Water Closet for June 2, 2017
As the spring-summer paddle season resumes in earnest on the Ipswich River, Middleton Stream Teamers want to remind paddlers of our landings and the talented man who greatly added to their appearance and safe use. The following is an essay published in October 2010.
                                               VITO’S LANDINGS
[pullquote]”Maybe some intrepid historian will learn that four hundred years after the Indians and two hundred after the Colonists, a stone loving man from distant Rome had placed stones not for his own castle or mill, but for people he didn’t even know.”[/pullquote]Men for four centuries here have built wooden structures on unsubstantial stone foundations along the Ipswich River. You’ll not see any now in Middleton. Rot and floods have taken them away. We are told that along the Tiber River in Rome you’ll see many stone access steps and foundations going back two millennia. In lucky Middleton Rome came to us about a half century ago in the person of Vito Mortalo. Since 2002 he has built the town far more than just access steps to the river at Farnsworth Landing off South Main Street, at Peabody Street, and most recently at Maple Street. His steps are works of art. We of the Stream Team who asked him for help have slowly learned his methods. Usually alone and unbeknown to us he visits the sites where we want landings and makes a plan in his head. In the case of the one at Maple Street that was about five years ago. Then occasionally we’ll see some signs of his activity around our preparatory clearing and cleanup at a site. He might have left some selected stones or have removed a previous rotting old landing. At Stream Team meetings we wonder aloud how Vito is doing. One of us then may contact this busy man with a large family and many projects of his own. Always friendly he will smile and may even visit the site with us and reveal pieces of his plan with no mention of time. We’ve learned from him to apply the wise old saying “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”   After awhile at Farnsworth, on Route 114, Peabody Street, and Maple Street the stone accesses to the river just suddenly appeared and much pleased us. Unlike others who use steel and wood for such projects his landings are of forever stones, beautifully arranged.

Stairway of great stones descending to the Ipswich River at Mortalo Landing off Maple Street, Middleton – Judy Schneider photo

For the steps at Maple Street we learned that for years he had been picking out large flat stones he happened upon in his work. One time a couple Stream Teamers saw them laid out waiting in his back yard. And then last year there they were, some weighing a ton, artistically placed where once rotting steps made of old railroad ties had been. Visit the landing there and descend on a half dozen great native rocks to the river. One is seven feet across. To their sides higher stones invite one to sit after a canoe trip or when just passing the time, perhaps with a snack from Farmer Brown’s across the river. It is pleasing to imagine generations hence sitting there letting the passing water sweep their troubles away.

Selected stones beautifully placed grace the Ipswich River bank at the Peabody Street Landing, Middleton – Judy Schneider photo

Let’s go with that flow of diluted-washed-away-worries two miles down river. Upon rounding a great curve in the shade of silver maples off the Greenbelt’s field just up from Peabody Street we are greeted with great stones arranged in a most attractive way, not steps at all, rather a sculpture to sit upon. One stream teamer yearly visits there with his young grandson. The old man sits on one of the stones and watches as the boy 70 years younger wades below him in the gravel and sand shallows. Before Vito’s gift the landing had been an eroding bank of briars. Visitors will find the Peabody Street site as pleasing to the eye from above in the little park as it is from an approaching canoe or kayak. A couple years ago a Stream Teamer on passing one fine early morning saw a man sitting at the picnic table above the stones smoking. His motorcycle was parked nearby. The strangers chatted quietly for a bit. The cyclist said he stopped each day to clear his mind en route home from the graveyard shift at his workplace. He was obviously content and so was his new acquaintance upon hearing the simple story. Such places are needed ‘round and about any town. Before Vito’s steps the land along the river there had been a rubbish strewn parking area with wheel rut puddles inside a moldering roadside safety barrier.

Reflections from the Ipswich River as seen from the top of Vito’s stone steps at Farnsworth Landing, Middleton – Judy Schneider photo

The other evening the Stream Team met, appropriately at the Historical Society’s Museum, and agreed to name the Maple Street access park Vito’s Landing. There were no dissenting voices; all were happy with the choice. The selectmen will be asked for their approval. We know that long after this generation of Stream Teamers and Vito have been forgotten the inviting stones will be there. Maybe some intrepid historian will learn that four hundred years after the Indians and two hundred after the Colonists, a stone loving man from distant Rome had placed stones not for his own castle or mill, but for people he didn’t even know.


Precipitation Data* for Month of: Feb Mar April May
30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 3.25 6.65 4.53 4.06
   2017 Central Watershed Actual 3.46 2.86 6.53 5.9**as of May 26

Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):
For May 26, 2017  Normal . . . 59 CFS     Current Rate . . . 75.3 CFS
*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru April.
** Middleton Stream Team is the source of actual precipitation data for May.
Normals data is from the National Climatic Data Center.
THE WATER CLOSET is provided by the Middleton Stream Team: www.middletonstreamteam.org or         <MSTMiddletonMA@gmail.com> or (978) 777-4584