New England, Part 4 (A Little History Too)

On June 5, 2016 · 0 Comments

New England, with some of the earliest colonies in a place that would later become the United States, harbored hundreds of years of history along with a people who appreciated their ties to the past. Most of my previous trips through the region hugged the coast. I relished an opportunity to wander inland to places less tread by tourists. The history there may not have been as memorable as its coastal cousins although it had been continuous and intense since colonial times.


Hancock, New Hampshire

Every little rural town oozed Eighteenth Century charm. We must have driven through hundreds of hamlets on backcountry roads taking the straightest line between races, although the lines were never truly straight. They all seemed to follow old colonial paths that followed ancient Native American trails that followed tracks through the forest blazed by animals millennia ago.

Hancock, New Hampshire (map) seemed to follow the typical model of a New England settlement with its town square, gazebo and a protestant church with requisite steeple. This place was settled by Revolutionary War veterans who named it for John Hancock, "signer of the Declaration of Independence (who happened to own nearly a thousand acres within the town boundaries), [although] there is no evidence that Governor Hancock ever visited or benefited the community in any way."

We stayed overnight in Hancock because our race took place in a nearby state park the next morning. I got to walk around and take a few photos. Otherwise we would have driven through Hancock without stopping to appreciate it, like we did with countless other Hancock equivalents, similarly attractive and historic.


Springfield Armory


Springfield Armory

I’d gotten in the habit of looking for National Park Service properties before each trip because there were often hidden gems to be found. NPS listed scores of options in New England although they tended to congregate along the coast. Pickings were slim farther inland. The Springfield Armory National Historic Site in Springfield, Massachusetts looked interesting though, and caught my eye (map). It wasn’t far from our route either. The Armory became a new nation’s primary arsenal during the Revolutionary War and "for nearly two centuries, the US Armed Forces and American industry looked to Springfield Armory for innovative engineering and superior firearms." It also included the "world’s largest historic US military small arms collection." Too bad I didn’t get to see it.

If I collected National Park Service passport stamps, a hobby I know some 12MC readers enjoy, I probably would have paid closer attention to the website. The armory closed on Tuesdays before Memorial Day. It never dawned on me that a park would be closed on a Tuesday. So there we stood outside of this large edifice and took a few photos because we were already there and what else were we supposed to do, and then moved on to other activities we’d planned for Springfield. The whole setup was kind-of weird too. The armory shared a campus with a local community college so visitors had to wind their way around the school to the back, and past people directing traffic who made sure everyone parked in the right spot.

I probably don’t care enough about firearms to go back although I certainly enjoy wandering outside for a few moments on a beautiful day.


Mark Twain House


Mark Twain House

I guess I knew somewhere in the back of my mind that Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), lived in Connecticut for many years although his writing drew more inspiration from his formative years in Missouri, growing up along the Mississippi River. Still, themes of New England crept into books occasionally such as in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. He lived in a fancy house in Hartford for seventeen years, 1874 to 1891 (map). The home has since been preserved as the Mark Twain House and Museum. Some of his most influential and best-known works were penned within his upper-floor study on that property, including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Life on the Mississippi, and of course the aforementioned Connecticut Yankee.

The tour wound through the interior of Twain’s home although it was one of those places that didn’t allow indoor photographs. The 12MC audience will have to take my word that it was pretty impressive inside, or simply examine the many photos plainly visible on the Intertubes. The docent explained that Twain was a lousy businessman in spite of his success as an author. The house actually belonged to his wife who came from a very wealthy family. She owned it outright in her name. Otherwise Twain would have lost the house during bankruptcy.


Air Line Trail


Air Line Trail

I mentioned the Air Line Trail, its proximity to the Connecticut-Massachusetts-Rhode Island Tripoint and the infamous 4-train collision that happened there in Of Course Geo-Oddities. It began as the New Haven, Middletown and Willimantic Railroad (NHM&W) in 1873 as a high speed corridor between Boston and New York City. According to the Air Line State Park Trail site, the name came from an imaginary shortest distance "through the air" between those two cities. While completing that theoretical line proved impossible, portions did adhere to the standard and requiring great cuts, fills and bridges to tame the terrain. This railroad was quite profitable for awhile.

Successful businessmen and prominent citizens, including President Benjamin Harrison, rode this increasingly well known line that had gained its name as it sped across Eastern Connecticut with its seemingly luminescent cars being easily recognized – especially at twilight.

The Air Line was a marvel of the Industrial Revolution, like so many other endeavors that took root in 19th century New England. Gradually technology overcame the usefulness of the Air Line and now the former rail bed has been converted into a linear park, for walkers, bikers and equestrians to enjoy.


Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum


Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum

I had so much fun at the Woodrow Wilson birthplace a few months ago that I decided to check out the lifelong home of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Hyde Park, New York (map). Technically this wasn’t New England although it seemed close enough so I kept it on the list.

The residence had been preserved as part of his Presidential Library and Museum. There were distinct differences between Wilson’s home and Roosevelt’s abode. Woodrow Wilson was the son of a minister and his home reflected a certain modesty. FDR lived on what would accurately be described as an "estate" called Springwood occupying an entire square mile of land (2.6 square kilometres). He came from a distinguished family and his father increased the family fortune even farther through coal and railroad interests.

Roosevelt became the first president to designate a presidential library to hold his records. He built the library on his estate and kept an office there that he used during trips to Hyde Park while president. Some of his Fireside Chat radio broadcasts took place in the library. His original office remained untouched after he passed away in 1945 and it became a permanent exhibit, an integral part of the museum. Prior to FDR, presidential papers didn’t necessarily have a permanent home. They were personal property of each president and many records became lost over time. He set a precedent by donating his papers to the American people along with a means for public access by designating a permanent library. He then went a step further by donated his entire estate to the government with the understanding that he and his immediate family could remain there indefinitely. The family relinquished the property soon after his death.


Reminders of the Past Everywhere


Holiday Inn Cemetery

The past always lurked around the corner wherever we traveled through New England, sometimes in unexpected ways. I was reminded of that as we checked into our hotel in Rochester, New Hampshire (map). There, beside the parking lot and next to the highway stood a small cemetery. It reminded me of the impermanence of people who came before. I doubted that families who established a cemetery a century and a half ago in what was probably a rustic setting ever imagined their loved ones would end up sandwiched between a noisy road and a strip mall. Nothing lasts forever.


New England articles:

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

New England, Part 1 (Give me a Sign)

On May 25, 2016 · 2 Comments

I returned recently from another one of my hurried trips, this one to the New England states. All of them. Plus New York for good measure. Those of you who followed Twelve Mile Circle’s Twitter account knew that already. The rest of the 12MC audience may not have noticed anything at all. I wrote a bunch of articles in advance and they posted automatically, quite happily, as I cruised backcountry roads for a week.


New England Marathon Series - Packet Pickup

Once again, I chauffeured my favorite runner through small town America as part of a Mainly Marathons event, this time to the New England Series. This group catered specifically to people hoping to run marathons or half-marathons in all 50 U.S. States (my favorite runner focused on half-marathons), stringing together back-to-back races. The 2016 New England series stopped at Sanford, Maine; Greenfield, New Hampshire; Springfield, Vermont; Northfield, Massachusetts; Coventry, Rhode Island; Simsbury, Connecticut; and New Paltz, New York, on succeeding days, May 15-21. A race happened at dawn, then the circus packed up and moved on to the next state, and the cycle repeated itself. Seven races, seven states, seven days.



This was the fourth time I’ve attended a Mainly Marathons series, with my runner completing the Dust Bowl, Riverboat and Center of the Nation series previously. That was a lot of states. With New England now done, I’ve attended their races in obscure corners of 23 different states. Recently the Mainly Marathons group added a five kilometre option mostly for those of us who attended along with the longer-distance runners. I actually ran the 5K each day mostly so I wouldn’t stand next to the snack table for a couple of hours and stuff myself silly. I don’t have any intention of moving up to the half-marathon or marathon distances though. 5K each day was plenty enough for me.

We made time, as usual, for touring during the afternoon as we traveled between races. I’ll get into all of the details in the next batch of articles. I thought I’d start things off more scattershot with a few signs I noticed along the way. I’ve had a thing for unusual signs and this trip was no different. Ordinarily I’d present these at the end of a series although I thought I’d use them to whet the 12MC appetite. Think of today as an appetizer.


Welcome to Vermont


Welcome to Vermont

Surprisingly, I stopped at only one state border to record my crossing. This one occurred on U.S. Route 5 / Vermont Route 11 just after we passed the Connecticut River, as we left New Hampshire (map). This photo was particularly notable for my lack of skills as I managed to capture the top of the side-view mirror at the bottom of the image. That happened because I was too lazy to get out of the car when we stopped, and too incompetent to hold a camera high enough to get a decent picture. That was also the only photo I took of the car, now as I considered it, although I probably should have taken more. We rented a compact car because it was just the two of us. We figured it would be fine and we’d save some gas money. The rental agency must have given away all of the compacts on the lot though, because we ended up with a black, two-door Ford Mustang with only 500 miles on the odometer. We cruised around New England for a week in a sweet ride.


Think of the Children


New England Marathon Series - Day 3

I still wasn’t sure why the Toonerville Trail in Springfield, Vermont (map) felt it was necessary to ask us politely with a please and a thank you to think about our children in ALL CAPS. So I thought of the children. Unfortunately my only thought was a sign invoking the overworn and pandering expression "Think of the Children."


School Bus?


School Bus

While fixated on thinking of the children, or so I thought, I began to notice strange minivan school buses in multiple New England states. I’d never seen anything like them before. Were they used by private schools with far-flung pupils? Or for select children in special programs? I could definitely consider a role for these non-bus buses, and wondered if this was a common solution in New England (or elsewhere) or if I’d focused on them simply because they were unusual. I spotted this example on Interstate 91 near Deerfield, Massachusetts (map).

Also, before anyone becomes too concerned with my driving skills and posts a disapproving comment, let it be known that my passenger took this photograph. I kept both hands on the wheel and maintained a safe distance.


Marginal Way


New England Marathon Series - Day 1

I’ve often featured street names on 12MC, the more unusual the better. Generally I’ve only observed them on a map. That’s why I was so pleased to find Marginal Way in Sanford, Maine in the wild (map). It was right on the race course! Runners actually plodded directly down Marginal Way. I wondered about the name. How should a homeowner feel about property considered marginal? Would it affect its resale value? It ran along the edge — maybe the margin? — of a nearby pond. Was that how it earned its weird designation?


Don’t Jump!


Henniker Bridge

This was an instance where I thought a sign might be overkill. Certainly people have jumped from bridges, although generally very high ones and often quite tragically. That wouldn’t be the case here at the Henniker Bridge in Henniker, New Hampshire (map), only a few feet above the water. This was a covered bridge of recent vintage constructed as a pedestrian pathway over the Contoocook River. It served as a footpath between the main campus of New England College and various athletic fields.

College students do seem to get into all kinds of antics. Maybe the sign was necessary after all.


Road Trip


New England Marathon Series - Day 4

The driving force, the entire premise of this series, were races held in different states. Travel distances ranked higher in important than sightseeing for most participants. As a result, races generally fell within rural, out-of-the-way places near state borders. Sometimes this took us onto America’s Byways, for example the beautiful Connecticut River Byway extending through several states including this spot in Northfield, Massachusetts (map). We ended up putting a little over 2,000 miles (3,200 km) on that Mustang, many of them on winding country roads through quiet scenery.


New England articles:

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

Rotonda Elsewhere

On May 22, 2016 · 0 Comments

The Italian word rotonda meant the same as the English word rotunda, and both derived from the Latin word rotundus meaning round. I’d tugged that etymological thread in Rotonda West. However, Rotonda West wasn’t the only Rotonda. Far from it. Many more existed although usually in Italy as one would expect, or in places where Italian and Roman influences found a home.

Rotonda, Basilicata, Italy


Rotonda
Rotonda by Basilicata Turistica on Flickr (cc)

I discovered an entire town of Rotonda and it was a descent size too (map). Perhaps 3,500 people lived there. According to the Italian version of Wikipedia, the name first appeared in a document in 1083. A castle sat atop a knob hill and a town formed around it in a circular pattern. This physical appearance described the town and gave it a name. The castle fell to ruin long ago and the town grew imprecisely over generations so nothing remained of its roundness other than the name.


Villa Almerico Capra "La Rotonda"


Villa Capra "La Rotonda"
Villa Capra "La Rotonda" by Hilde Kari on Flickr (cc)

Outside of Vicenza in northeast Italy rose a magnificent villa from the Sixteenth Century. It came to be known as Villa Almerico Capra in its official capacity although it was more commonly called "La Rotonda" (map). The masterful architect Andrea Palladio designed this structure for bishop Paolo Almerico "who after leaving his brilliant career at the papal court, comes back to his birthplace and prefers the quiet countryside to the family palace." Being closely connected to the papal court during the Renaissance wasn’t such a bad deal, I supposed. Forty years would pass before the villa reached its final perfection, well after Palladio and Almerico both passed away. By then it was in the possession of the Capra family.

It is no coincidence that the villa stands on top of a hill, in the countryside that stretches out from the banks of the river Bacchiglione to the Colli Berici. The image is the image of a temple-villa, almost cubical, with façades bearing a pronaos with majestic Ionic colonnades and triangular tympanums, topped by a dome which at the beginning was planned like the Roman Pantheon, and should be opened by an oeil-de-boeuf, but then was squashed and closed.

The property passed to Count Valmarana in the early Twentieth Century and it still remains in the family. Maintaining a facility of that grandeur must be expensive because it’s been open to the public since 1986. People can tour its grounds and interior on a regular schedule, or they can rent it out for cultural events, corporate gatherings or even parties. It remains one of the most significant contributing structures to the surrounding UNESCO World Heritage Site, the City of Vicenza and the Palladian Villas of the Veneto.


The Rotonda in Thessaloniki, Greece


The Rotonda
The Rotonda by Daniel Tellman on Flickr (cc)

Located physically in Greece, this Rotonda was a Roman structure commissioned by the emperor Galerius in the early Fourth Century. It was built at the same time as, and adjoined with, another feature known as the Arch of Galerius intending to celebrate a military victory over the Persians. Both were part of a larger palace complex. Thessaloniki became an important trading center and political power during this period and it made sense to locate imposing structures like these in the city (map). The site Sacred Destinations described the evolving purpose of the Rotonda over the centuries:

The Rotunda of Galerius was converted into a Christian church in the late 4th century or mid-5th century… The Ottoman Turks ruled Thessaloniki from 1430, and in 1591, Agios Georgios was converted into a mosque… After serving three religions, the Rotunda is now a deconsecrated museum. It has been undergoing extensive restorations ever since the destructive earthquake of 1978. The Rotunda reopened in 1999.

A minaret still stands outside of the Rotonda from the period when it served as a mosque.


Spanish for Roundabout


Rotonda
Rotonda by Núria on Flickr (cc)

The Spanish word for round was redondo, yet they adopted the Italian word rotonda for roundabouts. That made it difficult to search other uses of rotonda. I kept bumping into images of roundabouts. I felt it would be appropriate for me to select one of those Spanish roundabouts at random and take a closer look. I chose the Plaça d’Ildefons Cerdà (map) in Barcelona primarily because I found a nice photograph of it with a creative commons license.

The choice came with a heavy dose of irony. Ildefons Cerdà (1815-1876), was "considered to be one of the fathers of ‘comprehensive city improvements through physical planning’ and, essentially, modern-day planning itself." He designed an extension beyond the original city of Barcelona called the Eixample.

Here’s how El Periódico Barcelona described the roundabout named for him (the original was in Spanish; I cleaned it up from a mangled Google Translate rendition):

He designed a grid, but the square is a perfect circle. He thought of rectangles and octagons, but they put his name to .. a roundabout. He envisioned a city of quiet, peace and pedestrians, but the place is the territory of noisy engines. He dreamed of green, with more gardens than buildings, but the beautiful meadow that lies at the center of the square is only achievable for pigeons, provided they fly to it.

In other words, city officials put his name on something he would have hated.

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