Tag Archives: New England

Escape from Salem, part II: Portsmouth Parallel

I was up in my hometown (York, Maine) this past weekend, and spent Saturday morning in nearby Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a favorite old and perennial haunt. One of the reasons I moved to Salem long ago is that it reminded me of Portsmouth: both are historic port towns with vibrant downtowns (now, not always), well-preserved historic districts, and a wealth of cultural institutions. Salem has many advantages that Portsmouth does not have: a major museum (the Peabody Essex), a university (well, you could make an argument that Salem State is either an advantage or a disadvantage I suppose; oddly Portsmouth feels more like a “college town” than Salem to me), proximity to Boston, a National Park, a Common! Portsmouth has at least one distinct advantage over Salem: it has retained its status as a “market town” over the centuries as it hasn’t faced the commercial competition that has challenged Salem’s commercial center (and pushed it towards becoming “Witch City”). Portsmouth has always worked towards the development of a stable, year-round commercial economy rather than a seasonal one, and it shows: it is a city that is oriented towards residents more than tourists. Portsmouth has also experienced the same building boom as Salem over the past decade or so, but they have handled it much better in my opinion: with the exception of a few big boxy buildings past and present have been merged more harmoniously in its center. Salem has a larger, more densely-settled population than Portsmouth and much more intensive traffic as it is situated at a crossroads, whereas Portsmouth is a destination unto itself: this makes Salem a noticeably busier place, exponentially so in October. So it was nice to drive easily into Portsmouth on Saturday morning and walk around the very clean (another big difference) city: the shops and restaurants were full of people even though it was not Halloween-central, imagine!

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portsmouth-collage Above: Past and Present  on Portsmouth streets; below–alleys and secondary roads were transformed into pedestrian malls in Portsmouth, not a main street like Salem’s Essex Street. Portsmouth has no Common, but it has some great, well-kept parks—Aldrich Park is below. LOVE the signage, especially the inclusion of former buildings on the site along with biographical information.

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There are so many great houses in Portsmouth: below are just a few, downtown and skirting Strawbery Banke. I didn’t even make it over to the South End. Fewer “Salem Federals” than in Salem of course, but there are some…this first house below, which looks like it is a private residence now, was a restaurant called Strawberry Court when I was high school, and this is where we went to dinner before my junior prom!

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I had family responsibilities, so I didn’t have much time for shopping or a stop at the Book & Bar (can you imagine a better place?), but I did get waylaid by the amazing African Burying Ground Memorial.

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I had seen the Memorial, In Honor of those Forgotten, before, very briefly, but I spent more time immersed in it Saturday morning: immersed is the word, as it does not consist of merely a few statues, but an entire installation, woven together by the words of the 1779 “Petition for Freedom” sent to the New Hampshire legislature by Portsmouth slaves and figures representing both those same slaves and the atoning Portsmouth community, today. Very powerful.

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A Weekend Photographer

I discovered a digitized collection of over 2,000 photographic negatives by amateur photographer Robert L. Bracklow (1849-1919) at the New York Historical Society this past weekend and became lost in another world for several hours–hours which I probably could have used more productively, but I do not regret their “loss”. Bracklow’s photographs are primarily, though not entirely, of New York City and its vicinity in the 1890s and early twentieth century, and show a city in transition in which multi-story buildings were going up alongside wooden “garrets” and cows are still grazing by the side of the road. He captured all the monuments, and people visiting them on the weekends, like himself: his primary occupation was that of a stationer, and he went roving about on the weekends after he had closed his shop doors. Besides monuments, he loved churches, milestones, bridges, and people:  though Bracklow is often compared to Alfred Stieglitz, my own (parochial)  frame of reference is of course Salem’s Frank Cousins, who was clearly more transfixed by architecture than society. Not so Bracklow, who seems quite as determined to show the mix of people as of buildings in his time. Though Bracklow lived and shot primarily in New York, I found quite a few Massachusetts photographs in this digitized collection: lots of Great Barrington and Marblehead, several of Nantucket, Medford, and Salem. The New York Historical Society digital achive of his photographs is absolutely wonderful because you can zoom and see: a lone lady bicyclist pedaling over the Parker River Bridge in Newbury, Massachusetts, the parcels of a Marblehead housewife walking home from her shopping, crumbs on the shirt of a child at a tea party in Bensonhurst in 1898.

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H:5 in. W:7 in.; Glass negatives; Negatives (photographic)

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Photographs by Robert L. Bracklow from the collection of the New York Historical Society:  blowing up a balloon for the Harlem River boat race, 1900; Bruno’s Garret in Greenwich Village, entrance to Green-wood Cemetery in Brooklyn; a crowd greeting Kaiser Wilhelm’s yacht in New York, 1902; an afternoon tea party in Bensonhurst; milestones to New York and Boston; North Shore Massachusetts door; Leslie’s Retreat Monument in its original location on North Street in Salem, the Red Lion Inn (?), Stockbridge, Parker River Bridge, Newbury, Gregory and Darling Streets, Marblehead. All from the Robert L. Bracklow Collection at the New York Historical Society.


Yellow Houses of Nahant

When I met my husband he was living in Nahant, a “land-tied island” (two actually) to the south, between Salem and Boston. It’s one of the smallest towns (if not the smallest) in Massachusetts, a single square mile in size with less than 4000 inhabitants. I spent quite a bit of time there while we were dating, and when we decided to get married there was a bit of a tussle which Salem (and I) won. I think this was the right decision for us as a couple, and certainly for his architectural practice, but I do wonder occasionally what our lives would be like if we decided to live in Nahant rather than Salem. And of course, I picked out all of my (our) potential residences during the time I spent there–something I do in pretty much every town in which I spend more than a few hours. The other day while I was driving by the causeway that leads out to “the island” I decided to revisit these houses. Nahant has some amazing coastal properties, but only one is on my list–all the others are on or just off the main road that runs through the center of the town. It was only when I returned home and looked at all the pictures that I realized all of my favorite Nahant houses are yellow.

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I always loved the Nahant Post Office…..below, “my” houses: the first one overlooks Egg Rock (which never seems to stay in the same place!) and is very difficult to photograph so you’re not really seeing its entirety or its details. The rest are easier to capture…even the long double Whitney house, once an inn and tavern, which is the oldest structure in Nahant. The last house–a Gothic Revival cottage near the library–is my very favorite: if my future husband had owned it we probably have wound up in Nahant!

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Tricorner Houses

There’s a particular type of New England colonial house that I’ve always admired: Georgian, with a hipped roof and two entrances, almost as if two houses had been joined together at a right angle. The profile is square but you generally see just three corners–which is why I refer to these houses as “tricorner” houses. I think I’m the only person that uses this term. My two favorite examples of this type of house are the Jeremiah Moulton house in my hometown of York, Maine, and the Thomas Ayres Homestead in Greenland, New Hampshire, and I happened to be driving by both of these houses yesterday so I took some pictures. I would have had to infringe of the privacy of the Moulton House’s owners to show you the perfect illustrative angle, but the Ayres house represents a tricorner house perfectly even though it has two additional entrances on the side rather than one. My rule (and again, it’s just mine) about these houses is that the length of the side structure has to be roughly equal to the front, and it cannot appear to be just a mere addition, but an integral part of the entire house.

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Tricorner House Thomas Ayres Homestead Greenland NH

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Like tricorner hats, tricorner houses are eighteenth-century creations: most of the ones I have seen date from the 1730s through the 1760s. They all have two stories, and seem to be more characteristic of rural environments rather than urban ones–or maybe they have just survived in less-developed areas. There are quite a few in central Massachusets: if you browse through the digitized photographs of colonial houses taken by Harriette Merrifield Forbes at the American Antiquarian society you will come across several, especially taverns. Case in point: the Jones Tavern in Acton, Massachusetts, which acquired its tricorner shape between 1732 and 1750. I think tricornered houses (at least by my own conception) have to evolve rather than be built as such: high style examples like the Willard House at Old Deerfield and the Salem Towne House at Old Sturbridge Village have the requisite two sides/entrances but are not quite right–the corners are too sharp!

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My favorite “tricornered” houses: the Moulton House in York, Maine, the Ayres Homestead in Greenland, New Hampshire, and the Jones Tavern in Acton, Massachusetts. Please forward more examples!

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Puritan Winter

Two images which I first saw long ago established an everlasting, though certainly ideal, image of New England Puritans in my mind, and I am certain that I am not the only one for which this is true: these are illustrations by the nineteenth-century Anglo-American artist George Henry Boughton (1833-1905) of Pilgrims walking to church in the winter–steadfast souls in a harsh landscape. The first painting is the well-known and widely-disseminated Pilgrims Going to Church (1867) and the second is an engraving of two particular Pilgrims, John and Priscilla Alden, presumably also on their way to services in the snow, she with bible in hand and he with gun. Both paintings emphasize the vulnerability of the Puritans by presenting them in a barren seasonal landscape, yet clearly they are armed with both their faith and their relationships, as well as their muskets.

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George Henry Boughton, Early Puritans of New England Going to Church (1867), Collection of the New-York Historical Society; Puritan couple on their way to Sunday worship, engraved by Thomas Gold Appleton (1885).

Boughton became one of the most influential crafters of the Puritan image through both his own paintings (The New York Times predicted that his iconic 1871 painting The Return of the Mayflower would “live as long as the memory of the Mayflower itself lasts”) and reproductions thereof, many commissioned by the entrepreneurial publisher Alfred S. Burbank of Plymouth, who owned and operated his “Pilgrim Bookshop” from 1872 from 1932. Boughton’s Puritans appeared on trade and post cards, diverse souvenirs, and as individual prints for decades. Below is his favorite Priscilla Alden, even more vulnerable in the absence of John, in both the original 1879 painting and a turn-of-the-century trade card.

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Boughton’s Puritan paintings reveal a reverence for the origins of the country of his childhood, but his work and life should be viewed in an Atlantic context: he was born in Britain and lived in his native country for most of his adulthood. He traveled widely on the Continent, studied in France, and was clearly just as influenced by western European artists and scenes as American history. But I think his American paintings also influenced his life’s work: looking over his cumulative oeuvre, I noticed a penchant for depicting Priscilla-like women in winter, often alone, seemingly and simultaneously both vulnerable and strong in their purposes and thoughtful in their gazes. Even when one of Boughton’s winter women is dressed in the more elaborate attire of his own era (as in The Lady of the Snows below) she still bears traces of the Puritan Priscilla.

(c) Glasgow Museums; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Boughton Puritan Maiden

Boughton Gathering Firewood in the Winter

Boughton Watercolor Illustration to Love in Winter 1890s

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George Henry Boughton, Girl with a Muff, Glasgow Museums Resource Centre (GMRC); A Puritan Maiden (1875), Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute; Gathering Firewood in the Winter, Christies; Watercolor illustration to ‘Love in Winter’, Christies; The Lady of the Snows (1896), Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool.


Anniversaries All Around

I’m on a road trip but still can’t shake historical anniversaries: they are following me! Traveling down to visit my husband’s family on the Jersey shore on Friday, I made several Connecticut stops (I was on my own, so I could stop), including one in the coastal town of Guilford, which was in the midst of celebrating its 375th anniversary: banners flew all around Guilford Green, and the stores were stocked with calendars and other commemorative wares. I arrived just in time to view the original Guilford Covenant and Land Agreement, on loan from the Massachusetts Historical Society and on its last day of display at the Town Hall. It was a perfectly beautiful day, and after lunch I strolled around taking pictures of Guilford’s historic houses, each and every one in seemingly perfect pristine condition. Sometimes certain Connecticut villages strike me as too pristine, but Guilford’s perfection seemed appropriate on this glorious day! Back in the car–stuck in traffic almost all the way to Jersey, I heard multiple retellings of another big historical anniversary story on the radio: the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary and his Duchess by Bosnian nationalist Gavrilo Princip on June 28, 1914, the event that triggered World War One. And when I woke up yesterday, the first local story I heard was about the anniversary of the Battle of Monmouth on June 28, 1778: not an American victory, but certainly a draw which demonstrated that the colonial forces could hold their own against the British. Of course I had to run over to the battlefield site in Freehold: it is beautifully preserved but was quite devoid of Colonials or Redcoats, as the battle re-enactment had been staged last weekend. There were, however, a few “Molly Pitchers” walking around.

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Guilford, Connecticut, June 27, 2014: the Griswold and Hyland houses, Guilford Green, and private residences around town.

 

 


The Death of Nathaniel Hawthorne

150 years ago today Nathaniel Hawthorne died, far from either his native city of Salem or his adopted town of Concord, in the company not of his beloved family but that of his devoted friend, former President Franklin Pierce. Really he died alone (as Pierce reported), very peacefully, in his sleep. I don’t think there are any plans to mark this memorial here in Salem (remember, we are Witch City, not Hawthorne city, and Nathaniel doesn’t seem to have cared much for Salem anyway), but (as usual) there will be events in Concord. It appears that Hawthorne had been unhappy and unsettled for some time before his death (just shy of 60; his birthday is July 4): there were money worries, health issues, the separation from his family, and of course the war–he doesn’t seem to have been enough of an Abolitionist or enough of a Yankee for his friends and neighbors– but at least his passing was peaceful, very peaceful according to President Pierce. I did a quick search of newspaper front pages for the week after May 19–and Hawthorne’s death was on the front page of every single newspaper I scanned, even in the South, although generally it was just a line or two in the midst of all the war news. He was famous in his own time, and has become even more so with time. There are many compelling and contradictory things about the work and the character of Nathaniel Hawthorne–he was both intensely shy and so handsome that people would stop him in the street– but for me, he’s always been the ultimate New Englander, and that is how and why I am thinking about him today.

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Manuscript copy of The Dolliver Romance, which Hawthorne was working on before his death, New York Public Library; Newspaper reports from The (Washington, D.C.) Evening Star and The Daily State Sentinel (Indianapolis), May 20, 1864, Library of Congress Historic Newspapers Collection; Hawthorne’s birthplace in its original location on Union Street in Salem and its journey to the House of the Seven Gables campus in 1958; Hawthorne’s Concord milieu, from Samuel Adams Drake, Our World’s Greatest Benefactors (1884); The Pemigewasset House in Plymouth, NH: where Hawthorne died on May 19, 1864, Library of Congress

 


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