We are recently returned from a quick visit to Newport, Rhode Island, somehow refreshed and fatigued at the same time. My husband and I are both so busy at this time of the year that we don’t have much time to get away, so we could only steal a day and a night for this particular trip, which was not enough to do Newport justice. But it’s not far from Salem and we’ve both been there many times, so we just wandered about in the glorious weather. I always think there are at least three Newports– sailing Newport, Gilded Age Newport, and Colonial Newport—but I’m sure locals will tell you there are even more. With our limited time and my inclinations–we really focused on the latter, with a lot of eating and drinking thrown in—though we did start and end our day at the expansive, busy harbor.
There are streets and streets of colonial clapboarded houses surrounding Trinity Church in Newport’s equally expansive historic district: I’m always struck by just how many structures have survived and their amazing condition. To me, the nouveau riche mansions on Bellevue Avenue pale in comparison: Newport’s wealth was well-established before the New York millionaires came to town.
Despite its impressive historic infrastructure, Newport is not a museum fixed in time but rather a place where the physical past and the present are intermingled rather creatively. We were inspired by our inn, The Francis Malbone House (very highly recommended), which consists of a well-preserved 1760 house with a 1996 annex out back joined together by a mutable, lovely courtyard, to look for other examples of adaptive reuse and historically-sensitive additions. And we found many: I particularly liked the parking courtyard of the 1748 Billings Coggeshall House with its adjacent annex of offices. And even when the historic structure was not adapted, its foundation was preserved–as in the case of this hearth and chimneys nestled in the rear of a twentieth-century school.
The Francis Malbone House: exteriors, interior public room and courtyard; the Billings Coggeshall House and courtyard; just one Newport foundation.
I think I should include one “cottage” in here, but it is a subtle one, which reads (at least to me) more New England than New York even though it was designed by the ultimate New York firm of McKim, Mead and White: the shingle-style Isaac Bell House, built in 1883 and pictured here at twilight. Love these chimneys!
I am not really a dog person, but as I was driving into Newburyport the other day I spotted some BIG dogs that stopped me in my tracks. They were “gathered” on the Bartlett Mall, Newburyport’s Common, overlooking the Frog Pond and Essex County Superior Courthouse (the country’s longest-serving, I believe), as one recognition of the city’s 250th anniversary. [Newburyport is so young--compared to its sister port cities to the north (Portsmouth, est. 1653) and south (Salem, which is over 380 years old)-- because it split off from the greater Newbury in 1764]. They are traveling dogs, the work of Haverhill artist Dale Rogers, who is a big believer in public art and strives to craft works that become “mental postcards”. These dogs will only be on the Mall until the 24th, so if you’re in the area stop by and see them; if not, here are some real postcards to remember them by.
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.
I’m ashamed to admit that a relatively large part of my paycheck goes to Anthropologie each month or season, so as I became aware that I was in the vicinity of one of their rarer garden stores as I passed through Connecticut last week, I had to make a slight detour for the Westport Terrain. What a store–I was a bit overwhelmed, which doesn’t often happen to me in a shop scenario. Actually, it’s a combination nursery/garden store/ housewares store/gift shop/bar-restaurant–there was a lot going on when I arrived, too much for me! I certainly hadn’t planned on getting any plants as I was on the road (and I like nurseries to be a bit more dirty) but I thought I might get some planters–as I had never really replaced the ones that were stolen last summer. But there were too many planters to choose from! And too many watering cans, baskets, and vessels of all kinds–along with candles and lanterns and wreaths and everything else. Sensory overload–though I plan to return, better prepared, in the not-too-distant future.
A few more road-trip posts—then it’s back to Salem and work: I’m prepping for two summer courses and have several scholarly projects on the back burner. Every time I am in the Hudson River Valley visiting my brother, I go to see one or more of the grand estates in the region. On this particular trip, I was looking forward to seeing two Gothic Revival houses in the southern part of the Valley: Washington Irving’s Sunnyside, and nearby Lyndhurst. However, I presumed too much; I happened to be passing through on a dreaded Monday when most museums are closed, these two house museums included. Next time. Proceeding north toward my brother’s house in Rhinebeck I passed by the grounds of another estate which I had not seen–and the gate was open, so to Boscobel I went. I have to admit to a certain snobbiness on my part regarding Boscobel; it’s never been high–or even on–my “must visit” list for several reasons. First of all, it’s a Federal house, built between 1804 and 1808 by Loyalist States Dyckman (actually he died just after the foundation–his wife Elizabeth oversaw its completion). Now of course I love Federal architecture, but being from Salem I always assume that we have the best Federal houses right here: it’s Samuel McIntire or nothing for me! And as an English historian, the word “Boscobel” means only one thing to me: the English house where Prince Charles/Charles II hid out from Cromwell’s troops following the Battle of Worcester in 1851. So this Boscobel could only be a pale imitation–of either McIntire or the original. I also have a slight prejudice against historic houses that are transplanted, as this American Boscobel was: it was originally built in the slightly-more southern Hudson hamlet of Montrose, but moved to its present location in Garrison in 1961 (in pieces!) after it was threatened by demolition by a Federal construction project. But all of these “reasons” were stupid: Boscobel is well worth seeing: it has been meticulously reconstituted and its present site is simply stunning, with beautiful grounds and one of the most striking Hudson views I have seen–just across from West Point.
Boscobel: front, back (entrance from street), views from the house and river’s edge; herb garden and orangerie.
The interpretation of the house was also interesting–how it came to be and how it was reconstituted–particularly in regard to its furnishings. As a Loyalist, Mr. Dyckman had spent the Revolution in England and had bought lots of pieces while there, but Mrs. Dyckman seems to be have been more devoted to American furniture makers–including Duncan Phyfe. As all the furnishings were dispersed when the house went into decline from the late nineteenth-century on, its recreators had to either find original pieces or choose appropriate substitutes. It has been an ongoing process, but the house’s interior certainly gleams in perfect Federal fashion. I couldn’t take any pictures but the website seems to feature all of the rooms. The grounds were adorned with sculptures, the herb garden (though decidedly not in the right place) was in full bloom, and I got some more clues for my evolving research into in the relationship between English Royalists of the seventeenth century and American Loyalists of the eighteenth: altogether a very enlightening visit.
Boscobel in pieces, c. 1960; the grounds today.
I drove into one of the most distressed small cities in America this past Monday, and was both assaulted and astonished by: rows and rows of brick townhouses from the nineteenth century and before, many gone to rot, manifest poverty, amazing elevated Hudson River views, a historic district of restored Gilded Age mansions saved from a sweeping program of urban renewal and by their courageous owners, and a fisher cat. Perhaps I would not have ventured into Newburgh if I had known that it was “The Murder Capital of New York“, but then I would not have seen the deterioration or the restoration (or the fisher cat, which is not a cat at all but a rare weasel-like creature–it fled into an abandoned wooded lot before I could turn on my camera, but I knew immediately that that’s what it was). I went to Newburgh to see Washington’s Headquarters, but came away seeing a whole lot more. I’m going to refrain from including images of Newburgh’s distress–but let me assure you that its surviving restored structures are all the more picturesque because of the contrast.
Along Montgomery Street in Newburgh, New York; villas and a foundation garden. The influence of Calvert Vaux (1824-95) and Andrew Jackson Downing is very apparent. There is a park named after Downing in Newburgh, and this last house is clearly based on “Design no. 14″ in Vaux’s Villas and cottages. A series of designs prepared for execution in the United States.
The Hudson River Valley is, of course, picturesque in both natural and man-made ways: and when they come together they really grab hold of you! The whole region is dotted with romantic structures, large and small, alone and in assemblages like Montgomery Street. On the other side of the river, I captured a few more romantic structures, and, for contrast, the USS Slater (the last World War II destroyer afloat) on its way up the river to Albany.
On the other side of the river: houses (actually I don’t think this first structure is a house–some sort of chapel?) in Cold Spring and Rhinecliff; the USS Slater on the Hudson.
As my husband’s family had a long association with Asbury Park–operating a sporting goods store downtown at the turn of the last century and amusement concessions on the boardwalk for most of the twentieth–we always visit there when we are on the Jersey Shore. In the past this has not been a particularly pleasant experience: brown concrete towers loom over rather tired remnants of the city’s prosperous past, downtown buildings are boarded up, and one of the “anchors” of the boardwalk, the Casino (where my husband’s grandfather installed a carousel in the 1930s), appears to be on its last legs. And while this is all still true to a certain extent, things were looking up last weekend: there was more activity and fewer boards in the very clean downtown, and the boardwalk and beach appeared to be almost as busy as they would have been a century ago. The rise, decline, fall, and resurgence of Asbury Park are much bigger topics than I can pursue here, but this was the first time, as an occasional outside observer, that I sensed energy in the city–and Ocean Grove next door seems to be positively booming!
Asbury Park this past weekend: the past-and-present images are a family picture of my husband’s great-grandfather in front of the Cookman Avenue sporting goods store with his customers (he’s in the center with arm akimbo) and the current storefront.
On the boardwalk: semi-motion picture of the Casino, the Carousel, brought to Asbury by my husband’s grandfather in 1932 and removed in the 1980s–it showed up on ebay a couple of months ago (photograph from Helen Chantal-Pike’s Asbury Park’s Glory Days: the Story of an American Resort); the view from the Casino, a container concession.
APPENDIX: apparently the other Asbury carousel–housed in the adjacent Palace rather than the Casino –is the ebay listing (see comments below); the Seger/Casino carousel is in Myrtle Beach, but you can now download an app to recreate its ride!