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6 things you probably didn’t know about Wakefield

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Lake Quannapowitt, usually a mecca for walkers, sat solemn on a freezing cold February day in Wakefield.
Lake Quannapowitt, usually a mecca for walkers, sat solemn on a freezing cold February day in Wakefield. The Boston Globe

1. It’s home to the oldest inland boat club in America.

Founded in 1884, the Quannapowitt Yacht Club is a family-oriented boat club dedicated to keeping its costs low for members, according to the club’s website. The Club, located on Linda Road, has five sailboat fleets, and members can participate in local, regional, and national races. Or, they can leisurely learn the ropes of sailing with lessons on scenic Lake Quannapowitt. The club also offers a youth sailing program that’s a registered children’s summer day camp with the Town of Wakefield’s Board of Health, and admits children from third grade to high school.

Ian McCaffrey of Quannapowitt Yacht Club in Wakefield, sailed in his Optimist during the Mass Bay Junior Olympic Sailing Festival. —The Boston Globe

2. Wicker furniture became “a thing’’ here.

When Cyrus Wakefield settled here in 1851, he established the Wakefield Rattan Company, which popularized the use of wicker in the U.S., according to the town’s website. The successful business changed the town (then called South Reading) into a manufacturing center close to Boston. The town would eventually be renamed for Cyrus Wakefield in 1868, after he donated money for a town hall.

Workers at the Heywood-Wakefield rattan factories, 1897. —Courtesy of Flikr Creative Commons
Wicker chairs strapped to a cart in Wakefield. —Courtesy of Flikr Creative Commons

3. Pleasure Island, “The Disneyland of the Northeast,’’ was in business for a decade.

Opening in 1959, the amusement park Pleasure Island briefly turned Wakefield into a “turnstile for celebrities.’’ On its opening day, Fess Parker (TV’s Davy Crockett), Ricky Nelson, and the Three Stooges visited. Hundreds of thousands of New Englanders and tourists would also visit the park during its 11 seasons of operation. Pleasure Island, located just off Exit 42 along Interstate 95/Route 128 south, featured a western city, pirate cove, petting zoo, and amphitheater where Ella Fitzgerald once performed.

Pleasure Island Inc. filed for bankruptcy after the first season, and over the next decade, three different owner groups tried and failed to turn a profit. They finally closed the park’s doors in 1969.

Pleasure Island park characters staged a “holdup” of the train that circled the park. —Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

4. Young couples can live in the oldest Wakefield house for free.

The Colonel James Hartshorne House, located on the shore of Lake Quannapowitt, is not only the oldest house built in Wakefield, but also a place where young couples can live rent-free.

Built in 1681 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the house is owned by the town of Wakefield but managed by the Colonel James Hartshorne House Association and a board of directors who select the couples as caretakers of the home. Caretakers’ duties include general upkeep, snow removal, gardening, and renting the house out for weddings, showers, and reunions.

The Colonel James Hartshorne House. —Courtesy of the Colonel James Hartshorne House Association

5. One of the oldest manufacturers of model toy airplanes calls Wakefield home.

Located on 40 New Salem St, Paul K. Guillow, Inc. (formerly known as Nu Craft Toys) has been selling toy airplane kits since 1926. According to the company’s website, World War I Navy pilot Paul K. Guillow used his experience in aviation to create and market wood model construction kits of famous World War I combat aircraft. After Charles A. Lindbergh flew from New York to Paris in 1927 in the first successful solo flight across the Atlantic, U.S. interest in aviation skyrocketed. Today, the company also sells plastic and foam airplanes and helicopters.

6. “The Wakefield Massacre’’ occurred here.

In 2000, 42-year-old Michael McDermott shot and killed seven co-workers at Edgewater Technology Inc. in the worst mass murder in Massachusetts’s history. McDermott, a computer tester, was convicted in 2002 of seven counts of first-degree murder. McDermott testified that he believed he was killing Adolf Hitler and his generals, as directed by an archangel, but the Middlesex County jury rejected his claims of insanity.

The case also changed the course of police investigations, as it was one of the first murder cases in which investigators persuaded the courts to let them search the computers of a suspect for evidence. This is now a common practice.