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.

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