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

1 comment:

  1. And how come that family tradition doesn't include Dad in the stockade?? I love the idea of seeing how houses have evolved. That would be a fun day.