April 28, Boston MA
So when you visit a big city, where do you head first? A cemetery, right? Well that was our first stop Wednesday April 27th as we returned to visit Boston again. Well, technically we went to Cambridge.
Mount Auburn Cemetery is ranked first on TripAdvisor for things to do in Cambridge, ahead of Harvard, MIT, the Peabody, Longfellow House, etc. Chris actually was searching re: spring flowers and the cemetery came up. I was checking Atlas Obscura for places to go and Mount Auburn came up. It is on the way from the airport to Deb and Rebecca’s so we made it our destination of the day for Wednesday after landing at 2 PM at the airport.
Mount Auburn is 175 acres of more than 98,000 dead bodies in a park-like setting. It was founded in 1831 as America’s first landscaped cemetery and the first large-scale designed green space that was open to the public. It creates a tranquil place where families could commemorate their loved ones in a natural setting in an urban area. The cemetery influenced the advance of art and architecture as families vied to erect suitable monuments to family members.
In early times, families bought a plot of land and were responsible for the design, erection of monuments, and maintenance of the plot. Later on, Mount Auburn pioneered the concept of perpetual care and later still, the requirement that the cemetery handle all arrangements and landscaping. Now the grounds are an internationally renowned arboretum and botanical garden. It is a bird sanctuary, is on the National Register of historic Places, and has over 60,000 monuments spanning three centuries. Some of the U.S.and Boston notables buried here include Henry Cabot Lodge, William Wadsworth Longfellow, Charles Bullfinch, Mary Baker Eddy, Buckminster Fuller, Isabella Stewart Gardner, B.F. Skinner, I.F. Stone, Julia Ward Howe, and many others.
We spent two hours wandering the grounds. The only notable we really searched out was Longfellow. Otherwise we hiked around, saw birds, wondered at various family plots, admired sculptures, climbed Washington Tower, and generally enjoyed the day. First time I can remember us ever just walking through a cemetery without having a family member grave as a destination.
Deb and Rebecca were working late so we had dinner in Waltham at the Moody’s Delicatessen and Provisions. This place has been open about a year and specializes in preparing its own cheeses and cured meats. I had their pastrami sandwich and potato salad while Chris had their gnocchi. Each item was crafted with their own touch and was excellent.
Thursday morning, today, we headed 30 miles west to Blackstone River Valley National Historic Park. This is a new unit (2014) to the National Park Service. In my mind, it aims to enhance the previously existing Blackstone River Valley National Historic Corridor. National Corridors are a type of national historic site but are not part of the US National Park Service. Upgrading the Blackstone River Corridor to a national park gives it greater status but like the Pullman site we just visited, more money and time are needed before this national park really creates its own identity. For now, it is a partnership park and we set out to visit a few of the sites making up the partners.
The Blackstone River Valley illustrates the major revolution in America of the Industrial Revolution. America’s first factory was built on the banks of the Blacksone River which runs from Worcester Massachusetts to Narrangansett Bay in Rhode Island. The 46 mile corridor has a history of farming, water power, mills, and factories. The change from farming to wage labor began here as mill owners provided and controlled the jobs, housing, schools, roads and stores in exchange for 60 hour work weeks and more security.
Ethnic diversity followed. The first settlers were English and Anglican but were followed by Quakers, Puritans, Baptists, Catholics, and Jews. Later the English were joined by Irish, French Canadians, Germans, Dutch, and Swedes. The Blackstone River Valley was enriched in the latter part of the 1800s and early 1900s by Italians, Portuguese, Greeks, Ukranians, Polish, Armenians and Syrians. Finally after WWII, a new wave of African-Americans came with later immigrants from South and Central America and Southeast Asia.
The Broad Meadow Brook Conservation Center and Wildlife Sanctuary in Worcester is one of the partners and supposed to act as a visitor center. Well, they had one pamphlet and no NPS stamps. They did have trails and birds so we hiked for an hour.
We moved on to downtown Worcester and stopped at the Worcester Historical Museum. They were more aware of the NPS program but also did not have the “official” NPS stamp that Chris prefers. We exercised our flexibility and changed our plans; deciding to make a second visit to Worcester sometime in the future and visit the Historical Museum and Art Museum then. Instead, we had lunch at a nearby cafe and drove half an hour to Uxbridge and to the Blackstone River and Canal Heritage State Park.
Here was nirvana: exhibits about the area, portions of the canal that connected Worcester and Providence, hiking trails, and the “official” NPS stamp. The exhibits discussed the change in transportation from mud roads, to improved roads, to canals, to railroads,and back to improved roads of today. Each new transportation improvement disrupted the old; changing habits, making some people wealthy and others bankrupt, allowing some towns to die and others to grow. Similar changes occurred in farming, industry, home-making, education, etc.
Chris and I hiked along the canal. Instead of the numerous birds we heard and saw at Mt. Auburn, the animal highlight was hordes of turtles sunning themselves on rocks and tree limbs suspended over the water.
In Sutton, we stopped at an old mill building that has been converted into offices and visited the Vaillancourt folk art shop. Here hand-painted collectible Chalkware figures are moulded from antique chocolate moulds. The originator of the business, Judi Vallaincourt, has a collection of antique European chocolate moulds that were used for making chocolate but now she uses them for making the Chalkware figures. The moulds are tin and brass and work well for this new purpose. The local artists paint the figures in the style designed by Vallaincourt. It was interesting but the figures did not appeal to me-and they were priced out of our comfort zone.
The excursion ended at Christopher’s Ice Cream Parlor in Millbury. Millbury was another farming community that saw changes due to the Industrial Revolution. It was a crossroads for traffic between Boston, Hartford, Worcester, and Providence. While its heyday was probably in the early to mid-1800s, it seems to be transforming again. Christopher’s was housed in another old mill that had been converted into offices abd retail.
Dinner was home-made chicken pot pie at Deb and Rebecca’s.
Chris and Ed. 11 PM