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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Old Man of the Mountain - New Hampshire

Above is a photo of New Hampshire’s “Old Man of the Mountain” rock formation before his loss of face. The inscription on the sign in the foreground is statesman Daniel Webster’s famous quote, “Men hang out their signs indicative of their respective trades; shoemakers hang out a gigantic shoe; jewelers a monster watch, and the dentist hangs out a gold tooth; but in the mountains of New Hampshire, God Almighty has hung out a sign to show that there He makes men.”

It is perhaps this sentiment and not the fluke of a cliff that resembles a face in profile that made the Old Man such an iconic symbol of New Hampshire, enough so that it was put on the obverse of the New Hampshire state quarter. It is also why there was such a sense of loss when nature that hath created also took away, and the symbol was gone when the rock face crumbled.

The location is in the Franconia Notch State Park. Reportedly the first mention recorded of this stone face was by American Indians in the 17th century. The area was first surveyed by Americans of European descent in the early 19th century. In the early 20th century, some eroding was already noted, and some attempts through the years to secure the rock formation were successful, until May 3, 2003, when the rock face crumbled, and the rugged image was gone.

For more information on the Old Man of the Mountain, please see this New Hampshire government website.

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

Friday, January 25, 2008

A Place to Make a Stand - Shays' Rebellion

This photo depicts the stone step a the entrance to Conkey’s Tavern, the only remaining physical marker of Conkey’s Tavern, which once stood in Pelham, Mass., later a part of Prescott before that town was dissolved in the construction of the Quabbin Reservoir. Conkey’s Tavern was where Shays and his men plotted their rebellion.

On January 26, 1787, it was the beginning of the end of Shays’ Rebellion. On this day, General William Shepard fired cannon into the insurgents led by Daniel Shays, who had attempted to seize weapons from the United States Arsenal in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Governor Bowdoin's proclammation against the rebels is posted in The Hampshire Gazette from March 1787. Shays’ led a makeshift army of farmers deeply in debt after the American Revolution. Many suffered foreclosures on their property, and some went to prison for their debt.

The highway that now runs along the Quabbin Reservoir in Pelham is called the Daniel Shays Highway. It seems the rebel has found a grudging respect by the Commonwealth that once shot cannonballs at him, the respect that he had among a lot of people in the western counties of the state.

In six months the rebellion was crushed. Shays and many of his men escaped to Vermont, which at that time was an independent nation, and lived in exile. Shays' Rebellion sufficiently unnerved officials in all of the newly independent United States, and a convention was formed to dump the Articles of Confederation for a new Constitution.

A lot of lessons remain from Shays’ Rebellion, and not just about the benefits of a centralized government. The merchant class versus the farmers, the poor circumstances of disenfranchised veterans, the terror of mob violence, and the desperation born of debt and foreclosure. “A little rebellion”, indeed.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Fun at the 45th Parallel

The above photo depicts the roadside monument in Perry, Maine marking the 45th parallel. It’s a swell parallel, as parallels go. It marks the halfway point between the equator and the North Pole (not exactly halfway, having to do with the bulge of the earth at the equator, but “almost halfway between the equator and the North Pole” doesn’t sound as nice).

You can also find other markers to this swell parallel in Franklin, Vermont; Richford, Vermont; in Stewartstown, New Hampshire; in Clarksville, New Hampshire, and a whole lot of other places all over the big wide globe. Some of them are small signs, others, like this beauty, which actually looks like it’s showing the equator and not the 45th parallel, are imaginative monuments to something that sort of exists but which we cannot see. Man divides up the earth into quadrants, boundaries, meridians. It is our need for direction, and our need for precision, that makes us paint imaginary lines across the earth, and then celebrate them with a monument to say that they really do exist.

Friday, January 18, 2008

A Hardwick Horse and a Stone Wall

This shot of a friendly draft horse and a bit of stone wall was taken in Hardwick, Massachusetts, and the scene probably could have been found there in any of the last four centuries.

In the “History of Hardwick, Massachusetts” by Lucius R. Paige, published in 1883, the author remarks on the town’s “somewhat plentiful supply of rocks.” You could say as much possibly about most New England towns. There are a lot of ragged, but still stubbornly present, stone walls along the Greenwich Road in Hardwick, which used to lead to the former town of Greenwich and now leads to the Quabbin Reservoir.

As for the horse, Hardwick knows something of horses, having hosted the coincidently named Over the Walls equestrian competition. A draft horse such as this placid creature would not have a place with among hunters and jumpers, but would perhaps feel more at home in the town fair held annually in Hardwick, which first began in 1762, and is reported to be the oldest such fair in the US.

Robert Frost, who spoke of “North of Boston” and not Hardwick in his poem “Mending Wall” wrote,

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell-under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gapes even two can pass abreast."

Perhaps, but they never cease to stay on the job and mark their boundaries, even, as in the case of Greenwich, their boundaries no longer exist. It is also the poem that extends to us the age-old truth, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

Perhaps the horse does not know that. New Englanders are supposed to be standoffish and aloof, but if you lean on the wall, this one will walk over to you, slowly, with curiosity.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Rochambeau and Rhode Island

This is the statue of Comte de Rochambeau which stands in King’s Park, Newport, Rhode Island. A life-size bronze statue, it was dedicated in 1934. According to the Federal Writer’s Project book on Rhode Island (one of those invaluable guides by that army of out of work writers during the Depression), it is a replica of Fernand Hamer’s statute of Rochambeau in Vendôme, France. It commemorates the landing of the French allies on July 10, 1780, who played an important part in our Revolutionary War.

Rhode Island played a part in the beginning of the first Navy in what would be the United States, but only after a frustrating period of harrassment by the British fleet in Newport Harbor since 1774. Two American ships, called The Washington and the Katy, and the only fort in the colony of Rhode Island at this time, on Goat Island, were the beginning of defense against the British at this time.

On December 7, 1776, a British fleet sailed into the Bay and occupied Newport. The young American fleet was blockaded in Providence, and never again went to sea. Attempts by General George Washington to come to the aid of Newport in 1778, along with a fleet sent by the French Comte Jeane Baptiste d’Estaing failed. The British fleet left of their own accord in 1779. The following year, Comte de Rochambeau arrived in Newport and stayed to provide protection and immense relief to the colony.

Rochambeau left Newport when his troops joined Washington in New York, and were on hand at the final defeat of the British. Having placed his French troops under the command of Washington, when the British attempted to snub Washington while surrendering at Yorktown by offering their surrender to Rochambeau instead, the Comte graciously redirected Cornwallis’ man to General Washington.

Afterward the Congress of the Confederation thanked Rochambeau, who returned to France, was but was nearly guillotined in the Reign of Terror after the French Revolution.
Napoleon Bonaparte pardoned him.

The United States remembered Rochambeau with other statues, and in the World War II transport ship, the USS Rochambeau.

Newport remembers as well when the friendly foreign navy brought friendship and confidence in a most perilous endeavor. In 2005, Newport celebrated the 225th anniversary of the 1780 arrival of Rochambeau and his troops.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Quabbin Winter Sunset

These shots are taken on what is known today as the Enfield Lookout at the Quabbin Reservoir in Central Massachusetts. A couple of generations ago, this spot was the top of the Great Quabbin Hill in the town of Enfield, Massachusetts. That was before the Commonwealth systematically took over and dismantled four towns to build a reservoir in this spot. They were called Prescott, Enfield, Greenwich, and Dana.

More on what are called “the lost towns” of the Quabbin at another time. For now, this view which once looked down on the Swift River and the local spur of the Boston and Albany Railroad and old Route 109 leading into the small town of Enfield, now looks out over a majestic inland sea.

The weak winter sunlight creates an otherworldly scene, which is fitting for a place of so many overlapping Twilight Zone existences in its timeline, and so many ghosts.

For more information on this unique resource and place of history, have a look at the Friends of Quabbin, Inc. website.

Been there? Done that? Know somebody who grew up in one of the four towns of Dana, Prescott, Enfield, or Greenwich? Let us know.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Public Aquariums

In the bleak midwinter, there is still another world, without ice or snow. Even in the penguin exhibit.

Connecticut’s Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration and The New England Aquarium in Boston are great places to go to leave winter behind and contemplate the wonders of the deep. Sometime this spring, the Maine Aquarium, formerly in Saco, is scheduled to re-open in Biddeford, Maine, so we have ever widening opportunities for exploring, without getting our feet wet, the creatures of the ocean.

Note the reflection of the dad and little girl in the glass of this tank. The New England Aquarium, located on Ocean Wharf in Boston, was first opened in 1969. The Mystic Aquarium, located on Coogan Boulevard in Mystic, Connecticut, opened in 1973. Their educational exhibits and research programs make the experience visiting public aquariums a far cry from the days of P.T. Barnum where the emphasis was on the unusual, the freakish, and the outright phony. Have a look at this portion of the New England Aquarium website that discusses the 19th century history of aquariums in Boston.

It’s a good time of year to plan a visit with your friends. You can bring your human friends along, too. For more information, please visit these websites:
New England Aquarium, Mystic Aquarium, and the Maine Aquarium.

Been there? Done that? Bought the T-shirt? Let us know.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Cornish-Windsor Covered Bridge

This is the Cornish-Windsor covered bridge, spanning the Connecticut River and linking Windsor, Vermont with Cornish, New Hampshire.

Built in 1866, the bridge actually consists of two spans, is nearly 450 feet long, and is the longest covered wooden bridge in the United States.

Spruce timbers bolted together form the diagonal Town lattice truss pattern. The bridge allows two-way vehicular traffic, with a six ton load limit. It is the fourth bridge to be built on this site, the earliest in 1796. Each of the three earlier bridges built in this location were lost to floods. The last time a toll was collected on this bridge was in 1943.

Come and drive from Vermont to New Hampshire, or the other way if you want. It’s free. It’s also a nice spot to have your picture taken.

For more on this unique bridge, see this New Hampshire government website.

Been there? Done that? Both ways? Let us know.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Final Service, Old First Church - Springfield, Mass

This is the Old First Church of Springfield, Massachusetts. Two days ago, its congregation took part in the last church service that will ever take place in this building. The first church service celebrated by members of this church took place 370 years ago. Today the building will be sold and closed.

Fortunately, an 11th-hour move by the City of Springfield will see the purchase of this property by the city to preserve and protect the historic building. Its congregation will meet again, but elsewhere.

Founded in 1637, when its members consisted of everybody in town and all were subjects of England’s Charles I, the Springfield Plantation was a lonely outpost for traders on the Connecticut River in western Massachusetts. The remote community grew with the settlement by Puritans emigrating from England during the English Civil War and, after the brief interlude by the Cromwells, the return of the House of Stuart to the throne.

The town was burned in 1676 during King Philip’s War, but rose from the ashes. In the 1790s, Yale president Timothy Dwight commented on approaching the town now growing in prosperity, “the white spire of Springfield Church, embosomed in trees, animated the scene in a manner remarkably picturesque.” The current meeting house was completed in 1819. This church served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. Statesman Daniel Webster, and abolitionist John Brown visited the church. Upon his death in 1848, the body of President John Quincy Adams lay in State here at Old First Church.

Industry and commerce came to the community and no longer needed to be wrested from the wilderness. The town became a city, and the city grew beyond the little square where the church stood. Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, it is one of the oldest churches in the United States.

Now, increasing costs to maintain the historic building, and a dwindling church membership have brought an end to what colonial war, economic depression, and nearly four centuries of time and trial, could not. Now the congregation will move on, but the church building will be preserved by the community.

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