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Eagle Scout Candidate Thomas Onishi Restores Historic Fence On Minuteman Common

Eagle Scout candidate Thomas Onishi, along with fellow scouts, stage and prepare timbers for repairing the enclosure on Minuteman Common.

 

Thomas Onishi stands next to a por- tion of the beautifully restored fence showing hand-hewn granite posts, heavy timbers held up by iron brackets.

 

Erik Tobies hand-forged some of the replacement brackets for the granite uprights.

 

On April 19, 1775 a group of Groton citizens assembled at the town common to march towards Concord to protect Colonial Militia supplies against seizure from a British military expedition. As part of Groton’s 350th Anniversary Celebration in 2005, the common was dedicated as Minuteman Common, in honor of these Groton Minutemen.
     According to the history, Groton at 350, the Common was first enclosed in 1842. To call this structure a "fence" seems paltry when considering the hand-hewn granite uprights, substanial timber crossbeams and heavy ironwork. Perhaps "barricade" or even "wall" gives a better sense of its magnitude. This is a structure with an appropriate gravitas for the historic memory of its location.
     Over the years, sections of this structure have fallen into disrepair, leaving segments without crossbeams or with rotting crossbeams, and broken or missing brackets. In addition to the repairs, the remaining rails needed a fresh coat of paint. The Groton Parks Commission, which manages Minuteman Common, agreed to entrust the project to an Eagle Scout candidate, with Don Black acting as representative of the Parks Commission to oversee the project.
     Last fall, Thomas Onishi, an Eagle Candidate from Troop 3 Groton, stepped up to take on this project with mentorship from Uwe Tobies, owner of Tobies Restoration and a parent in the troop. Over the course of the fall and winter, Thomas began building a plan to restore the fence, including estimating labor and materials, gathering tools, and identifying a source for fabricating the many iron fence brackets to replace the ones that were missing or had rusted through. He also began restoring the fence on the Route 40 side of the common in order to work the kinks out of the plan and to get a better estimate of the scope of the effort that would be needed to restore the whole fence.
     Restoring a section of fence involves several steps, beginning with disassembling each rail and inspecting the rail and the four iron brackets which hold it in place. Rails that are still viable must be sanded and occasionally repaired before repainting with two coats of stain on all six faces. Of the 118 rails, almost half of the rails were replaced with new rails (supplied by the Parks Commission), which were custom cut to length for each section.
     In some cases, the brackets were so old and fragile that they had sheared off, leaving the stem of the bracket seated in the granite posts. Where necessary, Thomas drilled out the bracket stems, allowing new brackets to be put into place. To restore the old brackets for reuse, they must be stripped using a wire wheel to remove any loose paint and rust. All the brackets received a coat of a rust-preventive paint. Only after rails and brackets were restored or replaced could each fence section be reassembled.
     The brackets that were missing or rusted out had to be replaced before the rails could be reinstalled. Erik Tobies, a fellow scout with an interest in blacksmithing, hand forged approximately 20 new fence brackets from some iron stock. These hand-forged brackets were a very close match to the oldest brackets, which were likely hand forged (several styles of replacement brackets were discovered when the fence was disassembled). However, realizing that he would need more than 100 new fence brackets, Thomas worked with his grandfather to identify a company that could fabricate brackets in larger quantity.           The onset of the pandemic delayed fabrication of the brackets somewhat, but they were eventually completed by the time the warmer spring weather arrived.
     Over the past several weeks as socially distanced scouting activities have been allowed to slowly resume, Thomas and his fellow scouts from Troop 3 have worked through the summer heat to complete the bulk of the fence restoration. While there are still a few more rails to finish along Main Street, the fence is looking great, and ready to endure another few decades of New England weather. Thomas has set up a gofundme page (https://gf.me/u/yfrx7b) to recoup the costs for restoration materials (new brackets, paint, sandpaper, screws, etc.). All donations are greatly appreciated; any excess funds will be given to the Parks Commission for future maintenance needs.
     In order to achieve the highest rank in scouting, scouts must advance through six progressive ranks, earn at least 21 merit badges in areas including survival and life skills, serve in visible positions of leadership, and complete a major community service project before the age of 18. The service project typically involves planning with a local community group or civic organization, earning funds or soliciting donations to cover any associated costs, acquiring appropriate approvals and materials, and, finally, leading the implementation of the project to achieve the project objective. Such projects provide the scout with the opportunity to serve the local community in significant ways, while putting their leadership skills into practice.
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