My comments below refer specifically to the Northeast Metropolitan Regional Vocational High School District’s (“the District’s”) conclusion that there are no historic resources within the proposed construction site for the new high school in Wakefield. Although these comments are informed by my training as an archaeologist and career working in cultural resource management and environmental impact assessment, I am writing as a citizen concerned with the potential effects of the project.
The current proposed site for the new high school is on a parcel that once was part of Breakheart Reservation, which the Massachusetts Historical Commission (“MHC”) previously determined to be eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) as an individual property. Roads within the reservation were listed in the NRHP in 2003 as the Breakheart Reservation Parkways site, including Hemlock and Elm Roads, which abut the proposed construction site for the high school. Breakheart Reservation additionally was included in the multi-property NRHP listing for the Metropolitan Park System of Greater Boston, which recognizes the historical significance of the development of the park system. The potential impact of the proposed project on these resources is unknown.
Previous archaeological investigations have documented prehistoric archaeological sites and the ruins of historic sites within the boundaries of Breakheart Reservation, including near the proposed construction site for the high school. The NRHP nomination form for the Breakheart Reservation Parkways notes “the high potential for the presence of Native American sites along the routes of the parkway” and a “favorable potential for the presence of historic resources in the park locale”. The nomination form for the Metropolitan Park System of Greater Boston notes a high potential for archaeological sites at the parks within the district. The potential impact of the proposed project on archaeological sites is unknown.
The MHC’s site form for Breakheart Reservation identifies viewshed from the reservation, particularly its highest points, as an element which contributes to the historical significance of the resource. The proposed construction site is proximate to Castle Hill, which is the highest point in the reservation. The potential impact of the proposed project on the viewshed from the reservation, including from Castle Hill, is unknown.
I understand that the District previously submitted a Notification Form for the project and that MHC did not comment. I have no insight into the MHC’s rationale for its decision not to comment. I could speculate that it was based in part on the District’s conclusion in its Notification Form that no historic resources are present in the construction site. That said, it seems that the Commonwealth has a dual interest in this project that should have triggered additional scrutiny from the MHC: a) the Commonwealth’s general historic preservation interest; and b) the Commonwealth’s interest as an abutting landowner with direct jurisdiction over NRHP-listed and -eligible properties that could be affected by the proposed project.
For all the above reasons, the District’s conclusion that no historic resources are present in the proposed construction site for the high school seems to be based on not looking.
Patrick Robblee, R.P.A. (Registered Professional Archaeologist)
Boca Raton, FL (born in Lynn and raised in Saugus, MA)