Saugus: 1900 - 2005
Over a Century in the Life of Our Town

Our Town, Our Neighborhoods, Our Villages

by John Burns

The Saugus I knew when I moved here in the second quarter of the Twentieth Century consisted of three main sections: Cliftondale, Saugus Center and East Saugus. Central to these population centers was Kenwood with its lofty "Bluff," bounded by Hurd Avenue, Central Street and Winter Street, John Lindquist's old neighborhood, which he affectionately described in A Gathering of Memories.

In all these central areas we had our own neighborhoods, their boundaries well-defined, their characters self-honed. My neighborhood consisted of Stone Street, Intervale Avenue, Dreeme Street and Birch Street. Hundreds of memories linger, including that of Jackie, a sturdy Airedale whose Basque French owners, the Englehardts, would not admit him to their house until he had wiped his four pads clean on the pad outside their front door.

Saugus was an ideal place to grow up in, blessed as it was with the diversity of its terrain: its woodlands, its lakes and ponds, its rivers, the marsh and the ocean. Open fields were there for seasonal games, caves were there to be investigated, wildlife to be observed, tracked or hunted, and winter ice on the river riding the "buckeys."

Safety never seemed to be an issue; parental supervision seemed largely non-existent.

Reveling in the richness of our environment, during our early years, we were largely unaware of what lived and breathed on our outskirts, what life was like for those of our age whom we would not come to know until we reached junior high -- the kids from Lynnhurst, North Saugus, Oaklandvale and Golden Hills, from the "black" district on the outer edge of West Cliftondale where all the streets were named after birds (we came to find out later) and also to "Mosquito Ridge" on our northern limits bounded by Lynn and Route 1.

What all these places, these "villages," had in common in those days in the middle of the Twentieth Century was their isolation.

They were otherwise as distinct from one another as were the neighborhoods and sections "downtown." Each "village" had a singular character. They had their own racial or ethnic mix, their own occupational preferences. They had their own teams, their own school, their own church in most cases, their clubs, their "causes" and their culture.

But the isolation common to all these "villages" was a powerful presence in the "growing up" of the young in these sections and a healthy influence. Distance and limited transportation set their stage, defined their activities and determined their friends, and they never felt deprived. They came out of it with strong values, independence of spirit and friendships that have lasted through the years.

Words from Paul Downing to this book confirm my impressions about these "villages" when he speaks of his Lynnhurst:

When discussing Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine with my students, I commented often on Douglas's safe, secure and innocent growing up. I too had that kind of growing up, made possible by the relative isolation of where I lived, when I lived there, my family and the people in my neighborhood. The Lynnhurst section of Saugus was bordered by woods, a large reservoir, woods, woods, and more woods'

Saugus Center was three miles away -- two if you walked over the hill through McCullough's farm and past the Iron Works to Central Street and the center of town. Actually, from age 10-14 we often took this journey.

The North Saugus, East Saugus and Cliftondale areas of town were too distant to be readily accessible, so until we went to junior high (1949) we knew little about these areas or their denizens.

Lynnhurst, then, was a kind of island where we kids, maybe three dozen of us, close in age, grew up together, with our own elementary school, our local church, the neighbors, our friends and our families (our "village").

In A Gathering of Memories, Frank Virnelli remembers fondly the unique experience that was his childhood and early adolescence growing up in and exploring the hundreds of acres which surrounded his home and over which he and his brother over time felt a sense of ownership in the outer limits of North Saugus.

We were isolated from the rest of the town, he said. While the isolation severely limited opportunities to play organized sports, the location offered a wonderful resource. Uninhabited woodlands filled with hills, streams, mysterious cellar holes, and a maze of neglected old roads spread over an extensive area on both sides of Water Street. This provided a unique playground in which we spent wonderful days hiking, camping, building huts and log cabins, and learning to love the outdoors.

Later he returned to "his" island within "his" forest with a friend and their eight-year old sons and remembered that no other campsite measured up to the island.

Their experiences forthcoming from their growing up in their "villages" need telling as we give ourselves to this goal of portraying a full-bodied picture of the century.

As I conjure up an image of young Frank and his brother Jim, pausing in the heavy work of gathering material for a camp fire or building a log cabin, to stir their imaginations to help explain those abandoned roads, those cellar holes, those...

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