Tag Archives: Plymouth

A Viking Ship, Two Black Hats, and One Special Street

Despite the fact that I am a middle-aged woman rather than an adolescent boy, I was absolutely determined to see the reproduction Viking ship Draken Harald Hårfagre as it sailed into Plymouth Harbor yesterday. Plymouth is just one of the stops on the ship’s east coast tour, and it was the most convenient for me in terms of time and geography, so down to the South Shore I went. It was a humid day and all was gray as we waited for a pending storm and the ship, which slid into Plymouth Harbor very gracefully. I had hoped to see it under sail, but of course that wasn’t going to happen in the wide, calm harbor. You (and I) will have to see it under sail here. I always enjoy seeing the juxtaposition of “old” and new vessels; of course Plymouth has that all the time with the Mayflower II in the harbor—but the Draken is so much more “alien”.

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Well, that’s it for the ship (which will be in port until Friday evening and then it’s going down the coast). Both before and after its arrival I occupied myself in my usual way: looking at old houses and comparing Plymouth to Salem as a tourist destination and purveyor of local history. Even though they are very different places, I can’t help making comparisons between these two New England ports, put on the map by their seventeenth-century origins and happenings as symbolized by two omnipresent black hats: of the Plymouth Pilgrim and the Salem Witch. Indeed, Salem and Plymouth have both been on the heritage map for quite some time, whether it be for educational or tourism purposes.

MA MAP 1966Colonization in America visual wall map, 1966, prepared by the Civic Education Service, Washington, D.C.; David Rumsey Map Collection.

In terms of physical size, Plymouth is one of the largest towns in Massachusetts, whereas Salem is among the smallest cities. Plymouth’s population is actually larger, I was surprised to realize, but Salem’s is much more concentrated. Salem is urban and closer to Boston; Plymouth doesn’t quite feel “suburban” to me but I guess it is. Both places are county seats and have vibrant downtowns and tourist-based economies. Both towns are “historic” but in very different ways: Salem’s history is predominately commodified while Plymouth is more committed to public history. As a heritage destination, Plymouth is what Salem would be if the Peabody Essex Museum had not absorbed and essentially obliterated the Essex Institute: its Pilgrim Hall Museum (founded in the very same decade—the 1820s–as the Essex Historical Society, one of the Essex Institute’s founding organizations) and Plymouth Antiquarian Society serve as public repositories and interpreters of the history of “America’s Hometown”. This makes for a very different projection. I’m not trying to pass judgement here (although regular readers will know how I feel): Plymouth seems to have preserved quite a bit of its “ye olde” parochial identity whereas we all know that the Peabody Essex Museum is a very sophisticated, global institution.

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Plymouth Adventure 13The Jabez Howland House is presented much like Salem’s “Witch House”, as a singular survivor and link to the seventeenth-century past.

Both Plymouth and Salem have impressive inventories of historic structures, although their waterfronts were altered considerably by twentieth-century state and federal initiatives designed to highlight their maritime heritages, ironically: the preparations for Plymouth’s tercentenary in 1919-1920 cleared out its unsightly wharves and created Pilgrim Memorial State Park while the Salem Maritime National Historic Site was created in a similar (but less radical) manner in the next decade. Salem has more concentrated historic districts but Plymouth has several special streets too: on this particular trip I could not get enough of Leyden Street (below) in particular. So many brick- or shingle-ended houses! And so few Federals, both compared to Salem and even the towns just to the north, Kingston and Duxbury. Both Plymouth and Salem had spectacular Tercentenary pageants and parades, and Plymouth is definitely gearing up for its 400th in 2020: Salem, I’m not so sure.

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Plymouth Adventure

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Plymouth adventure 12Leyden Street, with the storm coming in.


Escape from Salem, part I: South Shore Ramble

After last year’s full immersion into Haunted Happenings, Salem’s month-long celebration of its apparently fortunate association with the tragic Witch Trials of 1692, I’ve decided that a better course of action for me this year is to get out of town. I try to engage in the festivities every three years or so, but last year was just too much:  too much craven exploitation, too much tackiness, too much trash. Last year nearly broke me: if my husband had had a similar reaction and intent, we would have sold the house and moved to Ipswich. I don’t want to move, so this October I will simply escape Salem whenever I can–or hunker down in the house (I’ve brought in supplies). I’m sure my family, friends and students will appreciate this decision, as I’ll be a much nicer person to be around, but this is a declaration for my faithful readers: my blog’s title will be a misnomer for most of this month, although I might be able to sneak in a few midweek walks.

October is also a busy academic month, so I’ll have to take quick regional road trips whenever I can. The other day, I meandered around the South Shore, a world apart from the North as any greater Bostonian knows. I got off the highway in Dedham, which has a wonderful historic downtown, drove on small roads all the way down to Plymouth, and then back up north via Route 3A on the coast. I took tons of photographs, but it was a rainy, cloudy day so most of them didn’t really “pop” (especially as I seem to have a predilection for two-story square white colonial houses–you don’t need to see a multitude of those!) Now, before I get multiple protests from local readers, let me say that in the greater Boston area, many people do not consider Dedham to be part of the South Shore, as it is decidedly not on the coast and too far west: as you can see, it is not on this “North Shore vs. South Shore” map from Boston MagazineBut I’ve never known how to classify Dedham geographically so I am including it here—northwestern towns like Burlington (??????) are regularly included in the North Shore, so it seems only fair to include southwestern towns like Dedham in the South.

north-shore-vs-south-shore-map Map by John S. Dykes, Boston Magazine

Downtown Dedham: even though it’s about half the size and much less urban, Dedham is kind of like Salem in that it’s a county seat and a “mother of towns”—an early settlement from which all the surrounding towns later separated. Dedham is also difficult to get into because of traffic and a confusing intersection of major arteries–but well worth the effort.

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……all in the immediate downtown with the exception of the amazing first-period Fairbanks House. Then it was down to Plymouth via routes 138 and 106 with a pitstop in Plympton.

Plympton and Plymouth:

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SHEEP in relatively rural Plympton and this rather stately old brown house….on to Plymouth which is large geographically and always somewhat less historical than you expect it to be–however there are some great old houses there, and of course the Mayflower II. I don’t think we need a picture of the rock, and I’ll leave Plimoth Plantation for another post.

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Then back up north via Route 3A, through Duxbury, probably the most beautiful town in Massachusetts, which one local radio host used to refer to as “Deluxbury”. Very pristine–and no sidewalks! Then on to Marshfield–where my camera promptly ran out of power. I will return–I have an entire month of daytrips ahead of me!

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There are so many beautiful houses in Duxbury it was difficult to choose , so I just limited myself to one–the very Salem-like Nathaniel Winsor House, headquarters of the Duxbury Rural and Historical Society. Shingles everywhere on the South Shore, less common on the North. LOVED Marshfield Hills, especially these last two houses.


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