Wednesday, May 18, 2011

In My Footsteps: Trip 116: Newton, Massachusetts

In My Footsteps
Christopher Setterlund

Trip 116:  Newton, Massachusetts
March 30, 2011

            Ranked third on the list of best places to live by CNN Money for 2010 the city of Newton is unique for a variety of reasons.  First is the fact that it is made up of a whopping twelve ‘villages’ which is amazing in and of itself.  Though it is a suburb of Boston, Newton has a feel of its own, not merely a smaller Boston.  It is also known for the famous ‘Heartbreak Hill’ which is part of the Boston Marathon.  A fun bit of trivia is that the Fig Newton cookie is named for the city.
City Hall from the walking bridge.
            I began by visiting the Heartbreak Hill area which is close to City Hall.  I did not run it but it did look imposing.  I knew Newton was special when their City Hall was such a cool area.  From where I parked I crossed over a small creek thanks to a bridge to get to the building.  I don’t know many City Halls with bridges and creeks around them.  I stuck around in the warm spring sun shooting for a bit but there was so much more to see in the twelve villages of Newton.
            I took a spin down to Crystal Lake in the village of Newton Highlands next.  Being a fan of the Friday the 13th movies when I heard the name Crystal Lake I immediately began to think of the famed horror movie franchise.  Luckily for me the lake is nothing like that.  In fact the majority of the shore is dotted with private homes; the recreation and swimming area is relatively small.  The beach area was seemingly only large enough for a few people, though there is another swimming area that I did not visit which might be larger.  The crews were cleaning up the picnic area in anticipation of the upcoming season while I was there so I did not hang out there very long.
            An historic home I checked out after Crystal Lake is far more important in the history of America than any other in the city as far as I am concerned.  The Jackson Homestead is so meaningful because of the fact that it was used as a stop on the Underground Railroad before the Civil War.  William Jackson, who was elected to Congress in 1832, was associated with other abolitionists which led to him using his home as part of the Underground Railroad. 
Jackson Homestead and Museum
            Located on Washington Street the home was built in 1809 and stands out with its yellow exterior and green shutters.  It became a museum showcasing the early history of Newton in 1950 after being given to the city a year earlier.  It is open year round but closed on Mondays and most major holidays.  The tours show you areas such as the cellar where runaway slaves may have hidden during the time that the house was used on the Underground Railroad.  It is a very deep and unique experience to say the least.
            As you know by now the natural beauty of the places I visit are what I enjoy the most and this was the case in Newton as well.  In the village of Newton Upper Falls there is a really great place called Hemlock Gorge, named for the trees which cluster around the gorge.  It is known more for Echo Bridge which I will get to in a moment, but this small area along the Charles River needs to be expanded on a bit more.
The dam at Hemlock Gorge
            The first thing I did was follow the sound of the rushing water to a small dam where a muskrat or something like that was swimming around.  The water runs north and continues underneath Rt. 9.  I never did see that muskrat again once I shot some photos of the dam.  After shooting that area I began to walk my way up the rocky cliff faces of Hemlock Gorge toward Echo Bridge.  The cliffs get pretty high, well thirty feet or so which is high when it’s a drop onto more rocks below.  The views are amazing though, just watch your step.
Echo Bridge
            Echo Bridge, completed in 1877, was an aqueduct which carried water from the Sudbury River to Boston during its prime.  It is no longer in use but is still maintained by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority.  There are two observation areas associated with the bridge.  The one I checked is underneath it which is where visitors can hear the echoes of the flowing water against the stone arch of the bridge overhead.  While I believe this to be the case the water was so calm when I was there that the only echo I heard was that of a pair of geese arguing on the other side of the river.  I did enjoy the peace and serenity of Hemlock Gorge despite not hearing any echoes underneath the bridge.
            Newton may be made up of twelve villages but there is one vibe to the city when you arrive.  Whether you want to see a piece of American history in the Jackson Homestead, or take in a more natural spot like Hemlock Gorge you cannot go wrong.  Make sure to try to time it right to catch the Charles River when it’s a little rougher going under Echo Bridge.  Have fun and happy traveling!

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DirectionsJackson Homestead and Museum:  From Rt. 3 take exit 20B for I-93 N, take exit 20 toward Worcester.  Merge onto I-90 W, take exit 17 toward Newton.  Take a slight left onto Washington St., after .6 mi., turn right onto Jackson Rd.  Museum is on left.
            Hemlock Gorge:  From Rt. 3 take exit 20A toward I-95, continue onto Rt. 1, continue onto I-95 N, take exit 19B.  Merge onto Highland Ave., turn right Gould St., turn right onto Central Ave., continue onto Elliot St.  Turn left at Chestnut St., take 1st left onto Ellis St., there is a small parking area on the right at the intersection.

            City of Newton, Ma.

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