Thursday, December 21, 2017

From the Ground Up

At 3:30 pm on April 26, 1900 George E. Tufts, the son of the Conway library’s general contractor, removed the first shovelful of earth “at a point near the centre of the front wall of the building (site)...” officially starting the physical construction of the library.

Ironically a good place to start to learn about the history of the groundwork for the construction of the Conway Public is not outside, where it is currently pretty snowy, but rather in the library’s red reading room or “founder’s room.”

On the left, you can find a framed list of the original donors of the library site and park land. Here is a more detailed photo. Click on the image to enlarge it.

On the north wall are two framed photographic ensembles with captions explaining the key role people played in the original building of the library.

In the nearby periodical room can be found a bronze plaque explaining that the library was built as a memorial to Thomas Jenks (more on this later).

To learn more about the site of the library and it's original landscaping visit the Henney History Room in the library's lower level where you can find a blueprint detailing the landscape plans.

On April 11, 2003 there was another "groundbreaking celebration" for a library expansion.
Part of this project involved a "tree moving" machine that wrapped itself around a tree, dug down, scooped it up and drove it away.

Watch this space to learn more about building our library.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Cellar to Shingles

Celebrating the Conway Public Library's National Register Listing

 To help celebrate the recent listing of the Conway Public Library building on the National Register of Historic Places we recently installed a small exhibit near the circulation desk.

The display includes a small example of the extensive materials we have on the history of the library building. In the future, we will do a series of blogs that look in more detail on some aspects of building the library.  

As seen in this copy of a post card, the roof originally included a balustrade around the edge. The slate and copper roof was recently restored.

 Before most printing went digital, a copper printing plate had to be engraved and inked before an image of the library could be printed. These plates were preserved so they could be reused. See if you can find an example in the display or archives of a printed copy of this image. Note the engraving is backwords on the printing plate.

Can you see the war memorial In this postcard? For more info on the memorial see this previous blog.

We have a file on the artist who made the original wooden sign for the library. Come in for a visit and see it for yourself.

 Here is an early photo showing the intricately carved woodwork and some of the library’s art collection on display. For more about the photos over the fireplace mantle see this previous blog.

The library also had a Cabinet of Curiosity that included oriental dolls, Phoenician coins, Canonballs,ostrich eggs, Native American baskets, and a Welsh candlestands which served as the library’s mascot and was the central feature of a musical concert.

 As an important public building there was much pomp and circumstance for each stage of building the library including laying of the cornerstone to the final dedication of the building. 

So come into the library soon to see the display and check out more about the building’s history in the Henney History Room. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Little Ann in Chocorua

While the snow has come and mostly gone for now, we know it will be back. 

Many of the ski resorts opened recently and the forecast is good for this weekend after Thanksgiving. One "resort" that will not open is Page Hill in Chocorua, however its history has been captured and is now available at the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room.
Just in time for the season we received a donation by the author Ann Albrecht of the first and hopefully, first of many, “Little Ann in Chocorua books” to come.  She even inscribed it to the library with her thanks for "being here" while she attended Kennett High School.

As seen in the table of contents, there are three sections to the book. After the heart-warming dedications to family and friends, Ann explains the story behind the story - how and why the book came to be. She also explains the context for combining a section on fiction with a section on history and most importantly how to pronounce "Chocorua."

The children's story section is illustrated with charming artwork by 16 year old Madie Peters and covers bears sliding down the hill, chipmunk adventures, skiing with a tow rope, a giant snow ball (see the cover above) and dancing snow girls.

The history section covers the "lost" ski resort on Page Hill and includes many period photos including the one below with a view of Chocorua from Page Hill. In it you can see the recently burned barn at what is now The Preserve in Chocorua.

The same view was captured by Thomas Cole in 1828 from Page Hill. You can read more about that sketch at this link. You can click on the images to enlarge them and see the buildings in that same clearing so many years ago

Another family photo shows her father, Don Macy with his "Air Force dog" at work on the summit of Mount Washington.

Hopefully, Ann will cover more of the dog story in her next book.

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, William 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.