Friday, June 29, 2018

Summer Blockbuster

No... it is not "Jaws" or "Star Wars" or "Jurassic Universe." It is the most recent display from the Henney History Room near the main entrance of the Conway Public Library.

The exhibit focuses on summer traditions. 

In the center of the top shelf is the book "Summer on Foss" by Joyce Blue. This book examines the many summers enjoyed in Eaton on Foss Mountain by Keith and Nella Henney, the founders of the Henney History Room. Adorning the top of the book are noise makers, sunglasses and a patriotic rubber duck symbolizing the Old Home Weeks, bean hole suppers, parades and Ducky Day fundraisers of the summer. 

To the left on the top shelf is a children's book on "Mowing." Children's books provide a wonderful exploration of historical topics. This cover shows the use of "heavy horses" pulling a mowing machine. It is a great insight into changing technology and farming practices. See our previous blog about the changing roles of "old iron." 

Earlier today, as I drove by the Saco Valley Overlook just before heading into North Conway I stopped to view the progress of haying or mowing on a big field across the Saco River.

The river in the middle is now popular for kaying. The beach on the right is for summer sun bathing and picnicking. One can often see a Heron fishing in the backwaters near the beach.

In the far distance you can see the remains of older, now abandoned, fields running up the slope of the Moat Mountains, now grown over and returning to forest. Hidden up on that slope is the nearly forgotten Thompson's Falls discovered by our own local artist Benjamin Champney.

I could still see some patches of snow on Mount Washington and bits of the ledges with long forgotten, but once popular tourist attractions of caves and cathedrals, now popular for hiking and rock climbing.  

The overlook was established in 1973 by the Pequawket Foundation in memory of Robert H. Kennett in honor of Mrs. Harvey D. Gibson (click on pictures to enlarge them).

The hay cut from these fields will be stored in barns along West Side Road on the other side of the river. To get to West Side Road from the Conway Public Library you can pass through a covered bridge and picnic in another nearby one. Yesterday I drove along West Side Road watching hay and strawberries being harvested. You can check out our previous blog about strawberries at this link.

Above the mowing book is a picture of folks swimming under a covered bridge.

We will be doing more research on swimming holes near covered bridges for an upcoming WMUR Chronicle program.  Another part of the display celebrates the patriotic fever of the Fourth of July. A miniature rustic bench reflects a popular motif used by T.E.M. White and Chase in their photography.


Historically, summer was the key to growing food for New Englanders to survive the rest of the year.
Sweet corn for example supposed to be "knee high by the Fourth of July."

Settler's Green outlet stores now occupies what was once the White Mountain Airport where Wylie Apt would provide aerial tours of Conway and the White Mountains. The next shelf displays three summer related books by the late Donald Hall (September 20, 1928 - June 23, 2018).  

In the foreground is an assortment of images used to promote farming and tourism.

 Below are some illustrations from a tourist brochure

Pictures include Echo Lake and the ledges (now part of a State Park). The location of Cathedral cave and Pitman's Arch rock formations are known to only a few now.

On the bottom shelf, is a map known as the Idler map. It is a wonderful resource with many interesting details.

It shows the location of "White Photographer," and the Whitaker Bros house and barn. The house is gone, but the barn remains. On the map you can see the foot paths that are now Whitaker Woods. 

The bottom shelf also shows the old Drive-In Theater, now a housing development and the once famous Wizard Birch that was in Cathedral Woods near the Abenaki Gift Shop.  For more details on summer in the Conways and the White Mountains please visit the Henney History Room at the Conway Public Library.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

History Happens Every Day

Oh brother! ...

... history can be a mysterious and messy endeavor.

A local history center recently used the slogan “History Happens Everyday” on their website. There are several ways to look at this statement.

First, there is the idea that events happen everyday and that historians should keep a record of this "history" for future generations. On a daily basis we review local newspapers and magazines to clip and preserve in our vertical files by subject or family name so that your children's children's children can find them easily. We are always adding today's news for tomorrow's history. 

However, that is only part of the story. Doing history is more than just collecting and filing away stuff. A second way of looking at it this statement is that history is an interpretation of primary sources. While we do our best to identify the people and places seen in archival items and photos, the complete or accurate truth is not always obvious. The photograph above is a case in point and a useful “object lesson.”

History is not always clear even with 20-20 hindsight. We don't always have all the information we need to make the proper conclusions. Sometimes we make mistakes.

In his book The Conways published in 1995, curator David Emerson wrote a caption (p. 96) that identified this building as "The William Palmer House."

Last week, historian William Marvel challenged that attribution, (Conway Daily Sun, “Then and Now” article, Thursday May 31, 2018 p. 6) (click on image to enlarge it and/or see the paper at this link)

Using the same photo as a primary document, Marvel attributed the house to William's brother John then ipso facto, everything that derived from that original assumption is now suspect. With the house now tied to John rather than William Palmer new threads of history open up and Marvel weaves a wonderful story of social upheaval and cultural tensions into the picture.

We will look at these issues later, but first let's take a look "behind the curtain."

While the records are a little murky, according to our PastPerfect software it seems the photo was accessioned in 2010. Below is an image of the record with the old information before updating and here is a link to that item accession # 2010.500.366 with some of the new information. More updated information will be posted online soon. It takes a while to fact check everything and input the new data.

There is no documentation about where the photo came from. We often get donated items left on our "doorstep" with no contact info about who or where it came from. However, on the back is a handwritten notation reading "Wm Palmer House So Conway" so that explains the original identification. The number 230 and "Moses Drown?" and"Tun or r..?" are enigmatic. The number B-9-5 is our location code, box B, folder 9, item 5.

The type of paper and angle of the image tells us it is not an original print but rather a copy of a copy. 

We will also be adding more information to our records from maps from 1860 and 1892, family history research from Ancestry. com and Nellie M. Carver’s 1971 book on Goshen, including this picture of the John Palmer house from the gable end (p. 91).

With the picture she includes a romantic poem about old houses by Isabel Fiske Conant and info on some of the previous owners. In the same chapter she explains some of the fascinating connections of the “summer residents” as Nellie Carver called them.

In his article, Marvel has made an important contribution is these local history connections to stories of scandal, betrayal and decay.

There is a type of aesthetic that appreciates the rustic taste and the romance of ruins. It can be seen on the cover of Carver's book and in her description of how the summer folks enjoyed picnics at the "Stoney Chimneys," as they called an old fireplace left standing when the house was gone (pp. 90, 123, 124).

According to Marvel part of the appeal of Goshen was the opportunity for the summer people to go "slumming among the northern country folk" and to rusticate "among the amusing provincials of northern New Hampshire."

He tells the story of the Fenollosa family. Other famous summer residents in the area included interesting internationally known interlopers such as Glackens, Greely, Kirk, Baird and Nesmith. We will explore more on these folks in future blogs. 

Speaking of research based on primary sources, if you look closely at a detail of the cover of Emerson's book ...

... here is proof positive that Tom Hanks used to rusticate in Conway (just kidding, but it sure looks like him).

You see, it is all in how you use the evidence.