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
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.
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.