Waiting

for my story to be told

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Tina dear, again I am going to try to describe the wonderful scenery that confronted me on my way to Vermont. 

October 1929: Upon leaving North Adams, you drive towards the Green Mountains and say dear, you can not possibly imagine the sight that confronts one’s eyes – why it is beyond words. To start with, this morning it was quite snappy and also cloudy, it seemed that it were going to snow.

August 2019: On this humid but bright blue sky August day, I got back into my car, put my Grandfather and Grandmother back in the bag on the front seat and headed north on Route 8 towards Vermont. I quickly found myself on a curving road, where old brick mill buildings sat guard on the windy road, framed by full green trees and a bright blue sky.

October 1929: George Scronberg and I are together, for today so that makes it much more pleasant now to get back to the scenery.

August 2019:  I am alone in Sage, my Mini Cooper Countryman.  While it would be nice to share this scenery with someone else, I am also quite content by myself.

IMG_0882October 1929:  I had the leading car with George right behind me, as we left the town limits, a large mountain climb confronted us, while climbing this mountain, you look to either side and see a valley with the most gorgeous coloring imaginable and as one climbs to the top, you see another mountain, with the peak covered with snow and it seems directly below the peak, the coloring of the different trees are trying to appear more beautiful than the other.  It is just too beautiful of a sight to pass by! Farther along you strike a valley and all along side of the road are these overhanging trees with another set of colors and on your right there flows a stony brook, swift in some spots and slow in others, then again you begin to climb a mountain, approaching the top, you again look at either side and see colors with the sun coming out of the clouds for an instant and lighting up a certain spot which for an instant reminds you of a rainbow.  

August 2019:  My trip was a bit different as it occurred in August, where all the colors were still pretty uniform, and from afar, I spy a large peak not covered with snow, but with wind turbines.  There indeed is a stony brook, but this brook is not flowing swiftly, but rather, it seems to take its time, meandering along slowly, with reflections of the white puffy clouds interspersed with irregular shaped brown stones on this hot summer early afternoon.  The brilliant blue sky is simply gorgeous as I keep climbing to the top on this glorious late summer day.

IMG_0878October 1929: Further along it is a climb again, but this time when you reach the top, you see a beautiful sleepy hollow, and right in the center, it appears, there are small white slabs, with a clump of young evergreen trees surrounding it and as you get into the valley you notice that the mountains are surrounding it, with the same array of magnificent coloring, well I stopped near this cemetery for about ten minutes and thought what a quiet and dreamy, but lonely spot, if not for the brilliant colors, if would appear totally barren and would give you the shudders.  The name that I gave this place was “Sleepy Hollow” and it sure was a long sleep for those that had been buried there. All of the slabs were of the same height and that sort of was striking.

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August 2019:  From reading my Grandfather’s letter from Wilmington, Vermont, I knew he spoke about finding a small cemetery.  With that in mind, I was wondering if I would find this cemetery. Could it be completely overgrown? Would it be obvious from the road?  It’s hard to both drive and look for a pretty obscure location at the same time. I knew that I would be on Route 8 for not that much longer and I hadn’t seen any cemetery yet.  And then, perched on a hill on the right side of Route 8/100 North, there it was. I quickly stopped the car, backed up into a little side road, grabbed my Grandparents, my phone, and the letter and sprinted up the steep hill to the cemetery.  I was beyond thrilled to be able to go to the same place that he found, and that I was able to find it through his wonderful description. While the mountains are still surrounding this burying ground, there were some changes. In addition to the white slabs that my Grandfather described, there were larger granite stones, and stones that had small flags, signifying that person was a veteran.  The mountains still surrounded the cemetery, but on top of those mountains were the wind turbines that I had seen from a distance. I too, spent about ten minutes there and thought about my Grandfather. This set of letters for this Western Massachusetts/Vermont trips contained vivid information about the scenery that I had not seen in other letters. It was sitting on top of that 830 foot hill in a light summer breeze, that I realized for my Grandfather, who lived in Cambridge, that this scenery was probably really foreign, and along with fall foliage, it must had been so stunningly beautiful that he needed to pen what he saw to my Grandmother.  

October 1929: All along it is just scenery that is a tonic for sore eyes and a burden for a lonely heart, that fills you with longing for the thing you hold, the greatest living thing on earth and that is namely you Tina dear.

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August 2019:  As I headed back down the hill to the car, I felt that this experience was incredibly moving.  To sit in the same location and admire the same scenery as the Grandfather I never knew, filled me with a sense of connection with this man who loved my Grandmother so very much.  

Post note:  I really had no idea where this cemetery was actually located.  From the GPS on my photos, it said Searsfield, but I wasn’t able to find any information on cemeteries there.  I get sleuthing on Google and came up with a list of cemeteries. Finally, I found the name: Fairington Cemetery in Readsboro, Vermont.   And the name of the dirt road that I pulled off on:  Sleepy Hollow Road.  

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As described in the Massachusetts book from the American Guide Series books (1937), “To the visitor arriving from points east, whether by automobile on the famous Mohawk Trail or by train through the equally famous Hoosac Tunnel, this little mill city bursts suddenly into view in a setting of striking mountainous beauty.  On the west is Mt. Greylock, 3503 feet high, and on the east is Hoosac Mountain” (p.459)

I didn’t come from the east (in fact, I was coming from the south, driving north on part of Tour 21, From Vermont Line (Stamford) to Connecticut Line (Winsted), 68.6 m, State 8.  The roads are described as Macdam road, frequently hilly and therefore slippery in winter.  The altitude also can reach 2000 feet.  This was a quick trip, taking 38 minutes to travel the 21.1 miles; passing through Lanesborough, Cheshire, and Adams before landing in North Adams.  But I had the same jaw-dropping feeling as described earlier when I entered town and saw these absolutely gorgeous mountains framing this little town.

The now-Holiday Inn, old Hotel Richmond was immediately on the intersection of Route 8 and Main Street.  There was metered parking (free on Sunday) right outside the the Richmond Grille.  There was a lovely porch outside the restaurant where I quickly decided it was the place to film and set up my Grandparents’ pictures. IMG_0849

 

When I began researching this hotel, I wasn’t finding much online except for an oral history site, done by Williams College students.  One of the participants mentioned the hotel but not a lot about its history at all.  I was surmising that the Richmond Grille was named after the Hotel Richmond.  I found the North Adams Museum of History and Science on Facebook and reached out to them.  Similar to the responses that I received when I reached out to the groups in Houlton, Presque Isle and Fort Kent, I had a pretty immediate response from this group.  This is what they said about the history of this hotel:

“ I don’t have the exact dates the hotel was built at the moment.  It was really built in stages, opening in the mid-1800’s as the Richmond House.  By 1895 a large addition was added. Sometime between 1895 and 1906, the old Richmond House was torn down and a larger brick structure was built.  I can’t remember if the Richmond was closed in the late 1950’s or early 1960’s. At that point it became the Phoenix Hotel. Then in the early 1970’s the entire south side of Main Street was torn down, including that hotel.  Since then The Sheraton Inn built a hotel on that spot, The name has changed several times along with new owners. Now it’s the Holiday Inn. I’ve sent along photos of the Richmond House, the expanded Richmond Hotel, and finally the Richmond Hotel that most people remember.”


North Adams gave me the same feeling as I had in Houlton Maine.  There was something special about this spot, the people that I had spoken to had pride in their town and a willingness to share their knowledge.  I went into the lobby of the hotel and on one of the walls there was more information about the hotel, which was really interesting.  It also appears that the Museum of History and Science will be moving into the building shortly.

After leaving the lobby, I walked up Main Street.  Despite the humidity, it was a gorgeous day to be out walking.  There was a mixture of both older and new buildings on the Main Street.  I ended up at the Empire Cafe, which was next to a really large antique/collectible store.  I was hoping to find some type of relic of the Hotel Richmond but did not find anything.  The Empire Cafe was next to the shop and I decided to mix it up and get a Green Tea soft serve ice cream, which was really tasty.

My Grandfather’s letter revealed a bit about his ride up as well as his relationship with his colleagues and his boss.

Thursday evening

Tena Dear: – 

This evening I thought that I probably would feel better by going to a theater.  I saw a wonderful show named “The Gold Diggers of Broadway”. You remember seeing Broadway Babies, well I believe this show has it all over that one.  Beautiful settings, wonderful cast, and anything that you could think of to make it a perfect show. During the show, one of the scenes is of an artist and of course, you came into my mind, I wished that you were with me for it would make it much more pleasant.

Today, I went over the Mohawk Trail, as you probably know, it has been closed all year long, due to repairs and last Saturday, they opened it up, well now it is a cement road, cutting through the Berkshire Hills and today it sort of had one of these dreamy appearances, the clouds were low and as they approached the hills, they seemed to hesitate for awhile and then float on until the next row can along and they would repeat the previous act.  It sure made me think that nature turns to accord with human life.  

Today, I was so low in spirits and these clouds were, and as they floated along in a lazy manner, then hesitate along the hills, well that is the way I worked, I did things because they were essential, and then stopped to concentrate and think of you.

Dear, this weekend, it is impossible for me to get back and I guess that, is final as far as seeing you is concerned because I am about one hundred and eighty-five miles from you.  That is to say that not because it is to long of a drive, but for the simple fact that we got orders to stay in Greenfield over the weekend.  

I must tell you that Mr. Hall has found out that we were in Boston over this weekend and I believe that he is quite peeved about it and wants an explanation.  Of course we will tell him the truth about it, that Frank got a scare from a doctor in Springfield and hurried to his own doctor and that we thought we would try to keep it away from him if matters came to worse.  You can simply not put anything over on him. There is nothing to worry about that for it will be alright after we tell him our story.

The boys are in my room playing poker and I’m in Frank’s room writing you of course.  They seem to like my room, because it is quite large and they piled in with cards and are sill at it. You know that I do not play poker for I have a better way of spending my time than that.  As soon as I am through here I am going in to my room and tell them to scat, which I hope they will do. If they don’t, well I’ll just get in bed and fall off to sleep and let them put my lights out, but I do not think that I will do it on second thought, for they might get some foolish stunt in their heads and play a trick on me.  My address until next Tuesday morning will be Mansion House, Greenfield, Mass.  

Just Blue,

Joe

At 12:48 p.m,  Sage and I continued our journey northward towards Vermont. I would love to come back and further explore the striking mountainous beauty and what else this little mill town offers the 2019 visitor.

IMG_1032After being disappointed with my Springfield stop, I was looking forward to my next stop in Pittsfield to see where the Hotel Wendell had once been.  I was able to find ample information about this once grand hotel and I was excited to see the former location as well as explore Pittsfield.  I knew from my Grandfather’s letter that the scenery would be glorious, and I also knew from my research that Pittsfield is 1038 feet above sea level, so I was hoping that fog had burnt off!

“Oh Tina dear, how I wish you were with me this morning as I started for Pittsfield over the Berkshire Trail.  The scenery is beyond description, I believe that it is paradise and this morning it made me feel so darn blue, because you were so far away from me and not being able to enjoy it with me.”

“You see as you drive along a hill covered with the most beautiful arrangement of colors by nature and as you climb this hill and reach the top, you are overlooking a valley surrounded by hills and the colors are first too beautiful to describe.”

 

While the leaves during my drive were still mainly green, the scenery is really stunning.  I am finding out that it is hard to be both the driver, taking notes in my head about what I am seeing, and wanting to write down some notes in my actual notebook.  Once I got off Route 20, my GPS had me taking some beautiful roads where there were steep climbs, stunning vistas of both mountains and valleys.  I was relieved to be leaving the urban feeling of Springfield and literally heading for the hills.  Passing through little towns, such as Blandford, Chester, Washington Becket, and Dalton, made me realize how many towns there are in our state that I had never heard of before starting these journeys.  At 10:34 a.m., after traveling 52.8 miles from Springfield, I found a public parking lot in Pittsfield and jumped out of Sage to start exploring this town, called Power Source and Playground by the guide book

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Pittsfield has a lot of old buildings up and down two intersecting “main streets”.  I was curious if the Beacon Cinema was an older movie theater, as my Grandfather talked a lot about going to see a movie in many of the locations where he stayed.  It was a quiet Sunday morning in Pittsfield, but there were people heading to church as well as people sitting both inside and outside the The Marketplace Cafe.  I kept continuing down South Street towards the intersection of West Street, where the hotel was once located.

Through my research, I had found out the following information about the Hotel Wendell. What is interesting about this location is that there has been some sort of hotel on it since the 1820s. The Renaissance-revival styled hotel opened up in 1898.  At this time, Pittsfield was a thriving urban setting, as well as a place where New York City residents would come to vacation. At this time, the hotel had 110 guest rooms and a 250-seat dining room.  The hotel put on two large additions, that were just about finished when my Grandfather stayed there, which made the hotel the largest in Pittsfield as it now had 323 rooms.  

However, the Great Depression, World War II and then the building of the Mass Turnpike, started the decline of the Hotel Wendell as people were no longer visiting Pittsfield as much.  The hotel was closed in 1965 and demolished. Currently, there is a 14 story Crowne Plaza hotel, set back a little from where the original hotel was located and a three story commercial building in front of that.

On both the letterhead and on the envelope is the name of the President/Managing Director – N.A. Campbell.  His full name was Napoleon Campbell and he was responsible for doing the additions as well as making the era when he managed, 1924 – 1944, the most successful ones for the hotel.  He sold it to Sheraton in 1944, and it became the chain’s 18th hotel.  

old locationSo, with this history in mind, I kept heading north towards the intersection of where this grand hotel once sat.  And across a pretty big thoroughfare, there it was – now a pretty nondescript, three-story office type building.   There were benches outside with pretty flower pots.  Across the street, was a small park, surrounded by more brick buildings.  There was no historical marker on the building that told once sat here.  Behind the building, you could see the quite tall Holiday Inn and Suites of the Berkshires.  Even though the Grand Ole Wendell was no longer there, this block still remained a hotel where people could stay when they visited the area.  What was interesting about Pittsfield is that while the population is actually 5000 people less than it was in 1930, it did not give the appearance of being like a Fitchburg.  I liked sitting on that bench and observing the Pittsfield of 2019.

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After observing for a bit, I went into the Marketplace Cafe.  While you could either get a breakfast or lunch there, I elected for, yes, an iced tea and an oat and strawberry bar and sat outside at tables outside the cafe.  My ice tea was served in a glass, with a paper straw – both nice touches.   I wrote up some notes about my ride from Springfield to Pittsfield and at 11:27 a.m., set off to Route 8 for the trip to North Adams.  I enjoyed my time in this little city, envisioning what it once was like as a playground for the rich New Yorkers.

Excerpts from letters in Pittsfield reveal more about the life of traveling salesman as well as more information about my Grandfather’s job

Monday evening

Tina Dear:-

Arrived safely last night at quarter of eleven.  The going was pretty had as it rained quite hard and the “knoeps” were just crawling.  We could not pass them as there were cars coming the other way.

All the boys are stopping over at this hotel, this was the last minute arrangement, and it won’t be so bad after all.  Frank, Bill Madden, Joe Barrie and I went down to see “The Street Girl” and it sure was a fine show! Have you seen it?

A crew of salesmen are down the hall and they sure are raising merry hell for the bellhop tells me that they have two cases of gin!  They are now singing at the top of their lungs. There must be at least ten of them, so you can imagine the racket they are making, but let them be happy, we only live once.

I am quite tired this evening as I have driven seventy-six miles besides doing a days work. I still have my reports to make out beside writing a few lines home.  

Love,

Joe

Tuesday evening, 12 M

Tena Dear: –

This evening, I thought I would drop down to see Mary, as she has written me and asked me down.  But when I started I thought I got on the Albany Road, but drove for miles and pretty soon I began to recognise the hated New York City, well, you could have knocked me over with a feather as I was just the opposite direction from where I wanted to be, well let me tell you, I started back for Pittsfield and got here at quarter to twelve, I covered one hundred and thirty-six miles.  Now I will have to postpone the trip to Mary as we are checking out of this hotel Thursday morning and are going to No. Adams for the rest of the week.

Lots of love,

Joe

Wensday evening

Tina Dear:-

Today has been an awful day.  You know, one that is quite cold, very dark, with showers every ten minutes, goodness, but it is dreary.  

All the boys are out this evening on dates, I believe they told me, and I am here alone.  

Today, anything irritated me, even Frank got me angry without meaning to.  Why this morning, we went down in my car to the Railway Station, in order to get some supplies that were sent from the office and when we got there, there was to much material for my car to take down and as Frank’s car was in for repairs, it seemed that I would have to try to take care of it somehow.

Frank opened up a case containing dummies and began tossing them to me, some he threw wild and that burned me up. I finally got all the material on but there was hardly room for a hair pin to spring in anywhere.

Frank worked with me today and it was after lunch before we even got started as we were ready to start, Ed Hoffman came along and gave me six windows that had to be done today.  I got peeved and asked him how we were going to complete them, when we only had one car.  

Anyway we finally had the six displays in and Frank began thinking of that girl in Greenwooed, the one who gave him a rotten deal, and he got blue as the devil, so we were a great pair.

Tomorrow, I will write to you from No. Adams and I hope that you are feeling well and are thinking of me the same as I of you.

Just blue,

Joe

 

letterhead and envelopeAs you can see on the letterhead, the only initial clue I had about this hotel was that it was located opposite the “New Union Station” in Springfield.  The New Union Station, was opened up in 1926 and still is open as a train station.  I thought that would be easier enough to track it down as it seemed to have a prime location for travelers.  However, after googling information, reaching out to a Springfield Historical Group to have the email bounce back, going through the Lost New England blog and reaching out to another group on Facebook (and hearing nothing), I was heading to Springfield with this one and only clue.

I followed Tour 4 – From Boston to the New York State Line, 144.3 miles on US 20.  In the Massachusetts Guide Book, the description of Route 20 is as follows: “the road is hard-surfaced throughout, but narrow and in poor condition in some of the rural sections, open at all seasons.” Sage and I pulled out of the garage at 6:11 a.m. on a muggy Sunday morning. I picked up Route 20 in Northborough, which is mile 31.7 miles of section A of this tour, which goes to the intersection with State 9.  After intersecting with State 9, this is section B of Tour 4.  From this junction to Springfield is 57.3 miles. This route goes on the outside of Worcester, through Charlton, Sturbridge, Brimfield, Palmer, North Wilbraham, before heading into Springfield.  US 20 will go into downtown Springfield.  The road through Worcester, Milbury and Charlton was rough in spots.  It was a two-lane each direction road until I hit Brimfield, where it narrowed down into one land each direction.  There were foggy sections on my Sunday ride, on the higher elevation areas, and I hoped it would burn off for when I entered the higher parts of the journey later on.  In Brimfield, I could see evidence of where the tornado hit several years back.  Palmer had a cute little downtown area, and around 8:00 a.m., my GPS instructed me to leave Route 20 to head for the Union Station area.  I passed through a lot of industrial areas during this ride and soon, the station was right in front of me.  Across from it sat parking lots and more industrial buildings, but not one sign of an old hotel.


I parked the car in an empty lot at and went to the front of the station.  The mileage was 75.5 and I parked at 8:27 a.m.  The area felt a little dicey to me, so I went really quickly to take a quick peek around, do my pictures, and take a video.

 

This was probably the shortest of trips as I got back into Sage at 8:36 a.m. and headed a quick 0.3 miles to the Mocha Emporium at 1623 Main Street.  This was a really cute little shop on a pretty deserted Main Street.  I ordered a Black Currant Ice Tea, which was refreshing and sat and did some trip notes, before leaving Springfield at 8:56 a.m. for my next destination.  To date, this was probably my most disappointing stop since I knew nothing about the hotel and its history.  But, I was at least able to at least pinpoint somewhat where it was located.  I was hoping this would be the down point for the rest of the day’s journey.

While my Grandfather was in Springfield, he received an interesting business proposition that you can read about below.  This letter also provided a glimpse into some of what he did during a day.

Tuesday evening

Tina Dear: – I have just got back from the Clinton Hotel, where the boys are staying.  We have been singing and talking, kidding Leo Gatreau alive and what not. Leo thinks he is quite a musician, so we kid him along and I believe he thinks that we are serious about it when we tell him that he is good, but actually is terrible.  This morning, I got my car out of the Ford shop and it is running along like a lilly, so I have no kick coming my way. I have worked Holyoke today and was through with my work quite early, so I went along with Bill Madden and helped him with his sales.  I sold six cartons of ciggarettes, four dozen luxury and three and a half dozens Edgeworth. About four p.m. we met a fellow that represents the American Tissue Mills and he invited me down to the mills to see the crepe manufactured. It is quite interesting the way they make it, he also showed the way they stretch paper by machine.

He asked me whether I had trimmed the Edgeworth windows in town and I said that I was the one, well what do you know, he offered me a job with his concern and all I had to do was travel all over the country  advertising their crepe, by putting in displays. The salary was to be thirty five for a start with a good drawing account, of course you know what that meant, being away from you for a period of six months or so and of course that is out of the question, so far as I am concerned for being away from you for that length of tie, why I would not even give it a second thought, of course if I had never met you, it would be different.

To top things off, I could get you a position with them also, drawing designs for their advertising crepe and tissues, but I thought that if you were in Springfield and I am in Boston, how would that feel, so I thought that it would not be the best thing for the both of us, being separated for that length of time.  You would probably be in Springfield for a few months before you got back for a weekend and then I sure would be lonesome.

You must thing that I am selfish, but Tina dear, would you want to stay away for that length of time.  I know that I would not for any amount of money.  

There is no kidding about your position, or mine either.  I could hop right to work for them tomorrow, but nothing doing.  I am content to stay with Larus, for in the long run, I’ll probably be ahead that much more.  I am always thinking of you dear, With love, Joe

 

So, this is a little summary of today’s journey.

  • 279.1 miles for this journey.
  • 12 hours 2 minutes from leaving my garage to arriving back in my garage.
  • 48 towns/cities traveled through. (may be more as I might not have recorded all the little towns correctly)
  • Route numbers traveled:  117, 62, 20, 8, 9, 100, 112, 2, 2A, 70
  • Prettiest road(s):  MA and VT Route 8, Vermont 9, Vermont 100, MA 112
  • 6 tea drinks (or ice cream) (forgot to take a picture of my DD ice tea!)
  • 5 hotels visited:  1 not found, 2 were knocked down, 1 burnt down and 1 is still a functioning hotel!
  • 1 cemetery:  Was so thrilled to find this on Vermont 8 as my Grandfather had written about it in his letter from Wilmington Vermont:  “Further along it is a climb again, but this time when you reach the top, you see a beautiful sleepy hollow, and right in the center, it appears, there are small white slabs, with a clump of young evergreen trees surrounding it and as you get into the valley you notice that the mountains are surrounding it, with the same array of magnificent coloring, well I stopped near this cemetery for about ten minutes and thought what a quiet and dreamy, but lonely spot, if not for the brilliant colors, if would appear totally barren and would give you the shudders.  The name that I gave this place was “Sleepy Hollow” and it sure was a long sleep for those that had been buried there. All of the slabs were of the same height and that sort of was striking.”

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The trip I did today was in the same direction that my Grandfather had done.  On the way back, I went through Gardner and Fitchburg, but did not stop there today.  But his trip was almost 3 weeks in length.

Oh darling, it seems like ages and ages since I have last seen you, really and truly it is just as bad as it was up in Maine.”

What a wonderful day – such pretty scenery, cool places to explore, and another connection to my Grandfather.  This indeed has been a great journey.

 

Date of Original Trip:  October 8, 1929

Date of Recreated Trip:  August 12, 2019

Hotel and Address:  The Colonial, Gardner Mass.  American Hotels Corporation, N.Y.

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Tuesday evening, Tina Dear: – Here I am stopping in a place where I had no idea of doing so.  Ed Hoffman told us to clean up around here and tomorrow to go to Fitchburg for the rest of the time left.  I could not feel any worse if I had been alone in some dense woods all day long. What is the use, I’ll have to wait for Friday and then, you can cheer me, and I’ll try to cheer you dear.  Always thinking of you sweetheart, Loads of love, Joe

We left Fitchburg at 12:29 p.m., and headed west on Route 2A, which is part of Tour 2B.  After a short trip through Westminster, we arrived in Gardner at 12:58 p.m. and parked at a meter across from an imposing brick building.  This building was actually the building that housed the Colonial Hotel!   How did I come to find this location?  Was it as easy as it seemed?

What is interesting about this location is that there is a Colonial Hotel in Gardner currently, and when I first read the letter head, I was really excited about the fact that it was still operating as a hotel, as I know people who have stayed there.  But after a little sleuthing, I found out that this Colonial Hotel is not the Colonial Hotel in Gardner that my Grandfather visited in 1929. So, the million dollar question is, where was the original Colonial Hotel and was it still around?  

Luckily, I found my answer pretty quickly in the February 9, 2019 edition of the Gardner News.  There seemed to be a series of special articles, done on headlines of the past in Gardner history.  This headline read: February 6, 1924: Colonial Hotel opens its doors in downtown Gardner. The Colonial Hotel formally opened its doors to guests on February 7, 1924.  Back then, Gardner was a bustling furniture manufacturing city and if you wanted to hang out in the “hippest” place in town, you would want to stay at the Colonial (you did have four other choices on where to stay in Gardner).  In addition to business travelers, Gardner was ideally situated in the middle between Boston and North Adams on the Mohawk Trail (aka Route 2). This is a distance of 131 miles, which would take us a little under three hours to do.  But, back when cars did not travel as fast, Gardner would be a great stopping place for the night.  

The Colonial was actually a “chain” hotel.  The Gardner Chamber of Commerce lobbied to bring one of 20 Colonial hotels nationwide to Gardner.  It was sited in the center of the town, on a new road called CIty Hall Avenue. Eventually CIty Hall, the Police Station, the Courthouse, and the Post Office would all be located right near the hotel.  For the opening night of the hotel, there was an extravagant evening of dinner and dancing.

This was a very modern hotel.  It was fully fireproof, 60 guest rooms had private baths and toilets and the other 40 guest rooms had private toilets.  There was a beautiful lobby, a large lounge and dining room, and a colonial fireplace on the first floor. Also on the first floor was a beauty shop, a barber shop, a coffee shop, and a small shop.  The guest rooms were found on the next four floors. After Prohibition ended, The Can Can Room, one of Gardner’s most popular taverns, opened in the basement of the Colonial Hotel.

The hotel hosted both Senator John F. Kennedy and Robert Frost for lunch.  It’s other claim to fame was when “The Human Fly”, George Polley climbed the five stories of the outer wall.  

During 50 years of operation, the hotel underwent many management changes.  In 1974, Gardner’s hotel business was declining. The hotel closed and was turned into housing for the elderly.  The Colonial Hotel building does still stand and today is known as the Colonial Apartments.

On the side of the building, a barbershop and small restaurant still existed, much like it did when it opened.

IMG_0678It was really exciting to see the building as it existed back when my Grandfather visited in 1929.  There were several residents sitting out on the front porch, enjoying an iced coffee and we shared with them what we were doing.  As I have found throughout this journey, everyone that I tell what I am doing finds it really amusing.  These two residents were no exception.  As we took some video and more pictures, I started to wonder if we could perhaps get inside to see if the beautiful lobby still existed.  I always say if you ask someone, what is the worst thing they will say – “no”, so I went back and asked if perhaps we could get inside.  One of the women, Jean, happily agreed to take us in.  She said that there were several pictures of the hotel hanging in the lobby.  With that, we followed her through the set of double doors and into the lobby of the building.  She pointed out the two pictures and how the roof line had changed.


There were other residents hanging out in the lobby and she told them what we were doing.  The lobby was not as open as I would had thought it was back in the day, but it still had remnants of beautiful moldings, marble steps and large doors as it probably did back then,

Screen Shot 2019-08-13 at 7.45.53 AMOn our way out, we met another resident whose uncle had played at the Can Can Room as a member of the Overtones.  This resident shared stories about being there and hearing his uncle play in the actual room.  He talked about his childhood, which seemed like it fluctuated between New Brunswick and Gardner.  He was also so excited to share his stories.

We said goodbye and walked back out to take several more looks at the building before walking to find someplace to eat.  Gardner was full of older buildings, including a J.C. Penney building, many older banks, and some vacant storefronts.  We found the Gardner Ale House and elected to sit on the back deck, which was filled with customers.  This looks like another fun place, that has live music at night, Sunday Brunch and a great menu.  If you are out in this area, I would highly recommend this restaurant.

 

On the way home, we took Route 140 south.  There was a detour that had us end up on Mountain Road in Princeton, which provided us with incredible vistas!  From there, we were on parts of Route 12 & Route 62 through Sterling, some backroads where we ended up on Route 110, and then onto Route 117.  It was a little bit longer of a ride as we left Gardner at 3:08 p.m. and arrived back in Maynard at 4:27 p.m.  It was a roundtrip of 83 miles for the day.

As I later reflected on the day,  I was so thrilled for many different reasons.  First, the entire building still existed, which was a first for my journeys.  But I think the most important reason, was the ability to learn about a human connection to the building.  To meet people who lived there and who were excited to tell their stories really made this one special trip.  This is the intent of this blog – Waiting for Stories to be told, and today, not only my Grandfather’s story was told, but stories of connections to this hotel made it one fabulous trip.

 

 

 

Date of Original Trip:  October 9, 1929

Date of Recreated Trip: August 12, 2019

Hotel and Address: American House, on May Street from Blossom Street to Day Street, Fitchburg, Mass, Wm. Berger, Proprietor

letterOctober 9, 1929.  Tina Dear: – I am in the writing room and in the lobby, I can hear the radio broadcasting from New York, just at the present they are playing the Indian Love Call, well I’m not an Indian, but I certainly am calling for a little dear, not so very far off from here, and I wish that I were in Saugus, fifty miles away from here.  Tina dear, I guess we both were blue Monday, for it seems like ages and ages since last I have seen you. I wrote Hall, asking him for at least three weeks around home, and I guess that my wish shall be granted. The worse of my travelling is over with now Tina dear. I am not sorry for it either. Today has been the first time this week that I had any sort of a break, for I made five calls and put in a window at every five of the calls I made, it was after one P.M that I got through but it was a great relief to have the afternoon off to myself but what good did it do me, other than I had more of time uninterrupted for thought of you, and got blue.  I watched Cushing Academy scrimmage for awhile and before I knew it, I was in there throwing forward passes to the fellows. It seemed like old times, but the only regret I had was that I did not don on a suit and had a little fun with the rest of them, the coach asked me whether or not I wanted a suit, so that I could join in with the boys, but I thought ,what would be the use, I would be so stiff from this exercise that I probably would not be able to move, so naturally, I declined the invitation. This shall be my last letter as I’ll be leaving this hotel Friday morning and be home the same night. With the greatest of expectations, Loads of love, Joe

On Monday morning, August 12th, I set out to do the Worcester County version of the 1929 road trips.  Again, the order was reversed – Fitchburg was actually my Grandfather’s last stop of a Western Massachusetts – Vermont Road Trip that took place in October 1929.  But for this trip, I had two special friends who wanted to accompany me on one of the trips.  This one wasn’t going to be long like last week’s journey, so they were excited to join in,

The Fitchburg of 1929 and the Fitchburg of 2019 don’t differ much in terms of population.  In 1930, the population was 40,692.  In 2018, the population was 40,882.  The Fitchburg that existed in the 1840s, when the American Hotel was built is vastly different than the Fitchburg that exists today.  When the American Hotel was built in 1846, Fitchburg was a booming city.  The Boston-Fitchburg train line had just opened, bringing more people to to Fitchburg.  The same train line today also brings the people who are looking for more affordable homes into Boston for work. In the 1840s, there was an increase in businesses, such as textiles, paper mills and machinery manufacturers, which drew even more people to visiting Fitchburg.  These people needed a place to stay, so in 1846, the first American House was built on the corner of Main Street and Blossom Streets. In the 2015 edition of the Fitchburg Historical Society, there is a detailed description of the American House.  This was a rather large structure, being five stories in height. The first floor was home to a dining room, lobby, kitchen and several shops. The upper four floors were guest rooms and bathrooms. In 1854, the hotel was sold.  The new owner added on an addition that brought it down to the corner of Day Street. This new hotel had rooms for salesmen to show their goods, a grand ballroom, more rooms for guests and a new tavern. The hotel became the center of the downtown area.  Many famous people, such as Ulysses S. Grant, Thomas Edison, Henry David Thoreau, Oliver Wendell Holmes and Ralph Waldo Emerson stayed there after giving talks at Fitchburg City Hall. In the late 1800s, the Cummings Theater was built next door to the American House, thereby offering even more entertainment for hotel guests.  According to the information from the Fitchburg Historical Society, the hotel did survive both fires and multiple changes of ownership until 1952 when it was closed. It was torn down several years later and the clothing store, Roger’s, was built there. This store no longer exists.  The Cummings Theater also isn’t there any longer.  With this knowledge, I was interested to see how downtown Fitchburg compared to a more prosperous time in the past.

After having used the Maine and New Hampshire American Guide Series from the Federal Writers Project, I was now switching to the Massachusetts guide.  Their description of tours was rather amusing.

“The tours which follow cover every city, town, and village in the State.  If laid end to end, they would stretch from Boston to San Francisco, but no traveler, it is hoped, will attempt to lay them end to end, or even to follow them in their entirety.  Accordingly, the tours have been so arranged that you may choose the most direct route, if you are in a hurry. If you have more time, a plenitude of more devious routes and side trips awaits you.  Tours with a number only (as Tour 1) in general follow express highways. Tours with a number followed by a letter (as Tour 1A) are alternate routes, beginning or ending at an express highway. Although less direct, they are often more interesting.  Why follow a tour anyway? Be your own gypsy, running along a main tour until you get tired of it, then branching off on a side trip, and instead of returning to the main route, doubling back on another road. The Tour Map on pages 408, 409 will help you to abandon all rules and directions and to make up your own tours.  To assist you, addresses have been given for points of interest whenever possible. If you get lost, consult the State Map in the pocket at the back. If you are still lost, never mind. It’s fun being lost in Massachusetts.” (p. 406).

With this introduction in mind, Tour 2: From Boston to New York Line (Troy), 148 m., State 2 (The Mohawk Trail), seemed to be the tour to take.  Similar to my trip to New Hampshire, where Route 3 was a suitable route, but I didn’t take it until I hit Manchester because I thought the route was not true to what my Grandfather traveled on, I didn’t plan on taking Route 2 to Fitchburg and Gardner.  I asked Google to create me a no highway option map and it put me on Route 2A. Then I went back and read the Tour 2. What was curious is at first, it definitely sounded like the Route 2 that I currently travel – it passed Pleasant Street in Arlington, Waltham Street in Lexington and then Route 62 in Concord (which includes a nice side trip to Maynard).  But after it has you passing the Concord Reformatory, it then discusses the junction with Brook Street. I could not visualize this on Route 2. After that, it says, it “follows the shore of Lake Nagog at 25.6 m.” (p.447). I stopped at this point, because what we call Nagog Pond is now on what we call Route 2A. Shaker Lane (named for a “Hill that Shakes”) , Littleton Center and Ayer are all on Route 2A, as is the Bull Run Tavern in Shirley.  At this point, “State 2 becomes more winding and passes through alternate woods and open meadows” before heading into Lunenberg. Near the intersection of Route 13, we should be able to view both the city of Fitchburg and Mount Wachusett. This should bring us right into Main Street in Fitchburg, and we will be looking for 25 Blossom Street (or around there) to see where the American House is located.  So, that is the ride we did.  At 10:25 a.m., drivingKate, Pam and I climbed into Sage, headed north on Route 27 until the intersection of Route 2A/119.  We turned left at this intersection, heading west on Route 2A, past Nagog Pond, Shaker Lane, before entering Littleton, where we turned left at the common, onto King Street, and continued to follow Route 2A.  This led us through the pretty Ayer downtown, past the Bull Run in Shirley and onto that really pretty overview of Mount Wachusett and Fitchburg in Lunenberg.  It was an easy drive into Fitchburg Center where we quickly found Day Street, and hopped out of the car at 11:29 a.m.  This portion of the trip was 29.1 miles.

Fitchburg of the present looks different than what I am assuming Fitchburg of the past looks like.  The American Hotel is has been gone for 65 years and the building that took its place is also gone.  Now there is a nondescript building, that is manly vacant. block opf buildingstina and joe pic

There appears to be a campaign to bring more business back to Fitchburg https://www.sentinelandenterprise.com/2016/11/29/this-is-fitchburg-campaign-starts-with-colorful-downtown-windows-video/ .  However, when I went to explore the website, it had been retired.  There is lots of evidence of many grand old buildings that were built during the later part of the 19th century that are still standing.  Unfortunately, many of these also are vacant.

 

IMG_0754

Kate’s Field Notes


We ventured down to Strong Style Coffee, which was at the intersection of Cushing Street and Boulder Street.  Immediately after walking in the door, we knew we had found a gem.  With a very unique menu and an even more unique cafe, it offered a great contrast to the emptiness of the many buildings we had seen.  They have a great drink menu, including espresso, coffee drinks (including French Press coffee), and “Drinking Vinegars”.  I tried the Blueberry and Honey, and Pam tried the Ginger and Honey, which were both refreshing.  (And we think in the olden days, these were called “Shrubs”).  The cafe also served food, beer and wine, and hosts both musical events and trivia nights.  Outside on Boulder Street, there is outdoor seating.  I would strongly recommend if you are in the area to check this out!

Outside of the cafe, was an area that looked like a music venue, a parking garage and a cooly painted alley way.  There was lots of neat artwork as well.  It was encouraging to see a little pocket of revitalization in this once prosperous city.

With all of the older buildings still around the Main Street, it was easy to visualize what this section of Fitchburg once looked like.  There are efforts, such as partnerships between Fitchburg State University and a group called NewVue to help small businesses in the area. ( https://www.telegram.com/news/20190421/newvue-communities-ready-to-help-drive-fitchburg-revitalization).  The Fitchburg Art Museum is also very highly regarded.  It will be interesting to see Fitchburg transform once again into a city where the modern day equivalents of Grant, Edison, Thoreau, and my Grandfather come to stay once again.

 

 

 

letterpic up close

From the information on the envelope, dated August 12, 1929, it just said The Phenix Hotel, Concord New Hampshire.  It is curious that many of them do not contain a street address. This was also well before the time before zip codes were used – they weren’t formally introduced until 1963. 

Monday evening – Tina Dear!  Here I am safe and sound in Concord, without any mishaps, Thank God, but ask me I am tired! Say Tina dear I could hardly keep my eyes open all day for it has been terribly hot in this town all day and which is warranted that when I am tired, it gets me sloppy.  

I got in at seven A/M/ and just as I was going out of the garage, Hale called up and wanted to know whether I had left.  The garage man replied that I was just about ready to leave, so he wanted to see me before I left. I went over and he bawled me out for starting so late and also for not putting on any tin signs on my car.  I felt like telling him what was the matter with Frank, for I noticed that his car was still in the garage and he had a much longer drive than I, but I guess that I used my head and kept quiet.

I will write to you tomorrow evening from Manchester.  My car has gone 505 miles to date, not so bad?

phenix hall2When trying to find out about the Phenix Hotel, Phenix Hall first appeared on my Google Search.  Phenix Hall was next to the Phenix Hotel. The hall was used for a gathering spot, where Abraham Lincoln (1860) and Teddy Roosevelt spoke there.  Lincoln spoke in the “old” Phenix Hall, which was destroyed by fire in 1893 and rebuilt. Roosevelt spoke at the “new” Phenix Hall in 1912. Phenix Hall had a 500 person theater, that was used for events such as political speeches as well as boxing and wrestling matches.  Currently, there is work being done on the second floor of the building, to restore it to a venue.

Phenix Hotel

The Phenix Hotel was constructed in 1857, replacing a previous building which was destroyed by fire in December 1856.  On this building, there was originally a mansard roof on top of the fifth floor. This rook was replaced in 1947 with a flat roof.  This hotel was destroyed by a fire in 1950 and in 1954 the upper stories of the building were removed, leaving the present single-story structure.  This single story building now houses a CVS Pharmacy, which was the first floor of the Phenix Hotel. If you look at the front of the building, it looks like a CVS and there are no clues that it was once one of three very important hotels located on Concord’s Main Street.  However, from the National Park’s Register of Historic Places site, I found out that from the Phenix Avenue side of the building, there would still be evidence of the original hotel. On the south wall, there would be the original “rusticated” wood siding that would have a series of applied pilasters.  A pilaster can be described as a rectangular column that is built into a wall for either structural or decorative purposes. On the same wall, there would be five windows that are blocked, but would still have the wood moldings over and under the windows. The windows are also three different sizes. On the east side (back side) of the building, it will still appear to be two-storied, constructed from both granite and concrete blocks and bricks.  There will also be evidence of the arched windows, although those too will be filled in with bricks. 

From the American Guide Series, written by the workers of the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration for the State of New Hampshire in 1938, I found out that when this book was published, the population of Concord was 25,228 and that there were seven hotels in the city.  In 1936, the Merrimack River’s flooding caused a third of the city to be totally flooded. Another interesting fact that I found out that connected Lowell to Concord New Hampshire was that a series of canals were also created to connect Concord New Hampshire to the Middlesex Canal, which went to Boston.  This enabled people to be able to trade goods easier. However, when the steam railroad connected Concord to Boston in 1842, people no longer used the canals for transportation.

I did the trip in reverse order from what my grandfather did.  The first stop was in Manchester NH and from there, I traveled onto Concord.

This part of the trip is listed in the New Hampshire American Guide Series as Tour 3: From Lowell to Second Connecticut Lake. From Manchester (mile 22.6)  to Concord in 1938, you would go US3.  Eight miles into this ride, you would enter Hooksett.  4.5 miles further, you would then enter Pembroke. At mile 41.9, you would enter Concord.  

After visiting Concord, I will be taking Tour 15: From Concord to Fitchburg and returning back to Maynard via Rt 119  

At 9:33 a.m., I did a U-turn on Merrimack Street and turned right onto Elm Street, going north.  (Note – I still had a little time left on my meter – the meter prices were really reasonable!). IN a couple of miles, Route 3 turned to the northwest, and I continued to follow it through multiple towns.  The road wasn’t particularly scenic – there were many strip malls on both sides of the road. Route 3 took a turn to the right, and I stayed on Main Street, heading towards Route 3A. This road runs parallel to Route 93 and did also cross over Route 89, both major interstate highways.  With a little help from my “local” guide, aka my friend Jane, I found the parking area behind the Main Street and arrived in Concord at 10:20 a.m .The odometer now read 68.2 miles, so the trip took me 47 minutes (included a wrong turn to find the parking area) and it was 18.5 miles in total.

I met up with Jane and we took a quick walk across Storrs Street to Depot Street and then to what was almost an alley, but was known as Phenix Avenue.  And there it was – the phenix backback of what was the Phenix Hotel. It was really exciting to see what was actually part of the building as I imagine that most of the places I will be seeing no longer exist.  The building was just as the Register of Historic Places described for the most part. The elevation of the back of the building appeared to be closer to two stories in height. This long wall was completely constructed of bricks and there were a combination of longer rectangular windows, shorter rectangular windows and partially arched windows.  There was eleven bricked up windows on the higher level and about ten windows on the lower level. Additionally, there was a back entrance for CVS employees and parking alongside the building.

On the southside of the building, that ran along a small alley out to Main Street, the building had a foundation of concrete blocks, and then the wood siding, although very weathered, was a combination of white and gray paint, that also showed some evidence of blue paint existing once.  This was especially evident on some of the pilasters as well as some of the siding towards the lower end of the building. On this side of the building, there was also a large mural, which was part of the Haley Rae Martin Mural Project, which provides teenagers the opportunity to create art that hangs on public buildings. This particular mural is based on the theme of Nature and Community.  

Jane and I ventured inside the CVS as I imagine that once upon a time, it served as a lobby area for the Phenix Hotel. The floor was extremely creaky and slanted in spots, a reminder that perhaps under the carpet lay the original flooring for the Phenix Hotel.  The developer who is working on the Phenix Hall also has plans to renovate this building once the CVS’s lease runs out. If that happens, I will certainly be back to explore this building more!

 

In front of Phenix Hall, Jane and I enjoyed a really leisurely lunch at The Works Cafe.  There was a large variety of items on the menu, and I opted for the Vegan Roll-up – hummus and vegetables, wrapped in a sweet potato wrap, along with an ice tea.  We sat outside at a table, that luckily had an umbrella (which was needed to dodge the raindrops!). The sandwich was outstanding. The iced tea was what one would normally find at a restaurant – it was good, but not anything special.  The Lowell iced teas have set the bar pretty high! It was great to be able to eat outside and observe both people and buildings. After our very leisurely lunch (and with several small showers and more ominous clouds on the western sky, I departed Concord at 1:07 p.m. While sitting outside at lunch, I noted that there are still many older buildings in downtown Concord area.   Passing through several streets, there were many interesting looking shops that would also be great to come back and explore in the future. I followed Jane out to 202 West. Unfortunately, quickly after getting onto Route 202, I encountered heavy rain, which didn’t allow me to really take a good look around.  Like Route 101 earlier in the day, this was also a one lane (each way) 55 mile per hour road. Initially it was Route 202/Route 9, but then, Route 9 went west while Route 202 merged with Route 147 to go southwest. There was a fair amount of trucks on the route as they were not allowed to stay on Route 9. During breaks in the rain, the town of Antrim, seemed like a neat old mill town. 

I decided also to stop in Peterborough, one of my favorite towns. This ride took one hour from Concord, probably due to the heavy rains.  On my stop-over in Petersborough, I stopped at Aesop’s Table, which is part of the Toadstool Bookshop, one of my favorite places.  Feeling a little iced tea out, I decided to try a “Butterfly Lemonade” which was freshly squeezed lemonade with blue pea powder. It was a tad too tart for my liking.  An interesting note was that this cafe only uses paper straws! After a 21 minute break, I departed again in heavy rain on Route 202, turning east/southeast onto Routes 123/124. These rolling hilled road also was pretty high speed and I pulled over several times to allow a truck and a dump truck pass by me. After a nine minute break in Acton to pick up an ingredient for supper, Sage and I pulled into the garage at 4:00 p.m., and at 156.2 miles for the day.  The Tour 15 part of the trip was 88 miles in length and it rained a good majority of that leg.

It was really rewarding to actually step foot into one of the places that my Grandfather had visited.  I could picture a wooden lobby, with the desk clerk’s area, and probably an ornate staircase as I walked around the creaky CVS.  Following in the footsteps of my Grandfather in 1929 has allowed me to both experience the places he went to and to learn more about the man I never knew.

RESOURCES

https://npgallery.nps.gov/NRHP/GetAsset/3c668d70-60a7-4275-9d2d-2162d080e449

https://www.concordmonitor.com/Downtown-Phenix-Hall-music-function-hall-renovation-19089746

https://www.concordnhchamber.com/UploadedFiles/Files/walking_tour_brochure_cover_250th.pdf

https://www.concordmonitor.com/Downtown-Phenix-Hall-music-function-hall-renovation-19089746

https://patch.com/new-hampshire/concord-nh/teens-present-haley-rae-martin-mural-project-gateway-concord

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stop One:  July 22, 2019  The Rice -Varick Hotel, Opposite Merrimack Park

From the information on the envelope, dated August 14, 1929, there was the hotel name, the fact that it was located across from Merrimack Park, and that it was located in Manchester New Hampshire.  From my grandfather’s writing, he described his time in Manchester as: (please note, I have tried to “translate” the cursive as best as I could. I also do not add any punctuation or fix any spelling)

“Manchester is quite a large city for there are many stores and the streets are wide. The only objections that I have to this city is to the cops, for they are quite hard on out of state cars!  If you park longer than an hour on the Main Street, they give you a tag, but as to date, I have been lucky enough to escape them? Knock on wood – here is my head! The theater last night was pretty fair “The Black Watch” and I got home at about eleven P.M. and today I worked.  W. Manchester (?) put in six large displays and am going to hold two over so that I probably will be back Friday evening but as to that I will not know until later tomorrow. This evening, I am going to read Cesar and after an hours reading, I believe that I will retire, for I am kind of tired tonight.  Tina dear, I have discovered a new type of diagramwindow today, which I can put in much shorter time and it looks a whole lot prettier. It consists of a number of panels with these tubes running to the ceiling. It makes a very striking window I thought.IMG_0584

So, with these clues in mind, I set to find this hotel.  When I googled the name, the only thing I came up with was the Rice-Hamilton.  I googled Merrimack Park also to no avail. While Manchester sits on the Merrimack River, there was no mention of a designated park with that name.  So, I tried another clue. On the letterhead, it listed both the name of the hotel manager and of the hotel treasurer, Thomas Rice Varick. So, I googled his name (since that was the name of the hotel) and I finally uncovered the location and the history of this hotel. 

The Varicks were a wealthy and well-known Manchester family, mainly known for their hardware business.  This hotel was originally called the New Manchester Hotel and it was located at 32 Merrimack Street. It was purchased by the John Varick Company in 1927 and re-opened and renamed in 1928.   The family added , but that would not had been present when my Grandfather visited in 1929. The Hotel filed for bankruptcy in 1959. After that, it was used as a rooming house until it was destroyed by a fire on June 3, 1976.  Fifty people lost their home At this time, it was used as a rooming house to 50 people.  

Rice-Varick Hotel Manchester, NH

The park across the street has another interesting story.  It is the first downtown park in Manchester and was initially called Park Square.  First called, it was called Park Square. Prior to the beginning of the Civil War (1859), the name was changed to Merrimack Park. A monument to honor those who fought in the Civil War was dedicated in 1879. In 1985, additional monuments were dedicated to those who fought in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, and the name of the park was changed to Veteran’s Park.  So, that solved the mystery to why I couldn’t find a park named Merrimack Park on today’s Google Maps.

In 1938, the population of Manchester was 76,834.  At that time, there were six hotels located in Manchester and at the Rice-Varick Hotel, there was a bus station.  Manchester was another city in New England that harness the water power from the Merrimack River to power mills along the river. At one point, the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company had 64 buildings and housing for workers. However in the 1920s and early 1930s,  this company had fallen into financial difficulties and closed in 1935. My grandfather might had been there to witness when the mills were the central focus of Manchester, but he also probably witnessed the demise of the northern mills as well. 

2019 Journey

Since there were no multi-laned highways in 1929, I wanted to base my trips on “by-ways” as much as possible. With Google Maps, you can check “avoid highways” as an option, which did provide me with some non crazy highway options.  But, luckily, one of my friends had a series of books, published by the Federal Writers’ Project in the mid to late 1930s, that contained a section titled “High Roads and Low Roads (Tours): Mile-by-Mile Description of the State’s Highways.  I am basing my “tours” to these locations on what was listed then as much as possible.

I was doing this tour of two New Hampshire locations in opposite order.  My Grandfather first visited Concord and then went to Manchester. I conducted the trip in a different order.

In the 1938 High Roads and Low Roads tours, Tour 3: From Lowell to Second Connecticut Lake, would had probably been the route that my Grandfather would had probably done.  Route 3 or the Daniel Webster Highway did exist then. However, today’s Daniel Webster Highway is now a three or four lane road, so in the spirit of the fact that this type of highway did not exist back then, I will be taking an alternative route.  Part of this route will be Tour 17: From Portsmouth to Keene.  Starting backwards from home, I will get onto Route 119 in Littleton, connecting with Route 111 in Pepperell.  Before entering New Hampshire, I would get onto Route 122, following that north until Milford, which is where Tour 17 would begin.  From Milford, in 3 miles, I will travel through Amherst before heading to Bedford.  I would enter Manchester on the Granite Street Bridge, which is also part of Tour 17. Once I am over the bridge, I will head north on Elm Street (Route 3) and turn right onto Merrimack Street.  

TRIP NOTES

I left my house in Maynard at 6:31 a.m.  It was slightly cooler than it had been the previous three days and was partly sunny.  From Google Maps, it was projected to take about 1 hour, 26 minutes to reach my destination.  From my house, I took Route 27 to a series of backroads before ending up on Route 119 west in Littleton. My other “restriction” was not using my phone’s GPS.  I knew that Route 111 would be going off to the right at some point towards Nashua and I would be heading towards Route 122. The road turned off, and there was a sign saying to stay straight for Rt 122, but while I was on it, it seemed a lot longer than what I read about on my Google maps printout.  It was a pretty ride, with lots of farms and woods and finally, there was the turn for Route 122. This also took me through the very pretty town of Hollis, New Hampshire, where I had done a race before. It is described in the 1938 book on New Hampshire as, “an attractive rural village”, which I totally agree.  It seemed very colonial to me, which the book also confirmed that the area around the Common were built in the early 1700s. I also passed by Silver Lake State Park, which you couldn’t see what it looked like from the road.  

The tone of the ride started to change when I made a left turn onto Route 101A in Amherst.  No longer was this a scenic country road – it was multiple lanes in each direction and multiple businesses on each side of the road.  I missed the quick left turn onto Route 101 East, so needed to go down just a little bit to do a U-turn so that I could get onto the on-ramp leading to Route 101.  And if I thought Route 101A was busy, Route 101 was even more of a “highway” feel, with lots of commuters heading east towards Manchester. Suddenly, I needed to snap out of the nice 40 miles per hour road to reach a “cruising” speed of 60 miles per hour so that no commuter would be mad at my poking along.  There wasn’t a lot of opportunity to look around (one of the main issues with my no longer being the “co-pilot” and being the straight “pilot”), but I did see a winery on the eastbound side, which turns out to be LaBelle Winery in Amherst. Entering Bedford, I was still moving at a good rate and felt like I would beat the 86 minute time frame.  But, then I saw a sign – 7 minutes needed to go 2 miles. I could do the math and this meant things were going to really slow down for some reason. And very quickly, I found the reason: summer road work. Quickly two lanes merged into one lane (and with the folks who needed to merge of course waiting for the last moment to do that). The traffic just poked along for about 25 minutes.  Finally, the construction ended and I was hoping to make up some time. But, I also didn’t think about while I was going into Manchester for this little search, others were going into work. Manchester is now a city of over 111,000 people, has a large university, and lots of people heading there on a Monday morning.  

While sitting in traffic on the Granite Street Bridge, I noticed tons of mills to my left.  This included a museum sign to the Millyard Museum, which perhaps might be someplace fun to venture to the next time.  Finally Elm Street (aka Route 3) was there, I took the left and Merrimack Street was quickly on my right. There was on street parking, and remembering my Grandfather’s words about out of staters getting ticketed, I made sure that I went out and bought time for my space.  parking ticketI arrived in Manchester at 8:06 a.m., so 95 minutes of travel and a total of 49.7 miles (including the little u-turn). To the right of where I parked was the park. I noticed a lot of homeless people camped out in the park, along with a huge yellow tent that I assumed was for performances.  I crossed the street to where the Rice-Varick Hotel was located. Towards the intersection of Elm and Merrimack was the Thirsty Moose Taproom, whose address was technically on Elm Street, but whose side door was situated on Merrimack Street. A long whitish gray threeb&w street story building, called the Merrimack Commons sits at 20 Merrimack Street.  This building appears to house the New Hampshire Public Defenders Office as well as a lot of other law offices ( a courthouse is located across the street, next to the park

32Then there is a small alley that had a metal fence and gateway, and next to that was a single story white building, 40 Merrimack Street that houses a Volvo dealer and then a multi story part of the same building that is a parking garage.  The number of this building was 40 – 56 Merrimack Street. So, no number 32 anywhere in site. No plaque that it existed. Nothing. And from the picture I found, it was a really large hotel, so I am wondering how Merrimack Street originally did look. It was somewhat disappointing not to see any remnant of this once hotel.  

My Grandfather mentioned going to the theater to see the movie “The Black Watch”.  So, I pulled up my GPS to see if any theaters were nearby. The Palace Theater on Hanoverpalace Street popped up.  It was a several blocks over from Merrimack Street. The Palace Theater is still an active theater with a variety of shows being done there.  I am not sure if this might had been the place where my Grandfather went, as according to research, in that timeframe, the Palace was doing mostly vaudeville acts, although, it changed to showing mostly movies from 1930 to 1960.  I had actually seen one of my friends perform there in the late 1970s. At one time, there were 22 active theaters in Manchester. There were two more within easy distance of the Rice-Varick Hotel – the Strand Theater at 20 Hanover Street, which is now a set of stores, and the Crown Theater at 97 Hanover Street. Both of these locations did show movies during that time frame.

I also went back and explored the park.  The Civil War Monument is very impressive.  There are four different military personnel at each corner.  The column rises 50 feet in the air and on top of that is an eight foot high statue of Victory.  There is an inscription to” the men of Manchester who gave their services to the war which preserved the Union of the States.”  There are four “cubes” dedicated to the men and women who served in World World I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.

REFRESHMENT NOTES

After my class in Lowell, where I sampled iced teas from five different locations, I decided to continue that trend during these road trips.  The first stop, the Midtown Cafe at the Beacon was just a short stroll from Merrimack Street. There was outdoor seating sidewalkson the sidewalk along with some pretty planters.  The cafe itself is part of a multi-purpose building. There seemed to be a lot of regulars as the staff was calling them by name. I ordered a regular iced tea (the only selection) and went outside to do some notes.  After a week of really good iced teas in Lowell, I was underwhelmed by this iced tea. There was a coffee-ish taste to it and I ended up throwing it out. Since I was going to try and find some of the theaters, I continued to walk north on Elm Street, and passed by Lala’s hungarianHungarian Pastry shop.  Since I don’t walk by too many Hungarian bakeries, I decided to stop by and try out two little cookies, which were very tasty. After finding the Palace and Crown Theaters on Hanover Street, I kept walking east on Hanover Street, until I found the Restoration Cafe at 235 Hanover Street. This little cafe, housed in the former dorm for Sacred Heart Nursing Students, is based on the theme of apothecary elixirs and traveling snake oil salesmen.  There was a pretty outdoor courtyard, surrounded by lush scenery. cafeThere was a day and evening beverages menu. My iced tea was served in a beaker, which was a cool touch. Unfortunately, it still did not meet the Lowell Standard.  

I headed back to my car, well in advance of my parking expiring.  While many parts of Manchester still looked like it may had in 1929, I was disappointed that on Merrimack Street, there was no evidence of that once grand hotel where my Grandfather had stayed.

 

Resources: 

 

letter and pic

July 11, 1929  letter:

Wednesday evening.  Tina Dear – Well dear, the whole darn crew blew into town including Jordan … Maine man and also Hoffman, the crew’s boss.  It seems like old times to be speaking to someone you know. After supper, the whole crowd decided to take a ride across the border.  You know, the Canadien border is just three miles from this town, well we all packed into three cars and drove across the border in search of beer.  Finally after awhile, we located a place and had a pint bottle a piece. It cost us twenty five cents per bottle and you know that I am fond of beer.  I would not take more than one bottle for I do not want to make a habit of it while I am up this way. I drove over seventy-five miles to-day and did a days work beside.  Well honey, here it is Wenesday and tomorrow I am going to work this town and Friday morning leave for Presque Isle where I will stay until Monday morning. The crew are leaving for Presque Isle tomorrow morning and tonight will be the last time that I will see them this month.  The boys are all writing to their sweethearts so you see we all have a sweetheart. I have read that Gus Sonnenberg beat Lewis last night. I guess the old boy certainly is a champion in all respects. I will probably be in Presque Isle when this letter reaches you, and in your next letter address it to this:  Presque Isle House, Presque Isle Me. If the letters do not reach me while I am on the go, I have left forwarding addresses right along, so sooner or later the letters will reach me. I have bought for you a little souvenir from Patten Maine today and you will have it when I reach Boston. The boys are all closing with their letters and I suppose that I will be the last one, but I do not care what they do, it is what I do that concerns me mostly, does it not?  I believe that I ought to join the boys and have a chat with them before retiring. Please do not believe that I am in a hurry to close this missive, but I feel that I should go over and talk with them for they will be lead to believe that I am getting high hat. With the same amount of love, Joe

 

July 12, 1929  letter

7:15 standard time, Thursday evening

I have just completed my dinner and feel a great deal better for it.  Well Tina dea, I have not received your mail to-day and I believe it will follow me to Presque Isle for I know myself that when I am on the move, that is beginning this week, it will be quite hard to catch me from now on but I will endeavor to give you any hotels before time.  The Luxury crew have left this town this morning and I am here alone this evening, for I will leave this hotel Friday morning and work my way further north until I hit Presque Isle Friday night there. I will stay until Monday morning. Tina dear, do you realize that this is the second week and only two more weeks to go, say honey, I am getting impatient to see you.  I have worked like a Trojan all day, took only fifteen minutes for lunch and went at it again. I put in six displays, now that’s two more than I ordinarily put in and the odd part of it is that four were large drug stores and the other two were tobacco jobs (?) with large windows, to top this off, the temperature was between 90º and 95º all afternoon. I would not mind the heat if it wasn’t that I had to wash the inside glass in every store that I put a display into.   I believe you have received my address of the hotel at Presque Isle and if you write there I will receive it Monday morning. I will try to give you my exact stopping places next week. How are Paul and Frank these days, still bachelors? Keep them that way. Send my regards to all your folks and tell them please I was asking for them. I am going to write a letter home, make my reports and then retire. I have another seventy mile drive tomorrow. Lonely, Joe

When originally planning my County trip, I thought my first stop would be Houlton, since that would be the logical order and the first place I would hit after a long drive from home.  I went onto Trip Advisor and there were a few choices of places to stay. However, my plans shifted when I found out the Northeastland in Presque Isle was on the same site of the Presque Isle House, I decided to head to Presque Isle and use that hotel as home base for two nights and hit Houlton on my journey southward.  When I entered Houlton after a long and desolate ride on Sunday, I saw the little square, but quickly got onto Route One, knowing I had about another 50 minutes of my ride. Route 95 also passes through Houlton on the way to New Brunswick and I saw the hotel I was originally planning on staying at, right at the intersection of these two thoroughfares.  Looking at the hotel, I was glad I hadn’t ended up staying there, so I quickly drove past on my way to Presque Isle and planned on returning on my trip southward on Tuesday.

I had already made up my mind to take Route 95 back south for a part of the way on Tuesday.  My initial plans were to get up, have breakfast and get moving southward down Route One to Houlton, spend no more than 30 minutes and get on the road by 9:00 a.m..  However, those plans went quickly astray when breakfast took much longer than anticipated. Then, a slew of road work on Route One put me further behind, and I also decided to stop and get gas (and a Dunky Ice Tea).  So, it was 9:00 a.m. when I turned into Market Square in Houlton. And when I pulled into the diagonal parking in the square, I knew this wasn’t going to be a quick “get out of the car, place the picture, read the letter, and get back into the car” type of stop.

view market square

When reading the American Guide Series, “Maine A Guide Down East” written by the Workers of the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration for the State of Maine months before this trip, I was surprised to find that Houlton was featured in a segment titled “Seaports and River Towns”.  There were just seven of these listed, and since I had never heard of Houlton prior to this project, I was curious how it “made the cut” into this book. In the section about Houlton, Houlton is described as “Attractive and tree-shaded, Houlton combines the qualities of an old-fashioned country town with those of a modern city.  The seat of Aroostook County, one of the richest potato-raising regions in the United States, and focal point of the northernmost part of Maine that is actively developing its assets as a recreation area, Houlton has become a large commercial center.  Yet, in spite of the heavy traffic of motor trucks and automobiles over its smooth pavement, Market Square, the spacious heart of the town’s business district, retains an atmosphere reminiscent of creaking wagon wheels and patient horses tethered to sidewalk hitching posts.” (p.150)

And as I stepped out of Sage, that was exactly the picture I had in my mind.  Market Square was the home of many shops and businesses. Along with banks, there was a movie theater (The Temple), numerous antique shops, a candy shop, an old fashioned arcade, a Salvation Army store, cafes, and a Farm Store Co-op.  People were out and about on this nice summer day. You could picture in your mind a scene of people, horses and shops. I was enthralled very quickly and it only got better.

My Grandfather had stayed at the Snell House, and true to what I had been finding with the other hotels, it no longer existed.  From research on the Maine Memory Network, a photo of the hotel taken in 1900, proclaimed it to be the best hotel in Houlton at that time.  The interesting thing is that the picture was taken from across the street at White’s shop and the photo is credited to E.B. White. Initially, I thought this might be the same E.B. White of Charlotte’s Web fame, but in fact, there was another E.B. White who had a shop, diagonally across from the Snell House, and who was also an amateur photographer (https://houltonmuseum.wixsite.com/acham/edward-b-white-collection).   In a 1920s postcard from the same source, the hotel also features stables for guests to park their horses. 

I reached out to the Aroostook County Historical and Art Museum to learn more about the Snell House and spoke with Sandy, whose husband is the president of the organization.  She kindly sent me an email with an advertisement from the Snell House (https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/4f308d_11d8aadaea794c4f9f38379971f2e4be.pdf).  In this advertisement, it said that the hotel had 100 rooms, and none of the rooms had a bad view “Every room opens to the sunlight”, which was unusual for the timeframe.  It was still unclear to me about what happened to the hotel. I reached out to Leigh, and he wrote back to me that the “Snell House fell out of favor after the opening of a more ‘modern’ hotel (Northland) in 1930.  By 1940, the site was a movie theater (Houlton Theater). The Snell House was torn down prior to 1940 and the Houlton Theater in the early ‘60s.” From the Maine Memory Network, I did find a picture of the Northland Hotel and it certainly did look more modern than the Snell House did (https://www.mainememory.net/artifact/22609) .  I also found information on the Houlton Theater and found out that it opened in 1941, had seats for 862 people and was torn down in the late 1950s.  (http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/50070) And then, to answer my question about what is currently there now, it is just a parking lot. It is interesting that the Temple Theater, which opened in 1919, is only a few buildings down from this site, and it is still in operation.(Yay for independent movie theaters!)

IMG_0495temple theater

When I googled the Snell Hotel, I did find a story in “The County” newspaper about a tour of Houlton’s historical artifacts (https://thecounty.me/2017/08/17/news/business-news/rotarians-take-a-walk-through-history/) .  This included information about the Ensign Animal Fountain, which was originally located in front of the Snell House on Market Square.  However, this statue, composed of granite from Vinalhaven, is no longer operational and no longer sits in the same location, as it has been moved to the intersection of Water and Court Street..  But is was there when my Grandfather visited Houlton, so I wanted to try and find this as well when I visited Houlton.

Since I knew the site of the Snell House was now a parking space, it was quite easy to identify where it was since it was the only empty spot in the square.  I walked over to the unremarkable location and looked around. There, something to the left of the parking lot river pathcaught my eye. Along a winding path, there was a  beautiful bridge that stretched over a river. Excitedly, I made my way down towards the path. And on the right, was a storyboard sign that told the story about how Market Square has been formed and re-formed by fires.  And on this storyboard, wasfires also information about the Snell House. I kept walking and reading the storyboard signs about different historical aspects of Houlton – its early history, the industrial history, and its educational history.  On the Gateway Crossing Bridge, the Meduxnekeag River flowed gently underneath.

On the other side of the bridge, I spotted a picnic area and restrooms. I learned that this Riverfront Park had been completed in three phases, (https://thecounty.me/2019/07/23/living/arts/new-wilderness-trail-highlights-riverfront-park-phase-iii/) and it was recently just completed.  On the other side, there is a 3-mile trail that parallels the river.  Along the path, there are also storyboards, telling more about the ecological history of the river.   This was not the first footbridge over the Meduxnekeag River; on Maine Memory Network, I also found a photo of one that existed as early as 1890 (https://www.mainememory.net/artifact/13353).

I went back to the side closer to where the Snell House was located and sat on one of the many benches to do my picture taking and video of what my Grandfather said in his letter.  It was a beautiful blue sky and many others walked down the path and over the bridge. It was peaceful as I tried to imagine my Grandfather in this spot.  Now, he got to share the view with both me and my Grandmother.

After leaving the Riverfront Park area, I walked back up to Market Square to see if I could find the moved fountain. And a quick block up, there it was.  It certainly was not as elaborate as it probably once was, and it was no longer functional as a fountain, but, it was surrounded by beautiful flowers and still looked rather majestic on its new corner.  

I was rather conflicted about knowing I had 300 miles to travel that day, but also wanting to soak in a little more of Houlton.  So, I walked around Market Square and down the Main Street. There was an interesting candy shoppe, just opening for the day; what was advertised as a unique arcade, and then an interesting building, called the Vault, which appeared to be an old bank and the building was now for sale.  There were several cafes, which I wish I had time to try out while I was there. I then came upon the The Country Co-Op and Farm Store Cafe, which I knew I just needed to check out. Along with a lot of Maine produced, organic food products, there was the ability to order breakfast and lunch, the ability to sit at a table and work on a lap-top, and the ability to look at local coopartisans’ goods.  As I went upstairs, there was a beautiful small sunflower rug that caught my eye. And to the right of those rugs, were vintage pictures of Houlton. And to the right of that display, sat a picture of the Snell House, with a large parade passing by it. I knew that it needed to come home with me, as a souvenir of my visit to this wonderfully vibrant town. But, I couldn’t get myself to get into Sage just yet, so I went to a few of the antique stores to check out if they had anything about the Snell House.  In both of these locations, Houlton residents sat talking to one another. Nothing from the Snell House, but lots of interesting artifacts and people. Finally, much later than expected, I made my way back over to Sage and started her up. I was wondering if Houlton was this vibrant when my Grandfather visited. I knew he wasn’t able to get a beer there, due to Prohibition, but if the town looked like it did in 2019, I think there would be a lot to do and see. I am glad that I ended my County Tour here in Houlton.  The history, the attention to appreciating the natural resources and the people, were all top notch.  It was a wonderful ending to this recreated road trip. 
snell house old pic