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Remember the Big Dig?

No, not that Big Dig, an earlier one one. This one, described by some as The Incredible Ditch was completed a long, long time ago. Of course you don't remember it, no one today does, so Burlington Retro's Rob Fahey fills us in on the history of the Middlesex Canal.


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Thanks for sharing this article.

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Always nice to see a map of Brookline before Boston stole the Charles River frontage as well as the northeast corner, depriving the world of Brookline University along Comm Ave and the Brookline Red Sox in Fenway Park. (As well as, before they moved away, the Brookline Braves at Braves Field)

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Boston should have annexed you (and Cambridge, and Somerville) a couple of hundred years ago!

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In the 1870s, Boston proposed annexing the towns of West Roxbury and Brookline. West Roxbury said yes (narrowly), while Brookline said no, and that's why Brookline is cut off from the rest of Norfolk County.

It marked the first time a suburb anywhere in the US rejected annexation - something made possible in part by our history of relatively strong home rule, which required the suburb to give its approval to annexation (in other states, cities can more or less gobble up suburbs if they feel like it). It's why Boston is the smallest major city in relation to its metropolitan area in the country.

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but in this alternate history, what would have happened to The Rat? Would somehow we now recognize the phrase Rock City Brookline?

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I'm sure it would be fine, up being up in gritty, urban, northern Brookline, and not posh, suburban, southern Brookline. (I don't know if the kids at Brookline High sort themselves into gangs based on which side of town they're from, but for my personal amusement, I hope so)

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Former Bostonian here, new to Wilmington. Sure enough the canal is right across the street from me and the neighbors were telling us all about it recently. Down the road is a bunch of historical markers... perhaps its time to go down and take a better look at this really interesting portion of MA history.

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...on Mill Street in Burlington, which becomes Hillside Way in Wilmington before it terminates at Chestnut Street. In fact the house I grew up in (a circa 1715 farmhouse that my parents have owned since 1967), is represented as one of the three dots in the center of the upper leftmost panel on that map, just below the squiggly line, which represents Sawmill Brook (a tributary of the Ipswich River). When I was a kid, my father would regularly take my siblings and me for walks along the remnants of the canal that are on Town and Middlesex Canal Association owned land off of Butters Row, near the water treatment plant in Wilmington. The canal's earthworks there are quite evident, as are the abutments of an aqueduct over Maple Meadow Brook. Another interesting piece of civil engineering history nearby is the ruin of Clapp's Mill in the Sawmill Brook Conservation Area on the Burlington/Wilmington line. The main dam is a large granite edifice just on the Burlington side of the town line that some think may have been engineered by Baldwin or a protégée of his, and there's a smaller earthen dam a few hundred yards upstream, off the beaten path. Also, the deep gorge that Sawmill Brook runs through is kind of a geographic oddity for this area and and is spectacularly beautiful, especially this time of year. Both towns maintain conservation areas on their respective sides of the bounds. If you have the time, I recommend visiting, there's public access off of Mill St (at a gate between 192 and 194 Mill, with a parking for one or two cars) or the Fox Hill Elementary School parking lot in Burlington (the paths are well signed from there), or from a small public parking area and trailhead at the end of Green Meadow Drive in Wilmington.

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Thanks for an entertaining rabbit hole this morning. Looks like the Middlesex Canal Association is hosting a bike tour of the canal route tomorrow: http://www.middlesexcanal.org/

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Thanks for posting!

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There is an annual bike ride organized around wandering the path of the canal and what little is left of it.

I think it may be this weekend. Goes on every year, though.

Fascinating that much of it is now the right of way for the Lowell Line Commuter Rail.

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Fascinating that much of it is now the right of way for the Lowell Line Commuter Rail.

That's the progression of some of these things, especially with the value of a cleared right-of-way (or easement). Canals became railroads, railroads became highways, railroads became paths for utility mains...

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One of the neatest factoids I know is that when the railroads were winding down in the 1970s, AT&T and MCI were looking for ways to run fiber optic cables, un-interrupted for 100's of miles, And the railroads could deliver. (this offered a stream of income when there was none)

This expanded in the 80s and 90s, and whoever owns old railroad ROW's can make cash by selling the ROW rights to fiber optic (internet) companies.

There's a reason why CoreSite, InterNAP, and a few other internet providers & co-location facilities are in "Inner Belt" in Somerville.. several rail lines converge nearby, thus so do fiber internet providers.

Same with XO's facility on a sleepy East Cambridge side street.. it abuts the Grand Junction. That's one of the reasons why Kendall became a tech space.. the SONET ring runs under Grand Junction. In fact, most internet traffic for our region runs along this corridor.

They are even in places where a ROW exists, but trains haven't rolled down in decades but have fiber cabling under them. like the Somerville Community Path, Minute Man Trail, Northern Strand, and the Cape Cod rail trail. These serve as a backbone for many smaller connection points.

On the cape, this has been a game changer in terms of reliability. No more poles, its all buried, at least for the back bone. So if Hyannis gets hit with a storm badly, the rest of the cape (pending electricity availability) wont lose communication services.

Its pretty neat to think that many old rail lines that are dormant are still in use in a way.. just a more modern way to connect.

Canals to trains to highways to the information superhighway

Edit: Clarity + adding more

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Sprint, the former telecommunications company, got its start as a subsidiary of the Southern Pacific Railroad, using the rail rights-of-way for fiber optic cables for long distance phone calls (before cell phones and the internet). The first letters of the name were an acronym for Southern Pacific Railroad.

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That is so cool.

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Was the Hoosac Tunnel in the Berkshires. (Florida MA) In 1851 it was an engineering feat as well. It still is in use by freight trains and is fun to visit.

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Very nice. Anything on the Roxbury Canal remnants of which can still be seen next to Melena Cass Boulevard.

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Check the sidebar. I think Adam pinned an article about Stony Brook that might mention the canal.

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