Sunday, May 29, 2011

Faces of The Working Boys Home

(follow up of: Working Boys Home, Newton)

About three months ago, I wrote a short piece about the Working Boys Home in Newton. I stumbled on the place by browsing old maps of Newton in 1903 and 1946. There was (and still is) little historic information available, but the post has been drawing rich, personal experience and history related to the Home. Today, I'll introduce some faces of working boys.

The redbrick with an imposing clock tower was built in 1896. It still sits on top of a pine wood hill. Currently the building is functioning as a Jewish community center but was originally established by the Roman Catholic Church for the boys who were separated from parents.

One day, a reader commented on the post:

Ed G:
I grew up in Newton during the 1950s and 1960s and was always a little bit scared by those words on my local map - Working Boys Home. I feared being sent there if I got into trouble. I finally went there to look when it was the JCC about 10 years ago.

I really loved his personal depiction of the place as a local boy. His rich emotion pertained to childhood about the place must have been shared by the boys in the community. Parents might have used the boys' imagination when they found their boys disobedient. (i.e.: "You are a wicked boy. Your father will sent you to the Home, and you'll work day and night !!") Even for modern eyes, the clock tower on an isolated woodland draws quite a deal of imagination.

He asked about more history and photos of the place, and here is a piece of the WBH history:

1900 Census of WBH (Click picture to view)

The above is a census record of 1900. I obtained the information from another reader who told me that his ancestor was in the Working Boys Home. He explained that his ancestor came to the Home alone, separated from an out-of-wedlock mother. Considering from the stigma attached to unwed mothers  in the Catholic Church, sadly the separation was a common practice.

I somehow had an illusion that people in the past had a better handwriting skill than us the keyboard or touch panel type. But, oh boy, I barely read those. I now have a full respect towards archivists who can decode those scribbles.

What I learned from the census was that they were called "inmate". The majority were born here in Massachusetts but their parents were from Ireland or Italy. The boys' occupations were...let me see..."at school". I originally imagined those boys were working at nearby mills in Newton Falls.

If you have some information or personal history related to the Working Boys Home that you can share with us, please contact me through the below comment section or creepychusetts[at] And I thank the readers who gave me an interesting insight to the Working Boys Home.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Bear Hill Tower, Stoneham

Bear Hill Tower

Few weeks ago, I went to Wright's Tower in Medford, the tower looking down the Medford section of I-93. The tower sitting on a hill at the Middlesex Fells Reservation was built as a part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) projects during the 30's to ease the unemployment. I personally call those towers as "job creation towers". Quite amount of job seemed to be created by stacking Massachusetts stone into towers.

When I learned about another tower in the Fells called Bear Hill Tower, I had no idea where it was. As Dave's Photo Blog calls as "tower 2", it is tucked behind of the north end of the Fells. Distance wise, Bear Hill Tower is very close to I-93, but have you ever seen it from the highway? I'm not talking about Wright's Tower. Unlike the popular sister tower, Bear Hill Tower is invisible from I-93. I guess it's a trick of terrain.

If you see I-93 and a gravel heap on your left, you are in

The other reason why the awkward position Bear Hill Tower is in is: how do we get there? As Dave's Blog suggests, the best, easiest route is from exit35 on I-93 South. I have to explain there is NO exit35 on I-93 weird. Anyway, please consult for a map for direction.

We somehow managed to park our car at a nondescript parking lot. I and B. weren't sure that's the right place, but the doubt was somewhat erased when excited two big dogs sprouting out from a car next to ours. I thought those buddies were going to eat me. After you secured a parking spot, the job is 90% done. Just follow an uphill trail for few minutes. 

A friend called my cell. I explained to her that we were on a trail.

"So, you are with B."


"Good. Because my friend saw a bear on a trail in New Hampshire."

I was about to say "Yeah, it's good because if we happen to see a bear, we could use each other as a bait."

But that's a kind of things you should keep in your mind only; a bad joke. Anyway, the big canines we met at the parking would be more than happy to pick a fight with a bear...Wait, wait, we were on BEAR HILL!!

The tower was adjacent to a functioning water holder. The tower or water holder; which one was built first? (Note on 07/09/2011: Bear Hill Water Storage was completed in 1986 Source)

Like Wright's Tower, I thought Bear Hill Tower was a job creation tower by the WPA. But cement finish isn't their cup of tea. It has to be stone cladding!

Apparently, the history of Bear Hill Tower was much older than I expected. There had been a wooden observation tower on Bear Hill. The installment of an electric trolley station at Sheepfold (Map) in 1910 resulted an increased visitors to the Fells. You can imagine the early 20th century landscape of leisure from such trail names as Soap Box Derby Track and Railroad Trail. In accordance with the establishment of the trolley station, the wooden tower on Bear Hill was replaced by a reinforced concrete tower planned by the Stickney & Austin in the same year the station was opened. (from Friends of the Fells)

Is this 100 years old? Are you serious? Somehow I didn't want to believe the information.

Let's make sure it's safe...

The spiral steps seemed to go on forever because the wide openings (thanks, reinforced concrete) made me feel rather insecure. I don't recommend the tower to people with acrophobia or agoraphobia.  

Looking closed New England Memorial Hospital

I couldn't recognize I-93, and the view of downtown Boston wasn't as striking as Wright's Tower's. Instead, the view of Spot Pond was nice.

Why was this tower built in a first place? In general the WPA towers were built primarily for functional purpose like watching out for a forest fire and/or German U-boat. My guess is that Bear Hill Tower was solely built for a leisure purpose. As a panorama went out of a fashion of leisure, the water holder was installed right next to the tower; I could see the top surface of the holder very well from the tower. But nowadays, an array of surveillance cameras seems to take place of the tower. Poor Bear Hill Tower. 

Locate Bear Hill Tower @ Google Map

A Bear Hill Tower Photo essay, Dave's Photo Blog:
Map, Friends of the Fells:
History, Friends of the Fells:

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Foxborough State Hospital Cemetery II, Foxborough

Continue from Foxborough State Hospital Cemetery

This cemetery was created in 1933 and subsequently expanded that those who remained in the state care even in death would have the dignity of a proper burial. -- Foxborough State Hospital Cemetery
Are we mental patients even in death? Why does the state hide our names? "It has been said that no families have come forward to claim their relatives buried in these cemeteries. WE are their families!" Mark Giles, ex-patient and activist. -- National Empowerment Center

About a month ago, I visited the former Foxborough (or Foxboro) State Hospital and its cemetery. The hospital was established as the Massachusetts Hospital for Dipsomaniacs and Inebriates in 1889. By 1914, the inebriate hospital was transformed to a psychiatric hospital. In 1976, the Foxborough closed its door and was converted to a condo in 2009.

The cemetery was created at the current location during the Great Depression because the state experienced an increase in the number of deceased patients who had nobody to claim their bodies. There are two plots; the one is on Cross Street, the other is "about 125 yards up into the woods". (from Asylum Project) Approximately 1,100 former patients are buried in the plots.

When I visited the cemetery on Cross St, I knew about the existence of the other cemetery. But I wasn't sure about the exact location.

The route to the other plot I introduce today was obscure. There was an unpaved trail between the west side of the Cross St cemetery and a private house that led to the second location. I assume the trail is a public space. Because if not, how do we get there?

Take a right

The cemetery was surrounded by trees but well maintained like the other location. The Foxborough has two sets of number in one gravestone. The one is a patient identification number and the other is the order of burials took place. This location seemed to be older than the Cross St plot since I found a number as old as 4, indicating it was 4th in burials. (I heard you, where's No. 1?)

The ground was covered with a soft carpet of moss, indicating the place is constantly in the shade. A few gravestones were crumbling, making it impossible to read numbers.

"Are we mental patients even in death? Why does the state hide our names?" It is a voice from ex-patient activists while they were investigating state hospital cemeteries in Massachusetts. "The stark anonymity of these markers is disturbing. The state claims that confidentiality regulations do not allow for the release of names of those buried!" (Both from National Empowerment Center)

On the contrary, the state claims that "those who remained in the state care even in death would have the dignity of a proper burial." (From a signboard at the Cross St cemetery, Italicized by S.K.)

The description above was the focus of the past article: what is their definition of "the proper burial with dignity"? My personal observation was that the gravestones with numbers only were far from the burial with dignity; I found it was an impersonal display with no warmth attached, implying the patients were a faceless existence with no identities. The voice of ex-patient activists proves nothing but confirming my thought.


Locate Foxborough State Cemetery II @ Google Map
Reminder: this location is just behind of a private house. When you visit, please pay respect to the surrounding residents!

Click picture to read

Consumer/ Survivor History Project, National Empowerment Center:
Foxboro State Hospital, Asylum Projects:

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Wright's Tower, Medford

It's the tower on top of the hill looking down Medford part of I-93. Each time I was on I-93 North around exit 33 -- often stuck in traffic jam with Boston honkers -- I always thought how great it would be looking down us the earth crawlers.

Wright's Tower is named after Elizur Wright. A successful businessman in the field of life insurance, he advocated for establishing the Middlesex Fells Reservation in the late 19th century. This 2,575 acres of woodland spans 5 cities. The tower is on the south end of the park, sitting on top of the 243 ft (74m) high Pine Hill.

Before the woodland became the reservation, the area was an active commercial resource. It used to provide timber, gravel, and ice even exported to India. Such trail names as Query Road and Silver Mine Path tell the history of the Fells.

I found little tricky to get to the reservation, but oh boy, it was worth while going there. The late spring finally came, and the pond was filled with life: turtles, snakes (some would cringe with the idea but just a garden snake), Mimicry Ducks, and a pair of geese with fluffy offspring.

While I was taking picture of chicks, kids found out why I wasn't moving even a bit. Holding a camera, they were trying so hard to control the excitement in order to get as close as possible to the birds. I was also quietly surprised how such a lovely place existed along I-93.

I forgot why I went to the Fells...The tower!

You should always follow others; why did I take a rough, rocky trail on the right?

It should only take five minutes to get to the tower, but I somehow ended up wandering in the woods by choosing a rough, rocky trail leads to nowhere; the morale of the story is you should always follow the beaten path. But if I followed the maxim, this blog would not exist (a desperate justification.)

The tower's gate was locked. From outside, it looked more like a fortress; you peek from the slits to shoot arrows and throw god knows what.

I have seen this style of stone cladding before; piling up the dug up stone. The benefit of the style is that not only workers don't need to carry the stone for a distance to ditch somewhere but also they can decorate structures a la Massachusetts. This practical architectural style was popular among on-top-of-the-hill structures built by the Works Progress Administration. Wright's Tower is no exception; as a part of job creation during the Great Depression, the tower was built during the 30's by the WPA. It's 3rd* of the kind I have seen in the state.

It was right after 5 clock, I-93 was clogged with cars just got out from work. Muwahahahaha, it's so great to observe traffic jam!! I finally joined the club looking down you earth crawlers!!

Probably I was the only one with the evil laughter. Everyone on top of the hill was laid back, enjoying the spring that finally came. It occurred to me that this spot would be great during the leaf peeping season, too.

Locate Wright's Tower @ Google Map

Click picture to enlarge

History, Friends of the Fells:
Map, Friends of the Fells (PDF):

Friday, May 6, 2011

Wachusett Aqueduct, Northborough

The Wachusett Aqueduct was completed in 1905 to carry water from the Wachusett Reservoir to the Sudbury Reservoir*. The majority of this 10-mile route is in underground, and a few elevated crossings are visible from us. The crossing I introduce today is on the Assabet River by Hudson Street.

*The route changed when a new water treatment plant in Marlborough was constructed in 2005.

From a distance, the overhead aqueduct looks like a bridge across the Assabet. Indeed it could have been a pedestrian bridge. But a wired fence and sign of no trespassing currently blocks from entering. If it was open to public, it would be a great trail, I thought. Because Fresh Pond reservoir in my neighborhood is very popular with hikers, runners, cyclists, and dog walkers.

The ground that covers the underground part of the aqueduct is mowed and also a no-go zone. The scenery like the below photo goes on for miles. From a map, it looks like a disused railroad converted to a greenway park.

When I first saw the Wachusett Aqueduct, it reminded me an old aqueduct bridge in Kyoto. The overhead aqueduct called "Suiro-kaku" (Waterway Structure) is in the property of Nanzen-ji temple. This late 19th century industrial structure draws many tourist, local visitors, and civil engineer students alike.

The waterway of which Suiro-kaku is part of was constructed for a canal, generating electricity, and supplying drinking water. When the aqueduct bridge was planned to cross the 13th century  temple, the public opinion was split; some thought Suiro-kaku as the modern eyesore. But today, no modern visitor regards this quaint structure as such. Many enjoy how this modern industrial structure blends into the temple in an unexpected way.  

Suiro-kaku Aqueduct in Kyoto: circa 1890

The waterway still carries water for drinking and generating electricity. When I visited the aqueduct on a sunny weekend in May, a traditional marriage ceremony was going on. A limousine was parked under the aqueduct bridge waiting for the bride and groom.

I was too shy to take pictures from close, but the bride clad in white kimono is sitting on the rear seat of the lomousine in the above picture. Since the bride wears a huge headwear, the limousine has a special flap for the extra head space. Look where the chauffeur's hands are.

The Wachusett Aqueduct is as beautiful as Suiro-kaku. What if the Wachusett Aqueduct was also utilized as a recreational use like its Kyoto counterpart?

Locate Wachusett Aqueduct @ Google Map

Restoring the Century-Old  Wachusett Aqueduct (PDF): (photos of the underground tunnel)