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Some highway ramps take a big toll

Regan house, c 1950, Burlington MA
The Regan house

By Susan Vozzella

One day in the mid-1950s, state highway officials broke some bad news to my grandparents, Tim and Esther Regan. It was about their house. It had to go. Route 128 was about to widen, and the Winn Street interchange was about to become a full “cloverleaf.” So my grandparents’ mini-neighborhood was about to be lassoed by a pair of new ramps:

  • The ramp from Winn Street southbound to Route 128 North
  • The sister ramp from Route 128 North to Winn Street southbound

Here’s the original Winn Street ramp system in 1955, before the big overhaul. Notice the little cluster of houses tucked in the left corner of the interchange.

Winn_Street_half_cloverleaf-1955, Burlington MA

The completed ramp system today:

Winn_Street_full_cloverleaf-1995, Burlington MA

Here’s Winn Street heading north (Woburn is behind you), approaching the Route 128 overpass in 1953, before the expansion project. Those mailboxes belonged to houses across the street, including my grandfather’s, before those houses were cleared for highway ramps. Winn Street was quiet enough that you could stroll across to get your mail.Route 128 overpass at Winn Street Burlington MA

My grandparents had raised their only child, my mother Geraldine, in this house. And my grandmother had toiled for 30 years to build a natural wonderland in the back yard. She had beautiful gardens with large oriental vases surrounded by flowers as well as rock gardens an outdoor fireplace, blackberry bushes and chestnut trees. When I was very young, my brother and I spent much time at that house.  There was usually music playing, and I can remember the smell fresh coffee brewing. The back yard was like a magical garden.

Esther Regan holding granddaughter Susan
My grandmother Esther holding me.
Tim and Esther's grandchildren, Susan and Paul
My brother Paul and I loved the magic garden.
Esther Regan's handiwork
My grandmother’s handiwork.

My grandparents tried to think positive. They couldn’t keep the garden, but maybe they could keep the house — by moving it. Yes, of course! They bought some nice property farther north in Burlington and looked forward to the big move.

Alas, it was too cumbersome to circumvent the Route 128 bridge on Winn Street, so they couldn’t move it in that direction. Yet they insisted on staying in Burlington. Under duress, they ordered all-new construction at 146 Winn Street, on the corner of Locust, and moved into that house in December, 1961. The old house was moved to 141 Winn Street in Woburn, where it stands today.

Starting anew takes a lot of physical work, even when contractors do the bulk of it. My grandfather was in his late 50s, and just leveling this new property was a big task for him. Esther put in many hours to recreate her garden as best she could. But nature fought them. Water seeped into the basement. The property wasn’t as dry as they were led to believe. Even though they designed the house to fit their needs, it was a big task to take on.

Above, the new Regan house at the corner of Winn and Locust. Below, the same corner today.

146 Winn Street, corner of Locust

At least Tim had a fulfilling professional life as a Burlington jack of all trades. He was a town selectman. He helped run state and local elections. And he was among Burlington’s first full-time park superintendents. His professional background included overseeing estates owned by the Petts family of Winchester, so he knew about property management.

He helped create our town’s Marvin Field, Wildmere Playground and others, according to former fire chief Herb Crawford. Do you like the wading pool at Simonds Park? You’ve got Tim Regan to thank for that. He played a major role in developing that pool, making him a hero to me. My brother and I were among the first kids to step in that water. You’ve probably seen the log cabin near the pool. That was his office.

My grandfather seemed bigger than life. He had charisma, a great sense of humor and was really down to earth. Everywhere we went, people knew him. He was tall and always had a smile on his face. He had a lot of patience and was always doing something for the community. He knew all the police and firemen and would often stop by to visit and bring coffee.

I loved it when he brought my brother and I around with him. I remember the day we got to go down the fire pole at the fire station across from Burlington Common. He would host Christmas events for parents and their children and often dress up as Santa.

But the stress of that land-taking and rebuilding seemed to take a toll on my grandfather’s health. One of the saddest days of my life was when he died. I remember it was a very hot and humid day, July 16, 1964. After spending his day at work, he was not feeling quite well. That night he had a major heart attack. He was rushed to Choate Hospital in Woburn, but passed on shortly after he arrived. He was only 60 years old.

34CD7C7E-50DC-46A1-9300-FD230B3BB5F0
Tim Regan shortly before his death at age 60.

I remember going to his house the next day. I was 10 and my brother nine. My grandmother and he were so close, it was a very sad time. I insisted that I go to his wake. My mother hesitated but was in mourning and gave in. He was waked at McLaughlin funeral home in Woburn (back in the 60’s the building was closer to the Woburn Library). His wake lasted two days and nights. The lines stretched to dozens of people down the street, and officers were directing traffic. I stood in line with everyone else. It took a while to get into the building and I remember seeing many young people in that long line.

When I did see him, I was heartbroken. It all happened so quickly, and he was fairly young. I remember Bernie McLaughlin, who was the undertaker and knew my grandfather well, took me into his office trying to calm me down. He went on to chat with me about what a good man my grandfather was.

Jerry Ganley wrote this letter. I like the part about Tim’s efforts to promote summer fun for children.

Jerry Ganley's letter

My grandmother was a warm and gracious woman who lived for many years after Tim passed. She stayed in the house they built. She was a fixture at town elections and became secretary for the town’s senior center. When Burlington held a memorial party for Tim at Montvale Plaza in Woburn, Esther learned that Burlington was clearing and draining a woodsy area between Skelton Road and Wing Terrace.

A new park! And it would bear the family name.

Regan Playground sign, Burlington MA

Tim’s great grandson, Travis Vozzella, grew up in Burlington and played ball at this park. Perhaps someday his son will do the same.

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