Thursday, January 25, 2018

Canhwyllbren Frwyn

Do you know what the Conway Public Library's official mascot is? Another question - beside books, what does the Conway Public Library have in common with Shakespeare’s birthplace and Anne Hathaway’s cottage?

The answer to both questions of course is our Canhwyllbren Frwyn.

Canhwyllbren Frwyn is Welsh for rush candlestick. This is a combination rush lamp and candlestick. The open cup-like part on the left would hold a candle, while the pliers-like part on the right would hold a rush.

Juncus Effusus, the soft or common rush, grows in swampy areas in both Europe and America, where it has been harvested for centuries to create a cheap source of light as well as for chair seats, floor coverings and many other items.

Here some detailed illustrations of the plants roots, seeds and flowers.

The rush would be immersed in animal fat in a specially designed iron grisset or grease pan.

While rush did not provide much light and burned quickly it was much cheaper than candles.

A program from our archival collection shows that they really knew how to throw a party in 1901. (click on pictures to enlarge them). On December 10th of that year they had a "Greate Concerte"to celebrate the one year anniversary of the letter that announced the gift the was used to build the Conway Public Library.

The text of the program is quite humorous and informative. The candlestand was a gift of the Mayor of Conway, Wales and the Curator of Plas Mawr, a historic house also in Conway Wales.  Similar gifts of rush candlestands were made to Shakespeare’s birthplace and Anne Hathaway’s cottage in England to celebrate the Welsh tradition of making these items and of Shakespeare referencing rush lamps in his literary works.

The event featured music, speeches, and of course the ceremonial lighting of the lamp.

It was then installed in the library's new "curio" closet and can now be seen the the library's Henney History Room. We will explore more items from the curio collection in future blogs.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Lector, si monumentum Requiris circumspice

The Conway Public Library is a place for mystery. Most people who visit the library today probably don't notice the many "secrets" hidden in plain sight having to do with memory and what we leave behind.

I wonder how many people who walk in the front door see the connection between the library and the "DaVinci Code" or know about its relationship to a famous building in London or a statue in Poland (more on all that below).

The library in fact started as a hushed and whispered secret as documented in a somewhat less well-known book "Memorial of Thomas L. Jenks" by Thomas Silloway.

On December 10, 1899 Silloway wrote a surprise "confidential" letter to E.B.Carlton, Chairman of the Conway Selectmen, and asked him to "enjoin the strictest secrecy in the matter..."

He went on to explain that "The late Thomas L. Jenks, M.D., of Boston, was born in your town in 1829. It was his intention to make provision in his will for the erection of a Public Library there." He goes on to explain that while Jenks had died a few weeks before without a will, that Silloway as executor of his estate offered to follow through anyway with Dr. Jenks' desire to build a library in Conway.

A year later a plaque honoring Dr. Jenks' gift was cast in bronze.The plaque now resides on the wall in the periodical room. Have you ever noticed it? Did you know that the Conway Public Library is actually the Jenks Memorial Library?

The names of some of the folks involved in designing and building the library, including Silloway as the architect, is carved in stone on another large plaque.

The booklet written by Silloway is also memorial to Jenks and within that memorial is a reference to another memorial to the architect Christopher Wren in London.

Here is a picture of that memorial in London.

Here is a more detailed view of the plaque.

A google search for that Latin phrase brought up this interesting sculpture in Poland that gets to the heart of "that which we leave behind."

And what of the enticing connection I made at the beginning of this blog about the relationship of the library to DaVinci Code? 

Well can't you see it is obvious .. right there in front of your eyes, to everyone who walks into the library ...

I suppose folks can be forgiven for overlooking the modest recognition plaque, smaller than the other plaques, in tune for the humble generosity of the donors.

Long time friends and supporters of the Conway Public Library, Connie and Dick Brown, gifted the "charge" or circulation desk. Their son, Dan Brown, wrote the "DaVinci Code."

In a future blog we will look at where the original circulation desk was and where it is now.

I will leave you with another mystery, take a look at the second stained glass window from the right with the name Wren. Could that be a another reference to Sir Christopher Wren? or do you think it is a different Wren? 

Friday, January 12, 2018

More "dirt" on the library

No, this is not a journalistic expose on library scandals. Rather, it is literally an opportunity to "get the scoop" on the history of the library's dirt and its relationship to building the library. Probably most people do not think much about dirt that is no longer there, but I do...and if you keep reading, you may find it as interesting as me.

Originally the library entrance was on the north side of the building (more on that later). At some point the entrance was moved to the south side as seen in the picture above. You had to actually enter down into the cellar and here the mysteries begin (see picture below).

It was through this door that I once went to ask David Emerson about the location of the Washington Boulder. For details on that story, see this link. When the addition was put on the east side, some of the original foundation stones were exposed showing the rough cut granite foundation and the more finely shaped water table above.

All building construction starts with dirt and rocks. To get an idea of how the cellar hole for the library was probably dug, we can look at a series of prints from around 1811 illustrating the "cutting down" of Beacon Hill in Boston (click on the images to enlarge them).

In addition to the simple tools used of pick, shovel and horse cart, you can also see the typical New England soil know as "glacial till" consisting of mostly sandy soil and rocks that can range from baseball to basketball size to the size of a house. The main "tool" was a large number of workers. For more info on these and related excavation images see this link at the Boston Public Library (special thanks to the curators and archivists there for this information). Coincidentally there is a fascinating exhibit at the Boston Public Library's Norman B. Leventhal Map Center on display through February 25, 2018 entitled "Beneath Our Feet: Mapping the World Below" that yields more insights into the subject of dirt.

Of course, there was also the option of a steam shovel. The steam shovel was invented by William Otis who received a patent for his design in 1839. However, the time honored pick and shovel technique lasted for many more years, especially in rural areas like Conway.

I am more familiar with the "Mary Anne" style steam shovel seen in the great book, Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel, first published in 1939.

... which can also be seen in toys, T-shirts ...

... lunch boxes ...

... and board games. 

Even more modern excavators can be seen in video games.

I prefer the hands-on toys of various sizes that help teach kids the principles of simple machines involved in excavators and back hoes.

... and museum exhibits where you can learn the physics of pulleys, gears and gizmos.

While we may not know exactly how the dirt was dug out to create the library's cellar, we do know a little about who was responsible for the excavation (however once again mysteries abound). Many of the people involved in building the library in 1900 are celebrated in two framed photo assemblies in the founder's "red" room as well as in the archives of the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room.

Credit for the excavation is given to William E. Davidson of Center Conway (also spelled Centre Conway). 

The caption reads "William E. Davidson, Centre Conway, Contractor for excavations and stone work of basement,..." A contract was made with him on March 21, 1900.

He is also given credit for "... one-half of the sidewalk edge-stones and gutter paving-blocks." 

Why one-half of this part of the project? Who did the other half?

We could not find him on either the 1860 or 1892 maps, but we did find some information on the Conway Public Library's subscription to Ancestry about a William E. Davidson in Conway, but there are more questions than answers. In 1890 he is listed as a farm laborer, then in 1900 as a stone mason, then in 1910 as a dairy farmer.

If you are curious we invite you to visit the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room where you can check out archives from the time period including the Reporter newspaper and Town register for more on him. 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The whirligig of time

Happy New Year!

We start our story today with a whirligig of baby new year 2018 kicking old man 2017 off the plank and into the void of time. Another way of looking at this time of the year is to use the symbol for which this new month is named, the ancient symbol of Janus.

In both cases, there is a circle, or a cycle of old and new coming together. A similar symbol was used when Thomas Silloway, the architect of the Conway Public Library reflected on the somewhat ironic serendipity that occurred with the choice of the site for building the Conway Public Library. In his "Memorial of Thomas Jenks" he wrote:

Silloway borrowed the phrase from William Shakespeare who used it in "Twelfth Night."


 Unlike Shakespeare's threatening use of the phrase, Alfred Lord Tennyson later used it in a much more positive light.

 The term whirligig also refers to a popular old fashioned toy. 

 It is also used in the title of a large number of books and musical recordings. Give it a google. 

 There were a couple large whirligigs in front of Heritage New Hampshire. 

In all, the whirligig of time is an interesting and useful concept, especially at this time of the year. According to Silloway's timeline in the "Memorial" book, he visited Conway on Feb 26 to view the lots under consideration and two days later chose the site we now inhabit. He explained the choice in part: "A remarkably desirable site has been selected, and fortunately near the spot where Dr. Jenks first saw the light of day. (was born) Had the birthplace itself been even reasonably eligible, we are sure he would have had the building erected there."

For more "dirt" on the Conway Public Library follow this blog for our next post.