boathouse, and John Stearns (born 1845) sold “The Island”, the parcel where Thoreau once camped, to a mill worker of Lowell. Typical of the river oriented recreational activities enjoyed at that time by visitors to Billerica and Bedford, the riverfront neighborhood was rebranded ‘Greenwood Grove’. In 1930 the Greenwood family paid taxes for 17 cottages. Soon after, the cottage business slumped.
Not only did Thoreau sleep in Billerica, he also navigated locks into the Middlesex Canal on Sunday, just above the Talbot dam, or rather the ‘Billerica Falls’ as he names them. The Boston & Lowell Railroad had opened four years earlier, and business for the canal ebbed away. Not impressed with engineering feats, the brothers “did not care to loiter in this part of our voyage, while one ran along the tow-path drawing the boat by a cord, the other kept it off the shore with a pole, […].”
36” x 24” wayside exhibit on Lowell Street, North Billerica, to be installed May, 2018
“This canal, which is the oldest in the country, and has even an antique look beside the more modern railroads, is fed by the Concord, so that we were still floating on its familiar waters. It is so much water which the river lets for the advantage of commerce. There appeared some want of harmony in its scenery, since it was not of equal date with the woods and meadows through which it is led, and we missed the conciliatory influence of time on land and water; but in the lapse of ages, Nature will recover and indemnify herself, and gradually plant fit shrubs and flowers along its borders.” And she did.
Reportedly sailing fifty miles on Friday, the last day of the book, thanks to a true or imagined strong northerly tailwind, there was no need for the brothers to camp in Billerica during the rapid passage back to Concord. Unrealistic perhaps, but “A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers” has so much more meat than a travel log. I merely researched it for the bare bones of the trip – and only for Billerica – to memorialize Thoreau’s presence with a wayside exhibit which helps sidewalk users imagine him there, either in the dory or running on the towpath, pulling it by a cord. Not a ditch, but a technological marvel whose half-million-dollar cost in 1803 prompted the secretary of the Treasury to call it “the greatest work of its kind that has been completed in the United States.”
1954 Map by Henry Dugbee Kane
Thoreau, Henry David. The Writings of Henry David Thoreau. a Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. Houghton Mifflin & Comp., 1906.
The Concord and the Merrimack: Excerpts from A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. Arranged with notes by Dudley C. Lunt; Illustrated by Henry Bugbee Kane. College & University Press, 1965.
“Deep Travel: in Thoreau’s Wake on the Concord and Merrimack.” Deep Travel: in Thoreau’s Wake on the Concord and Merrimack, by David K. Leff, University of Iowa Press, 2009. “Thoreau Gazetteer.”
Thoreau Gazetteer, by Robert F. Stowell, Princeton University Pres, 2016.
“Wild Fruits: Thoreau’s Rediscovered Last Manuscript.” Wild Fruits: Thoreau’s Rediscovered Last Manuscript, by Henry David Thoreau et al., W.W. Norton, 2001, p. 154.
Back Issues - More than 50 years of back issues of Towpath Topics, together with an index to the content of all issues, are also available from our website http://middlesexcanal.org/towpath. These are an excellent resource for anyone who wishes to learn more about the canal and should be particularly useful for historic researchers.
Back Page - Excerpt from an August,1818, drawing (artist unknown) of the Steam Towboat Merrimack crossing the original (pre-1829) Medford Aqueduct, probably on its way to service on the Merrimack River.
Estate Planning - To those of you who are making your final arrangements, please remember the Middlesex Canal Association. Your help is vital to our future. Thank you for considering us.
Museum & Reardon Room Rental - The facility is available at very reasonable rates for private affairs, and for non-profit organizations to hold meetings. The conference room holds up to 60 people and includes access to a kitchen and restrooms. For details and additional information please contact the museum at 978-670-2740.
Museum Shop - Looking for that perfect gift for a Middlesex Canal aficionado? Don’t forget to check out the inventory of canal related books, maps, and other items of general interest available at the museum shop. The store is open weekends from noon to 4:00pm except during holidays.
Nameplate - Excerpt from an acrylic reproduction of a watercolor painted by Jabez Ward Barton, ca. 1825, entitled “View from William Rogers House”. Shown, looking west, may be the packet boat George Washington being towed across the Concord River from the Floating Towpath at North Billerica.
Web Site – The URL for the Middlesex Canal Association’s web site is www.middlesexcanal.org. Our webmaster, Robert Winters, keeps the site up to date. Events, articles and other information will sometimes appear there before it can get to you through Towpath Topics. Please check the site from time to time for new entries.
The first issue of the Middlesex Canal Association newsletter was published in October, 1963. Originally named “Canal News”, the first issue featured a contest to name the newsletter. A year later, the newsletter was renamed “Towpath Topics.”
Towpath Topics is edited and published by Debra Fox, Alec Ingraham, and Robert Winters.
Corrections, contributions and ideas for future issues are always welcome.