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Posts Tagged ‘history’

On our frequent drives up to Massachusetts we pass a sign on I-91 that says, “Connecticut River Ferry, April 1 to October 31,” and one of us always says, “We should check that out someday.” This past October, just a couple of weeks before the ferry closed for the season, we finally did it.

The ferry is the Rocky Hill–Glastonbury Ferry, and it’s the oldest continuously operating ferry in the United States. Vessels of various sorts have been providing service at this site since 1655. Today the towboat Cumberland pushes the Hollister III back and forth.

ct river ferry-1

 

The Cumberland controls the barge with just two lines that run from the towboat’s bow to two points along the side of the barge. In the picture above, the barge is being held against the Glastonbury bank waiting for another car to board.

Now the Cumberland has begun to pull the barge off the bank:

ct river ferry-2

 

In the next two pictures she’s turning around and preparing to push the barge across the river:

 

ct river ferry-3

 

ct river ferry-4

 

Full speed ahead:

ct river ferry-5

 

Connecticut River Ferry

 

That’s Glastonbury up ahead:

ct river ferry-6

 

If you find yourself in this part of Connecticut, the chance to step (or drive) into history is totally worth the three-dollar fare to take your car on the ferry.

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This post is way overdue.

Last August, Karen, the kids, and I went to Great Britain. (Click here to read about our trip on the Regent’s Canal in London.) In Scotland we made sure to visit the Falkirk Wheel.

falkirk wheel-4

falkirk wheel-1

This unusual device is essentially a canal lock. It’s used to move boats between the Forth and Clyde Canal and the Union Canal. Boats enter at the top or bottom, and then the whole thing rotates 180 degrees.

Tour boats operate on the canals and give visitors the chance to experience the wheel firsthand, but unfortunately it took us longer to get out of Edinburgh than we expected, and we arrived too late to take a ride. We did get to see one of the boats come along the Forth and Clyde Canal

falkirk wheel-2

and enter the lock that connects the canal with the basin at the bottom of the wheel:

falkirk wheel-3

Construction on the Forth and Clyde Canal began in 1768. The canal was closed in 1963 and reopened in 2001. The Falkirk Wheel began operation in 2002 and replaced a series of eleven locks that used to connect the two canals.

Here’s a brief stop-motion video showing the wheel in motion:

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The Regent’s Canal in London provides a connection between the River Thames at Limehouse Basin and the Grand Union Canal.

We took a narrow-boat tour from Camden Town to Little Venice. This short portion of the canal passes through the London Zoo, Regent’s Park, and the 270-yard-long Maida Tunnel before arriving in Little Venice. A few companies offer tours on the Regent’s Canal, but we chose to go on the Jenny Wren so we could pass through a lock, lock number 1 at Hampstead Road:

The part of the canal we visited is the oldest, opened in 1816. To this day, locks on the canal are manually operated:

The narrow boats just fit:

Here’s the view from inside lock number 1, aboard the Jenny Wren:

The canal is home to many live-aboards, with their brightly colored and decorated boats:

Not necessarily the best scenery:

But it is waterfront property:

At Little Venice there was a waterborne market and a chance to buy ice cream from a canal boat:

It was the last day for the market, and the zebra-striped boat above was preparing to head home to Stratford-upon-Avon, a two-weeks’ voyage (if I remember correctly).

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Karen and I have just returned from a short visit to Paris (France, not Texas). I have been there twice before, but until Karen told me there was a canal that ran through the middle of the city, I was oblivious to its existence. Thanks to the internet we were able to rent an apartment just a couple of blocks from the Canal Saint-Martin.

Our plan was to hang out in the neighborhood and pretend we lived there. We would sit at cafes and drink coffee, and we would stroll along the canal, as these Parisians are doing:

The canal was constructed between 1802 and 1825, by order of Napoleon I, to bring fresh water to Paris and for the transport of goods. It runs 4.5 kilometers from the Bassin de la Villette to the Port de l’Arsenal just off the Seine River. Nine locks raise or lower boats a total of 27 meters.

This barge in the Bassin de la Villette flew the Dutch flag:

There are three movable bridges that cross the canal. Two are swing bridges, and one is a vertical lift bridge. This is part of the lifting mechanism:

Two companies run tours along the canal, and there was no way we were not going to take a canal-boat trip. Here is one of the boats that Paris Canal operates. This is the company we used.

This bridge is confused. It says, “Rise up!” but it doesn’t rise.

It swings!

Here is a boat from the other company, Canauxrama, with just a few tourists. (It was a cold, rainy day.)

As soon as the gate goes up, the waiting traffic takes off:

The canal is still used for commercial traffic. Here a barge passes through the Parc de la Villette (the starting point for our boat trip) and approaches the junction with the Canal Saint-Denis:

This sign is at the first lock on the Canal Saint-Martin: 4.5 kilometers to the Seine.

Despite the weather, Karen was very happy to be descending the canal:

Inside the first lock:

Eight of the nine locks on the canal are double locks where you pass directly from one lock into the next:

Just below the Bassin de la Villette the canal passes through a short tunnel. The “1825″ carved into the rock is the year the canal opened:

Here we both are, happy to be on a boat, in a lock, in Paris:

About half of the canal runs through a tunnel. Only this first section has artificial lighting. The rest of the tunnel is dark, except for openings every block or so to allow light and air in.

At the end of the two-kilometer-long tunnel we exited into the Port de l’Arsenal, just below the Bastille:

This marina is home to a variety of boats, one much more colorful than the others:

And there’s this Dutch canal boat:

At the end of the canal, two means of transportation cross. The Seine is visible just beyond the last lock:

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Continuing the ferry theme slightly, if you were to take the Staten Island Ferry from the Battery to St. George and then walk about two miles along the shore of the Kill Van Kull you would come to the Sailors’ Snug Harbor. This collection of Greek Revival buildings was once a home for “aged decrepit and worn out sailors,” founded in 1801 by Robert Richard Randall.

 

This is where those who made their living on boats could find

and

 

There are some beautiful stained glass windows:

 

Unfortunately, despite being listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the exteriors of the buildings at Sailors’ Snug Harbor have seen better days:

 

The old Sailors’ Snug Harbor is now the Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden. You should go see it.

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World’s End is the third novel by T. Coraghessan (now T.C.) Boyle, published in 1987. The title refers to a point on the Hudson River just above West Point, which we passed on our trip last July. Very briefly (because it’s hard to do justice to the plot in a short space) it’s the story of three families — the Van Brunts, the Van Warts, and the Mohonks — in the late 1600s, 1949, and 1968. Most of the action takes place in the Hudson Valley, near the fictitious town of Peterskill (which bears a remarkable resemblance to the actual town of Peekskill). Boyle assembled his book non-chronologically, jumping back and forth in history, which allows us to experience New York when it was a Dutch (and then English) colony, to be there for the riots at the Paul Robeson concert, and to enjoy the parallel histories the characters experience.

There’s just enough magic (or magical, if you prefer) realism to make you grin when you come across it (if you like that kind of stuff), but not so much that you groan and wonder if you’re reading Gabriel García Márquez by accident. I don’t want to call World’s End a sprawling epic, because I don’t want to frighten potential readers, but it is a sprawling epic (well, epic in scope, not in size). It has everything: the weight of history, fate and destiny, familial expectations and obligations, murky moral choices, tragedy, and even a literary version of the Hudson River sloop Clearwater.

Let the first sentence be your invitation:

On the day he lost his right foot, Walter Van Brunt had been haunted, however haphazardly, by ghosts of the past.

Open the door and enter this world that is both familiar and exotic.

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I write a lot about bridges here, so today it’s time to write about a tunnel. Hidden beneath Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn is the oldest subway tunnel in the world. It was built in 1844 for the Long Island Railroad and was closed up in 1861.

Passengers traveling up the eastern seaboard would take a ferry across New York Harbor to Brooklyn, where they would board the train. The train would take them to Greenport, almost the very end of Long Island’s north fork. From there, passengers would take a ferry across Long Island Sound to Connecticut, where they would catch another train for Boston. At first the train through Brooklyn ran at street level, but as the area was developed there were a lot of unpleasant and grisly incidents involving trains and people, so a tunnel was dug to provide “grade separation.”

Bob Diamond discovered the old tunnel in 1980, and in 1982 he founded the Brooklyn Historic Railway Association “to preserve, publicize and provide public access to the historic tunnel.” To do this, they run public tours under Atlantic Avenue. Karen, the kids, and I took the tour this afternoon.

To enter the tunnel, we lined up in the middle of Atlantic Avenue, waiting our turn to climb the ladder down the manhole.

Y was first down the ladder:

Followed by P:

Once down the hole we walked about fifteen feet to the tunnel entrance. After squeezing through a small opening, we emerged into the vast space of the tunnel, about half a mile long. Here’s a look back at the entrance and the stairs leading down into the tunnel:

And another view of the entrance:

Here are three of the intrepid explorers:

After everyone entered the tunnel, Bob Diamond gave a very interesting and lively talk on a range of topics, from the history of the tunnel to conspiracy theories involving John Wilkes Booth to political corruption.

The tunnel, which Walt Whitman described as “all closed and filled up, and soon to be utterly forgotten” is well worth a visit. Information about upcoming tours is on the BHRA website. After the tour you will agree with Walt:

The tunnel: dark as the grave, cold, damp, and silent. How beautiful look earth and heaven again, as we emerge from the gloom!

(And to find out why Y is wearing a Lakers T-shirt, read his blog: A Lakers Fan in NYC.)

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Waco, Texas

Waco, Texas, is home to many places of significant historical importance. For starters there’s the Dr Pepper Museum. And then there’s. . . well. . . Okay, so there isn’t much. But there is a bridge! Karen discovered it in the guidebook.

The Waco Suspension Bridge, the first bridge across the Brazos River, opened on January 7, 1870. At 475 feet, it was the longest single-span suspension bridge in the world. The steel and cables came from New York’s John A. Roebling, designer of the Brooklyn Bridge. (Construction of the Brooklyn Bridge began four days before the Waco Suspension Bridge opened.)

Some say the Waco bridge was the model or inspiration for the Brooklyn Bridge, but I just don’t see it.

Brooklyn Bridge with fireboat John J. Harvey, photo by Karen

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The most interesting thing about the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park is the large number of old buildings that have been moved into the park from their original locations. These are not small wood shacks, but rather entire buildings of stone or brick. On one street, most of the buildings came from somewhere else. Much of this relocation is due to the efforts of WHALE (Waterfront Historic Area LeaguE), which has an impressive record of historic preservation.

One building which has not been moved is the New Bedford Custom House:

nb_customs

It was completed in 1836 and is the oldest continuously operating custom house in the United States. The New York Times had an interesting article about the custom house:

nyt_article

New Bedford is also home to the Seamen’s Bethel:

bethel

Herman Melville wrote about the bethel in chapter VII of Moby Dick:

In this same New Bedford there stands a Whaleman’s Chapel, and few are the moody fishermen, shortly bound for the Indian Ocean or Pacific, who fail to make a Sunday visit to the spot.

He also described the cenotaphs (from the Greek for empty tomb) that adorn the bethel’s walls. Here’s one:

cenotaph

Melville wrote of the chapel’s pulpit:

Its panelled front was in the likeness of a ship’s bluff bows, and the Holy Bible rested on a projecting piece of scroll work, fashioned after a ship’s fiddle-headed beak.

Here’s how Rockwell Kent illustrated it:

kents_pulpit

And here’s Orson Welles preaching from the pulpit in the 1956 movie:

movie_pulpit

The only problem was that the real Seamen’s Bethel did not have a pulpit like that—at least not until throngs of tourists arrived there asking to see the pulpit. Now it has one:

actual_pulpit

New Bedford’s working waterfront is alive with all sorts of fishing boats. Fortunately for us we were there on a Sunday—there was not much work happening, but there were tons of boats at the docks:

3_boats

2_boats

There was also a most-interesting fountain of a Greek god standing atop all sorts of sea creatures:

fountain

New Bedford is also home to the schooner Ernestina, ex-Effie M. Morrisey. For some reason there are no booms or gaffs on the masts of this 115-year-old boat (perhaps due to current restoration work?), so this is the most nautical shot I could get:

ernestina

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Today Karen, the kids, and I along with our friends Elisa and Jon took a tour of Bannerman’s Island. Also known as Pollepel Island, it was bought by Francis Bannerman VI in 1900. Here he built an arsenal to house his inventory of military surplus and also a residence for his family. Last winter I took some pictures of the island and its ruins, and we passed by on our trip up the river in July, but this was the first time we actually set foot on the island.

The coolest thing about the tour was that we had to wear hard hats:

hard_hats

This warning sign was also cool, if a little scary:

warning

Bannerman was not an architect, but he was rich, so he designed the castle himself, taking design elements from various castles he had seen:

arsenal

arch

He also invented a coat-of-arms for himself and a Latin motto, which used to appear over the entry:

coat_of_arms

Bannerman was fond of carving words in cement. These are the steps that lead down to Wee Bay on the south side of the island:

wee_bay

Also on the south side are the ruins of the Bannerman family residence:

residence

This tower:

screaming_tower

reminds me of this painting:

The_Scream

The image carved here refers to the story (probably false) that Bannerman told about how his ancestor carried the banner of Scotland back in the days of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce and was called the “banner man.” Hence the name.

banner

Here’s one last view of the arsenal as we boarded the boat back to Beacon:

arsenal2

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