Tuesday, October 25, 2016

It's a "live"

Yesterday's Google doodle celebrates the 384th birthday of Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, commonly known at the "Father of Microbiology."

On Christmas Day 1841 Samuel Bemis "Bot of Widdiefield & Co" a (French) microscope and two "live box" type slides so he too could see the little "bugs" that Leeuwenhoek saw in his drops of water. (click on image to enlarge it).

 To be honest we had a hard time figuring out the hand writing and had to search around to learn about the "live box." But the internet provided many clues to this mystery. 

There is a Widdifield microscope of the period in Harvard's Collection that may be similar to the one Bemis purchased.

Over the years Bemis purchased many scientific items from this company in Boston including a telescope, thermometers, camera obscura, protractors, etc.

As we learn more about Bemis and as we sort, scan and transcribe his papers, we are finding that he was at the center of studying the White Mountains through science, art, fishing, hiking, mapping and so on.We will continue to explore that intersection of Bemis and White Mountain art, science and technology.

As always, for specific sources, or to learn more about the Samuel Bemis papers or the collection of the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room contact us. By the way, did you know that you can borrow a telescope or a microscope from the library just as you would a book or a film?

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Conway Corner

Last week thousands drove by this spot on their way to and from the Fryeburg Fair.

With their minds on fried dough and ox pulls most of them probably missed the incredible diversity of the truly Presidential plantings. Don’t worry, this is not a political post. If you look carefully at the scene, you can see a set of granite stone steps that once led to the Presidential Inn, just north across the street from the Conway Public Library.

But it’s the sticks not the stones that we are focusing on here. Over the years, we have led a number of educational walking tours for local schools and adult groups that in part have looked at the historic uses of trees and bushes by Native Americans and early settlers. These trees and bushes provided jams, teas, naval stores, canoes, cordage, carvings, firewood, fence posts, syrups, tonics and elixirs.  

We also explore the history, continuity and change of the built environment as well. Our online database has a number of photos of the Presidential Inn during its heyday.

Thanks to our collection of maps, photos and other archival materials the history of the area can be re-imagined. A particularly interesting resource are our Sanborn Insurance maps that include an incredible amount of detail.

The map's key reveals the secrets seen on the map. For example, the yellow color indicates the building was made of wood.

To the west of the Presidential Inn was the Conway House Hotel. Today, it's a cellar hole in an empty lot.

This is how the 4 corners appeared on an 1896 Bird's Eye View of Conway.

And here is the building from an 1860 map.

The building just west of the Library has been a medical office for many years.

A great resource for understanding this building is a painting on display at the Library.

Now we come full circle to the Library and it's ongoing roof restoration work that will provide many more years protection for this wonderful historic building.

If you would like to learn about the 4 corners, contact us at the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Belknap's Barometer

What device can measure mountains and predict the weather?

Just inside the entrance to the Henney History room we have a set of instruments that includes a thermometer, barometer and hygrometer. We use them to monitor the environmental conditions of the archives.

We covered an early reference to a thermometer in the White Mountains in the Bemis papers in an earlier post. In the future we will explore some of his references to other scientific devices such as a "live box" microscope and camera lucida. 

In his 1784 "Journal of a Tour to the White Mountains" Jeremy Belknap lists some of the instruments he brought with him including 2 barometers, 2 thermometers, 1 sextant, 1 telescope, 2 surveying compasses, and 1 chain (surveying chain). 

Belknap goes on to explain that he had some bad luck with this tools, "1 barometer broke before we got to the Mountains. 1 thermometer rendered useless after we left the Mountains. 1 compass broke, the other barometer broke. These accidents were unavoidable, considering the rough ways we passed through, the rubs and knocks we endured in the woods ; though, happily, no person received any greater damage than a broken shin." 
 "As we passed through Eaton and Conway, the appearance of so many people, more than ever had been seen at once traveling that way, was very amusing to the people. We had 3 guns and 1 pair of pistols in the company. The barometers were slung across the back of one, and the sextant was carried in a large bag. This uncommon appearance was the subject of much speculation; and the good women, understanding there were 3 ministers in the company, were in hopes we should lay the spirits which have been supposed to hover about the White Mountains, an opinion very probably derived from the Indians, who thought these Mountains the habitation of some invisible beings, and never attempted to ascend them."

The barometer could well have been similar to this Mountain barometer that doubled as a walking stick. 

Today you can use apps on your cell phone to determine elevation, see the weather forecast, and even map your gps coordinates, assuming you get cell service.