Massachusetts has 351 cities and towns which means while I’ve lived in Massachusetts a good portion of my life, I’ve undoubtably never travelled to dozens of towns and villages within it. Aside from growing up in Massachusetts and living here for decades, there were a few years on Long Island (yuck!), and fifteen or more years in Rhode Island. The later almost doesn’t count because living in Rhode Island is practically like living in Massachusetts. And to prove it, their State slogan is the catchy “Gateway to Massachusetts” or so it seems. I like that a lot better than “Little Rhody” , or “Rhode Island: A fresh start” or “Rhode Island: Small, Yes, But We Know What to Do with It!” The worst motto for Rhode Island has to be the unique: “Enjoy it now because it ends in 200 yards“.
This summer’s staycation has had some enjoyable times. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade that kind of thing. So I stay in Massachusetts and travel down roads less travelled (literally) by walking, hiking and biking. I travel mostly in and around Norfolk County where we live. Driving to points never been reminds me of how my wife and I used to jump in the car when our kids were young, and embark on a “trip to nowhere” (as we described it to our young boys) (We actually had a faint idea of where we were heading, but the real objective of the spontaneous trip was to use the car’s motion to lull the kids to sleep. And give us a respite from their “boy energy”. That was a long time ago; now we have just one young grandson in another state. It would be wonderful if we could actually see him in person rather than settle for FaceTime. Building pirate ships and cars with Legos, Minecraft, mythology and biking too are amongst his varied interests, but he misses seeing his friends too like we all do.
Aside from the daily deluge of news about how the GOP Is trying to gut the election, I went biking again to clear my head and enjoy nature’s bounty. While I typically tool around the Upper Charles Trail off Route 85 near the Hopkinton line, I took a turn towards Holliston and travelled to a marker on the side of the trail that was in the former village of Braggville. Actually it wasn’t much to write home about despite its name. Braggville, Massachusetts. Near the marker was a towering rock on the side of the trail with six inch letters “DROP ACID NOT BOMBS” spray painted. The trail has little debris or graffiti.
The village of Braggville lasted until 1919 and overlaps today’s town boundaries for Milford, Medway and Holliston. It turns out Braggville was named after Colonel Ariel Bragg, “the first to produce and deliver wholesale shoes around the region in the 1790s”.
It’s unofficial history began March 8, 1785 when Alexander Bragg purchased farmland there. (If you remember your American history, 1785 was four years before George Washington became president. 1785 was when New York was the capital of the United States. ) Ernest Atherton Bragg was a former Milford historian, and it was none other than Ernest Atherton Bragg & Company which drew a map of Braggville circa 1850-1880 which shows the location of various residences and schools and cemeteries within Braggville. According to Wikipedia, Braggville was a former Postal village within the towns of Holliston in Middlesex County, Medway in Norfolk County and Milford in Worcester County. Braggville today (though it really does not exist except in annals of history) is part of the town of Holliston. Braggville’s other claim to fame (if you can call it that) turns out to be home to several quarries of Milford pink granite which supplied buildings and railroad projects to sites throughout the United States in the late 19th century. But the end of Braggville occurred in June 1919 when the US Mail shut its post office.
This last fact sent a chill down my spine as it was only today that I read Bill Mckibbin’s Article in “The New Yorker“ about how vital the post offices are to rural communities throughout the United States. How destructive it is for Trump’s dismantling of the post office system and how it could shut down communications to rural communities throughout the country. Seniors rely on an efficient postal system to receive their social security checks and medicines, as well as communications from friends and loved ones especially where Internet service is poor. One story led to another, and I was reminded of the valiant – and successful – public relations writing campaign conducted by my former marketing communications manager Gwynne Jamieson who single-handedly saved daily railroad service for the residents of Alpine, Texas, a town of 5,905 situated near the Big Bend National Park. She wrote her congressmen and state senators and railroad system management arguing the importance of regular rail service for the entire community. (Alpine was her second home after leaving Wrentham, Massachusetts a few years after starting retirement).
The spring after I started retirement, we found ourselves in Alpine visiting with Gwynne. Alpine is next to Marfa (population 1,981), a most unusual town. If and when the pandemic subsides and travel picks up again, I encourage everyone to make the trek to West Texas to experience Marfa. James Dean starred in a movie that was shot in Marfa as was “No Country for Old Men”. Morley Safer presented a 60 Minutes segment in 2013 entitled “Marfa, Texas, the Capital of Quirkiness”. And quirky it is. Marfa’s town slogan says it all: “Tough to get to. Tougher to explain. But once you get here, you get it”. Marfa is a combination of minimalist art displays, off the beaten track artisan shops, a bookstore that puts the Rhode Island School of Design Bookstore to shame, and the Marfa Ghost Lights. The Marfa orbs show up from time to time from a site on the outskirts of town and are followed by the same folks who track UFOs and ghosts.
Also outside of Marfa town limits off US Highway 90 (actually closer to Valentine, Texas) is a Prada Store that is never open. Built in 2005, it is a permanent art installation 15 ft x 25 ft in size that was constructed for $120,000 by two architects and is made of Adobe brick, plaster, paint, glass pane, aluminum and carpet. The installation’s door is non functional. The fake Parada shoe store in the middle of the West Texas desert was stocked with pairs of real shoes and handbags from the Prada 2005 fashion collection. The installation is interpreted as a criticism of consumerism and luxury branding. The real Prada show company had nothing to do with the installation.
Travel may be impossible or discouraged to places outside Massachusetts for now, but there are various ways to travel and search out new places, new ideas and expressions from home. Reading gives us someplace to go and be transported to villages and huts, towns and countries far, far away. Start planning now for travel and trips as the pandemic won’t last forever.