Visiting New England: A Look at America’s History

I’ve taken a rather lengthy break from this blog, mostly because I’ve been travelling and managing deadlines with other writing projects. While on this hiatus, I had the chance to visit a dear friend from high school. We spent a few months planning out the trip because that’s who we are: we like outlines and itineraries. She lives in Manchester, New Hampshire, a place I’ve discovered is perfectly placed for touring a few landmarks in New England. For this trip, we selected a few museums and historical locations within New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Maine. Before the week was up, we were already discussing how we would drive to Vermont and Rhode Island in 2020 when I’m due back up North again. All pictures were taken by me, unless otherwise stated.

This trip was jam-packed with history, and how could it not be? The New England area has played host to several notable historical instances in America: the Boston Tea Party protest at Griffin’s Wharf, the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the Salem Witch Trials, and the development of the sawmill along the Ogunquit River in Maine. After spending a good chunk of money on museum admission prices, I want to relive the key experiences in this post and maybe convince others to visit these wonderful places and use their resources to learn more about the northeast.

Manchester, New Hampshire: The Amoskeag Manufacturing Company

Within the hour following my landing at Logan International, my friend and I were traipsing about the Millyard Museum located in Manchester, New Hampshire. The exhibit is mainly focused on the development of the Amoskeag Manufactoring Company: “one of the largest textile producing companies in the world, employing over 17,000 people, including immigrants from many countries” 1

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According to Edward Shields, factory masters sought diversity in their workers in order to limit the possibility of unionization. If everyone spoke various languages, then the possibility of clear communication was quite difficult. Masters also segregated the employees based on ethnicity, often enlisting the English or Irish workers as foremen over those people from Eastern Europe. Shields writes,

Machinists from German were brought over. As were Swedes renowned for their fine lace making. Outside the mills, men from the Belgian cigar trade were brought to the 724 Cigar company in Manchester. Italian stone cutters, were meanwhile convinced to come to NH and travel to its far north to help build mills in a new mill town called Berlin, New Hampshire. 2

Together, employees of the Amoskeag Manufactoring Company produced four hundred seventy one miles of fabric per day. Not only did they craft fabric, but they also manufactured textiles, steam locomotives, fire engines, and steam pumpers. Despite the apparent proof of success, the company went bankrupt in 1935. 3

To learn more about the manufacturing company, visit the Millyard Museum website.

Boston, Massachusetts: The Printing Press

On the second day of the trip we braved the heat of high summer. After backtracking several times (as a result of totally misunderstanding Google maps on our phones), we walked a total of AT LEAST six miles. Nevertheless, we filled the day with a number of memorable trips. After eating the most delicious French toast at a cute diner in Boston’s Little Italy, we trekked to the Central Market. The stalls were infested with tourists like myself, all of us buying magnets and five dollar maps.

 

While in one of the market buildings, I was distracted from my money-spending endeavors by a massive mechanism poised at the center of the room. A man dressed in full Colonial garb waxed lyrical about the merits of the printing press, and how he set the text and printed his entire college dissertation to prove how beautiful the craft of printing can be. Not only beautiful, but also inflammatory! As many presses have historically been used to produce pamphlets and articles to incite rebellion.

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In 1775, Benjamin Edes and John Gill became the proprietors of the Boston Gazette, an editorial many historians agree influenced the arc of the Revolutionary War. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica,

“It is said that the rebellious colonists who took part in the Boston Tea Party (1773) assembled at Edes’s home and then donned their Indian costumes and paint at the Gazette’s office.” At least 2,000 copies of the Boston Gazette were distributed each week, and British authorities offered bounty for Edes’ arrest. Thereafter, he moved his print out of the city. 4 Gill, however, remained in Boston and was arrested and charged for “treason, sedition, and rebellion.” 5

Back in 2015, Carol Sue Humphrey compiled a list of revolutionary papers and began it with the Boston Gazette. She writes,

The Boston Gazette became the primary mouthpiece for Samuel Adams and others who increasingly opposed the British government. Because of this reality, many of the pieces published in the Boston Gazette did more than just tell the story – they presented reports of events in the context of British efforts to deny Americans their rights. The spread of this outlook was essential if the colonies were going to break away from Great Britain and the Boston Gazette played an essential role in the dissemination of the growing attitude of opposition to the Royal Government. 6

The paper was active until 1775. To access the archives of the Boston Gazette, read here.

Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Strawbery Banke Museum

All history nerds need to visit Portsmouth, New Hampshire to see this incredible museum. It’s an open plan, self-guided outdoor museum that’s divided according to time period. Each section of the area includes an exhibit on the development of the small harbor town from the colonial period to the 1940s. But my favorite was the Goodwin Garden, which included Victorian ornamental plantings.

The garden is a fixture of the Goodwin Mansion, which was originally built on Islington Street in Portsmouth, New Hampshire before it was moved to its current location on Hancock Street. Ichabod Goodwin served as governor for two years and lived in the mansion with his wife during the Civil War. Naturally, it was his wife—Sarah Parker Goodwin—who managed the household and the garden, which includes “bedding annuals and plants from around the world such as weigelia, a shrub.” 7 This particular garden, now a feature at Strawbery Banke, is tended by an actress in full Victorian garb. She is Mrs. Goodwin, the governor’s wife.

Besides the garden, the mansion itself is an impressive example of neoclassical architecture. It’s structurally simple, with two columns at the entrance and three red-brick chimney protruding from the top. On the inside, the family parlor is a breathtaking remnant of Victorian domestic décor: there is a plaster ceiling rosette and a wide marble fireplace ornamented with floral designs. Upstairs there are two bedrooms on either side of a winding wooden staircase, one for Mrs. Goodwin and the other for Mr. Goodwin. Adee Braun writes about the context of this domestic division and why Victorian couples preferred separate spaces. The first possible reason is simply because of hygiene or lack thereof,

During the mid 19th-century, there were many anxieties about public health. It was thought that diseases generated spontaneously where foul water and air lived, and a sleeping body was a prime offender.

(Mr and Mrs Goodwin’s respective bedrooms, The Strawbery Banke Museum)

In her article about communal sleeping, Adee Braun includes an excerpt from Mrs. Elizabeth F. Holt’s housekeeping guide, published in 1892, in which she warns readers that “the air which surrounds the body under the bed clothing is exceedingly impure, being impregnated with the poisonous substances which have escaped through the pores of the skin.” There were other health concerns, too. One Dr. B. W. Richardson writing in 1880, advised that children not share a bed with an adult because the aged suck the “vital warmth” from children. Also, no one wants to deal with “heavy” and “disagreeable” morning breath. 7

Adee Braun writes that the advent of the “new woman” meant that wives sought refuge from subservience. To have one’s own space was to have some semblance of independence. Indeed, a woman’s bedroom was not only a place for sleep, but also a space for other women to convene and socialize without fear of being interrupted by their husbands. And for the rich, without fear of being interrupted by the grasping hands of needy children. Mrs. Goodwin’s bedroom is a feminine haven, with rose-pink walls and a floral canopy bed.

Before my friend and I left the museum, “Mrs. Goodwin” gifted me with a small packet of nigella seeds, otherwise known as Love-in-a-mist. When I saw these flowers in the backyard, I thought they were Scottish thistles in bloom. But I’m not much of a gardener…clearly. I’ve since passed them on to my grandmother who will make sure they actually flourish.

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(The Goodwin Garden, Strawbery Banke Museum)

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For more information about the mansion, visit the museum website.

Concord, Massachusetts: Orchard House

It’s no secret that I’m a Louisa May Alcott fan. Quite honestly, it was this location that first sprung to mind when my friend and I began to map out the places we would visit. When we pulled into the gravel lot, I was taken aback by the slate brown hue of the structure. It’s at once totally bland and remarkable; it was much larger than I thought. And behind the house is the looming wooden structure Louisa’s father, Bronson Alcott, used as a school of philosophy for adults with academic aspirations. Among the students were transcendentalists Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.

 

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Although I wasn’t allowed to take pictures of the interior, I made an effort to engrave each of the rooms in my mind. The tour began in the kitchen, which we learned was an extension later built by Bronson Alcott. Extending the house allowed Bronson to build a hole in the floorboards through which the family could dip buckets to retrieve water from the well beneath. Unfortunately, the addition was built without a sturdy foundation and when the home was re-purposed as a museum it had to be restructured to sustain the weight of tramping visitors. Another interesting feature in the kitchen is the clothing rack. It’s obscured in the wall during the summer when clothes can be dried by the sun, but come the blistering New England winter, the rack expands to the breadth of the fireplace. The only downside is the possibility that an article of clothing is swept into the flames by a sudden breeze through an opening door.

Louisa May Alcott’s bedroom is the first on the right side when one ascends the staircase. At the far end, poised between two wide windows facing the front lawn, is her writing desk. It was a life-changing experience to stand within a foot from the desk Louisa wrote the iconic Little Women. Behind this desk is the bed in which she recuperated following her service in the American Civil War, where she contracted typhoid fever. At the time, treatments for the illness involved taking laxatives that would cleanse the body of malevolent bacteria. She was prescribed Calomel, which was a compound of mercury. As a result, she also suffered from mercury poisoning. During her confinement, Louisa’s youngest sister painted an owl onto the fireplace panel, since owls were Louisa’s favorite animal. This seems fitting, given that owls are traditionally representative of wisdom, a quality highly valued by the Alcott family.

PBS has a brief film that tours the inside of Orchard House. View the trailer here. 

And speaking of Louisa May Alcott, we also visited Author’s Ridge at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery where a fair number of notable authors have been buried, including Louisa and her immediate family.

Salem, Massachusetts: The Witch House

The last full day of the trip was spent touring the Witch House, otherwise known as the Jonathan Corwin House. It was the home of Judge Corwin and the only structure left that has a direct link with the Salem Witch trials of the 17th Century. Although wide and massive by all appearances on the outside, the interior is made of fairly small rooms with narrow halls. Of course, the rooms are made all the more diminutive by the dark slate wall color and tiny criss-crossed windows.

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This trip was incredibly memorable. I had long had the desire to travel further north. As it was, we didn’t have the time we needed to see all the historical locations we had written down on our “to see” list. But we succeeded in hitting the main locations in the five days allotted to us. Here’s to hoping we can organize an even more fulfilling New England trip in 2020!

Works Cited

  1. Millyard Museum
  2. New Hampshire’s Immigration Story
  3. About Amoskeag Industries
  4. Benjamin Edes
  5. John Gill
  6. Top 10 Revolutionary War Newspaper by Carol Sue Humphrey
  7. Communal Sleeping by Adee Braun

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