March 1996

Middlesex Canal Association
P.O. Box 333, Billerica MA 01821

Volume 34 No. 2
March 1996

Contents:
ANNUAL MEETING
SPRING WALK
PRESIDENT'S MESSAGE
MIDDLESEX CANAL COMMISSION REACTIVATED
BICENTENNIAL COLLOQUIUM
CHELMSFORD TOLL HOUSE GETS NEW LIFE by Laura Doyle, [Lowell] Sun Staff
CANAL EVENTS ELSEWHERE
BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION IN BILLERICA (contributed by Betty Bigwood)


ANNUAL MEETING
MIDDLESEX CANAL ASSOCIATION
Sunday, April 28, 2 p.m.
Chelmsford Unitarian/Universalist Church

     The Annual Meeting of the Middlesex Canal Association will take place on Sunday, April 28, 1996. There will be a short business meeting and election of officers for the year 1996-1997.

     Following the meeting, Proprietor and retiring President Nolan Jones will give a pictorial tour of the Middlesex Canal from the air and on the ground. Last presented in 1993, the program has been updated with new pictures of recently identified canal remnants.

     Refreshments will be served following the program. Proprietors, members and guests are encouraged to attend this important meeting and interesting talk.

DIRECTIONS: The Unitarian/Universalist Church (with tower clock) is located at the center of Chelmsford. There is limited parking at the church. Additional parking is at the Old Town Hall on North Road, and at the First Bank & Trust Company, with entrance from Billerica Road (Route 129).

SPRING WALK
Saturday, May 4, 2 pm

     Meet at by the Talbot Mills parking lot, where Rogers Street crosses the Concord River in Billerica.

     Join MCA Directors Bill Gerber and Roger Hagopian for a walk along pieces of the Middlesex Canal in Billerica. From the Talbot Mills parking lot, the walk will lead around the millpond and south along the Canal, returning by the same route. Then those who wish may caravan to Gray Street to walk north along the Canal and return. At this location, culverts and other canal structures can be seen.

DIRECTIONS: From Route 3 (traveling north or south), take the Treble Cove Road exit (#28) and proceed toward Billerica. In about a mile, bear left at the fork. Continue to where Treble Cove Road crosses Route 3A. Proceed across and continue for about another quarter mile. This segment of Treble Cove Road winds through a labyrinth of small roads; follow the main course, generally bearing right, to a stop sign, where another road (which passes over a bridge across the Concord River within sight) joins from the right. Just beyond this intersection, bear right at a fork into Wilson Street (unmarked), the "lesser" road of the two. At the end of Wilson (less than a quarter mile), turn right into Lowell (at the Cambridge Tool Co. Office and, in about 50 yards, turn right again into the parking lot. For more information, call Roger Hagopian (617) 861-7868 or Bill Gerber (508) 251-4971.

PRESIDENT'S MESSAGE

1996 April 1    Amherst, NH
     The fall Bicentennial Colloquium was a great success. Board member Dave Dettinger's progress report, delivered as if he were Loammi Baldwin, was fascinating. Board member Tom Raphael challenged us with a look at the future of the Middlesex Canal. In fact, the future is here with the regeneration of the Middlesex Canal Commission (see article elsewhere in this issue). The Commission held its first meeting and elected Tom Raphael as its chairman. The first major action of the Commission will be to update the report "Middlesex Canal Heritage Park Feasibility Study" prepared by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council and the Northern Middlesex Area Commission and published in 1980.

     Our winter meeting featured Board Member Dave Barber speaking about the Blackstone Canal. The Blackstone was built some 20 years after the Middlesex and linked industrial Worcester, MA, with the sea via Pawtucket, RI. Dave was an early organizer and is now an officer in the Blackstone Canal Conservancy.

     Our fall walk was dampened by drizzle and the threat of rain. The group covered the Canal route from the Boston Avenue bridge over the Mystic River to the site of the aqueduct beyond Sandy Beach on the Upper Mystic Lake in Winchester. Our walks have nearly always enjoyed good weather, frequently threatening but seldom getting us wet.

     I am not planning to run for reelection as president, although I expect to serve on the Board and to continue to engage in Canal-related activities. Many of you know that I served as president in 1983-85. The Board is stronger and the level of participation in the Association much higher than they were twelve years ago. It has been a pleasure to serve as your president.

     Please note that the annual meeting will be on a Sunday.

Nolan Jones

 

MIDDLESEX CANAL COMMISSION REACTIVATED

     On Tuesday, March 19, 1996, the sixteen newly appointed members of the Middlesex Canal Commission met at the Billerica Town Hall to elect an Executive Committee and plan its program.

     The Commission is composed of one member appointed by each of the cities and towns through which the Canal ran, as well as one Senator and one Representative. In addition, the Executive Directors of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council and the Northern Middlesex Council of Government, as well as the Commissioners of the Department of Environmental Management, the Massachusetts Highway Department, and the Metropolitan District Commission are included ex officio.

     Thomas Raphael of Winchester was elected Chairman; Ellery Schempp of Medford, Vice Chairman; Arthur O. Vogt of Winchester, Secretary; Betty M. Bigwood of Wilmington, Treasurer; and Mark O'Hara of Lowell, Assistant Treasurer.

     The Commission was established in 1977 by a Legislative Act, due to the efforts of the Middlesex Canal Association, for the purpose of restoring the Middlesex Canal for public use and developing a plan for the establishment of a Canal Heritage Park Corridor.

     The Commission compiled a complete inventory of all the remaining parts of the Canal and its structures, and in 1980 published the "Middlesex Canal Heritage Park Feasibility Study." During the intervening years, monuments with bronze plaques showing the route of the Canal have been placed in each of the cities and towns. Many parts of the Canal were donated or purchased by the towns, the Association and private groups.

     There is now a rekindled interest in historic preservation of national treasures and specific funds have been allocated for canal restoration in the Federal Highway Administration Enhancement Plans.

     The Commission voted to adopt the 1980 Feasibility Study as the Master Plan and will seek funds to review the current status of the Canal properties and related structures.

     The major objectives will be to:

- complete and publish a Canal Guide Book;
- build a continuous walkway/bikeway delineating and along the Canal;
- acquire all possible land, structures and rights of way;
- restore all existing and available sites and structures;
- establish formal and informed interpretive sites;
- establish the Heritage Park and Museum at the Mill Pond in Billerica as the major or focal point;
- establish an organization for preservation and operation.

The Commission members are:
Cathleen Douglas Stone          Boston                           David Soule Exec. Dir. MAPC
Patricia Conley Somerville       Robert Flynn Exec. Dir. NMCOG
Ellery Schempp Medford David Hall DEM
Thomas Raphael Winchester Luisa Paiewonski MHO
Leonard Harmon Woburn Thomas Mahlstedt           MDC
Elizabeth Bigwood Wilmington Robert A. Havern Senator
Marion Potter Billerica James R. Miceli Representative
Jane Drury Chelmsford
Arthur Louis Eno, Jr. Lowell

 

BICENTENNIAL COLLOQUIUM

     On Saturday, November 4, 1995, the third event in the ten-year Middlesex Canal Bicentennial Celebration was held at the Boott Mill Auditorium in Lowell, MA. This was a Colloquium, with two speakers, one taking the audience back to the progress of the construction of the Canal in 1795, and the other reporting on current efforts to preserve the extant remains of the Canal.

     The program opened with David Dettinger, Proprietor of the Middlesex Canal Association, recreating the experience of building the Canal as seen through the Progress Report written by Loammi Baldwin in 1795. Dave's talk covered the selected route, surveying, construction and tools, novel features, and working conditions. The text of the talk will appear as a supplement to Towpath Topics sometime this spring.

     Following a break, Proprietor Thomas Raphael presented "Planning the Future of the Middlesex Canal." He explored opportunities, organizational structures and available funding sources that could be used creatively to preserve, restore and enhance the Middlesex Canal. A summary of Tom's progress to date is included elsewhere in this issue of Towpath Topics.

     During the afternoon, the audience was invited to participate in tours of Lowell National Park.

[A map of the route of the Middlesex Canal through Billerica will be inserted here]

 

CHELMSFORD TOLL HOUSE GETS NEW LIFE by Laura Doyle, [Lowell] Sun Staff

[The following article, which appeared in the Sun (Lowell, MA) on July 3, 1995, is reproduced here with permission from the Sun.]

     In the 1830s, the toll house at the head of the Middlesex Canal collected money for cargo and passengers that used the vital transportation link.

     More than 160 years later, the 1832 Toll House gets a second chance at providing vital links to the public when it reopens for business on Independence Day.

     Beginning tomorrow, the seldom-recognized landmark will operate as a modern-day information center on the town common.

     The Toll House will distribute information and brochures about town events and sell T-shirts, hats and tote bags from local groups such as the Cultural Council and the Friends of the Library.

     "It is the ideal building for an information building and it is in the right place," says Peggy Dunn, a member of the Historic District Commission who approached town officials with the idea this spring.

     For now, the Toll House will open on a trial basis every Tuesday and Saturday between 11am and 2pm, until Labor Day.

     "This is a way of putting everything in one visible spot. Most people go through the center of town," Dunn said.

     Volunteers from several town committees and organizations will staff the booth for the summer, and Selectman Susan Gates is expected to put in some time handing out pamphlets.

     Dunn said she wants to see how many people use the information center before adding more racks and opening both rooms in the Toll House. If the response this summer is good, Dunn said, the booth will reopen next summer as well.

     To celebrate the July 4 opening, volunteers will be handing out Chelmsford Ginger Ale and Toll House cookies.

     The significance of serving Chelmsford Ginger Ale is obvious. The brand is a Chelmsford institution. Established in 1901, it remains popular throughout the area, even though it's now produced by a subsidiary of Coca-Cola in New Hampshire.

     The symbolism of handing out Toll House cookies is obvious, too, but for the record, the original Toll House cookies were not invented in Chelmsford. That happened at another historic "Toll House" in Massachusetts. Ruth Wakefield, owner of the Toll House Inn in Whitman, accidentally invented the cookies in August 1930, when she was trying to make chocolate cookies. Instead of melting the chocolate, she cut it into pea-sized pieces and ended up with vanilla cookies with chocolate chunks.

     This is not the first time Chelmsford's Toll House has been used as an information booth, although Dunn did not know that when she made the proposal. It was used as an information center during the town's bicentennial, in 1855. [Note I believe this maybe should read "1955." - RW]

     Originally, the Toll House sat at the head of the Middlesex Canal, which linked the Merrimack River to Charlestown. It served as a model for the builders of the Erie Canal.

     In operation until 1851, horses on the banks of the canal pulled barges along the 27-mile route. The canal provided a cheaper and easier way to transport bulky lumber and grain than the roads.

     According to Dunn, the Toll House collected 6 1/2 cents per ton per mile for cargo, and 75 cents for passengers to travel to Charlestown.

     The Toll House was donated to the town of Chelmsford in the 1970s by the heirs of Judge Samuel P. Hadley of Lowell, a "canal buff" who wrote about his childhood visits to the Toll House and his trips down the canal.

 

CANAL EVENTS ELSEWHERE

May 4 - Hike on part of the Southern New England Trunk Line Rail Trail (1st of 4 hikes), Franklin to Blackstone, MA. Call Dave & Audrey Barber to register. 508/478-4918

June 1 - Canal Fest, Riverbend Farm, Blackstone River and Canal Heritage State Park, Uxbridge, MA.

June 1 - Canal Society of New York State spring field trip, Buffalo, NY waterways. Register with Anita Cottrell, Rte. 2, 7306 Jamesville Road, Manlius, NY 13104.

June 23 - Canal Festival - 18th annual arts, crafts, and music festival. Boatmen's reunion, entertainment, canal boat rides. 11am - 6pm, Hugh Moore Park, Easton, PA.

 

BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION IN BILLERICA (contributed by Betty Bigwood)

     The Middlesex Canal Association was extended an invitation to attend, at noon on February 20, the festivities of the hundredth anniversary of the Billerica Historical Society (1896-1996).

     The affair was held in the old Bennett Public Library to a standing-room-only crowd. Current President Peter Woodbury and Vice President Elizabeth Cleary presided in period costume. Marion Potter, a long time Middlesex Canal Association member, sat in the front row dressed in blue. Carl Seaburg, a new Billerica resident, attended the affair. State Representative William Greene read a resolution passed by the State House to applaud the efforts of the Society and presented the President with a sealed Commonwealth of Massachusetts document congratulating them. The Honorable Edward J. Hurd, Chairman of the Board of Selectmen of Billerica, issued a formal proclamation in honor of the occasion. Margaret Ingraham, the town Historian, was overwhelmed by all the things she could have said, except for the fact that she was limited to 5 minutes and she knew she was being timed! Margaret gave the "inside information" on the town she knew and their efforts to preserve the best of the old.

     At the back of the room was a lovely display of spring flowers and a buffet that had been donated for the occasion. Mrs. Ingraham ended her remarks, with apologies to the clergy who had offered both an Invocation and a Benediction, with the following comment: "in the story about Adam and Eve, we know that Adam was more interested in the apple than Eve, so it was now time to adjourn to lunch." And so we did!

 

CONTRIBUTIONS NEEDED FOR TOWPATH TOPICS

     Your editor will gladly consider any submission for inclusion in this newsletter. She can be reached by "snail mail": Martha Hazen, 15 Chilton Street, Belmont, MA 02178; by email: "mhazen@cfa.harvard.edu"; or by FAX: 617/496-8018. Photographs of Canal related scenes are especially welcome.

 

INFORMING THE PUBLIC

     Twice in 1995 the Middlesex Canal Association was asked to set up information booths at gatherings. Above, Director and Proprietor Carolyn Osterberg mans the desk. She has pamphlets to give and is surrounded by various depictions of the Canal. This photo was taken at the Skinner Auditorium at the annual Better Business Bureau Association exhibit in Wilmington.

 

[Picture to be inserted here]

 

Carolyn Osterberg at the Middlesex Canal Association booth.

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