Covered Bridges, Washington County, NY and Antiquing in Bennington, VT

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Eagleville Bridge, February 2016.

Some good friends of ours called us to join them on a road trip to Vermont. The type of trips they like to do are a bit different, in the sense that they enjoy searching for superlatives around the world. At times, this has been an interesting feat, such as when my best friend dragged me up hundreds of stone steps of the Tower of Hercules, the oldest lighthouse in the world, in Galicia, Spain.  I’ll leave writing about that for another time, but let’s just say they have ambitious goals when they travel.  The great thing is they do a ton of research before traveling, so we get to see some very unique things. We left our house in southern Dutchess at about noon.  I honestly always figured Vermont would be a much further drive, but parts of it are actually not very far.

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The Drive

My friends made a list in order of the bridges we saw that day: three bridges in New York including, Buskrik, Rexleigh, Eagleville, and one in Arlington, VT.  At the end, I will give the logistics if you want to find these yourself, like I said they are much better at planning, so we really maximized our time to see many landmarks in one trip.

The first bridge was The Buskrik, one of 29 historic bridges in New York, and crosses the Hoosic River. The Buskirk bridge was built in 1857, to give some perspective, that is the same year as the Panic of 1857, the first worldwide financial crisis and Buchanan was president. The Buskrik is notable because it has the earliest surviving Howe Truss design (Buskirk Bridge wiki 2016).

While writing this article, I found myself wondering what average person cares about the history of bridge design and its many intricacies? What I found out is this “Howe Truss” was famous in engineering history because it was the first support structure to use mathematical stress analysis; it used a combination of iron and wood rods, and it would later be adopted for use in railroad bridges (NYS Covered Bridge Society, 2015). As bridge historian Eric DeLony wrote, “The Howe truss may be the closest that wooden-bridge design ever came to perfection. For simplicity of construction, rapidity of erection, and ease of replacing parts, it stands without rival” (DeLony 1994:11). – See more at: https://www.tn.gov/tdot/article/bridges-historybridges#sthash.GDVcPEWr.dpuf


 

The entire crew crossed the bridge by foot and the girls enjoyed seeing the inside workings of the wood supports. Amada pointed out a sign which read, “25 Dollar Fine for Driving on This Bridge Faster than a Walk”, and I explained to her this was the time of horse buggies. As you can see in the photos above, the Buskrik has a winding road surrounded by picturesque looking homes and provides a beautiful backdrop for photos.  As one kayaker described the scene, “The bridges rose from the landscape almost as naturally as the trees surrounding them.” (Bailey,TimesUnion article, 2015).  It may be a beautiful experience to kayak this river and take in the view of the bridges from below.

You may also notice old Victorian-style homes, surrounded by towering maple, willow and elm trees.  During the winter, the snow drapes over them and creates a gray cloud that highlights the expansiveness of the open countryside, but I am sure in the fall the colors would be beautiful. There are many antique shops along this route as well, and many have very reasonable prices, so leave some time to stop.

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The next bridge was the Rexleigh, built in 1874.  Salem was a small town, but the bridge is indicative of a time when the town’s economy was strong with the ushering in of the railroad era (GEotourism Mapguide, National Geographic 2016).  The Rexleigh reflects the transition between wooden and iron bridge structures of the 19th and 20th centuries, and is unique because it has “iron shoes” fitted with timber into iron rods and is one of ten bridges still standing in the Northeast, using the “Howe Truss” design (Town of Salem, 2015).

The Rexleigh is also amazing because you can see an abandoned four story stone structure in the same view as the bridge.  Some investigating suggests that this structure provides major historical narratives of Salem’s history. This stone structure appears to have survived for several decades, and a bit of research suggests that it was originally the site of a Grist (grain) mill built in 1795 aided by Revolutionary War General John Williams (Salem Historical Committee, The Salem book, Volume 2).  The country’s first grist mills were built in this area of the Northeast, so it is interesting to see how a structure that was once so important in its day, now stands deteriorating on the river side as a reminder of a bygone era.

The mill was later used for various industries as the town prospered, including the manufacture of cement, the site of the Manhattan Shirt Company mill, a marble mill shipping cut marble to Chicago, and even a hippie commune in the 70’s.  (Lakes to Locks Passage: The Great Northeast, GEotourism Mapguide, National Geographic 2016).

The third bridge we visited was the Eagleville, also in Salem, NY.  The natural view surrounding the Eagleville Bridge is amazing. The bridge is flanked by towering trees and you can clearly see the river down below.  This bridge crosses the Battenkill river which flows between Vermont and New York and is regarded for its natural beauty.

Reading The Battenkill: An Intimate Portrait of a Great Trout River, I discover that there is another covered bridge in West Arlington, VT near the New York state border that also crosses the Battenkill which is worth a visit.  The author describes the scene of people visiting this covered bridge for the first time,

“My guests invariably remark that the scene looks like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting, sweetly sentimental but too good to be true.  It is something out of Rockwell, I answer, while pointing out the late artist’s home and studio only a few hundred feet from the covered bridge. . . . If our tour continues downstream through the rolling farmscapes of Salem, Jackson, Easton, and Greenwich, New York. . . the scenery does indeed look just like many of the late artist’s bucolic primitives. . .” -John Merwin, The Battenkill: An Intimate Portrait of a Great Trout River.

A Brief History of Covered Bridges

The history of covered bridges in America is an interesting one; these bridges were born out of economic necessity after the Revolutionary War, yet they have a certain level of artistry that makes them pieces of pragmatic art in rural landscapes.  Covered bridges are a prime example of American ingenuity.  According to Smithsonian, bridge making began as a craft and developed into an exact science over time (Smithsonian & Natural Park Service 2005). They illustrate the important interplay between a variety of disciplines and talents in the process of discovery. When the girls reflect on this trip when they are older, I hope they realize that whatever career path they choose, anything that drives their passion to be creative is equally important from a historical perspective.  I also enjoyed that this trip exposed them to aspects of engineering from an early age, as I don’t remember myself as a child being exposed to it.

According to Smithsonian, “of the 10,000 or so covered bridges that once graced the American landscape, fewer than 800, scattered across 29 states, remain.”(2005).  Today, these bridges are seen as historic pieces and fortunately, were added to the National Register of Historic places in the late 60’s and early 70’s before disappearing completely.  Although many were lost, I am glad my children are able to experience this type of living history.  A museum would not be able to replicate the experience of seeing these bridges in situ.

Before their existence, ferries were required to transport goods and most of these enabled merchant monopolies that could slow economic growth in small villages and towns (Hedges, 6 Things You Must Know About Covered Bridges).   Bridges were covered to prevent decay, prolonging the life to the underlying wood structure (Smithsonian & National Park Service 2005).  As time went on, more attention was given to the aesthetics and also to the underlying trusses, as engineering methods diversified and improved (TDOT 2016). Around the world, American bridges were admired for their length and elegant engineering and people traveled great distances to see them (Smithsonian & National Park Service 2005). Covered American bridges spanned great lengths with strength and efficiency (Smithsonian 2005).   Perhaps one notable example was the Waterford Bridge, built in 1804 by Theodore Burr in Saratoga county, NY; it was the first to span the entire Hudson River and surprisingly, held up for 105 years (US Dept of Transportation, FHA, 2015).  You will hear Burr’s name mentioned if you pay attention to architectural history.

In many ways, covered bridges are symbolic of a very different America, one that existed before the age of iron and steel.  The ushering in of new technologies and rapid changes to American production after the civil war, led to the decline of this idyllic life, and with it things like covered bridges were replaced by more modern technologies necessary for a faster-paced life with trains and automobiles.

Other Places of Interest

If you are doing this route in warmer months, you may want to leave time to see the Shushan Covered Bridge Museum, housed in an actual covered bridge also along the route.  It includes a one-room school house, farm equipment and admission is free, while donations are appreciated by the preservation society.

When you get hungry, check out the Madison Brewing company on Main St in Bennington, VT; they have a good selection of dark beers and decent burgers.  Across the street, Angela and I visited a small antique shop.  There are several cute shops and the Bennington museum is located on this street.  The girls really enjoyed seeing old toys from the 1970’s in the antique shop.   The owner showed us various items, but what we most liked were the old lanterns and oil lamps.  He actually had an oil lamp that once was fitted on a car.  I ended up buying an old fashioned kerosene lantern and he explained to me that I could buy some kerosene at Walmart and still turn it on.  It is sitting on my desk now, as a reminder of our travels; it is also a reminder that in order to look forward, sometimes the past can help light the way. Here is a picture:

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On the way home, we found a drive-thru coffee shop that served ice cream called Lumberjacks on Route 7.  The unique thing about this place is that they served maple syrup, yes real maple syrup in the coffee lattes and mochas, and even on vanilla ice cream. You can even buy maple syrup in the drive-thru window.  It was pure heaven.  I highly recommend a visit to this spot, I think this is the way to end the drive.

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Photo by Lumberjack’s coffee, Jan 2016

If you really want to get into the specific intricacies of the bridge design, you can look up at the truss patterns, you can read about that here before you visit to see if you can identify them.


Logistics: Read below or see the brochure here:

BUSKIRK BRIDGE NY-58-04

The bridge is located between Rensselaer and Washington Counties in the Town of Hoosic-White Creek. This bridge is sometimes referred to as NY-42-02. On County Route 59 north of County Route 67, it is over the Hoosic River, a single span of 165 feet of Howe truss (NY State Covered Bridge Society).

Directions to the bridge:

Buskirk is located on State Route 67, west of Eaglebridge. Take Washington County Route 103 from State Route 67 north to the bridge in Buskirk.

REXLEIGH BRIDGE NY-58-03

Rexleigh Bridge was originally constructed in 1874 by Reuben Comins (Contractor & Builder) and George Wadsworth (Carpenter). It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, effective March 8, 1978.

It is located in the Town of Jackson-Salem, east of State Route 22 on Rexleigh Road. It is over the Battenkill, a single span of 107 feet of Howe truss.

Directions to the bridge:

From Salem, take State Route 22 south for 2 miles, turn left onto Rexleigh Road and proceed 1.5 miles to the bridge.

EAGLEVILLE BRIDGE NY-58-01

Eagleville Bridge was originally constructed in 1858 by Ephraim W. Clapp, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as of March 8, 1978.

The bridge is located in the Town of Jackson-Salem, west of State Route 313 at Eagleville. It is over the Battenkill, a single span of 100 feet of Town truss.

Directions to the bridge:

From Cambridge at the intersection of State Route 22 and State Route 313, take State Route 313 toward Vermont for 6 miles. Turn left onto Eagleville Road to the bridge.

For more info visit, http://www.salem-ny.com/interest.html or see the brochure for a map.

Links:

http://www.salem-ny.com/interest.html

http://www.lakestolocks.org/content/salem/ltl956623E627EDF8984

https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/infrastructure/back0804.cfm

https://books.google.com/books?id=14PvCgAAQBAJ&pg=PT16&lpg=PT16&dq=ferry+monopoly+before+covered+bridges&source=bl&ots=Y8s0MhNdh1&sig=up-paSJuLGXgTeeH6lprB7hLKnA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjasdSMmofLAhWDHT4KHeuNB0EQ6AEIIjAB#v=onepage&q=ferry%20monopoly%20before%20covered%20bridges&f=false

http://www.ebooksread.com/authors-eng/ny-salem-historical-committee-salem/the-salem-book–records-of-the-past-and-glimpses-of-the-present-volume-2-ela/page-12-the-salem-book–records-of-the-past-and-glimpses-of-the-present-volume-2-ela.shtml

http://www.sites.si.edu/exhibitions/Covered%20Bridges.pdf

Delony, Eric 1994 The Golden Age. Invention and Technology. Fall:8-22. – See more at: https://www.tn.gov/tdot/article/bridges-historybridges#sthash.GDVcPEWr.dpuf

 

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Yankee Candle® Village, South Deerfield, MA

20160214_173117About a two hour drive from southern Dutchess and Putnam Counties, you’ll find a flagship store for Yankee Candle, the largest candle retailer in the world.  We went this past weekend and the store had a great deal more to offer than I had anticipated.  This store in Western Massachusetts, draws two million visitors per year, and clearly, there is something very charming about it.  The store is extremely family-friendly, and they often host events catering to children.  In March, they are hosting a Lego-building contest and the Peeps candy mobile, the details are at the end of this blog.

First of all, the drive to get to South Deerfield is beautiful, it runs past a  long winding river. I highly recommend getting off the highway early and taking your GPS local route, so you can see what I mean.  This time of year, the trees were covered in snow, yet the river is still an impressive sight; I can imagine in fall this has to be an even more beautiful drive.  It felt relaxing just to take in the countryside of this out of the way part of Massachusetts.  If you’re driving back from Boston, this stop would take you an hour out of the way, but I think it’d be a fun detour.

 In recent years, Deerfield has been trying to draw more tourists, as a day drive destination, so they are very open to visitors.  If you have time swing by Historic Deerfield, this is essentially an outdoor Americana museum with 11 historic homes, in an 18th century villlage in the Connecticut River Valley of Masschusetts.  The museum calls it, “a celebration of New England heritage”, and they are very proud of the fact that this village is the real thing.  Here, you have the chance to tour authentic homes that were restored, and experience parts of daily colonial life, such as metal working, textiles, ceramics, furniture and crafts.   A visit here in warmer months, is a great way for kids to get an insight into life in colonial America, as their offer different workshops and interactive experiences.  In winter months, the museum has been hosting Open Hearth cooking classes on Saturdays, using old cookbooks and Colonial cooking techinques.

When you arrive at Yankee Candle, there is a wraparound porch with rocking chairs and a beautifully landscaped outdoor picnic area, which in the warmer months I am sure would be super fun.  The entrance looks like an old country store; you are immediately greeted by friendly employees and displays with the scents of the month. The store has plenty of brickabrack and pretty decorations like a beach bicycle and an antique car kids can sit in. There are huge displays for each new scent, and they do not skimp on space for each candle, so you can literally find any type of candle your heart desires.  The cool thing about this, is that if you like aromatherapy, you can really spend a lot of time comparing scents, since there are literally 400,000 candles in over 200 scents.

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Their new scent, called Catching Rays is my absolute favorite and it smells like a turquoise rain shower on a spring meadow.  Many of the candles in their new line have smells of the ocean, like Fiji Beach and Sand and Sun; I especially love that they have natural essential oils and burn longer than any other candles I’ve bought before. You’ll have a hard time finding just one scent you like, you’ll probably end up with 10 and need to narrow down. There really is something about scent that triggers memories, and relaxes you, so if you enjoy that type of thing, you will be in scent heaven.  There are certain scents, like Vermont Maple that are only available in the flagship stores, and I must say it really smelled like a woodsy, sweet maple syrup.

Once you navigate past the first candle room, there is a second room with candles, if you can believe that!   The kids favorite section is a part called, WaxWorks.  Here you have the option to dip a candle in wax, make your own Yankee candle from various scents, or dip your hand in wax.  Our daughter, Lilliana made a  rainbow candle with several different layers, and the employees were very friendly and helpful.  We’ve been burning it in the past few days and it smells wonderful because every time we light it, it has a different scent.  Amada, on the other hand, choose to dip her hand in wax.  There is a station where you can dip your hand in parafin wax, and then a colored wax to make a molded sculpture.  She chose to do a peace sign, and used it as a decoration in her room.  The girls really enjoyed the interactive aspect of the store and it was very memorable for them.

While the girls were doing their activity with Adam, I walked around with the baby.  There are several rooms dedicated to different interests.  There is a kitchen room with cooking products and country store type items like dip, pancake mix and jams.  I then found the cafe and had a snack with Emma who was screaming for food :).  Luckily, the store has a cutely decorated cafe right in the store, with an array lunch type food, like soups and sandwiches and there is a large cute sitting area in the middle of the store.  If you are a bit hungrier, there is a restaurant called Chandler’s on the grounds that serves New England cuisine and wine.

Another aspect of Yankee Candle that is a bit bizarre and endearing at the same time, is the all-year round Bavarian Christmas village.  This section of the store has enormous Christmas trees and Christmas villages.  Imagine a Bavarian village in the middle of Massachusetts; it pretty much it makes you feel the holiday spirit, even if it is nowhere near December.   The displays are full of ornaments and nutcrackers; and if you collect those tiny Christmas houses, this is the place for you.  My cousin has a big collection of these houses, so I could not resist buying her one, because the displays were so beautifully arranged.  And to top it off, it snows every 4 minutes.  Emma, our one year old really loved that aspect. There is also a year-round Santa Claus with a letter writing station, yes you read that correctly, year round.  I am imagining if your kids need to pick a bone with Santa, this would be the place to take them.  Santa actually seemed super friendly, but to not have a very confusing conversation with Lilliana about why Santa was there, we skipped it.  Maybe in the pre-holiday time, this would be an amazing place to visit him.  I will not miss Yankee Candle next year in November and December time frame, especially to stock up on gifts.

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Once you get through the maze of the Christmas village, there is a toy and candy section.  There is a great array of toys to play with, and if you like popcorn, caramel apples, fudge and ice cream the store has a small kiosk for each.  We bought some zebra popcorn, and the prices were actually very reasonable.  The employees once again impressed me as they were so patient and understanding with the kids while they made their choice between a candy apple or the many different flavors of popcorn; as a mom I really appreciate little things like that.

Perhaps my favorite section of the store, where you can usually find the most people, is the discount room.  It has a huge selection of discontinued or seasonal candles at 50% and even some at 75% off.  Sometimes, they run special deals, so I was able to get a Valentine’s day scent for $7.  At the end, I think I went home with 8 candles, so be prepared to have  space for candles and give some to friends and family.

I think the best part of this drive is that it is really relaxing and it can be as long or short as you prefer.  There is a candle-making museum that we missed, so we will definitely be back to see that, it explains the art of candle-making and some of the history behind it.

Logistics:

Yankee Candle® Village South Deerfield, MA.

Address:
25 Greenfield Road
South Deerfield, MA 01373

Website: http://www.yankeecandle.com/about-us/visit-our-village-stores

Hours:
Monday – Sunday from 10:00 am – 6:00 pm.

Closed Thanksgiving & Christmas 

For More Info on Deerfield, see http://www.deerfieldattractions.com/

Yankee Candle Upcoming events

Peeps Day

PEEPS® Day
Date: Saturday, March 5
Time: 10:00 am – 1:00 pm

Activities include:

  • Visit with the The Peepsmobile and PEEPS® Chick Mascot. FREE PEEPS & Company giveaways! (while supplies last)
  • Receive a PEEPS Scratch Off with any purchase between 10am-1pm.  One lucky guest will win a $100 gift basket of Yankee Candle® Easter products. Lots of other prizes!
  • FREE* first 50 guests make their own PEEPS® treat with Santa and Mrs. Claus (while supplies last)
  • Watch an ice carver make a very cool PEEPS® chick!
  • $5 Easter Illumalid with any Easter Candle purchase
  • Guess the number of jelly beans in the jar for a chance to win a Wax Works package! (Includes MYO Jar, Wax Hand, Dip Your Own Critter)

Builders Day
Date: Saturday, March 19
Time: 10:00 am – 1:00 pm

Activities include:

  • FREE LEGO® Set to build and take home! (while supplies last)
  • LEGO® Traveling Exhibit: Check out the amazing models by the New England LEGO® Users Group!
  • Building Contest & Exhibit: Enter your creation of LEGO® bricks (built at home) for a chance to win a Family Fun Day* at Yankee Candle Village. All participants receive a FREE 4” dip-your-own taper candle.

* Family Fun Day Package for 4 includes Wax Works Package, Ben & Jerry’s kids cones, and a fill-your-own Yankee Candy Jar. Entries for the building contest and exhibit accepted from 10am until 12pm. Judging will be done by a special guest –  winners will be announced at 1pm. Submissions must be picked up after the judging at 1pm. Yankee Candle Village is not responsible for lost or damaged models.

Mark Twain House, Hartford, CT

Mark Twain house, first floor library, pictured is a mantle purchased from a castle in Scotland, photo credit: wikimedia commons

Our first Sunday drive was not really a planned one, in keeping with the spirit of spontaneity for these drives.  We left the house at noon and set the GPS towards Boston.  We knew it was wishful thinking to ever actually arrive in Boston, but we set it as our goal anyway.  As we hit Hartford at 3 pm, I quickly pulled up the number one place to visit on TripAdvisor and it recommended the Mark Twain house.  I mention this because, I want people to realize that it is ok not to plan most of these drives, with three kids of our own that is almost an impossibility, but you can still enjoy the drive and do many things with half a day.  Sometimes “seizing the day” means just that, it doesn’t require perfect planning.

A Brief Historical Background

At first, you might be confused thinking Mark Twain grew up on the Mississippi, and why in the world is his house in the center of Connecticut?   And you would be correct in the first assumption, except Twain moved here shortly after getting married and lived there from 1874 until 1891.  Hartford was at the time at the epicenter of American progress, as the richest city in the nation per capita and was also the location of Samuel Clemens publisher (Cindy Lovell, Executive director for the Mark Twain Society, CSPAN video).  Driving through downtown, you can get a sense of the historic charm.  You will also see Harriet Beecher Stowe’s house, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, right next to Twain’s, and as  you can imagine this place held a special importance.  If you make a whole day of this drive, make time to see both homes, I will probably return to see the Stowe home.

A Mark Twain, made entirely of Legos, greets the girls at the entrance.
A Mark Twain, made entirely of Legos, greets the girls at the entrance.

The house is hard to miss, as was the intention. Much like Twain who was a character himself, the house has a unique sense of personality.  It is bright red with many peaks, in the gothic revival style, and some say it looks like a steamboat.  Our wonderful tour guide of the house mentions that Samuel Clemens commissioned it red to match his fiery hair.  Many of Twain’s important works were written in this house, such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer, The Prince and the Pauper, among others.  The house was under both private and public ownership for several years, until it was saved by preservationists in 1929.  His daughter, Clara, donated furniture and artifacts(Mark Twain Museum and House, tour guide, February 2016). His belongings were dispersed according to historians due to the family’s worldwide travels and some sold at auction by his daughter Clara (LeMaster & Wilson, The Mark Twain Encyclopedia, 1993).  Conservation efforts began and it was declared a Historic Landmark in 1963(Mark Twain Museum).  Since then, according to the guide, the historical society has been tracking down items from auctions following Twain’s death and recreating some rooms with good detective work, an amazing process in itself to ask the guide about if you visit.

My First Impressions

When you first lays eyes on the house, you are immediately blown away by the elaborate decks, huge carriage house, and enormous porch.  Upon entering  you find intricate painting on woodworking in the foyer that will catch your eye, and for a reason, it was completed by no other than the Tiffany family.  The formal living room or parlor has many elements of the Gilded Age, and when I ask a question about that, the guide quickly informs me that Mark Twain actually coined the term “The Gilded Age,” and in my research I discover that his disapproval for the social standards of the day grew more deeply as he aged.

After visiting many of these historic mansions, I remind myself I need to read his book, The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today.  I find the house a bit of a parody, because while the house is not as ostentatious, its entryway is certainly a reflection of its time.  The layers of the house slowly reveal an interesting complexity, almost a bipolar relationship between a very private Samuel Clemens, and an extremely public persona, Mark Twain.  There is this grandiose side, with elaborate need for show, yet also, there is a very humble, hardworking side that is dedicated to his family and to the world through his writing.  The home is somehow able to showcase both sides, if you look closely at the way the furniture is arranged, or the attention to the children’s needs.

The entry parlor room is elaborate and has that uncomfortable, fancy feeling.  The center fireplace has an enormous antique mirror, that the guide explains was found from auction records in a beauty parlor in New Jersey.  I can almost image siting before it while getting my perm done in Jersey in the 1980s!   Despite its ornateness, once you move into the family rooms you see another side of the writer.

Almost immediately, you feel drawn into the library room, with its small story time chairs for each member of the family, including little ones for his three daughters.  Knickknacks surround the room, and soon the guide explains that the portrait of the cat with a ruffed collar next to the fireplace, was used as a story time ritual in the Clemens family.  Each night, the girls would ask their father to tell a story, and it had to begin with the “cat in the ruff” and use all the knickknacks surrounding the fireplace in the same order, to tell an elaborate story.  You get a sense of a very personal side of the writer from this, and see how he was a dedicated family man and father.

The home beams with a feeling of happiness and familiarity, almost like it is inviting you.  The library fireplace mantle has an Emerson quote which reads, “The ornament of a house is the friends who frequent it,” and you are immediately reminded that you too are now Mark Twain’s guest.

Upstairs you find the family bedrooms and a homeschooling room.  The house reveals some of the freedoms afforded to the three girls in the family, such as their own piano and a reading room.  My two daughters, Amada and Lilliana, are very enthralled at this point in their scavenger hut, which was provided to them before the tour.  The girls are also intently listening to the stories they can relate to easily, of Clemens’ three young daughters playing and roughhousing in the house.  They especially seem to like the conservatory, which reminds me of a florida room we had with lots of plants while growing up, and the family referred to as “the jungle” for the games their father played.  The rooms have some interesting items, and the guide points out a very large bed with angels on each post. The guide explains this bed turned out to be a fake antique the family purchased in their travels to Europe and Twain liked sleeping towards the footboard so he can look at the angels.  Another story touched on how the girls would remove the angels from the four posts of the bed and play with them.  It reminded me that in the end, they were ordinary people too, and it made me think the house was probably bustling with sounds of kids playing, just like mine.

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The most impressive part of the house tour is Mark Twain’s writing room on the fourth floor, where you find a pool table and two very different desks.  One grand table facing the billiard table was kept more for show, and the guide explains was probably too distracting for Twain as it faced his favorite game.  In the corner, you’ll see a very small table facing a wall.  This unassuming table was where Clemens wrote the beginnings of American literature, and created a distinctive voice for America in the world.  The room is surrounded by several balconies, one which faces a woodsy creek. As I am standing in that room, it is just a lot to take in as the birthplace of American literature; you need to go there, you’ll feel it too.

Before leaving the writing room, the guide goes on to tell us a story about when she was in the house one day.  Apparently, the empty house had set off a fire alarm; when the firemen entered they all seemed to find the same peculiar smell in the billard room:  the smell of cigar smoke.  I wonder if maybe, Mark Twain stopped by the house to have a cigar, and remember old times?  The museum society does host ghost tours of the home, for those interested in that aspect of the past.

My two girls ages 6 and 9, most enjoyed the stories of Clemens’ three girls.  His daughters, according to the guide, were an integral part of his persona and development as a writer.  The abundance of play and imaginative areas in the house, stand as a stark contrast to the Hyde Park mansion of the Vanderbilts were children were not even allowed in the main home.  The areas for the children, in my view, reflect a softer side of him that was deeply committed to his children.  The homeschooling room has a sense of history in itself, and my girls loved seeing the way children learned back then, and was a testament also to a sense of history in itself, as it was used to educate girls in a time when that was all less common.

 

The Museum Center

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If you do visit, find the time to spend an hour in the museum center.  There you will find the large printing apparatus, called the Page Compositor.  This invention was supposed to replace human  component of the typesetter for printing.  This machine is important to take in, because it ultimately bankrupted Mark Twain.  According to the tour guide, Alexander Graham Bell visited Twain’s home to ask him to invest in the telephone, but instead Twain pursued this invention which miserably failed.  The home actually had one of the first telephones installed too, even though Mark Twain had a private disgust for it, as he once wrote (Old Telephones Blog, 2012), “It is my heart-warm and world-embracing Christmas hope and aspiration that all of us . . . may eventually be gathered together in a heaven of everlasting rest and peace and bliss– except the inventor of the telephone…”   Thank God he didn’t see modern day cell phones!

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The Page Compositor, the Mark Twain museum.  Only two were built, and the other was donated by Cornell University during a scrap metal drive during WWII(wikipedia). Samuel Clemens had invested 300,000 in dollars of his day, and the gamble left him in big financial trouble.

Another feature of the museum that resonated with me is showcasing Clemens’ dedication to social change.  He believed in treating people fairly and called out the treatment of slaves during his time. If you have time, find an audio clip of Clemens upbringing as a child.  It tells a story of how his mother instilled in him a sense of compassion for all people, and criticized slavery.  Clemens would later adopt this in his life, by sponsoring the first African-American to attend Yale University Law School.  There is a letter in reference to this in the museum center that is indicative of Clemens’ commitment to social advocacy.  He was often censored, and some of his later works went unpublished due to disapproval from society.  In many ways, he was a man ahead of his time.

My Take Away from this Drive

Perhaps the most you take away from a visit to the Mark Twain house is what you do not see, as with most traveling.  You can not see the feeling of coziness in the writer’s room, or the serenity of the location next to the creek from which inspiration probably flew, and you can not see the warmth that emanates from the family study where Mark Twain told many stories to his girls.  These invisible things, while not part of the amazing historical home, are what truly makes a visit to this home special.  You truly wonder if the inhabitants of this home are somewhere watching, knowing they are being remembered.

The greatest thing I took away is to get sense of the man America grew to love as ‘Mark Twain’ by his pen name, and also a glimpse into a very personal side of Samuel Clemens as a family man and writer.  No matter what, I promise you that you will find something, for me it was a renewed sense of appreciation for writing.  The museum society offers many programs in its efforts to support writers, such as writers’ workshops and even the opportunity to have the house to yourself for a time to write. There are also specific programs for children and schools.

More Info: 

Logistics:

Address: 351 Farmington Ave, Hartford, CT 06105 

Parking is free!
View on Map Set GPS for 385 Farmington Ave, Hartford for our parking lot entrance.

 

Hours

Daily (Sunday through Saturday) 9:30am to 5:30pm, last tour leaves at 4:30pm
 Cost Adults, $19  Children (6-16) $11  Senior Citizens, $16 Children under 6 are free.  Parking is free.          Museum only:  $6

Sunday Drives

20160210_090208Philips Road, Hopewell Junction

I am starting a new writing project this year.  The blog is pretty simple, a recollection of family drives throughout the country. I want to keep a record of these little trips for my children to remember one day, of all the places we’ve been. And pictures don’t always capture all the little nuances or the way a place evoked a specific feeling.  I hope that if my three girls read this one day, they find the beauty around them in every single waking moment, no matter how near or far.

Sometimes we think of exploration as this exotic concept of going to far away places, which is always wonderful.  I once wrote a travel article about a a little Buddhist nation called Bhutan for a travel site, and fell in love with it just writing about it.  Yet the idea of taking a 24 hour flight, made the prospects of actually going there a little tough, at least for right now.  In reality, travel is not always about the places we go per se, but sometimes it’s about what we learn about ourselves in the process.  Although one day, I am going to plan some of the far away trips, for now these drives are a source of so much inspiration and feeling.  Since I love to write, the subject could not be more perfect to explore all the depths of the soul.

The secret places right near us are sometimes the most interesting and inspiring of all.

Each week, I’ll share my experience of our family Sunday drives.  My idea is to write something that captivates the emotions I felt and my observations of our girls experiencing new places.  The hidden charm of some of these nearby places is truly inspiring.  Just the other day, I went into the Hopewell Antique shop and found a first edition copy of Robert Frost’s collected poems.  It had been awhile since I read, “Stopping by the woods on a snowy evening”, and I wanted to read it to my girls.  I had been thinking about the poem for quite some time, and had not gotten around to ordering a copy. And there on the shelf, haphazardly was something I had been searching for.  Travel is quite the same, we find things we cherish in the most unexpected places.

Perhaps Hans Christian Anderson said it best when he said, “To travel is to live”.  So I challenge you to live fully and go see some of these places for yourself, maybe alone or maybe with your whole family.

Please feel free to post questions, comments, insights or ideas for future drives for our family.  The blog will also serve as a running record of sorts, or a virtual scrapbook of our adventure. If you would like us to visit a particular site, we’d be happy to.  You can reach me at miriamoclifford@gmail.com

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One of our first Sunday drives in the Hudson Valley, Cold Springs, 2015.  Amada and Lilliana overlooking the frozen water with Aunt Sandy.

 

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