Autumn in the North Cemetery.

Sixty miles west of Boston, Massachusetts there is the small New England town of Sturbridge. Located at the junction of I-90 (The Mass Pike), and I-84 it has become known as the "Crossroads of New England". The town was first settled over 300 years ago, and like other small New England towns it has grown just enough over the years to be in a difficult place today. How do we embrace the future without forgetting how we got to our present? How do we attract the right kind of growth, and maintain who we are? And, what about our culture out here in Central Massachusetts?

These pages will cause one to think about how to protect what we have, our future direction, and how to move on in the very best way.

Those thoughts, and other ramblings, will hopefully inspire more thought, conversation, action, and occasionally a smile...

...seems to be working so far

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

It's A Table, Nothing More

And, so on it goes... .

Picnic tables. Such a common thing (no pun intended, really).

I received a phone call today from Craig, the reporter at the Worcester Telegram that covers our town, and he asked me if I knew about the new picnic table on the Town Common.

I wasn't even aware that one was there, but he told me it has been there for a week or two. It seems to have come from the Recreation Department , and is a replacement of the one that went missing a few years ago. More than one table has gone "missing".

When I arrived here in the summer of 2000 there were a few tables on the common, the following year they didn't show up, so I called the Rec Department, and some time later they were delivered to the Common by the DPW. Now, I don't remember exactly how many tables there were in 2000, but there were less later on, and after a year or two, they just disappeared.

They were old, and may have just required too much maintenance to keep going. Picnic tables have been a part of the common for some time.

They ain't nuthin' new.

Craig also told me that some folks were upset about the new table on the common. When I asked him who these "some people" were he only gave me one name, but it is enough. I fully understand why that person would not want tables on the Common. The person is a history buff, and feels that anything other than what was there originally is a desecration of the ground. That goes for the bandstand, benches, concrete walkways, and the electric power that powers the lights at Christmas, and the lights inside the bandstand, and anything else that is not "original".

History people can be that way. I'm a history person, too, but as long as I continue to take my medication, I am controllable, reasonable, and rarely chase cars anymore.

The Common goes back a few hundred years, a gift from the Salstonstall Family, it is called a common because the land was given to be used by the residents of Sturbridge for purposes in common, or things that were common to do at the time. Take your pick, both are correct.

A piece of land in common with each other, used for purposes in common with each other. The drilling of militias, the grazing of livestock, and whatever other purpose was needed. The cemetery was a common need. The meeting house was also a common need as well, and is the very reason why this particular land was chosen. The meeting house was not only a place of worship, but a center of town government.

Some how, over the years, the original purpose of this common land began to loose its meaning. The Worcester County Agricultural folks built a building (now the current town hall) on Common land. How this happened is any ones guess, but should never have occurred. Where the Joshua Hyde Library is now a shoe factory was allowed to be built. I have the original hand written agreement between the town and the folks that owned the factory. That should never have happened as well. A factory on the town common? Beats the bejeepers out of a picnic table or two.

Tonight, after a great meal at Ebeneezer's at the Publick House, we took a drive by the new interloper on the common. The table is green, with bent metal tubing for supports, and a mesh table top. At one end of the table the top extends out about 18 inches more than the other side to accommodate folks in a wheelchair. It's an ADA table. The table is also chained to a tree.

Smart move.

There are metal, low maintenance picnic tables with more of a traditional look, but after seeing this one, it is fine. The table sits on the Chamberain Street side of the common in front of the Chamberlain Block of apartments, and is completely unobtrusive.

It blends in very well. Doesn't make any noise, and just sits there awaiting the next person to sit down, sip some coffee, and read the paper a bit. Maybe more than one person will sit down and enjoy themselves, and their surroundings. Eating at tables, sipping coffee, and reading the paper are all "common" things. Can't think of a better place to enjoy them than on a nice day, surrounded by history, and in the shade of an old maple.

Sounds like an act for the common good to me.

I guess the question is, is it appropriate to place a picnic table on a beautiful piece of town owned land for residents, and visitors alike to enjoy regardless of the fact that the land is historic.

Them answer is yes. The land is not sacred in the true sense of the word. It is not a battlefield, or other hallowed ground. It is a town common meant to be shared with everyone in common. If folks feel that the picnic table is out of place, then what about other things like weddings, festivals, craft fairs, concerts, and all the modern touches of today that they bring? Should we say no to them as well?

Years ago I walked the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach in Normandy, France. That is sacred ground. Hallowed ground, yet there are stone benches for one to sit, and think. Of course there were no picnic tables. Different land, different history. At Verdun I went into a small store, and when I came out to my car, which was parked on the opposite side of the road against the wall of the old Citadel, I looked at the wall and there, on a small wooden sign, were a few words written to commemorate the 16 members of the French Resistance that were shot at this place in 1944. A truly sacred place, yet there was a convenience store 25 feet way, parking along the wall, and other businesses along the street. Again, different place, different history, and a different way of remembering.

The thing about history is that is ours, not just yours. It is everyones. We can acknowledge it, learn from it, and respect it, but we should never prevent people from visiting places that are historic, and enjoying it depending on the site within reason. A picnic lunch on the Gettysburg Battlefield would be out of place, but at one of the tables along side the road in the area it would be appropriate. The Sturbridge Town Common, while historic, is not something that we should use to push our own agenda on what is respect for history, and what is not. Quite frankly, it is an old pasture, muster field, and a place they sold livestock from at one time. A picnic table, or two, is nothing compared to being ankle deep in manure, and mud.

It is also something else. It is a place where many marriages have begun, parents have played with their children, baseball was once played on a regular basis, craft fairs and festivals have been held, students have come to to have the pictures taken before their proms, and so many more happy events have occurred.

A picnic is a happy event.

For those against tables on the Common, make a bologna sandwich, go on picnic, and just be happy.


  1. Sorry Wally, I don't need a table to enjoy a bologna sandwich, or to be
    happy. What I do know is tables on the common will be 1 more added stress
    factor to the trees on the common. Any Arborist looking at those trees will
    tell you they are stressed from over use of this area. The placement of this
    metal, or any, table within the critical root zone (soil compaction from use)
    as well as the irritation of the chain against the bark of the tree is cause
    for stress. So from a professional view, and a personal view (I just don't
    like the table idea) it is a NO vote from me.

    Tom Chamberland

  2. Tom, Thanks for commenting. The table is a tubular table with a mesh top to allow rainfall to fall below it, and it has hollow tubular supports. The supports are bent as to not impact the ground, or the root zone of the trees. It is a environmentally, "green", passive table. It's total "dead weight" may be around 150 pounds total. When one compares this to the cars that are allowed to park directly on the root zones of the trees on the Common, there is no contest, but there has not been an outcry in that regard. The trees on the Common are old, and they need constant care and vigilance, which you are aware of. A picnic table will not harm a 250 year old tree. The years have already worn on it. We have to expect that the trees on the common are nearing the end of their lives, but is this a reason to restrict use of the Common to folks that would like to use this "common space"?

    I have to disagree with you, Tom, and you know I respect your knowledge, and opinion a great deal. This apparently comes down to just a matter of personal opinion.

  3. What are you saying? We should not use public land because it is stressing the trees? the trees have withstood the hurricane of 1938, snow, gales, and paving the roads, along with thousands and thousands of foot steps over the years.

    Yeah, let's just pack it in, and fence off the common from now on, and all sit in our homes looking at picturees of trees.

  4. Can't Believe ThisThursday, July 23, 2009

    i read today ion the paper that the selectwoman Mary Blanchard says that the common is not a place for picnics. that is the most ignorant thing I have ever heard. does she mean families can't put down a blanket, and enjoy the common in this way? thias is really crazy. maybe the other writer is right, we should surround the common with a fence or glass or something annd only look at from our car windows when we drive by.

  5. Wally, kudos on a great post. I couldn't agree more.

  6. ...Oh by the way, you may want to refrain from planting any flowers in the common. Their roots may inter-twine with the tree roots and cause a big stir!
    You will also need to post a sign that anyone over a certain weight will need to stay off of the common as it will kill the trees!...

  7. Sillyness. This town is finally beginning to see why I didn't vote for Mary Blanchard. By the way, whatever happened to that non-profit she started when she was running for selectmen?

    Was that just an empty promise? I think so; Mary is good at "sitting on boards", that's about it.


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