Waiting

for my story to be told

original larus buildingOn Friday, February 7th, I took a different kind of trip – not involving Sage, my car, but rather an airplane, to Richmond, Virginia, to visit by dear friend Nancy.  I was excited to see her, and due to a small green piece of paper that I had found amongst my Grandfather’s letter, I knew I could do a little more research on the company who he worked for – Larus & Brother Company of Richmond, Virginia.route list slip

This green piece of paper, which is titled “Route List” was a big piece to solving a bit of a puzzle to me.  When I first came in possession of the big box of letters, I asked both my mother and my aunt, what my Grandfather did for a living.  My mother was born in 1934, so for the beginning part of these letters, she would not have been around. The letters went through 1939, which would have made her not quite five years old.  I don’t think any five-year old would really know what their parents did specifically for work. My aunt was ten years younger than my mother, so she would have had no recollection of what her father did during the timeframe of those letters.  My grandfather died when they were very young, so they didn’t have the time with him to fully understand his previous professions. So, they weren’t quite sure, or they thought perhaps he was an alcohol salesman. This didn’t make sense to me for the earlier letters, since the United States was in Prohibition then, which would mean that he wasn’t selling alcohol (at least during the time frame of the letters that I really was focused on).  So, finding this green Route List, provided me not only with an itinerary of spots that he was staying at over a two-week period, but at the bottom of the Route List was the name: LARUS & BROTHER CO, Richmond, Va. By googling that, I found out it was a tobacco company, that was based in Richmond, but that is no longer in business.

After a summer of traveling to the spots that he had visited in 1929, there were still a lot of questions that remained in my mind.  In his letters, there was a lot of mention of setting up displays in various store windows. He mentioned that materials would be shipped by train.  He had received a compliment about the qualities of his displays. I wasn’t sure if he was actually selling the tobacco products or setting up the displays of the tobacco products, or a combination of both.  Doing some research on an ancestry project for my sons, I found out that one resource had him listed as a window decorator, while a census had him listed as a salesman. I was curious about the job of “window decorator” during this time period. The other point that I found curious was many people living at this time period, the Great Depression, were out of work.  Yet, judging from the volume of letters that I still have left to explore, my Grandfather seemed to be very employed. I wondered if the tobacco industry suffered economically during this time frame. From my visit with the tobacco farmer in Western Massachusetts, he had mentioned the very negative impact of the 2008 recession on the tobacco industry in Western Massachusetts.  So, how did this little company, from Richmond, keep someone from the Boston area employed during the worst economic time period in our nation’s history? All questions remaining to be answered.

So, knowing I would be taking my annual trip down to Richmond to see Nancy, I set off to find a little more information about Larus Brothers.  I found all sorts of interesting information, including Edgeworth tobacco tins for sale on E-Bay to a lot of information on the Virginia Historical Society’s Library site https://www.virginiahistory.org/collections-and-resources/how-we-can-help-your-research/researcher-resources/finding-aids/larus .  Larus Brothers was founded in 1877 and was originally located on 1917 E. Franklin Street in Richmond.  In 1897, the company moved to a new location at 11 South 21st Street in Richmond.  This entire area is now called Tobacco Row.   According to my findings, it was a smaller tobacco company, which edgeworth smoking tobaccooriginally just sold pipe tobacco.  Their brand name was Edgeworth. In the 1930s, they expanded their business to include cigarettes, called Domino cigarettes, and expanded their distribution centers, including adding one in Boston in 1932.  Around this time, Larus Brothers also expanded their business to include television and radio stations. I also found on the library website that during both world wars, the government requisitioned Larus’s entire line of production.  There was a special cigarette package designed for the troops stationed in the Philippines that contained General McArthur’s famous line “I Shall Return ” along with the General’s signature. While my Grandfather did not work for the company during either of these war times, it provided me with some evidence that this company was somewhat significant in the tobacco industry.

The night before I left, I dug deeper into the Virginia Historical Society’s website and discovered that they possessed the entire corporate records (10,000 pieces) of Larus & Brother.  I was hoping that maybe I might find some information, either about employees in the late 1920s, early 1930s time period or about window “decorations”. I was also hopeful that I wouldn’t need an appointment to do this research.  Nancy had already located where the company was located and when I emailed her about the library, she was game to also go there. I was excited to get back into some research for this little project of mine.

After a rather bumpy ride, I arrived in Richmond.  Nancy’s daughter in law works in the area of where the company was located, so Nancy knew where that was and also had a recommendation for a restaurant in the area for lunch.  The 23rd & Main Kitchen and Taproom is a quaint little location, which had a varied lunch menu.  Sticking with the tea theme of earlier trips, I ordered an iced tea, which was a standard tasting ice tea.  Sticking with the theme of Tobacco Row, I ordered a Tobacco Row burger, which had house cured bacon with tobacco onions and American Cheese with a side salad.  The burger was very tasty – the tobacco onions were basically fried onions, the bacon provided a nice compliment to the cheese, and the bun was nice and soft. After lunch, we headed back out into the blustery, blue-sky day to find the building on South 21st Street where Larus had originally been located.

This neighborhood is full of brick buildings, small little restaurants, and interesting looking shops.  South 21st Street is perpendicular to East Cary Street, where we had passed former old brick factories on our way in.  11 S 21st Street was a smaller red  brick building, where one alley sat to the left of the building.  Beautiful restored windows were present on this building, which appeared to now be a place to live.  The winds were howling, which indeed made it difficult to hang onto my green paper as well as project my voice over the winds. We could walk around to the back, where there were wrought iron balconies (maybe these were fire escapes).  I wondered if they did all of the production in this building, because when we were on E.Cary Street, we passed a building that had a chimney that said Edgeworth on it. We went down to E. Cary Street to check out some more of what was called “Tobacco Row”.  

If you were a company, East Cary Street sits parallel to two major benefits: train tracks and the James River.  In one of my Grandfather’s letters, he discusses picking up materials that were shipped on the train. I thought perhaps the river might also be a valuable transportation route, until I found out later that the river is not all the way navigable due to rocks and rapids.  But the closeness of the train would indeed make this a good spot for industries back in the day. The first building we came to, 2100 E. Cary Street, the one that had the Edgeworth written on the chimney is now an office building that hosts several different businesses, including the law office where Nancy’s daughter in law works.  There are also loft style apartments as well in this building. This is called the Edgeworth Building and Edgeworth pipe tobacco was produced there starting in 1925. Larus and Brother also had their radio station broadcasting from a studio in the warehouse as well. As the company continued to grow, they had buildings on Main, 21st, 22nd, and E. Cary Street. The next building, located at 2200 to 2222 E. Carey Street, had an old sign that said Carolina Consolidated, is now home to Consolidated Carolina Lofts, that range from studio apartments to three-bedroom apartments.  As we walked along E. Cary Street, there were little parks on the side of the west side of the street where there are no buildings. One building down, at 2300 E. Cary Street, was the American Cigar Company, which was established in 1901.  This, too, has been converted in “historic loft apartments” in what is known as Shockhoe Bottom. The last converted factory was once home to the Lucky Strike Cigarette Factory and is now known as the Lucky Strike Lofts. I wondered when these buildings ceased being tobacco companies and by doing a little online research, I found out that the buildings were originally built in the late 1800s to early 1900s and by the 1980s, all the tobacco companies had moved out by the late 1980s.  There was a new flood wall built along the James River in 1995 and after that, a Virginia developer started what is called, “adaptive re-use” of the former warehouses by creating the lofts, offices and retail space within the warehouses.   

After our blustery walk down E. Cary Street, we headed for the Virginia Museum of Culture and History, home to the Virginia Historical Society’s collection of all things Virginia.  As I had found, there were 10,000 items associated with Larus & Brother. Luckily, the library’s website had organized what could be found as part of this collection and what box it was located in.  I had one concern that the librarians wouldn’t be able to help me without an appointment, but I guessed that I wouldn’t know if I didn’t ask. One of the things I miss most about being a doc student is researching, and walking into that library with Nancy, I once again felt like a researcher.  I was asked if I had signed up as a researcher, and since I hadn’t, with a quick application and my license getting copied, I was good to get researching. In my quick research, I thought that there were records of employees, so I was really excited to see if I could find the record of my Grandfather’s employment.  The first desk librarian sent me to the research librarian. Excitedly, I told him what I was looking for and after he quickly searched, he told me that the only employees were those in the 1960s, which was clearly past the timeframe that my Grandfather worked for Larus & Brother. I was somewhat disappointed, but with 10,000 items, I felt like I would find something interesting.  

box at libraryOn the detailed list of different boxes, there were “Two scrapbooks, 1912-1935 and 1937-1946, containing newspaper and magazine ads for Edgeworth and magazine ads for Edgeworth tobacco follow box 14 Series 7. Oversize materials” looked interesting, so the research librarian filled out the request slip for me and I brought it over to the other librarian who would be fetching it from another floor of this building.  My hope was that perhaps I would find some ads that may have been part of a window display. I waited a little bit and the librarian came back from the elevator, pushing a cart that held one huge book and one large book. The librarian brought over some cushions to rest the huge book on. Its pages were starting to deteriorate, the binding of the book was giving way, and it looked a lot older than 108 years old. In fact, another researcher sitting nearby quipped, it looked like the first original book ever printed.  Carefully, I opened the front cover to start to explore what I might find out about Larus.

scrapbook1

The book was indeed a scrapbook, but unlike the scrapbooks that I kept, it was full of tobacco ads, in chronological order.  These first ads were designed by the George Batten george batten companyCompany – Advertising, which was located in New York. I did a little research into this agency and found out that he started this agency in 1891.  From the website Adage.com, it described George as being “Fiercely religious and humorless, he endeavored to make his ads 100% accurate. His values and personal dignity are credited with adding respectability to the ad profession.”   The firm started out very modestly – with just George Batten, a secretary, and no clients. The firm, though did prosper, and by 1908, it also opened offices in both Boston and Chicago. During World War I, it continued to grow and had many top accounts, such as Boyle waxes, Mallory hats, Regal shoes, Stevens-Duryea cars, Lehn & Fink Riveris talcum and Armstrong Cork Co.  Larus & Brother was not mentioned in any of the firm’s histories that I found. As I flipped through the scrapbook, later ads were produced by Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn, Inc (BBDO). This firm was created in 1928, when the Batten firm, worth $8 million dollars, merged with the firm of Barton, Durstine & Osborn, which was worth $23 million dollars. Barton, Durstine & Osborn, known as BDO, had clients such as General Electric, General Motors, BBDO adConsolidated Edison and Du Pont.  In the first year as BBDO, they billed $32.6 million dollars. After their merger, BBDO also added radio programming, producing the following shows: Guy Lombardo for General Baking Co., and “The Burns and Allen Show” for Hormel, Lever Bros.’ Swan soap and B.F. Goodrich. Up through now, BBDO has handled many high profile clients such as the American Tobacco Company, General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s presidential campaign, Pepsi Cola, and Wisk detergent (Ring around the collar jingle).  

As I am not a fan of people using tobacco, I never thought I would spend several afternoons reading tobacco ads.  But these ads provided insight on what was going on in the world as well as provided me insight to all the different jobs that went into creating these ads.  The first 20 years of ads featured hand drawn pictures of different tobacco products, people, and places. The ads were originally black and white, then were blue, and then full color.  I recalled that in one of my Grandfather’s letters, he talked about a tissue paper company, who was trying to recruit him to come and set up their displays. He told them about my Grandmother, who was an artist, and the company said she could work for them drawing ads.  The artwork on these ads were very detailed and was obviously the work of a real artist. I am not sure if artists these days are still involved in the creation of ads. 

The second interesting fact that I found while reading these ads was the lengthy amount of writing on these ads.  They were almost like short stories, sometimes targeted to a certain audience that would read the publication where this ad appeared.  The ads also gave a glimpse of what was occurring in the world at that time. I found one ad from Wm. Tackaberry Company that talked about a new Edgeworth advertisement came out every week in “the big national magazines and weeklies of large circulation.”  In the beginning of the first scrapbook, the earlier ads advertised tins costing 10¢ and 50¢ and humidor packages costing between 15¢ and $1.00. The ad also advertised that you could write to Larus & Brother and they would send you a free story, told by a pipe, called “The Pipe’s ad with letterOwn Story.”   The headlines, which would obviously not be able to be used today, included headlines such as “The Good Smoke You’ve Hunted So Long”, “By Heck! You Must Try THis Tobacco – Free!”, “Will You Be Like This Scotchman, Mr. Pipe Smoker?”, “A Letter From Two Jolly Pipe Smokers at the Top of the World”, “New England – Where Every  Man and His Brother Smokes a Pipe”, “I’d jes’ as soon hol’ ma maouth open and let the sunshine ht as smoke them thar red tobaccos.”, “From Kinnikinik to Edgeworth”, and “Noted General Pays Tribute to Tobacco”.  One ad discussed World War One, by declaring “The Men Who Smoked Through the Argonne”. This ad went on to state “Our fighting men did a splendid and telling piece of workd in driving the Huns out of the Argonne Forest.  Our men did it smoking. Smoking was allowed in the army hospitals. Many a man for whom there was no anesthetic, went under the knife grimly smoking. Tobacco and America were both discovered in 1492. Something over four hundred years later, when people were ruling out everything looking like a vice, the whole world sat up and recognized the virtues of tobacco.”  More wartime ads declared that any soldier that received tobacco were beyond thrilled to have a “real American smoke” in France. The ad also claimed that General Pershing sent the following “frantic” cable to Washington stating “Tobacco is as necessary as food.  Send a thousand tons at once.” Whether or not this is true would require more research, but Larus & Brother was certainly plugging the importance of their product on the morale of the troops.  One ad was a poem – “Have you ever noticed right after a meal, How tired and lazy you always feel? I’m telling you folks, it isn’t a joke, It will freshen you up if you try a good smoke.”  Other ads proclaimed that a professional singer claimed that using Edgeworth tobacco did not irritate his throat. A very interesting headline read “Doctor Recommends This Tobacco to Pipe-Smoking Patients.”   There was a series of ads that were written for the Kellogg Group of Railroad Publications. There was a different ad for every month of that year. Around this timeframe, Larus & Brother also started advertising on the radio, WRVA, The Edgeworth Radio Station.   Ads from the late 1920s and early 1930s targeted both college students as well as women, to encourage them to buy Edgeworth tobacco for their husbands so that they will smoke for pleasure. One ad went as far to state “A pipe is not the smoke for girls.” Another proclaimed that Robert Louis Stevenson stated for the rules for a happy marriage would be that “No woman should marry a man who does not smoke.”  In reference to the Great Depression, one headline read “Washington Reports Show Public Swings to Pipe Smoking.” The sub-headline said “Return to Normalcy Brings Calmness of Pipe Back to Favor.” The ad went on to say “The years of the Great Boom Market tried men’s nerves to the utmost. Just around every corner was to be found the pot at the end of the rainbow. These were the days of excitement, tenseness.  And then the bubble burst.  For two and a half years now we have been dropping back to earth.  Gradually men learned that calm, steady work  and work alone, brings prosperity.  A new generation has entered business – a generation that has no illusions about sudden wealth without work.”   One ad stated that “Corn pipe tobacco have Sex Appeal” The ads in this first scrapbook appeared in many different magazines, including Saturday Evening Post, Country Gentleman, Collier’s, Life, Time,  Pennsylvania Punch Bowl, Pathfinder, Literary Digest, and American Magazine.

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Click on the slideshow to view some of the ads.  I took the pictures while at the library at the Virginia Museum of Culture and History.

scrapbook2The second scrapbook, consisting of more ads from 1937 to 1946 was smaller than the first one.  While my Grandfather didn’t work at Larus during much of this time frame, the ads were again interesting.  In addition to some of the same magazines that had Edgeworth advertisements in the earlier time frame, they were also included in Liberty, Outdoor Life, Our Army, Our Navy and Leatherneck.  During World War II, there were a series of ads with headlines such as “Modern Barrack-Room Ballads”, “The ‘Blue Tin’ Enlists…”, “Edgeworth Has a New Uniform”, “Edgeworth in Africa!”, and “All I Want for Christmas”.  In addition to the ads, there were also other interesting artifacts pertaining to the war. One was as called “A Pledge To the Nation And To Our Associates in the Tobacco Industry.” The pledge went on to say that Larus & Brother was fully dedicated to serving the country.  It stated that “As a Company, we pledge our untiring efforts, our facilities, our experience- every meatts(?) at our command – to aid the Government in its prosecution of the war against aggression. As individuals, we stand ready to serve our country in whatever capacity the emergency may dictate – and we pledge a continuation of our present 100% participation in the War Savings campaign.”  There was also an ad about “Now Serving With the Armed Services” and it named the 90 members of Larus & Brother Company who had joined either the Army or Navy when this publication went to print. One additional employee was listed as serving with the U.S. Government in Washington, D.C. One of the last ads in this scrapbook was for the Guy Lombardo War Bond Show that was being sponsored by Edgeworth Tobacco and Station WRVA in June 1944.  

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These pictures were also taken of scrapbook 2 while at the Virginia Museum of History and Culture

Obviously today, these ads wouldn’t pass scrutiny as some of them were rather deceptive in nature.  In the collection that is held at the Virginia Museum of History and Culture’s Library (https://www.virginiahistory.org/collections-and-resources/how-we-can-help-your-research/researcher-resources/finding-aids/larus), there was a description of a letter sent from the Bureau of Deceptive Practices, which was part of the Federal Trade Commission that asked for more information from all tobacco companies in response to the Surgeon General’s 1963 finding that smoking was indeed bad for your health.  During my second day back at the library, I asked to see Box 15, which contained that letter. In addition to the letter, the box consisted of ads, tins, and tapes of ads that the FTC had requested as they were actively investigating cigarette advertising and labels. My guess is this marked the turning point in what the ads could claim.

Throughout my research on this entire project, I often wondered about the impact of the Great Depression on my Grandfather, since judging by the volume of letters he wrote to my Grandmother, he was pretty gainfully employed throughout this timeframe.  I also wondered about how the tobacco industry fared during this time frame as when I visited the tobacco farm in Whatley, Alan Sanderson told me about how the 2008 recession had decimated the Western Massachusetts tobacco industry.  But judging by the number of ads in pretty prestigious publications for Larus & Brothers that I found in this scrapbook, I think perhaps the tobacco industry was not really harmed during this time frame.  As part of the library’s holdings, there were also ledgers, that I thought might also be ledgerinteresting, so I also requested to see these. I will admit upfront, that I almost flunked out of Accounting 2, so reading through these were not going to be in my comfort zone.  There was a lot of information contained in these ledgers. Some of the more interesting ones to me, was that there was a page dedicated to licorice, one of my favorite candies! Turns out that licorice can sometimes make up to four percent of a cigarette and it is used to smooth out the flavor.  Other ingredients that were listed include glycerine and sugar. There were also pages for the Salesmen’s Salaries, Advertising, Sales Expenses, Fuel, Automobiles, Auto Tires & Tubes, and Commercial Radio. But to me, the most important page in that ledger was one titled Window Displays. According to my meagher accounting skills, it looks like they may have spent $37, 467.12 on window displays in 1929.  While I didn’t find out anything more about window displays, it was a good find to see that this was an expense at Larus & Brother.

My trip to Richmond not only provided me with the opportunity to be with one of my favorite people in the world, eat some great food, learn about Richmond’s history, visit some interesting shops, and see a glimpse of spring, but it also provided me with more background information about the company that sent my grandfather out on these long road trips that I had been re-creating.  While I still have more questions about the life of a traveling window decorator and in the tobacco industry in general during the Great Depression, this trip helped me learn more about who was Larus & Brother and the evolution of tobacco ads in this time frame.

 

screengrab-5bfd84ddc9e77c0026f399c71929 was a turning point in my Grandparents’ lives.  It was the year they met.  It was the year that they spent a lot of time apart. It was the year that they fell in love.  But the curious thing is that in 1929, the largest financial crisis ever hit the United States.  Yet, in these initial letters, you would never know an event of this magnitude happened.  In December 1929, my Grandfather discussed buying my Grandmother Sterling Silver for the holidays.  He seemed to be very employed not only in this year, but during the next ten years, so I am curious to the impact of this event on the tobacco industry in the United States.  

This blog post has been a long time in coming. It was started as I sat at “The Bayside” in Westport waiting for lunch hours to start.  It ends on the second to last day of December 2019.   The delay in getting this post finished was good in that it has allowed me to really look backwards at such a memorable year.  So, enjoy these reflections and next steps.

So, here I sit, at the end of my summer’s journey.  This is not where I initially anticipated the end of this journey would be, and I am not 100% sure that this is the actual location, but it was all the information I had to go on  and it’s a spectacular location to end this incredible and wonderful summer journey.

I have been blessed with multiple days of brilliant blue skies.  While I sit here, looking out at Buzzard’s Bay and the Elizabethan Islands, a light cool and soothing breeze refreshes me as I reflect on this extraordinary adventure.  This adventure has taken me from urban centers to potato fields to beautiful green mountains, to a lonely cemetery, to really cool little towns and now to the ocean. Along the road, I have had the assistance of many people to make this project possible. My dear friend Karen, who when I told her about this set of road trips in April, ran downstairs to her own library and pulled out a series of “guide books”, written during the Depression and describing various routes that existed when my Grandfather took his trips.  This information served as the basis for my route planning. Karen also did some sleuthing on my Providence and Southeastern Massachusetts locations. I reached out to the historical societies in “The County” and they enthusiastically provided me with information about the hotels in their towns. The North Adams Historical Society and the New Bedford Library Reference Section were also very helpful with my research. Eliza, Gus’s dogsitter amply entertained him while I was gone on my trips. My friends have been curious and interested about this project.  Jane served as a “local” guide in Concord New Hampshire; Pam and Kate came along for the quick journey to Gardner and Fitchburg; Johanna taught me how to pump gas; and Fred showed me different camera gadgets to try to make my videos a little better. Kerry told me to buy an external battery for the course I took in Lowell, but this device really kept my phone charged all the time (especially for my 10.5 hour drive to Presque Isle!).  

There were several different purposes of these journeys.  For me, personally, I needed to push myself to travel alone, as well as push myself out of my comfort zone by driving long distances.  As a result, during these journeys, I have driven 1704.8 miles, passed through hundreds of small hamlets to large urban centers, and seen our little corner of the world in a new light.  While I am quite comfortable with myself at home, I now have driven over 400 miles in a day; learned to rely on my GPS, even when I questioned its directions, and have enjoyed traveling through the backroads of New England.  

But, the main purpose of my journeys was to get to know the Grandfather, that I never knew.  Through his letters, I learned about how isolating his job could be, what type of work he did, about some of the scenery he saw in his travels, about his colleagues and their antics, about different movies they saw.  I loved taking he and my Grandmother’s photo along with me on each journey and taking a picture of them at each location. I felt like we were all taking a road trip together, but instead of his telling me about what he did, his words in the letter provided me with insight about what he did. However, the number one take-away was how much he loved her and missed her when he was away.  He really did adore her. He pined for her. He was loyal to her. These letters and these trips allowed me a window into their relationship that I had not been able to witness personally.  

It turned out that as I suspected, this was not the Hotel Plaza that I was looking for and a few weeks later, I sat at the location where the actual Hotel Plaza in New Bedford was located.  

Looking back from my journeys through the summer and into the fall, here are the highlights from each location that I visited:

  • Manchester New Hampshire:  The Hungarian Bakery. I had never seen such a bakery before and when I walked in, it reminded me of a place that you would see in Europe.
  • Concord, New Hampshire:  I loved walking in the CVS and hearing the original floors of the Hotel Phenix squeak as I walked along.  I also loved seeing the original walls and window frames.
  • Presque Isle, Maine:  Staying in the Northeastland, which replaced the Presque Isle House two years after my Grandfather stayed there was special.  I loved talking to the desk clerk about this project and having her supply me with the actual history was special.
  • Edmundston, New Brunswick:  Although nothing was open that day due to its being New Brunswick Day (unknown to me at the time), I absolutely loved the public park that was built where the New Royal Hotel once stood.  It was a gorgeous summer day and this park glistened in the summer colors.
  • Fort Kent, Maine:  I loved viewing the bridge between the United States and Canada that my Grandfather had written about in his letter.  I also loved seeing the steeple for miles coming into the city.
  • Houlton, Maine:  This town was a gem.  There was a wonderful little vibrant downtown area, complete with historical placards and a wonderful river walk.  Only regret was not spending more time there.
  • Fitchburg, Massachusetts:  I am hoping that Fitchburg undergoes some sort of revival like some of the other towns that I have visited have.  There is lots of great old buildings in the downtown area. This trip was special in that two friends accompanied me, so that was great to share this experience with them.  Strong Style Coffee was one of my favorite cafes that I visited during this journey.
  • Gardner, Massachusetts: Finding that the Colonial Hotel building still existed was special.  But what was even more special, was making a human connection to the building. Talking to a gentleman who had been to the CanCan Room to hear his uncle play in the Overtones, made this building come alive for me.  The other two women that I spoke to were so interested in the story that it made this trip really special.
  • Springfield, Massachusetts: This was probably the most disappointing part of my trips.  I could only find out that the hotel was across the street from Union Station, but could find nothing more.  The area around the train station was kind of dicey, so I didn’t want to explore the area for long.  
  • Pittsfield, Massachusetts:  This town was bustling on a Sunday morning and I enjoyed a glass of iced tea sitting outside at the Marketplace Cafe, while jotting some notes about my day’s travels.
  • North Adams, Massachusetts:  The drive from Pittsfield to North Adams was stunning as Route 8 cut through the valley. When I reached North Adams, the mountains that surround this small town were stunning.  I loved having a frozen yogurt at the Empire Cafe and take in the cool vibe in this downtown area. This is definitely a town I would like to explore again!
  •  Fairington Cemetery in Readsboro, Vermont:  This was absolutely a high moment on my trip.  My Grandfather had described finding this desolate cemetery on his trip from North Adams to Wilmington, Vermont.  I was secretly hoping that I would find it on my ride, and was totally psyched to see this little cemetery, pull over and sprint up the little hill to sit among the tombstones that he had described.  I felt such a connection to my Grandfather in this spot.
  • Wilmington, Vermont:  Another favorite stop on my tour as this was the only spot that still existed as the actual hotel that my Grandfather stayed in that was still a hotel.  I loved telling the desk clerk about the story and I would love to book a room here in the future.
  • Greenfield, Massachusetts:  Greenfield was another stop that intrigued and energized me.  I loved that I was able to find a walking tour of historical sites, which brought me right to the spot where the Mansion House had been located.  But equally moving to me was that the sense of community that was present in Greenfield. As I was leaving, I noticed a large community harvest supper being set up, which the only thing that people to bring is a plate. 
  • Providence, Rhode Island:  I had three separate stops in Providence, but I think my favorite was the Mohican as the original artwork from the hotel still existed on the back of the building.  While I was “filming”, there was a crew paving a parking lot across the way, who stopped for me. This was a really kind gesture. One of the biggest mysteries for me was what happened to the Narragansett Hotel.  The original parking garage still existed, but the hotel was destroyed to create a building for Johnson and Wales University. The entire area was still reminiscent of older times except for this out of place building.
  • Fall River, Massachusetts:  This town reminded me a lot of Fitchburg.  The downtown area was pretty deserted and I wondered why this once proud city, seemed to be another urban area down on its luck.
  • Westport, Massachusetts:  So, this was not an actual stop on my Grandfather’s tour, but a piece of misinformation led me to this stunning seaside village.  I loved sitting on the rocks, looking out on the ocean, as well as a wonderful lunch at the Bayside.
  • New Bedford, Massachusetts: Sleuthing on social media to find the real Hotel Plaza was really awesome.  Sitting on a cobblestone retaining wall, I felt closure to this chapter of my Grandfather’s journeys.
  • Whatley, Massachusetts:  I absolutely loved my personal tour of Alan Sanderson’s ninth generation tobacco farm.  While I am not a fan of tobacco, I am appreciative that this crop is someone’s livelihood.  I appreciated Alan’s warmth and passion about his family business. My trip to the Tea Guys was also great.  While the teas are produced there, the ingredients are not from there, but it was cool to think of one mile from the tobacco farms, sat a great little tea business.
  • Mount Sugarloaf, South Deerfield, Massachusetts:  This stunning vista provided me with a great overview of where the tobacco farms are located in relationship to the Connecticut River.  Hawks were circling above me on this brilliant fall day.
  • Montague Mills, Massachusetts:  This spot was the perfect ending of a perfect day in Western Massachusetts.  This old mill complex consisted of a wonderful used book store, several waterside restaurants, that also had outside seating, and an arts gallery.  It was a magical ending to a magical set of journeys.

So, what next?  

There are several areas that I still want to learn more about.  While I had a short trip in a neighbor’s Model T coupe, I would like to learn more about the style of Model T that my Grandfather drove.  My ride in Sage during these road trips was very comfortable, while some of the descriptions my Grandfather described about his car made me realize how difficult the trips were for him for a multitude of reasons.  He also talked about his company, Larus of  Richmond, Virginia.  I would like to learn more about that company, the job of traveling salesman and window decorators in that time frame.  In early 2020, I am traveling to Richmond to visit a dear friend and I am hoping to do some research at that time on this company.

But what about the rest of the letters?  After I finished all of these 1929 trips, I started going through more of my letters (they go through 1940).  And, I found, yes two more letters from 1929. And of course, they were from both “DownEast (Ellsworth) and “The County” (Calais), both in Maine.  The mileage was another 1000 mile trip, that with school back in session, would be really hard to do during a weekend (or even a three day weekend).  And with another ten years worth of letters, I began to think about what is next with the remaining letters. The next step might be to just combine all of the letters into geographical regions, instead of year by year.  So, look for a state by state tour in the coming year! Thanks for following this journey of discovery, I look forward to continuing to discover more about my Grandfather while expanding my own horizons as well.

new allen pic

 

hanging tobacco 3 - use

Tobacco

This was to be a different type of trip – it didn’t involve a letter and it didn’t involve a hotel.  Rather, it was more based off a memory of my Mother’s – that she had visited a tobacco field with her Father when she was a little girl.  She thought it was in Connecticut, but a little known fact is that in Western Massachusetts, tobacco is also grown. In particular, Broadleaf tobacco is the type of tobacco that is grown in Massachusetts.  It appears that the humidity around the Connecticut River, south of Greenfield and into the northern part of Connecticut, creates the ideal growing situation for this type of tobacco. This tobacco also seems to be mainly used as cigar wrappers.  I started off by googling “tobacco farms in Western Massachusetts” and found a 2018 Hampshire Gazette article about tobacco farming making a return in Hatfield (https://www.gazettenet.com/Tobacco-farming-a-family-tradition-in-Valley-19592674).  Since the Hatfield Historical Society was mentioned, I emailed the director to see if she could help point me in the right direction.  In the same search, was an article also detailing a fall foliage tour in the Connecticut River Valley and the tobacco sheds (https://www.providencejournal.com/article/20131103/LIFESTYLE/311039906)  I also reached out to the authors of that article and they did respond to my request and recommended the two books that they had published on the topic of tobacco sheds.  I did purchase: Tobacco Sheds: Vanishing Treasures in the Connecticut River Valley and the book did supply me with a little information on tobacco sheds in various towns.

Originally, I had planned on doing this trip on Monday, September 30th as I had the day off from school.  Another part of my thinking was to visit the Tea Guys in Whatley, who make some great teas. However, they are only open on the weekends and after several weeks of really long work days, I decided it was perhaps best to take it slow instead on that day.  Do some more research. Go through my 1936 book on Massachusetts. Read more about tobacco sheds. And during my research, I found a newly published article from the Greenfield Recorder, published on September 15th, titled The valley has rich history of growing tobacco (https://www.recorder.com/History-of-tobacco-in-Pioneer-Valley-27429701).  This article mainly focused on the tobacco history of the little town of Whatley (same place as where the tea was made), so suddenly instead of wandering around trying to find the tobacco sheds I decided to focus on Whatley and on the farms mentioned in this article.  From my 1937 Massachusetts: A Guide to Its Places and People, Whatley was described as: “(pop. 1133, sett. 1672, incorp 1771), named by Governor Hutchinson for Thomas Whately of England. Although primarily an agricultural community, a variety of articles have been made here from time to time, including machinist tools, brooms, spinning wheels, and pottery.  Today the chielf products are tobacco and onions.” (p. 564).  The 2010 population of Whatley was 1496.  Folks in Whatley had been growing tobacco since 1771.  Right before the Civil War, there were 97 tobacco barns in Whatley and right after the Civil War ended, there were 300 acres of tobacco crops.  The article also mentioned two current tobacco farms: Westbrook Farm and Fairview Farm. I googled both locations: I found really nothing on Westbrook Farm, but for Fairview Farm, I was fortunate that it had both a website and a Facebook page. It was interesting though that both sources mentioned growing annual flowers and tomatoes and neither mentioned tobacco. On the website, there was a contact form, so I wrote the following message:  

Subject:  Tobacco

Message: Hi, as part of a research project that I am doing on my grandfather, who was a tobacco salesman, I would love to learn more about this crop. My mother remembers visiting tobacco farms in Western Massachusetts in the 1930s. I am traveling out to this area this coming Saturday and I learned of your farm in an article in the Greenfield Recorder, and would love to learn more. Best, Susan

I sent it out and got excited about my upcoming trip on Saturday – which I now was calling “The Tobacco and Tea Tour.”  Taking this day to do more research was a great decision as I felt more prepared going forward with this trip.  

On Saturday morning it was rather chilly, a stark contrast to my last trips where shorts and a tank top were my usual attire.  It was the type of morning that it actually felt good to pull on my favorite green Gap sweater, comfortable pants, and yes, a light parka.  I had not heard from Fairview Farm, but I had its address, so I figured I would go there, then to another potential Whatley Farm, the Tea Guys, then off to Hatfield to the Hatfield Historical Society, the Hatfield Farm Museum, and then end up in Amherst, where I had not been since Christopher graduated from Amherst College in 2012.  At 7:20 a.m. Sage and I pulled out of the garage, a cup of hot tea replacing the usual stop at a Dunky for an ice tea and we headed west on Route 117. The route out to Whatley would be partially familiar as I would be following Route 62 through Sterling, Princeton, Hubbardston, and into Barre (the official end of Route 62 on the western side).  From there, I would head Route 122 through Petershalm and onto Route 202, a road that I was quite familiar with since that was the way to Amherst. And then, the backroads to Whatley would begin, traversing through Shutesbury, East Leverett, and Leverett, before intersecting with Route 116 in Sunderland. From there, I would cross over the Connecticut River on the Sunderland Bridge and look for Pine Street that would lead me to Long Plain Road in Whatley.  Despite the cold temperatures, the sun was shining and the sky a brilliant blue as I headed west. The intersection of Route 62 and Route 31 in the picturesque town of Princeton has a stunning view of the valley. Heading towards Barre, there are rolling hills and Barre Falls Dam area on your left. Barre Center is also a quinitentisal New England Center. Heading west on Route 122, I passed Stone Cow Brewery, the eastern end of the Swift River, and several beautiful ponds that were circled with changing trees and that a morning fog gave them a mystical appearance.  My 8 mile segment on Route 202 was familiar as much of what is on that stretch of the road had not changed since I had last been there seven years ago. Turning right onto Prescott Road, I got that feeling of once again being off the beaten trail as I passed through small hamlets, stretches of just green, and rolling hills. On Bull Hill Road in Sunderland, I thought I passed a tobacco barn, but kept on going and I was shortly on Route 116, where I was quickly brought back into the feel of being in a college town. I saw the first Dunkin Donuts since Stow, plenty of traffic lights, and a funky looking hill that stood out in front of me.  The Sunderland Bridge is a pretty bridge that crosses over the Connecticut River. There were several tourists on the sidewalk taking a selfie of themselves, the river and the funky hill. I passed through several more sets of traffic lights before turning left onto Pine Street, which then turned quickly into Long Plain Road. And very quickly on that road, there was a tobacco shed on the left, surrounded by truck trailers. I pulled over and grabbed a quick photo, as I was feeling pretty confident that I might find one further down the road that might still have some tobacco in it.

And I was right. Just a stone’s throw down Long Plain Road, mixed in between some sort of industrial area, complete with the Whatley Town Offices and an animal eye care facility, sat several of these tobacco sheds, complete with tobacco hanging inside.   Excitedly, at 9:20 a.m., after 75 miles, I pulled over on Sandy Road and jumped out of the car to check it out. A series of tractors stood guard to the side of this barn and a truck said “Fairview Farms”, so I knew, I was at an actual farm that still harvested tobacco. The tobacco shed/barn is a very interesting structure. These barns are very long – I think I read somewhere that they could be up to 100 feet in length. On the sides are openings with slats that look like they can cover the openings. There are also propane tanks outside the shed and smaller heaters inside the shed.  

 

 

 

The tobacco itself was hanging from racks that went the entire length of the shed.  While it was mostly a brownish-tan color, there were still pieces of a bright green on parts of the plant.  What also struck me was the odor of the plant. It had a very pungent, earthy odor to it. I am not a cigar fan, but I was wondering if this is what a cigar smells like when it is first made. 

I went back into Sage and drove a little to the turn around at Sandy Road when I thought I should take a picture of my Grandparents. If my mother remembers visiting a tobacco farm, I was sure that my Grandmother had also been a part of that road trip.  So, I went to the shed that was behind the first one to do their photo. On the ground was a lonely discarded leavetobacco leaf. It is a large leaf. According to a seed site, these leaves can get up to be 26 inches in length and 13 inches in width.

 

 

 

Getting back into the car, I knew I was going to look at another farm on Christian Lane, before heading to the Tea Guys, also on Christian Lane.  Continuing south on Long Plain tilled tobacco fieldRoad, I came upon a field on the left that had been tilled and thought it was probably where those tobacco plants came from. Across from that field sat many greenhouses and trailers, which served as the office for Fairview Farm. Christian Lane was not too far up; however the other farm didn’t look to be more than than a small farmstand, so I didn’t stop there.  The Tea Guys Factory Room was just up the road, but it wasn’t going to be opened for another 25 minutes. Needing a bathroom break, and perhaps an ice tea, I decided to head back to the Dunkin Donuts in Sunderland to do a little writing and refueling before heading back to the Tea Guys.

When I arrived back at the Dunkin Donuts, there was a long line of mostly college students there to get their morning coffee.  Standing in line, I went to check my email on my phone. And there it was…from Fairview Farm. A message that said, “Hi Susan, Give me a call on my cell…..Alan”.  That Alan was the owner of Fairview Farm. I got my ice tea and excitedly rushed back to my car to call him. I told him I was right down the road in Sunderland and could I meet up with him to learn about his tobacco farm.  Graciously, he said to come on and meet him at the Fairview Farms office (where I had just been). Since I knew exactly where I was going, it was an easy ride to get back there. Pulling in, I noticed that Sage was the only non-pick-up truck in the dusty parking lot.   I got out of the car and headed towards one of the pick-up trucks. Alan Sanderson and his dog got out of the truck. We shook hands and I told him about my project. He asked if I would like to see the operation and I replied “absolutely”. He offered to take me in his truck, but I thought I would just follow him in Sage (keeping in mind to not get into cars with strangers!).  We crossed the road, and headed towards Sandy Road, but instead of heading down the road, we veered onto a dirt road, where Sage would experience her first off-roading adventure. We kept going way to the back field that I had spied when I was there earlier. We both got out of our cars, along with his friendly dog and headed towards the shed.  

Alan shared with me that his son was now the 9th generation farmer and that his family has been farming since 1680.  While there are many Polish immigrants who settled in this area, Alan’s family is not one of those families, but probably more like his family moved here when Massachusetts was being settled in the 1600s.  His son is continuing the farming career which when talking to Alan later, he feels grateful that he has his son to continue the family business. Alan works with his brother as well. Their dad died in 2012.  Alan was explaining to me that dairy farms have hit on really hard economic times and many dairy farmers don’t encourage their children to go into that type of farming.

I had the opportunity to learn first hand about the manufacture of tobacco.  In April, tobacco seeds are planted and grown in the greenhouse. These seeds are very small and get coated before planting.  After about two months, the plants are transplanted to the fields, where it stays for another two months before it is harvested.  This next few parts seems to be really labor intensive. Alan and his family have a crew of Jamaicans that work on the farm for ten months of the year.  Many of these workers have been at this farm for a number of years. When the plant is being harvested, the whole plant is cut. This is done by hand because it is really important that the leaves not be damaged or the plant is not really usable for cigars.  Once it is cut, each stalk is roped together and hung on a board with nails that sits across a trailer. The trailer use to be pulled by a horse, but now is pulled by a tractor. The boards and the plants are now pulled to the tobacco barn, where they are hung five stories high and take up the whole length of the barn.  There are also propane heaters in the barn, because as Alan explained to me, the tobacco needs to dry at a consistent pace. During this process, the sides of the barn are open to keep it damp, but the slats can be closed in the rain. After about two months, the tobacco is taken down. The whole crew participates in this task and it takes about a day to get all the tobacco down.  Once it is down, they are put into a pile and then all the leaves are stripped from the stem. Again, this process needs to be done carefully as it is important not to get any holes in the leaves. The leaves are boxed into 33 pound boxes and sent to either the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, or Ecuador to be made into cigars (which are cured over a two year period).

We had a very interesting conversation about the impact of the 2008 Recession on the tobacco industry in Western Massachusetts.  Before this happened there were seven local farms, but afterwards, there were only two tobacco farms left in Whatley. In 2010, they had grown a huge crop, that was valued at about $1.25 million dollars.  However, the bottom had fallen out of the tobacco market and he only received $250,000 for that crop. Fairview Farms went from 34 tobacco barns to only six tobacco farms. After that, they decided to add some additional crops.  They grow a million mums for a company based in Sudbury and grow greenhouse tomatoes that they sell to local markets through January.  tomatoes

I asked Alan about that funky hill that was protruding from pretty flat ground.  He told me it was Mount Sugarloaf and that I should ride up to the top to get a good perspective of where the farms are located in relationship to the river.  He also graciously brought me into the office and showed me pictures of his family through the years. I was beyond touched by his willingness to tell a perfect stranger his story and wondered why the Greenfield Recorder only went off a story from Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture’s website (https://www.buylocalfood.org/local-hero-profile-fairview-farms-inc/) .  This was an awesome moment during this little research project and I am grateful to Alan for his time and his tour of their tobacco crop.

Tea

After this great tour, I was excited to learn more about another product made here in Whatley:  tea. I was first introduced to Tea Guys tea at Brothers Marketplace in Weston. They had many really unique flavors and soon, I was buying boxes of their tea to enjoy both at home and at school.  There is a small store here in Maynard that also sells some of their products. Since I like loose tea, I started ordering from them recently and have been pleased with the quality of the tea, the cost of the tea, and the timeliness of receiving the order.  But since it is actually made in Massachusetts, I was hoping one day to get out to the actual location to purchase my tea. And on October 5th, I finally did get there.

teaguys storeTea Guys is located in a wooden long building on Christian Lane in Whatley.  It was really easy to find and there was plenty of parking available.  I am new to being a Tea Guys fan, but according to information that they had at the store, they have been hand blending teas since 2002.  According to the young woman working at the counter, the company has five full time employees that do all the hand mixing of the teas. The actual tea comes from either China or Japan.  The teabags are also environmentally friendly as they are biodegradable. Inside the tasting room/factory store are lots of different teas – so many in fact, that it was at first easier to just walk around to see all the different teas before settling in on one particular type of tea.  An interesting type of tea sold in the store was the Congressman McGovern Mix. The box featured the congressman with signs saying “End Hunger Now!”, “Stop Food Waste”, “Food is a Right!”, and “Support Our Local Farmers”. Also on the box is a description that one of McGovern’s favorite projects is to help stop hunger in our communities.  I am not sure if the Tea Guys do other projects like this one to promote supporting local food banks, but it gave me even more of a reason to keep supporting this local tea crafter, who proudly proclaims that the tea is “crafted with care in Massachusetts”. After purchasing a variety of loose and bagged teas, I headed back to my car. It was really interesting to learn about two products, produced about one mile away from one another and both starting with the letter “T”.  

 

Mount Sugarloaf

view of tobacco farmsAfter Alan’s suggestion to go up Mount Sugarloaf to really get a good perspective of the river and the tobacco fields, I decided to forgo my visit to the Hatfied Historical Society and Hatfield Farm Museum.  My time with Alan would be far better than going to a museum that may have a little bit about tobacco, so I headed back out to Route 116 and took a quick left to enter Mount Sugarloaf State Reservation. Since it had turned out to be a gorgeous day, there were a lot of people hiking up the narrow, twisting road, in addition to a lot of cars coming down the mountain, which made it for a tight ride. 

Towards the summit, the road became one-way. As I rounded a big corner, the Connecticut River valley appeared on my right. It was a stunning view of the meandering river, surrounded by fields of green and white steeples in the background. I reached the parking area and headed towards the summit of what is South Sugarloaf Mountain, which is 652 feet high. North Sugarloaf Mountain is slightly higher at 791 feet.  There are hiking trails that connect the two mountains. Mount Sugarloaf is a butte type of mountain. According to Wikipedia, a butte is “an isolated hill with steep, often vertical sides and a small, relatively flat top.” The 360 degree view from the summit was spectacular. I could view where I was earlier with Alan – the tobacco sheds were still visible from this vantage point. The Connecticut River snaked through the green valley, while in the background were white steeples and turning leaves.  Alan said that between the humidity of the summers and the cold winters, it made this area prime for growing tobacco. After spending about 30 minutes on the summit on this brilliant fall day, I decided to really throw my plans in the air and go to a place I had always wanted to explore: Montague. One of the mini-regrets of my trips this summer was not allowing myself time to explore different places. Today, I decided not to follow a “plan” and be more spontaneous.  

 

Montague

I had long heard and read of this little book store on the banks of a river in Montague.  In my Guide to Massachusetts book, it only states that at one time, Montague had one of the largest hydro-electric plants in New England and that there was also a large fishing tackle plant located there.  I was heading for the Montague Mill,

which sits on the Sawmill River. It was a pretty quick and pleasant ride and heading down a steep, winding hill, there was the equally winding brick building. I knew of the book store and thought there was a cafe, so I was even more surprised to find a variety of shops and restaurants on the site.  I saw seating down below the bookstore, so asked in the bookstore where the restaurant was located. They pointed me to a door on the left, which led to an intimate dining area that overlooked the river. I went up to the counter, looked over the menu and immediately, the special of the day – a Kielbasa, Brie & Chutney Panini stood out to me.  The Lady Killigrew also had an interesting selection of iced teas (as well as other beverages).  I decided to order a Hibiscus-Tangerine Iced Tea to go along with my sandwich. I was asked if I was going to eat outside or inside and I said outside, how do I get to the seats below.  The counter person said those tables belonged to a different establishment and their outside seating was in the alley. Initially, I was disappointed until I found a spectacular table, perched high over the river amongst the grape vines.  While I waited for my food, I admired the brilliant blue sky set against the brick red sides of the old factory. My food and drink arrived and was absolutely delicious.  

montague nook2After eating, I ventured back into the Book Mill – advertised as “books you don’t need in a place you can’t find.”  This two story bookstore was full of all sorts of books and many nooks and crannies where you could curl up and read, or write while looking out over the river, or meet with others on long wooden tables.  The store also holds musical events throughout the year. I loved the feel of this establishment and could easily see this as being someplace that I would love to come again and curl up and read and write.  With modern GPS, the store was really easy to find!

I parked my car right outside of a cute little art gallery, Sawmill River Arts.  You can access this gallery either from the street side or from a fire escape stairway from the alley below.  Once inside, there are many beautiful local artisans who display their goods there. You could find paintings, photographs, beautiful cloth, jewelry, cards, pottery, and other really unique items.  I was looking for a gift for a friend and there were so many ideas, that I had to circle around several times. One little piece caught me eye – a little watercolor of the ocean and clouds with a cairn in the middle.  But the cairn was actually made out of small polished stones. The little card said “Cairn: gives reassurance to the hiker of being on the right path; memoriam to the deceased; meditation for those seeking balance.” There was many other items by this artist, including a lot of scenes with little owls.  I decided to buy this little painting for myself and went to purchase my item and my friend’s gift. When I went to check out, the artist at the register was painting little owls on stone. I showed her my purchase, which was she also did. Her name is Tracy Jordan, and these items are described as “watercolor backgrounds with mixed media foregrounds with elements lovingly collected from beaches, rivers, meadows or forests and then transformed into owls, cairns, sailboats, seals, swans, and laundry lines.”  We enjoyed a delightful conversation for about 30 minutes. It was such a lovely ending to a lovely day in Western Massachusetts, which was full of wonderful “finds”. I am glad that it didn’t work out to go on the 30th as this day was pretty much picture perfect from start to end.

purchases

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June 6, 1929:

I have worked quite hard today for I put in three large displays, one of those took me over three hours, the others a little over two, besides making a few calls on several customers. 

On a partially foggy mid-September morning, I set off to officially end my 1929 Journey.  Finally, the mystery of the Hotel Plaza was solved and I was looking forward to seeing where this hotel was located.  The beauty of Sunday morning trips is that when you leave bright and early, there is really no real traffic (and in some cases, other cars at all) to deal with and it is just peaceful.  This Sunday morning was no exception to the other Sunday rides.

I stopped at the Dunkin Donuts near my house.  While I had seen the mural on the other side of the building next to it, I had not seen this particular side up close.  I thought it was a good omen to have someone who had played for the Red Sox when my Grandfather was a boy, and another character who is my all time favorite see me off at 6:33 a.m.

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The route I would be taking was very similar to a good part of the route I took home from Westport in August, so it was nice that it was somewhat familiar for about 2/3 of the ride.  The first part was even more familiar – Route 27 in Maynard, Sudbury and Wayland.  Over Maynard Crossing, the big Harvest Moon sat high in the sky, bidding adieu to the night and hello to the day.  On what I call the “Wayland Flats”, the sun was brilliantly golden, rising over the Sudbury River and plumes of fog.  After traveling Route 27 through Natick and into Sherborn, I then turned right onto Route 115.  Once I entered Millis, there was pretty farmland and horse farms that sat on parallel sides of the road.  Norfolk is another pretty little town that I passed through before picking up Route 140 in Foxborough.  After passing through Foxborough Center, the road becomes two lanes and a 55 mile per hour road, that passes many shopping areas.  This road passes by Great Woods in Mansfield before entering Norton.  The Norton Reservoir is a beautiful body of water, and Wheaton College sits right at the intersection of Route 140 and Route 123.  While Route 140 continues into New Bedford, my GPS had another route in mind.  I passed through a multitude of corn fields and residential areas in Taunton, before heading onto Route 138 South.  I took this route from Fall River, but I was only on the route for about a mile before turning left, passing Bristol County Aggie on both sides of the road, and passing over the wide Taunton River on a beautiful bridge.  I went through Berkley and then entered a small pretty mill village in Assonet.  An almost ten mile segment of road brought me by Freetown State Forest, where many cars carrying mountain bikes were entering.

June 3, 1929:  Tena Dear: Well here I am in New Bedford instead of Fall River, for Mr. Hall decided to clean up from the south and work towards Boston, and what he says goes.

Soon, there was a New Bedford sign, which surprised me.  I went to college in this area for two years and I was not aware that there was such a rural section of this once Whaling City.  Within a mile, things started to look a little more urban and within a few miles, I was on Purchase Street, looking for #965.

Passing an old brick factory type building at 1213.  I went a tad further and saw the New Bedford Fire Station at 868.  Pulling into an office building on the right, I walked back up towards 1213.  I saw an 1155 and decided that I needed to be somewhere between that building and where I was parked.  There was a beach umbrella with a lot of discarded clothing and trash and then the perfect spot (and perhaps the spot) appears – a retaining wall of cobblestones, with a few weeds spouting out.  The multi-colored cobblestones curved upwards, giving the spot a neat appearance.  So, I sat my Grandparents down and then took a seat to survey the view.  The weather was gorgeous, about 70 degrees, sunny, with a crystal clear deep sky, very different from what my Grandfather described on June 4th, 1929:

The weather here has been sort of raw and chilly, how is it there in Boston, the same, I presume.  I hope that we get some hot weather over the week end so that we could go in for a swim.  

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Across the street was a credit union and beyond that, it appeared to look rather industrial.  It wasn’t the prettiest of spots, but because I had worked really hard finding this spot, it was special.  I am sure passerbys were curious to why there was a woman sitting in the middle of the cobblestones, but I didn’t care.  The Hotel Plaza was found.

 

Keeping in tradition of my other trips, I next set out to find a funky coffee shop.  While researching this part of the trip, I originally found a more cafe type of place with traditional Portuguese breakfasts and thought maybe I should try something different.  But then when I added coffee shops, the Green Bean popped up.  Since this looked more like my other stops, I decided to forgo the more breakfast place and check out the Green Bean, which was located further down on Purchase Street.  This area of town was older – there were many restored brick buildings and gas street lamps, which gave it a neat flavor.

The Green Bean was just opening when I arrived at 9 a.m. and I was glad to be first in line.  To celebrate the last funky coffee shop stop, I “splurged” (not money wise but diet wise) and bought a Vegan Cinnamon donut and an iced tea.  The shop was bright and cheery, with two sides of windows, white lights, green walls, tables and couches.  The donut was a tasty treat, and the ice tea was also tasty.

I wanted to find the State Theater that my Grandfather mentioned in one of his letters.

June 5, 1929:  “Well dear, tonight is the first night that I will be able to go out and Frank and I are going to see “The Man I Love” which is playing at the State in this town. ”  

IMG_1485The theater is also located on Purchase Street and it was literally about a one block walk from the Green Bean.  While getting there, I noticed that UMass Dartmouth has its school of Visual Arts in an old department store.  It looked like a cool place.  This area was pretty quiet, but I am sure during a school day, it is bustling with students as Bristol Community College and the New Bedford Global Charter School were also located right near this building as well.  And there it was, the now Zeiterion Theater.  This theater was originally called the Zeiterion Theater and it was opened in April, 1923.  It didn’t do well and closed briefly in September 1923 before re-opening later that month as The State Theater.  Originally, this theater showed silent movies. In the 1971, the theater was modernized and in 19 is now known as the Zeiterion.IMG_1486

This building looks wonderful and I imagine that it is a great place to see a show.

I loved the brick buildings and the brilliant blue sky that was shining down on me during my hour on the ground in New Bedford.  New Bedford is an interesting case study in that its population has also decreased from 1937 to now.  Originally, it was one of the chief whaling cities, until kerosene was invented.  Then, it was a major textile center until the mills moved south in the early 1920s, well before the start of the Great Depression.  I couldn’t help but wonder if the creation of Route 195 caused people to bypass this city as well.  By 2023, there are plans to link New Bedford to Boston on the commuter rail line, so perhaps that will pump up its population.

I wish I could had stayed longer as I would loved to walk around more and see the water.  But I was aware that I needed to be home to feed my boy at noon, so at 9:40 a.m., Sage and I departed New Bedford, using the same route as we used to come down to this historic city.  On my ride home, I reflected on how awesome this morning’s journey had been.  Even though it wasn’t the spectacular ocean ending, I loved my time in New Bedford.  I can now say that I was finished with all the 1929 hotels.

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My loyal traveling companion

Reflections of a Marvelous Morning

 

 

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“But as any good historian would do, I still have questions.  First, the letterhead had it in New Bedford.  Why wouldn’t it be Westport?  Second, I would think with this type of view, my Grandfather would had written something about the scenery, but there was nothing about the scenery.  So, while dipping my feet in the water, I was really happy to be where there was a Hotel Plaza.  I am not sure that this was the actual Hotel Plaza that he stayed at, but based on the information that I found, it was for me, the perfect ending to my summer’s journeys.”

I wrote this passage several weeks back, thinking my journey was perhaps over.  But as you can read, I was skeptical that I ended at the location that my Grandfather actually stayed at.

Before I traveled to New Bedford, I had requested to be approved as a member of “I am from New Bedford”, specifically to ask about the Hotel Plaza.  But I heard nothing except from the New Bedford news group, who told me the Hotel Plaza was in Westport. So, I took the trip on August 24th, thinking this was it.  But, I did question it all once I got down there. Yes, it was a spectacular place to end the trip but there were some things that didn’t add up, like wouldn’t my Grandfather had mentioned the spectacular scenery, the face that he wrote about going to the movies and my hunch was that there was no movie theater near here, and that New Bedford is a bit of a ride from Westport, so why wouldn’t the letterhead read Westport instead of New Bedford.  I felt like I needed to do more research on this mystery hotel.

On August 31st, I received word that I had been accepted as a new member of the “I am from New Bedford” group.  RIght away, I put out this post: “Hi Everyone, I am wondering if anyone knows if there was a Hotel Plaza in New Bedford? My grandfather stayed at a Hotel Plaza in New Bedford in 1929? Many thanks, Susan”

Pretty quickly I received this reply:  The old new bedford hotel. Downtown new bedford”  I thought to myself, “Darn”, as I had heard of this location before my trip (in fact, was going to go and stand in front of that building, that is now elderly housing.  I figured it was an old hotel but I also could not find out anything more about that hotel’s history.) But I went to Westport instead for that Hotel Plaza and just loved the ending of this summer’s story.

I asked the person, if he knew anything more.  And, “no sorry can’t help you there. Maybe try and Google it”.  So, I ended Saturday, August 31st thinking that I would be making a trip down to that location sometime in the very near future.  However, on Sunday, September 1st, I had another response to my post:  “The Harbor Hotel was the “Bookstore Building” aka Hutchinson’s Bookstore later Saltmarsh’s before it moved to the old Lincoln Store on Purchase. The NEW BEDFORD HOTEL was ALWAYS the New Bedford Hotel. The Plaza Hotel was a small hotel at 965 Purchase St. between High and Kempton, same building as the Output Store.” Maybe this was more credible information than the earlier response.  As always, one needs to question the source. The first one didn’t provide me any real credibility to his statement.  This one seemed a little more credible.

But what I find really interesting about this format for crowd-sourcing of information (much like I had done with my forgotten farmstand post), is the dialogue between people about their memories.  It went something like this:  

 

  • New Bedford Hotel it’s over a hundred years old. We are located in downtown New Bedford across from the post office. We are now a senior and disabled housing. Harbor Hotel was stores and offices
  • Didn’t realize it was a hotel at one time
  • Many well-known people including presidents movie actors and foreign dignitaries graced many rooms. It had four ball rooms on the top floor, spouter Inn on the first floor and a wonderful place for Family Dining children welcome
  •  The whalers lounge
  • I remember interviewing Aldo Ray there when I was a reporter for the college newspaper from NBITT back in 1956! Called him b4 class around 7am. He answered, seemed confused,asked what time it was. I told him 7. There was a pause then he said, loudly, 7AM? Yes. He had a fit! But I got the interview!
  • Great memory. Thank you for sharing. I would love to see the sign in registers
  • Yes that’s where my father worked years ago
  •  Had my wedding reception at the New Bedford Hotel 1968

 

I loved that this question raised so much discussion and memories.  But, back to the Hotel Plaza. Later in the day, my more knowledgeable source responded again with more information:

“Correction, the New Bedford Hotel never had a different name, it was always that. The Plaza Hotel was a small hotel at 965 Purchase St. between High and Kempton. There were a number of smaller hotels downtown. Most were little more than rooming houses. Some had rather sordid reputations.” 

I asked him what the “Output Store” was that was mentioned in his earlier reply.  The Output was a china, glass, sort of gift store; the type of place one would go for a wedding gift for someone you didn’t really know. Good suggestions were there. I worked at the gas station on Pleasant Street that backed up to the building the Output [and the Plaza Hotel were in. The man who owned the shop was our customer, for car service and parking. The station was “Dowd, Inc”, but the real owner was Mark Duff who also owned the New Bedford Hotel. The hotel had lost money for years but Mr. Duff thought a city the size of New Bedford should have a first class hotel and it did until his death. His son-in-law-, Alexander Pierce, was the general manager of the hotel. We took care of parking for the guests.”  

But the response that I loved the most was after I thanked him for this information: “All I did was consult my memory and a couple of City Directories. {I collect city directories, I was also a librarian for 40 odd years., nerdy, I know}”  I am really grateful for this self-proclaimed nerd for helping me locate this hotel, which has been a real challenge to find.  So, stay tuned for the trip to the real location of the Hotel Plaza in New Bedford in a few weeks!

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As I stated in earlier blogs about this past weekend’s trips, this set of hotels was really difficult to find out much information.  The one thing I had going for me for the three hotels in Providence and the one rooming house in Fall River, was I had their street address, which for the most part, has been really unusual.  However, for the Hotel Plaza in New Bedford, there was no street address either on the envelope or on the letterhead, which was more typical for what I found with all the other hotels that I had visited.  But New Bedford was a larger place, and I figured I would find out information about this hotel rather easily.

I was wrong.  Googling it didn’t reveal any clues about the Hotel Plaza in New Bedford.  There were no images, no news stories, nothing.  So, I first reached out to the New Bedford Historical Society.  I told the women on the phone what I was looking for and she answered, was I sure I wasn’t mistaken and was looking for the Park Plaza Hotel in Boston instead.  She suggested I reach out to the Reference Department at the New Bedford Library.  So I did.

I told my story to the reference librarian, who asked me to email them this information.  Several days later, I received this email back:  “Could you let me know how far you have gotten in your personal research? I have looked through several New Bedford history books, searched our local index, and explored our vertical file which houses historical newspaper files and I have found no reference to the Hotel Plaza or Peter Perroni. Does the correspondence have an address on it?”  When telling one of my neighbors about this mystery, I told him that there was a telephone number on the letterhead and he suggested that perhaps I might be able to find the listing in an old phone book.  So, with just a day to go, I reached out again to the reference department, asking them if they had any phone books.  And this is the reply I received on that question: “That is a great question and it could be a work around but unfortunately our earliest phone book is 1972. I wish you luck on your journey!”  I appreciated their willingness to help, but I was no further along, with a trip a mere 24 hours away.  I had learned from the librarian that there was a New Bedford Hotel, which had been turned into apartments for the elderly, and a Parker House, but again, I was not able to find anything about these two places’ history as well.  The only thing I had now was an address for the New Bedford Elderly Apartments, so I figured I would at least go there and stand outside that as it was a New Bedford Hotel.  My friend Karen, also tried to find information to no avail.

So, I decided to try one more avenue:  Social Media.  For my trip to Western Massachusetts, I had connected with a historical group in North Adams on social media and they were really responsive.  So, I went onto Facebook and did a search with the term “New Bedford”.  I was hoping for a group, like the “You Know You Are From Hudson” group that I belong to, where someone may know something about this hotel.  I put in a request to be approved to join the group.  There was another group, New Bedford Guide, which  is a veteran-owned, small business that provides news, information and marketing services in New Bedford and the south coast, Massachusetts area through NewBedfordGuide.com, FallRiverReporter.com, Dartmouth Guide, Fall River Guide, Fairhaven Guide and Tri-Town Guide.  I figured maybe they would have some information – or it doesn’t cost anything to ask.  So, I asked.   On Friday, at 8:54 a.m., I sent my question to them and within 30 minutes, I had this reply: “The old Hotel Plaza was actually in nearby East Beach in Westport. Hurricanes and storms accelerated beach erosion, so the site is now underwater. I am not sure how much is left.”  I was so excited that I wrote them back immediately and asked them if they thought it was around in 1929 and I heard this back:  “I am pretty sure it was there until the Hurricane of ’38 came and destroyed much of the region, especially East Beach which had a number of hotels.”  

Bingo!  I googled this information, but added Westport and great information from the Westport Historical Society popped up about how there was the Hotel Plaza on East Beach and how it was destroyed in the 1938 Hurricane.  Included on the site were pictures of the Plaza Hotel and a current Google Earth view of where the hotel was located.  With this information in hand, I started to get really excited about my last stop of my summer’s worth of journeys.

From Fall River, I got back on Route 6 East again, and turned off on Route 88 South.  As a child, we use to go to Horseneck Beach and as a college student, I use to run the roads of Westport, as well as frequent the beach.   I was really excited to get back there and it felt like the trip took forever.  But in reality, it only took 35 minutes to travel the 18.3 miles.  I passed over a beautiful river, then Horseneck State Reservation appeared on my right, and then I was turning onto East Beach Road.  Where hotels and grand summer homes once stood, there was only RVs and campers.  I knew from the Google Earth information that I had found that the hotel was located near a wall of rocks.  And soon enough, there it was.

Excitedly, I pulled off the road and put my flashers on.  Clutching my Grandparents’ picture, I scrambled up onto the rocks that sat behind the beach and just marveled at the scenery.  It was stunning.

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But as any good historian would do, I still have questions.  First, the letterhead had it in New Bedford.  Why wouldn’t it be Westport?  Second, I would think with this type of view, my Grandfather would had written something about the scenery, but there was nothing about the scenery.  So, while dipping my feet in the water, I was really happy to be where there was a Hotel Plaza.  I am not sure that this was the actual Hotel Plaza that he stayed at, but based on the information that I found, it was for me, the perfect ending to my summer’s journeys.

Way back in the day, I went to college in North Dartmouth, Massachusetts, which basically sits between Fall River and New Bedford.  We would drive past Fall River, either on Route 195, or Route 24.  I don’t think I ever went into Fall River proper when I was in school right near there.

Leaving Providence, I used Tour 6, which is Route 6 to travel to Fall River.  Once I crossed back into Massachusetts, Seekonk reminded me of a Route 9 in Framingham.  Lots of lights, lots of traffic, lots of stores.   Luckily, this didn’t last long and by the time I entered Seekonk, I could see little ponds and more evidence of being on the coast.  Route 6 East made a sweeping turn south into Fall River, where I was greeted by really large mills with the huge chimneys that were described in the Massachusetts Guide Book.  Fall River sits surrounded by water on two sides.  After an 18.7 mile ride, that took 44 minutes, I found a metered parking space on a little side street, and parked Sage.  I quickly found 177 North Main Street, the Irbington, where my Grandfather had stayed on June 11, 12 and 13th, 1929.  Like the Providence locations, I could find no information on the history of this building.  In the Massachusetts Guide Book, it said that Fall River had “ten hotels; twenty-four lodging houses; three boarding houses.” (p.229).  Based on some of what my Grandfather said in his letter, my guess is that this location was either a lodging or a rooming house, versus a hotel.

June 12, 1929 “I had been working in Newport Rhode Island today and upon arriving at the apartment, I walked into my box and woe to my eyes I did not see any mail.  I asked Mrs. Allison, the woman who runs this place whether I had received any mail to-day. She told me to hold my horses until I got to my room and probably Iwould feel better.  I looked upon my dresser and there you are, two large envelopes.”   

building outside

Currently, this location is a home for those who are either homeless or fighting addiction.  On the top of the building, was the word Peirce Building, which I did look up later to no avail.  It looks like that perhaps at one time, there was a grocery type store also at this building.

These letters provided yet another glimpse at the work my Grandfather did as well as  what he did in his non-working hours.

June 11:

“The wallet has not been found anywhere, so I think I’m out of all that I had. I had been driving my car without a license or registration all day yesterday and today until I went to see the registrar of motor vehicles, stated my story and he gave me a duplicate of my license, which cost me a dollar.  I told him a white lie when he asked me whether I had driven the car when I found that I had lost my license. I replied, “Of course not for that time I would probably had an accident.” 

“Frank and I are going to a show tonight, the picture “Innocence of Paris”. I will make this sort of brief tonight, for Frank is impatient to go to the theater.  Well I guess that I will have to bid you good-night for Frank over in the next room is pounding the wall, telling me to sign off.”

June 12:

“Instead of going to see the Innocence of Paris, we went and saw “Gold Cherous”, an actual picture of th elate World’s War.  There were a few battle scenes taken in the air, between the American Ace, Rickenbacker and a few Germans, say it was wonderful to see two master aviators go after each other in the air.  It showed the entire battle until the German’s plane hit the ground and burn up, it also showed scenes taken on the battlefield.” 

June 13:

“It was very warm to-day out here in the sticks, as I call this city and also I had to get a window which was fifteen feet long and about seven feet deep, all enclosed, with the temperature at 97 degrees, honest I had a desire to take my shirt off and I would have if it would have been somewhere on a side street but it is in the heart of the city, South Main. I trolled at this window for four hours and let me tell you something, it was hot.  I got into the window at ten and did not get out until a little after two, so you see it was a very large window. The manager claimed it was the best window he had ever had in that store, I thanked him of course.”  

“Frank and I are going to take a ride to Newport beach tonight. Newport is only some odd 29 or 30 miles from here.  We may go in for a swim and may not, it all depends how we feel when we reach there.”

What was really telling in one of my Grandfather’s letter was his description of Fall River:

“It has been quite warm to-day out here in this great mill town of our state, well practically all the mills are shut down and the people are out of work, so that makes business kind of hard to find.  I called up Mr. Hall and told him how it was here and I suggested that we do straight window trimming for the week, he said O.K., so that is that.”

In the Massachusetts Guide Book (1937), it sated that “Fall River, by its very pre-eminence in cotton manufacture, has been the hardest hit of all New England mill cities through the combination of general business depression, the preference of modern women for rayon or silk to cotton, and the removal of may textile factories to the cheaper operating field of the South.” (p.231).  It seemed like Fall River was already a city in decline in 1929. The population of Fall River was 117, 414 when this book was written; however in 2017, the population was 89420, which is a serious decrease.  I felt when I walked around the North Main Street area, home to the library, multiple banks, some restaurants, that the streets were mainly deserted.  There were many older brick buildings still standing on the narrow city streets.   I wondered if having major highways diverting traffic from going through Fall River had an effect on its decrease in population and industry?


For my quest for another funky coffee shop, I did find one:  The Pink Bean, which was located on 85 Purchase Street, had that cool vibe that I so love in a coffee shop.  It had a great selection of drinks and breakfast and lunch items.  I had a Iced Hibiscus Tea Refresher, which was fruity and delightful.

After spending 29 minutes in Fall River, I headed back to Sage when I spied a Gigi like Mini parked on the street.  Thinking maybe it was Gigi, I looked closer.  Not a convertible, but the same color!  I left thinking about how these mill cities were so prosperous at one time and how could they re-invent themselves for this century.

gold mini

Heading into this last leg of my incredible journey, it was extremely difficult to find out much information about the three hotels in Providence that my Grandfather stayed at during his travels in 1929.  I did call the Providence Public Library’s reference desk, but unfortunately for me, they were undergoing renovation, and anything that might be useful, was packed away.  The historical society website also did not offer any information on these three hotels.  My friend and personal librarian, Karen, also tried doing some research to not much avail.  So, the trip was going to be kind of a great unknown.

Pulling out of my garage at 6:15 a.m. this morning, I decided to take one of the “tours” that the Rhode Island Guide book suggested, Route 146 from Worcester to Providence.  Of course, when I entered it into Google Maps, it had me going Route 20, Route 146, Route 146A, Route 5 and Route 7 before entering Providence from the northern end.  And from what I have learned about using GPS on my phone, even though you transfer the map from the laptop to the phone, that doesn’t mean it will be the same route.  And once again, it wasn’t once I pulled off of Route 20.  Entering Millbury, I expected to get onto Route 146 South there.  But, the GPS had other ideas as I drove past the entrance to that highway.  Suddenly, I was on nice country roads, that went first through the little town of Sutton, where a very attractive golf course stood looking over the hills.  Then, into Douglas, where there was a small section that had mills all around.  It was really pretty and before I knew it, the GPS said I was entering Rhode Island and I was now on the Douglas Turnpike.  Again, no sign of any numbered routes, but it was a really peaceful ride with the minimum of traffic.  Finally, I got instructions to head onto Route 7, passing Bryant University, where my sister Jennifer had attended.  I never knew how close that was to Providence, as next up was a sign that I was entering North Providence.

My Grandfather stayed at three hotels in 1929:  the New Hotel Allen, the Mohican Hotel, and the Narragansett Hotel.  I was not going in the chronological order, but rather, what made more sense geographically.

The Mohican Hotel

At 8:26 a.m., after traveling 63.2 miles (on what seemed mostly backroads), I arrived at 344 Washington Street, which was once the home of the Mohican Hotel.

My Grandfather stayed at the Mohican on the following dates:  September 11 and September 16, 1929.

mohican front pic and letters

mohican pic sign2

Tena Dear:- Here I am back again in this old burg, called Providence and I am sorry to be back here now let me tell you.  I would rather be at a town called Saugus than here.

Tina dear, when I arrived in this town this morning, I had four large windows booked for me, which I had to complete and I sure am tired this evening why I can’t even keep my eyes open, so I hope you will forgive for making this one brief, if I don’t fall asleep.  With the greatest love, Joe

The Mohican still stands, although it is no longer a hotel, but rather a home for disabled people.  There appears to be an addition from a 1996 picture that Karen found online.

 

 

 

The cool thing is that there is a large painted sign on the back of the building, that is still there.  It appears that the paint has been freshened up from the 1996 picture and that the doors are bricked over and there is no longer any firescapes.  From the sign about the hotel, rooms were only $1.50 a night and there was dancing and floor shows.  I’m not sure that my Grandfather was a fan of this hotel as he said in a letter dated on 9/17/1929,from the Narragansett Hotel, that “Frank and I have decided to stop at this hotel in preference of the Mohican”.  Perhaps the dancing and floor shows were too much!

mohican 2019 sign

There was a construction crew paving the parking lot across the street from this sign, so some of my video is kind of loud.  I do have to note though, that one of the workers apologized for the noise, which was sweet.

Next, I traveled a block up to Westminster Street to find  White Electric Coffee at 711 Westminster.  I loved the atmosphere – it was what my sons would refer to as “very hipster” and had a great selection of drinks and tasty baked goods.  I decided to mix it up a bit and try a frozen green tea that had a little bit of whole milk and honey.  Outside the shop were several tables and I enjoyed sitting out there and surveying the surroundings.

 

 

 

I headed back to Sage, taking a few more pictures of the front and sides of the building.  At 9:00 a.m, I departed this location to find the next one.

 

 

 

New Hotel Allen

new allen pic

new allen adAfter a very quick three minute, 0.7 mile ride, I arrived at 11 Greene Street to see if there were any signs of the New Hotel Allen.  My Grandfather stayed here two times in 1929, on May 28th and on September 9th.  I don’t think that he was a fan of this hotel either as he wrote on September 9th that “Frank and I are going to check out of this hotel tomorrow, that is Tuesday, so beginning from Tuesday, please address your mail to the Mohican Hotel.”  His two letters did provide some insight into his job:

5/28/1929

Tina Dear: – Well here I am in Providence, safe and sound and you are back in the dear old state of Mass.  

The only thing that will make it hard for me is that when I am in Boston, I can not use my car after business hours, for the rule of Larus and Co. is that if any salesman gets into an accident after business hours, he will be dismissed without notice and of course, as I told you, my dad won’t allow me to use his car, but don’t worry about that, I will find some way of reaching you.

9/9/1929

Tena Dear: – Here it is just a little after nine P.M. I have just completed my supper after having worked until 8:20 P.M., quite late I’ll say, don’t you think so?

Well Tena dear, you see Frank and I were on a window that took us over four hours to complete, it was twenty-three feet long and about three feet wide, it is undoubtly the largest in length that I have ever struck. I put in a table display as you have seen in Lawrence, only this consisted of about one hundred and fifty tubes and eight panels, with four sets of streamers on the ends.  Tena dear, the proprietor of the store claimed that it was the most beautiful window that he had ever seen and he has been in business for over twenty years. Frank cut the paper and I put the display in if I had to do it alone, it probably would have taken me about six hours.  

It has rained all day in Rhode Island, just a perfect blue Monday, even with Frank around, I feel pretty lonely for that month I spent with you was just perfect bliss.

It was difficult to envision where this hotel once stood as most of the street either had new buildings or parking lots.  Cathedral Square was at one end of Greene Street.

 

 

 


After a very quick five- minute stop, I was onto my next Providence destination.

The Narragansett Hotel

narragansett ad2What was surprising was how close all these hotels were to one another.  The ride to the second stop was that long only because it criss-crossed over the highway, my guess is before that was put in, it would had been fairly direct.  Dealing with one-way streets also added distance.  So, I arrived at 96 Dorrance Street at 9:12 a.m., traveling 0.6 miles.  At this location, wasn’t the Narragansett Hotel, but instead, the Narragansett Hotel Garage.  So, why did the garage still exist and not the hotel?  To me, that is a million dollar question!

narragansett envelope

naragansett pic

The Narragansett Hotel, was referred to on the Narragansett Hotel Garage’s application to the National Register of Historic Places as  “the finest hotel in the city’s history” and that it was built in 1878.  From the above ad, it had 250 rooms and was called the “Largest and Leading” Hotel in Providence. I am not sure how, but somehow, this grand hotel was demolished in 1960 to make room for Johnson and Wales Campus Center.

narragansett old drawing

Before – from the Rhode Island Historical Society

 

narragansett campus center

After: What Was Built

 

 

My Grandfather wrote from the Narragansett four times -on 9/17/2019, 9/19/1929, 12/10/1929 and 12/11/1929.  These letters again revealed some of what happened in his free time.

9/17/1929

Tena Dear: – Well I am just like the Wandering Jew for Frank and I have decided to stop at this hotel in preference of the Mohican.  It is situated right in the downtown section and it is more convenient than the other to get about. The whole crew and I went down to the State Theater to see Wm. Haines in Spudway.  Say, I never laughed so much in a picture as I did to-day. Why some of the foolish stunts that he pulls are wicked and to top that off, our gang comedy was darn good. If you probably saw it, the one where they have the boxing match.  Tina dear, even tho’ I have been with the boys this evening, I am terribly lonely. There was an organ solo entitled “The Rosary”. You know how beautiful that song is.  

Frank worked with me this day and we got in eight displays, you see that is just four out of my car and Frank puts in the same ot of his.

Next week, we leave for Springfield and Frank does not want to come home for the weekend, but much I care, for I know that if I had three hundred miles to drive to see you, I would gladly do it.

9/19/1929

I suppose you are wondering why I did not write you last night, well I’ll tell you, Mr. Hall, his wife and daughter, Frank, Ed Hoffman and I went down to Cliff Mitchell’s home.  We all had a very pleasant evening, playing bridge, Frank at the piano while Cliff and I were endeavoring to sing later, we had a little lunch and then it was about 11:45 p.m., so we decided to get back to the hotel.

Cliff Mitchell has a beautiful home, a home which is my ideal and I hope that some day I’ll be able to have one like him.  WIth the proper encouragement and also with plenty of ambition, I do not see why I could not have one.  

I expect to go to the office Saturday and then load up for my trip to Springfield, then wash up, get dressed and hurry to you for a few hours of happiness.  I

I have as yet to make out my reports, that is to say yesterday’s and to-day’s.

12/10/1929

Well honey dear, I have just completed a tour of the art gallery for the fourth time tonight and honest the drawings and paintings get e more lonely with that everlasting desire to have you with me.  Tena dear, when I look up at the paintings, I only wish that you were here to enjoy them with me.  

I was through today at seven and I feel kind of tired.  This you see dear, I have this darn cold and that takes a lot of pep right out of a person.

I have done some shopping today and I wish you would tell me what you want as for your initial, T or A. 

12/11/1929

Tena Dear: – This morning when I awoke the ground was covered with snow and when I got outside, it was terribly cold.  This evening, I believe the temperature must be close to zero for my lsat window was all frozen with the inside of the store well heated.  

Tonight, I feel very blue for all the drug stores that I went into to-day had a radio going and I’ll be darned if they all did not have some dreamy melodies on them, and of course, I have told you the effect that type of music has on your little Joey

What I found interesting is that these two letters were the only two that were written after the Stock Market Crash.  I had often wondered if there was any impact on my Grandfather.  But in the letter dated 12/10/1929, he talks about buying sterling silver for my Grandmother:

“Cliff Mitchell’s brother said that they were worth about twelve dollars a set and the silver in them was compound, so of course, I paid a price for them and he said that he would give a guarantee on the set for a life time and also your children’s for it is pure sterling silver in the latest design by the silversmiths and I hope you like the set for I think it is very cleverly designed for the greatest little girl in the wide world and of course that means you dear. ” 

What was very curious to me was the large amount of older buildings that still exist in this neighborhood.  The Narragansett Parking Garage, was built in 1923 to accommodate guests who were now driving.  It is now the oldest parking garage in Providence and it was admitted to the National Register of Historic Places after some of the garage’s details were brought back to their original looks.

 

 

 

At 9:22 a.m., I once again got back into Sage to journey to our next stop.  While I didn’t find out a lot of information about these hotels, my Grandfather’s letters from these stays did provide a great glimpse into his working and leisure time while on the road. I am definitely going to dig deeper into why this hotel, which was rather significant, was allowed to be demolished.

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Leaving Wilmington Vermont at 2:37 p.m., my ride took me through sleepy hamlets and through beautiful valleys, with fields of corn swaying in the slight breeze.  The mountains also continued to frame my ride and the rolling hills allowed me to see beautiful country vistas.  The signs on Massachusetts Route 112 proclaimed that this road was a “scenic byway” and indeed it was.

At 3:26 p.m., after driving 29.4 miles, I pulled into downtown Greenfield to see my last hotel of the day.  I wasn’t sure what to expect after being in beautiful Wilmington.  From my Grandfather’s letter, he surely did not have a good time in Greenfield.  But what would my 2019 experience be like compared to his 1929 experience?  I would soon find out.

I knew from my research that the Mansion House had burnt down in a huge fire in January 1959. This hotel was located on the north side of Main Street in Greenfield, just west of where the public library is currently located.  Prior to its burning down, this spot had always had some sort of inn/tavern/hotel on it, much like Pittsfield and North Adams. Originally, there was a tavern on the spot that was built around 1720.  Then, a brick building was built in 1828. This served as both a stagecoach stop and a hotel. When railroads became more popular, the stage coach stop ceased being used, but the hotel still remained popular.  The building was demolished after the fire. From pictures of the hotel, it was a large brick structure on a corner.  There appeared to be shops on the bottom floor and about three floors above the ground floor.  Initially, I wasn’t sure where the hotel was actually located until I found this wonderful brochure on a walking tour of downtown historic Greenfield (http://www.greenfieldsfuture.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Greenfield-Historic-District-Walking-Tour.pdf)  By looking at IMG_0972this information, it was clear to me that Greenfield seemed to be a city that treasures its history.  While we often flock to cities and towns that are perceived to being important historically, it is equally important to note that every town and city has its own history and stories to tell.  So, judging by this historical information, Greenfield want the stories of its history told.  (and this sign was seen outside the Unitarian Universalist Church on Main Street in Greenfield). Using the information in this brochure about the Mansion House, I set east on Main Street to find the location of where the Mansion House had been located.IMG_0965

It was in the 90s as I walked up the road about a 1/4 from the public parking lot.  There were people out and about, eating ice cream at an outside shop and just strolling along leisurely on this hot afternoon.  Quickly, I was at the Greenfield Savings Bank, which now occupies where the Mansion House once was.  As I sat on the wall outside the bank, I could look across the street to a movie theater, named the Garden.  In my Grandfather’s letter, he wrote “This evening Frank suggested right after dinner that we go to the theater to see Thomas Michigan in the Argyle Case and that there would be a half-hour of organ music before the show. All that organist played was lonely and blue music, which made me feel worse and I somehow hoped that he would stop playing. The picture was very good, so that amused me for awhile, but after the show, I am worse than I have been all day long.”

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What was great about Greenfield’s celebrating their history was that there was also a historical plaque on the sides of buildings.  To me, this shows pride in telling their story and for people to realize that each building or each spot does have a story to tell.

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And here’s a little more about the history of the Mansion House:

Before heading back on the road, I wanted to explore a little more of this town as well as, yes, get one more ice tea.  The town had a lot of interesting buildings, architectural wise.  What was also interesting was the town’s commitment to social justice as there were murals on sides of buildings and on other items throughout the town.

With just 20 minutes to spare before it closed, I found Greenfield Coffee.  This little cafe, located at the intersection of Route 2A and Routes 5/10.  As this was my 5th ice tea for the day, I was wondering what I might find at the end of their day.  And I ended up finding the best one of the day – a refreshing Hibiscus-Ginger ice tea.  I sat outside on one of the greenfield teasmall tables and took in the good vibes that Greenfield was giving off.  My eye was drawn to what looked to be a farmer’s market across the street, so after finishing my tea, I set off across the road.

I learned this was called Court Square and not only was there tents set up with many great vegetables, but there were a lot of folding tables set up, complete with pretty vases and flowers.  I was wondering what was going on there, so I went over to a small music events place, where there was a sign in the window to what was happening at this location very shortly.  There was a community dinner, called the Harvest Supper, where everyone would share local fresh farm food, and family entertainment.  The only thing you needed to bring was your own plate!  I loved the diversity of people who were showing up to enjoy community.  Even more impressive was this was the 15th annual event. And then, it really struck me that Greenfield was a place that treasured community, social justice, and history.

From looking at some of my Grandfather’s letters in other years, he traveled to mainly large cities.  I have also been to some larger cities during these sets of journeys, but I have really come to appreciate the small towns, that value community and their histories.

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“I am in a place, which I never expected to be on this trip, mainly Wilmington Vermont. One day you hear from me in Pittsfield, the next in North Adams, and now from Vermont.”

After the unexpected finding of the cemetery that my Grandfather had written about in his letter, I got back into Sage and continued on our journey to Wilmington, Vermont.  After Route 8 ended, I turned east onto Route 9, which was an incredibly beautiful ride. There were steep uphills and equally steep downhills, complete with several runaway truck ramps.  Following alongside this road was a gorgeous river and several lakes. As I rounded a big bend in the road, I saw a beautiful bridge that spanned over the river that appeared to be for pedestrians.  Suddenly, the traffic was stopped which provided me a moment to take Wilmington in. The streets were full of beautiful old colorful buildings and people walking on the narrow sidewalks. Excitedly, after a 47 minute, 24.7 mile ride, I pulled into the public parking lot and set out to find what was called the Childs Tavern, when my Grandfather stayed there, but what was now known as the Crafts Inn.  I knew from my research that, first, the building was still standing, and second, it still functioned as a place where people could stay, which was the first hotel that I had seen in this journey that still served as a hotel. So, after the high of finding the cemetery, there was this high of actually stepping into a building where my Grandfather stayed, and where I could stay as well (at some other point).  

IMG_0885Quickly, I walked up the street and there it was – the Craftsman style inn, with three floors, a sweeping front porch and beautiful flowers adorning the front of the building.  To the right of the fire-engine red front door, was one placard that labeled the building a historical landmark, and underneath that was a bronze plaque saying it was on the National Register of Historic Places.  From my research, I found out that Wilmington Vermont has the distinction of having two buildings designed by the famous architectural team of McKim, Mead and White, who also designed the Boston Public Library, Symphony Hall in Boston, Parts of Columbia University, and also did a redesign of the White House’s interior.  These two buildings are what is now known as Craft’s Inn and Memorial Hall. Major F.W. Childs, a Civil War hero and Wilmington’s richest citizen decided that the town needed a place for tourists to stay and also needed a place for both tourists and town citizens to go for entertainment. Memorial Hall was opened in time for the holidays in December 1902, and Child’s Tavern was opened on February 10, 1903.  

As described on the Inn’s website, “The hotel was built more as a resort for visitors who would be staying for an extended period, as opposed to other accommodations in the area, designed largely for travelers passing through. A lot of people would come up from the city. The men would send their families up for a long-term stay, maybe for a month during the summer. It was a very popular place back then.”  This is interesting as my Grandfather was definitely only up there for a very short time, so that seems to go against the original intent of this Inn.

IMG_0895One of the founding families of Wilmington was the Craft family.  They were the owners of the Vermont House, which was across the street from the Child’s Tavern.  This area was becoming more popular with tourists and Major Childs and Floyd Crafts negotiated a deal where the Child’s Tavern was deeded over to the Craft family.  The Craft family expanded it several times, including adding baths so that every two rooms would share one bathroom, complete with hot and cold running water. The lobby was also enlarged during these renovations.

In the 1950s, the Inn’s ownership changed several times and they decided to change the name from Child’s Tavern to Craft’s Tavern.  It in now run as a time -share property, but it also looks like people who don’t own a share could also rent it out.  

The covered front porch was spectacular – there were many wicker chairs, benches and a swing.  An American and Vermont flag waved gently in the breeze. When looking at the building, the open porch was to the right of the front door and to the left was a room, that looked to be a game and reading room. After doing my filming, I entered through the front door to find a woman folding linens at the front desk.  I told her what I was doing and she was excited to hear that the Crafts Inn was the only still functioning hotel that I had found in my 1929 journey. She told me to look around. I am not sure if this was just part of the original lobby as the room was not that big. There were several interesting displays in the lobby.  The first was a several old postcards and a picture of Mr. and Mrs. Craft. The second one was a display of old plates, mugs, keys and other information to do with the Crafts Inn. After thanking the woman, I went back outside to explore. The huge porch wrapped around the other side for a little while and there was an open door, so I looked in to see what was there.  There was wood wainscotting, leading upstairs. To the right of this side was Memorial Hall. It is a smaller sized building that is adorned by beautiful flowers and benches. There are still shows at this location. On the other side of the inn, was a large statue of Molly Stark, the wife of a Revolutionary War hero. This statue was surrounded by a small brick patio, more lovely gardens, and a gazebo that sits near the banks of the Deerfield River.  It is a simply lovely location and I would love to come back and stay at this Inn sometime in the near future.

IMG_0907After a tasty Black Bean Burger and Ice Tea at the Village Roost, I did venture down to that beautiful footbridge.  Gorgeous containers of flowers adorned the green railings. On the other side of the bridge, were more walking paths that paralleled the river.  I walked back up past the Crafts Inn to find another beautiful adorned bridge. All of the buildings in this “downtown” area seemed to be older and were in great shape.  There were many restaurants, shops as well as the town building, churches, and a library all within walking distance of the Inn.

 

I spent a little over an hour in this magical little town before heading back to Sage.  I wondered how my Grandfather ended up here as it was clear from his letter that he thought he was originally going right from North Adams to Greenfield, but somehow ended up in Wilmington, at an inn, that supposedly didn’t cater to business travelers.  I am sure that many of the buildings that I saw today were in fact there when he stayed there. From my research, I learned that this area was originally a big lumber area before transitioning to a more tourist area. I am wondering if that transition had started to occur when he was there.  I look forward to coming back up here and stay in the same exact building that my Grandfather did sometime in the near future.

“Tomorrow I’ll write to you from Greenfield”.  I wonder if he was sad to leave behind this exquisite Vermont town?