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, People, Photos

Arlington Astronomy Nights

The year was 2003. Jeffrey Alexander stood in line to look through a telescope on the roof of the garage of the Museum of Science. Mars was passing particularly close to earth. He, along with many others, wanted to see it. It tickled his fancy, he says, that so many people were excited to gather for this celestial event.

In 2005, Earth and Mars were due to be close to each other again. Alexander, who had recently moved to Arlington, decided to have a viewing party at Robbins Farm Park. He teamed up with Friends of Robbins Farm Park, the Arlington Recreation Department, and some locals with telescopes to make it happen. Over the next 2 years, he threw a couple more stargazing parties. Leslie Mayer, a member of the Park & Recreation Commission, suggested that Alexander should start a regular series of stargazing events so it would be easier to get permits from the town. And so Arlington Astronomy Nights was born.

For 11 years now, Alexander has hosted 4 or 5 Arlington Astronomy Nights every summer. At its busiest, 70 to 80 people might show up. Astronomy Night is popular with parents and their kids, but amateur astronomers and passersby of all ages come to look through Alexander’s telescope.

“Plenty of teens in the park want nothing to do with us, but some take a peek and will allow themselves a little sense of wonder at the world that they’ve been socially molded to pretend doesn’t move them. If they’re like me, they can’t help but feel a brief sense of the smallness and insignificance when gazing at objects vastly, incomprehensibly larger than themselves,” Alexander says.

This past Saturday was the last Astronomy Night planned for this summer. Clouds covered up the moon and Jupiter, the night’s main features, but Alexander entertained the crowd by sharing a map of the moon with them, showing them Zakim Bridge in Boston and the stars Mizar and Alcor in the constellation Ursa Major through the telescope, and handing out glow sticks.

There’lll be more Astronomy Nights next summer. Those interested in attending future stargazing events can sign up for Astronomy Nights emails online. Mars will be having another close approach with Earth next fall, too.

Jeffrey Alexander breaks down his telescope at the end of this September’s Astronomy Night.

Alexander, who studied computer science in college, now leads a software team at Oracle Labs. Astronomy may be a hobby for him, but it’s easy to tell from the way he talks about it that it’s close to his heart and he loves to share it with others.

“There’s really nothing better than the exclamations I hear and expressions I see on peoples’ faces the first time they look through the telescope,” he says. “Sharing the passion that I have for observing the night sky, even if just for a moment at a time, makes it worth doing year after year.”

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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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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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Events, Places

Arlington Greek Festival

Every year, Arlington’s St. Athanasius Greek Orthodox Church puts on a festival to celebrate Greek culture: its food, music and dance, religion, and fashion.

Mata Xios Boutique

St. Athanasius’ has been around for 55 years. It was originally located at 735 Mass Ave, which is now the Highrock Covenant Church. The St. Athanasius parish expanded significantly over time as more Greek immigrants and Greek-Americans moved to Arlington; in 2004, the parish moved to 4 Appleton Street, the former home of the St. James the Apostle Roman Catholic Church. A few years later, St. Athanasius’ began throwing its annual festival, using the new location’s sizable parking lot as an event venue.

The church sets up a 60-foot white tent, underneath which are stations selling everything from spanakopita and gyros to loukoumades and baklava, booths selling imported Greek clothing, crafts, jewelry, home goods, and religious items like crosses and nazar pendants.

The festival lasts for four days and features performances by local Greek musicians and dance troops. Some vendors have been coming to the festival for years. Art of the Lands has had a booth at every Arlington Greek Festival for the past decade.

Past the tent on the lawn of Ottoson Middle School, a rental service blows up bouncy castles and inflatable slides.

Other attractions for kids include dance activities and a place to make layered sand art.

Photos from the 2016 Greek Festival by the same photographer can be seen on Flickr here.

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History, Photos, Places

Crusher Lot

Crusher Lot, Junior High West Woods, Ottoson Woods. The Shoe. The Rocks. This place, the wooded area between Ottoson Middle School and Gray Street in Arlington Heights, has a lot of names.

According to WickedLocal Arlington, the name Crusher Lot comes from the area’s original purpose: a small quarry where the town used a steam-powered stone crusher to make gravel for paving roads.

“Junior High West Woods” and “Ottoson Woods” both refer to schools that have stood by those woods: Junior High West through about the year 2000, and Ottoson Middle School now. Students cut through the lot, usually using the paved path that runs down the western side, to get from Gray Street to school.

Students have their own names for different parts of the lot: “Stairway to Heaven” for the stairs that lead up to the paved path, and “The Rocks” or “The Shoe” for the horseshoe-shaped retaining wall at the top of the stairs.

Members of the Facebook group “Proud to be from Arlington” who attended Junior High West remembered the woods and The Shoe as a relatively secluded place to hang out away from adults, somewhere the cool kids went to drink, smoke, neck, and set small fires.

“You were invited to the shoe by the cool kids. You’d never just show up there,” says group member Kim DeAngelo.

Update August 25, 2020: Some photos from this post are featured on the website Friends of the Crusher Lot. They have a great post about the history of Crusher Lot by historian Edward Gordon here if you want to learn more about the lot.

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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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