Monday, February 17, 2014

History's Garden: Towering Over the Past



            Snow makes everything look "long ago." It also makes some old things look better. 
            In the first category, we offer the top photo on the left, a view of snow falling gently on a beautiful meadow viewed from Wollaston Heights. Only it's not a meadow. It's the Furnace Brook Golf Club. With nobody on the fairway and the snow blanketing the landscape, the view looks like something out of the 19th century. 
           If only. Quincy could use a few open green spaces that are not carved up and reserved for some sporting activity.

            In the second photo, the snow restores some of the elegance of a man-made structure actually built in the 19th century. It's a water tower, also located in the Wollaston Heights, officially known as the Forbes Hill Standpipe when it was constructed, from 1899 to 1902. The stone structure surrounds steel water tank built to hold a third of a million gallons of water.

            The site, according to my internet sources, included an "adjacent reservoir" that supplied the city with its water. It's hard to imagine where that reservoir would have been since the site today consists of a gentle summit covered by a grassy park and ball field that appears to be mostly used by the neighbors as a dog park. I've never seen any baseball being played on the ball field. Plenty of dogs, however, including the two from a neighboring house that began following us up the steps to the tower. 

            Built from Quincy granite, the tower has a crenelated roof that makes it resemble a medieval fortress. It's about 65 feet high and 30 feet in diameter. It's exactly the sort of the structure you'd like to climb to see how far you can see. The Blue Hills? The granite quarries? So naturally you can't, because the spiral staircase that winds between the steel tank and the tower's inner walls has long been closed to the public.

            The reservoir and the tower standpipe were taken out of service in the 1950s, replaced by the Blue Hills Reservoir.  

            According to the Quincy parks department, the five-acre playground neighboring the tower includes children's playground equipment, a basketball court, tennis court and the little league field. I have on occasion seen a few people shooting baskets up there.

            Everything natural and beautiful on this summit (the road up to the tower/park is called Summit Avenue) and the surrounding slopes was restored by Saturday's gentle snow fall. The snow outlined the shapes of the trees, smoothed out the landscape, filled the scars.
             Snow fell softly in a steady white drizzle on Saturday from early in the afternoon until around midnight, with nothing more devastating than a few inches of accumulation. It did fill up all my footsteps in the path I'd made through previous accumulations to the compost bin; but, to repeat, once again we've been fortunate. Blizzard winds and wet snow took down power lines in the southeast part of the state while giving us a mere touch-up coating of white.

            Since the temperature was a little above freezing -- warm for this winter -- with little wind, Anne and I found the snow fall a good opportunity to walk up to the Wollaston Heights, a mere 100 feet in elevation but considerably higher than the surroundings. I'm not sure sure where the name Wollaston came from. Today it refers to a part of Quincy that includes Wollaston Beach on the east and the heights on the west. The land was once owned by the Quincy family and later passed by marriage to John Adams.

            Wollaston was put on the map, so to speak, when the Old Colony Railroad opened its Wollaston station in 1845.

            When you look at the down-sloping field (forgetting it's a golf course) from the Heights on a snowy day you could be back in a time before the trains came to Quincy, followed by the automobile, plus most of the 90,000 people who live in the city today and everything else we have brought to (and done to) this landscape. The open ground could be pasture land. The habitations on the other side of the trees could be farms, not blocks of single-family houses. The renowned Adams family, John and Abigail, might just recently have moved into their newly acquired a "great house" a short ways to the south and down hill from the summit. We could be at the beginning of things, as a country.

            Though we live only about 10 blocks from the Wollaston T station today, our neighborhood has never been on the map, so to speak, in the same way. It's the "lowlands" to some, part of an area known in earlier times (before people built on it) as Norfolk Downs. That's not Wollaston, people have told us. It's Montclair, or North Quincy.

            Maybe. But under a gentle snow fall on a day when you don't have places to go and things to do, it can be anywhere, and any time, you wish it to be.