J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, April 07, 2007

Fort Washington Park Going to the Dogs?

Brian Campbell of Cambridge sent a long comment attached to a posting from last year, and I thought it would be more visible in a posting of its own. Mr. Campbell is concerned about Fort Washington Park in Cambridge, the lone remaining geographic feature from the siege of Boston in 1775-76. Here are his comments, somewhat edited:

In November of 1775, by order of George Washington, volunteer soldiers constructed the three-gun battery earthworks at Fort Washington Park at 101 Waverly Street. Of the many siege fortifications built, only the three-gun battery earthworks at Fort Washington Park survive in an original condition.

After the Revolution, the affluent Dana family preserved the earthworks until 1858 and donated the land they occupy to the city. In 1859 Cambridge built the beautiful historic fence around the earthworks to protect them.

In the History of Cambridge, Massachusetts 1630-1877, Lucas R. Paige wrote, “Let no unpatriotic hand destroy this revolutionary relic, now known as Fort Washington.”
Fort Washington Park is now one of Cambridge’s two dog parks. Last year dog-owners petitioned the city to augment the Victorian iron fence around the park because pets could get through it and run away. In Jan 2006 the Cambridge Historical Commission approved a chain-link fence beside the older fence as a temporary measure. Presumably the city is working on a longer-term solution that matches the historic decor.

Mr. Campbell sees that use of the park as a threat to its survival:
The primary historic preservation concern was the 148-year-old fence, which no longer serves as protection to the earthworks. Instead, it keeps pooches caged in, making Fort Washington a legal off-leash park. Dogs burrow holes in the earthworks with impunity, as there is no protection for these fragile Revolutionary relics our forefathers so bravely constructed under British cannonades while suffering sickness and death in the camps and barracks of Cambridge.

As a USN Veteran, I feel this not the proper place to allow dogs to run free. The 231-year-old, Revolutionary relic three-gun battery earthworks are a monument to the labor of volunteer soldiers who constructed them, and deserve the respect and protection afforded the earthworks at national battlefields.
Here is Mr. Campbell’s full letter to the Cambridge Chronicle in February. You can read more of his thoughts on the park here. He has also posted slide shows titled “Ft. Washington Dog Damage.”

On the other side of the issue, folks on such websites as CambridgeDog.org and the SomervilleDog blog are pleased to have the dog park, and pleased that Cambridge agreed to steps that make it better for dogs.

I literally don’t have a dog in this fight. I don’t have a dog, I don’t live in Cambridge, and I have no special feelings about Fort Washington Park compared to other Revolutionary sites. But here are some observations from a historical perspective.

First, there were earthworks and fortifications and artillery batteries all around Boston in 1775-76, and inside the town as well. Soon after the war, most were plowed up or built over. Massachusetts farmers didn’t like to see land go to waste. People weren’t that interested then in preserving such reminders of the war. Since then, the geography of Boston and Cambridge has changed drastically, with large landfills creating new areas for construction. The park is now surrounded by streets, parking lots, and train tracks.

Those facts can cut both ways. On the one hand, as Mr. Campbell says, because these earthworks are the only military features that survive, it might be all the more important to preserve them. On the other hand, it’s not possible to get a sense of the siege—its scale, its strategy, its challenges for both sides—from this patch of land, so its value for understanding history is limited.

Aesthetically, I see Fort Washington Park as a relic of the Victorian period. The earthworks (in some form) go back to 1775-76, but the fence, cannons, and carefully planted trees reflect how people of the 1800s treated history and the land. Even the twentieth-century statues there include, as well as figures of Continental Army soldiers at work, a Victorian woman sitting on an earthwork to enjoy the sun.

I agree with Mr. Campbell that it’s valuable to maintain these formations as a physical reminder of the siege. I’m not sure how much of a permanent threat dogs and their owners pose. Those earthworks were piled up to withstand cannonballs, after all. With proper maintenance (not always certain, of course), they could last for more centuries. How about a community effort to fill in the holes the dogs dig, to make sure grass grows back every spring?

Perhaps the issue the more emotional: should this land be treated as a war memorial, akin to a cemetery or battlefield? There were no fights there, no soldiers killed or buried there. One could argue that using the space as a public park will encourage people to forget the soldiers of the Revolution. Then again, visiting that spot might make folks think about the men who built those mounds. All in all, this consideration seems to come down to symbolism, and the meaning and weight of symbols change over time.

Is making Fort Washington Park into a dog run specifically disrespectful? I’m not convinced, for a couple of reasons. While dogs can’t be toilet-trained, dog-owners can be; there’s been a remarkable change even since my childhood in how many urban and suburban owners pick up after their pets. Of course that’s not a perfect solution, but, as with maintaining the earthworks, it seems possible for people to keep the park healthy and clean. And pet-owners would benefit most.

Finally, from a historical perspective, it seems worth noting that Gen. George Washington was fond of his hunting dogs, owning many over his youth and middle age. His colleague Gen. Charles Lee loved his dogs even more, probably more than any person he met; he once insisted that Abigail Adams shake hands with one of his dogs. Gen. Israel Putnam had dogs at his farm in Connecticut.

Among Patriot politicians, Samuel Adams had a pet Newfoundland, and this week Prof. Richard Brown of the University of Connecticut told me that James Sullivan once offered a reward for the return of his dog. Ebenezer Fletcher, who joined the Continental Army in 1777 as a sixteen-year-old fifer, credited a dog with helping him escape from British troops around Fort Ticonderoga. Pvt. Joseph Plumb Martin mentioned American officers having a “favorite little dog” with them in 1780 (alas, he mentioned this in the context of them finally killing and eating the dog because they were so starved for rations).

For the soldiers of the Continental Army, securing Cambridge’s freedom to choose where to let its dogs roam might have been more important than maintaining their earthworks.

6 comments:

GreenmanTim said...

And then there was Captain Henry Dearborn's dog, which accompanied its master from Cambridge on Arnold's Canada expedition across the Maine wilderness, and which was sacrified and eaten to feed the starving men, leaving captain Dearborn "very unwell." My collateral ancestor Matthias Ogden, a volunteer captain of Grenadiers with Arnold, noted in his journal on October 30th, 1775:

"After travelling a short distance we came upon Captain Goodrich's track, which soon lead us to where he encamped the evening before. Here we found a part of two quarters of dog they had killed and hung up for the remainder of his Company that was behind; the other they had eaten and taken with them. One of our company, rejoyed to find the prize, immediately cut a part of it, roasted it on the coals, and ate it very greedily. About an hor after we fell in with the rest of the Company which had passed another way. We found them much dejected and spent with fatigue and hunger. We informed them of the meat, at which they sent two men for it immediately."

Ogden came across Dearborn at 3 p.m. that afternoon, and I believe the dog refered to was his though I haven't read Dearborn's own journal to confirm. Dearborn was forced by several of his men to sacrifice the dog to feed them. It was a a big dog, a Newfoundland.

Perhaps a 21st century memorial to this dog with its Revolutionary links to Cambridge might be a fitting addition to Fort Washington Park.

J. L. Bell said...

We Americans tend not to commemorate that 1775-76 trek to Canada, partly because it turned out to be an invasion rather than a liberation, and partly because it didn't turn out to be successful in either respect. I doubt adding dog-eating on top of that would help raise the funds for a memorial!

briancam said...

Brian Campbell Disabled Veteran United States Navy.

I believe Washington referred to “mounds” as a “Half Moon 3 Gun Battery”.
Have you read any articles on the preservation of Earthworks from the National Park Service? Such as “Guide to Sustainable Earthworks Management” In it are specific references to minimizing effects of Burrowing animals, vegetation and mowing practices. As long as dogs are allowed in Fort Washington there will be no grass to mow.
I have been to enough Civil and Revolutionary National Battlefields to know the 3 Gun Battery Earthworks are being severely mismanaged.

Correct me if I am wrong, but Fort Washington’s “Half Moon 3 Gun Battery” is the Oldest surviving Fort from the Revolutionary War? How do our Contemporary needs for a Dog Park out weigh the Preservation of this “Revolutionary Relic”? The sign at Fort Washington refers the National Park Archeologist (circa 1987) confirmed that the Earthworks are original and fragile.

In my research of Fort Washington, in 1860 someone suggested a Statue of George Washington would be appropriate for the parade ground. Contemporary dog owner “GreenmanTim” suggests a statue of a dog who served in the Revolution, how historically relevant.

Mr. J.L. Bell you refer to CambridgeDog.org and the SomervilleDog and seem to objectively side with their case for a dog park? Like Mr. J.L. Bell “Mounds” is a phase these organizations use to describe “Half Moon 3 Gun Battery”. I believe George Washington’s reference is Historically Correct?
Perhaps you, Mr. J.L. Bell, CDOG.org and the SommervilleDog are the “unpatriotic hand” Historian Lucas R. Paige was referring to?

J. L. Bell said...

The Fort Washington earthworks are indeed probably the oldest surviving fortifications from the Revolutionary War. However, Fort Ticonderoga and other forts that predate the Revolution are better preserved or restored, and more significant in the war.

Let's face the facts. Those earthworks weren't preserved as fortifications. They were preserved into the nineteenth century as grass-covered mounds. They're surrounded by a Victorian fence, public artwork, and many modern buildings, roads, and railroads.

Because of those circumstances, I don't think those features can do a good job of communicating the history of the siege. The topography and environment have changed so greatly. What we have there is not a Revolutionary landscape but a commemorative relic of one.

Mr. Campbell, you apparently treat anyone who doesn't fully agree with you as an opponent. I offered links to two organizations that support the dog park because thought it was useful to consider their side of the issue, and you think I sided "objectively" with those groups. I used the word "mounds" once and the word "earthworks" seven times, and you fixated on "mounds."

I wrote, "I agree with Mr. Campbell that it’s valuable to maintain these formations as a physical reminder of the siege. . . . How about a community effort to fill in the holes the dogs dig, to make sure grass grows back every spring?"

But apparently because I didn't agree with you that all dogs must be barred from that park, you suggested that I'm "unpatriotic."

Perhaps behavior of that sort is why you haven't found more support for your position, Mr. Campbell.

briancam said...

Dear Mr. J.L. Bell,

Fort Washington Cambridge MA 11-11-2007 Veteran’s Day Update. I enjoy reading your Blog and find it interesting.

We agree that “The Fort Washington earthworks are indeed probably the oldest surviving fortifications from the Revolutionary War.”

We agree that "I agree with Mr. Campbell that it’s valuable to maintain these formations as a physical reminder of the siege.” And “because these earthworks are the only military features that survive, it might be all the more important to preserve them”

We Disagree on how to “maintain these formations as a physical reminder of the siege.”

I asked “Have you read any articles on the preservation of Earthworks from the National Park Service? Such as “Guide to Sustainable Earthworks Management” In it are specific references to minimizing effects of Burrowing animals, vegetation and mowing practices.”

I assume you still have not, as your prescription to maintain the 232-year-old revolutionary relic, Three Gun Battery Earthworks is: “How about a community effort to fill in the holes the dogs dig, to make sure grass grows back every spring?".

I wrote, the National Park Rangers who wrote “Guide to Sustainable Earthworks Management” and their response is as follows:

Lucy and I worked together on earthworks management for years. Our
position remains that the best preservation is to keep the earthworks under
a healthy, protective vegetative cover and STAY OFF them......if the dogs
are allowed to continue unrestrained, the inevitable erosion and
destruction will follow. The earthworks manual is now a website - link
below. Let us know if we can interpret any of the management
recommendations. Shaun Eyring

http://www.cr.nps.gov/hps/hli/currents/earthworks/index.htm

Shaun Eyring
Chief, Division of Resource Planning and Compliance
Northeast Region
National Park Service
200 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia PA 19106

Phone: 215-597-8850
Cell: 267-767-3246
Fax: 215-597-5747

I Believe following National Park Service Earthwork policy is the most effective way to Preserve the Three Gun Battery Earthworks for another 232 Years.

Fort Washington is on the National Register of Historic Places and has received more than $400,000 from the National Park Service and Bicentennial Commission from 1975 to 1990, it only make sense to follow National Park Service Earthwork policy. The Commonwealth has also given substantial funds for Fence Restoration and archeological studies

On August 2, 2007, I addressed the Cambridge Historic Commission (the CHC) on Case 2066: Fort Washington Park, 95 Waverly St., by City of Cambridge. Install automatic irrigation system. The CHC recognizes the Erosion Problems in Fort Washington and the 5 fold increase in dog traffic since the ugly chain link fences augmented the Historic Fence entrances in Dec 2005. CHC believes the automatic irrigation system @ $40,000 will correct the Dog created Erosion Problems. I read the letter from Earthwork Preservation Expert, Shaun Eyring Chief, Division of Resource Planning and Compliance Northeast Region National Park Service, and asked the CHC consider following National Park Service Earthwork policy.

I pointed out Irrigation would not be needed if a NEW Sub Fence be erected around the Half Moon 3 Gun Battery Earthworks to protect them as the old fence did before it was modified in Dec 2005. Although not true to the intent of the Dana’s, with a $800 endowment and the stipulation “that the premises when suitably enclosed and adorned by said city, shall forever remain open for light, air and adornment”-1858, would be compromise for dogs to use most of the park and parade ground.

The CHC voted for the automatic irrigation system which has been delayed due to the Commonwealth’s Archeology Review necessary before installation can begin. The CHC planned to close the Fort Washington for this construction, but now will only hydro seed which was totally ineffective in stopping erosion, last year.

You seem to have visited Fort Ticonderoga, which predates the Revolution, which is a 20th Century restoration and has many antique artillery and French and Indian and Revolution War artifices. Crown Point is an example of a Un-Restored Fort Area. The Earthworks which you refer to at Fort Ticonderoga and at Crown Point have signs on them that state “Help Preserve Fragile Earthworks Please Stay Off”.

The city in Sept 2007 erected a new sign on the Gate at Fort Washington. 1) It states that Fort Washington is for Cambridge Residents Only, I am not sorry for somdog.org and 2) The Earthworks are Original and Fragile. Out of Town Dogs continue to burrow large holes in the Earthworks in spite of the New Sign.

I do not expect to your “support” for my position. I posed Lucius R. Paige’s Quote “History of Cambridge, Massachusetts 1630-1877, p422 “Let no unpatriotic hand destroy this revolutionary relic, now known as Fort Washington a as question “perhaps”. Perhaps Lucius R. Paige could see into the future. There are about 2,500 licensed dogs in Cambridge. The License Fee is $5 for a nurtured dog. This is a revenue stream of $10,000 to $15,000 per year. Perhaps Cdog.org could raise the $400,000 + to rein bruise the Federal funds and then the city can ignore Federally mandated Earthwork Management policy with clear conscience?

Your Statement “For the soldiers of the Continental Army, securing Cambridge’s freedom to choose where to let its dogs roam might have been more important than maintaining their earthworks.” contradicts “I agree with Mr. Campbell that it’s valuable to maintain these formations as a physical reminder of the siege.” Perhaps you can read the minds of the Continental Army. I can claim the same for the Dana’s, who carefully preserved the Three Gun Battery Earthworks.

I believe History reveals Truth, and will prove that mixing dogs and Historic Earthworks will result in the destruction of the Historic Earthworks whether it takes another 5, 25, 50 or 100 years. I will continue to document the Three Gun Battery Earthwork’s destruction and advocate for their preservation. I was hoping you could revisit your earlier conclusions. My latest video is at

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fEXy4h6WdeM

If you think I am the only one who has seen this destruction please read below:

Cambridge Chronicle Letter: Dog Park needs improvements Wednesday, February 14, 2007 - Updated: 12:36 PM EST


I have been a resident of Cambridgeport for more than nine years, and I have enjoyed using the dog park at Fort Washington and respect its historical significance.

In the past year, I have become increasingly alarmed at the abuse that the park has suffered. Today the site is little more than a large dirt lot. The green grass has long disappeared and the mounds are eroding. Large holes mar the site, and gravel litters the ground where grass once grew.

I think it’s important to have a dog-friendly dog park, and I appreciate the effort Cambridge has made by installing fences to enclose the park. However, Cambridge’s magnanimous effort to help dog owners has attracted abuse, especially by dog walkers.

At some times during the day, I have seen dog walkers carry 10 dogs to Fort Washington. Some dog walkers are responsible and do not allow their dogs to harm the park. However, others are not so respectful. Some dog walkers release their dogs where they wildly run into the park. Sometimes they run around with leashes dragging in the dirt. Some dogs become bored or anxious and dig large holes in the mounds or in the grass. The sheer volume of dogs (between 10 to 30 dogs) is detrimental to the space.

I would like to propose that drastic measures be taken to protect the park. First, I would like to see the park closed for restoration to grow new grass and rebuild the mounds. This would include restoring topsoil that has either blown away or eroded off the site. During a restoration period, the dog walkers would have to find a new place to take the dogs.

Secondly, I would propose limiting the dog park in the amount of dogs that one could take to the park. This limit would prevent or discourage dog walkers from bringing large packs to the park.

I fondly remember going to Fort Washington with my dog and being able to sit in the grass, throw a ball or just enjoy a summer’s day. I hope Cambridge will find a way to save this special park so that others will be able to do this in the future. George Washington once walked this ground. Soldiers stood ready to protect Boston there. Now it’s our turn to protect the land that once played an important part in our country’s history.

By CLAIRE DANIEL
Cambridge

J. L. Bell said...

As you know, Mr. Campbell, the Fort Washington park is not National Park Service land. It’s a Cambridge city park. That means its use and upkeep are matters for the city to decide, balancing interests. You make your case at length, but you've also alienated me through your comments, making me less interested in this effort.

As for "reading the minds" of people of the past, that's part of studying history: trying to understand the perspectives of people in the past through the evidence they left. You're correct that the Dana family felt that it was worthwhile to preserve the earthworks in Fort Washington Park. That misses the point I made earlier, however.

The fact that so few earthworks remained from the siege shows how little the generations before the Danas cared about historical preservation. Movements to preserve historical sites did not really take hold in the U.S. of A. until late in the 1800s, and the preservation of landscape (as opposed to buildings) even longer. The veterans who had been stationed in Cambridge in 1775-76 were more interested in self-government than in leaving good farmland alone because they'd once had to build earthworks on it. That's why they plowed and built over all the other fortifications in town.