Sunday, 26 October 2014

The House that Peter Tufts Built

I was tutoring my friend's son last night.  He was reading an excerpt about the Pilgrims and the Puritans.  It turns out that the Pilgrims, who sailed to America in 1620, wanted to separate from the Church of England.  The Puritans, who sailed to America in 1630, wanted to remain part of the Church of England, albeit with some changes.

Peter Tufts, whom I mentioned in my last blog, is believed to have come to America from England in 1632, possibly aboard the Griffin.  Given the date, I wonder if he was one of the Puritans.  He settled in Charlestown, Massachusetts, outside of Boston.  A multi-talented man, one of his jobs was to run a penny ferry on the Charles River.

Perhaps his biggest claim to fame, however, was the house he built in Medford, Massachusetts around 1677.  Now a museum, it is believed to be the oldest brick house in America.  Originally,the colonial home was known as the Cradock House, after one of the founding members of the Massachusetts Bay Company.  However, it was later discovered that Cradock only owned the land and had never even visited the area.  Later, Peter Tufts purchased the land from Richard Russell and built the house.  He hired brick mason William Bucknam from England to do the work.

The house, built in the American colonial design, is known as the "fort" or "garrison house" due to its thick walls and portholes.  I remember visiting the site when I was a little girl.  Our tour guide explained to us that, given that the house was built during the American Revolution, the designers were of a wartime mentality.  The portholes could be used to poke a rifle through.  The thick walls, of course, would serve as a good resistance to enemy fire.

Captain Peter Tufts sold the house to his son, Peter Jr., in 1680, who resided there for many years.  In 1728, the eastern side of the house was sold to Edward Oakes.  In 1887, the house was scheduled for demolition.  However, Samuel Lawrence saved it from such a fate by purchasing it as a wedding gift for his daughter.  At that time the house was remodelled in the Colonial Revival style.

In 1892, when the city of Medford, Massachusetts was incorporated, an image of the house was placed on its seal.  In 1932, the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities bought the house to open it as a museum.  Almost 50 years later, it was purchased by the Medford Historical Society.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Charles River Esplanade: Boston's Central Park

View of Charles River and Boston skyline courtesy

If you read my post "The Boston Angel" ( you'll know that a kind man helped my family and I find our way out of Boston this fall. He took us on a picturesque route along the Charles River.  As the sun glistened off the blue water, the leaves along its banks bloomed in golds and scarlets.  As our car followed the contour of the Charles River, my dad said that we had a Tufts ancestor who started a penny ferry along its waterways.  I'm assuming that was in the 1800's.  I wanted to find out more about the beautiful river.

The Boston Tea Party circa 1773 courtesy

The Charles River, named by King Charles, spans the length of 80 miles.  Ironically it was at the mouth of the Charles River that the famous Boston Tea Party took place, a protest against British rule.  According to the author of Inventing the Charles River, the waterway looked quite different 200 years ago:  it was full of salt marshes and mud flats.  Hardly the place someone would go for an afternoon stroll.

A watch factory in Waltham, Mass. courtesy

Bostonians soon discovered that the river's water could be used to harness power for mills which sprang up along its banks.  With the Industrial Revolutions came textile factories.  With the invention of the train, came railway beds.  As Boston grew, the Charles River served as a natural border between the city and its neighbour, Cambridge.  It also served as a location for university campuses: Harvard, Boston and M.I.T.  Young students would row along the Charles river.  Some would even swim in the river, a welcome respite in the dog days of summer.

Harvard University campus courtesy

Twenty parks were built along the banks of the Charles between Boston and Cambridge.  Bostonians would picnic there and go for long walks along the the Charles River Esplanade.  Dubbed "Boston's Central Park", it was an oasis of nature inside the great metropolis.

Spring on the Charles River Esplanade courtesy

But the oasis did not last forever.  Fifty years ago, the Charles River was deemed toxic.  The city placed a ban on swimming in its murky depths.  As recently as 1995, the water quality was given a "D".  A group of environmentalists teamed up to clean up the river.  Eight years ago, competitive swimmers started racing in its waters.  Last year, after the river was given a "B" rating, the first official public swim was held there.  Men, women and children frolicked in the water.  Most were too young to remember a time when Bostonians could swim in the river.  The Charles is back!

Boston-07/13/13 _The Charles River Conservancy hosted the 1st public swim in the Charles River in 50 years, as participants took the plunge at a boat dock near the Hatch Shell on the Esplanade. The Longfellow Bridge is in the distance as swimmer frolic in the Charles. Globe staff photo by John Tlumacki(metro)

First public swim in July of 2013 courtesy

Friday, 24 October 2014

America in Autumn

Autumn Art - Boston Charles River in Autumn by John Burk

1.  Boston's Charles River in autumn courtesy

2.  Washington's Potomac in autumn courtesy

3.  New York's Hudson River in autumn courtesy

4.  Chicago's Lake Michigan in autumn courtesy

5.  Philadelphia in autumn courtesy

6.  Nashville, Tennessee in autumn courtesy

7.  Charlotte, North Carolina courtesy

8. St. Louis courtesy

9.  Richmond, Virginia courtesy

10.  Louisville, Kentucky courtesy

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Storms Make a Tree's Roots Grow Deeper

Here are ten facts about tree roots.

1.  Storms make a tree's roots grow deeper.  A rainstorm usually leaves lots of water on the ground, making the soil erode.  Therefore, the roots have to grow deeper into the soil.  Storms also bring strong winds, which can stimulate the growth of the tree.

2.  Most tree roots do not grow more than 12 inches into the soil, but can grow as much as 20 feet deep.

3.  Tree roots often extend two to three times the width of the tree's crown.

4.  Roots, unlike leaves, do not have green chlorophyll.

5.  Roots do not have a central pith (soft central tissue) like the trunk.

6.  Roots store more starch than the trunk.

7.   Roots anchor the tree, take in water and nutrients from the soil and keep the tree stable.

8.  Damaging the roots of a tree causes damage to the branches.

9.  An apple tree can have as many as 17 million root hairs.

10.  Tap roots (very deep roots) generally do not form on trees in urban landscapes.