1929 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.