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

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

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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