If you were to take a ride a few exits up Rt 93 and make a turn here and there you may find yourself on Woodland Road in Medford crossing into Stoneham. If you do then look to your right and you will see New England Memorial Hospital. When you get about half-way past the hospital pull your car over to the right, turn on your hazard lights, get out, go to your trunk, pull out your 5 iron and 2 golf balls. (one extra in case you need a Mulligan – you should be using a 7 iron but I’ve handicapped your distance and nobody uses a 6 iron).
Now, with club and balls in hand – no tee – walk halfway across Woodland Road to the grassy median strip, (about 15 feet from your car) and drop a ball. Take a few practice swings then let one go in the direction of the land you would drive by had you not stopped. You may want to put a slight fade on it. Your target will be about 150 yards away. If you go to the end of the Hospital property then you may consider using your putter. But a putter on asphalt is low percentage shot. Play within your game Arnold.
Ok. Now that you have done that go get you ball. Hey, these things aren’t cheap. Go get the ball. As you are walking to it take note of the pond across the street. Notice the Frederick Olmstead landscaping and walking paths surrounding it. (the link is to the text of a speech Olmstead gave to water engineers explaining his design for the Spot Pond Reservation.) Also notice Woodland Road itself. Part of the Metropolitan Parkway system. What did you think of the quaint traffic circle you drove pass?
Have you found your ball yet? I’ll wait.
Good. Now look up. The small wooded acreage you are standing in is the first piece of land owned in trust for the sole purpose of preservation and accessibility to urban dwellers.
According to Conservancy: The Land Trust Movement in America by Richard Brewer
The idea for the Trustee was broached by famed landscaper Charles Eliot in a letter to Garden and Forest in February, 1890. An association was needed, he suggested, to choose and acquire reservations- that is, land reserved from development. “Within ten miles of the State House there still remain several bits of scenery which possesses uncommon beauty and more than usual refreshing power. Moreover, each of these scenes is, in its way, characteristic of the primitive wilderness of New England, of which, indeed, they are surviving fragments.”
Elliot then made his proposal.
“As Boston’s lover of art united to form the Art Museum, so her lovers of Nature should now rally to preserve for themselves and all the people as many as possible of these scenes of natural beauty which, by great fortune, still exists near their doors.”
Walk a little further into these woods and you may come across a bronze plaque embedded into a granite outcropping memorializing that day in 1891 when Mrs. Frances Foster , the widow of the one time world famous “Ice King”, conveyed this land to the Trust for $1.00 and in the memory of her late daughter, killed twenty years earlier in a horse riding accident. You are in Virginia Woods, a parcel within the Middlesex Fells Reservation.
Under Elliot’s direction the trustees set out doing two things.
First, acquire land. The first acquisition was Virginia Woods, a gift that primed the engine to raise the money to purchase surrounding land.
Second, form a commission so land near Boston could be bought and protected for the masses without interference from local ordinances and politics. In 1892 the state legislature, after creating the first private land trust a year earlier, again at Elliot’s urging created the Metropolitan District Commission. That’s right girls and boys, the ole M.D.C.
Using privately raised money the new MDC began acquiring land around Virginia Woods for the trust. Virginia Woods was actually an old village, Haywardville, abandoned and destroyed more then 20 years prior. It was made up of various mills built along a gorge running down from the elevated Spot Pond. Electricity did Haywardville in. Did you notice the remnants of the damns and mills? (This piece of land has an interesting past but I’ll save that for another time.)
After Haywardville was deserted Spot Pond was taken by the state to provide much needed water to the growing population. Spot Pond becoming a reservoir resulted in the many summer cottages surrounding the pond and owned by wealthy Bostonians to fall vacant and in disrepair. The same was true for the hotel that stood where the hospital now stands; on the hill overlooking the pond. Olmstead design of Spot Pond area is still as we know it today.
Now start walking south. You should come to a narrow two line lightly traveled picturesque road meandering through the woods under the towering trees. This is called Ravine Road. Do you see why? Exactly. It looks like it’s build over a ravine.
Across the street you’ll see what appear to be more woods. Take a walk through there and you will find acre upon acre of maintained conservation land with hiking, walking,, and mountain biking terrain. You will find a picturesque body of water surrounded by forest. and some of the many species of birds, animals, water life, flora and fauna not easily found so close to Boston.
This was land bought up by the MDC in the late 1890s.
Now that you have done this I want you to do one very important thing. Stop. Stay still. And listen. What do hear? What’s that? I can’t hear you with all this quiet going on. This unique urban quiet is making it difficult for me to hear all this nature?
Make sure you check out the views of Boston, The Blue Hills, Revere, Nahant, Boston Harbor, and the Atlantic Ocean. Did you see the waterfall? Did you hear it? There’s one in there. Well, you can’t see it all in one day. Next time you will see the waterfall.
Now, after you’ve just blown your mind and thought, “Geez, I never knew this was here’ start walking west. As you walk west what change in the landscape do you come across Galileo? That’s right, the rear of the New England Memorial Hospital. This was the where the dilapidated hotel was, remember. Unfortunately the land trust could not afford the asking price for this was a primo site at the center of this remarkable piece landscape and beauty less than ten miles from the State House.
But the Trustees had a back up plan. Charles Elliot and other powerful Brahmins sought out a hospital to locate their. This would be a benign and quiet use. Also a hospital serves the greater public good. It was the second best choice for the land.
At that time many hospitals believed it was better for patients to be away from dirty city air. That’s why you see many hospitals on top of hills. Somerville Hospital, Quincy, Whidden in Everett, New England Baptist. The hill overlooking the Spot Pond and the surrounding natural beauty was perfect. In 1908 the Seventh Day Adventists opened the New England Sanatorium.
Before you head back to your car walk south again to the hospital property line. Do you see another change in the landscape? Right. Back to the pristine urban conservation area you see everywhere but on the hospital property.
Here’s how Frederick Olmstead described the area when he undertook the Spot Pond project;
On account of the exceedingly interesting scenery of the Fells and the fact that they were as yet wild and unoccupied while close to a large population, nearly all of the private lands of the region (amounting to eighteen hundred acres) were purchased in 1894 by the Metropolitan Park Commission, for the benefit of much the same district as that served by the Metropolitan Water Works, and the care and control of the lands held by the local water boards on the margins of the reservoirs were then turned over to the Park Commission..
OK. You can go back to your car now. As you are walking look across the pond and you will notice Rt. 93 cutting through the otherwise virgin landscape. Can you hear it? Not really, right?
Lift your glance a tad and you will see more conservation land glaring down on the highway like a fortress. Look around in all directions. Do a complete three-sixty. No trucks, right? Right.
Now, put your club and ball back in the trunk. (You should be ashamed of yourself for using that Mulligan.)
Drive back the way you came. When you get back to the 93 on ramp you will notice that you are at “Roosevelt Circle”. Do you know for whom this traffic rotary running above 93 and linking North Medford to the rest of Charley and Mayor Bloomberg’s fair city is named for? Wrong! Not Franklin Roosevelt. Teddy Roosevelt of course. The original icon of the land conservation movement in this country.
Now don’t get on the highway. Go across 93 to South Border Road. Pull over in one of the many small, convenient, and accessible parking areas along the road. Get out and walk, and walk, and walk. This time you are on your own. No help from me.
What do you see? Damn right it’s amazing! Who knew? Tell me what you heard. More importantly tell me what you didn’t hear.
Now go to your car and head back to Roosevelt Circle. Hop on 93 North. As you drive along look to your right. Again, what do you see? Spot pond and on the other side of it the New England Memorial Hospital where you parked you car, right? Right.
Do you see how it makes sense they named the traffic circle after T.R.? Pass under it heading north on 93 you enter an area like no other in our Metropolitan Park system. These huge swatches of land have been protected by the Commonwealth’s citizens from developers and land speculators for over a hundred years. The city skyline shining in the rear view mirror is quick
reminder how special this place is.
So Ernie, why are you telling us this?
Well folks, it seems that those Seventh Day Adventists, the ones that started the hospital, well, they just couldn’t make it work. After nearly 100 years of trying they had to face reality and close their doors. And they sold the property. To a developer/land speculator. Now, like any speculator I assume the new buyers checked out the history of this land and learned that it was really an exception to rules regarding the surrounding land. Being a good land speculator they must have expected there would be some push back to development plans. What effect would a development have on the surrounding area so important and necessary to the quality of life of metro Boston’s urban dwellers.
The land is governed by the Town of Stoneham zoning laws. The new owners have hired the commercial developer The Guiterrez Company to build an office and residential community on the hospital site. The number of office workers, residents, supply trucks, and visitors expected will drawf that which came with the hospital. Governors Cellucci, Swift, and Romney have blocked the development through enviormental means. Recently Governor Patrick’s environmental chief recently said the project can go forward without an environmental review. WTF.
Who supports the commercial development of this land?
1. Governor Patrick
2. Ian Bowles
3. Stoneham Elected Officials
4. The land speculators
5. Gutierrez Company
6. Nobody else.
The town of Stoneham approved the non-conforming use thus allowing the development.
Stoneham says it needs the taxes and that is why it supports the development. A BMG blogger, jcsinclair, is a member of the Stoneham Finance Committee and defended Stoneham by saying this in a recent BMG thread
it’s not Stoneham’s fault that the state didn’t want to come up with the money to seize that property when they first created the fells.
I guess Stoneham needs the money more than every other city and town. Besides, we have polar bears to worry about and the rain forest too.
Catherine Clark and Jason Lewis should be ashamed of themselves. Clark thinks she should be running for US Senate and Jason, as we all know, is clueless. Incidentally, both of these new blood Dems didn’t grow up here. Do they really care about the importance of our Metropolitan Park System? I doubt it.. It’s not their fault I guess. They just don’t get it.
On the other hand Paul Donato, the local boy, low key, hard working Medford rep, has been sounding the alarm. But with zero support from Lewis and Clarke, the other two reps in the Fells, he is standing there with his you-know-what in his hand. Lewis and Clark - how funny is that – these progressives would rather see this precedent in backward thinking on land conservation so the Town of Stoneham can continue sending fire engines to medical calls and afford whatever demands the teachers unions make.
I’ll have more on this soon. There is so much to discuss