Beautiful, Historic Worcester Common!

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Man Enters Space, April 12, 1961

The Maine Turnpike – A National Historic Landmark

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Oh the joy’s of the Maine Turnpike. The stretch of road that goes from York, ME to Gardiner, ME that has a very “solid” pricing system. It took more than 8 trips for me to move from Douglas, MA to Auburn, ME. In those trips, a round trip would cost in tolls 10.50. That means in terms of a total figure would be almost 100 dollars in toll money.
At first I was skeptical about the voracious appetite of the Turnpike for my money. But as I learned more about it, it made more and more sense to why it really is so high. The Turnpike is the only one of t’s kind in the country to pay for its own maitenance and upgrades entirely on it’s own. That is no small feat for a road that gets punded by brutal Maine winters. The road itseld is a landmark. It is officialy classified as a Civil Engineering Landmark. Innovative and revolutionary techniques were applied for the first time on the road. The Turnpike Authority has a very good history on their website and I suggest everyone checks it out. Here is an exerpt from it.

Mile-A-Minute Highway

In 1947, when the Authority cut the ribbon on the new road, the Maine Turnpike was the first superhighway built in the postwar era and one of only two modern toll highways in existence in the United States (the Pennsylvania Turnpike opened in 1940). With four wide, clearly marked lanes and a wide grass median, an innovative safety feature at the time, the Maine Turnpike provided a vision of the future of transportation. The highway was straight, swift, safe and efficient. Few people in Maine had ever had the chance to travel at 60 miles per hour. That was why, when the highway opened on a cold day on December 13, 1947, the Portland Press Herald dubbed it the “Mile-A-Minute” highway.

The Maine Turnpike was the first superhighway in the world to be paved entirely with asphalt—not concrete. This decision raised the eyebrows of highway engineers who thought concrete was the only material suitable to build highway lanes. Many skeptics from around the world were invited to see for themselves the value and durability asphalt under Maine’s extreme weather conditions and left impressed.

Back then, the amounts of snowfall during a Maine winter were legendary. In order to clear the Turnpike efficiently, the Turnpike commissioned what is believed to be the first left-handed snow plow in this country. This highway operations “first” was considered an important advance, and representatives from several of the country’s new superhighways came to witness the new plow in action. Today “lefthanders” are standard issue for highway maintenance crews throughout the nation.

 

 

Here is the link to the site…..

 

http://www.maineturnpike.com/about/history_of_the_mta.php

The Enigma Of Bancroft Tower

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In the middle of Worcester, Massachusetts lies a remarkable oddity. A “lite” castle or tower as it is refered to sits in the middle of a park. The only way to describe the structure is that you imagine a castle and then imagine it 2d. It has very little depth and mimics a Hollywood prop castle. The unique history with which is attached to it is really quite interesting as well.

The tower was built in 1900 to honor George Bancroft (1800-1891), he was Secretary of the Navy,Founder of the U.S. Naval Academy, U.S. Minister to Great Britain and Germany. Quite an accomplished man. This was to be his legacy. A tower that when the true “tower” was open afforded a 360 deg. view of Worcester. This memorial was built by his friend and admirer Stephen Salisbury III. Thanks to the City Of  Worcester Parks And Public Works Website they offer a quite inclusive history.

“The Bancroft Tower was built by public benefactor Stephen Salisbury III, who bequeathed it to the Worcester Art Museum, which deeded it to the Parks Department in 1912.  Salisbury intended the feudal-like castle to be a recreational oasis. Its spiral staircases, fireplace chambers, stone benches, and parapets were frequently the scene of picnics and social outings. The summit has a 360-degree view of the city,  greatly enhanced by a climb to the lookout tower. A locator map in the stone walkway helps to identify the distant hills. George Bancroft was a politician, statesman, and writer. His list of achievements is exceedingly long, ranging from cultivator of the American Beauty Rose and eulogist at Abraham Lincoln’s funeral, to Secretary of the Navy (founder of the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis) and author of a scholarly ten-volume history of America. But, Stephen Salisbury III built the memorial to Bancroft because Bancroft and Salisbury’s father had been childhood friends. A plaque marks Bancroft’s birthplace just below the park on Salisbury Street.

Honorable Stephen Salisbury III became a member of the Parks Commission in 1887.  Mr. Salisbury owned a great deal of land in the northern part of the city and was always eager to improve that section. He was involved in the donation and development of a plot of land on the south side of Salisbury pond soon to be named Institute Park. Initially Stephen Salisbury set aside 20 acres of land along Massachusetts Avenue which included Bancroft Hill.

In 1900, he erected a tower on the summit of this hill to honor George Bancroft, the famous historian whose birthplace was just below on Salisbury Street.  The tower is 56 feet high and is constructed of boulders, cobblestones, and is trimmed with a rock-faced granite.  It looks like a miniature feudal castle.  The construction cost was about $15,000.  Stephen Salisbury opened it to the public during this time. Some of the finest views in the City could be seen from this tower.  It is named on the National Register of Historic Places.   When Mr. Salisbury died, this property was bequeathed to the Worcester Art Museum who in turn presented it to the City in 1912.”

The true enigma may be actually the stories of hauntings and the marks carved in stone placed in the ground the “supposedly” pointing to the seven hills of Worcester. The lines actually dont point to the hills and are quite confusing. Many believe they are actually ley lines across the earth that intersect at the point of the tower. One can only believe that if someone took the time to carve them in stones they must represent something. But what?


Israel Putnam And The Wolf’s Den

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There is a story in south-eastern New England told to most children/youngsters  about one of the great pioneers of the area and his bold courage, and as its being in New England, ends with a bizarre twist. The story is of Israel Putnam, a brave fighter and national hero and a wolf defending its life.  I believe it to be one of the most amazing accounts I’ve heard in recent years of researching the history of  southern New England. Especially the “wolf jubilee” that was held afterward. Here is the full story as is known….

“Israel Putnam moved to Connecticut from Massachusetts in 1740 at the age of 22. He had been living upon his farm two or more years when an incident occurred which was destined to be always closely associated with his name. This was the wolf hunt in the winter of 1742-43. A she-wolf caused Putnam and some of the other settlers great loss by preying upon their sheepfolds. She had repeatedly eluded the hunters, although they were successful in killing most of her young. She frequently returned from the woods in the west and once barely escaped from a steel trap by tearing her paw from her claws which were caught in it. One night when prowling over Putnam’s farm, she killed seventy of his sheep and goats, and lacerated many of the lambs and kids. In this exigency he and five Pomfret men arranged a continuous pursuit by agreeing to hunt alternately in pairs. Fortunately a light snow had fallen and the course of the wolf could be easily traced. The tracks showed one foot to be shorter than the other paws. This was proof that the animal was the same which had previously lost some of her claws in the trap. On reaching the Connecticut River, the hunters found that the wolf had turned in the opposite direction. Following the trail back toward Pomfret and traveling all night, they arrived within about three miles of Putnam’s farmhouse at ten o’clock in the morning, when John Sharp, a lad of seventeen years of age, who had outstripped the other pursuers, discovered the den into which the wolf had been driven by the bloodhounds. The news of the location of her lair spread rapidly, and many persons, armed with guns and supplied with material for smoking her out, hastened to the place, which was among the granite boulders on the side of a steep, craggy hill.

The whole day was spent by Putnam and his neighbours in attempting to dislodge the animal, but the dogs – one of them Putnam’s own hound – which were sent into the den returned frightened and badly wounded and would not go in again. Straw and sulfer were burned within the entrance, but without compelling the wolf to quit her hiding place. Twelve unsuccessful hours passed away. It was already ten o’clock at night, yet Putnam felt the importance of continuing the efforts in the emergency. His servent being unwilling to enter the den and attempt to shoot the wolf, Putnam himself, notwithstanding the remonstrances of his neighbours against so perilous a venture, made ready to undertake it.

He took off his coat and waistcoat; then he tied a long rope around his legs in order that he could be pulled back by it when he kicked it as a signal; he lighted the torch which he had improvised from some strips of birch bark and, holding it in his hand, crawled into the cave. The entrance was about two feet square and very slippery on account of the ice. The den descended obliquely fifteen feet, then ran horizontally about ten feet more and ascended gradually sixteen feet to the end of the opening. It was not more than a yard wide in any part and it was so low overhead that in no place could a person raise himself from his hands and knees.

Crawling slowly down to the level part and continuing until he reached the gradual ascent, Putnam saw the fiery eyes of the wolf as she crouched at the end of the dark cave, gnashing her teeth and growling at him. He gave the signal which he had arranged, but the excited people, hearing the savage sound and thinking that he had been attacked, dragged him out with such solicitous but ill-judged energy that his shirt was stripped over his head and his skin severly scratched. He prepared himself to enter again, this time taking his gun, which he had loaded with nine buckshot. Holding it in one hand and a torch in the other, he advanced farther than before into the den and found the wolf even fiercer, howling, rolling her eyes, snapping her teeth, and dropping her head between her legs. He fired at her just as she was evidently about to spring upon him. Being instantly pulled out, he refreshed himself and waited for the smoke to disappear out of the den. He then made a third venture. When he approached the wolf this time he heard nothing from her and touching her nose with his torch, found that she was dead. He grasped her ears, kicked the rope and was drawn out, dragging his victim into the presence of the astonished and exultant people.

Up the ragged and icy face of the hill and through the wild woodland the wolf was carried to a house a mile distant and suspended from a beam into which an iron spike had been driven. Then at that midnight hour a sort of “wolf jubilee” was held and, for several succeeding days, people came from different directions to see the animal.

The text on the plaque in front of the cave is as follows….

The Plaque In Front

The Plaque In Front

PUTNAM and THE WOLFFOLLOWING HER TRACKS THROUGH ONE DAY AND NIGHT IN THE EARLY SNOW OF DECEMBER 1742 TO THE CONNECTICUT RIVER AND BACK, THE EARLY SETTLERS OF THIS REGION HERE DISCOVERED THE DEN OF THE SHE WOLF THAT HAD FOR YEARS DEVASTATED THEIR FLOCKS AND HAD SO FAR ELUDED ALL ATTEMPTS AT CAPTURE AFTER ALL OTHER METHODS HAD FAILED. WHEN BOTH SERVANT AND DOG HELD BACK. ISRAEL PUTNAM, OF WHOSE SHEEP HAD BEEN SLAUGHTERED, AT 10 O’CLOCK AT NIGHT, WITH A ROPE TIED TO HIS FEET, FIRST WITH A TORCH, AGAIN WITH A MUSKET, ENTERED THIS CAVE, AND BY THE LIGHT OF HER ANGRY EYES, SHOT AND KILLED THE MARAUDER, AND ENTERING – A THIRD TIME, DRAGGED FORTH THE BODY OF THE LAST WOLF IN CONNECTICUT.

THIS TABLET IS PRESENTED TO THE ELIZABETH-PORTER PUTNAM CHAPTER OF THE DAUGHTERS OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION, BY COLONEL DANIEL PUTNAM ASSOCIATION INC., AND THEIR FRIENDS TO PRESERVE THE MEMORY OF AN ACT OF COURAGE AND OF PUBLIC SERVICE BY A YOUNG FARMER, WHO WAS IN LATER YEARS TO WIN FAME AS A WISE LEADER, A BRAVE FIGHTER, AND A NATIONAL HERO.

“HE DARED TO LEAD WHERE OTHERS DARED TO FOLLOW”

People wishing to visit the actual wolf’s den can plot out a course to Mashamoquet State Park in northeast Connecticut. There will be signs upon arriving. The hike is short to the den. Happy hiking!

Images And Reflection On Two Of Maine’s Mid Coast Forts

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Earlier in the year I visited both Fort Popham and Fort Edgecomb, both in the mid coast region of Maine. Fort Popham being especially interesting as being in the area of the Popham Colony site, the second English settled colony in the America’s. Here are summaries of the both the fort and colony from Wikipedia.

“The Popham Colony (also known as the Sagadahoc Colony) was a short-lived English colonial settlement in North America that was founded in 1607 and located in the present-day town of Phippsburg, Maine near the mouth of the Kennebec River by the proprietary Virginia Company of Plymouth. It was founded a few months later in the same year as its more successful rival, the Jamestown Settlement, which was established on June 14, 1607 by the Virginia Company of London in present-day James City County, Virginia, as the first permanent English settlement in the present United States.

The Popham Colony was the first English colony in the region that would eventually become known as New England. The colony was abandoned after only one year, apparently more due to family changes in the leadership ranks than lack of success in the New World. The loss of life of the colonists in 1607 and 1608 at Popham was far lower than the experience at Jamestown.

The first ship built by the English in the New World was completed during the year of the Popham Colony and was sailed back across the Atlantic Ocean to England. The pinnace, named Virginia of Sagadahoc, was apparently quite seaworthy, and crossed the Atlantic again successfully in 1609 as part of Sir Christopher Newport‘s 9 vessel Third Supply mission to Jamestown. The tiny Virginia survived a massive three day storm enroute which was thought to have been a hurricane and which wrecked the mission’s large new flagship Sea Venture on Bermuda.

The exact site of the Popham Colony was lost until its rediscovery in 1994. Much of this historical location is now part of Maine’s Popham Beach State Park.”

“Fort Popham is a coastal defense land battery at the mouth of the Kennebec River in Phippsburg, Maine, United States. It is located in sight of the short-lived Popham Colony and, like the colony, named for George Popham, the colony’s leader. During the American Revolution a minor fortification stood on this site; in 1808 the federal government built a small battery derisively known as an “embargo fort” on this location as part of the second system of fortifications that guarded the coast. It remained manned until 1815, and saw minor action during the War of 1812.

Construction of Fort Popham was authorized in 1857, but did not begin until 1862 when the Union became nervous about the Confederacy’s newest naval ship design, the ironclad warship, and its possible effect on Bath Iron Works and Maine’s capital city of Augusta, which is located less than 20 miles (32 km) up the Kennebec River. The fort was built from granite blocks quarried on nearby Fox Island and Dix Island. It had a 30-foot (9.1 m)-high wall facing the mouth of the Kennebec River and was built in a crescent shape, measuring approximately 500 feet (150 m) in circumference.

Fort Popham’s armament consisted of 36 cannons arranged in two tiers of vaulted casements. Each cannon weighed roughly 25 tons and fired solid shot, each weighing almost 480 pounds. The back side of Fort Popham was built with a low moated curtain containing a central gate and 20 musket ports.

In 1869 construction at Fort Popham stopped before the fortification was completed. The fort was garrisoned again after additional work was performed during the Spanish-American War and World War I. Construction of Fort Baldwin on the headland above Fort Popham began in 1905 with longer-range guns, which eventually rendered Fort Popham obsolete. The fort, located two miles (3 km) from popular Popham Beach State Park, is now open to the public.”

Fort Popham is a well maintained site and easily accesible. The scale is really quite different than Fort Edgecomb. Fort Popham has immense passages and a broad parade ground. It was never completed and never fired a shot in all the time of its active service.

Fort Edgecomb is quite different as it’s construction is that of a blockhouse. The vista from the hill it sits atop provide a good watch over the bay. The day I went actually was quite cold and the wind afforded it to be a bit colder. Here is the WIkipedia entry about it.

Fort Edgecomb, built in 18081809, is a two-story octagonal wooden blockhouse and restored fortifications located on Davis Island in the town of Edgecomb, Lincoln County, Maine, United States. It is also known as Fort Edgecomb State Historic Site. On October 01, 1969, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places and on December 22, 1991, its boundaries were increased to create an historic district.

The fort was built as part of the U.S. second system of fortifications, guarding the then-important port of Wiscasset. Thomas Jefferson‘s Embargo was not popular with American merchants, and it is said that the only time Fort Edgecomb’s cannon were fired was in salute at James Madison‘s inauguration (or, less tactfully, to celebrate his lifting of the Embargo).

During the War of 1812, this post saw considerable activity holding British prisoners of war, many of them brought to Wiscasset harbor by American privateersmen. In 1814, Fort Edgecomb became the center of American preparations to invade mid-coast Maine. It remained manned until 1818, and was reactivated during the Civil War.

Although both of the forts were built in the same time period they are vastly different in design. Fort Edgecomb a traditional blockhouse and Fort Popham an imposing structure towering high. Both forts are open to the public and I believe Fort Edgecomb has tours inside at scheduled times.

My August Expedition To The Ram Tail Mill Site, Rhode Island’s Only Officially Haunted Site

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In August of this year I visited the Ram Tail Mill Site in Foster, Rhode Island. According to the Source: Belanger, Jeff. Encyclopedia of Haunted Places. 2005, “

“Perhaps the oldest and most haunted place in Rhode Island is the Ramtail Factory in Foster. It was even put in the 1885 State Census Record as a haunted location. In 1799, the Potter family started operating a mill. William Potter expanded the mill in 1813. At this time, William took his son-in-law Peleg Walker as a partner. The Potter’s ran the mill by day and Walker was the nightwatchman at night, walking from building to building with his lantern.

This went well for several years, until one day Walker and Potter were seen having an argument. Walker preceded to say that if something kept up, he’d walk in one day and grab the keys from a dead man. On May 18, 1822 Walker’s words came true. Potter walked in and saw that Walker had hung himself from the bell rope with the keys hanging visibly from his pocket. The Potter’s then buried him in the family plot. However, this is when the strange events started to happen.

The night of Walker’s death, the bell tower struck at the stroke of midnight. The Potter’s went to go investigate this but no one was there pulling the chord while it was happening. This went on for a few days until the Potter’s then replaced the bell with a new one. Now it got even more interesting that night. The town awoke to the loud sound of the mill running at full service. Everywhere in the town went to the spot to watch in shock as the mill was running without anyone operating it, and the water was flowing in the opposite direction of the stream.

Most of the town villagers left after this for fear of the mill. The people who remained in the town would see the apparition of Walker going from building to building with the lantern in his hand. Later on in the 1880s, the factory mysteriously went on fire. The remains of the factory still lie in the woods of Foster to this day, and is a hot bed for paranormal activity. The Rhode Island Paranormal Group investigated the site recently and have come into contact with Walker as well. They were standing around the site, when they the crunching of leaves and the sound of a lantern swinging as it walked past them and into the main building.”

The day we went ( my wife and I) it was quite hot and humid. It was the beginning of the fall season that I do the majority of my exploring in. We arrived early and took the entrance to Ram Tail Rd. Directly after the right there is a cemetary on the left. The relatives of the mill descendants are buried in this plot.  After the cemetery on the left side there is a dirt road which leads into the woods and runs toward the lakeside of Barden Reservoir. I parked our trusty mini-van(giggles to a minimum) in a pull-off of the trail. We followed the trail  towards the location of the site. As we came to the true North side of the reservoir we reached a point where a bridge or crossing had once been, unfortunately it was unavailable.  We had to find a way across and it was not going to be there. The water was far to deep. To make a long story very, very short we found a spot farther North on the river that feeds in to the reservoir. Logging seems to be in full swing all arond the area at this point. I saw tree’s cut all around the original foundations but all the area of the mill site is really quite protected. Blue marks denoted cut lines that indicated the trees inside the foundations were not to be touched. Im glad to report a trouble free visit and quite an interesting one (wading in 2 feet of water across a river). My wife would not go in the main foundations and had a bad sense of something not right in the area. I experienced none of those things just a calm and peacefull visit. Altough I wouldnt want to be visiting in the dark………

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