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, 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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History, Photos, Places

Spy Pond

On Pond Road off Mass Ave, past a narrow bridge which allows the Minuteman Bikeway to pass overhead, a corrugated concrete boat ramp opens out onto the 103-acre body of water known as Spy Pond. Spy Pond, like Hill’s Pond in Menotomy Rocks Park, is a kettle hole pond, formed in a cavity left behind by a piece of a retreating glacier.

During the 1800s, Spy Pond’s winter ice was a major commodity for Arlington, providing major income for ice shipping businesses and encouraging the development of more infrastructure, including the railroad. Business dropped off in the late 1800s after the introduction of refrigerators, but the pond remained a main recreation spot for locals. The the Arlington Boys and Girls Club has a dock on the water, and Spy Pond Park, with its playground, picnic area, and boat ramp, is open to the public. There’s a parking lot, and if visitors would rather bike, the Bikeway runs right alongside. The town recently started offering canoe and kayak rentals by Spy Pond in the summer.

As of August 2019, the playground was closed for construction. Arlington’s Vision 2020 Spy Pond Committee and the nonprofit organization Friends of Spy Pond Park (FSPP) are working on restoring and maintaining the pond’s health and making improvements to the park. Updates on Spy Pond Park’s status can be found on the Arlington Recreation website.

A privately owned park on the other side of the pond, Kelwyn Manor Park, has a beach, two sports fields, and a playground. The town has two more sports fields: Spy Pond Field by the Boys and Girls Club, and Scannell Field just past Spy Pond Park in the opposite direction.

In addition to being fun for humans, Spy Pond provides food and shelter to many species of birds and fish. It has a bit of a goose problem, and FSPP suggests that visitors should not feed the geese. Elizabeth Island, a 2-acre island in the middle of the pond, remains undeveloped under the care of Arlington Land Trust and is home to native plants and wildlife. Arlington’s cryptid Lizzy (possibly an escaped Komodo Dragon, if she exists at all) is rumored to live there too.

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History, People, Photos, Places

Menotomy Rocks Park

content warning: this post contains non-graphic discussion of suicide

Trees rustle in the wind. The highway sighs in the distance. Small waves lap at the shore of Hill’s Pond. In the early evening on a Monday, Menotomy Rocks Park is full of dog walkers, a few kids and parents, speed-walkers and slow-walkers, occasional joggers, and one kid bouncing around on a pogo stick.

Menotomy Rocks Park is a 35.5-acre park located off Jason Street between Arlington Center and Route 2. Arlington’s largest public park, Menotomy Rocks has a playground, two fields, several unpaved trails, a stream, and a pond called Hill’s Pond.

The park has existed since 1896, according to the Menotomy Trail website, and the town established the Friends of Menotomy Rocks Park committee in 1993 to manage the park and the land it’s on. Back then, people called it The Devil’s Den. The name comes from a legend about the devil walking toward Spy Pond with boulders in his apron; the apron strings tore and the boulders spilled onto the land by Hill’s Pond.

The true story of how the boulders got there is less demonic. The Laurentide ice sheet, which formed during North America’s last ice age about 75,000 years ago, gradually melted away over thousands of years, leaving behind the rocks that Arlingtonians would eventually call Menotomy Rocks.

The Laurentide ice sheet is responsible for the existence of Hill’s Pond as well; as the glaciers retreated, pieces broke off and became buried in sediment. As they melted, they left behind depressions called kettle holes. Some of those kettle holes, including the one in Menotomy Rocks, filled with water and became lakes and ponds. Spy Pond in Arlington, Fresh Pond in Cambridge, and Walden Pond in Concord are also kettle ponds.

Hill’s Pond also has some more recent history. On April 16, 2012, police following the cell phone signal of a missing girl discovered her body floating in the pond. The girl, a 16-year-old named Shaira Ali, had committed suicide. Shaira’s friends held a candlelight vigil for her at Hill’s Pond on April 17. Those who knew her say she was kind, gentle, and artistic. In 2016, her parents donated $100,000 to the Arlington Center for the Arts, where Shaira attended summer camp and later became a camp counselor. The ACA named its new gallery and performance space after her. The town remembers her as Hill’s Pond remembers the glacier from which it came. She is part of this place forever.

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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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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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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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