Saturday, September 27, 2014

Strawberry Banke

York Congregational church and town hall
While we were rousting about the southern tip of Maine we also explored York, a little town with more history than I would have guessed, having grown up in California and never taken any classes in Maine History.  (I'm a little better at Spanish missions.)  The York Plantation was originally called by the area's Abenaki Indian name, Agamenticus in 1624, but most of the settlers were from Bristol, so they started calling it that after 1638.  That didn't last long.  It was renamed Gorgeana  by Ferdinando Gorges, Lord Proprietor of Maine under Charles I, and became the first incorporated city in the American colonies in 1642.  Eventually Charles died, followed by Gorges and control of Maine passed to the Massachusetts colony.  They renamed the town York and reorganized it under a new charter so it technically now holds the second oldest city charter in the country, being beat out by neighboring Kittery by two days .  It was a major trading center before trading fell of in the early 1800s and was the location of the King's Gaol for Massachusetts colony, which we visited.

York Gaol
The Gaol still stands where it has for the last 300 years and is open for tourists.  Among other things, I learned that Gaol is pronounced "jail" (I had always assumed it was pronounced like a hockey goal) and the job of gaoler was considered quite a good gig in those days.  Way better than today's "prison guard".  Half of the building served as the gaoler's home, where he lived, in 1789 at least, with his wife and 4 children.  The wife got to cook the meals for the prisoners, lucky lass.  The walls of the cells were wood lined and looked pretty easy to break out of, but underneath the wood was about a foot of solid Maine granite.  No one was going to kick through that.  The gaoler's home is now furnished with period furniture and original portraits of the 1789 gaoler and his wife.  Quite posh.  Civil service employment was apparently quite desirable in ye olde days.

Gaoler's house with portrait of Mrs, Gaoler

Ducking chair
Besides the cells, the gaol exhibit also had the colonial era ducking chair used to dip disobedient wives and gossips into the York river.  At the right time of year I'd imagine that could be a pretty effective deterrent.  The day we were there I wouldn't have minded so much.  There was also a set of stocks out front where miscreants could be put on display for the amusement and target practice of the populace.  Here is a picture of Vicki taking a picture of Christopher in the stocks.  It's a little photographic joke that I'm sure no one has ever thought of before.  Actually, we might have thought of it before.  In fact, this is a matter of never ending hilarity for our family.  We are so pathetic.

Repeat offender

If you look closely at a map you will discover that New Hampshire actually does have a coastline.  All of about 16 miles worth at its southern tip.  Within this tiny stretch of ocean front, just below Maine, sits Portsmouth, a fairly significant port town.  Like many east coast towns in the 1950's, downtown Portsmouth was deteriorating and was slated for "urban renewal".  Today that often means rebuilding and sprucing up a downtown area but in
Strawbery Banke (the grass area use to be part of the harbor)
the 1950s it was more likely to mean razing whole neighborhoods and starting from scratch.  Portsmouth is the oldest community in New Hampshire and its citizens were none too keen on having three centuries of town history wiped away, so they got up a historic preservation society, bought up a 10 acre section of downtown and
Victorian garden
converted it into a giant outdoor museum.  When the first European settlement was established at Portsmouth, it was called Strawbery Banke, after the berries that grew wild along the banks of the Piscataqua River, so that's what they called the museum when it opened in 1965.  (Spelling was considerably less rigorous in those days.)

Other sites, such as Colonial Williamsburg or the reconstructed Fort Boonesborough we saw last year, try to recreate a specific time in history.  At Strawbery Banke they took a more longitudinal approach.  One house might be restored to its colonial appearance, the next to the WW II era and the next to the early twentieth century immigration period.  The idea is to give a feeling for how neighborhoods evolve and change over time.

Learning how they built houses in the 17th century
Of the forty-some-odd buildings on the site, so far ten have been fully refurbished to different time periods.  Each of these has an American flag out front with the appropriate number and configuration of stars for its time period.  The oldest fly Union Jacks.  Inside some have modern day interpreters/guides, others have historical reinactors role playing their house's era.  One house is split down the middle, the right half restored to its 18th century condition when it was built, the other half restored to the appearance of 1959 when the last tenent moved out.  It was fun to see Lucy on the telly and identical kitchen appliances to those our parents had in our homes when we were kids.  Four other buildings are torn open and used for exhibits on archaeology, architecture and post-and-beam construction techniques.

A ticket to the museum is good for two days though we were quite happy with as much as we could see in one.  But it is certainly worth whatever amount of time you choose to spend.

 Bonus Pics

Governor's house from the 1880s

Model of the above house on a post in the garden.  We saw the same thing done all over New England.  I guess it's a thing.

World War II era bakery and general store

The shop girl talked about President Roosevelt non-stop

Learning to use ration stamps

Making change in the 17th century

21st century squirrel in residence

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Lighthouse Quartet

Portland, ME
After our time "down east", we drove back "up west" to Portland, a small city of about 66,000.   The Greater Portland metropolitan area is home to over half a million people, more than one-third of Maine's total population.  The initial settlement in the area was established in 1623 but, just like Roanoke, this settlement disappeared without a trace while its founder was back in England trying to recruit a second wave of immigrants.  A new settlement was established in 1633 and over the next 150 years was burned to the ground by the Wampanoag indians, then by the French and again during the revolution by the Royal Navy.  Finally, it was incinerated once more by a fire started during the city's 4th of July party in 1866.  You would have thought they would have taken the hint by now, but it was the only harbor in Maine that remained reliably ice free in the winter, so they kept re-building it.

Wild (?) Ducks
We actually stayed at the Wild Duck campground just south of Portland in the small town of Scarborough.  At the park entrance is a pond with a flock of maybe 40 or 50 ducks most days.  I'm not sure how "wild" they are.

Maine was an early adopter of prohibition, outlawing the sale or manufacture of alcohol in 1851.  This lead to the Portland Rum Riots of 1855, involving primarily Irish immigrants who felt the law was an assault on their traditional culture (I swear I am not making this up).  Faced with 2000  Irishmen who hadn't had a drink in 4 years, Portland's Mayor Dow panicked and called in the local militia.  One rioter was killed and seven wounded.  When it was learned that Mayor Dow himself had a sizable stash of booze "for medicinal use" things went from bad to worse.  The Maine prohibition law was repealed in 1856.

Antique car show
The day after we arrived we went looking for a dog park.  The internet informed us that Bug Light Park in South Portland would be just the ticket.  It lied.  Although there were dogs off leashes, this was apparently by common custom rather than any attempt at compliance with park rules.  We just figured, when in Rome...  and let Julian run off a little energy.  Unbeknownst to us, there was an antique auto show going on at the park that day.  There were rows of shiny cars representing just about every decade of the last century which I browsed through with my camera in hand while Vicki and Chris walked the dogs.

More shiny cars
Bug Light with dog walkers
At the north end of the park sits the Portland Breakwater Lighthouse, an elegant little building nicknamed the Bug Light due to its diminuitive size.  It was built in 1875 and modeled on an ancient Greek monument, though it was constructed if cast iron plates, not marble.  At the opposite end of the park is a memorial to the WW II liberty ships which represented most of the wartime contribution of the Portland
Liberty ship memorial
shipyard.  The yard had a contract with Britain to build 30 "Ocean" class transport ships in 1941 and when America entered the war, rather than desiging anything new, the navy just told the shipyard "build us some more of those".  So in 4 years 30,000 workers, mostly women, turned out over 290 of the things.  There are now just 2 left.  Most of them did their jobs satisfactorily and were then left to rust.

We spent the next couple of days exploring the beach
Nice beaches
towns between Portland and the New Hampshire border... Biddeford, Kinnebunk Port, Wells Beach, York Town. They all kind of look the same.  The beaches seemed nice but access was limited and parking was by a permit you had to go get downtown, which seemed weird.  There weren't many people braving the water.  By this time of year here it's getting pretty cold.  There are still lots of lighthouses and seafood shacks.

We stopped at Fort McClary State Park at Kittery Point, almost right on the New Hampshire border.  This was one of the young United States' coastal defense forts.  First built in 1808, it was named after local hero Andrew McClary, an officer who fell at
Ft. McClary State Park
the Battle of Bunker Hill.  It protected the harbor at Portsmouth, NH.  What remains there are the old block house and a few of the stone fortifications.  Unlike Fort Knox, this Fort actually saw some action in the War of 1812 and was manned during the Civil War though it did not see any actual Rebs.  It was mostly unmanned thereafter and had largely fallen into disrepair by the start of the 20th century, so the feds gave it to the State of Maine in 1924. Across from the fort, at the mouth of the Harbor are two lighthouses.  The Portsmouth Harbor Light sits on the New Hampshire side while the Whale Back Light sits on a tiny island on the Maine side of the harbor entrance.  Both are still in operation.

Whale Back Light and keeper's house
For  those of you who aren't tired of lighthouses yet, on the way back to our motorhome we stopped by the Nubble Light at Cape Neddick for a few photos.  This is a quite good looking light that sits between York and Wells Beach.  In fact, it is so good looking that it is considered a quintessential example of lighthouseness.  The Voyager spacecraft, which carries photographs of Earth’s most prominent man made structures and natural features in case it finally fall into the hands of intelligent extraterrestrials, includes a photo of the Nubble Light along with images of the Great Wall of China and the Taj Mahal.  Pretty impressive.

Nubble Light

Bonus Pics

The block house at Ft. McClary

Rifle ports in the old fortifications

Portsmouth Harbor Light

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Down East

We spent 10 days in "down East" Maine which, for us out of staters, means the eastern half of the Maine coast. Why "down east"?  According to Down East Magazine, "When ships sailed from Boston to ports in Maine (which were to the east of Boston), the wind was at their backs, so they were sailing downwind, hence the term 'Down East.' And it follows that when they returned to Boston they were sailing upwind; many Mainers still speak of going 'up to Boston,' despite the fact that the city lies approximately 50 miles to the south of Maine’s southern border."  Above Lubec, the rest of Maine slopes inland to the northwest and the rest of the Atlantic coast belongs to Canuckistan.  This is a very rural area with no cities, no significant museums or historical sites, few restaurants or theaters but lots of forests, rivers, blueberry fields, estuaries and fishing villages.  It's lovely but hard to make a coherent narrative out of.   So I'm going to switch into full photo-journal mode to give you my impressions of  Down East.

 The coast is rocky and rugged with packs of wild schnoodles and those seagulls you remember from "The Birds"

Lobster are quite big in this area

And hugely advertised.

Wild flowers abound...
... as do old cemeteries
Every town has a church or two...
...mostly white with pointy steeples...
... some bigger than others.

Lots of quaint houses

...and a few more impressive ones.

We took a boat tour of the Pleasant River estuary

...saw some fishing shacks in need of repair...
... and a few birds.

Canadian geese just passing through on their way south.
Quoddy Point Light sits as far east as you can go in America
The other side of the bay is Canada