Tag Archives: Maine

The Last Week of July

The last week of July was full of contrasts and transitions for me: we spent most of it in York Harbor, but I traveled back every other day for my evening class, we left for Maine on a dark rainy day in which a tornado swept down in a town just to the south of Salem (very unusual for Massachusetts) and enjoyed clear sunny days thereafter, the late-summer flowers are of course also a study in contrasting color. For the most part, we’ve been so fortunate this summer to have beautiful weather: often sunny, never too hot, with rain occurring often enough to keep everything green. I hope this continues throughout August but the dog days do threaten……anyway, here are my favorite photographs from the week, mostly of gardens and flowers. I have included a photograph of the best ice cream stand in the world, Brown’s in York Beach, my father’s prized Swiss chard, and the gardens at Stonewall Kitchen’s company store in York, which are always inspiring–even the vegetables look beautiful (actually my father’s Swiss chard looks pretty good too). There are “soft” spots in nearly every picture so I apologize in advance: my camera lens got a bit smudgy when I was trying to take the first picture in the rain, and I never noticed until just this morning.

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Secret Weapons

Today I have another Victorian fad: sword canes or “sword sticks”: harmless-looking walking sticks with blades concealed inside, one of several variations of “novelty canes” produced in the nineteenth century. Yesterday I drove up to York to celebrate my father’s birthday accompanied by my stepson, who has long had a singular obsession on the sword cane (or cane sword) that has leaned in the mud room alongside more mundane umbrellas and tennis rackets since I was a little girl. It’s the first thing he went for when we got there–what? why? and most importantly, who will inherit it? I don’t know much–all I could think of was the recent Sherlock Holmes film, in which Jude Law’s Dr. Watson wields a sword stick, and John Steed in The Avengers, who utilizes the umbrella variation. I checked out some auction archives, and they don’t seem to be particularly valuable. I can imagine that it ceased to be respectable in genteel society to walk around with a sidearm in the nineteenth century and so sword sticks emerged, but they seem to have been more fashionable than utilitarian. Ours looks like a simple cane made with a curved handle, but the steel blade inside has interesting markings: I think I might take it to an appraisal event at some point in the not-too-distant future.

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Our family’s sword stick (alternatively called swordstick, sword cane & cane sword) and 19th century examples from the American Textile History Museum and Skinner Auctioneers.

There are a few cultural references to sword canes and I’d be grateful for more! Besides Watson and Steed, there is Bob Dylan (Your grandpas cane, it turns into a sword, “On the Road Again”, 1965, thanks to Cheryl Beatty at the American Textile History Museum, which is also the source of the image above) and Lord Byron, who apparently used his sword stick for more than prop. The recent Byron exhibition at King’s College, London features several references to and images of swordsticks: no doubt they amplified his dashing demeanor.

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Sword Stick Byron

Jude Law as Dr. Watson with cane; drawing of Lord Byron, by Alfred Guillaume Gabriel dOrsay, 1823, Victoria & Albert Museum; Lord Byron’s sword stick, from the online exhibition Byron & Politics: ‘Born for Opposition’, King’s College, London

 

 


Sunrise, Sunset

Before the park and the rusticators, there were the painters, most notably those identified as belonging to the Hudson River School who seem to have been similarly inspired by Mount Desert Island. I’m leafing through this lovely book by John Wilmerding, The Artist’s Mount Desert. American Painters on the Maine Coast (1995), and am particularly drawn to the paintings of Frederic Edwin Church, who came to the island in the 1850s after Alvan Fisher and Thomas Cole “discovered” it for the artistic community in the 1830s and 1840s. Church captures the drama and the contrast of the island’s terrain, and its weather. On Mount Desert, it’s not “wait a minute” for the weather to change as in the rest of New England, but “wait a second” for the fog to roll in (on little cat feet).

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Sunrise off Maine Coast Church

Frederic Edwin Church, Fog off Mount Desert (Collection of John Wilmerding), 1850, and Coast Scene,Mount Desert (Sunrise off the Maine Coast) Wadsworth Athenaeum, 1863.

We had great weather during our trip but it was foggy most mornings and evenings. One day I traveled from a very sunny, almost hot Southwest Harbor to a very foggy (northeast) Bar Harbor in the space of a half-hour. The fog does amazing things to the island’s mountains, coast, and offshore islands, which you can see by the sequence of photographs below, particularly those taken from the deck of the Margaret Todd, a replica cargo schooner moored in Bar Harbor, on which we took a sunset cruise. There’s also a few buildings below, but not many; I’ve got to go back to Mount Desert for houses and gardens without (most of) my camping companions. I would not presume to characterize the (remaining) architectural landscape of  Bar Harbor, for three reasons: 1) there was a devastating fire in 1947 which leveled much of downtown (67 summer cottages, five hotels, 170 year-round homes); 2) I didn’t really have enough time for an assessment, due to the demands of camping; and 3) this is the territory of the Downeast DilettanteHowever, I will say that it’s a little sad to walk along the Shore Path and see only one Gilded Era “cottage”, the Breakwater or Atlantique estate of John Innes Kane, great-grandson of John Jacob Astor. I grew up along a similar path far to the south but still in Maine, lined with many similar contemporary cottages.

Breakwater from the Shore Path and the deck of the Margaret Todd, a Seal Harbor chapel and cottage, houses and bridge in Somesville:

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And now for the fog:  rolling into various Mount Desert harbors, and engulfing one of the Porcupine (I think it’s Bald Porcupine) islands in Bar Harbor in a matter of moments. And then it dissipated just as quickly.

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And then sunset, a few more moments later.

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Rockefeller’s Teeth

I’ve returned from our camping trip to Mount Desert Island off Maine, home to America’s oldest, and most eastern, federal park:  Acadia National Park. Mount Desert is more than the park: its dramatic landscape, characterized by the close encounter of sloping coastal mountains and sea, also includes several pretty towns and villages (Bar Harbor, Northeast Harbor, Southwest Harbor, Somesville, Tremont) but this was a camping trip dictated by nature. Nevertheless, Acadia, like all national parks, is a product of both private and public initiatives, and few people in the former sector contributed more than John D. Rockefeller, Jr., son of the founder of Standard Oil, who donated more than 11,000 acres to the park and financed and oversaw the construction of one of its most notable features, the network of crushed-stone carriage roads topped by quaint cobblestone and granite bridges and lined with broken boulders, occasionally referred to as “Mr. Rockefeller’s teeth”. To me, these roads are the perfect blend of human achievement in harmony with nature–and they also afforded a welcome escape from camping.

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Mount Desert Island:  harbor, coastline, and the view from Mt. Cadillac.

Mr. Rockefeller designed, financed, and oversaw the construction of 57 miles of carriage roads between 1913 and 1940, using local labor, local materials, and the island’s landscape as his guideposts. The roads run through fir forests, around glacier lakes and mountains, and over streams and chasms, offering perfect vistas at every opportunity. To stand on one of his 16 bridges, several of which have built-in viewing spaces, is literally to be served up nature: they represent multidimensional access. No cars (which Mr. Rockefeller apparently detested): only feet, horses and bicycles. I remember walking down one of these roads a few decades ago when they were not in such superlative condition; now they are pristine.

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Mr. Rockefeller's Teeth

The Jordan Pond Gate Lodge, commissioned by Mr.Rockefeller and designed by Grosvenor Atterbury, and several bridges of Acadia; Mr. Rockefeller’s teeth along the road.

More tomorrow:  fog and sun.


Gone Camping

I’m off camping in the Maine woods for the next week, so no posts for a while. IF I survive, I should have some nice pictures next weekend………..

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Most Endangered 2013

My affection for history was fostered by places and buildings; it’s very material. And while I appreciate and am often awed by nature, I find the built landscape more accessible–and instructive. I’ve been an ardent preservationist since my teens, and am just passionate (geeky) enough to actually anticipate the release of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s annual Most Endangered Places list every year. Yesterday brought the big announcement of this year’s list, which includes two New England properties with which I am familiar and nine more which I’m eager to see (most of them anyway, before they disappear). I have helped to create similar lists for our local preservation organization, Historic Salem, Inc., and if our deliberations are any indication, this list is the result of an intensive process:  you have to choose places that are threatened but are not too far gone, that possess the potential for recovery, there are always political factors involved, and historical and/or cultural significance has to be readily apparent. I’m sure the National Trust also has to take into account regional representation, as their Most Endangered Places are generally spread all over the U.S. map.

New England Most Endangered Places: Gay Head Lighthouse, Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, and the Abyssinian Meeting House, Portland Maine.

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The Gay Head Light, Aquinnah, Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, is threatened by erosion: it’s about 10 feet away from falling over the cliff. It’s wooden predecessor was faced with the same threat in 1844, and this brick structure, outfitted with a first-order Fresnel lens, dates from the 1850s.

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The Abyssinian Meeting House in Portland, Maine was built in 1828 to serve as a school and assembly house for Portland’s African-American community, and it also served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. It is the third oldest African-American meeting house in the country, which is amazing to me given its northern location. If you visit the Abyssinian Restoration Project website, you will see that an intensive preservation effort is ongoing; all they lack is resources.

Properties threatened by Development: The Village of Mariemont, Ohio, and the James River, Virginia.

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The Village of Mariemont  in Ohio, a Tudor Revival planned community built in the 1920s, is threatened by highway construction. Of all the threats to historic structures, infrastructure development bothers me the most, because it is often short-sighted. Salem was faced with the threat of a road running down its historic center in the 1960s which was fortunately averted; I thought Urban Renewal had ended.

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The historic places that line its shores–Jamestown, Williamsburg, and a host of plantations–have given the James River the name “America’s Founding River”. Apparently “inappropriate development” threatens this region now. I’ll take the National Trust’s word on this, but I wish they were a bit more specific about the threat.

Most of the places on the list are quite modern, including Houston’s Astrodome, the Worldport at JFK Airport in New York, and several mid-twentieth-century buildings–all of which face demolition. By contrast, the oldest building on the list and one of the oldest buildings in North America, the San José Church (1523) in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, is threatened by the deterioration that comes with time. The notes on its Historic American Buildings Survey record indicate that it was “in need of extensive repairs” in 1935, so you can imagine its condition now.

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The Church of San José in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, built by the Dominican Order in 1523. Black and white photographs from the Historic American Buildings Survey (1935), Library of Congress.


Red Christmas

Even before I read a nice little article yesterday on how the holidays obtained their color themes, I was already planning to focus on red:  it’s been a dreary week and I needed a little cheering up. The red that we now associate with Christmas comes from an amalgamation of historical and cultural forces:  iconic images of St. Nicholas of Myra wearing red robes, holly berries and the apple props of medieval mystery plays, the Victorian poinsettia craze, the colorful depictions of Santa Claus by nineteenth-century cartoonist Thomas Nast, and the Coco-Cola Santa Claus of the early twentieth century. I’ve already covered Saint Nicholas in a lengthy post a week or so ago, so this perspective is going to be structural. Here are some of my favorite red houses, tastefully decorated for the season in typical understated New England fashion. I’m starting up north, in my hometown of York, Maine, where I happened to be last week before our weather turned dreadfully dreary, and then I’ll work my way home to Salem via Newburyport.

Two of the Historic House Museums of Old York:  the 1719 Old Gaol (Jail) and the 1754 Jefferds Tavern. As you can see, the gaol is situated on a little hill that overlooks York Village below. There is a large new barn-like structure attached to the tavern which I dont really care for (despite the fact that it is named after my wonderful high school guidance counselor) so Im showing a vantage point that excludes it.

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Heading south, I stopped in Newburyport–a city of white houses for the most part–and found two adorable colonial side-shingled houses on side streets in the south end.

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Back in Salem, where there are not a lot of red houses, really. But there is venerable Red’s Sandwich Shop downtown, and the Manning house in North Salem, which was once in the midst of one of the most famous orchard nurseries in Massachusetts. This was the home of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s uncle, Robert Manning, a famous “pomologist” (an expert in the cultivation of fruit trees) and according to the sign, also a stagecoach agent–news to me. The last picture in this group is a rare red Greek Revival on Essex Street: you seldom see a house in this style painted red, as they are meant to mimic stone. From these pictures it appears we like our red houses with white trim in Salem.

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Finally, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s c. 1750 birthplace, moved to its present location adjacent to the House of the Seven Gables on the harbor in 1958 from downtown. A rather gnarly tree seems to be threatening it! And last but not least, a wonderful old (fishing?) shack on the other side of the Gables: a little worse for wear maybe, but still red and picturesque–it does seem to be crying out for a wreath at this time of year.

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