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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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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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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