Thursday, September 30, 2010

Auburn: Goddard Rocket Site

I love researching the places I plan on going to off the list.  When you read up on something before venturing out to see it, the visit is enhanced and, I feel, you tend to appreciate it more.  So when I was researching the Goddard Rocket Launching Site in Auburn, I couldn't wait to get out there and see the place that helped become the foundation of NASA and space exploration.  Even more, I couldnt wait to see it on a golf course.  Yep, you read that correctly.  The cornerstone of rocketry and space exploration is located between the 9th Fairway, between Tee and Green. 

The site commemorates the launching of the world's first successful liquid-fueled rocket on March 16, 1926 at what was then the Asa Ward Farm.  Now its the Pakachoag Golf Course.  There are actually two monuments at this site.  The first is located just to the right of the clubhouse and is the launching site of the rocket.  The monument pictured below is the landing site of the rocket on the golf course.  The site was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1966.

Rocket Moooooose!

Visiting this monument was kind of tricky since I don't play golf and didn't have the slightest clue as to how to find the 9th Fairway.  So, I just followed this long rock wall and found that it was sitting right in front of me.  Very easy to get to.  This was one of the more interesting and unique sites I've been to on the list so far.  I would never have guessed the world's first successful launching of a liquid-fueled rocket occurred in Massachusetts.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Charlton, MA: Not Just A Rest Stop On The Mass Pike

The final leg of the weekend with my parents took us to Charlton, MA.  We entered town using backroads in Oxford, MA instead of the commuting highway of Route 20 which caused me to forget that I was still in Massachusetts.  I felt like I was driving the backroads in Virginia.  I was reminded of the state again when we encountered some of the historical buildings that the state is well known for.  Charlton had 2 things on the list and both had their roots in Colonial America.

First was the Northside Village Historic District.  There were signs designating the district however, if you missed them (like I did) you wouldn't know if you were there or not.  My first taste of the district was the Rider Tavern, built in 1797.  Nothing significant occurred at this tavern, its just really old.  Then there was the Waters-Morton House which had the interesting distinction of being the home of William T.G. Morton, who bought the home from a tanner named Israel Waters.  Morton would go on to develop ether anesthesia and demonstrate it in surgery in Boston at the ripe age of 27.  There is currently an antique shop operating out of this house.

The second stop in Charlton was the Charlton Sewing Center.  It was built as a church in 1894 after the first one burned down in 1890.  It wasn't until 2004 when the church moved into a new building when it became the Charlton Sewing Center.  So, what exactly is the Charlton Sewing Center?  Glad you asked.  It is the premier New England supplier of Handiquilter Long Arm quilting systems.  It has become a "sewing sanctuary" for women, men and children to go to and socialize and....(wait for it)....TO SEW!!!  So, why is this on the list of the 1000 greatest places to visit in Massachusetts?  I have no idea, but its there and I saw it.

Belltower of the Charlton Sewing Center

Charlton was a quick visit and it helped that my parents came along for the trip and adventure of it all, especially with driving those back roads. 

Also, I offer up this post-script.  Charlton, MA is also the final resting place of John "Grizzly" Adams.  Apparently his real name was James but his grave marker still says John.  He's the famous mountainman who had a pet grizzly bear named Ben, named after Benjamin Franklin.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Oxford, MA: Town of Hidden Gems

Most places take pride in their historical roots and sights.  They advertise them as if they were fast food restaurants or theme parks.  You can't drive down the street without seeing a sign for some site where so-and-so did some thing that started a town.  These sites are very hard to miss.  But that is what separates Oxford, MA from the rest of those places, they don't put these sites on full blast.  Sure, everyone knows about them but you have to do your research and go out and find them because if  you don't, you'll have no idea where you're going.  So, we did our research and we hit the road.  All four sites.

First on the list was the birthplace of Clara Barton, founder and first president of the American Red Cross.  She was born on December 25, 1821 in this house, a rather large house considering the time period.  Walking around the house you can picture it being surrounded by forest in the middle of nowhere.  Even driving down the road felt like we were riding on some backwoods road.  The birthplace museum sits next to and is operated as part of the Barton Center for Diabetes Education.  It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on September 9, 1977.

Clara Barton Birthplace Museum

Want some breakfast?  And by some I mean a big pile of it?  Thats what Carl's Oxford Diner is famous for, giant servings at a low price.  If I hadn't been following my parents I would've missed this tiny little diner which was hidden off of Main Street by parked cars and low hanging trees.  Walking in through the sliding entrance door, the diner itself is pretty small but modest.  I decided to get french toast with a side of bacon.  My food arrived with 5 slices of french toast and a plate full of bacon for my side.  My father was even more shocked when he got 8 links of sausage and mom was at a loss when her side of ham wound up being 4 thick slices of ham.  This caused me to name Carl's Oxford Diner as "The Place Where Diets Go To Die."  Eating right goes right out the window.  But let's not be harsh.  The service was friendly and funny, the food is ready in no time and is some of the best breakfast around.  Phantom Gourmet lists Carl's as a hidden gem and they're right about that.  So if you're looking to pig out on your cheat day, Carl's is the place to go.

Harold ready to pig out

You think about where the site of a Huguenot Fort would be at and you picture a large open field with roads leading up to it.  You think of a visitors center or information booth.  You wouldn't think it would be in a yard that sits in between two houses in a suburban neighborhood.  Well, thats where you'll find the Huguenot Fort in Oxford.  The fort was built in 1694 by Protestant immigrants who wanted to escape state persecution in France.  Before the Huguenots arrived, the settlement was where the Johnson family were killed by Native Americans.  It is known as the Johnson Massacre.  The site itself is pretty interesting.  There is a information board describing where the fort sat, its construction layout and some historical information.  There is a monument that was constructed in the 19th century to commemorate the leaders of the fort.  It was added to the Register of Historic Places in 1988.

Last on the list was the Hodges Village Dam.  There was one sign leading us to the dam but again, we had to drive through suburban neighborhoods to get there.  It was a route you wouldnt think you'd have to drive to get to a $4.4 million project.  This one threw us for a loop because we couldn't tell what the dam's purpose was.  There was a little pond in front of a winding road leading to the dam itself.  Behind the dam sat a marsh that might've been a pond or a lake with hiking trails around it.  We then learned that the dam was a flood control project on the French River that was built in 1959 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a response to the 1936 floods that caused extensive property damage.  It was a nice walk around.

Pond in front of the Dam

It was a good visit to Oxford, MA where some interesting sites were found hidden among the houses, schools, and even in the center of town on main street.  It offered up a tiny little glance of a different Massachusetts that I'm willing to bet, not even a life long resident would've guessed existed in the Bay State.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Webster, MA: Home of the Mighty Nipmuc Indians

After taking a week off from our list, Harold and I decided to hit the road this past weekend to take in some of the sights of Central Massachusetts.  And what better place to start than Webster, MA, home of the lake with the longest name, Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg.  (say that 3 times fast)  We had a little company this time out.  My parents came down to join us for this part of our journey since Webster is also the town where my mother grew up which allowed us to add extra things to our list to see all of the places of her youth.  Being a fan of lists we were happy to add things along the way.

The first stop we made in Webster was to Memorial Beach, where we not only got to see the beach, we also got to see the lake itself.  So how does a lake get a name like that?  Well, the name comes from the Nipmuc Indian tribe who used the lake as a local fishing spot and meeting place. Although the meaning of the name is unknown, there is a popular translation which is "You fish on your side, I fish on my side, Nobody fish in the middle." Whether thats true or not is yet to be determined. It is the longest name in the United States and the 6th longest in the world.  The lake has about 7-8 islands with some having houses on them.

Mom with Harold

Harold standing watch

Webster's Main Street Historic District consisted of buildings built as late as 1888 by multiple architects using the Victorian style.  It was a main street that looked like what you would expect a main street to look like.  Its right in the center of town near the town hall, my mom's old high school was connected to the back of the town hall and it looked great for window shopping.  Main street was designated as a national historic landmark in 1981.

Among the many trails that are on the list, Perryville Trace is a work in progress.  It is classified as part of the French River Greenway series but is distinguished separately from the trails.  It is very short and runs along the French River.  It was opened in 2008 and is scheduled to be extended further in years to come.  There was a small dam like structure that allowed whatever free flowing water there was in the algae covered water to flow down further into the water underneath the bridge.  It was a nice little walk into the forest and standing by the river during the warm day was kind of nice.

Webster was a good place to take in.  As much as I've heard about Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg, it was good to actually go there and see it just to say that I've been there.  This trip definitely made up for the dud of a trip Harold and I took in the week before last.  I feel we're getting our mojo back.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Avon, Franklin, Bellingham and Wrentham

This past weekend I decided to spend the day going to a few towns that had only one sight on the list.  Its a cheap way of feeling more productive.  I was a little excited about this venture at first because I was traveling a little further into southern Massachusetts than normal, and by southern Massachusetts I mean really south of Boston.  Unfortunately, it wasn't all that exciting or interesting and I have this feeling this little outing was a dud.  But, keeping with the spirit of this list and having the motivation to keep on pressing in order to finish this list, duds will happen.

My first stop was to Bellingham.  There is nothing interesting or noteworthy about this town at all except for its lone entry on the list, the Paul Bunyan statue.  The town a spot on the map right above Woonsocket, RI.  To put it bluntly, this town doesn't even have its own public transportation system.  But, lets not give the wrong impression here, its a nice looking town and I loved driving through it.  I got a little sidetracked with some massive construction taking place on Pulaski Blvd. but it was expected after reading a few articles from the area.  Apparently, its to expand Pulaski Blvd and they are upgrading the bridge so the road getting to the statue was closed.  I had to take the long way around and drive through the road blocks they had set up.  I made it though.

The story of the statue is a small one.   It stands in front of the Firewood Shop at 16 feet.  It was carved out of a single oak tree by chainsaw artist Michael Higgins in keeping with the theme of a firewood shop.  The statue itself is looking quite gray and worn but it is planned to get a makeover and restained.  There is also talk of putting Babe the Blue Ox next to him.  This was a sight that belonged on one of those "Weird Roadside Tour" shows on the Travel Channel.  It was cool to see.

My second stop on my "swing through the south" was to Franklin, the birthplace of America's father of public education Horace Mann.  It is also the city of the country's first public library to which Benjamin Franklin donated his own books to.  Franklin also is home to the nation's oldest continuously operational one-room school house, which wasn't on the list but I wanted to see it and take a picture of it anyway.

Trivia time: Franklin, MA is NOT located in Franklin County.  The plot thickens, eh?

Franklin Town Common and Historic District is what was on the list.  What made up the historic district was a few old buildings and a cemetery which no one really interesting is buried in.  What really made Franklin was the Town Common, a nice open green space littered with monuments and markers.

Antietam Memorial in Franklin

Oldest one-room schoolhouse

Taken on the Revolutionary War Memorial

Up next was the Premium Outlets in Wrentham.  It was a tough visit because I've had horrible experiences with outlet malls ever since I was a kid in my mother would put me through hours and hours of shopping hell.  So, I went and took a picture of the sign and walked around for 10 minutes before leaving.  Why so short?  This place was like a theme park.  It is the mother of all outlets and it looked like it.  It was clean, the parking lot was very organized and the store choices were top notch, something for everyone.  If my mother took me to this outlet mall when I was a kid, it might not have been so bad.  This ranks highly on my list of places to visit.

DW Field Park was the last stop on this venture and I was weary about it.  When going to these places on this list, a little bit of research is required.  You dont just want to go there and leave, you want to know about it.  How did it come to be?  Why does this deserve to be on this list?  That kind of thing.  When researching DW Field Park in Avon, I learned that its the "hot spot" for closet gay men to meet up with other gay men to have sex in secret.  Yep, its true.  The town police have set up several sting operations in order to crack down on the public sex that was happening often at this place after people complained about it.  After seeing this place, I understand why.  Its a lake with a small road running around it.  There are very few places to park and the lake itself isn't all that attractive.  Its a great place to take a walk since the road is shaded by the trees hanging over it, making you feel like you driving or walking in a secluded forest.  I didn't take a picture of it because, well, I wasn't all that impressed.  Disappointed in it actually and I don't think it belongs on the list.  

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Woburn-Entering the Wu

Woburn, MA.  Home to the Tanners and to America's oldest active gun club.  In the late 1800s, the city was one of the biggest producers of leather in the New England area.  It was also the sight of a very public legal battle over water contamination that resulted in the almost forgotten John Travolta movie A Civil Action.  Woburn was also the birthplace of David Robinson, the drummer for 80s band The Cars.  Thus making it our next stop on the list.

There were only two sights in Woburn, the Public Library and Horn Pond, making it a short but nice visit during the week. 

Woburn Public Library, aka the Winn Memorial Library, was built in 1879.  The Winn family generously paid for the construction of the library and specifically requested to not have the library named after them.  I guess they hated books.  Anyways, it is known as the Winn Memorial Library mainly through architectural circles but is commonly referred to as the Woburn Public Library.  Its a grande looking library on the outside.  I've never been one to comment or be impressed with architecture but this one had me impressed.
In the front lawn stands the statue of Benjamin Thompson, famed scientist and native Woburnian who did a lot of impressive studies in thermodynamics, or as its commonly called, heat.  After researching Benjamin Thompson, I wondered why they would even have a statue of him.  Yes, he was born in the town in 1753, but he was a Loyalist during the Revolutionary War, which means (for all those non-historians out there) he sided with Britain giving them information on the rebel armies.  He eventually wound up moving to England where he was given a knighthood by King George III.  The statue is actually a copy of the original which is in Munich, Germany.  (don't ask me why its in Munich)

Inside the library was a different story compared to the outside.  It was nice in appearance but there is only floor that was accessible to the public.  The second floor  you have to get assistance from a librarian.  The setup was lame and very ordinary and there really isnt a lot of books there. 

Benjamin Thompson

That guy on the laptop really got pissed that I took this picture

Horn Pond was regarded as Woburn's hidden gem.  It used to be a ski mountain way back in the day.  Now, its just a great place to walk, jog, or sit and admire.  Luckily, I got there at sunset which made it a little more enjoyable I think.

A pensive Harold at Horn Pond

As a post script to this, Woburn also has some of the most gorgeous Victorian houses I've ever seen.  I should've snapped a few photos of them but I didn't.  Everytime I drive down near the center of Woburn I can't get enough of these homes.  They look like models with porches that I would just die to just sit on, watching the traffic pass by on a very warm and clear summer day.