The Campaign to Save the Tudor Barn

The Tudor Barn needs your ideas! How should the historic 700 square foot structure be used? Do we need electricity there? Let us know how you think the public can enjoy this restored, unique stone building that once was a carriage house (never an ice house). Send your ideas to the friends at friends@fells.org.

Image by Mike Ryan

by Mike Ryan and Anita Brewer-Siljeholm

If you stroll south along Spot Pond from the Botume House on the broad woodland path, a mysterious little stone building will soon appear on your left. Facing the pond, with blank, boarded-up windows and locked wooden doors, no name or sign visible, the structure looks like it is awaiting new inhabitants. In some sense, it is.

The story of the Tudor Barn – which is not yet over – is a narrative of Boston’s search for drinking water, tragedy in a prominent Boston family, failed real estate speculation, a dose of good fortune – and above all, determined persistence of the Friends of the Fells to save a fascinating part of the Fells’ early history.

Photo by Massachusetts Archives

Built in the 1840’s as a carriage barn, and once attached to a nearby mansion now gone, the barn curiously survived the demolition of most nearby dwellings when they were razed around 1912 as part of securing the watershed to protect Spot Pond’s drinking water. Under one government agency after another, the beautifully hand chiseled stone walls held up — until they no longer could.

By the late 1990’s the roof had suffered a fire, and in 2003 a wall collapsed and the massive lintel over the door crashed down (see photo).

By then, the Friends of the Fells were several years into a campaign petitioning the state to repair the endangered building. Early in 1999, while the area was still under the control of the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC), the Massachusetts Water Resource Agency (MWRA) had allocated $88,000 to restore the Tudor Barn. The money was put in escrow when MWRA turned over the Spot Pond watershed to the MDC for recreation access.

Image by Mike Ryan

Encouraged by the funding, the Friends put constant pressure on the MDC to begin restoration work. At a meeting with the MDC commissioner in May 1999, the Friends of the Fells even challenged the MDC to get started by offering a $2,000 grant. This was declined.

By 2003 it seemed as if time had run out for the historic structure. No work had begun, the walls and roof began to fully collapse, and a chain link fence was erected to keep people away from danger. The cost of restoration had soared beyond what MWRA had put in escrow. In the nick of time that year, good fortune at last arrived; the newly created Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) became manager of the Fells, and the Friends gained a partner to move the work forward.

Continuing careful watch over the barn, the Board of Directors of the Friends raised $15,000 in a public fund drive which was matched by the state’s Environmental Office of Public Private Partnerships. With more state funds added, and the escrow amount, in December 2004 restoration began at long last with a groundbreaking ceremony at the barn attended by representatives from the Friends of the Fells, DCR and the state environmental affairs office.

Stone masons assigned to the project began to reconstruct the barn using recovered granite blocks littering the site. Chisel marks on the stones
revealed, “how the craftsmen 150 years ago squared them off to make these walls so flat,” according to skilled stonemason Michael Johnson, general contractor for the project. A concrete floor was poured to tie the walls together and provide a better footing for future public use.

Image by Mike Ryan

At last, on August 10, 2006 the DCR and the Friends of the Fells shared a ribbon cutting ceremony to mark the end of a remarkable collaborative effort. It is just one of several projects where the Friends have been an active steward partnering with both DCR and other groups. We do this to protect important but neglected natural and cultural features of the Fells. For the Tudor Barn, we hope that DCR will soon create a plaque explaining its historic status.

Next month: The Tudor Barn is named after the prominent Boston family who once owned the Spot Pond mansion to which it was connected. In our next installment we will write more about this family and their contribution of Virginia Wood, which was the first public land-trust donation in the world and proved instrumental in the formation of the Metropolitan Park System and the Fells Reservation.

With the summer’s return, the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority asks all residents–  please don’t swim in the Fells:

With the warm weather approaching, people head to the local swimming hole to beat the heat. The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority wants to remind residents that swimming is not allowed at the High Fells Reservoir in Stoneham.

MWRA’s primary concern is public safety. The Fells has many rock outcroppings and swimmers who are tired or hit their heads while diving are a long way from emergency medical help. The facility is not staffed and there are no lifeguards on duty. There have been fatalities at this site in the past and at nearby Spot Pond.

Protection of the public water supply is also critical. The Fells covered storage tank was constructed in 1998. This facility provides drinking water for Melrose, Saugus, Stoneham and Wakefield. However, the open reservoir, constructed in 1899, still serves as an important component of the MWRA’s emergency water supply system. In an emergency situation, the reservoir could be used as a drinking water supply in a very short time. Swimmers and dogs in the water pose a real threat to water quality.

MWRA recognizes that the Fells is a valued recreational resource in the area. MWRA has worked closely with local communities over the years to maintain a balanced use of this beautiful site that allows accessibility while protecting the public water supply. In fact, MWRA’s new Spot Pond Covered Storage Tank, behind the former Boston Regional Medical Center, features an upland meadow and walking trails.

Illegal swimming has resulted in vandalism, damage to fencing, trash left at the reservoir and fires. The Massachusetts State Police routinely patrol this critical facility during the summer, but MWRA also needs the help of local residents to ensure public safety and protect public health.

Please call the MWRA’s 24-hour Security Hotline at (877) 697-6972 to report swimming or any other harmful behavior.

Swimming is also prohibited in the High, Middle, and Low Reservoirs located in Winchester.

The Friends would also like to remind our community that swimming in the Fells can have detrimental impacts beyond personal safety and contamination of the drinking water supply:  many of the ponds and pools in the Fells contain sensitive ecosystems and aquatic species that can be harmed by human presence in their habitat!

For more information, contact Ria Convery, Ria.Convery@mwra.com

Making sure that DCR has adequate resources to carry out its conservation mission for the Fells is at the top of our list when it comes to our advocacy efforts. As we’ve alerted you to before, this Special Commission is investigating many aspects of DCR’s operations, and it’s important that this Commission hear from you.

Some of you spoke up at the Special Commission’s virtual meeting last week–thank you!  You can read a summary of this past meeting prepared by Mass Conservation Voters here.

Signing on to Massachusetts Conservation Voters’ petition is an easy way to speak for the Fells — the Friends of the Fells is in general agreement with MCV’s position. You can also send in your own comment by emailing ma-dcr-commission@donahue.umass.edu.

Please note that all comments must be submitted by Tuesday, June 8th, when the public comments period will close!

 

In the meantime, the Friends of the Fells Advocacy Committee is developing a detailed response that addresses specific issues of concern for the Fells — we’ll share that with you when it is complete.

 

The increased popularity of the Middlesex Fells these past months has also brought more attention to the park from regional news outlets.  Here are some of the recent news articles about the Fells, and the Friends of the Fells.

In August, the Boston Globe opinion page featured a column by Joan Wickersham reflecting on the creation of the Fells– ‘A voyage of discovery about home:’

We decide to go for a drive. It’s aimless, like so much in this uneasy summer of the pandemic. We drive through Somerville, Medford, Malden.

And suddenly the road stops being suburban and starts looking like something you would find in Maine. Deep woods, lakes, no houses. It goes on for miles. We are in the Middlesex Fells.

Later in the month, the Globe printed a response from our own Jeff Buxbaum and Chris Redfern, titled ‘The vital public good of public lands:’

…As COVID-19 spurs historic visitation at the Middlesex Fells and other nature refuges in the region, we must protect the long-term investments in these nature spaces more than ever, as impacts to trails and fragile ecosystems take a toll.

DigBoston writer Caitlin Faulds writes about the state of Massachusetts parks and how the pandemic has impacted park upkeep and volunteer projects, and features an interview with Friends volunteer coordinator Jesse MacDonald:

BOOTS ON THE GROUND: STATE PARKS STRUGGLE TO KEEP UP WITH PANDEMIC CROWDS

Due to COVID-19 and strict health guidelines, MacDonald said Friends of the Fells have had to cancel all volunteer trail care events, which typically address some of these issues, while DCR itself is struggling to run with a “skeleton crew.”

Last, we are happy to share that the Friends of the Fells has been awarded two grants through the Tufts University Community Relations program:

In May, the Friends was one of the local organizations to be awarded a grant through the Tufts Community Grants program.

Thirty-four local organizations in Tufts’ four host communities have been awarded $28,000 in grants from the Tufts Community Grants (TCG) program. The grants, which are fully funded by donations from Tufts University faculty and staff, are awarded each year to community-based charitable organizations in Boston, Grafton, Medford and Somerville.

These funds have been allocated towards the purchase of graffiti removal equipment and supplies which will be used this fall.

And in August, the Friends of the Fells was a recipient of a $1,000 COVID-19 emergency response grant, awarded to local nonprofits “in an effort to help its neighbors impacted by COVID-19.”

“During these trying times, it’s more important than ever for us to support our neighbors and the non-profits that do such important work in our home communities,” said Rocco DiRico, director of the Office of Government and Community Relations at Tufts. “We always strive to be the best neighbor that we can be, so we’re pleased to be able to provide this essential support to local organizations that are assisting local residents with the challenges they face as a result of the pandemic.”

These funds were utilized by the Friends’ 2020 Fells Forest Camp program to directly defray the expenses for essential purchases of safety and sanitizing equipment, personal protective equipment (PPE), cleaning services, and other COVID-prevention plans that were necessary to hold this summer’s programming safely.

On Saturday September 21st, volunteers from across the area braved the balmy end-of-summer weather to participate in the 2019 COASTSWEEP shoreline cleanup event in the Fells, joining like-minded individuals across the globe for the annual International Coastal Cleanup day of service.

Participants of all ages spent the morning gathering trash along the shores of Quarter Mile Pond and Spot Pond in Medford and Stoneham.  Trash was gathered and sorted by the bagful, and the data carefully recorded on what exactly was collected from the Fells.  This data will be collated and analyzed by the Ocean Conservancy in Washington D.C. along with other cleanup reports from across the globe, and will help in creating effective environmental education and policy initiatives in the future.

In just one morning, volunteers were able to collect 22 bags of trash, weighing in at nearly 150 lbs! Hundreds of bottles, food wrappers, cigarette butts, and plastic pieces were the bulk of the collected garbage, but many yards of fishing line, styrofoam bait containers, filled dog waste bags, and discarded clothing were also common finds.  One piece of unique local litter to be found were lost hockey pucks (although not surprising considering the location of the cleanup!).

Volunteer service projects such as COASTSWEEP are crucial to the health of our wild spaces, and this is especially true of the water ecosystems that exist in close proximity to dense urban areas and roadways, where garbage collects extremely quickly.  But beyond the immediate impacts, public events such as this also demonstrate the communal benefits that can grow ‘organically’ out of conservation work:  a number of COASTSWEEP participants this year were just walkers and hikers that happened to be passing by, had not heard about the cleanup project, but were motivated to pitch in just by seeing the work that the other volunteers were doing!

Below is a gallery of the great work accomplished at COASTSWEEP ’19!

Thank you to all the volunteers that participated in this year’s COASTSWEEP!  Your efforts helped make this another successful cleanup event!

 

The Friends of the Fells welcomes volunteers of all ages and experience levels!  Interested in volunteering, or have a service project to propose?  Fill out our volunteer questionnaire:

 

Volunteer with the Friends of the Fells

Or contact Jesse at Jesse.Macdonald@fells.org.

 


COASTSWEEP is sponsored by the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM), and is part of Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup, where volunteers worldwide collect marine debris and record data to help identify its sources and develop education and policy initiatives to reduce it…

COASTSWEEP is more than a beach cleanup. As part of COASTSWEEP, volunteers help address future problems by filling out data cards to show what they’ve collected. These cards are sent to Ocean Conservancy in Washington, DC, where the information is entered into a massive database. The data are then used to analyze the local and international trends in marine debris and identify its sources to help reduce the problem in the future.

For more information:
https://www.mass.gov/service-details/about-coastsweep
https://www.mass.gov/service-details/coastsweep-more-on-marine-debris
https://www.mass.gov/orgs/massachusetts-office-of-coastal-zone-management

https://oceanconservancy.org/trash-free-seas/international-coastal-cleanup/

A notice to all hikers in the Bellevue Pond area:  due to significant erosion issues that have developed on the Skyline Trail/Wrights Tower Path between Quarry Road Path and Wright’s Tower proper, DCR staff have diverted and re-routed a section of the trail in order to prevent further erosion damage to this hillside and the surrounding area.

DCR rangers ask that all visitors using this route to please remain on the new trail section (follow the updated trail blazes in white!) and allow the area to recover naturally.

 


Friends of the Fells would also like to take this opportunity to recognize the contribution to this trail project by the volunteer group from American Well.  It was primarily due to their very hard work on their company’s service day that this trail re-route was completed– in only a few hours, no less!

Thank you Erin, Ben, Daniel, Leon, David D., David K., and Keith!  Your volunteer efforts for the Fells are sincerely appreciated!

Are you a part of a group that is interested in a service project in the Fells?  We always welcome volunteer interest and requests!

Become a Volunteer