Monday, December 23, 2019

Our First (and most recent) Christmas Tree

We received an early Christmas gift today at the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room. An envelope arrived from Boothbay Harbor Maine with the donation of a fantastic photo album from around 1910. It is full of vacation type photos showing the Conway ledges, Lucy Farm, Saco River and so on. Also included were a couple very rare photos of an early local Christmas Tree.

Recently the Conway Historical Society restarted a new tradition in the Old Firehouse on Main Street with a new Christmas Tree decorated in an older more traditional manner.

Wooden blocks spell out Merry Christmas.

An older style Santa and traditional toys are displayed - and ornaments that tell a special story full of meaning were explained and added to the tree to be recorded and hung year after year - a blending of the old and new.

As part of the program, I related the story of the first Christmas Tree in the Mount Washington Valley "neighborhood" as originally told by Lady Blanche Murphy from the late 1800's. The tale is written in a biography of her in the History Room.

For more details on this or any other historical subject in the White Mountains, contact us at the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room.

Monday, December 9, 2019

OK, Now Tis the Season!

Get ready to celebrate! I heard today is "Green Monday" another big day for holiday shopping. That was news to me. So I thought it appropriate to post this traditional holiday image.

Ah! The traditional red and green of Christmas. .. at least in the subtropics where I was born and raised.

Our snow came out of a spray can.

Our fireplace was made out of cardboard

In the South, we claimed Christmas for our own, after all y'all banned it for many years.

Public notice from Boston 1659

While controversial, Florida's history of celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas has been documented back to the 16th century, well before the Pilgrims landed or St. Nick visited New York.

Whatever the history, the fact is that New England started appropriating Thanksgiving and Christmas in the early nineteenth century. As we now claim New England as our home, we have learned enough about local winter traditions to offer an outreach program for school and community groups. Through this program you can learn about local ice harvesting, snow rollers, NH snowmobiles, sled dogs, and polar explorers.

One fact documented in the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room collection was the practice of "snowing" the covered bridges.

They actually shoveled snow onto the wooden bridges so that horse drawn sleighs could cross.

The story of the area's first Christmas tree was told by Lady Blanche Murphy. You can actually read about it here.

So grab a seasonally appropriate book, sit back, relax and chill like Santa on the sand!

For more details on this or any other historical subject in the White Mountains, contact us at the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Tis not the Season... Yet!

While the recently forecasted snow was a false alarm for us, its early announcement fits a growing trend. Of course, we know winter is coming, but it seems like every year we "jump the gun" on the season earlier and earlier. I used to joke that we would see Christmas decorations out before Halloween and now that is the norm.

Black Friday used to be the day after Thanksgiving, still three weeks away, and astronomical winter is weeks away from that. For more on the mathematical reason for the seasons see this previous blog.

The past few issues of the Conway Daily Sun and ads on television promote "early access" to Black Friday before Veterans Day. Some commercials declare that it is now "Black Friday Month!" An ad in today's paper announced 2-Day “door busters” this weekend for Veterans Day with a focus on Christmas decorations. Another ad shows discounted Halloween candy and a sale on holiday versions of Mickey Mouse and Snoopy.

I must admit though that I am a victim of this early season syndrome myself. I found myself humming holiday tunes today. So to fit in we recently installed a new "Winter in the Whites" display near the front entrance at the Conway Public Library - a display of local history to help you get you in the mood and hint at the resources we have in the Henney History Room in case you want to explore more.

Do you remember the skimobile at Cranmore?

Why would we display these items about  Byrd, Greely and Chinook? Did you know the Mountain Washington Valley has deep connections to polar explorers? We offer a free outreach program on this topic for local schools and community groups. 

Conway's first winter carnival was held in 1922. More about this event can be seen through our online collection of the Reporter news at this link here.

A number of the images in this display are from the newspaper.

For more details on this or any other historical subject in the White Mountains, contact us at the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Spirits of the Season

Happy Halloween 

This blog is a follow up from a recent, well attended, program on Haunted Hikes in New Hampshire and Maine at the Conway Public Library presented by author Marianne O’Connor. She gave a great program illustrated with spooky audio and visual effects. She also kindly donated a brand new copy of the 2nd edition of her book to the library.  

Inspired by her presentation, I went into the catacombs of the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room cellar and dug out some items to share with you this Halloween night on four of her many stories and hikes about Nancy, Willey, Devil's Den, and Chocorua.  

The Nancy Story 

Thomas Cole was one of the first people to illustrate the site of the Nancy tragedy in 1828. The original sketches can be found in the Detroit Institute of Arts at this link. He also wrote out the story in his journal. 

In 1848, William Oakes included the story in his book, Scenery of the White Mountains

Some of the prints were hand colored. 

The original drawing used to make the print is at the Currier Museum and can be seen here.

That story is certainly enough to give one the "willies." In fact some say that term comes from a historical event that happened in New Hampshire. See this link here.

The Willey Slide

This painting by Charles Codman on display at the Conway Public Library is a fairly accurate depiction of the site where the Willey Slide occured. This view has often been confused with another much more famous painting in Washington D.C. at the Smithsonian's National Gallery of Art. For more on this "landscape of terror" see one of our previous blogs here.  

Devil's Den

The large rocks at the bottom of this painting by Thomas Hill now at the New Hampshire Historical Society formed a cave like feature known as Devil's Den below the cathedral cave on Cathedral Ledge in Conway. For more information on the painting see this link. The Devil's Den was a popular tourist attraction in the 19th century and was promoted in guide books for the area.

Asher B. Durand did two paintings showing the Devil's Den. One can be found at the Albany Institute here and in a private collection here. It was also featured in stereo views when Cathedral Ledge was known as Hart's Ledge. See these links here and here.

The Curse of Chocorua

Our final story for tonight is the legend of Chocorua. This also fascinated Thomas Cole when he was a young romantic. He did a number of sketches to prepare for a now lost painting known only today from this print. The sketches can be seen at this link. Like the Nancy story he also wrote out the legend of Chocorua in his journal.

For the relationship of this painting with Conway see this blog here.

For more details on this or any other historical subject in the White Mountains, contact us at the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Clues in the Clapboards

Just down Main Street from the Conway Public Library is the Eastman Lord House, part of the Conway Historical Society.

From archival records we know that the earliest section of the house was built in 1818 and then it was added to and expanded over the years. This is one of the buildings we focus on we we do free outreach walking and driving tours of Conway and the Mount Washington Valley.

Recently, two sections of it were scraped in preparation for repainting it. While the main purpose is to protect the building and present a pleasing appearance for potential visitors, the project also exposed some interesting physical evidence that helps us better understand the story of the Eastman Lord House.

The clues are in the clapboards. After the paint was scraped off, a close observation revealed that clapboards were joined together in two different ways.

The section on the right with the door and the bay window facing south towards Main Street is joined with butt joints where two flat surfaces meet together with no overlap.

The section on the left (with no door) facing east towards the Sweet Maple Cafe using the older style feathered joint where the boards are tapered and overlap to create a more weather tight joint.

According to James Garvin’s book A Building History of Northern New England, pp. 32-34, “It was an almost universal practice of carpenters until well into the nineteenth century to skive and lap the ends of clapboards in order to provide a weatherproof joint. By 1830 or so, this technique was abandoned in favor of simple butt joints at the ends of clapboards,”

You can see this reference online here. Or you can check this book out from the Conway Public Library here at this link.  

Here is the building with the primer on and drying for the next coat of paint hiding the history we could only see for a fleeting moment.

For more details on this or any other historical subject in the White Mountains, contact us at the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Five Guys and a Mountain

One hundred sixty-five years ago today...

... five guys stopped by the side of a road to sketch Chocorua Lake and Mountain. The sketch is now at the Smithsonian's Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York City. See this link for more info. You can also read about it in a book at the Conway Public Library. See this link.

For more on the book's cover painting see this link here

Here is the site of the pencil sketch today. The barn was moved back away from busy Route 16 only a few years ago. In this photograph you can see part of the original foundation of the barn to the right of the photo.

For more on this view, the stone walls and surrounding fields see our previous blog here. The Henney History Room of the Conway Public Library offers a free outreach program to local schools and community groups on this view and its history. For a somewhat different perspective on this view and how it has been preserved see this blog here.

A detail of the sketch shows four of the five artists (click on images to enlarge them).

This sketch is inscribed at the lower right "chicorua pond Sep 28./54" for September 28, 1854. Notice the spelling of Chocorua as chicorua. Directly below each of the figures are their names. Reading from left to right they are Edwards, Dodge, Ordway and Champney.

These would be Thomas Edwards (1795-1856), John Wood Dodge (1807-1893), Alfred Ordway (1819-1897) and Benjamin Champney (1817-1907).  

The fifth artist is Daniel Huntington (1816-1906) who is "off camera" sketching the other four. So we see the scene through his eyes. The Cooper Hewitt Museum has a number of other sketches from that same trip that we will explore in future blogs.  

While Huntington's sketch is quite accurate, an oil painting said to have resulted from this sketching trip is very fanciful.

For more on this painting now in the collection of the New York Historical Society see this link

We can also look through the eyes of the artist Benjamin Champney depicted at the very right of the sketch. A few years ago, the New Hampshire Historical Society acquired a large collection of sketches by Champney that included a number of sketches done that same day.

It may be possible that this is the sketch that Champney was sketching when Huntington was sketching him. For more information on this sketch see this link.

We know from another sketch in the collection that Champney went down to the edge of the lake that same day and made this sketch.

Here you can see the mountain peaks from right to left: Paugus, Passaconway, Wonalancet and Whiteface. For more information on this sketch see this link.

For more details on this or any other historical subject in the White Mountains, contact us at the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Pumpkin Spice is Back!

Today is the first official day of autumn and in this blog we will look at iconic images of fall such as this one from 1871 by Benjamin Champney who lived and worked in Conway.

But first, a bit about the official start of the season. The equinox actually occurred at 3:50 am this morning eastern time.

Recently we did an outreach program for the John Fuller Elementary School and mapped the earth and sky to examine what that means. We used a globe, protractor and planisphere to calculate the key angles of the sun and the latitudes and axis of the earth to understand what makes the seasons change.

They had fun doing it, and don't tell them,... but it was actually a sneaky hands-on way to teach a little math.

If you would like to sign up for that free program for your school or community group let us know. We also have another program called "Art of the Harvest" which this blog draws many of it's images from.

The image above is actually a detail of this larger image below. I just felt that with the blog title I had to show the pumpkins up close first (click on images to enlarge them).

Here you can see the foliage that matches this time of the year when the colors are transitioning. From the chimneys you can see the welcoming smoke representing warmth and dinner. A variety of livestock graze in the field. The men are shocking.

Say what? Shocking?
The tepee shaped bundles they are building are called shocks. Specifically they are corn shocks. While you can find these for sale today as decorations, historically they were used to properly dry corn in the field before today's modern methods using hot air and silos. 

This was not the sweet corn of the summer. For more on sweet corn see our previous blog here.

This Benjamin Champney image of Humphrey's Ledge, Mount Washington and Adams looking from the Saco and the North Conway Meadows near his studio from 1870 has often been described as a haying scene. In a previous blog here we discussed the need for art historians to take a course in farming forensics. The first obvious clue is the color of the crop. Hay is cut when green. This crop is yellowish brown. Again, you can see tinges of fall colors and that period of transition in the foliage. Compare the colors of the trees in another local Champney view showing the hay harvest in this blog here.

The shape of the crop bundles in the field confirms it. As that previous blog explains, hay is not bundled and tied like this grain. It is piled into rounded shapes called haycocks before being loaded onto wagons for the barn or into larger haystacks if left in the field. A detail of our image shows that these structures are stooks, not shocks. This crop is a grain not corn or hay.

While real leaves are starting to fall and goldenrod and blue asters fill our fields, more modern ceramic, metal and plastic pumpkins and colored silk leaves stock the shelves at nearby Walmart, Home Depot, Lowes and Michael's stores.

In cultural traditions, the past and present mingle together and emerge separately. To help us understand the world around us, our family has often participated in living history or creative anachronism. We have built both shock and stook and used horses to do it. Here is a diagram of the horses we used.

Think of this "horse" like a saw horse, or a log "dog." Terms that were more familiar when animals were expected to work not just serve as pets.

The horse helps you built around the point where the cross bar fits.

Then the bundles can be tied at the top (this kid is now a professional engineer in Boston).

Then the cross bar is pulled out one direction and the horse can be pulled out at a 90 degree angle, leaving the bundles to stand on their own.

... and clever kids always find new ways to have fun!

... and start a new trend.

For more details on this or any other historical subject in the White Mountains, contact us at the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room.