Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Mt. Greylock Reservation

Here is the Veterans War Memorial Tower atop Mt. Greylock, the highest peak in Massachusetts. Photos below of Bascom Lodge, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, and of the view from Mt. Greylock will have to suffice until the reservation auto road, and these structures, are once again open to the public.

Hikers are still permitted on the reservation, which spreads across six towns in Berkshire County, but the road system is under repair for 2007 and 2008. Next year, 2009, the roads to the summit will once again be open for autos, bikes, and walkers.

For more information on Mt. Greylock State Reservation, established in 1898, have a look at this website.

Been there? Done that? Stayed overnight at Bascom Lodge, or know a CCC fellow who helped build it? Let us know.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Fort Ti Ferry - Lake Champlain

If you have seven minutes to spare, then take the most narrow crossing over Lake Champlain between Ticonderoga, New York, and Shoreham, Vermont on the Fort Ticonderoga Ferry.

Ferry crossings were made at this historic location as early as 1759. The cable system used to pull the ferry cross was first employed in 1946, and is still used today. The Addie B, a tugboat, powers the barge on which a few cars, or a school bus like this one, can make its way over to the next state.

For more information on the Fort Ticonderoga Ferry, have a look at this website.

Been there? Done that? Let us know.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge

In honor of Earth Day we in New England have the good fortune to enjoy and celebrate Maine’s Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge.

Photos above and below show the salt marsh and forest of this stretch between Kittery and Cape Elizabeth, which also features beach dunes and coastal meadows. Established in 1966, it was named in 1969 for Rachel Carson, marine biologist and environmentalist whose landmark book “Silent Spring” forever changed our outlook on the indiscriminate use of pesticides and gave rise to the modern environmentalist movement.

The Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge is a valuable resource, and a truly lovely place to enjoy nature. For more information, have a look at this website.

Been there? Done that? Floated along the stream in an inner tube? Let us know.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Patriot's Day - Battle of Lexington-Concord

Tomorrow is Patriot’s Day in Massachusetts and Maine, which used to be part of Massachusetts before the Compromise of 1820. The official day off falls on next Monday, but tomorrow is when the Minutemen will meet again the redcoats in the annual reenactment in Concord of the moment which incited Americans to become a nation. Above, a restoration of “the rude bridge” where the farmers took their stand.

Concord Hymn

By Ralph Waldo Emerson
APRIL 19, 1836.

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world,

The foe long since in silence slept,
Alike the Conqueror silent sleeps,
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.

On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set to-day a votive stone,
That memory may their deed redeem,
When like our sires our sons are gone.

Spirit! who made those freemen dare
To die, or leave their children free,
Bid time and nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and Thee.

Been to Lexington-Concord? Bought a tricorn hat? Let us know.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Museum Houses of New England

We are coming into the season when the museum houses are opening for visitors. Some of these are grand mansions, like the ones at Newport, Rhode Island, some less grand like the Mariner’s Home of New Bedford pictured above. Some are the simple frame houses of literary figures, sea captains, or captains of industry. Many of these homes now operating as museums are closed during the winter months, and will open soon for the summer season.

Visiting the neighbors requires cooperation from both us the visitors, and the staffs of these museums to make the visit meaningful. Unfortunately, I confess I’ve been in a few of these homes where the guide knew less about the subject than some of the visitors. I can recall going in one museum house where a young woman advised us that the building was, “Like, real, real, old.”

I can remember going into another stately mansion where the guide spent the entire tour pointing out which pieces of furniture she thought would look so good in her own home that she would steal them if she could get away with it. Directors of these important and cherished buildings should be reminded that we did not pay our admission fee for such nonsense. Nor to hear anything at all about the personal likes and dislikes of the guide. I can recall one National Park ranger leaving the subject matter and straying into modern-day politics, while his tour group fidgeted.

It should be needless to say that guides, though many may be working on a volunteer basis, need to be trained not only in their subject matter, but in graciously hosting the public. We are a captive audience, so don’t take advantage of that to try out your new comedy routine or tell us your problems. Here’s another tip, don’t hold up an object and shout, “Can anybody tell me what this is?” At least, not if your tour group is comprised of adults. Adults, generally, do not like to be talked to like a group of third-graders on a field trip. Just tell us what the blasted thing is and stop wasting time.

That said, I can recall some terrific experiences on such tours of museum houses. One guide was just a young boy, dressed in 18th century costume, working at a carpentry exhibit of Fort No. 4 in New Hampshire. His knowledge of his subject and the enthusiasm for it was deeply impressive, and we left his company that day the better for it.

Two other really terrific experiences on historical site tours did not occur in New England, but are good examples of excellent tours. One was at the Confederate White House in Richmond, Virginia. The young woman was, again, very knowledgeable in her subject, which was the family of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Moreover, her attitude was one of dignity and graciousness that reflected the dignity of the historical site. She invited us not only into the home, but into the 19th century. And as a nod to those of us Northerners in the group, she ended her tour with the famous line by Mrs. Varina Davis, who was asked by reporters why she would attend the funeral of General Ulysses S. Grant, “Gentleman, the war is over.” Thus, this spot of Southern history which we New Englanders did not share, still became our history, too.

Another fond memory is of the National Park ranger on the stage of Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC, describing with dramatic detail the events of the night of President Lincoln’s assassination. This older man, shorter, a bit heavy set, was no actor, but he brought the whole scenario alive for us, and received a spontaneous ovation at the end of his talk. He responded proudly with a cute and most dignified bow.

But, as stated earlier, this business of visiting the neighbors, whether they be the Alcotts or Edith Wharton, or any Revolutionary War general, is a two-way situation. If we require good guides, then we must also be good guests. For us visitors, it should be a matter of simple courtesy. Turn off the cell phones. No, really.

If your teenaged son has not removed the IPod headphones during the entire tour, chances are he could care less about Mark Twain or his house in Hartford. Leave him home next time. You did not raise him right. Go home and try again.

If the house is small, with narrow halls and stairs, be brief in your examination of that whatnot cabinet so the rest of the group can have a look. If you are asked not to touch anything or sit on anything, then don’t.

Maybe Clara Barton herself isn’t going to come out with a tray of lemonade and cookies, but it’s still her house there in North Oxford, Mass., so be a good guest.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Modern Blacksmiths

Here is the blacksmith’s shop at Storrowton Village on the fairgrounds of the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield, Massachusetts. We may tend to think of blacksmiths in a setting like this, that of an historical re-creation, a fictional setting. But blacksmithing hasn’t gone away. It might seem anachronistic in the days of the Internet and cell phones, but the craft and the craftsman are oblivious to fad and fashion.

Businesses like the Old Smithy Shop in New Hampshire supply ornamental ironwork, and Connecticut’s Laurel Forge allows observers who are interested in learning more about the craft. You can learn to be blacksmith yourself at the Prospect Hill Forge of Waltham, Mass. or through the New England Blacksmiths organization.

We may be familiar with the old Longfellow poem, “The Village Blacksmith” that begins with the verse:

Under a spreading chestnut-tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.

But the verse that perhaps illustrates the reason why modern-day blacksmithing still thrives is toward the end of the poem:

Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begin,
Each evening sees it close;
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night's repose.”

Something attempted, something done. Something that’s real when you finish.

Have a look at the above highlighted websites for more information.

Been there? Done that? Got a horseshoe? Let us know.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Opening Day - Fenway Park

Can it really be spring, time to work in the green fields again? Centerfield, right field, and left field? Another winter has passed, and heroes return. To everything there is a season. Welcome, Detroit Tigers. Play ball.

Friday, April 4, 2008

New England Railroads

Here is a photo of the Amtrak train at the station at New London, Connecticut. Before Amtrak unified the nation’s passenger rail system in a national railroad, the United States had a diverse and colorful collection of independently owned and operated railroads. So did New England.

As early as 1839 we had the Hartford & New Haven Railroad, which reached Springfield in 1844 and became the Springfield, Hartford & New Haven. The Boston & Albany arrived in 1841, though in the planning stages the Massachusetts legislature thought that a railroad traversing the length of the state was physically impossible. The Boston Courier scoffed in 1827 that “A Railroad from Boston to Albany is impracticable…as useless as a railroad from Boston to the moon.” Railroads breaking down the distance, whether it be near or far, turned out to be neither impracticable nor useless.

There was the Stamford & New Canaan Railroad in 1866, the New Haven & Northampton, the New York, Providence & Boston by 1837, the Housatonic in 1842 which connected Bridgeport, Connecticut with West Stockbridge, Mass. There was the Providence & Worcester in 1847, the Boston & Maine by 1862, the old Bangor & Piscataqua Canal Railroad in 1836, and the Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad in 1870.

Of this last named, it was announced last month that the Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad Preservation Society is closing due to lack of ridership and member support. There are a number of rail line preservation groups in New England, including the Berkshire Scenic Railway with some cars shown here, and the Green Mountain Railroad, which continue to provide for us the nostalgic experience of riding the old-time railroads.

It’s been said that what with fuel expense and environmental concerns, train travel is the most economical and environmentally efficient mode of travel these days. One would hope there is a renewed effort to providing improved modern rail service in this country as an alternative. But let us not forget the classic years of train travel, which are amply represented in New England by rail preservation societies. Visit one near you and take a ride. Don’t just read books or watch movies about it. See for yourself.

For more information on the Boston & Maine, see this website.

For more information on the Berkshire Scenic Railway, see this website.

For an interesting article on the History of Railroads in Maine, have a look at this website.

Been there? Done that? Ate in the dining car? Let us know.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Forbes and Wallace - Springfield, Mass.

In lieu of an April Fool’s Day joke, I submit a location which no longer exists. You cannot travel there now, but you can still know about it.

This is the corner of Main and Vernon streets in Springfield, Massachusetts as it was in 1981. This building, the Forbes and Wallace Building, represented what is now an almost vanished entity, the family-owned, city landmark department store.

Andrew B. Wallace, a native of Scotland, born in 1842, came to the US as a young man of business. Dry goods were his trade, and he worked at both ends of the Commonwealth, in Boston and in Pittsfield, before settling down in a spot a little closer to the middle, Springfield. Here in 1874, he partnered with Alexander B. Forbes to form what became a venerated institution among shoppers. Forbes retired from the business in 1896, the Wallace family continued it.

This building, eight floors, was constructed in 1905. Each floor had its departments, and being brought here to have a picture taken with Santa was something like an audience with royalty.

The store went out of business in 1976. Downtown had changed, as did shoppers’ habits. There were arguments about finding a new use for the building as opposed to demolishing it, and a few interested parties made feasibility studies, but ultimately decided that refurbishing the site was not really feasible.

The demolition began in 1983. The demolition of the parking garage attached to the store continued through 1985.

Monarch Place has the spot now. We have magnificent modern buildings going up all the time, and dynamic corporations to provide jobs and economic vitality to our cities. Unfortunately, we seldom have the emotional connection with them that we did these old family businesses, and their buildings with the opulent stonework. When the modern buildings are torn down, as they one day will be, it is probable few will care as much.

Been there? Sat on Santa’s lap? What about the big family stores in your community?