Thursday, March 15, 2018

Stone by Stone

The original carved brownstone entrance of the Conway Public Library is unique among Conway village architecture and is a key to understanding the library's architectural style.

But before we examine the ornate neoclassical carved archway and columns we are going to start with the simply shaped granite base that surrounds the entire original building. These smooth granite blocks are beveled at the top and fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. The cornerstone at the northwest corner is dated "A.D. 1900."

A program from the cornerstone ceremony in the Henney Room's archival collection documents the celebratory events from the event of June thirteenth, 1900 including songs, prayers, benedictions and a historical address by the buildings architect, Thomas Silloway.

That year is also memorialized in stone in the lintel above the original main entrance of the building...

...and again carved in stone, this time marble, in the original entry foyer along with the names of people involved in designing and constructing the building.

The excavation for the addition a number of years ago exposed the clear difference between the rough split granite foundation of the cellar and that smoothly cut and finely shaped granite belt that surrounds the building.

The original back of the building on the south featured a bay window that jutted out from the wall and added architectural interest from outside and a nice alcove on the inside.

While most of the stone lintels above the windows were simple keystone shaped, one three-part window set was adorned with a carved floral design.

The use of stone was documented in an early Sanborn insurance map which included a key that explained the color code that represented the building material used. It also used symbols and numbers to indicate the type of roof, number of stories, and so on.

In the detail below, you can see the red for brick, the blue for stone and the yellow for the copper covered wooden framed clock tower.

Over the years, the attention to detail seems to have changed on these maps. These maps however, do document the change in the street name on the southern side of the building (with the bay window) from Silloway (the last name of the library's architect) to Greenwood.

Now let's look more closely at the stone portico that juts out from the brick facade. The arrangement of the columns, scrolls and motifs used in the design follow well established rules.

A close look at the stone shows tools marks from the chisels and guages that were used to create the lamb's tongues, floral details, egg and dart, and bead and reel motifs.

To learn more please attend our program on Thomas Silloway: Architecct of the Conway Public Library at 11 am on Saturday, March 24, 2018. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Bringing the Outside In

Let’s compare the photo above from the Conway Public Library’s Henney History Room collection with a modern photo of the same building below. 

Information about the historic photo can be found at this link. The building is now the home of the North Conway Music Center. The lower photo was taken earlier today from the entrance drive of the Fox Ridge Resort with its elegant lamps and granite supports.

The window and door patterns are basically the same. The dormers are gone and some gingerbread brackets have been added. The two chimneys of large fireplaces have been replaced with a single wood stove type chimney. This was a common practice when updating to new technology and is well explained in books we have in the history room.  

What is now Route 16 is seen as a dirt road in the first photo is now curbed with granite and paved with asphalt. Now let’s take a closer look at the historic photo.

If you look closely at the tree near the corner of the porch you will notice that the porch was actually built around the tree.  You can also see a man leaning against a "rustic" chair built from bent branches with the bark still on it. (click on the images to enlarge them).

A more modern rustic bench can be seen today along the path from the music center to the Sea Dog Brewing Company nearby.

The decorative faux "wishing well" has a sign reading "Bringing The Outdoors In."

The Henney History Room collection has many examples of this rustic aesthetic as seen in architecture, furniture and decorative arts. Over the years there have been a number of popular ways of "connecting with nature."

In fact this rustic taste actually dates back to ancient Roman times.

In future blogs we will explore more examples of bringing the outside in.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Viewing Nature Through History

Recently we debuted a new outreach program at the Tin Mountain Conservation Center.

Entitled “Viewing Nature Through History,” it is one of many free outreach programs offered by the Conway Public Library’s Henney History Room to schools and community groups.

Some of the other topics we can cover include the Abenaki, barns, early New England architecture, NH and its polar explorers (including Chinook - our NH State Dog), maple sugaring, maps and map making, mills and manufacturing, ice harvesting, Redstone quarry, tone walls and cellar holes, and art of the White Mountains.

We can tailor the programs to your group’s time frame, academic level, curriculum needs, etc. We are pretty flexible schedule so please contact us if you are interested. We can present programs at most any facility, we offer field trips to local history spots, and welcome tours here at the library.

Our new program explores the ways in which different cultural groups have used local natural resources at different times over the years. In the image above are some examples from the Abenaki site in Intervale.

For example, basswood (whose leaves are seen in the foreground) were used by Native Americans for a wide variety of reasons including making cordage. Hemlock bark was used by early settlers to tan leather in nearby Pequwaket Pond and used in the leaning building in the background for leather work.

The program covers many other trees and plants, as well as wildlife, rocks, sand, mud and tools used to process natural materials into useful objects. To learn more about this program or any of our program offerings contact us at the library or send us a comment in the box below.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Brick by Brick

In previous blogs we have traced the construction of the Conway Public Library building through a “Memorial Booklet” written by the building’s architect Thomas Silloway. Recently a photograph of Silloway was found in the attic by the library’s Director, David Smolen. See the picture on our facebook page at this link.

According to Silloway, the contract for the building above the foundation was concluded on March 31, 1900 with Mr. George M. Tufts of Boston, building contractor, who sub-let all work of masonry to L.K. Marston, of Boston. When the library was expanded some of the original bricks were removed to allow a connection between the old and new sections. Some of these bricks were sold to help raise funds for the expansion and an example is currently on display in a curio cabinet near the library's main entrance on Greenwood. One of our Sanborn Insurance maps shows that at one time Greenwood was named Silloway Street. See this link for details on our map collection or better yet, come in and browse the collection. 

If you look carefully you can see that the original bricks were probably molded by hand using a mold similar to the "hands-on" example below.

A remarkable painting in a local private collection shows a brick making operation along the Saco River with Cathedral Ledge seen in the background.

You can compare the details of the painting with a "living history" example recreated at Colonial Williamsburg.

The library has a number of great books that detail the historic building process. The library also offers free outreach programs to schools and community groups, either powerpoint presentations and/or "hands on" displays of building tools and materials if you would like to learn more about historic New England building processes from "cellar to shingles."

To learn more contact us at the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Canhwyllbren Frwyn

Do you know what the Conway Public Library's official mascot is? Another question - beside books, what does the Conway Public Library have in common with Shakespeare’s birthplace and Anne Hathaway’s cottage?

The answer to both questions of course is our Canhwyllbren Frwyn.

Canhwyllbren Frwyn is Welsh for rush candlestick. This is a combination rush lamp and candlestick. The open cup-like part on the left would hold a candle, while the pliers-like part on the right would hold a rush.

Juncus Effusus, the soft or common rush, grows in swampy areas in both Europe and America, where it has been harvested for centuries to create a cheap source of light as well as for chair seats, floor coverings and many other items.

Here some detailed illustrations of the plants roots, seeds and flowers.

The rush would be immersed in animal fat in a specially designed iron grisset or grease pan.

While rush did not provide much light and burned quickly it was much cheaper than candles.

A program from our archival collection shows that they really knew how to throw a party in 1901. (click on pictures to enlarge them). On December 10th of that year they had a "Greate Concerte"to celebrate the one year anniversary of the letter that announced the gift the was used to build the Conway Public Library.

The text of the program is quite humorous and informative. The candlestand was a gift of the Mayor of Conway, Wales and the Curator of Plas Mawr, a historic house also in Conway Wales.  Similar gifts of rush candlestands were made to Shakespeare’s birthplace and Anne Hathaway’s cottage in England to celebrate the Welsh tradition of making these items and of Shakespeare referencing rush lamps in his literary works.

The event featured music, speeches, and of course the ceremonial lighting of the lamp.

It was then installed in the library's new "curio" closet and can now be seen the the library's Henney History Room. We will explore more items from the curio collection in future blogs.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Lector, si monumentum Requiris circumspice

The Conway Public Library is a place for mystery. Most people who visit the library today probably don't notice the many "secrets" hidden in plain sight having to do with memory and what we leave behind.

I wonder how many people who walk in the front door see the connection between the library and the "DaVinci Code" or know about its relationship to a famous building in London or a statue in Poland (more on all that below).

The library in fact started as a hushed and whispered secret as documented in a somewhat less well-known book "Memorial of Thomas L. Jenks" by Thomas Silloway.

On December 10, 1899 Silloway wrote a surprise "confidential" letter to E.B.Carlton, Chairman of the Conway Selectmen, and asked him to "enjoin the strictest secrecy in the matter..."

He went on to explain that "The late Thomas L. Jenks, M.D., of Boston, was born in your town in 1829. It was his intention to make provision in his will for the erection of a Public Library there." He goes on to explain that while Jenks had died a few weeks before without a will, that Silloway as executor of his estate offered to follow through anyway with Dr. Jenks' desire to build a library in Conway.

A year later a plaque honoring Dr. Jenks' gift was cast in bronze.The plaque now resides on the wall in the periodical room. Have you ever noticed it? Did you know that the Conway Public Library is actually the Jenks Memorial Library?

The names of some of the folks involved in designing and building the library, including Silloway as the architect, is carved in stone on another large plaque.

The booklet written by Silloway is also memorial to Jenks and within that memorial is a reference to another memorial to the architect Christopher Wren in London.

Here is a picture of that memorial in London.

Here is a more detailed view of the plaque.

A google search for that Latin phrase brought up this interesting sculpture in Poland that gets to the heart of "that which we leave behind."

And what of the enticing connection I made at the beginning of this blog about the relationship of the library to DaVinci Code? 

Well can't you see it is obvious .. right there in front of your eyes, to everyone who walks into the library ...

I suppose folks can be forgiven for overlooking the modest recognition plaque, smaller than the other plaques, in tune for the humble generosity of the donors.

Long time friends and supporters of the Conway Public Library, Connie and Dick Brown, gifted the "charge" or circulation desk. Their son, Dan Brown, wrote the "DaVinci Code."

In a future blog we will look at where the original circulation desk was and where it is now.

I will leave you with another mystery, take a look at the second stained glass window from the right with the name Wren. Could that be a another reference to Sir Christopher Wren? or do you think it is a different Wren?