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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Events, Photos

Arlington Town Day

September 14th was Arlington’s 2019 Town Day. That’s 43 annual Town Days since 1976, put on by the town to showcase everything Arlington has to offer. This Town Day started at 9:30 in the morning with a flag-raising ceremony on the day’s main stage in front of Arlington’s town hall. Steve Katsos, of ACMi’s Steve Katsos Show, MCed the performances on the main stage, which included Arlington High School’s cheerleaders and jazz band, as well as several bands and a chorus. ACMi recorded the event to broadcast on Arlington’s public TV channel.

Arlington closed Massachusetts Avenue from the Pleasant Street to Jason Street, a stretch of about a third of a mile. Booths lined the street on either side. Restaurant and fast food booths filled the air with the scent of food and fry oil. Clowns, face painters, and carnival game hosts entertained the hundreds of children in attendance. Nonprofits, churches, and town institutions like the police department and ACMi filled some of the booths.

The rest were occupied by businesses ranging from banks and orthodontists to kombucha brewers and martial arts studios. Arlington High School sports teams held a big bake sale to raise money, decorating cupcakes onsite and walking up and down Mass Ave to sell their wares.

The Coast Guard parked a boat in the lot in front of the Robbins Library and taught passersby about water safety; behind the building were pony rides for kids and the library’s annual book sale. Animal Control officer and falconer Diane Welch showed off her birds of prey; behind Town Hall, more approachable animals could be found at the Animal Craze petting zoo.

Beyond the barricades at Pleasant Street in the yard of the Jefferson Cutter House was Arlington’s weekly summer beer garden, hosted by Somerville’s Aeronaut Brewery. Artists had booths in the yard too, selling everything from tie dyed T-shirts to ceramic sponge holders to the beer garden drinkers.

In past years, Arlington has also thrown a Town Night the Friday evening before Town Day, with more carnival games and a fireworks display. In 2018 the Arlington Town Day Committee voted not to host Town Night because it would be too expensive. That year, the Elks Lodge offered to host Town Night, and Arlington resident Katie Garrett raised money to offset the cost of the fireworks. This year, there was no Town Night.

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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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Top down view of cartons of strawberries
Events, People

Arlington Farmers’ Market

This Wednesday at 2, the Russell Commons Municipal Lot transformed from Arlington Center’s largest parking lot to a row of booths stocked with goods from fresh tomatoes to refreshing iced tea. The Arlington Farmers’ Market had opened for the season.

In addition to the usual crop of produce, this year’s vendors are offering cheese, handmade pasta, wine and cider, meat, bread, and premade food from local restaurants.

A vendor list is available on the market’s website, and the market is open every Wednesday from 2pm to 6:30pm from mid-June through late October.

Patsy Kraemer, local event organizer, keeps the market running. She took over from Oakes Plimpton, who first opened the market in 1997 and whose other contributions to Arlington and its surroundings include writings about Arlington’s history, a communal garden, and the Boston Area Gleaners.

Patsy Kraemer stands next to hanging pots of flowers at the Dick’s Market Garden booth

On opening day, Kraemer and Plimpton sat in the shade on folding lawn chairs, under a wooden sign labeled “Patsy’s Corner,” chatting amiably and watching as customers filtered in and out of the lot. The market may look different than it did 22 years ago, but the love for local agriculture and sustainable food that drove Plimpton to create it is still going strong.

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Events, Photos

Porchfest

Porchfest is an annual music festival that takes place yearly in June, put on by the Arlington Center for the Arts and community volunteers. Local musicians and homeowners sign up to participate, and the organizers match them up so everyone has a porch to play on.

An audience gathers in front of O.T.A’s performance at Menotomy Beer & Wine.

According to Porchfest’s website, last year more than 170 bands performed at the festival. The musicians work in a variety of genres and the festival gradually travels from West to East Arlington over the course of 8 hours. Performance and visual artists showcase their work as well.

Singer-songwriter Laleler plays guitar and sings in East Arlington.

Locals attended the festival in in huge numbers, most walking or biking between porches, many accompanied by their kids and dogs. A few had come from the Pride parade in Boston, which took place earlier the same day, and were sporting rainbow accessories and flags representing sundry LGBTQ+ identities.

In Arlington Center, the Jefferson-Cutter House hosted a beer garden on its lawn, with beer from Aeronaut Brewery, food from local restaurants, and an info booth staffed by ACA volunteers.

(If anyone can identify this band, please comment! They were playing in the beer garden and are not listed on the Porchfest website.)

Right across the street in Uncle Sam Park was Arlington Public Arts’ annual “Chairful Where You Sit” art show, in which the organization raises funds by selling abandoned chairs that artists have rescued, refurbished, and embellished.

Porchfest ended this year with a dance party at Arlington Global Service Station, a gas station collaboratively decorated by its owner Abe Salhi and local artist Johnny Lapham. Street band School of Honk and funk/R&B group Bittersweet Band provided the music.

Porchfests began in Ithaca, NY, and now take place across the country. PorchFest.info has a schedule of New-England-based porchfests. The next is on June 15 on the Boston Fenway.

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History, Photos, Places

Minuteman Bikeway

The Minuteman Bikeway is a paved multi-use path that runs from the Alewife MBTA station in Cambridge through Arlington and Lexington to Bedford. Both ends of the bike path connect to other paths, bike and otherwise — four at the Cambridge end and two in Bedford.

The bike path is a rail-to-trail path, which is to say that it’s built on the route left behind by disused train tracks. The MBTA closed the Lexington Branch commuter rail route in 1981, proposing an underground extension of the Red Line through Arlington to Route 128 , topped with a linear park and rail trail. Arlington residents voted against the Red Line extension, citing a fear of congestion and of outsiders entering the community. As a result, the state never built the Red Line extension. But in 1992, it built the Minuteman Bikeway. Some footage from the bikeway’s construction, dedication, and early life can be seen in this Arlington Public News video about the bikeway’s 25th anniversary.

The bikeway was popular from its inception, and traffic has only grown since then. It’s especially busy during the morning and evening rush hours. Arlingtonians and members of surrounding communities use it to walk their dogs, ride their own bikes or shared ones like the new Lime Bikes, jog, stroll on foot or in wheelchairs, rollerblade, and skateboard.

Arlington Public Art installed five temporary art projects on it as part of the Arlington Commission on Arts and Culture’s bid to get the area between Arlington Center and Capitol Square recognized as a cultural district.

In 2017, the town revamped Arlington Center‘s main intersection and added new features like a push-button crosswalk to make crossing through the Center safer for bikeway users. Cyclists generally say riding on the path is more pleasant and feels safer than using a bike lane on a road meant for cars, especially in comparison to the busy Mass Ave.

Brian Ristuccia, an Arlington resident and member of the Boston Bike Party Facebook group who’s been riding the bikeway almost every day for the past three years, says “It’s been a pleasant west-to-east trip completely bypassing peak commute automobile traffic congestion, noise, and pollution.”

Avoiding cars doesn’t promise total safety, however. A March 24 collision between two cyclists on the bikeway in Lexington resulted in the death of 71-year-old Cary G Coovert, according to the Boston Globe and raised concerns about bikeway congestion and users’ awareness of the ‘rules of the road’. Accidents involving only cyclists rarely kill anyone; a cyclist-car accident is much more likely to cause a death.

Despite the specter of the recent accident and complaints about police hassling people who use the path after 9pm, the bikeway remains well-loved, and traffic is picking up as the weather gets warmer.

Ristuccia, who uses the bikeway on weekdays to drop his daughter off at preschool and commute to his office, says “We ride year round rain, shine, or snow…Beautiful green trees in summer, colorful foliage in fall, and snow that stays pretty and white in winter.”

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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

Arlington Center

Arlington Center is, as one might imagine, Arlington’s town center. Many of its governmental buildings and public resources are located here: the town hall and the main branch of the library, the housing authority, the farmers’ market. The main street, Massachusetts Avenue, runs through the Center, intersecting with Pleasant Street, which provides access to MA Route 2. The MBTA’s 77, 79, 87, and 350 buses serve the area. The Minuteman Bike Path crosses the main intersection. High traffic from both drivers and cyclists has caused some animosity between the two. In 2017, the town updated the lights at the main intersection and added a new crosswalk before the intersection as part of the Arlington Center Safe Travel Project and with the intention of making the Center safer and more navigable for pedestrians and cyclists.

Two of Arlington’s churches are here, the Highrock Covenant Church and the First Parish Universalist Unitarian church. Reminders of history, mostly colonial, are everywhere. Notable are multiple stone monuments commemorating moments in the American Revolutionary War, a nearly 300-year-old cemetery, two war memorials, a museum dedicated to sculptor Cyrus E. Dallin, a statue of Uncle Sam, and a 1911 statue by Dallin of a Native American hunter which acknowledges the indigenous people who lived here before colonists displaced them.

Arlington Center is also a retail hub. A number of restaurants and businesses, chains and locally owned, rent storefronts there. Some storefronts in the Center turn over frequently, likely in part because of rising rent prices. One ice cream store has gone through at least five iterations since the 1990s, housing the Ben and Jerry’s and JP Licks chains and some independent businesses. In 2018, it became Abilyn’s Frozen Bakery.

Many of the posts on this site are about places in Arlington Center. Check this link to see them all. If you’re visiting Arlington, the Center is a good place to start, especially if you’re on foot or on a bicycle. Come by some time.

Town Hall
First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church
Massachusetts Avenue at Pleasant Street, with the UU church in the background
A t-shirt in the window of Arlington Centered
Highrock Covenant Church
Robbins Library
Fusion Taste restaurant
Bricks in Robbins Memorial Garden
Citizens Bank parking lot with the post office in the background
Cyclist at the main intersection; Minuteman Bike Path and Arlington Housing Authority building in the background
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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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