Sunday we visited the Lexington/ Concord Massachusetts area. There were several old houses along our walk that sit in isolated locations, the road at a distance. Time capsules of a sort, neither in use nor out, their windows continue to watch the world go by. Only memories inhabit these houses, unless you believe in spirits or ghosts. How many tracks has the sun cut along these floors, sweeping across it and illuminating the dust motes. How many storms have battered the walls, cold drafts sneaking in to chill the ankles of those gathered around the fireplace. How many small feet pattered through the rooms, out the doors and on the stairs. While the building might not be old in comparison to castles and ancient dwellings, it is still part of a full, rich human history that is timeless.
Joe and I got out for a quick, wind driven walk on Sunday. It has been warm but for the wind chill recently, so our walks are brief. But brief is still okay as it gets us out. This particular day found us behind an old New England church and walking on an old, abandonded rail line. The line once connected the barrel making capital of the world to the ports on the coast. Barrel making capital, a lost industry that makes me pause to think about those bygone days. There is a romance to the image of a barrel being delivered, the excitement of the opening and unloading that can’t quite be captured by an Amazon box.
While visiting in the land of limited cell service, I stopped by this slice of days gone by. Had it been geographically correct it felt like maybe Laura Ingalls or Nellie Oleson might appear and start browsing the shelves. But what really caught my eye as I passed , was the vintage bike standing in the window. Once upon a time, not that long ago, this was a functioning store. Then it became an antiques store, now it sits quietly at a country intersection as the traffic flows passed. I don’t recall it ever being in use, but my mother does. Apparently the house behind it is where the proprietors lived. It is now empty, as is the one next to it. Though we did see a raccoon on the roof, so I guess unoccupied is a relative term. It can be hard to tell sometimes as people seem to walk out and close the door behind them, leaving personal belongings in place like some strange tableau. It can make it a bit unnerving to approach as I certainly have no desire to encounter a resident in what seemed to be an abandoned house! Often in these places, even when empty, there is a palpable feel of previous lives still being played out. Tread lightly, tread lightly.
This building is located in a town that made a name for itself making barrels. It has been an antique shop for as long as I have lived in the area. TAPS (The Atlantic Paranormal Society) did a show here, and though they didn’t find any evidence that this building was haunted, the Reed homestead, located out of the photo to the left, certainly gave them what they were looking for. As you can see this building is cantilevered over the falls, which send the vibrations up through your feet when you are in that section. Opposite this building is an old grist mill and on the other side of the water is a house that was once a tavern and inn. There are numerous old structures in this end of town along the old rail line in what was once a thriving industry, barrels were used for packing all sorts of things and Townsend was the barrel making capital of the world. A different world in many ways, and not so much in others.
This is the Swamp Locks Gatehouse in Lowell Massachusetts which controls one section of the water flow that used to power the mills. There are several such Gatehouses around the city, all serving different sections of canal. When the water is low, you can see the rocks surrounded by just a trickle. But when the water is high, it rushes by through the sluiceways and around the open gates. The canal boats for tours are anchored on the other side of this building and the water there was barely rippling. It was 2 different worlds, just steps apart. When the mills were at full operation the noise from them must have drowned out the pounding of the water.
This is one of the mill buildings as seen from the backside of the gatehouse (which would be to the left in this image), the locks that served it are just barely visible where the water turns out of sight. The city is criss-crossed by canals and locks from the heyday of the mills.
When I go to visit my mom these days it is less about doing things than it is about visiting. Other than the occasional ride where she gets to be a passenger again and look out the window, she prefers to be at home. It is a change of pace that is expected, and not un-enjoyable, yet still a sign of the times as she ages. She recounts stories of people I knew and of some long gone before my time, as she is now the keeper of the tales and is passing them along to me. There are tidbits that often have a Laura Ingalls Wilder feel to them though they occurred long after those days, fragments of memories that come to her mind. Stories of the iceman and his wagon, sacks of butternuts and walnuts for winter snacking, woolen swimsuits and shoes that could be resoled when they wore out. It is impossible to have every story make it down through the years, no one can get all the telling done. We only can “set a spell” and listen while we can.