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Friday, May 29, 2009

Lowell City Hall

The Lowell, Mass. City Hall shown above is an imposing structure, dedicated in 1893. The City Hall district in Lowell was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, and features Greek Revival and Romanesque Revival architecture. Architect and Lowell native Fredrick W. Stickney designed City Hall.

Lowell, a planned manufacturing center, was established in 1826 and became one of the great wonders of the 19th Century for its industry and rapid rise to economic powerhouse. Lowell was used a model for study by industrialists and economists the world over, and became the destination for thousands of immigrants. The City Hall on Merrimack Street was built in Lowell’s heyday, before the 20th century brought new challenges to the industrial giant struggling to keep pace with the new world it had begun.

Still a source of inspiration, here is a website featuring an artist’s view of the Lowell City Hall from a painting by Linda McCluskey. Next year in 2010, Ms. McCluskey will show some 30 paintings at the Whistler House Museum. Artist James MacNeil Whistler (mentioned in this recent post as one of the temporary residents of Bridge Street in Springfield, Mass.) was born in Lowell.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Perry, Maine

The above sign standing vigil in the tall grass along Route 1 welcomes us to Perry, Maine. Main Street in Perry technically begins in Canada. Settled in the late 1750s and early 1760s with a trading post along the St. Croix River, the town was incorporated in 1818, while British still held the town of Eastport six miles to the south. The War of 1812 left a few discrepancies and some unfinished business along the Canadian border.

Perry was named for an American hero of that war, Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry. Founded as part of Washington County, the area was still then part of Massachusetts. According to the Maine Historical Magazine published in 1893, at the first town meeting in March that year, Moses Lincoln was chosen as town moderator, and Eliphalet Olmstead was chosen as constable. Moses and Eliphalet seem to have gotten things pretty well in hand.

There was around 850 people living in Perry now, and part of the town lies within the Pleasant Point Passamaquoddy Indian Reservation. Sitting across Passamoquoddy Bay from Deer Island and Campobello Island, both in New Brunswick, Canada, town of Perry straddles a lot of boundaries, past and present, and a lot of history.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Miss Florencce Diner - Northampton, Mass.

The Miss Florence Diner on Main Street in Florence, a Northampton, Mass. neighborhood, is on list of National Register of Historic Places. Even if you’re not hungry, that’s probably enough of a reason to stop by. A sense of history, or ambiance, or nostalgia brings people on field trips to all sorts of places. Miss Flo’s has plenty of that.

But if you’re hungry, too, then it’s a good thing you came. Save room for pie, if you can.

The diner was built by the Worcester Lunch Car Company, and opened by Maurice Alexander in 1941. The Alexander family still operates the diner. Here’s a nice article on the American Profile website about the diner.

Let us know about your memories of Miss Flo’s.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Dark Day - 1780

On another May 19th -- May 19, 1780, many New Englanders believed the end of the world was upon us. It was the so-called Dark Day. Not just a dark mood, but a really dark day. “A horror of great darkness,” the poet John Greenleaf Whittier called it, and compared it to “the twilight of the gods.”

Of course, the mood was dark, too. The Revolutionary War was dragging on to its fourth year. We’d just gotten through a terrifically cold winter. The Hudson River froze over, which allowed the British to drag their cannon across it. Reportedly, it was the coldest winter ever recorded in North America.

The Dark Day began as early as 10 a.m. in some areas, when the morning sun appeared reddish in the sky, and the sky appeared yellowish and grew dark by afternoon. At nightfall, the moon, too, appeared red, though some areas of New England had rain. With no ready explanation, many took it as an act of God to indicate the end of days. Many ran from their homes and places of business, and filled the churches and meeting houses in panic.

Whittier, in his 1868 poem “Abraham Davenport”, described the famous incident in the Connecticut legislature, when member Abraham Davenport decided in these politically dark days of the Revolutionary War, that Dark Day or not, he would meet his Maker whenever called. But in the meantime, duty called, so he exhorted that all his fellow politicos stay to task that day, and work by candlelight.

“Abraham Davenport”

In the old days (a custom laid aside
With breeches and cocked hats) the people sent
Their wisest men to make the public laws.
And so, from a brown homestead, where the Sound
Drinks the small tribute of the Mianus,
Waved over by the woods of Rippowams,
And hallowed by pure lives and tranquil deaths,
Stamford sent up to the councils of the State
Wisdom and grace in Abraham Davenport.

'Twas on a May-day of the far old year
Seventeen hundred eighty, that there fell
Over the bloom and sweet life of the Spring
Over the fresh earth and the heaven of noon,
A horror of great darkness, like the night
In day of which the Norland sagas tell,
The Twilight of the Gods. The low-hung sky
Was black with ominous clouds, save where its rim
Was fringed with a dull glow, like that which climbs
The crater's sides from the red hell below.
Birds ceased to sing, and all the barnyard fowls
Roosted; the cattle at the pasture bars
Lowed, and looked homeward; bats on leathern wings
Flitted abroad; the sounds of labor died;
Men prayed, and women wept; all ears grew sharp
To hear the doom-blast of the trumpet shatter
The black sky, that the dreadful face of Christ
Might look from the rent clouds, not as He looked
A loving guest at Bethany, but stern
As Justice and inexorable Law.

Meanwhile in the old State House, dim as ghosts,
Sat the lawgivers of Connecticut,
Trembling beneath their legislative robes.
"It is the Lord's Great Day! Let us adjourn,"
Some said; and then, as if with one accord,
All eyes were turned to Abraham Davenport.
He rose, slow cleaving with his steady voice
The intolerable hush. "This well may be
The Day of Judgment which the world awaits;
But be it so or not, I only know
My present duty, and my Lord's command
To occupy till He come. So at the post
Where He hast set me in His providence,
I choose, for one, to meet Him face to face,
No faithless servant frightened from my task,
But ready when the Lord of the harvest calls;
And therefore, with all reverence, I would say,
Let God do His work, we will see to ours.
Bring in the candles." And they brought them in.

Then by the flaring lights the Speaker read,
Albeit with husky voice and shaking hands,
An act to amend an act to regulate
The shad and alewive fisheries, Whereupon
Wisely and well spake Abraham Davenport,
Straight to the question, with no figures of speech
Save the ten Arab signs, yet not without
The shrewd dry humor natural to the man:
His awe-struck colleagues listening all the while,
Between the pauses of his argument,
To hear the thunder of the wrath of God
Break from the hollow trumpet of the cloud.

And there he stands in memory to this day,
Erect, self-poised, a rugged face, half seen
Against the background of unnatural dark,
A witness to the ages as they pass,
That simple duty hath no place for fear.

In 1934, another time of great darkness in terms of the economy and a lack of hope, artist Delos Palmer, who interestingly did a lot of dime novel illustrations, received a W.P.A. Federal Artists Project commission to paint a depiction of Abraham Davenport’s courage on the Dark Day. The painting, shown above, depicts Davenport standing before Governor Trumbull with a lit candle between them. The painting was meant to be more than just an homage to the past, but as Judge Charles Davenport remarked at the dedication ceremony, “should be an inspiration and a lesson during these days of hard times.”

In another era of political darkness Senator John F. Kennedy in his 1960 Presidential campaign recalled Abraham Davenport’s courage and devotion to duty, “I hope in a dark and uncertain period in our own country that we, too, may bring candles to help light our country’s way.”

In what must have been an especially moving ceremony, the 200th anniversary year of Davenport’s actions on the Dark Day was held at the Connecticut House of Representatives in Hartford in February of 1980. The curtains were drawn in the chamber, and then House speaker Ernest Abate of Stamford, Davenport’s home town, read Whittier’s poem. As he spoke, the lights were gradually dimmed in the chamber, and he when he finished, it was completely dark.

What seems likely to historians, especially researchers in weather and the environment, that massive forest fires caused excessive smoke, blotting out the sky. These fires were probably started as intentional burns to clear land in the new settlements of New Hampshire and in the Lake Champlain area.

Today in these dark days, at least economically, we might well take Abraham Davenport’s example once more and keep our shoulders to the wheel, our hands to the plow, and perhaps keep fixed our trust in what may be a higher purpose for our existence, that “simple duty hath no fear.” Bring in the candles.

For more on the Dark Day, have a look at this excellent article by John Horrigan. For more on Abraham Davenport and the Dark Day, have a look at this Stamford, Connecticut website.

Note: The painting above is display at Stamford’s Old Town Hall, and this digital photograph is by Steve Castagneto, Academy of Information Technology, Stamford.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Bridge Street - Springfield, Mass

Bridge Street in Springfield, Massachusetts, was named so because it was the road leading off the first bridge in western Massachusetts across the Connecticut River. That bridge is gone now, and Bridge Street no longer leads to any bridge. But it’s interesting that by examining the history of one single street we can see a world through time in microcosm.

This first bridge across the Connecticut River, the longest river in New England (our “mighty Mississipp” if you will), was built in 1804, a generation since our Independence from Great Britain. It was funded by public lotteries.

This was a toll bridge, designed and built by Isaac Damon of Northampton, who also built Springfield’s Old First Church. It was, typically, a covered bridge, painted red, and on its dedication ceremony on October 30, 1804, cannon fired in salute, first from one bank of the river, and then the other. Wagons were charged 10 cents to cross, with 10 cents extra for each horse. Schoolchildren were allowed to cross for a special rate of 25 cents per month.

The bridge collapsed in June, 1814 after only ten years of service. It was speculated that the heavy supply Army wagon trains repeatedly crossing the bridge during the War of 1812 was a contributing factor.

The bridge was replaced by another covered toll bridge in 1818, which linked Bridge Street in Springfield to the isolated towns on the western side of the river. Besides the ease of movement, and the ease of commerce this bridge provided, it also transformed Bridge Street from a quiet neighborhood of settlers to a business district.

In the 1800s, there were three Protestant churches on Bridge Street, when in the middle of the century the Yankee population were joined by Irish and French Canadian laborers, many of whom worked on the nearby New York, New Hampshire, and Hartford Railroad.

Some famous tenants on Bridge Street were the family of Broadway’s most famous song and dance man George M. Cohan when performing locally. The family of artist James Whistler also lived on Bridge Street for a brief period. Still a fairly bucolic setting, local businessman Charles H. Hunt remembered skating on Frost Pond, which he recalled in an article for the Springfield Republican in 1914, used to stand between Main and Dwight streets.

Artist James Whistler.

In the 1850s, a small wooden Bridge Street School was located here. A roller-skating rink was built in 1879 “when the roller-skating craze was at its height….” recounted a Springfield Republican article from October 3, 1895. The building served a variety of uses afterwards, in the early 1890s was rented by a horse dealer named Sheckler. The building was torn down in 1895 for a new city market.

The Bridge Street Theatre was built in 1893, replacing C.B. Maxwell’s three-story furniture store. All three floors were torn out and a balcony was run around the building. Prices at the theater ran from 10 cents to 35 cents. Possibly this is where the Cohans played.

In the 1890s there were plumbers and laborers on Bridge Street, clerks, and a peddler named Cohen. Because of the massive Old Toll Bridge, still standing after decades of use, Bridge was a main artery into the city, yet at this time was still very much an ethnic neighborhood. There lived a large concentration of Irish at the beginning of Bridge Street where it met Water Street, and many French Canadians. Two of the Protestant churches had left by this time, following their congregations outward to other areas of the city.

Despite the daily traffic of wagons, walkers and the new bicycles across the bridge, Bridge Street still had only a few stores at this time to attract them. The only large business was the F.S. Carr bicycle factory.

Bridge Street created a bazaar-like scene with Jenks’ Bakery, Sheldon’s fish market, Gleason & Broughall’s Catholic bookstore, Phillips grocery, the livery stable run by Mr. Fuller and Mr. Sheckler, and a pair of housewives who advertised as clairvoyants.

Representing the skilled trades were Sanderson & Son furriers, embalmer John Clune, and harness maker Theophile Regnier. Garratt Barry was a liquor dealer, and F.E. Howles sold beef wholesale.

With stables and fish markets, there were apparently no zoning laws for either health or basic comfort in the 1890s. Not on Bridge Street. The predominant industry was the taking in of borders. Families seemed to have made as much a business of it as the nearby Winkler Hotel. At this time, Bridge Street was still very residential.

It was not until the automobile boom that Bridge Street transformed from residential neighborhood to business district. By 1909, there was increased travel over the bridge. The large employers with offices on Bridge Street included the Fisk Rubber Company, S.E. Buxton maker of leather goods, the Maynard Rubber Corporation, and the Thacker Paper Company. There were dealers in office equipment, shoe stores, dental supplies, express companies, plumbing supplies, wholesale butter and egg merchants, and the Eastern State Refrigerating Company. The saloons grew to three, and a final Protestant church was built, the Trinity Methodist. Sheckler’s horse stable was torn down.

Joining the Irish and French Canadian residents in a new surge of population from Europe, were Armenians, German Jews, Greeks, and Poles, working as tailors, shoemakers, jewelers, and as laborers in the few nearby factories or as yardmen on the NY, NH & H Railroad.

The street lost some of its world-unto-itself quality and began to blend in fully with the downtown district when government offices occupied several blocks. The State Employment Office, the City Forester’s Office, offices for the Inspector of Coal, the Inspector of Milk and Vinegar, and the Sealer of Weights and Measures located here. They were joined by the Water Commissioner, the City Engineer, and the Street and Sewer Department.

Through the era of World War I, Bridge Street seemed to continue to be a stopping ground for new immigrants, but these newcomers would not establish themselves here, but move on in a year or two to other burgeoning neighborhoods. There were less shops on Bridge Street, less vacant rooms to rent or small places of business for them to work or own.

The Broadway Theatre and the Geisha Theatre for that new entertainment, the moving picture, were built here on Bridge Street in 1913 and 1914, respectively. The old Bridge Street Theatre had since been torn down. The Trinity Methodist Church followed its congregation to Sumner Avenue.

Perhaps the biggest change on Bridge Street was the new streets that were carved out between the Bridge Street and Worthington Street, which ran parallel to each other. These new side streets were Phelps, Church, Simmons, and Broadway. Columbus Avenue took the place of old Water Street.

In 1922 the biggest event to change Bridge Street forever took place a block south on Vernon Street. Here, a new bridge was built to replace the now over 100-year-old Old Toll Bridge.

Called the Hampden County Memorial Bridge, Governor Channing H. Cox presided over the dedication ceremonies on August 2, 1922. A block north, the Old Toll Bridge was torn down, and Bridge Street no longer connected to a bridge. Also, the old railroad bridge underpass on Bridge Street which allowed the NY, NH & H Railroad to cross the street as it followed the course of the Connecticut River, was bricked up, over protest by local residents. One end of Bridge Street cut off, the end that had been the gateway to America for generations of immigrants. Vernon Street was widened to accommodate heavy automobile traffic off the new bridge.

In 1924, two years later, the resident population of Bridge Street dwindled. Those who remained worked as salesmen or chauffeurs, lunch room workers. There were four lunch rooms on Bridge Street now to accommodate office workers in the Stearns Building. This building contained the offices of Globe Indemnity, and over a dozen other insurance agencies, dentists, and other professionals.

The Fisk and Maynard rubber companies were gone, as was the Geisha Theatre, the fish and meat markets. The Norcross-Cameron Garage sold Chrysler, Chalmers, Maxwell, and Peerless cars. Bailey & Son was the only carriage maker left, and one assumes he saw the handwriting on the wall.

The majority of the people working on Bridge Street now did not live there, and they were white collar workers and not skilled tradesmen or laborers.

Bridge Street grew into a vibrant and somewhat independent and self-sustaining neighborhood while the bridge was there, and then changed when the bridge was torn down. Neighborhood became business district, which then became only a side street in a much larger, more inter-dependent downtown. It was no longer a world unto itself.

Note: The photo of George M. Cohan is from the Library of Congress, originally published by the Bain News Service, now in public domain. The photo of James Whistler is likewise from the Library of Congress, now in public domain.

Program for the Broadway Theatre, author's collection.

All other photos are from the Image Museum website, photos posted for free use.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Connecticut Grange #1, Stafford

A quiet country drive through Stafford, Connecticut will bring you past this wood frame building which, with typical New England economy, serves a dual purpose.

The Post Office is a daily stop for some folks, and the Grange meets once a month. The modest setting hardly tells us, beyond the sign that says “Grange No. 1” that Stafford’s Grange was actually among the first established in Connecticut, back in 1874.

Route 190 (route usually pronounced like “root” and not to rhyme with “ow” in New England, for all our friends west of Lake Champlain and south of Greenwich), looks deceiving. You’d never know from this traffic-free moment that the Stafford Motor Speedway was a little ways away, where traffic on the track can be intense to be sure.

But not always. There was time, only a few years before the Grange was founded, that Stafford featured a different kind of horsepower in its racing, the Trotters and the Pacers. After World War II, car racing found a home here, at a much faster pace. The Stafford Motor Speedway has just opened again this month for the 2009 summer season.

On Route (remember, that’s “root”) 190, the pace here is still a wee bit slower than at the Speedway. For more on the Stafford Grange, have a look at this website. For more on the Stafford Motor Speedway, have a look here.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Aboard M/S Mt. Washington - Lake Winnipesaukee

Lake Winnipesaukee, about 70 square miles of glacial lake in central New Hampshire, provides enough room for a big boat like the M/S Mt. Washington to lazily cruise. Stop at the small-town ports of call or just wave to the some 253 islands in the massive lake, but treat yourself to a pleasant and unique experience.

The grand paddle wheeler Mt. Washington first plowed these waters in 1872, but caught fire in 1939, and was replaced with this successor M/S Mt. Washington. Dinner dance cruises, weddings, and other fancy affairs send music and excited voices from the decks to the curious watching the lovely sight from shore. But it’s not all frolic; for some it’s just a way to get from one town to another.

Now that the lake has thawed, the first cruise is scheduled for this Sunday, May 10th, Mother’s Day. It looks the beginning of another wonderful summer on Lake Winnipesaukee.

For more on the M/S Mt. Washington, have a look here. For more on Lake Winnipesaukee, have a look at this website.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Harriet Beecher Stowe House - Hartford

Above is the Harriet Beecher Stowe house in Hartford, Connecticut. Walk around to the backyard and you see Mark Twain’s house across the lawn. Just this would be enough to give Hartford the reputation of being one of the foremost cities in 19th Century America. There were plenty of other reasons, but progressive social reform through literature was as good as any of them.

The author of over fifty books in an era when few women had careers of their own, Harriet Beecher Stowe is sometimes whimsically credited for having started the American Civil War by all the outrage in the North and in Europe over slavery caused by her tremendously successful novel, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

She and her husband, Professor Calvin Stowe, an author himself, had seven children, and in their retirement years moved to this 17-room Victorian Gothic Revival home in Hartford in 1873.

For more on the Harriet Beecher Stowe House, have a look at this website.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Nobska Lighthouse - Falmouth, Mass.

Above is the Nobska Lighthouse, Falmouth, Mass. One of the most lovely sights on Cape Cod is Nobska Point, where this lighthouse has stood since the 1870s, replacing an earlier lighthouse which dated back to 1829.

The nearby village of Woods Hole was home to a large whaling fleet in the early 1800s, and Nobska Point overlooked a great deal of maritime traffic. According to the website featured below, in the very first year of the lighthouse, 1828, more than 10,000 vessels passed here, and on just one day in 1864, 199 vessels including 175 schooners were counted. Very heavy traffic indeed, and what a sight it must have been.

The Coast Guard took over the operation of lighthouses in 1939, but civilian keepers remained here at Nobska Point Light until November 1973.
The light was automated and the Coast Guard keepers were removed in 1985. After automation, the station became the home for the commander of U.S. Coast Guard Group Woods Hole, now Coast Guard Sector Southeastern New England.

There are occasional public open house events in season, but the exterior of the lighthouse is easily accessible any time, with a small parking area beneath it. Up close, you can take all the fabulous pictures of the lighthouse you want, and the view from Nobska Point looking out over the water towards Martha’s Vineyard remains as breathtaking as ever.

For more on Nobska Lighthouse, have a look at this website.

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