A while back we encouraged Village14 readers to send us guest posts. Kathleen Maguire took us up on the offer and has periodically been contributing posts she calls Finding Newton Awe. Thanks Kathleen
When Reverend Howard Haywood encouraged me to explore Cheesecake Brook and include it here as an example of Newton Awe, I was not impressed. The Cheesecake Brook I knew seemed to just trickle down Albermarle’s median strip; it was entirely unremarkable.
However, the opportunity to meet the venerable Reverend Howard Haywood was too good to resist. I sensed he had a story that would bring me closer to Newton. The Haywood’s DNA has been making Newton home since 1850. So, if Reverend Haywood thought Cheesecake Brook was worthy of my study of Newton Awe, then I needed to find out why. I needed to hear and connect with Cheesecake Brook’s significance and let it flow into my own Newton experience.
I learned quickly that the story of Cheesecake Brook does not begin, or even revolve around Albermarle. Cheesecake Brook begins to the left of Brae Burn Country Club on Fuller Street and winds its way, mostly underground, through West Newton and Newtonville and ends at the corner of Bridge and California Streets in Nonantum where it flows into the Charles River. While largely subterranean today, it still flows above ground here and there; through public and private property. These spots above ground give us a glimpse of what Newton’s early settlers experienced. The name Cheesecake Brook is a shortened version of “Cheese and Cake” Brook. Early settlers picnicked beside the brook and enjoyed special treats of cheese and cake on Sundays.
Our tour started on Fuller Street where Reverend Haywood shared his belief that Cheesecake Brook has always unified our city in a quiet, subtle way. While the brook flows through private, restricted access property, the flow of the water itself has always been communal. No private property owner can own the water that runs through his property; the water is free to move where the current leads it and pulse like life-blood in an artery through our city. This free flowing water unites all of us as it travels from neighborhood to neighborhood.
After Fuller Street, our first stop was the far right corner of the playing fields behind Warren House where the brook surfaces for a few yards. Rev. Haywood recalled boyhood escapades with other Village youth along this bend in the brook where they caught goldfish and had old fashioned fun. Back in those days, the brook traveled above ground on a diagonal to the heart of The Village where Reverend Haywood’s family settled in 1850. Towards the end of present day Prospect Street, at the edge of the CCSB property, the brook was above ground and ran through a field that was the center of life in The Village. From their porches, parents could watch one another’s children play in this wide-open space. It was community living at its best. The same water that flowed down from Fuller Street came right into The Village, plain and simple. With the Pike extension, this stretch of Cheesecake Brook went deep underground and The Village of Reverend Haywood’s childhood stood no more.
Taking a sharp right at Border Street, the brook continues underground through the police department parking lot and then through the small berm that borders the right hand side of the field of the old Davis School. It runs parallel to Route 16 and emerges above ground again just before The Barn’s property line. As it approaches Eddy Street, it slips back underground and head for its long, above-ground Albermarle stretch. Then, it slips underground again until it opens up into its ultimate Newton destination: The Charles River at Bridge and California Streets.
Rev. Haywood is on point. This humble brook quietly carries Newton Awe, day after day, generation after generation, through Newton neighborhoods, out into the Charles River and ultimately out into Boston’s estuaries and the oceans beyond. “The lowly will be exalted and the exalted will be brought low.” Ezekiel 21:26 and so is the case with Cheesecake Brook. Thank you Rev. Haywood for opening my eyes to the wonder of these gentle waters.