Rawson Path by Linda Olson Pehlke
Linda Olson Pehlke is an author and urban planner living in Brookline. Her book, Exploring the Paths of Brookline, is available at Brookline Booksmith and other locations. The series "In Step: Brookline's Paths" was published in Our Town Brookline magazine in 2005 and appears here with the permission of its publisher and the author.
The Paths of Brookline
There are 17 pedestrian paths in Brookline, ranging in length from 69 to 791 feet. Designed to facilitate pedestrian travel, many of the paths were integral to large-scale residential developments, especially those on Brookline's two prominent hills, Corey and Aspinwall. In the context of this steep topography, the paths facilitate pedestrian travel up and down the steep slopes by providing stairway shortcuts that bisect the lengthy and circuitous roadways. In other settings, the paths provide convenient access to transit stops, neighborhood parks, or safe passage over or under train tracks. Signs designate both ends of the path, alerting neighborhood residents to the option of a short cut. Most of the paths were accepted by the town between 1886 and 1926. This was an era of rapid residential development in Brookline that followed the widening of Beacon Street, the advent of rapid transit, and the beginnings of the automobile age.
Brookline's paths give the pedestrian access to a unique world. Passing back porches, side terraces, and train tracks, or traversing wooded yards, these dedicated footpaths wend through secluded and interesting environments. Walking the paths gives us a unique opportunity to see the special architectural features of many older homes. Several paths lead to expansive vistas atop hills or to verdant parks. For the casual "Sunday Stroller," a walk on the paths offers views not seen from the street, all the while providing a quiet, car-free passage. For the busy commuter or shopper, the paths facilitate efficient access to and from transit stops and shopping areas.
We can appreciate the paths today for their role in creating a walkable community. The benefits of pedestrian travel include decreased sprawl, increased individual fitness, and the chance for spontaneous interpersonal interaction. Walking gives us the opportunity to experience our environment at a pace and viewpoint that allows us to appreciate the beauties of nature, history, and architecture. We have been fortunate to "inherit" our walkable community, which developed organically before the advent of the automobile. Others will look for ways of interpreting our successes to influence their own community development decision-making. In recognition of their significance, the Brookline Preservation Commission voted to nominate the footpaths for the National Register of Historic Places.
Exploring the paths gives us a chance to experience the diverse areas and neighborhoods of Brookline. In an effort to facilitate discovery, we will feature one of the paths in each issue of Our Town Brookline. Each path has its own unique qualities and function, although many of the paths are grouped in certain neighborhoods, and can be enjoyed together. This month's featured path is Rawson Path.
Up Aspinwall Hill
Located at the base of Aspinwall Hill, Rawson Path ascends the southern slope, connecting Gardner and Rawson Roads. Accepted as a public way in 1894, Rawson path is 15 feet wide and 449 feet long. Being particularly wooded, you are quickly immersed in a hushed, green sanctuary after climbing up the first few steps from Gardner Road. The allee of majestic old oak trees creates a dancing pattern of filtered light and shade. To your right, there are some large boulders that are perched and stacked upon one another, revealing both the man-made intention of a stonewall and the effects of wind, water and gravity through many decades. At the base of the wall, hardy summer wildflowers grow lanky stretching for the sun; but their blooms brighten the dappled atmosphere, as do the riotous rhododendron bushes and scampering chipmunks. The path's dogleg configuration lends an element of surprise. When you round the bend (admiring the bank of wild day lilies to your left), it takes you a moment to reorient yourself on Rawson Road, as if you had just emerged from a secret passage.
So, if the lengthening days are enticing you to venture out on foot, go exploring in your own "backyard" and take advantage of one of Brookline's special features, its footpaths.
© 2010 Linda Olson Pehlke. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced in any form without prior written permission from the author.
Map by Robert Pehlke. Photographs by Linda Olson Pehlke