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A farewell song to the lane.

A song for the lane,
     The green old lane,
That led from the hill
     To the level plain.
O gentle muse, ere it fade from sight,
     One feeble song to its praise indite.

The green old lane,
     It towered so high,
The trees at the top
     Seemed to touch the sky.

On the moss-grown wall
     At either side
The vines grew wild
     In native pride.
The wild rose blossomed,
     The locust tree,
With its graceful foliage,
     Was fair to see.
A brook crossed the lane
     Near the drooping willow,
Two planks formed a bridge
     O'er this placid billow.

A hawthorn grew
     In that green old lane,
Just midway it stood
     Tween the hill and the plain.
A moss-grown stone 'neath its shadow lay,
     And children played there many a day.

Alas! alas! for the green old lane!
     I never shall look on it thus again.
The wants of the people the town must meet,
     The pleasant lane must be made a street.

[10] They came with the axe, the plough, and spade,
     And heavy stones on the brook they laid.
The willow branches they lopped away,
     And the hawthorn fell ere close of day.
They ploughed up the vines all covered with berries,
     They cut down the tree all filled with cherries.

My heart grows sad
     At the beauty gone,
But the work of improvement
     Must still go on.
We must give up romance
     For the good of the town,
And the dear old lane
     Must be leveled down.
So a sad farewell to the green old lane
     That led from the hill to the level plain.

In 1859 Henry H. Babcock was elected principal of the High School. He was a skilled botanist, a zealous collector, and knew the wild flowers of the neighborhood of Boston in their native haunts. Under his enthusiastic teaching, the meadows and swamps and hidden nooks of Somerville were explored as never before, and what floral treasures still lingered within the limits of the fast-growing town were brought to the little botany room in the old High School building. Here many a happy and profitable hour was spent after the school session was ended in puzzling over perplexing specimens, and in learning of that divine law which links the smallest fern with the mightiest tree of the forest, and without which any scientific classification would be impossible. When Mr. Babcock left the High School, Miss Mary D. Davis had charge of the botany classes, and her great interest in and enthusiasm for her favorite science made her a worthy successor of her former teacher. Edward Everett Edgerley, of the class of ‘63, was the most zealous collector in those days, and if his herbarium was available for reference, it would give the most complete list ever made of the wild flowers of Somerville in the early sixties, [11]

The most distinctive feature of the Somerville flora at that time was that of the salt marshes along the Mystic river and the mill-pond on the north and east boundaries of the town. Most of the plants growing there were of more interest to the botanist than to the lover of wild flowers, the seashore golden-rod, perhaps the most brilliant of the golden-rods, and the marsh rosemary or sea-lavender being the only ones whose blossoms would attract attention from the ordinary passer-by. But the glaux, the atriplex, and the salicornias, mere weeds as they would be called, possessed an equal charm for one whose eye and mind were trained to appreciate every detail of the insignificant flower or the curiously-constructed seed.

Perhaps the greatest number of species was found in Polly's Swamp, many water-loving plants growing there. But the Ten Hills Farm district was the favorite haunt of the spring flowers, columbine and bloodroot, violets and early saxifrage growing without stint, while the shad bush and the wild cherry blossoms were greatly prized.

In the little strip of Palfry's Swamp that was left within the Somerville limits were a number of choice plants not found elsewhere. Among them may be mentioned the swamp azalea, the wild sensitive plant, the meadow beauty, and the dodder, and the High School scholars of to-day would be obliged to tramp many a long mile before they could find four such interesting flowers in our locality.

Gilman's field, as the large vacant lot on Walnut street, north of the Lowell railroad, was called, was another favorite tramping ground, its rocky ledges and boggy hollows revealing very diverse varieties of plants. There were the wild currant and gooseberry, the elder, button bush, the sweet pepper bush, and wild roses without stint, while equally interesting were the wild oats, the ground-nut, and the orchid that grew most abundantly in Somerville the spiranthes ce<*>nua. But <*> letter day in our botanical calendar was when the fringed gentian was found here, where New Pearl street now crosses Walnut, and it seemed an act of graceful condescension for a flower sung by Bryant, Whittier, and Emerson to grace the wayside of our prosaic town. [12]

The ferns grew freely in many parts of the town, but the favorite haunt of this interesting family was the south bank of the Lowell railroad, east of the Sycamore-street bridge, where the railroad is cut through a ledge of slate-stone. All the common ferns grew along the brook at the foot of the banking, but the real treasures were found in the crevices of the ledge above.

Rand's woods, already mentioned, always repaid us for a visit, the low cornel and the lady's slipper being the choicest flowers growing here.

But the rear of Mr. Holland's farm, back of where the elevated railroad car houses now stand, furnished us with more interesting specimens than any other spot in West Somerville. Here Alewife brook separated the farm from Cambridge, and in the spring were found many water-loving plants, among others, the pitcher plant, that most curious of all New England wild flowers; the marsh marigold, the arrowhead, the forget-me-not, and the buck bean, perhaps the choicest and most beautiful wild flower then growing in Somerville, in spite of its commonplace name; and Colonel Higginson doubtless thought he lavished high praise on this dainty flower when he said it possessed a certain ‘garden-like elegance.’

In all long-settled countries there is always a large class of plants that become naturalized and are as common, and often much more tenacious of life, than the original occupants of the soil. Many of these plants possess blossoms of real beauty, but they also include most of the common weeds, chickweed, mayweed, and pigweed, burdock and thistles, pursley and sorrel, which follow the plough in all temperate regions as surely as do the planted crops. A number of these naturalized plants are natives of the Western states or of tropical America, but many more came originally from Europe, and were introduced in various ways. A few were brought over by the first colonists to give a little touch of home to, their dreary abodes in a far-away land. The sweet briar and the barberry bush are of this number, and were among the first English plants to, become naturalized in their adopted country. The mints, tansy, and plantain were evidently brought over on account of their medicinal value, and [13] the wild mustard and carrot, ornamental as they now are to fields and waysides, are escapes from our forefathers' vegetable gardens. Other interesting plants of this class which are still occasionally found in our city are the alsike, that pretty pink clover which originated in Sweden, where it is considered one of the most valuable of forage plants; the brilliant cone-flower, or black-eyed Susan, a native of our Western prairies, and unknown in New England fifty years ago; the mullein, the bladder campion, and the sky-blue succory, which Dr. Bigelow, who appreciated every charm of the flowers he so faithfully described, called an elegant plant. As for the field daisy, the buttercup, and the dandelion, they hold a much warmer place in our affections than do many of the choice native species. James Russell Lowell sings of the dandelion:—

Dear common flower, that grow'st beside the way,
Fringing the dusty road with harmless gold.

Thou art more dear to, me
Than all the prouder summer blooms may be.
My childhood's earliest thoughts are linked with thee.

But the wild flowers have disappeared more rapidly and more completely than did the forests 250 years ago, and to-day it would be more difficult to coax back within our city limits the orchids and gentians and ferns, the meadow beauty and the pitcher plant of forty years ago, than to start a forest of oaks, beeches, and hickories.

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