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, Objects, Places

War Memorials

Mass Ave, Broadway, and Franklin Street form a narrow triangle at the eastern edge of Arlington Center. The short side of the triangle houses Arlington’s central fire station, a distinctive octagonal building. At the other end, the sharp point of the triangle, a 42-foot granite column stretches toward the sky.

It’s Arlington’s Civil War memorial, which the town installed in 1887 to commemorate Arlingtonians who died fighting for the Union. According to the Babcock-Smith House Museum website, the memorial is made of granite from Vermont, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.

The fire station flies the American and POW-MIA flag, visible in the image above; between the flags and the column is another memorial, which consists of a stone monument dedicating the memorial “to the heroic valor and patriotic spirit of the men and women in Arlington who served in the armed forces of the United States of America in all its wars.”

The Massachusetts seal/flag is carved to the right of the inscription. To the left is Arlington’s seal, which depicts the Revolutionary War memorial obelisk in Arlington’s Old Burying Ground.

Past that are glass cases protecting printed lists of Arlingtonians who fought and/or died in the United States’ many wars, organized by war. A pile of cannonballs sits alongside.

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History, Photos, Places

Old Burying Ground

The First Parish Unitarian Universalist church in Arlington Center presents a contemporary front to Massachusetts Avenue. According to the church’s website, several churches have stood on that spot since 1739. The current structure was built in the mid-1970s after a fire, and it still looks new and strange for a church, rendered in stark angular white.

The church may be new, but the cemetery behind it predates even that first religious meetinghouse. The Arlington Historical Society’s Ralph D. Sexton reports that residents of old Menotomy designated this location as a burying ground in 1724 and buried its first bodies, mostly children, in 1736. A plaque in the cemetery says it was established 1732.

The Old Burying Ground’s most notable residents are Jason Russell and the 11 other revolutionists whom the British killed during the first day of the American Revolutionary War. A 19-foot-tall granite obelisk marks the location of the stone vault where they are buried. The Old Burying Ground and obelisk appear on Arlington’s town flag/seal, which can be seen on the Multi-War Memorial also in Arlington Center.

Many others who died in the Revolutionary War are buried in this cemetery. Someone has planted small American flags at all the Revolutionary fighters’ graves, as well as one British flag in an empty patch of grass, presumably above the unmarked graves of British soldiers.

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Events, History

Patriots’ Day Parade

Every year on the 3rd Sunday in April, Arlington throws its Patriots’ Day Parade to commemorate the anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the first battles of the American Revolutionary War. Minutemen from Menotomy, as the colonists called Arlington at the time, fought in the battle to defend a stockpile of military supplies from the British Army.

Police, firefighters, EMTs, colonial reenactors, musicians, and members of local institutions from Shriners to Girl Scouts to librarians drive or march along Mass Ave from Brattle Square to Linwood Street, throwing candy to spectators, shooting blanks from rifles, or making noise of one kind or another.

This year, the parade passed by Arlington’s Stop and Shop, where striking supermarket workers had been picketing for four days. The workers cheered on the parade and asked vehicles to honk in support of their union.

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