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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History, People, Photos

Menotomy Indian Hunter

At the center of the garden between Town Hall and the Robbins Library, on a crest above a long, shallow reflecting pool, kneels a statue of a Native American man. He’s equipped for a hunt. His catch for the day, a goose, rests by his foot.

The 1911 statue is by Cyrus Edwin Dallin, a sculptor from Utah who grew up around Native Americans before moving to the Boston area to study sculpture. After marrying a writer, Vittoria Murray, and going to art school in Paris, he moved to Arlington in 1900. The Robbins family (whose name is also on Robbins Farm Park and the library’s main branch) commissioned Dallin to make a statue for the park between Town Hall and the Robbins Library. The Menotomy Hunter was one of Dallin’s many statues of Native Americans; another famous statue of his, Appeal to the Great Spirit, stands outside the main entrance to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.

The statue has become one of Arlington’s symbols. It’s on the walls of the police headquarters and the fire department, and it’s the logo of the Spy Ponders, Arlington High School’s athletic team. Yet, according to the 2010 census, 0.1% of Arlington’s population are Native American. We are using a symbol of an indigenous person to represent ourselves, though almost none of us are Native.

It’s hard to find information about the indigenous people who lived on the land we now call Arlington. Most of the historical record remaining was written by European colonists and is unlikely to reflect the perspective of the Massachusett, the people the settlers displaced. We do know they called this place Menotomy, which means “swift running water.”

When Puritan settlers arrived in Menotomy in the early 1600s, the diseases previous settlers had brought with them had already killed many of the Massachusett. The chief of the Pawtucket Confederation of Tribes, a woman whose only recorded name or title is Squaw Sachem (Woman Chief), had recently inherited leadership from her late husband Nanapashemet, and with it an ongoing war with the Abenaki tribes from what is now called Maine. With her resources spread thin and her community devastated by disease, she and her sons began selling land to English settlers to build rapport with them and survive. She sold Menotomy to the settlers in 1639 for 21 coats, 19 fathom of wampum, and 3 bushels of corn. These articles on History of American Women and Arlington Historical Society tell the story of Squaw Sachem and Menotomy in more detail.

A few Massachusett tribespeople of the Neponset band survived colonization, and some of their descendants live in Ponkapoag in Canton, MA. Their website has some Massachusett history from a Massachusett perspective.

Arlington has a responsibility to recognize its oftentimes violent and tragic colonial history. There are countless memorials to those who died in the Revolutionary War here in comparison to this lone, decontextualized statue.

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Events, Photos

Fido Fest

A warm summer night on Spy Pond Field. A pink sunset. Popcorn. Bubbles. Lots and lots of dogs. And lots and lots of dog videos on the big screen. It can only be Fido Fest.

Arlington Community Media, Inc (ACMi), Arlington’s public access television station, and dog-focused social group and nonprofit organization Arlington Dog Owners Group (A-DOG) have now orchestrated three years of this dog-themed film festival. ACMi and A-DOG founded Fido Fest as a paean to dogs and their loving owners.

An ACMi volunteer wears a dog mascot head.
A-DOG organizers Jen (L) and Kathleen (R) sit in front of the guess-how-many-dog-treats game at the A-DOG booth.

The event is sponsored by A-DOG, by pet-sitting/dog-walking business BlueSky Dogs, and by real estate agent Judy Weinberg at Leading Edge Real Estate. The Capitol Theater provides bags of “pupcorn”. Anyone can submit a video of their dog, from an amateur home video to a polished narrative short film.

Local band Stanley and the Undercovers played 50s and 60s rock standards, including, of course, “Hound Dog.”

While waiting for the main events, Fido Fest attendees played with bubbles, hula hoops, and an oversized Jenga game.

As the sun began to set, people brought their dogs up to participate in the dog pageant, competing in categories like Smallest Dog, Most Wags, and Dog-Owner Lookalike. Every dog who entered won.

As darkness fell, the main show began: the films. Everyone settled into beach chairs or sat on the ground to watch dog-themed content ranging from home videos to short documentaries and humorous Vine-style clips. The audience laughed, sighed, and barked. And at the end of the night they went home with their friends and families, on two legs, four wheels, or four paws.

Note: This article was updated 6:30pm August 4, 2019, to add that Judy Weinberg also sponsors the event.

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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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Events, Places

Feast of the East

This past weekend, Capitol Square threw its 21st annual Feast of the East, an outdoor event to celebrate East Arlington’s community and local businesses. The event takes place along Mass Ave in East Arlington. Mass Ave, Arlington’s main street, stays open during the event; police block off parking lanes for businesses to set up booths in.

The Fox Library kicks off the event with its Fox Festival Parade, after which local brass bands play outside for the rest of the afternoon. Restaurants offer street food from cultures all around the world, and “Kid Zones” around the event have entertainment ranging from clowns to sand art for Arlington’s younger residents.

It’s a great way to spend an early summer day in Arlington.

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