Monday, November 13, 2017

2017 Veteran's Day

This past Saturday, we honored Veteran’s Day in the Mount Washington Valley. We made a day of it, visiting memorials and attending events in North Conway, Fryeburg, and Chatham. We enjoyed patriotic music, speeches, rifle salutes, flag ceremonies, chili dogs and holiday craft fairs. There was a nice display set up inside the Conway Scenic Railroad train depot.

Part of the reason to visit Chatham was to update the Conway Public Library’s map of veteran memorials by documenting their re-dedication of their memorial at its new location on the open corner of Chatham Center, opposite the Town Hall.

As part of their ongoing 250th anniversary celebration, the Chatham Historical Society had also put together a display featuring area veterans in the Town Hall. Event Chair Doug MacPherson said “This is an event to remember our veterans that have passed, and to honor those still with us.” 

At the library, we are constantly collecting and updating our info and historical resources on many subjects including local military history. We have on file all the material from the recently closed exhibit from the Conway Historical Society on the "Great War" as we honor the one hundreth anniversary of US involvement in World War One. We still have several small displays up on this topic at the library. We also have quite a bit of material from other eras, including Revolutionary War and Civil War periods. You can search this blog for previous posts related to military history.

Come by the library sometime and ask about the story of the Civil War canonballs! We think you will be amazed. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Art, History and Nature in Conway's Green Hills

This past weekend the Upper Saco Valley Land Trust (USVLT) celebrated the opening of the new Leita Monroe Lucas Preserve in the Green Hill section of Conway. The Conway Public Library’s Henney History Room has provided maps, photos and other information to the USVLT in the past and it was especially interesting to see how they have incorporated history into this nature trail. For a trail map and more information see their website at this link

As you can see, the cars spilled out of the small parking area and across the road. The threatening overcast weather was diminished with generous amounts of hot apple cider and cider donuts. 
In his welcome and introduction, Will Abbott, USVLT Executive Director, pointed out a treasure that had been found in the remains of one of the two “cellar holes” on the property, a portrait attributed to an internationally famous artist with local connections. More on this later.  

After a few heart warming remarks on his family's connections to the land, Barry Lucas who donated the land in memory of his wife, Leita Monroe Lucas, and her parents, Lillian and Ernest “Red” Monroe, cut the large red ribbon and the rush was on to explore.  

Passing the entrance kiosk with its trail map, the group started snaking into the woods along the well marked and constructed trail. A copy of the trail map can also be found on the website linked above if you wish to print one before you visit. The trail is just over one mile in length and of easy to moderate difficulty. I suggest allowing two hours to really explore it.

We soon came to the remains of the Wentworth Hill Homestead where Doug Burnell, USVLT President, brought the site’s history to life. 

While Doug is always “outstanding in his field” if he doesn't seem to be at this location when you visit and he is not able to personally relate the tales, you can read the interpretive signage produced by Erika Rowland, Conservation Land Manager with a detail of our 1892 map and some information provided by the Conway Public Library’s Henney History Room. This area was once the center of a thriving little community with its own church, school and post office.

Erika’s sign not only marks a comforting “You are Here” identifier, but also provides thought provoking inquiry. Many of the visitors were intrigued by her opening question, “Would you rather sleep on spruce, white pine, or hemlock bows?” which immediately signals an ongoing meditation about the relationship of people and nature, our understanding and use of natural resources, and a deep sense of connection with the land and its history. 

It wasn’t long before we reached the cascades on Weeks Brook and heard more stories from Doug.

We then hiked up the steepest part of the trail to the height of land with views to Kimball Pond. 

It was near there that we reached the second historic building site, the remains of the Thomas Wilmer Dewing and Maria Oakey Dewing cottage and gardens.

The interpretive sign here explains the couple’s role in art history and includes a rendering by USVLT 2017 intern Evan McNaught of what the cottage and gardens may have looked at based on historical research including recollections from folks who knew the area. 

The interpretive material will expand as research continues. I was able to report on a new discovery I found in the Archives American Art of correspondence about the construction of the cottage and the decision to use concrete for part of the building on which some folks were standing. You can see it at this link. (page 6.)

However, much of Thomas Wilmer Dewing’s art is not concrete at all. Instead it is impressionistic and ethereal and uniquely sonic. Often the inclusion of a musical instrument implies the sound he intended to accompany the image. In other cases, the title of the work adds the proper acoustic note as in the case of this painting titled Hermit Thrush. You can hear it at this link.

Is it only a nice coincidence that sign here reads in part that certain areas of the property are “being maintained as early successional habitat for the benefit of songbirds…”

We hope to continue working with the USVLT on this and other preserves throughout town. An especially interesting project will be their pine hill site described in their recent newsletter.

This area will include some of our favorite historic sites including the stories of the Washington boulder and the mineral springs. See this link for details.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Astronomers Land in Conway

Images of broken light which dance before me like a million eyes
They call me on and on across the universe

Let's hope we have better luck next week than we did in 1932! That was the last time that we had a solar eclipse come so near to us. Unlike the partial solar eclipse we will celebrate at our "eclipse party" on Monday, August 21 at 2 pm (please make a note the time change from our previous blog) the one eighty-five years ago was a total eclipse of the sun and drew astronomical expeditions from all over the country and the world.

Unfortunately, after all the work in preparation, clouds came in at the last minute largely obscuring the event.

No, this is not one of Einstein’s famous mathematical formulas for gravity or special relativity. It is from one of our history room founder’s, Keith Henney's, books - Handbook of Photography, from 1939. 

And it represents what we will be making at our eclipse party as one of the oldest and simplest and safest and cheapest ways to observe a solar eclipse. Here is Mr. Henney's explanation of the diagram above. 

Does that make it clear to you now? No, me neither.

How about another table from Mr. Henney's book?

Now we can get a sense of what he is talking about - a pinhole camera!

Even a partial eclipse like what we will have next Monday can be dangerous if you directly at it and we will be making pinhole cameras at our eclipse party so we can observe the event safely. 

This is the same principle they used to watch the eclipse in Conway eighty-five years ago with slightly larger tubes than the cardboard boxes we will use. The one the Franklin Institute from Philadelphia set up in the fields behind Kennett High School (now Kennett Middle School) was eighty-five feet long.

 Notice the familiar outline of the Moat Mountains in the background.

The picture below is from the Collections of the Van Vleck Observatory, Wesleyan University, courtesy of Roy Kilgard, Research Associate Professor of Astronomy.   They set up their observatory in South Conway and used Kennett High School to do some of their work.

Remarkably,  much of the original equipment they used in 1932 has survived and was recently restored. The photo below from facebook shows Amrys Williams in period costume taking a look through the refubished 20 inch Clark refractor to celebrate astronomer Dr. Frederick Slocum's birthday in 2016. Slocum used parts of this telescope in Conway in 1932 to study the eclipse.

Another telescope the Van Vleck observers used in Conway was their 6 inch refractor, currently on display in the foyer of their observatory. It dates to the 1830s and was briefly famous as the largest telescope of its times in the Americas.

To help place the upcoming eclipse into a historical context we have put together a small display at the library. One of the items featured is a copy of an article from the Boston Evening Transcript. Here are a couple interesting details.

So, hope to see you at our eclipse party next week. As always, if you have any questions or want to learn more about this subject, contact us at the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Across the Universe

We have the glasses and the party is two weeks from today!

So come and join the crowd on Monday, August 21, 2017 at 5:30 pm. Watch the eclipse through special glasses provided, make an eclipse viewer, and decorate sun cookies!

All the cool astronomers will be there and it is going to be groovy. Let the Conway Public Library be your “one stop shop” for what you need to enjoy this event. In addition to the glasses and the party, we also have a telescope to study the sky (do not use that to look at the sun - more on practicing safe astronomy later). We also have many astronomy related books, dvds, downloadable books, audio tapes, and music recordings (including those mop tops who sang our blog’s title song). 

Maybe, it is just “written in the stars.” Eighty-five years ago, Conway was at the center of a path of totality of a total eclipse of the sun. 

If you want to prepare for this year’s solar eclipse you can see our small display near the library’s front entrance and learn more about it in our Henney History Room (click on images to enlarge them).

On August 31, 1932 the “totality” of the solar eclipse passed directly over Conway and special expeditions were made from The Franklin Institute and Wesleyan University’s Van Vleck Observatory. Over twenty other expeditions were made along this path in places ranging from South Portland, Maine to Magog, Quebec.

The Chamber of Commerce developed special promotional materials including stationary that had a watermark of a bird’s eye view of Conway village and envelopes with gold lettering on a black stripe that may have been meant to represented the path of the “totality.”

According to our Conway history (Hounsell and Horne, pp. 362-363) the eclipse led to the first, if somewhat informal, information booth in town  near the “four corners” near the library. In preparation for the anticipated visitors Conway boosters set up card tables, had a phone line tied in, and made reservations in private homes for travelers at just a dollar per person. The Paramount News Service covered the event, and locals rushed out to buy up all the crockery pitcher and bowl sets for miles around to furnish their rooms for visitors. The official observation headquarters was set up in the fields around what was then Kennett High School (now Kennett Middle School).

In our next blog, we will continue to explore more details about Conway and the solar eclipse. As always for more info, contact us at the Conway Public Library’s Henney History Room.

As John, Paul, George and Ringo used to say, keep looking up!

Monday, July 31, 2017

July 1917 - One Hundred Years Ago This Month

World War One started in Europe 103 years ago this month. It began on July 28, 1914 and ended on November 11, 1918.

The US entered the war one hundred years ago this year on on April 6, 1917. Since January 2016 we have been doing a blog looking at one-hundred year old local newspapers each month. Here is a link to that first “looking back” blog. 

The Reporter newspaper for July 5th 1917 reports on the celebration of Independence Day (click on the images to enlarge them).

Some local companies benefited from the war effort...

… and some did not. Not much of a call for finely carved granite in the trenches.

In many ways, it seems like life went on. It’s hard to imagine that recorded music had only recently been introduced. Movies were still silent. If you would like to learn more about the movies and music of the period, contact us at the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room.

There were a number of efforts on the “home front” to support the war effort. Most communities had a group of ladies sewing and knitting for the soldiers.

Children’s playgrounds were militarized. It was considered “splendid” and “thrilling."

Price increases and prohibition were topics of the day.

Rockingham Race Track was turned into a military barracks. Cots were lined up in the grandstands and the track was used for marching.

 Women’s suffrage seemed ironic in that we were fighting for democracy but half of the adults in the country could not vote. This publicity stunt showed that at least twenty-two other countries allowed women to vote.

This article features the fashion of the well-dressed “farmerette” with a specially designed work outfit of “a Russion blouse of khaki, denim or gingham, with a full divided skirt of the same sewed fast under a broad low belt”

So while you might not be able to fight as a soldier, or vote for the President of the United States, at least you could look stylish while being "outstanding in your field."

Friday, July 21, 2017

More Old Iron

It was 48 years ago … yesterday, that man landed on the moon and this piece of old iron (actually aluminum, stainless steel, and titanium) played a key role. It is now encased in plexiglass and on display at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum restoration center in Chantilly, Virginia.

It’s hard for some of us of a certain age who saw this all on television to grasp the fact that what still seems so futuristic is actually history and in our “rear view.” In a previous blog, we searched for "old iron" with Fenway the History Dog. In that case, we explored the changing use of technology and how it affected the historic landscape of Conway village. In a future blog, we will look at how old iron persists and has changed from utilitarian/functional to decorative and symbolic both as lawn sculpture and as interior decoration.

While the space race is now history, it's universe of "old metal" has not yet made it as lawn ornament. Wait that's wrong, as we have a Redstone rocket on display here in New Hampshire in a park in the town of Warren.

In the near future, as artifacts of the space age in fact age and obtain the patina of history, we may in fact see more and more of these items on display.

The development of space technology was spread out through the country. It still is. Recently Kennett High School students were involved in a project with NASA. You can learn about 3-d digital printing, wifi technology and robots through programs at the Conway Public Library. Some of the cooling fans used in the space race were developed by the global Sturtevant Company, that started with Benjamin Franklin Sturtevant and his wooden peg manufactory in Conway New Hampshire (across the mill pond from the blacksmith shop that was replaced by Stan's Auto Repair) - see the previous blog for maps and drawings.

So stay tuned for more adventures with Fenway the History Dog.

While the "rear view" of our truck was busted, Fenway served as co-pilot and looked back to see that the course was clear for us to proceed into the future while we glanced back at the past - back to the future, again.