Okay, last time I had us in Revere, at the Point of Pines, and Martha and Linda were in her living room talking shop. I, meanwhile, was on the front porch watching the world go by.
Linda lives on a lovely little street. People walked here and there. Younger couples. Older couples. People with children. People with grandchildren. People with dogs. Cars drove by in the narrow little road. I watched while a family (I assume it was a family) parked several automobiles in the tiny driveway across the way. I thought surely they’d never have enough room. But, it was like the clown car in reverse...the one with all a seemingly infinite number of people in a single pint-sized car. Instead, it was several cars (I counted six before it was done) jostling into a space that should have never managed to hold them. But did.
Such is life in a city neighborhood. And a rather pleasant life it is, too.
About the photos: Several today. First, I’ve taken a photo (my own) of Linda’s street and tried to make it look like a watercolor painting. I guess I don’t feel great about it, but see what you think.
Which kind of surprised me. Here’s the thing. Revere hasn’t always been a choice place to be. It has gone up, and down, and up again over the years.
And that’s particular true of the part of Revere that is near the sea -- Revere Beach. When I first came to New England, in 1979, it wasn’t a place you wanted to go. It had a reputation for being a bit, well, sleazy, even dangerous. I remember reading a magazine about that time that listed, “Great Boston Beaches! Where to go!” Revere Beach was listed at the end of the back of the article, and the leading text was, “A great place to take the kids...if they’re aspiring juvenile delinquents.” It was at that time, you see, less a beach and more of an amusement park--but not a nice one.
I did go there once, just out of curiosity. The article was right. It was a pretty sad place. It felt old and sick. There were a few side-showish attractions. A shooting gallery. Some pin ball games. Some creaking rides. It all felt a little like a ruin. Which, I later learned, was literally the case in places. Just the year before, there had been an enormous blizzard on the east coast -- the infamous “Blizzard of ’78.” And that had destroyed much of the Beach’s infrastructure.
But even before the Blizzard, Revere Beach had been spiraling downward toward extinction. Fewer and fewer people had been going there. The attractions and rides which had been there were no longer appealing. And even the beach itself felt, I’m told, usually gritty, with more than its share of litter, trash, broken glass, and, here and there, used hypodermics and discarded needles.
This was a sad end for what had been a remarkable place. This was--once-- among New England’s favorite recreational sites.
You recall a while back I talked about how Nahant had been the home of a great amusement park? But that it had run into community opposition? Well, those rides and attractions had to go someplace. And, right across the water (remember how I could see Nahant from the shore in Revere?) there was another seaside community which already had attractions and rides and a long history of involvement with the entertainment industry -- i.e., Revere.
Revere had long been a place to which Bostonians and others had gone to enjoy the sand and sea. I gather there were hotels along the shore and to those repaired the tired middle- and upper-middle classes for much of the nineteenth century. (The Point of Pines hotel, you’ll recall.)
But things really got cooking around 1875. That was when Massachussets and Boston constructed a narrow gauge railway that linked the city to Revere. All of a sudden, the town and its shore was easily accessible to everyone -- middle-class, or below.(1)
Because of the train, people of all sorts could flee Boston’s summer heat and stuffiness. Apparently, riding the train itself was an adventure. It was, after all, “narrow” gauge, so it had a sort of Lilliputian-feel, a bit like riding the train at Disneyland. There were stops all along the coast -- including Point of Pines -- and from them the sea was just a few steps away.(2)
(Oh, and by the way, before I go any further, I ought to say that there’s an excellent site that anyone with an interest in Revere Beach should visit. The history section of Revere Beach’s own webpage is a gold mine of information, as well as being well-written and rather charming. See it here: https://www.reverebeach.com/our-history-and-heritage/)
Second, here’s a photo of Martha at one of our local cafes, The Rivery in Georgetown. Nothing to do with New England, but I just happen to like the photo.
Anyway, after that there were other developments. In 1895, the state moved to take what had been private lands along the beach and make them available to citizens. Thus, Revere Beach became America’s first public beach. Doubtless, that infuriated many solid citizens and if you tried it today, you’d end up in court for years and years. But, let’s face it. That newly public beach was an unmitigated blessing to millions of Massachussets-residents who did *not* find themselves fenced away from the water’s edge in several subsequent heatwaves.(3)
In 1896, the Metropolitan Park Commission went further. It hired Charles Eliot, a landscape designer, to draft a plan for the area. Eliot was a Cambridge boy, a Harvard grad, and a student of Frederick Law Olmstead, the man who gave New York Central Park, and who gave Washington D.C. the capitol grounds, *and* who gave Boston its “Emerald Necklace” of parks. Mr. Eliot, it seems, did his mentor proud. The area around the breach was, I’m told, a masterpiece. (4)
The real story of Revere Beach...the larger story...goes beyond parks, and lakes, and the shore, and even trains...
More to come.
1. See Revere Beach’s Wikipedia page here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revere_Beach
2. My primary source for Revere Beach’s history is the Revere Beach webpage, which is referenced in the next paragraph. But, the site itself is here: https://www.reverebeach.com/
3. In 1896, the very next year, there was a ten-day heatwave in the Northeastern United States that made New York City, Boston, Newark, and Chicago almost uninhabitable. At least 1500 people died because of it. The majority of the dead were young men performing manual labor in the heat. This does not bode well for the world in an age of global warming. For more information on the 1896 Heat Wave, see its Wikipedia page here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1896_Eastern_North_America_heat_wave
4. For more on Mr. Eliot’s works, see the Revere Beach webpage, and also his own Wikipedia page, here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Eliot_(landscape_architect). Sadly, he died very young--only 37.
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