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Hope flies as Canton builds on heritage, other riches

Local historian George T. Comeau led tours on the grounds of Paul Revere's copper rolling mill in Canton. The town plans to turn the 37-acre parcel into a heritage site.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

CANTON — It’s a windy Saturday morning, and a group of 20 people is gathered outside to check out a 37-acre parcel that is undergoing a slow transformation.

Tour guide and local historian George Comeau tells the visitors about the site’s significance in the history of entrepreneurship in America, how Paul Revere started his copper business here in 1801, years after he became a hero of the Revolutionary War. The copper rolling mill, built by Revere’s son in the 1850s, survives, as does a livestock barn, also built by the son.

This Paul Revere Heritage Site, which will feature a town green, a museum and a restaurant in the historic buildings, as well as new residences when it is complete, is one of several new projects underway in Canton. The town is also working to replace an ice rink where the roof had collapsed, enhance public access to Reservoir Pond, fix a troublesome intersection where traffic snarls daily, and welcome a private golf entertainment company to the region.

This rendering shows what Paul Revere Heritage Site planners hope the old copper rolling mill and surrounding area will look like when it has been fully restored and construction at the site is complete.Canton Holdings LLC
The roof of the Metropolis Rink in Canton collapsed under heavy snow on Feb. 28, 2015. The town wants to begin rebuilding the rink in the spring.The Boston Globe
A view of Reservoir Pond in Canton in October 2010.George T. Comeau

“There is a lot of activity,” said Town Administrator Charles Aspinwall. Several of the projects face important votes at Town Meeting on May 14, he said.


Comeau, who is active with various projects in town, said the goal of all of the initiatives is to provide more activities and access for people in Canton. Much of the work has been made possible with strong leadership in town, actively interested residents, and community preservation funds, he said.

“I think what you’re seeing, quite honestly, there’s two things: There’s a wonderful coalescence of people becoming more actively involved in the community, and the means to study projects through community preservation monies,” he said. The funds help move projects from just a great idea to the drawing board, through the study phase, and finally to fruition, Comeau said.


The state’s Community Preservation Act allows municipalities to raise money for open space protection, historic preservation, affordable housing, and outdoor recreation, and to receive matching state funds for these projects. Canton adopted the act in 2012, and it has raised and received $2.47 million for qualifying projects between fiscal years 2014 and 2017. The town has also committed to using future CPA funds to pay a $1.7 million bond for the acquisition of land at the Revere site.

“There’s a lot of really exciting stuff,” said Deborah Stein Sharpe, who founded the town’s walk, bike, and hike committee to improve conditions for bicyclists and pedestrians in the town. Once the town began receiving community preservation money, there was an opportunity to make an impact, she said.

Canton already has a sparkling renovated library, good schools, two commuter rail stations, and proximity to the junction of two major highways. Town officials and volunteers work — both during public meetings and behind the scenes — to enhance the quality of life in town by celebrating its history and making the most of its natural resources.

Volunteers and town staff are also working on updates to the town’s open space and recreation plan, cleaning and preserving 300-year-old gravesites at the Olde English Burying Ground, and restoring and preserving the David Tilden House, constructed in 1709 and 1725.

Those three projects are all supported by community preservation funds.

Canton’s natural landscapes, an important part of its history since it was established in 1797 and reportedly named in the false belief that it was antipodal to the province of Canton in China, figure into the town’s current agenda as well. Its proximity to Great Blue Hill and Ponkapoag Pond positioned it to be a popular recreation area in the 19th and 20th centuries. For example, Ponkapoag Pond was home to YMCA’s Camp Dorchester, founded in 1923.


Canton, with its natural beauty, was known as a recreation spot. This photo of boaters on Ponkapoag Pond is from the late 1800s.Canton Historical Society

More recently, Canton has gained popularity with commuters who work in Boston and their families. The town’s population has grown in the last 20 years even though housing is sparse and in demand. The census reported that 20,775 people lived in Canton in 2000; that number rose to an estimated 22,562 in 2016. The tax base is 60 percent residential, 40 percent commercial.

“Canton continues to attract people who want to move here, but who also want to develop here,” Comeau said. The town’s commuter rail stations, highway access, and quality of life make it a magnet both for people and businesses, he said.

People in Canton seem enthusiastic about the changes that are coming, and the way the town is evolving.

“Our community prides itself on moving forward,” said Victor Del Vecchio, a former selectman who is active in the Revere site project. “That’s what we’re doing on several fronts.”

Typical public meetings tend to draw few people, but public meetings on these latest projects, typically held at the library, have been well attended. The Revere site tour was advertised on social media for just a few hours before more than 40 people signed up, filling two groups, Comeau said.


A circa 1900 view of the Revere copper yard in Canton and the east branch of the Neponset River, which is now buried on the site. The site once had many buildings, but they have nearly all been torn down except for the mill and barn, which were built by Revere’s son.Canton Historical Society
This photo, circa 1880, shows men working at the copper mill started by Paul Revere in 1801. The building on the right is the mill built by Revere's son, which is now being restored.Canton Historical Society

The state of Metropolis Rink, the local ice rink and popular hockey venue damaged during the winter of 2015, has also drawn a lot of interest, said John Connolly, chairman of the Board of Selectmen.

“Canton is a very, very rabid hockey town,” he said. “It always has been.”

The state owns the rink, at 2167 Washington St., but the town is the leaseholder and holds the insurance policy. It must have a contract to spend the insurance reimbursement, $2.2 million, by February 2019 or risk losing it, local officials said.

The town has hired an architecture and engineering firm to determine the repair costs, and there is a proposal on the Town Meeting warrant to let the town proceed with the repairs, in case the town has to cover the cost of some of the repairs, Aspinwall said. The town wants to begin rebuilding the rink in the spring, Connolly said.

Meanwhile, there has been much discussion in town about improving access to Reservoir Pond at the Earl Newhouse Waterfront, and doing it in a way acceptable to local property owners.

The town owns the waterfront land, and it has hired consultants to explore what kinds of features it should have, such as a designated beach area, a fishing area, a launch for boats brought in on racks, and areas for picnics. The work is being paid for with community preservation and town funds, Aspinwall said.


“There’s a lot of opinions of how it should be used,” he said. Parking, access for people of all abilities, and whether wintertime activities such as ice skating should be permitted, are issues the town is working through, he said.

On another front, the town is reviewing a proposal by Topgolf to develop a golf entertainment complex at the site of the former Cumberland Farms headquarters at 777 Dedham St.

Connolly called the planned attraction a good fit for the town and said the site is ideal for such a redevelopment, as it doesn’t have many immediate neighbors. Furthermore, he said, Topgolf does not plan to build housing on the property.

“That would raise havoc with our infrastructure, school system, and police and fire,” Connolly said. “This is the best situation we could have.”

Cumberland Farms pulled its employees out of the facility and moved to Framingham in 2009. A zoning change necessary for the Topgolf project to advance is on the Town Meeting warrant.

Town Meeting voters will also be asked to address something far more mundane: traffic.

They will vote on proposed changes to the intersection of Washington and Randolph streets, one of the most nettlesome traffic areas in town. Canton enlisted help from the Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization, which recommended redesigning the intersection and installing a traffic signal.

Voters will decide whether to spend $69,000 for the design.

Visitors took a tour of the future Paul Revere Heritage Site.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Jill Terreri Ramos can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @jillterreri.