Monday, May 24, 2010

Claypit Cemetery

I helped clean up a cemetery hidden off Pawtucket Boulevard this weekend with Kim Zunino from the city Historic Board and a class from Lakeview Jr High in Dracut.  Why is Dracut cleaning a cemetery in Lowell?  Well, Pawtucketville wasn't annexed to Lowell until 1874, and the last burial at Claypit Cemetery was a decade before that.  Made for a confusing situation regarding which community actually owns the place apparently, especially as it was a private burial ground in the first place and no deeds have been transferred.  As for the first burial, it was before the Revolution - at least one person who served in the Revolution is buried here (Moses Coburn), and an honor guard from Tewksbury did a brief ceremony while I was there. 

Google brings up a few scattered news articles and other factoids on this site.  For example: leads to
Ms. Duda was the teacher who brought her class to the site when I was there yesterday.  This article points to: which is a very comprehensive website containing a lot of great information on the cemetery that Ms. Duda has compiled.  Go here.

Since I don't really have anything of value to ad, here's the pictures I took.  We had just unearthed Aaron Colburn's gravemarker that day.  Some of the articles off of say that this stone was visible in a 4' hole (a grave-robbing attempt) in the early 1990s.  My understanding is these were purposefully buried to protect them, after decades of vandalism and said attempted grave-robbings (no, nothing will be left of the bodies of people that died that long ago and were put in wood boxes unembalmed...).

Claypit Cemetery

Great Stone Dam, Lawrence

I have visited and talked about Lawrence before.  This time, my trip was specifically related to the Essex, or Great Stone Dam. 

Little background (or read a better writeup here courtesy of Enel, N.A.): The Essex Company, which was the driving force behind Lawrence, using a design attributed to Charles Storrow, began construction of the dam in 1845 and completed it by 1848.  The 900-foot-long dam was needed to turn a 5' drop in elevation into a 30' drop in elevation to provide a Lowell-like source of hydropower to the new city.  In fact, the new dam created a millpond going all the way upriver to Lowell.  For chronological comparison, this is the same time period in which Lowell was building the Northern Canal and Moody Street Feeder - and Lawrence was just getting started.  The dam, due to its height and row-after-row of granite blocks, was considered an engineering marvel of its day.  Although becoming less useful as the mills it powered shuttered, the strongly-built dam survived.

In the late 1970s, a hydroelectric plant generating nearly 17 MW (smaller than Lowell's 24 MW installation) was constructed on the south side of the dam - the company was still the Essex Company.    Enel bought the Essex Company a few years later and took control of the plant (like they did at Lowell).  In the last few years, the old pin-and-5' wooden flashboard system Lawrence, like us, had used for well over a century, was replaced with a bladder dam similar to the one proposed for Lowell.  The flow rate is currently fairly low and water is not going over the dam, so it's a good time to see what it really looks like.  I'll let the pictures speak.

Great Stone Dam

P.S.  Something Lawrence has that I thought was pretty cool that was also part of this trip: The Antiques Mall over on Canal Street.  Why does a city so interested in history like Lowell is not have much of an antique industry?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Doors Open Lowell 2010 - Pictures

While I was too busy this weekend to get too many pictures, I was able to make it to three sites for Doors Open this year: all three are new.

The first was the Appleton Mill renovation.  I didn't take any new photos (the work has been progressing, but not in such a way new photos are warranted).  They are saying the project should have its first residents in by April 2011.  The rooms are supposed to be fairly open floor-planned, and about 1000 sq ft or so it sounds.  They will have deck space as well - the development will be targeted at affordable live/work space for artists.

The second was the Tremont Mill / JDCU building.  Over the past few years, the burnt remnants of the Tremont Mill power building have been cut down to basement level, and a new office tower has been built in its place.

Photos and more after the jump.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

New Layout

While I fully intended to put up my pics from Doors Open today, I ended up playing with my blog layout instead.  This one allows for much wider display, which is great for lots of rambling text ;-)

Meanwhile, Marianne took some great photos at Doors Open (and remembered to go to the Pawtucket Gatehouse, whilst I had a total brain fart and forgot), so go check out her post instead.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Presentation this afternoon

Thanks to everyone who came out to see my presentation @ the Historical Society meeting today.  While there is nothing nearly as fancy as a video of it, I did put my notes up to share if you'd like them, or if you wanted any of the pictures I included: - The PowerPoint - Text, if you don't want to download a 5 MB powerpoint.

Well, thanks again everyone for sitting through that - I almost opened it up with a take on Mark Twain's quote "I didn't have time to write you a short presentation, so I wrote you a long one."  It was nice to meet so many new people today, and get to meet in person people that I have previously only known online.  I look forward to seeing all of you in the future, and hopefully at some point tomorrow I'll get up some of the pictures I took at Doors Open today.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

XKCD causes spat on Wikipedia

One of my favorite webcomics, XKCD, had a joke today about how certain words are overused on Wikipedia (for example, Portmanteau and Neologism).  I'm glad that XKCD, in its usual fashion, states the obvious for those of us who just chuckle to ourselves over some of the more ridiculous things about geekdom - in this case, some of the quirks of the overall-wonderful Wikipedia.  Normally, I just get to smile and nod and move on with my day knowing I'm not the only one out there who notices these things.  However, the Wikipedia talk page (this is a link to the revision as of right now) for the article that was invented and made fun of in the XKCD comic, is pure genius.  One editor, Lisa, chimed in that the talk page is meta.  She's 100% right - the fights on the talk page, trying to use proper Wikipedia bureaucratic processes to handle the flood of edits that completely unserious XKCD has caused, is precisely the reason why XKCD makes fun of Wikipedia.

City ups meals tax

The Sun is reporting that Lowell's meals tax is 7% as of July 1.  There are now over 90 of Massachusetts' 351 cities and towns who have taken advantage of the ability to levy a local tax on meals.  While I certainly understand the reasoning behind the raise and agree that it isn't going to affect my dining out habits, how do laws like this work at the local level?  Is this from now until it is repealed, or does it need to be approved annually?  As a rule, I think that all tax increases that are tied to 'recessions' or any other temporary explanation should have sunset clauses.  I have a feeling we'll neither get rid of the 'temporary' income tax increase we've had for years, nor the 'temporary' sales tax increase to 6.25%.  I bought a car recently - you do feel that extra percent and a quarter there!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Massachusetts Route 213

This is one of those times when I really wish The Sun offered their archives online for free.  Many, much larger, papers do.  MA-213, as we all know, is the Loop Connector running north of Lawrence and running through Methuen, connecting I-93 to 495.  It was planned at one point to continue through Dracut, crossing the Merrimack, usually discussed where the Rourke Bridge was built in the 1980s, and connecting to US Route 3.  Other than the fact it never happened and is still talked about to some extent with regards to the overtaxed Rourke Bridge (how did people in Pawtucketville and Dracut survive before this was built!?), I know very little and don't have too many accessible resources to figure out more.  Wikipedia is full of road geeks, and even the article there is very little help.

The reason I'm on this topic is that the fact that it was never built seriously delayed a trip of mine to Salem, NH - again.  Going to Bishop Guertin in Nashua in high school, I had a lot of friends in Windham.  Living in Tyngsboro, there was no good way to get there from here (to paraphrase the classic New England saying).  You either drive all the way south to 495 and back up, drive all the way up to 111 (while a high-speed road, the roads leading to it in Hudson, crossing the Merrimack somewhere, are not), or take slow-going 113 through Dracut.  This time, I was heading up from Bedford, MA, had a brain fart, missed 495, and refusing to turn around during Rush Hour, decided I'd blaze a trail to the bridge while "avoiding traffic (i.e. any bridge in Lowell)."  My incomplete mental map of Dracut, Pelham, and yes...Pawtucketville, caused me to take the most idiotic route imaginable, including traffic-choked and completely-out-of-the-way Lakeview Ave, and all in all, the trip took 90 minutes (should've been 30).

Can I advocate for the demolition of Dracut for a new expressway?  No.  While it would be wonderful for today's Lowell area residents, the construction of or widening of interstates leads to what is called "latent demand," which is when people start making longer trips as they become easier, quickly bringing traffic counts up to where they were before construction.  Couple that with a new ease-of-access to previously hard-to-reach areas, and you have a perfect formula for growing suburban sprawl.  Case-in-point: The Rourke Bridge.  Life carried on in Lowell before it was there, it was built to alleviate congestion, now it's one of the most congested places in the city.  What did Lowell gain from it?  A more populated Dracut and Pawtucketville.  At least P-ville generates tax revenue for Lowell, Dracut doesn't.  I often wonder, as many urban theorists do, if these new roads often continue the economic destruction of our cities.  Is the wall of interstates around Lawrence, and the lack of interstate access to Lowell, one of the reasons why our city is in better shape today?  Some would argue precisely that.  I think it very well might be a contributing factor.

September 27, 1975: Explosion

A friend on Facebook was growing up in Centralville when a middle-of-the-night explosion demolished a cafe at First and Bridge Streets (I'm guessing Dunks was built in its place).  I'm in a productive mood today and made it to the library and printed the article out.  Occurring before I was born but not before I'm sure many of my readers' time, like the fire articles, any additional information would be great.

Violent Downtown Blast Levels Cafe; Rocks City

The Evening Edition of The Sun on Sept 27, 1975's front page was almost entirely taken up by, and the back page was entirely devoted to, an article about an explosion that occurred in Centralville at 3:20 in the AM.  During a severe storm that night, an explosion, the cause of which had yet to be determined, completely demolished Jake's Cafe.  Trucks nearby were flipped over, sidewalks buckled, ceilings collapsed, light posts were bent.  Damage was done to 68 businesses, and 23 people were injured (amazingly nobody seriously), one woman was admitted for cuts and later released.  Twenty cruisers got flat tires on the debris and multiple fire trucks.  Some of the damage was to obvious buildings like Russo Music across the street, but broken windows or other damage was seen in places as unlikely as Woolworth's, on Merrimack Street, facing away from Centralville.  The "heaviest damage" area map The Sun printed, aside from being a little out of date and showing the downtown configuration before Arcand Drive had been built, draws a box around Bridge and First from 10th Street in the north, to French Street in the south, to Coburn Street in the west, and the Hunts Falls Bridge on the east.

As the other 70s disaster articles I posted also said, purposeful destruction was a real possibility.  The apartments above the cafe were somewhat recently vacant (thankfully as whoever had been in them would have been vaporized - a woman was interviewed who had moved shortly before to elsewhere in the neighborhood), and the cafe had been shut down for three weeks following a fire in which gasoline drums were found in the cellar.  A gas pipe was found uncapped, and Fire Chief Beauregard said that that would allow gas to just flow into the building, ignitable by anything as simple as a light switch, a pilot light, or a refrigeration unit.  Another official at the scene pointed out the missing plug needed to be screwed off, as the threading had not been damaged by the explosion.  Fortunately, had this explosion happened during the day with people on the street and cars on the sidewalks, it is likely that fatalities would have occurred.

Lowell Cemetery Tour

I joined Richard Howe and fifteen other brave souls this morning to tour the Lowell Cemetery - Dick was the guide.  I took some pictures there in 2006 but have learnt more about it since then.  Today's tour was informative: Saw the graves of Augustin Thompson, inventor of Moxie, and Charles Herbert Allen, first civilian governor of Puerto Rico and US Congressman.  Although I knew Tsongas was buried here, I had never seen his stone before.  The location is fantastic: on a bluff overlooking the Concord River Greenway above the sounds of the water rushing over the little dam at the tail of Centennial Island (what is the dam called?) - which it was my full intention to go visit afterwards.  However, an electrical storm cut the tour a little short, and not feeling like getting struck by lightening, I went home.  I took no pictures, because Marianne did such a great job on yesterday's tour already

I updated the Wikipedia articles above with a few wikilinks (internal links to other pages) that were missing, and added these two people to the list of people buried at Lowell Cemetery, which could use some serious work.  Dick told us there are seven US Congressmen buried here, and the Wikipedia article gets no further than three.  There has been some great (and often anonymous) updates to Wikipedia articles by Lowellians as of late, and I want to thank the community for doing this work.  Wikipedia, while not a great formal resource, is a great resource nevertheless, especially for my interests, and the work is much appreciated.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The National Historical Park: Lowell, Troy, and Paterson New Jersey

Back in 2006, I opened up my website with a typical-of-me remembered-and-uncited anecdote about Troy, NY (where I went to college), and Patterson, NJ (which I most likely will never find myself in) being in the running for the National Historical Park.  I was doing some research tonight and stumbled across what I must've read:  Three articles from a Paterson-area newspaper from 2000.  It's interesting to read about Paterson's view of what happened in Lowell, and how they missed out, and how bad it hurt them:  find the three articles towards the bottom titled "From the Same Cloth, Paterson Frays as Lowell Amends."