Note On Points Of Interest Along The Assabet River Between
Gleasondale Road In Stow And Ben Smith Dam In Maynard
1. The Concord River Basin
The Concord River Basin consists of the Assabet, Sudbury, and Concord Rivers and their tributaries. Both the Assabet and Sudbury Rivers originate in Westborough within a few miles of each other and ultimately merge at Egg Rock in Concord to form the Concord River.
The Assabet River originates in wetlands above the Nichol's Dam in Westborough and flows north and then northeast 32 miles through Northborough, Marlborough, Berlin, Hudson, Stow, Maynard, and Acton to Egg Rock. The average channel slope or gradient is 6.3 feet/mile.
The headwaters for the Sudbury River are Westborough's Cedar Swamp. The Sudbury flows east and then northeast through Hopkinton, Southborough, Ashland, Framingham and Sudbury to Wayland and then north through Lincoln to Egg Rock in Concord, a total distance of 31.1 miles. The average channel slope or gradient is 5.2.
The Concord River flows north from the confluence at Egg Rock through Bedford, Carlisle, Billerica, Chelmsford, and Tewksbury to join the Merrimack at Lowell, a distance of 15.8 miles. The average channel slope or gradient is 6.4 feet per mile between Egg Rock and the Merrimack but virtually all of the decline in elevation occurs in the last five miles of the river around Lowell where the gradient reaches 20.0 feet per mile.
Parts of the three rivers were officially designated Wild And Scenic Rivers in April, 1999.
2. The Assabet River From Gleasondale Road In Stow To The Ben Smith Dam In Maynard
The 4.9 mile stretch of the Assabet River between the bridge on Gleasondale Road (Route 62) in Stow to the Ben Smith Dam in Maynard provides a remarkably diverse cross-section of the socioeconomic and political history, topography and geology, flora and fauna, and open-space preservation issues in the SuAsCo River Basin. From the mid-1600s through the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s this section of the river was the backbone of a vibrant, growing economy built around waterpower and handcrafting. Now much of that is gone, replaced by bedroom communities and orchards, coupled with a strong commitment to preserving the semi-rural character and many natural resources of the area.
The New England Rivers Center in its 1986 Assabet Riverway Plan extolled the natural resources of this section of the Assabet as follows:
Located roughly at the center of the Assabet River's length and with extensive scenic and undeveloped areas, the river segment in Stow can be considered the "Jewel of the Assabet"…. Stow has not only the cleanest water on the river, but also has the largest areas of undeveloped land adjacent and contiguous to the river. This provides unrivaled opportunities for maintaining wildlife habitats and passageways, for protecting wetlands-associated conservation values, and recreation activities like canoeing, fishing, hunting, hiking, picnicking, and possibly in the future, swimming.
This area offers an extraordinary mix of wetland and upland hardwood habitat. Indeed, if one includes the 2,000 acres in the Army Base as part of the riverine area here (difficult to do in the past since the base has been closed to the public for over 60 years), this stretch of the river probably ranks among the top three mixed wetland/woodland habitat areas in the SUASCO system in terms of the size and quality of such habitat as well as in terms of the diversity of flora and fauna.
The magnitude of the wetlands reflects in large part the relatively flat gradients in the area. The average gradient of the Assabet in this stretch is a mere 2.0 feet per mile. This is well below the 7.9 feet/mile average gradient of the Assabet upstream from Nichols Dam to Gleasondale or the 5.7 feet/mile average downstream from the Ben Smith dam in Maynard to the Assabet's confluence with the Sudbury River at Egg Rock in Concord.
Even the 2.0-foot figure is misleadingly high since most of the 10-foot drop in elevation between Gleasondale and the Ben Smith Dam segment occurs in the first 0.3 mile immediately below Gleasondale where the river is still flowing down the lower sections of Orchard Hill. The current here is relatively quick, the channel relatively straight and deep, and the riverbanks heavily wooded with red and silver maple sprinkled with willow and birch. Thereafter the current slows and the channel widens and grows more shallow as the river moves into a more open marsh area with very little current and ever-increasing numbers of meandering side channels. In this area the river gradients are likely no more than three or four inches/mile, more akin to the gradients on the lower Sudbury and upper Concord Rivers than on other sections of the Assabet.
3. Orchard Hill
Orchard Hill lies directly behind (to the west) of the mill buildings at the Route 62 (Gleasondale Road) crossing over the Assabet River in Gleasondale. The hill has played a fascinating role in the overall topographical scheme of the SuAsCo rivers system. Ron McAdow described this role in his book, The Concord Sudbury And Assabet Rivers, as follows:
New England bedrock lies beneath a thin layer of broken and powdered rock left when the ice sheet melted. A little fresh soil has been produced in the short time since glaciation, from decomposing stone and decaying vegetation. Soil is thinnest on ridges and hillsides, where it varies from inches to a few feet in depth. It becomes deeper along the bases of hills and in the valleys.
In some places glacial debris is piled high. Oval hills called drumlins are scattered throughout the Concord Basin. Orchard Hill (AS mile 17.0), at the Stow-Hudson boundary, is an example. The gentle form of this drumlin is all the more observable because it has been kept in grass. At the top of Orchard Hill, not visible from the river, is a "meltwater channel" washed out when ice melted from the glacier that once lay overhead.
Today the Assabet winds around the north of Orchard Hill. It is thought that prior to the Ice Age the Assabet ran to the south of the hill, through the current locations of Lake Boon and White's Pond, to merge with the Sudbury near Heard Pond (SU mile 18.1). This change of course was caused by the sudden drainage of a glacial lake.
Topographical maps of the area serve to underscore Ron's point. The maps indicate that the high ground or "continental divide" between the Sudbury and Assabet basins lies along Hudson and Sudbury Roads, suggesting that the Assabet River could well have flowed towards Sudbury and Wayland if the river had gone south of Orchard Hill.
4. Gleasondale (a.k.a. Randall's Mill and Rock Bottom)
Gleasondale has a long and illustrious history as a major milling center in New England. The first mill and dam - for grist and lumber - in what is now Gleasondale was built by Ebenezer Graves prior to 1750. The dam was located 80 to 100 feet downstream from the current dam. In 1769 the town built the first bridge over the Assabet (then known as the Elizabeth River) so that Abraham Randall, a respected citizen and scion of one of the first settlers, could get to his Methodist Church on Gospel Hill without getting his feet wet. In honor of the Randall family, the area in the vicinity of the dam and crossing was known at the time as Randall's Mills. (One local historian speculates that this first bridge was located just above the current dam behind the double white house at 457/459 Gleasondale Road where a number of large rocks along the bank may have served as bridge abutments.)
In 1813, the Rock Bottom Cotton & Woolen Company built a wood-framed textile mill at Randall's Mills and the emerging village and new post office became known as Rock Bottom. The current five-story brick mill building was built in 1854 after the original wooden building burned. A second building was added in 1919. Upwards of a hundred people, most living locally, were employed in the mill during this period. Textile milling continued until after World War II when operations were shut down and the building subsequently sold and converted into the Gleasondale Industrial Park.
A variety of other businesses came and went in Rock Bottom during the village's heyday in the bustling 1800's. These ranged from small artisan-type operations in woodworking, leather, farm implements, wicks, furniture, toys, and the like to the large Humphrey Brigham Shoe Factory at Railroad Avenue and Marlborough Road which employed over 100 people until it burned down in 1875.
As if in a final remembrance to a remarkable century, the name of the village and new post office was changed in 1898 from Rock Bottom to Gleasondale in honor of Benjamin Gleason and Samuel Dale who had been partners in the mill which spawned and nurtured this bustling community on the Assabet.
5. Historic Gleasondale Homes
Various of the older homes in Gleasondale reflect the golden era of New England textile milling. Unlike most of the rest of Stow the architecture in Gleasondale center is Victorian. Ethel B. Childs in her 1983 book, History of Stow, described it very eloquently (pp. 74-75) as follows:
The architecture reflected the prosperity of Rock Bottom. There was an elegance, Victorian in all its glory, quite different from the quiet conservatism in the center of [Stow]. The Gleason houses in particular are notable. Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Perkins - nee Emily Gleason - have a house that has been greatly altered from its earlier style with four white columns on the front. No expense was spared; a mansard roof, a tower, and a verandah were added; the back extends from the kitchen some distance to connect with a carriage house and stables beyond.
Howard Gleason's house, built for his parents by their parents, is less ornate and more compact. A gable is arte neuveau, done in carved wood applique. Its interior is comfortable and handsome in its detail, and its fence deserves more than a passing glance. Flowers grow profusely, and lawns bounded by stone walls slope down to the Assabet River that curves around the side of a very fine drumlin on which there is a substantial farm. Still pasture for cows, one is reminded that after all, without the farmer, none of the rest could be.
The yellow Perkins house is at 449 Gleasondale Road. The original house was built in 1836. Next door at 451 Gleasondale Road is the wedding gift house of Howard Gleason and across the road at 452 Gleasondale is the Dale house which was built in 1803. A trolley line from Stow Center to Gleasondale ran across the front lawn of the Dale house in the late 1800's and early 1900's.
6. Panoramic View Of The River
About a half-mile down the river from Gleasondale (just before the river takes a sharp right and the old railroad ROW first crosses the river) is a knoll on the left-hand side of the river. This knoll provides a fine view of the winding Assabet and the surrounding countryside and underscores how well the banks of this part of the river have been protected from the encroachment of development.
7. River Crossing Of The Marlborough Branch Rail Right Of Way
If the 1840's represented the beginning of the golden age of rail in New England and the nation, it was also the beginning of the end of the stage coach era. Nowhere was this clash of technologies more evident than in this section of the Assabet Valley. In the mid-1840s railroad investors proposed to build a new rail line from Boston to Fitchburg that would parallel Great Road (Route 117) and pass through the center of Stow. Stagecoach and tavern owners operating along Great Road bitterly opposed the plan. They ultimately succeeded in having the Fitchburg Railroad's main line routed through South and West Acton with what was subsequently known as the Marlborough Branch running from South Acton through Assabet Village (subsequently Maynard), Whitman's Crossing, (near Whitman's Bridge over the Assabet on Sudbury Road), Rock Bottom, and Feltonville (Hudson) to what is now Marlborough.
The Fitchburg Railroad's Marlborough Branch line began operation in June 1850 and during the late 1800s and early 1900s became a popular commuter line to Boston for both Stow and Lake Boon residents. According to the Maynard Historical Committee's History Of Maynard, Massachusetts 1871-1971, as many as 24 trains/day ran in and out of the Maynard depot during the heydays of the branch line. When Boon Pond was enlarged into Lake Boon, a lake steamer and its gasoline-driven replacement transported Boston commuters to and from their homes to Whitman's Crossing railroad station in Stow and Ordway's railroad station at the corner of what is now Main and Parmenter Roads in Hudson. The latter station was served by the Boston and Maine's Central Massachusetts main line that ran through Waltham, Wayland, Sudbury, and Gleasondale before intersecting with the Marlborough Branch east of Gleasondale and proceeding on to Marlborough and points west. The Gleasondale station for the Central Massachusetts main line was located further east of Railroad Avenue on Marlborough Road where the latter becomes one-way.
Passenger service on the Marlborough Branch was discontinued in 1939 and regularly scheduled freight service shortly thereafter. The abandoned right-of-way (ROW) crosses the river twice between Gleasondale and the Ben Smith Dam in Maynard. The first point is about three-quarters of a mile downstream from Gleasondale where the river takes a sharp left. This crossing is easily missed. The second crossing is just after Bailey Brook and before the Sudbury Road bridge and is clearly marked by the stone bridge abutments still standing on both sides of the river.
According to the 1986 Assabet Riverway Plan prepared by the New England Rivers Center, "most of the railroad grade is now owned by a private sand and gravel operator for use in reaching extraction sites along the river".
8. Fort Meadow Brook
Approximately one mile downstream from Gleasondale the Assabet makes a sharp 90° turn to the left, shifting from a southeasterly to a northeasterly course. Just upstream from this turn Fort Meadow Brook enters on the right. The headwaters for this brook are the Fort Meadow Reservoir in Hudson and Marlborough. During the mid 1840's the City of Boston bought up the water rights to Fort Meadow Pond, triggering the decision by Amory Maynard to shut down his father's sawmill on Fort Meadow Brook and build a new textile mill in what is now downtown Maynard. Subsequently Maynard again acquired extensive water rights in the area when the City of Boston decided to obtain its water elsewhere. Amory Maynard's far-reaching impact on the area is discussed further below.
9. Bailey's Brook and Boon Pond/Lake Boon
Two miles downstream from Gleasondale Road (Route 62) a wide channel enters the river on the right just after a waterfront home with extensive lawns and two major buildings with a number of bays. The two buildings house an extensive collection of vintage autos and aircraft.
The channel at the downstream end of the lawn is Bailey's Brook which serves as the outflow from Lake Boon (a.k.a. Boon Pond). A hundred yards or so up the brook is the dam that Amory Maynard built under water rights that he had acquired to assure adequate water supply for his Maynard mill. (See Section 20 Ben Smith/American Woolen Dam below.) The enlarged dam raised the water levels of Boon Pond to form a much larger Lake Boon. In the water below the dam are large clumps of iris.
The area around Lake Boon was first explored by Matthew Boon around 1660. Boon built a cabin on Boon Hill which lies between Bailey's Brook and Sudbury Road on the Assabet. Boon was subsequently killed by Indians in February 1676 during King Philip's War. A commemorative marker to Matthew Boon is located near Barton Road on the right river bank about 100 yards upstream from the Sudbury Road bridge.
On September 4, 1851 Henry David Thoreau hiked from his cabin at Walden Pond in Concord to Boon's Pond and wrote the following in his journal:
And now we leave the road and go through the woods and swamps towards Boon's Pond, crossing two or three roads and by Potter's house in Stow, still on east of river…. Larch trees in Stow about the houses. Beyond Potter's we struck into the extensive wooded plain where the ponds [presumably Willis, Puffer, Vose, Cutting and White Ponds and/or Pine Lake] are found in Stow, Sudbury, and Marlborough. Part of it called Boon's Plain. Boon said to have lived on or under Bailey's Hill at west of Pond. Killed by Indians between Boon['s Pond] and White's Pond as he was driving his ox-cart. The oxen ran off to Marlborough garrison-house. His remains have been searched for. A sandy plain, a large level tract. The pond shores look handsome enough, but water shallow and muddy looking. Well-wooded shores. The maples beginning to show red about it. Much fished.
Just downstream from Bailey's Brook on the left-hand side of the river is a small inlet and equipment and apple trees belonging to Honey Pot Hill Orchards. Watch for painted turtles which frequent this inlet in large numbers. On days when the water is calm small groups of the turtles can often be seen swimming along the bottom in the remarkably clear water.
A little further downstream is the second crossing of the railroad. Note the granite supports for railroad bridge on both sides of the river.
10. Migration Of Anadromous Fish
In her book, History of Stow, Ethel B. Childs tells the following story (p. 74) about alewife migration in the Assabet in the latter 1800's:
A law had been passed that all mill-owners must provide fish ways since their dams kept the fish from their normal upstream passages every spring at spawning-time. At various places in New England these fish-ladders may be seen. Mrs. Crowell tells us that Capt. Thomas Whitman saw, in Ram's Horn Brook, a huge quantity of fish, so he went home and hitched up his four oxen, took his four sons, and they dipped up over 60 bushels of fish, probably alewives, the largest one-day catch known in town. These fish-ways made a water communication to the ocean from Boon's pond via the Assabet, Concord, and Merrimac Rivers.
Rams Horn Brook originated in wetlands west of White Pond and flowed north to Boon Pond through extensive marshes that were subsequently inundated when Amory Maynard built the dam creating Lake Boon.
Interestingly, the U.S. Fish And Wildlife Service (USF&WS) has recently announced a program to restore the annual migrations of anadromous fish (alewives, blueback herring, shad and possibly Atlantic salmon) in the Concord, Sudbury, and Assabet Rivers and their tributaries. The first phase will involve transporting excess herring taken by the town of Taunton to various stocking points in the SUASCO basin. USF&W is seeking volunteers to assist both in the stocking of the herring and in the monitoring of various anadromous fish in their efforts to migrate along the SUASCO basin. The latter is particularly important in determining whether fish ladders will be required at the Talbot Dam in Billerica.
11. Sudbury Road, Whitman's Bridge, and the Captain John Whitman House
The Whitman Bridge over the Assabet River on Sudbury Road is 2.5 miles downstream from Gleasondale and is the first highway bridge encountered after leaving Gleasondale. When the early settlers arrived there was a Native American ford at this location which the settlers continued to use until a bridge could be built. The construction date of the original bridge is unknown but it likely was built of wood since construction of bridges from stone did not come into vogue in the Suasco region until the mid-1850s.
The bridge is named after the Whitman family whose family home lies just west of the bridge at the intersection of Sudbury Road with Whitman Street and Boon Road. The colonial two-story home was built in 1810 and may originally have been intended as an inn. In recent years the house has been the home of the owners of Honey Pot Hill Orchards. The orchards stretch upstream from Sudbury Road along the ridge on the left bank of the river. According to the owner of Honey Pot Hill Orchards, remnants of a Native American campground, arrow points, and the like have been found at the high point of the ridge near the river just downstream from the abutments of the railroad bridge.
The Whitman's Crossing railroad station was located on the right bank close by the Whitman Bridge. According to the Rev. and Mrs. Preston R. Crowell in their book, Stow, Massachusetts, 1683-1933, Squire Ed Whitman would only agree to convey land along the river that the railroad needed to get to Rock Bottom if the railroad built a station at this location and named it Whitman's Crossing. During its heyday in the late 1800's and early 1900's as many as 7 passenger trains per day ran each way through this station carrying commuters to and from Boston.
12. The New Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge, Old Army Depot, and This Stretch Of The River As Seen By Henry David Thoreau in 1851
The west corner of the new refuge is about a half mile down the river from the Sudbury Road bridge near the western end of Crow Island. The refuge consists of two parcels. The much larger main parcel, consisting of more than 2000 acres, borders the Assabet River north of Sudbury Road while a small parcel of some 300 acres is located south of Hudson Road and east of White Pond. The two parcels are separated by the Sudbury State Forest that was once part of the base.
From this west corner, the boundary of the larger parcel extends 1.4 miles downstream (northeast) along the abandoned railroad to just beyond White Pond Road bridge in Maynard. The southern boundary of the larger parcel runs due south from the river to Sudbury Road, then southeast along Sudbury Road and the Sudbury State Forest to the base main gate on the north side of Hudson Road, a total distance of 2.1 miles from the river and 0.4 miles east of the Massachusetts Firefighting Academy. The boundary then turns generally northeast, skirting Willis, Cutting and Vose Ponds. Finally, near Route 27 the base boundary turns northwest toward the White Pond bridge over the Assabet River.
The Federal Government originally acquired the land (139 separate parcels totaling 2,906 acres in Stow, Sudbury, Maynard and Hudson) in 1942 to store ammunition and bombs awaiting shipment overseas. Thirty "igloos" or storage buildings were built at the time along with a network of rail lines and roads (including segments of two historic roads discussed below in the section entitled "New Lancaster Road/White Pond Road And Dr. Woods/Russell Bridge"). In subsequent years, the base was also used both by the Army's Natick Laboratories for testing food, clothing and other personnel-related materials and equipment and by Fort Devens for parachute and other training purposes. Currently, some 50 ammunition bunkers, 20 deteriorating buildings, and several miles of interior fencing still remain on the base. A large FEMA regional facility is also located on base land adjacent to Old Marlboro Road in Maynard and an Air Force radar site is located on a hill in the northwest corner of the base near the Sudbury Road bridge over the Assabet.
Parts of the original taking were returned in past years to the Commonwealth including 150 acres of state forest and the parcel occupied by the Massachusetts Firefighting Academy. Most of the remainder of the facility has recently been transferred to U.S. Fish and Wildlife for inclusion in the new Assabet National Wildlife Refuge. USF&W expects to begin opening the new refuge to the public this year (2001).
In his September 4, 1851 hike to Boon Pond (see Section 9 above), Thoreau chose to hike back to Concord from Boon Pond along the Marlborough Branch railroad which had been opened the prior year. Thoreau wrote the following in his journal about this section of the railroad which crosses what is now refuge land:
Returned by the railroad down the Assabet…. No good place to bath for three miles. Knight's new dam [Ben Smith dam in Maynard] has so raised the water. A permanent freshet, as it were, the fluviatle trees standing dead for fish hawk perches, and the water stagnant for weeds to grow in. You have only to dam up a running stream to give it the aspect of a dead stream, and to some degree restore its primitive wild appearance. Tracts made inaccessible to man and at the same time more fertile. Some speculator comes and dams up the stream below, and lo! the water stands over all meadow, making impassable morasses and dead trees for fish hawks,-a wild, stagnant, fenn country, the last gasp of wilderness before it yields to the civilization of the factory,- to cheer the eyes of the factory people and educate them. It makes a little wilderness above the factories.
As I looked back up the stream from near the bridge (I suppose on the road from Potter's house to Stow), I on the railroad, I saw the ripples sparking the sun, reminding me of the sparkling icy fleets which I saw last winter. Here crossed the river and climbed the high hills on the west side. The walnut trees conformed in their branches to the slope of the hill, being just as high from the ground on the upper side as on the lower.
On all sides now I see and smell the withering leaves of brush that has been cut to clear the land. I see some blackened tracts which have been burnt over. It is remarkable, for it is rare to see the surface of the earth black. And in the horizon I can see the smoke of several fires. The farmers improve this summer, which is the diest, their haying being done and their harvests not begun, to do these jobs,-burn brush, build walls, dig ditches, cut turf. This is what I find them doing all over the country now; also toping corn and digging potatoes.
On the high, round hills in the east and southeast of Stow-perchance they are called the Assabet Hills- rising directly from the river. They are the highest I know risingthus. The rounded hills of Stow. A hill and valley country. Very different from Concord. We sat on top of those hills looking down on the new brick ice-house. Where there are several hills near together, you cannot determine at once which is the highest, whether the one you are on or the next. So, when great men are assembled, each yields an uncertain respect to the other, as if it were not certain whose crown rose highest.
Saw what I thought a small red dog in the road, which cantered along the bridge this side the powdermills and then turned into the woods. This decided me-this turning into the woods-that it was a fox. The dog of the woods, the dog that is more at home in the woods than in the roads and fields. I do not often see a dog running into the woods.
…A few oaks stand in the pastures still, great ornaments. I do not see any young ones spring up to supply their places. Will there be any a hundred years hence? These are the remnants of the primitive wood, methinks. We are a young people and have not learned by experience the consequence of cutting off the forest. One day they will be planted, methinks, and nature reinstated to some extent.
13. Habitats And Plants Of The Old Army Base/New Refuge
During the early 1990's the Army sponsored two studies of the plants at this base. The most recent of these studies was a floristic survey conducted by Dr. David M. Hunt in 1992 which covered all lands then designated as part of the base plus the two parcels of Sudbury State Forest north of State Road. Some 667 species of plants were positively identified during this survey and Dr. Hunt estimated that another 90 species that were not found during the survey probably occur in the survey area given their known presence nearby. The 667 species included 8 rare species as defined by federal and/or state guidelines. The survey report further noted that a reasonable potential existed for finding additional rare species.
Dr. Hunt believed that both the 667 total species and the 8 rare species counts were higher than what might reasonably have been expected. He attributed the extensive diversity of plants to essentially three factors: (1) the broad range of soil types which support a large number of plant community types, (2) the large number (147) of introduced species, and (3) the low level of human disturbance on the base. He further explained:
Some of the most biologically diverse and unique habitats on the [base] include an
Atlantic white cedar swamp, a small sandy-bottom kettlehole pond and several dwarf
shrub bogs, open canopy minerotropic peatlands, and areas of exposed sands….These
community types occur relatively infrequently in the region and harbor species
associations uncommon to the region. Further searches in these habitats have the
greatest potential to produce additional native species, including rare species….
A small but significant portion of the [base] contains sandy soils which are uncommon
for an inland location in east-central Massachusetts and may be considered more
characteristic of coastal areas in the state. Among the soil series and textures that are
common on the[base], but apparently occur infrequently in the region, are Windsor
loamy fine sand, Deerfield loamy sand, Carver loamy coarse sand, and Hinckley
loamy sand. Many plant [species] found infrequently in the region characteristically
occur in areas where these sandy soils are exposed.
One reason why Dr. Hunt thought his list of 667 species was understated was because the approximately 460 acres of the Sudbury State Forest south of State Road near White Pond were not included in the survey. He noted in this regard:
This portion…probably has good potential for supporting additional
species such as those associated with the deep sands of the pitch pine-scrub oak
barrens which occur here…. Five additional species,…which were not seen or
reported in areas of the [base] north of State Road either during the current study or
during previous surveys by Aneptek Corporation, were reported in the area south of
14. Crow Island
Crow Island abuts the refuge and is privately owned. The west end of the island is about a half mile downstream from the Sudbury Road bridge on the right side of the river. Access on foot is possible via the railroad ROW at both Sudbury and White Pond Roads. The banks of this privately owned island are favorite fishing spots for local fishermen and ultralite enthusiasts are permitted to use the island for takeoffs and landings. Bass and pickerel are the principal fish caught on this section of the river with brown and rainbow trout possible further upstream in the Northboro area. This section of the river also attracts substantial numbers of ducks, geese and woodcock in the spring and fall as well as a nesting pair of mute swans.
15. Gardner Hill And Stow Town Forest
Gardner Hill lies on the left directly across from Crow Island in the area where the river widens substantially. The 300-acre Town Forest at Gardner Hill extends from the banks of the Assabet to Elizabeth Brook and was the first conservation land parcel purchased (1968) by the town. The area has a number of trails including the Little Bog Trail around a developing bog as well as the foundations of a sawmill known as Conant's Mill. The sawmill was built in the mid-1600s and may have been the first mill in Stow. It operated until at least 1830.
16. Elizabeth/Assabet Brook
About a mile downstream from Gardner Hill and Crow Island and just beyond the Stowaway Golf Course, Elizabeth Brook enters the Assabet on the left. Ron McAdow, in his book, offered the following about the name of the brook:
Elizabeth Brook (AS mile 22.3) is also referred to as Assabet Brook. The name of the Assabet River suffered from similar confusion until 1850. Assabet, Asebath, Asibath, Elsibethe, Elizabeth were variations in the English phonetization of the Nipmuck name for the river. Elizabeth Brook drops 250 feet from a bog in Harvard to the point at which it joins the Assabet.
The Maynard Historical Committee in its report, History Of Maynard Massachusetts 1871-1971, noted that:
The name, Assabet, is from the Indian Algonquin language and means "the place where materials for making fishnets grow."
Whatever one calls it, this brook's 250 foot drop had a great deal to do with why Stow attracted early settlers as well as why the economic center of the town developed in the location that it did. It was certainly no mere coincidence that both the early commercial and residential areas in the center as well as Great Road ran close by the brook, given the number of mills that sprang up along the banks of the brook.
The extensive watershed served by Elizabeth Brook is a major contributor to water flow rates and flood levels of the Assabet River. In 1968 the "Delaney Multiple Purpose Complex of the SuAsCo Watershed Project" was undertaken under the overall direction of the U.S. Soil Conservation Service in an effort to provide greater control over flooding from the brook. The project purchased rights to store flood waters on almost 4,000 acres along the brook above Delaney (Zander's) Pond in northwest Stow, Bolton and Harvard and built the 22-foot Campbell dam. According to Francis Warren in Recollections of Stow, project designers estimated that the containment area behind the dam could hold back enough water to make a twelve-inch difference in Assabet River levels at Maynard Mills.
17. Decontaminated Soils Landfill
On the right at the downstream end of Crow Island is a high bank of grass. This bank contains soils that have been decontaminated during the hazardous waste cleanup at the base.
18. New Lancaster Road/White Pond Road And Dr. Wood's/Russell Bridge
The Russell bridge carrying White Pond Road over the Assabet is the next bridge after Sudbury Road Whitman Bridge and is about two miles downstream from Sudbury Road. The first bridge at the Russell site was known as Dr. Wood's Bridge. The bridge was built circa 1715 as part of New Lancaster Road. The road ran from the meeting house in Sudbury Center generally along what is now Route 27 to Puffer Road, then past Vose Pond along what later became known as Puffer Road (within what is now the Army base) to Dr. Wood's Bridge and from there on to Stow Lower Village and Lancaster. At the time (1715), Dr. Wood's Bridge was the only bridge across the Assabet between Assabet Village and Old North Bridge in Concord. New Lancaster Road remained the principal stagecoach route from Boston to Lancaster and beyond until 1816 when what is now known as the Ben Smith Bridge was built a few hundred yards downstream to carry Great Road over the Assabet on its way from Boston to Fitchburg.
At the east end of the Army base the New Lancaster Road (more recently Puffer Road) crossed the Old Concord And Marlboro Great Road which, as the name suggests, ran on the east side of the Assabet from Concord to what is now Marlboro. Fragments of the Old Concord and Marlboro Great Road, now known simply as Old Marlboro Road, still exist in Concord, Sudbury, Maynard, and Stow. Near the intersection of the two roads (close to Vose Pond and what is now the FEMA regional center) stood the Rice Tavern which for more than a hundred years (1685-1815) was a favorite of both the locals and stagecoach passengers on both roads.
19. Tuttle Hill And Taylor Brook By David Burke, Stewardship Biologist, SVT
On the right immediately after the Dr. Wood's Bridge and White Pond Road is Tuttle Hill and, 100 yard beyond, the mouth of Taylor Brook. Taylor Brook and its tributaries, Puffer's Brook originating in Puffer Pond, and Honey Pot Brook connecting Puffer's and Taylor Brooks serve as the principal drainage system for Willis and Puffer Ponds and Crystal Lake. These three bodies of water lie within or close by the southern and eastern boundaries of the base and are surrounded by both open marshes and swamps with standing deadwood. Vegetation in these areas include yellow and black willow, buttonbush, leatherleaf, concentrations of wild cranberry and, particularly intriguing, an Atlantic White Cedar bog. The open marshes attract ducks and geese, rails and herons, shorebirds, wrens and blackbirds, and the like while the deadwood swamps provide great habitat for bluebirds, wood ducks, nesting herons and raptors. Mammals seen in recent years in and around the base include beaver, fisher, otter, weasel, mink, deer, and moose. Five species of turtle are found including Blanding, wood, spotted, painted, and snapping.
The upland areas tend to be principally in the northwest quadrant of the base and include a mix of hardwood forests and open fields. A large field in this area used by the Army for parachute training has sandy soil supporting native grasses and appears ideal for wintering short-eared owls and other raptors.
The Maynard Historical Committee in its History of Maynard 1871-1971 offered the following interesting insight into early milling activities along Taylor Brook:
Old settlers spoke of two saw and grist mills on the brook known as Taylor Brook, which empties into Thanksgiving Pond on the Assabet River. Traces of the dam of Asa Smith's mill may still be found on the old Taylor Farm. The Puffer mill was further up the brook, and this mill because of the small water power, ran very slowly, so the people used to start the machinery and then go to other work, or gossip, and when the saw had run its course it would stop of itself.
20. Ben Smith/American Woolen Dam
The Ben Smith dam and a diversion canal running from upstream of the dam to a mill pond behind what is now the mill cluster in downtown Maynard were built in 1846 by Amory Maynard and William Knight. Maynard's father had owned a small sawmill at Fort Meadow Pond in what is now Marlborough and Amory inherited and ran the mill for several years after his father died. He subsequently sold the mill's water rights to the City of Boston for $60,000 which built what is now known as the Fort Meadow Reservoir. Looking elsewhere, Amory saw an interesting water supply opportunity in the Assabet Village area. At about the same time Knight also had become interested in the Assabet Village area after his carpet mill on the Sudbury River in Saxonville burned.
In 1845 the two teamed up essentially to corner the market for both water rights and mill and power sites in and around Assabet Village . In the process they acquired 109 acres in the center of Assabet Village and subsequently bought several hundred acres around Boon Pond in Stow and Fort Meadow Pond. Ben Smith had been an owner of land near the dam site. In 1847 Maynard and Knight built a wood-framed yarn and carpet mill which they named Assabet Mills at the northeast end of the millpond fed by their diversion canal. The new mill prospered and by 1852 two more wood-framed buildings had been added. In 1862 the mill became Assabet Manufacturing Company and in 1892 the clock tower built. By the late 1890s the company operation in Maynard had become the largest woolen mill in the U.S. Then in 1898 the company went bankrupt and the assets were subsequently purchased and the facilities refurbished by American Woolen Company.
During the late 1800s and early 1900s the basin above the Ben Smith Dam became a popular recreation area with power-driven launches carrying passengers upstream to Lake Boon.
The Maynard Historical Committee, in its History Of Maynard, Massachusetts 1871-1971, reported that the remains of six Indians buried in a row as well as various related artifacts had been found at the dam site at an unspecified date.
21. Water Quality On The Mainstem Of The Assabet River By Suzanne Flint, Water Quality Coordinator, OAR
The condition of Assabet River between Gleasondale and the Ben Smith dam is typical of the lower sections of the river: there are high concentrations of nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen), large daily changes in dissolved oxygen (DO) concentrations, and excess plant growth. The excessive plant growth, termed eutrophication, is the single largest problem on the mainstem of the Assabet River. Eutrophication is caused primarily by the nutrients added to the river by wastewater treatment plant effluent (seven treatment plants discharge to the river) and stormwater runoff. By mid-summer, slow-moving sections of the river like the Ben Smith impoundment have thick growths of plants including, duckweed, curly leaf pondweed, watermeal, algae, and hornwort. Duckweed collects above the Ben Smith dam (and other dams along the river) forming a solid green mat that blocks out sunlight and plant growth beneath it. In late summer the plants start to decay, generating strong sewage-like odors and lowering the dissolved oxygen levels in the river critical for fish habitat. Because of these problems, sections all along the mainstem of the river fail to meet the state’s Class B water quality standards for dissolved oxygen, fecal coliform counts, pH, and nuisance aquatic vegetation growth.
Since 1992 the Organization for the Assabet River (OAR) has monitored water quality all along the mainstem of the Assabet River to understand and advocate for chemical and biological health of the river. During the summer of 1999, OAR took water quality samples once a month at 22 sites along the river, including three sites along this stretch of the river. Total phosphorus concentrations between Gleasondale and the Ben Smith dam were between 3 - 10 times the concentrations needed for eutrophication. Total nitrogen (TN) concentrations at Gleasondale were 2 - 3 times the concentrations for eutrophication, but dropped steadily between Gleasondale and White Pond Road as the nutrients were taken up by plants and algae in this stretch during the growing season. Table 1 shows nutrient and dissolved oxygen concentrations in the river during July 1999. The concentrations are typical of those seen in moving sections of the river during summer low flows.
Table 1: Assabet River Nutrient & Dissolved Oxygen Concentrations - July 1999*
Total Phosphorus (mg/L)
Total Nitrogen (mg/L)
Dissolved Oxygen % saturation
Above Gleasondale dam, Stow
Boon Rd./Sudbury Rd., Stow
White Pond Rd., Stow
Rte 62, Maynard
Upper Ben Smith Impoundment
Lower Ben Smith Impoundment
*Data from OAR’s baseline water quality monitoring program
Large daily changes in dissolved oxygen (DO) concentrations are typical of eutrophied systems. Aquatic plants pump oxygen into the water column as they photosynthesize, increasing DO concentrations over the course of the day. At night plant and microbial respiration takes oxygen back out of the water column leaving DO concentrations at their lowest just before sun-up. DO concentrations in the running sections of the river between Gleasondale and the Ben Smith dam were mainly within the healthy range (above 5.0 mg/L and > 60% saturation). Within the Ben Smith impoundment, however, DO concentrations were unhealthy. Toxically high mid-afternoon concentrations of dissolved oxygen were measured in the upper end of the impoundment among the rooted aquatic vegetation. At the same time, beneath the duckweed cover nearer the dam, DO concentrations were close to zero. These large changes in DO concentration make the Ben Smith impoundment poor habitat for fish and other aquatic organisms during the summer.
Because the Assabet River is heavily eutrophied, strategies to improve the river’s conditions will have to be multi-faceted. For example, nutrients coming from the wastewater treatment plants should be reduced to a minimum, storm water runoff should be controlled and treated, and the river corridor should be protected.
 This canoe trip note has been compiled by Henry H. Norwood for the Sudbury Valley Trustees (SVT), Organization For The Assabet River (OAR) and Friends Of The Assabet River NWR .All rights are reserved. Much appreciated assistance in the preparation of this note was provided by Julia Blatt, David Burke, Suzanne Flint, Karen and David Gray, Lewis Halperin, Steve Johnson, Alan Kattelle, Ron Lockwood, Judy Mack, Richard Martin, Connie Mohr, Ray Nava, Dorothy Perkins, Tim Prior, Barbara Sipler, and Barbara Volkle.