Saturday, February 05, 2011



By Archie Mazmanian

In my teens in the mid-1940s, our rag-tag baseball team from Roxbury’s Orchard Park took a road trip to the West End’s ballpark with its magnificent view of the Charles River. This was well before urban renewal changed the West End with high rises taking advantage of views of the Charles. Our Orchard Park was a small converted pedestrian park whereas our West End friends had a full size ballpark with the nearby expanse of the Charles serving as relief from its congested neighborhood. This ballpark was a major difference between our Roxbury and their West End neighborhoods. Alas, the proximity of the Charles River made the West End land too valuable for mere West Enders with their ethnic diversities, who to their credit to this day remind us of the devastation to their once viable neighborhood. Yes, developers realized the long-term value of land proximate to the Charles: “If you lived here, ….”

During these same teen-years, I learned of the joys of nighttime skinny-dipping in Dedham at what we called Mother’s Brook, a part of the meandering Charles River. In checking Google recently, I learned the correct name is “Mother Brook,” which provided a connection by means of a canal dug to divert water from the Charles to the Neponset River to provide water power to factories along the latter. Communities downstream from Dedham’s Charles River complained about the diversion as it impacted their use of water power. Eventually this was resolved back when water power was still in use with “only” one-third of the Charles’ water diverted to the Neponset River.

[Note: Space limitations do not permit going into too much history of the Charles River and water power but those interested should do some “Googling.”]

After finishing law school and passing the bar in 1954, and then completing my deferred military draft requirements in early 1957, I started my law practice. One of my early clients was pioneering in the then infant medical device industry. His one-man start up was originally located in the Fens area, close by the Muddy River. As the firm grew, in the early 1960s a move was made to space in the large Lewando’s Cleansers, Dyers, Launderers facility in Watertown Square adjacent to the Charles River, a short distance downstream from a dam in Newton. Within relatively a few years, my client occupied just about the entire building, which it bought. In connection with the purchase, one of the sellers provided a map of a footprint of the building and lot going back many years when this was a mill building, depicting canals off the Charles providing water power in the bowels of the building. By my client’s time, of course, water power was history. But only a couple of years prior to my client’s purchase, water was being drawn from the Charles for toilet-use only in the building, when the Town of Watertown finally put a stop to that for reasons of health.

We accept today certain environmental laws. But such laws are only of fairly recent vintage. An old timer from Watertown Square told me back in the 1960s that in his youth the color of the water in the nearby Charles River would identify the day of the week based upon Lewando’s dyeing schedule. But dyeing outside of cloth manufacturing had ceased to be a significant part of Lewando’s business many years earlier.

I frequently made business trips to the Watertown Square facility. I recall one day in the late 1960s driving there and after getting out of my car in the parking lot adjacent to the Charles noticing a strong, heavy stench in the air. I was told that because the Charles was low due to a long drought in our region, herring were having difficulty “jumping” the dam in Newton to go farther upstream in their annual quest for survival of their species; that the herring that couldn’t make it swam and swam until they died. The Charles was not then kind to the herring or olfactory senses in Watertown Square.

My client’s Board of Directors included two Harvard Business School professors back then, one of whom related the story of strong odors in the School’s buildings (on the Boston side of the Charles) so annoying to students and teachers, they were thoroughly investigated. It turned out that the cause was attributed to methane seeping through the foundations, the source being hides, etc, from nearby Brighton abattoirs that had been dumped in and/or buried along the Charles going back over many, many years, with the continued rotting of these hides, etc, resulting in the development of methane. (I couldn’t resist asking my fellow Director at the time if perhaps this problem might have been attributable to the faculty.) Harvard attended to its problem to make sure the world wouldn’t be deprived of MBAs to serve our financial and banking communities. (No comments at this time on the Great Recession of 2008.)

This brings to mind the expression “What happens in Vegas remains in Vegas.” But what happens upstream in the Charles does not remain upstream. Perhaps those curious will do some “Googling” before Part III appears.