Monday, March 07, 2011


By Archie Mazmanian

In the mid-1970s, ventures to the Charles River with our four (4) infant/toddler children were by auto to Magazine Beach in Cambridge, a hop, skip and a jump from our home in Brookline’s Cottage Farm neighborhood, via the BU Bridge. Convenient parking was provided. It was sort of like the picnics my family used to go to at Spy Pond in Arlington, or Camp Ararat in Maynard in the 1930s/40s, except that Magazine Beach was so close to home we did not have to pack food. Magazine Beach was much friendlier and comfortable back then than it is today. (Its deterioration in recent years has been well documented at this Blog). There might be a softball game; or tag; or climbing trees; or investigating the shoreline. A few hours of the open space and the water view, including boaters and aquatic birds, was very comforting. And it was so close to home.

In a few years as the children got older, trips to the Charles would be on foot through BU’s campus at the Marsh Chapel via the footbridge over Storrow Drive. (I was wary of the long staircase off the easterly side of the BU Bridge not only for the safety of my children but myself.) The children would spend a few minutes on the footbridge watching the heavy and noisy traffic below. But once we got to the Charles, there was all that open space, with plenty of running room, and quiet. Fortunately the children’s short legs made it easy watching over them. At this point, the expanse of the Charles is quite wide. And there were many sailboats, some from BU’s sailing pavilion adjacent to the BU Bridge, gliding smoothly with the breezes.

It was at this time that I paid attention to the railroad trestle under the BU Bridge that years later I learned was part of the Grand Junction Rail Line (GJRL). I never saw a train crossing the trestle. I had no knowledge of its purpose. But it served as a passage limitation with respect to large boats on either side as the trestle is not a drawbridge. (Years later with the proposal of the Urban Ring project that might utilize the GJRL trestle, I became very active in challenging the BU Bridge area as the Charles River crossing for Phase 2 of the project that led me to the Charles River White Geese Blog, including contributions of commentary on the plight of the Geese and the Urban Ring.)

I pointed out to my children that there was a bridge under the BU Bridge, which seemed funny, at least to me. But the children were more focused on exploring the shoreline, watching the ducks and other seabirds. Sometimes we would see ducklings trailing their parents. We were fascinated by the seabirds serenely floating on the River and suddenly disappearing below the surface, and then bobbing up some distance away after apparently feeding on fish. We started timing the dives and guessing where the seabird might surface. We were enjoying nature so close to our home.

We weren’t alone. There were joggers, skaters and bikers who remained on the paved paths. Some were picnicking. And some were doing exercises or yoga. All were enjoying this expanse of open space and water, ignoring the speeding traffic on Strorrow Drive. I enjoyed the view to the Cambridge side of the Charles, noting architecture that I overlooked while driving on Memorial Drive. The Hyatt Hotel I imagined as a pyramid along the Nile as in the song “You Belong to Me” made popular by Jo Stafford. I saw all of this through the eyes of my young children, with their innocence. But for them, I might not have been there, or even if I were, I would not have taken the time to fully enjoy the Charles. It was all so close to home, so quiet and peaceful. Usually we made it to the Harvard Bridge, where we watched the golden carp near the Muddy River dam, and then headed back home, sometimes to Brigham’s on lower Beacon Street in Brookline for ice cream or a cold drink.

As the children got a little older and their legs longer, we would extend our discoveries of the Charles beyond the Harvard Bridge along the Boston shoreline or crossing over to the Cambridge side, viewing the Boston skyline, and returning home via the BU Bridge. (Part V will reveal our discoveries of Oliver Smoot and the Charles River White Geese.)


Prior reports:

Part III, 2/19/11:

Part II, 2/5/11:

Part I, 1/29/11: