Middlesex Canal Association    P.O. Box 333    Billerica, Massachusetts 01821
Volume 19, No. 1    January, 1981


The winter meeting of the Middlesex Canal Association will take place on Saturday, January 17, 1981 at 2:00 P.M. at the Thompson Library, 33 Elm Street, North Woburn.

The topic of discussion will be the Report prepared by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council and the Northern Middlesex Area Commission for the Middlesex Canal Commission. Authors of the Report
will speak and Middlesex Canal Commissioners will be on hand for comments.

The Thompson Library is approximately one long block northerly from the intersection of Routes 128 and 38. Going North, turn left at the Alfred Street traffic light (opposite the Baldwin Mansion), stay on Elm Street (avoiding the entrance to Zayre's parking lot) and the Library is on the right, after passing Baldwin Green (with the Colonel's statue).

In anticipation of the winter meeting, this issue of TOWPATH TOPICS contains excerpts from the Canal Commission Report. Unfortunately, it has not been possible to reprint the entire report which contains detailed maps and inventories of each community through which the canal passed. Copies of the report have been given to all Conservation and Historical Commissions concerned. It is to be hoped that enough copies can be found to place them in the public libraries along the canal, for use by the general public.


A distinctive quality of the Middlesex Canal is its linear structure and potential as a regional pedestrian and recreational connector. Enhancing this quality is the underlying purpose of the Middlesex Canal Heritage Park concept.

This report recognizes the regionality of the canal and recommends that more than sporadic, scattered efforts at preservation take place.1 Recommendations included in this report require modest expenditures. Due to limited resources and competing needs, outright acquisition and restoration of the canal wherever possible, is unrealistic. Therefore, the study recommends modest yet effective techniques to preserve the canal short of restoration of the old canal route.

A system of signs along the canal is a crucial first step in expressing the continuity of the route. In conjunction with signage, distribution of a good map of the canal route, emphasizing its relationship with the road system would be helpful in bringing the canal to the attention of a wider audience. The sign system would include:

1. A major identifying sign to be placed at all intersections of the canal route with major roads and highways.

2. A smaller identifying sign to be placed at the intersection of the canal route with local roads and streets.

3. An informational sign possibly including informative graphics or mapping to be placed at public areas along the canal route or at the location of extant or demolished canal features. Such signage may be part of interpretive sites.

All of these signs should be designed as a related group, using a similar typeface, color series, and logo. The larger signs should include a map of the entire route to reinforce the regionality of the canal.

1 Sections of the canal in various communities have, in recent years been acquired, improved, and/or restored. These are admirable efforts which deserve much credit. Yet no attempt has been made to coordinate these efforts either physically or conceptually.

Portions of the canal that exist should be regularly cleaned and checked for increased bank erosion, or for filling due to siltation or dumping. Corrective measures should be taken if necessary. In some places, the canal contains excessive litter. Periodic cleanup campaigns should be organized to improve these conditions. In addition, steps should be taken by local governments and the Canal Commission to safeguard remaining portions of the canal from development. Possible safeguards include the acquisition of land, easements along the canal route, or protective zoning regulations which either restrict development on the Canal or require a special permit within 50 feet of the canal.

As previously stated, this report limits the amount of restoration and/or reconstruction proposed for the canal. However, sites do exist which are suitable for such treatment. Additionally, future public projects which may impact the canal could be used as a catalyst for restoration as was the case with the relocation of Route 129 in Wilmington by the Massachusetts Department of Public Works. However, unlike the Wilmington reconstruction, the canal should be restored to its original dimensions and employ authentic material and construction techniques.

Recreational Reuse of the Canal
Due to its linear nature and the existence of open spaces along its route, the canal offers excellent opportunities for both active and passive recreation.

1. Bikeways
A bikeway system is proposed beginning at the Somerville-Medford boundary, across the Mystic River on Boston Avenue through to Lowell. The bikeway, whenever possible, would use the canal route. However, it would mostly parallel the route using existing surface roads marked by signs.

2. Walkways
The canal route affords opportunities for the development of walkways. The walkways can be either dirt or hardtop paths, wide enough to accommodate strollers and wheelchairs.

3. Bi-ways
A graded dirt or paved path for both bicycle and pedestrian traffic is proposed for some segments of the canal.

4. Hiking Trails
Using the existing canal bed, towpaths can serve as hiking trails in many areas.

Interpretive Sites
Many points along the canal route are ideally suited for formal and informal interpretive sites. An interpretive site is one which provides the user an opportunity to gain insight into the past history and importance of the canal and the role it played in the region's economy and development.

Among the interpretive sites proposed along the canal route are exhibits, thematic recreation equipment in playgrounds, street and building murals, and landscaping to delineate the actual canal route.

Another interpretive opportunity exists in schools along the canal route. These schools (and possibly all schools in each of the nine canal communities) should incorporate the canal into the curriculum. Such an inclusion would promote a greater awareness and understanding of the canal and its role in the history of the community. This awareness and understanding could also create a greater willingness among local residents to see some of the recommendations implemented.

Mill Pond Heritage Park
The Talbot Mill/Mill Pond area of north Billerica presents a major opportunity to create Middlesex Canal focal point that could be developed into major historic preservation and recreation area. Although it is recommended that this area be marked by signage and interpretive material, it is recommended that the area be investigated further as part of the state's Park system.

Bi-walk along the Middlesex Canal


The legal, financial, and institutional approaches for implementing the recommendations contained in this study are as important as the recommendations themselves. This is particularly true in light of the multijurisdictional nature of the 27-mile Canal which traverses nine cities and towns, two regional planning agencies, and various state agencies.

It is felt that any new institution created to implement these recommendations would further complicate issues. Instead, NMAC and MAPC recommend that the existing governmental framework be utilized for implementation.

The major governmental bodies are: local government, the Middlesex Canal Commission, and state agencies, the Metropolitan District Commission, the Massachusetts Department of Public Works, the Department of Environmental Management, and the Massachusetts Historical Commission. A discussion of each and their proposed roles will illustrate their specific function.

Local Government
The nine cities and towns along the route of the Middlesex Canal posses the greatest potential for implementing many of the report recommendations. Local communities are vested with the police power of zoning and are empowered to regulate development in the interest of the public safety, health, and welfare. Since cultural, historical, recreation, and conservation values are legitimate concerns when evaluating development, communities should adopt legislation for special review of proposed development on or near the Canal route. This review would facilitate possible alternate designs to protect the Canal or to realize opportunities for detailed archaeological investigation of a specific site for Canal remnants. Local governments are also major land owners along the Canal route and are empowered to acquire land for the public interest. Local governments are in a position as property owners to develop recreation and interpretive sites along the Canal route. For those portions of the Canal route where the Canal condition, the presence of extant features, or the presence of Canal-related structures warrant special attention and protection, local historic districts may be created. Such districting will require the full cooperation of the property owners, the historic commission, and the planning board.

Local boards and departments who are logical participants in the above described actions are planning boards, conservation commissions, historic commissions, parks and recreation commissions, and public works departments.

Middlesex Canal Commission
Comprised of representatives from communities, regional planning agencies, state agencies, and state legislators, the Middlesex Canal Commission is ideally suited for serving as a coordinator and clearinghouse for canal-related endeavors.

Currently, the Commission, through its membership, serves as an unofficial monitoring agency for development and is sometimes able to effectuate design modifications to preserve the canal. This role could be enhanced through a memo of understanding between local building officials and the Canal Commission. Such a memo would require building officials to notify the Commission of proposed development on the Canal route. The delineation of the canal route on assessor maps prepared by Industrial Archaeology Associates, under this contract, should be distributed and serve as the basis for such determination. Such a process would greatly assist the monitoring efforts of the Canal Commission.

Final design and implementation of the recommendations proposed in this report should be reviewed and approved by the Canal Commission for consistency and to insure a perspective of regionality for the development of the Canal.

At present, the review of environmental documentation and funding applications for projects is performed by the regional planning agencies and the Massachusetts Historic Commission. These agencies should adopt and continue administrative policies to provide the Canal Commission an opportunity to comment as part of the agencies review for those projects occurring within 50 feet of the Canal route.

Regional Planning Agencies
The Canal route is located in areas served by two regional planning agencies--The Northern Middlesex Area Commission (NMAC) and Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC). As regional planning agencies, they are clearinghouses for reviewing federal applications.

The review of federal funding applications is one way to assist in the stabilization of the Middlesex Canal. In reviewing federal funding applications, the regional planning agencies are charged with evaluating the consistency of the application with regionally adopted plans. Both MAPC and NMAC have language in their recreation and open space plans recognizing the Canal as a resource of regional recreation significance. Therefore, MAPC and NMAC are able to respond to federally funded projects which may impact the Canal.
In addition, MAPC and NMAC are chartered through their enabling legislation to provide planning assistance for projects which are regional in nature. These agencies can provide assistance to communities and the Commission undertaking preservation work related to the Canal.

Metropolitan District Commission
The Metropolitan District Commission (MDC), a special purpose commission which provides sewerage, water, highways, and recreation for the Boston Metropolitan region, is a major property owner along the Canal route. Starting at the Charles River to the Mystic River, Foss Park in Somerville, and the Mystic Lakes in Winchester, the MDC's property holdings provide the greatest potential for linear recreation within Route 128. It is recommended that the MDC become a voting member of the Middlesex Canal Commission as well as become involved in implementing report recommendations. Sandy Beech in Winchester represents a prime opportunity. Already an existing recreation area, many of the proposals for Sandy Beach could be incorporated with on-going maintenance and replacement of facilities at little expense. The existing road and path system along the Mystic River and Lake can be upgraded through signage and painting of lanes to become a bikeway or bi-way. The inclusion of the Canal in these areas would only serve to enhance these existing recreation areas.

Massachusetts Department of Public Works
Charged with the planning and maintenance of the states highway system, the Massachusetts Department of Public Works (MDPW) should be involved in installing signage at every point where the canal route crosses. The MDPW should be receptive to this involvement since in the early 1970's, it was involved in restoring a 1,400-foot length of the Canal which was threatened by the relocation of Route 129 in Wilmington.

The MDPW also offers funding assistance for the development of bikeways through the MDPW Bikeway Bonding Issue. This program offers a 75 percent grant for bikeways. In some instances the department may at its discretion fund 100 percent of the cost for a regional bikeway. This program should be included in the development of the bikeways proposed in this report.

Department of Environmental Management
Through its Urban Heritage Park Program, the Department of Environmental Management should take an active role in the development of the proposed Heritage State Park at Talbot Mill in Billerica.

Massachusetts Historical Commission
The Massachusetts Historical Commission should continue its involvement with the Middlesex Canal. The Commission will assist in the formulation of historic districts along the Canal route. If any modification of the Canal's National Register of Historic Places Designation is undertaken, the Commission will be an active participant. Additionally, the Commission represents a valuable resource for assistance in planning and implementing historic preservation and reuse projects.


Funding sources for the implementation of the report recommendations are as varied as the governmental participants. Possible funding sources and the types of projects they may fund are described below.

Local Funds
Increasing local expenses render local funding as a highly improbable source of funding for any major canal-related project. However, some canal improvements can be made under the auspices of ongoing local expenditures such as maintenance, capital improvements, and park improvements, and are viable approaches for local implementation. Another consideration is the use of local monies to leverage matching funds from other public funding sources.

Massachusetts Department of Public Works
As previously mentioned, the MDPW offers funding assistance for bikeways under its Bikeway Bond Issue Program.

Metropolitan District Commission
Being a property owner on portions of the Canal route, the MDC represents a possible in-kind source of funds for implementing some of the recommendations proposed. Through its ongoing maintenance and replacement of facilities, thematic recreation apparatus could be installed over time. Ongoing maintenance could be used to perform landscaping and the installation of benches over the former route of the Canal. The MDC could also install signs along its roadways and paths which are recommended for bikeways. Much of this can be accomplished with minimal costs since labor to perform these tasks already exists within the MDC workforce. Any substantive costs required could be made part of special budget request by the MDC to the state legislature.

Department of Environmental Management (DEM)
The Department of Environmental Management, through its Heritage State Park Program, assists the development of interpretive sites in conjunction with urban or canter revitalization. The recommendations for the Talbot Mills area of Billerica represents an ideal opportunity for a Heritage State Park.

The Department of Environmental Management's Division of Conservation Services administers the Massachusetts Self Help Grant Program which will provide a community with the local match for the U.S. Department of Interiors Heritage Conservation and Recreation Services (HCRS), Land and Water Conservation Grant Program (which will be further discussed). In order to become eligible for funding for Self Help or HCRS funding, a community must submit a five year Recreation/Conservation Plan to the Division of Conservation Services for approval.

The Urban Park and Recreation Recovery Program offers grants ranging from 50 to 70 percent of a project's cost through three programs. 1) Recovery Action Program Grants will provide 50 percent funding for projects which are part of an overall program to improve the local recreation system. 2) Innovative Grants will provide up to 70 percent of the costs for projects which "demonstrate cost-effective ways of translating physical recreation resources, such as land and buildings into actual recreation opportunities." 3) Rehabilitation Grants will cover 70 percent of the costs for projects which rebuild, remodel, expand, or develop indoor and outdoor recreation opportunities.

In order to qualify, communities must meet urban and distress criteria and prepare a five-year Action Program. Eligible communities on the Middlesex Canal route are Boston, Somerville, Medford, Lowell, and Middlesex County (which qualifies as an urban county). This program is administered directly by the Heritage Conservation and Recreation Services in Washington.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
Historic preservation and recreation acquisition and development are eligible activities under the HUD Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Entitlement and Small Cities programs. It is important that the objectives of programs be kept in mind, to benefit low and moderate income persons. Four cities along the canal route (Boston, Somerville, Medford, and Lowell) annually receive CDBG funds under the entitlement program. The others are eligible, however, to apply for Small Cities funding. CDBG funds are eligible for serving as the local match or share for other federal funds, such as HCRS. Therefore, whenever possible, it is recommended that these funds be piggybacked.

Federal Highway Administration (FHwA)
The Federal Highway Administration offers funding assistance for the construction of bikeways under the Federal-Aid Highway Program. This program will fund bikeways as part of highway construction projects or to eliminate bicycle traffic from existing major highways.

Private Funding Sources
Private funding sources have been used to preserve the Middlesex Canal's heritage in the past. H.P. Hood and Sons sponsored the publication of a Guide to the Middlesex Canal for the Middlesex Canal Association.

U.S. Department of Interior Heritage Conservation Recreation Service (HCRS)
The Department of Interior's Heritage Conservation Recreation Service offers a variety of funding programs for historic preservation and recreation, and conservation acquisition and development.

The Historic Preservation Grants-in-Aid program is administered by the Massachusetts Historical Commission and provides up to 50 percent the costs for surveys, planning, acquisition, and development.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund also provides up to 50 percent the costs for planning, acquisition, and development of recreation and conservation areas. These funds are administered by the Department of Environmental Management's Division of Conservation Services.

Private firms and companies along the canal route should be viewed as possible benefactors. For example, if a company is developing new facilities along the Canal route, it may only be too eager to assist in development of an interpretive site. Such actions by the private sector are good public relations.


In conclusion, one additional resource should not be overlooked in the implementation of the report recommendations. This resource is the men and women of the Middlesex Canal Commission and Middlesex Canal Association. For over 15 years, these individuals have represented the backbone of all efforts aimed at preserving and enhancing the canal. While the canal has become an area of interest among a number of agencies. it is one of many areas of interest. However, the Middlesex Canal is and will remain the single item of concern for the Canal Commission and Association. It is through this single purposeness that the Commission and Association carry the ultimate responsibility of promoting and safeguarding the canal.

Walkway along the Middlesex Canal


We have exciting news! At our January 17th meeting at the Thompson Library in Woburn, Len Harmon, President of the Middlesex Canal Commission, will announce the donor to our Museum of Transportation Canal Exhibit of over $1,600.00. We are deeply grateful for this gift which finally will make the Boston museum exhibit a reality. The exhibit will contain the lock model constructed by Niles Blackburn, artifacts from our Archives and a model and graphics made up by the Museum of Transportation staff.

When all is finally in place and working, the Middlesex Canal Board plans to send out broadsides and publicity to celebrate at Museum Wharf this most special event for us.

May 24th will still be our Lowell Canal boat tour as guests of the National Park Service. This is to be preceded by a box lunch which you should bring for those who wish to eat and socialize along a Lowell canal.

Former Board Member Paul Staples has announced he will give a series of lectures on the Industrial and Transportation History of New England, to be held in conjunction with the Brookline Schools on April 3rd, 8th, and 16th. He has developed a slide tape program designed for teachers. Call him at 429-1584 for details.

Membership Chairman, Burt VerPlanck has completed a plastic case which encloses and protects the excellent canal lock model built by George D. McCarthy of Tewksbury. This model, along with recent canal photos elegantly mounted on colorful panels by our Secretary, Dan Silverman, are now ready to start their canal town tour. It is expected that each Middlesex Canal Commissioner will be notified as to the dates for his or her town or city to have the exhibit and that they will get appropriate publicity into the local papers.

Those who attended the November meeting at the Jenks Senior Center in Winchester heard an outstanding presentation by Richard L. Stanton, Regional Director of the National Park Service, by lecture and slides, of Thoreau's week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. They will be watching for a repeat performance, and those who missed it should do likewise. Our gratitude to Mr. Stanton.

Our Treasurer, Malcolm C. Choate, has been singularly honored by the King of Sweden by being awarded the King's Bicentennial Medal for his outstanding contribution to Swedish-American culture in photographing the King during his Boston visit in 1976.

A good New Year to you all and cheers for all this year's up-coming big canal events.

Fran Ver Planck