Events, Photos, Places

Harvest Moon Fair

The First Parish Unitarian Universalist church has been an establishment in Arlington for nearly 300 years. And its parishioners have been hosting the annual, autumnal Harvest Moon Fair for at least a century and a half.

Little information is readily available about the fair’s early history, but the fair today has a format familiar to repeat attenders. Sections of the fair, with their hand-lettered calligraphic signs, have become institutions of the event.

A line formed along the front path two hours before the fair started, full of locals and visitors eagerly anticipating the fair’s attractions. Inside, they crowded the nave, buying tickets for the quilt raffle, and looking for deals at the blue table, the Tuck table, the Holly Shop, and “The Buttery” bake sale.

Elsewhere in the church, attendees shopped for used jewelry, electronics, and books. Each type of item had its own dedicated room.

If brownies, cornbread, and cookies from The Buttery weren’t enough to sate their hunger, they bought meal tickets for the “Hole in the Wall” cafe.

This year, a meal ticket bought them access to a Tex-Mex from a buffet. In the late morning, cafe patrons ate to the sound of fiddles from Giulia Haible and Maggie MacPhail, two of the musicians providing entertainment in a cabaret in one corner.

Part flea market, part craft fair, and part bake sale, the Unitarian Universalists make the Harvest Moon Fair possible with their donations of new and used items, homemade food, artistic skill, and time.

The fair’s proceeds support the church, making it possible for them to keep hosting popular events like this one.

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Events, Photos, Places

Arlington Open Studios

2019 marked Arlington Center for the Arts’ 20th annual Open Studios event. Open Studios is a showcase for local artists and craftspeople, many of whom live or work in Arlington, to display and sell their creations. This Open Studios is one of many — community arts organizations in nearby towns, like Somerville, Lexington, and Cambridge, have their own Open Studios events.

This year, the Arlington Center for the Arts (ACA) hosted the event in its new location at 20 Academy Street and next door on Mass Ave at Town Hall. In addition to crafts and fine art, this year’s Open Studios included art demos, performing arts including music and ballet, a poetry reading marathon, and refreshments from Butternut Bakehouse.

Links to the artists’ websites are included below images of their work where possible. Please consider taking a look and patronizing the artists if you’re able.

Photographer Janet Smith shows customers a print.
Baskets by Kimberley Harding, the author’s mother, are arrayed across a table.
Painter Dan Cianfarini poses in front of one of his watercolor landscapes.
Earrings by Lisa Heffley dangle from wire racks.
Ellen Callaway of Callaway Photo poses in front of a photo of rainbow-hued recyclables from her series “Recycled Beauty”.
Embroidery artist Anna Thai works on a huge piece. A scene like this can take weeks to complete.
A woven wire sculpture by metal and fiber artist Sharon Stafford gleams on its shelf.
Visitors look at Louise Musto-Choate‘s acrylic jewelry and cutting boards.
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History, Objects, Places

Arlington Reservoir Water Tower

The Arlington Reservoir water tower, not to be confused with the body of water called the Arlington Reservoir, is a water tank at the top of the largest hill in Arlington Heights on the western side of Arlington.

The water tower is located in the middle of Park Circle, a round road that loops around the apex of the Heights’ main hill.

Across the street is one of Arlington’s fire stations.

Paul Schlichtman, member of the Arlington School Committee and webmaster of Arlington-Mass.com, refers to the water tower as the Arlington Standpipe on this page about a tour of the tower (check it out for photos of the tower from 2002!)

Whatever it’s called, the water tower is an architectural and historical landmark for Arlington. It’s been in the National Register of Historic Places since 1985. Plaques on the tower detail its history.

The tower itself has been around since the early 1920s, when Crane Construction Company built it to replace the standpipe-style water tower that had been there since 1895. The 1920s water tower holds about 1,945,000 gallons more water than the original.

The tower’s facade is in the Classical Revival style, a neoclassical architectural style that draws inspiration from ancient Greek and Roman structures. Classical Revival was popular in the United States in the late 1800s and early 1900s; its affiliation with the perceived grandeur of classical empires fit well with American national self-perception during the Gilded Age. The water tower’s style can be seen on other 20s landmarks like the Lincoln Memorial.

But mostly, the thing holds water.

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Events, History, Photos, Places

Arlington Reservoir

Arlington’s second-largest body of water, the Arlington Reservoir, is a little different from the others. It was made by people instead of dug out by glaciers. According to the Arlington Reservoir Committee website, Arlington created it in 1871 by damming Munroe Brook. Arlington used the reservoir for drinking water until it joined Massachusetts Water Resources Authority in 1899. This is especially confusing because Arlington’s water tower, which is still active today, is also called the Arlington Reservoir.

The park around the Arlington Reservoir is open year-round, with a trail that leads around the entire body of water. In 2010 the town added a wildlife habitat garden on the spillway, filled with native plants. They’re also fighting an undesirable population of invasive water chestnuts.

Part of the reservoir is swimmable. The town forbids swimming in Hill’s Pond at Menotomy Rocks Park, and Spy Pond’s water quality makes it dangerous to swim in. But the Reservoir Beach, a sandy beach built off the Reservoir’s main body, has filtered water and, during the months it’s open for use, lifeguards.

The Res, as it’s commonly known, lies alongside Lowell Street in Arlington Heights, crossing over the Lexington border. The beach is open from mid-June to late August. The town charges admission, and beachgoers can buy season passes if they desire. There are changing rooms, a snack bar, a playground, and a ramp for wheelchair users to roll into the water.

Recently, at the end of the beach season, the town begun opening the beach for a single ‘Dog Day at the Res’ with Arlington Dog Owners Group. On this day, dog owners from Arlington and beyond can bring their dogs to the beach and into the water. This past Saturday was 2019’s Dog Day.

More information about the Arlington Reservoir may be found on its website here.

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History, Photos, Places

Spy Pond

On Pond Road off Mass Ave, past a narrow bridge which allows the Minuteman Bikeway to pass overhead, a corrugated concrete boat ramp opens out onto the 103-acre body of water known as Spy Pond. Spy Pond, like Hill’s Pond in Menotomy Rocks Park, is a kettle hole pond, formed in a cavity left behind by a piece of a retreating glacier.

During the 1800s, Spy Pond’s winter ice was a major commodity for Arlington, providing major income for ice shipping businesses and encouraging the development of more infrastructure, including the railroad. Business dropped off in the late 1800s after the introduction of refrigerators, but the pond remained a main recreation spot for locals. The the Arlington Boys and Girls Club has a dock on the water, and Spy Pond Park, with its playground, picnic area, and boat ramp, is open to the public. There’s a parking lot, and if visitors would rather bike, the Bikeway runs right alongside. The town recently started offering canoe and kayak rentals by Spy Pond in the summer.

As of August 2019, the playground was closed for construction. Arlington’s Vision 2020 Spy Pond Committee and the nonprofit organization Friends of Spy Pond Park (FSPP) are working on restoring and maintaining the pond’s health and making improvements to the park. Updates on Spy Pond Park’s status can be found on the Arlington Recreation website.

A privately owned park on the other side of the pond, Kelwyn Manor Park, has a beach, two sports fields, and a playground. The town has two more sports fields: Spy Pond Field by the Boys and Girls Club, and Scannell Field just past Spy Pond Park in the opposite direction.

In addition to being fun for humans, Spy Pond provides food and shelter to many species of birds and fish. It has a bit of a goose problem, and FSPP suggests that visitors should not feed the geese. Elizabeth Island, a 2-acre island in the middle of the pond, remains undeveloped under the care of Arlington Land Trust and is home to native plants and wildlife. Arlington’s cryptid Lizzy (possibly an escaped Komodo Dragon, if she exists at all) is rumored to live there too.

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Events, Photos, Places

Independence Day at Robbins Farm Park

Arlington does not do its own Independence Day fireworks, though sometimes it will bust out a few for Town Night after Town Day in September. But every year on July 4th, Boston launches a large fireworks display over the Esplanade. And every July 4th, Arlingtonians gather at Robbins Farm Park to watch them.

Robbins Farm, about seven miles away from the Esplanade, is located high on the east side of the tallest hill in Arlington Heights (the Park Circle Water Tower is at the hill’s peak). When the air is clear, most of the city of Boston is visible from the park. Locals call it Skyline Park. And Skyline offers a surprising view of anything happening above Boston and Cambridge, from a pink sunrise to a fireworks show.

In the past, Arlington has hosted a formal event at Robbins Farm on Independence Day, with an inflatable screen to show televised coverage of the annual Boston Pops concert and subsequent pyrotechnics. However, the grass on the park’s recently refurbished sports fields has been too fragile to support the event’s heavy foot traffic for a few years, and the town has fenced those areas off. A large audience showed up to watch anyway, avoiding the fenced areas to set out blankets and beach chairs. An ice cream truck offered refreshments against the hot, humid night.

Children ran through the slippery grass as their parents called cautions after them. Distance dampened the fireworks’ explosions to muffled pops. It was a pleasant, quiet alternative to the crowded chaos of going to see the fireworks on the Esplanade itself.

As fun as the fireworks may have been, an uncritical celebration of America felt more inappropriate than ever in 2019. This country is doing horrible things to the people who migrate here for safety. Arlington is far from America’s southern border, but ICE is detaining community members in the Boston area too. The Boston Immigration Justice Accompaniment Network is working to free people being held in the South Bay Detention Center and support their families. You can read more about their efforts, donate to them, or volunteer to help through their website.

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History, People, Photos, Places

Menotomy Rocks Park

content warning: this post contains non-graphic discussion of suicide

Trees rustle in the wind. The highway sighs in the distance. Small waves lap at the shore of Hill’s Pond. In the early evening on a Monday, Menotomy Rocks Park is full of dog walkers, a few kids and parents, speed-walkers and slow-walkers, occasional joggers, and one kid bouncing around on a pogo stick.

Menotomy Rocks Park is a 35.5-acre park located off Jason Street between Arlington Center and Route 2. Arlington’s largest public park, Menotomy Rocks has a playground, two fields, several unpaved trails, a stream, and a pond called Hill’s Pond.

The park has existed since 1896, according to the Menotomy Trail website, and the town established the Friends of Menotomy Rocks Park committee in 1993 to manage the park and the land it’s on. Back then, people called it The Devil’s Den. The name comes from a legend about the devil walking toward Spy Pond with boulders in his apron; the apron strings tore and the boulders spilled onto the land by Hill’s Pond.

The true story of how the boulders got there is less demonic. The Laurentide ice sheet, which formed during North America’s last ice age about 75,000 years ago, gradually melted away over thousands of years, leaving behind the rocks that Arlingtonians would eventually call Menotomy Rocks.

The Laurentide ice sheet is responsible for the existence of Hill’s Pond as well; as the glaciers retreated, pieces broke off and became buried in sediment. As they melted, they left behind depressions called kettle holes. Some of those kettle holes, including the one in Menotomy Rocks, filled with water and became lakes and ponds. Spy Pond in Arlington, Fresh Pond in Cambridge, and Walden Pond in Concord are also kettle ponds.

Hill’s Pond also has some more recent history. On April 16, 2012, police following the cell phone signal of a missing girl discovered her body floating in the pond. The girl, a 16-year-old named Shaira Ali, had committed suicide. Shaira’s friends held a candlelight vigil for her at Hill’s Pond on April 17. Those who knew her say she was kind, gentle, and artistic. In 2016, her parents donated $100,000 to the Arlington Center for the Arts, where Shaira attended summer camp and later became a camp counselor. The ACA named its new gallery and performance space after her. The town remembers her as Hill’s Pond remembers the glacier from which it came. She is part of this place forever.

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