Tag Archives: Chelmsford

Hiking with a Dose of History: Chelmsford’s Thanksgiving Forest

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Panoramic photograph of Thanksgiving Forest, close to the site of the group of large boulders (Photo by Author, 4/17/16)

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The sign at the Janet Road entrance to Thanksgiving Forest (Photo by Author)

With spring finally here, if you are looking for family-friendly (and dog-friendly) hiking trails in the Merrimack Valley, don’t overlook Chelmsford’s Thanksgiving Forest (sometimes also known as the Thanksgiving Ground Forest).  Its 45 acres abut Carlisle’s Great Brook Farm State Park to its south and the Russell Mill Pond to its west.

The trail system is fairly simple to navigate at Thanksgiving Forest. There are two trails – the longer Bovey Trail, well-marked by blue trail markers, and the shorter Russell Trail – also well-marked, by purple trail markers.  If you see the red trail, this is the pathway that leads into Carlisle’s Great Brook Farm State Park.

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A view from Thanksgiving Forest’s Bovey Trail showing a beaver lodge in Russell Mill Pond (Photo by Author)

Thanksgiving Forest’s Bovey Trail will take you along the picturesque water views beside Russell Mill Pond where you may glimpse geese, ducks, and the occasional beaver lodge. The varied terrain on either trail is sure to provide plenty of visual interest.  While there are some dips and rises in the trails as you trek along, and some rather impressive root systems running alongside and across the trails closest to the trees, the trails themselves are relatively easy to traverse, or, in simpler terms, you won’t have to carry your kids (or dogs) because they’ve given up on hiking halfway along the trail.  Throughout the forest, you’re sure to see plenty of boulders, hilly terrain, and old farmers’ walls of stone along the way.  Some of the pathways through the forest are quite peaceful, serene and seemingly remote, while others abut the backyards of South Chelmsford homes and whisk you back toward civilization.

The forest offers some history too, for those who might like a story to go along with their hiking.  The sign at the Janet Road entrance of Thanksgiving Forest tells the story of how Thanksgiving Forest, with its current 45 acres, came to be.

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Very tall pine trees abound just about everywhere within Thanksgiving Forest (Photo by Author)

When the Chelmsford Farms Estates development was almost finished in the early 1960s, more and more people were coming into the Thanksgiving Ground Forest in South Chelmsford.  At the 1961 annual meeting, the town of Chelmsford accepted a small plot of land at the edge of Thanksgiving Forest on Gary Road for a parking lot from East Coast Builders.  The town, at the same time, accepted a gift of land from Edward and Mildred Russell that added eleven acres to the forest, extending it along Russell Mill Pond to the Carlisle line; another gift of 6 acres from Martin Bovey that extended the forest past the large rocks, which had been the edge of the forest; and one other gift of about 5 ares from East Coast Builders which extended the forest’s border even further south.

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A view of the group of large boulders in Thanksgiving Forest, where the annual fox hunt participants once met in the 19th century.

But the real story in the history of Thanksgiving Forest lies in its name.  The name of the forest harkens back to a 19th century Chelmsford town tradition where, on Thanksgiving Day, the men of the town would gather for their annual fox hunt at the group of large boulders within the park.  (See photo below, provided from the Chelmsford Public Library’s Flickr Photo Stream.)

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The hearth where fires are lit on the Annual Day Before Thanksgiving Walk.

The fox hunts are long gone these days, but, about ten years ago, a new tradition started in the Thanksgiving Forest – the Annual Day Before Thanksgiving Walk.  On the Wednesdays before Thanksgiving, during the early afternoon, those joining the walk meet at the forest’s entrance at the end of Janet Road and walk the trails within the forest to reach the same group of large boulders that once served as the meeting place for the fox hunt.  At those boulders, a fire is lit in the hearth formed by the rocks and a local boy scout troop provides hot chocolate and cookies.  It’s said that the walk has been attended by as many as 300 people in some recent years.

The town of Chelmsford has found new ways to keep Thanksgiving Forest relevant and inviting to current generations, while remembering its history and importance to earlier ones.  The photograph below, found on the Chelmsford Public Library’s Flickr Photostream shows a group of 19th century residents gathered for a Thanksgiving Day fox hunt.  These days, Thanksgiving Forest offers great hiking trails that are family-friendly and the annual Day Before Thanksgiving Walk to those looking to add to their own family’s Thanksgiving traditions.

Thanksgiving Forest Gathering

 


The Opening of the Chelmsford Mall, 1973 – Remembering Child World and Bradlees

In the early spring of 1973, if you were to drive west along Chelmsford‘s Route 110, just beyond the Lowell city line, you wouldn’t get far before you came across a large clearing outside your driver’s side window.  Masses of steel would be shooting skyward, well back on a newly-cleared 12-acre parcel of land.

With locations in Nashua, Salem NH, and Chelmsford, Child World saw the spending of many childhood allowances during the 70's and 80's.

There might even be a sign, advertising the fate of the new development – not far from the junction of Rtes. 3 and 495.  A “Neighborhood Mall” is planned, and with it, Child World and Bradlees Department Store are both coming to Chelmsford.  A Stop & Shop Grocery Store also announced plans to move into the new mall.

A lot of excitement surrounded the mall’s opening.  “Who wants to go downtown?  Who wants to drive all the way to Burlington?” quipped one man to the Lowell Sun in early 1973.

With construction beginning around December 1972, the mall was seen as a welcome alternative to the at-times sweltering, and at-times freezing, streets of downtown Lowell, or the larger and more distant Burlington Mall some miles down Route 3.  The idea of a mall at the site actually surfaced as early as 1970, but several hurdles needed to be cleared before construction even started.  First, no less than 14 separate parcels of land needed to be purchased.  Later, the project was almost derailed (and ended up being delayed for two months) by the Conservation Commission, while the question of wetlands found on the site was discussed.

Originally opened as the Neighborhood Mall, the Chelmsford Mall acquired its current name soon after opening.

After all the hurdles had been cleared, and as construction progressed in March 1973, the development’s leasing agent joked, to a Lowell Sun reporter:

“Have you seen the new Hatch Act?  Conservation is all right.  But it needs some moderation!  In this one, any marsh, meadow, wetland, the sea coast, any brook, all treated the same.  They’re not the same.  It’s all got to be reasonable. . . . Really, who cares about saving the mosquitoes?”

The seventies sure were different times. . . .

Construction continued through the spring and summer of 1973, and the mall was scheduled to open that October.  That large parcel of land along Chelmsford’s Route 110 eventually came to accommodate 1,200 cars and a ‘huge’ mall, as it was then called.  In addition to Child World, Bradlees, and a Stop and Shop, the mall also housed some 25 speciality stores, including Hit or Miss, Radio Shack, and Fayva.

A Stop and Shop in Chelmsford on 110? Deja Vu? No, this ad heralds the opening of a Stop and Shop location at the Chelmsford Mall on February 4, 1974.