Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Frosty Woods


Recently a friend posted the illustration above by Susan Jeffers from a children's book on Robert Frost's poem along with the following on Facebook: “Three years ago this week, Frost’s poem “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening” became public domain. That poem is ours now. So, tonight, drop me your favorite line or stanza from Frost and what it means to your life.”

My reply focuses on the opening two lines: 

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;

The opening lines of this poem naturally make me think about traditional New England vernacular land use patterns and farming practices. Isn't it the same for you? 

It raises the question, why would his house be separate from his woods? To address this enigma, we will turn to art, cartography, geology, ...  and of course lasers. 

Historically, to make the best use of the land a typical early New England farmer would own a variety of lots in different areas of a town. The best place for a sugar bush may not be a good place to pasture cows, or plant an orchard, or build a home, so depending on topography, soil types, elevation and so on different lots in different parts of town would serve different purposes. 

The land was organized by function - dooryard, barnyard, garden, crop fields, hay lots, pasture, and of course the woodlot. The paths connecting them were controlled by wood fences, gates, sheep dogs and stone walls. For our previous blog on reading stone walls from the ground and with lasers see this link here

These lot patterns can be seen in an early map of Conway on display at the Conway Public Library. 


A closer look at another version of that map shows that the Town founders adapted the size and shape of the lots to the land (click on images to enlarge them). 


Here is a laser produced relief map known as LIDAR that shows the underlying topography of the town. 


For example, the Cranmore Mountain area can be seen as a large blank spot. This was not assigned to any specific person but was instead considered common land. The lots in the flat fertile areas and along the low hills of town are large. The lots along the rivers are smaller, long and narrow to allow the greatest number of farmers to have their livestock have access to water. 


White Mountains artists captured scenes of livestock drinking from the Saco River in Conway, a practice that would not be allowed today.  You can see a number of them here

In his book, Big House, Little House, Back House, Barn, Thomas Hubka provides a great detailed explanation of these traditional field patterns. 


In his 1792 History of New Hampshire, Jeremy Belknap provided a "how to" manual for pioneers. He explains the kinds of soils that can be found under different types of trees and how that particular soil should be prepared there and what kinds of crops grow best in those soils. It also details the kinds of products that can be made from different trees and plants. 

Back to the children's book. I have always loved this edition of Robert Frost's poetry. You can check out this book with illustrations by Susan Jeffers at the Library as well as many other books she illustrated. 

For more information on this or any other Mount Washington Valley topic contact us at the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Happy Thanksgiving 2021



We will be sharing our New Hampshire Thanksgiving virtually this year with friends and family in Florida, Virginia and the Netherlands. This is an historically interesting coincidence as all these seemingly disparate places also happen to play important roles in the Thanksgiving story. 


Many people imagine a scene like that above when they think of the first Thanksgiving said to be held in 1621 in Massachusetts. For more on this painting see the link here

However, an earlier Thanksgiving in Florida in 1565 may have looked more like that below with Spanish Conquistadors, top-knotted Timucuans, longleaf pine and sabal palm trees (they may have even eaten part of the palm tree).  


For more on this argument see these links here and here. Instead of turkey, this thanksgiving would have more likely included gopher tortoise, mullet and gator.  


See our previous blog on a beast feast in Maine here


These images are from a book published in 1591.  


Another possible entree was Cocido-Madrileno, a stew made from salted pork and garbanzo beans laced with garlic seasoning.  


Even in Florida however, we were taught the Pilgrim version of the holiday in elementary school. 


We had pilgrim pageants with construction paper costumes and played "colonial" games. Even if made from toilet paper rolls, these images are iconic and easily recognizable, but inaccurate and incomplete.  

 
In Florida we used the extra large cones of the Longleaf Pine to make decorative turkeys...


... complete with crayon outlined hand silhouettes for their tail feathers. 

The famous sculpture below shows a Pilgrim with a "buckle hat." 


In fact, the buckle hat was fictional. Pilgrims never wore such an item, nor has any such hat ever existed as a serious piece of apparel. The sculpture was created by Augustus St. Gaudens in 1904. St. Gaudens summered in Cornish New Hampshire. FMI see this link here

The pilgrim buckle hat is featured on signs for the Massachusetts turnpike. 


This earlier controversial sign has been retired. 


Now for the Dutch connection (everyone say hello to Julia and Joost). The Pilgrim Mayflower trail made an important stop in the Netherlands. FMI see these links here and here

Misguided Virginians think the first Thanksgiving was held at Berkeley Plantation. They even built a shrine marking the site. FMI see these links here


Finally for the important New Hampshire connection during the 19th century. 


Pictured here are reenactors Sharon and Steve Wood playing Sarah Josepha Hale and Abraham Lincoln. See this link here for more details about their NH Humanities program. 

While I think we should all learn more about history from different perspectives, I echo Eric Meltzer's column in today's Conway Daily Sun (see link to his article here) in which he points out the Mass pike signs illustrated above. 

This is a holiday in which we can enjoy a couple days off work and focus on food, parade, friends and family. It has a much less commercial nature to it than many other holidays. 

By the way "wheels," my first car was a Plymouth Fury I got from my Grandfather.  

So, we will continue to do what we did in Florida, Delaware, Indiana and now New Hampshire. Our family tradition starts with breakfast and the Macy's Parade. Then after dinner, we will watch The Miracle 34th Street



FMI on the film see link here

Our family Christmas holiday does not officially begin until we see Santa at the end of the parade in the film. 


On Black Friday (or Plaid Friday as some are now calling it), I will be presenting a program about the history of Thanksgiving for a local community group. I would be happy to do a free outreach program for other local schools and community groups as part of our seasonal "art of the harvest" programs. If you are interested in learning more contact us at the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

This Revolutionary Event Was A Real Blast!



Posted in honor of Veterans Day and to prepare for future events.  

We recently attended a commemorative event at a Conway cemetery honoring a local veteran of the American Revolution that included this musket salute by a color guard in period costume.  

After five years of research, with help from The Sons of the American Revolution, The Daughters of the American Revolution and other local historians, the family was able to earn several memorial plaques for this veteran's grave.


The family wrote, "The Henny History Room held many documents that allowed us information to assist us, in our research of this lost patriot and for that we will always be grateful. We appreciate all the times you patiently dug out volumes, pulled files and maps and assisted us with the tasks at hand..."

We have also had a couple of other requests for information about the history and service of other local soldiers from the colonial and revolutionary war eras. 

It was a stirring ceremony and we hope to see many more patriotic events like this as we near the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in 2026 (only five years away). See our previous blog on that subject here

We have been reviewing our local online newspaper archive for how the Bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence was celebrated in Conway in 1976 (fifty years ago) and have found many examples to be followed. You can read some of the exciting things they did then at this link here

We are planning to offer free outreach programs on colonial and revolutionary period history to local schools and community groups that will include hands-on activities such as writing with a quill pen. 

We are also updating our online data base for cemetery records and as you may know the Conway Historical Society has published a guide with GPS coordinates to all the known cemeteries in town. Some of them are very hard to find. Let me know if you want to purchase your own copy or you can borrow a copy from the library. Of course we also have the library subscription of  the Ancestry software and would be happy to help guide you in your family history research. 

We also offer workshops on how to properly preserve family papers and photos. For more information contact us at the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room.

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Space Oddities and Spirits of the White Mountains

Submitted for your approval...


... in the spirit of the season, a painting by local artist David Baker based on a description from alien abductees Betty and Barney Hill. The site of this celebrated event is even documented with a New Hampshire state highway marker. 



For more info on this topic see the link here

Saturday's Conway Daily Sun featured several recent programs held at the Conway Public Library - Ghost hunters of Conway with Luna Paranormal and Ghost Adventures with Jeff Belanger. 

A search for the word "halloween" in our online collection of The Reporter News here finds over seven hundred results and yields insight into the ways in which the holiday was celebrated in the past.

Cemeteries take on a special meaning during this time of the year and recently we had several library patrons looking for the location of their ancestor's graves. 


A sense of both beauty and mystery can be found while walking through some of our local cemeteries.  Some of the graves are marked with special medallions. 

A watchful all seeing eye at the top this marker overlooks the initials FLT which stand for friendship, love and truth.  


The letters IOOF stand for the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, one of a number of secretive societies such as the Knights of Pythias, Fraternal Order of the Eagles, and the Grand Army of the Republic. 

We use the codes and symbols employed by these groups to help learn more about the history of the people buried beneath the markers in our patron's searches for their family history and genealogy. Can you guess what the one below reveals?  


While cemeteries play a spooky role in October's events, the mood changes in November to a more positive, patriotic role as we will explore in a future blog. 

Have a Happy Halloween and if you want to learn more about any of the topics in this blog contact us at the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room.

Friday, October 22, 2021

An Apple Bee



I recently attended a fantastic program on apple diversity hosted by Eleanor Jenkins' Uplands Apple Farm in Eaton NH, led by Jared Kane, Executive Director, Branch Hill Farm Preservation Orchard, Milton Mills, NH with support from Catherine Dufault, District Manager, Carroll County Conservation District in Conway NH. 

It was not quite the raucous crowd depicted in a print by Winslow Homer below (more on that later).  


After a welcome and history of the orchard from Eleanor, Jared explained the history and taste profiles of each variety as we passed the plates around ...


... and enjoyed the beautiful views with heirloom apple trees planted all along the stone walls.  We tried over fifteen varieties of apples (for our previous blog on Ashmead's Kernel follow this link here). 


We were able to compare the taste with the unique look of the apples side by side. The chalk board in the cider room indicated it was a pretty good harvest this year. 


The numbers next to the apple variety names indicates the number of bushels harvested. For more on this year's harvest and local apple history see this issue of the Conway Daily Sun here

Now to the Winslow Homer print I mentioned above. It was published in Harper's Weekly Magazine in 1859. For more info on the print itself in various museum collections see these links here


The title Fall Games - The Apple-Bee can be seen at the bottom of the print (click on images to enlarge them). 

During the period the term "bee" referred to a social activity where work and play were combined. Other examples are the quilting bee, husking bee and scutching bee. Think of the insect bees and how they dance while they work. 

The print includes numerous vignettes that provide several sets of interesting comparisons and contrasts to explore. 
 
Let's start with the top of the image. Hung along the ceiling are several strings of sliced apples drying over the fireplace. 


Drying apples preserved food calories in a time before refrigeration. Today we can get fresh apples from around the globe any time of the year. They could not. 
 
Dried apple slices were (and are) a tasty snack that could be enjoyed as well as the main ingredient in New England's famous dried apple pie (for breakfast with sharp cheddar cheese). For our previous blogs on that tradition see these links here and here

On the left section of the print a young man demonstrates an example of technological innovation to a group of older folks who look on attentively and somewhat bemused. 


This machine peels and cores at the same time resulting in both labor saving and an increase in productivity. Notice the pile of processed apples on the table. You can still purchase essentially the same design today. 


Here is a copy of an ad from 1895. 


Also note the "White Mountain" potato parer (click on images to enlarge them). 

They were made in a wide variety of styles. We have a number of versions in the collection of the Conway Historical Society. For more on the topic see the Virtual Apple Parer Museum here

On the right of the print can be seen the more traditional hand peeling method. 


Speed and productivity do not seem to be the main concern of the young couple depicted here. They may be more interested in the lingering and longing of courting. Compare the the pile of apples yet to do at their feet with the processed pile seen before. Also note the successful courting of the couples in the back ground behind them. 

More romance can be seen in the central figure...  


... who tosses an apple peel over her shoulder with the belief that it will spell out the initials of person she is destined to marry. For more on this tradition see the links here and here


Seen below the young man working the mechanical peeler/parer (and the old folks watching him work) are a pair of children playing with a carved pumpkin.  

Almost obscured in the background is a liquid contrast to the solid examples of apple products. This vignette is but a small portion of the print, however, as Jared explained during the program, this apple product played the largest role in the actual history of apples in this country before the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (Prohibition). 


A nicely dressed older gentleman raises a glass of cider poured from a barrel seen over his left shoulder. Jared explained that "cider" refers specifically to the alcoholic drink and therefore the term hard cider is redundant. 

David Tatham here (p. 87) points out how unique this print is in Homer's body of work. He argues that "Nothing in his work as a painter remotely recalls the electric, hot-blooded relations among young men and women that he recorded with such evident relish in these country frolics. In hardly any other of his drawings for the pictorial press did he depict such free and unselfconscious displays of emotion between individuals." 

For a taste of more on the autumn harvest see our current display at the Conway Public Library and its related blog here

To further explore this and many other historical topics, we offer free outreach programs to local schools and community groups. We can also provide programs via zoom. Please contact us at the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room for more information.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Fall for Autumn


Our current display greeting you as you enter the Conway Public Library focuses on "the art of the autumn harvest" and its seasonal traditions.  The top shelf features the foliage that brings in buses full of visitors during this time of the year. The "centerpiece" of course is a bouquet of autumn colors, a final blaze of glory before the white of winter.

The image featured at the right of the exhibit label is by Maxfield Parrish who was once a NH summer resident. 


It is a self portrait of the artist as Jack Frost, with golden pots of paint to color the leaves all the different tints of autumn. The painting was featured on the cover of Collier's Magazine on October 24th, 1936. The original oil on board is in the collection of the Haggin Museum, Stockton, CA. The library has a number of books on Maxfield Parrish that illustrate his many New Hampshire works and explain in detail his unique approach to art and illustration. 


In the back right hand corner of the shelf is a hand-made corn husk doll. The doll is a good example of the old Yankee thrift ethic embodied in the motto "use it up, wear it out, make do or do without!" Corn husks are one of a number of by-products from harvesting a main crop this time of year. 

Corn cobs are another by-product of harvesting corn and innovative Yankees found ways to make use of those as well. Like any good artwork, this 1864 painting by Eastman Johnson works on a number of different levels. 


A black and white version allows us to examine the details more clearly.  



The image compares work and play, young and old, and the subtleties of silent interaction between the two. 

More information on the painting can be found here. Eastman Johnson had ties to the local area. He was born in nearby Lovell, Maine and grew up and painted in Fryeburg.  

The next shelf down continues to explore many of the same themes. 


On the left is an engraved powder horn. It is a by-product of the butchering process. The powder horn was made from cow horn and used to provide a water proof and spark proof container for gun powder. 

To the right of the powder horn is a small promotional magazine called the New Hampshire Troubadour with a cover showing a hunter with his dog in an autumn setting. 

A similar image is scratched into the horn itself. 


Above is the hunter with his rifle. Below is his dog. 


Presumably, the name of the powder horn's owner was Jess? 


... and perhaps he did not even know how to properly spell his own name? This was not uncommon during the period. 


The tip was carved to enable a leather shoulder strap and a wooden stopper to be attached to the powder horn. 


Jack o' lanterns are another carved seasonal artwork. This painting by Norman Rockwell also explores themes seen in the Eastman Johnson painting above such as young and old, work and play.  


The painting was printed in the 1952 Four Seasons Calendar published by Brown and Bigelow. A charcoal on paper study for the painting is in the collection of the Hofstra University Museum and helps us explore the relationship between a study and a finished work of art. You can learn more about that here.



The tin object shaped like a rocket ship on the right of the shelf is actually a sausage stuffer. 


It is missing it's wooden plunger. It works like a large hypodermic needle. While the cow horn is a by-product, the main purpose of fall butchering was to harvest the meat. 

Reasons for butchering in the fall include not having to feed as many livestock over the winter and the cold weather helps in the preservation process. Making sausage allows one to combine meats, spices, even apples, improving the taste to one's liking and then by smoking the sausage it can be preserved over the winter. 

In front of the sausage stuffer is a scoop made from cow horn. Behind the sausage stuffer is a photo of a corn maze. Farmers of the past would be amazed that today we pay good money to walk through a corn field. To them they only did that as part of their work. 

The next shelf down features more seasonally popular produce. On the left is a dipper made from a dried gourd.  


Behind and to the left of the gourd is a 1950s era Coca-Cola ad illustrating the game of snap apple. 


Here is an earlier depiction of a snap apple party from 1845. 


For more information on this painting follow this link here.

The apple theme is continued on the right hand side of the shelf with Winslow Homer's 1859 print Fall Games - The Apple Bee






Published in the November 26, 1859 edition of Harper's Weekly, this print features vignettes illustrating the role of apples in romance, technological change, alcoholism, and supernatural divination. For more information on this print see this link here


While this painting by William Sidney Mount may seem to only be a convincingly captured common moment in rural life, it actually has an interesting background as political propaganda. For more info on this painting see this link here

 

The chapter on "The Doughnuts" in this book from my childhood has now became part of our fall family traditions. 



A similar machine can be found at the White Mountain Cider Company in Glen, New Hampshire. 


The bottom shelf focuses on flax and linen. 


A number of tools and techniques used to process flax into linen can be seen in this painting from 1885 entitled Flax Scutching Bee at the National Gallery of Art. For more info on this painting see this link here


For more on flax see our previous blog here

We will leave you with this lethal looking device is a heckle, or hackle used in processing the flax plant to linen. 



We have only touched on the tip of a tall stalk (metaphorically speaking). 

To further explore this and many other historical topics, we offer a free outreach program to local schools and community groups. We can also provide a program via zoom. Please contact us at the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room for more information. 

Did you get the point?