I’ve been in York Harbor all June and just returned to Salem. It was a very productive month removed from daily tasks and diversions, but I missed certain things and people: my husband (I brought the cats), my garden, my street. Certainly not the tour guides and groups though: they were in part what drove me away. Of course I found the usual Dunkin iced-coffee cup propped up on my stoop the moment I got home. Salem is busy and festive all year long now it seems; while the incessant witch tourism annoys me the other celebrations are great, and June is a particularly festive month with its mix of private and public celebrations: weddings and graduations, Juneteenth and Pride. Salem goes all out for Pride and I missed that, and definitely craved some color amidst our rainy and foggy weather, so I took off for Portsmouth late last week seeking flags but finding doors. When I was growing up across river, Portsmouth was a much shabbier place: now you are hard-pressed to find an old house that is not in perfect condition. I expanded my usual downtown walk to include neighborhoods a bit more outlying like that bordering Christian Shore and the South End, and found so many lovely houses, all with very colorful entries. Red was an exotic front-door color before; now there is a veritable rainbow of Portsmouth doors. And I’ve got some flags here too.
Ok, I think I have the whole spectrum represented! It was surprisingly difficult to find white doors: as you see, one is hiding behind a tree. I wasn’t sure where to put taupe, so I paired it with brown. There are no painted brown doors, just various shades of natural woodwork. Not too many black doors either, but lots of green, and lots of yellow. Do not tell me that one of my purple doors is blue; it is purple. Portsmouth is the best walking city ever: beautiful neighborhoods, dynamic downtown, tons of historical markers, pocket parks, well-maintained sidewalks. More rainbows are there for the making!
Some singular Portsmouth doors: two-tone green and Happy Fourth!
We have had the longest stretch of horrible humid weather in my memory: it’s been hot too, but it’s the humidity that gets you, of course. The only place I’ve really been comfortable is my car, and so when I drove up to Maine for vacation last week I took a diverted and long route to get there by giving myself a silly challenge: I had to cross the two rivers on my way–the Merrimack and the Piscataqua–on bridges that I had never traversed before. Going out of the way is one of my favorite things to do so this was a characteristic challenge. I can only do it when I’m on my own, as my husband has no patience for meandering, but he and I had conflicting obligations last week so we were in separate cars (the key to a happy marriage for us). My challenge turned a trip that normally takes one hour into a four-hour excursion (with stops along the way) and I was able to arrive in Maine just in time for cocktails on the porch. My route took me slightly west to Haverhill in Massachusetts and then northeast through New Hampshire to Dover: I had crossed the big bridges in both of those cities but not the smaller ones, over the Merrimack from West Newbury to Rocks Village in Haverhill and over the Piscataqua from Dover to South Berwick, Maine. I think I have probably been on both of these bridges but not for quite some time, so they still count! Going further west and north would have been a bit silly, even for me. I braked for darling houses, of course, and found my first cluster right over the bridge in Rocks Village, a colonial village in East Haverhill right on the river. Situated at a nexus of old roads leading to and along the Merrimack, Rocks Village emerged as a center of trade and industry in the eighteenth century but was bypassed as Haverhill became a bustling industrial center in the nineteenth. It has a slightly lost-in-time feeling about it, even though the owners of its charming houses are clearly keeping up appearances.
Right over the bridge from West Newbury you encounter the old tollbooth and the village Hand Tub House (for which the Rocks Village Memorial Association is raising restoration funds) and then all these wonderful houses. This is not an exhaustive portfolio, but my favorite is the last one above: interesting proportions, though you can’t tell from my photograph that it’s a saltbox. There’s a lot more to see in Haverhill but this village seems like a place apart: indeed, you can’t even find it on any of the maps of the bustling nineteenth-century city, which emphasize factories above all. After some leisurely searching, I finally found it on a map of the Newburys, dating from just about the time of the construction of the Hand Tub House.
Rocks Village and Bridge on the 1831 map of the newly-divided Newburys (Newbury, Newburyport & West Newbury), Leventhal Map Center, Boston Public Library.