A little more than a year ago we visited Boston for a month. We didn’t stay right in the city but rather in a beach town on the south shore and close to the train that could get us into downtown Boston in 40 minutes. We loved it so much that when we were thinking about destinations for our 2018 trek across the US and back we decided we wanted to return but this time our plan was to spend more time visiting sights outside the city. We were thrilled we were able to rent the same Airbnb in Hull.
Hull is located on the tip of the Nantasket Peninsula which sticks out into Boston Harbor. Plymouth Colony first established Hull as a trading post in 1621. Today a big draw is Nantasket Beach which is reportedly one of the nicest beaches in New England. We arrived on Labor Day weekend when the summer population balloons far beyond the 10,000 people who regularly reside here. But just a few days later it turned into a much quieter, and to our way of thinking, nicer community.
One of our first stops was the Hull Public Library, and my initial experience wasn’t very pleasant. I was told abruptly by the clerk that no, as a visitor to the area I could not get a library card. This seemed odd to me so I sent a note to the contact on their website and quickly got an apologetic response saying of course I could use their library. When we went back in, not only did I get a library card but Ann, the person in charge, gave us a lovely tour of the building describing the building’s history which dates back to the middle 1800’s. The home’s original owner, John Boyle O’Reilly, was born in Ireland but later moved to England. He had been a member of the Fenian Revolutionary Army and when he was found out, he was convicted, and served in several prisons. Eventually he was sent to Australia where he somehow managed to get on a ship and escape to the US. He arrived in Boston and became the editor of The Pilot advocating the rights of the working man and African Americans. This home was the O’Reilly family summer residence until he died in 1890. It was purchased in 1913 by the town to use as the library. Fascinating…the things we learn by random connections with locals!
We continue to be amazed by how immersed we are in history. Driving out to Hull from Boston we drove through various towns one indistinguishable from the next. One afternoon we were coming home from the supermarket in heavy traffic passing business after business on both sides of the street when in among all this twenty-first century chaos, we were astounded to see a small sign indicating Abigail Adam’s birthplace. Wow! We learned the building is presently in its third location and find ourselves wondering how long until it’s moved again!
We wanted to venture out to Cape Cod again having enjoyed previous trips to Provincetown. We finally decided on Sandwich, situated right at the entrance to the Cape making it a shorter drive (in what is usually very heavy traffic). We were also fascinated by the fact that Sandwich is the oldest town on the Cape and also the home of the oldest continuous Quaker Meeting in the country. In Massachusetts, we’ve found several sights that boast being “the oldest continuous…” including schools and churches of various denominations.
Downtown Sandwich is lovely. We decided to stop at Beth’s Bakery and Cafe for a quick lunch. Great choice! check it out! https://bethsbakery.net I chose the haddock chowder with a lobster salad! (Can you tell I just cannot get enough of the east coast seafood?) We continue to be fascinated the way New Englanders use crushed shells as a ground cover in much the way midwesterners use wood chips!
Glass making was a big thing in Sandwich until the Civil War, and so we decided to visit the Sandwich Glass Museum. After a short video explaining the history of glass blowing in the area, we watched a demonstration. The museum had two particularly interesting visiting exhibits. The first was from The MIT Glass Lab…we had no idea MIT has a glass lab dating back more than 40 years. They also had a special exhibit of Christopher Belleau’s. His work reminds me a lot of Chihuly.
We were thrilled that our youngest son, Patrick and his friend came to visit for a long weekend. While they were walking the Freedom Trail, Bob and I decided to return to the Boston Public Gardens. We couldn’t have chosen a better day to be there…75 degrees and sunny and unlike our previous visit, this time everything was in full bloom!
Breathtaking! Later we met up with them for dinner at the Union Oyster House! Yum! We had a long wait for a table but were entertained by the guy who while serving as bartender, was also shucking oysters. He said he could do about 60 an hour. He went on to say he’d been doing it for more than 20 years…calculate that: 60 an hour for 8 hours times 5 days a week times 50 weeks a year times 20 years! UNBELIEVABLE!
On Monday morning as we drove the boys back to Logan, we decided to stop and get a glimpse of John and Abigail Adams’ retirement home in Quincy. John Adams named the estate, “Peacefield” remembering the Peace he helped negotiate in 1783. We knew we wouldn’t have time for the whole tour, but I particularly wanted to see the beautiful Adam’s library building and the garden. When I explained to the park ranger that I knew we had to be part of a tour to enter the buildings but could we just wander through the garden. He not only said yes, but proceeded to let us into the library where he gave us a bit of history of the building. Here we were standing in the same room where John Adams read and wrote; looking at all of his books! One John Adams quote stands out to me: “Posterity!” he wrote, “You will never know how much it cost the present Generation, to preserve your Freedom. I hope you will make good Use of it.”
On our train trip into Boston, Bob struck up a conversation with a man who asked if we’d visited Hingham. And while the town was right next door to Hull, and we’d driven through it routinely, we’d never stopped to explore. So we added it to our list. We began at the Historical Society which is housed in what was the original Derby Academy Building, the first New England co-educational school established in 1791 and still in existence (although in a different location). The docent at the Society shared much of the town’s history and explained that Hingham is known as “Bucket Town.” During the 1700’s and 1800’s the boxes, buckets and other woodenware that were made here were known throughout the country. She explained there was a museum upstairs (in what had been the school) that would explain the town’s history in greater detail. When I suggested that they were closing soon and perhaps we should come back the next day, she dismissed that idea and told us to go ahead and explore! Again, I am stunned at the thoughtfulness of the people we meet; the librarian, the Ranger, now the docent. Upstairs we saw a plaque on the wall explaining that the Lincoln family were all related. Samuel Lincoln was born in Hingham, England, and was the 4th great grandfather of Abraham Lincoln. Now I understood the statue of Abraham Lincoln in the city center!
As we were leaving we asked what else we should visit in Hingham and both she as well as another woman, suggested, “The Ordinary.” Hmmm… we later learned that “ordinary” was a term during Colonial America that indicated a tavern that served a complete meal at a fixed price. Another interesting fact learned!
The Old Ordinary turned out to be a fascinating place particularly because of Ellen, our guide. At one time, distant relatives of Ellen’s called the Old Ordinary home. After spending so much of our time in New England learning about the Patriots we were surprised to learn this house had been built in1688 by Thomas Andrews, a Loyalist, for his son Thomas. In the days of the Revolution, the house was owned by the Barker family and legend has it that the two paintings of the owners hanging on the front room wall both had knife marks in them suggesting the frustration the Colonists felt when they realized the owners had managed to escape.
The garden was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1906 as a wedding present for the Reverand Cornish and his wife who were then owners of the Old Ordinary. Olmstead was famous for many gardens including: the Biltmore Gardens in Ashville NC, the Jackson Park Gardens in Chicago, Central Park in New York City, and the grounds around the US Capitol; the list goes on and on! Inside the house were authentic pieces, not replicas, of many interesting items including a leather fire bucket. We learned that firebuckets had family names on them so that after dousing a fire the buckets could find their way back to their rightful owners. We also found out that because all commerce was regulated by the English and materials imported directly from them, fabrics, at this time in history, were among a family’s dearest possessions, in many cases worth more than the furniture.
We spent a day in Plymouth. We had visited Plymouth Rock on previous occasions and were underwhelmed, but we learned that the Pilgrim Hall Museum was built in 1824 and is the longest continuous operating museum in America. (There’s that term again!) It was interesting and we liked that it wasn’t huge. Lots of Pilgrim artifacts…some that actually came over on the Mayflower and lots of information about the Native Americans in the area. We also visited the Brewster Gardens. They date from the 1920’s and contain several pretty sculptures. My favorite was the stainless steel sculpture, “Immigration” honoring settlers from 1700 – 2000.
We also visited Scituate which we remembered hearing was hard hit by a nor’easter that literally had waves washing over many of the houses. Looking at the houses lining the sea we understood how that could happen. Here we also saw the Scituate Lighthouse that was built in 1810 for the sum of $ 4000. During the War of 1812, two young girls, daughters of the light keeper, who was away at the time, are credited with saving the community by playing their fifes when they heard British troops approaching. The British troops thought it indicated a whole regiment of Colonial troops and quickly retreated.
I didn’t realize how many tidbits of history I have learned from literature, Longfellow in particular. This had been the case when Evangeline has led us to Grand Pre in Nova Scotia. Now it was happening again in Lexington. Lexington, we knew was the beginning of the Revolutionary War so Bob suggested the Lexington Green would be a good place to start exploring of the area.
There we met a volunteer dressed in his Colonial finest who explained the happenings of the morning of April 19, 1775, how when Paul Revere and William Dawes had learned the British were going to Concord with the intent to destroy weapons, they rode to alert the countryside.
Later in the Concord Museum we saw one of the two lanterns that hung in the Old North Church. (We were also told that the picture on the Sam Adams beer bottle is really Paul Revere because he was better looking! Interesting!)
What we didn’t know was that Revere had been captured…and later released. (Ah… Longfellow didn’t tell us that! ) As we stood on the green we could look at the actual house where Samuel Adams and John Hancock spent the night of April 18. On this green on the morning of April 19, 73 Patriots faced nearly 800 British troops The guide went on to explain that while the Colonists’ battle on the green was lost, they won the remainder of the battles that day. We went on to Minute Man National Historic Park in Concord, where we walked across the North Bridge and the spot where the “the shot heard round the world” was fired. And where it all began.
Concord had another draw for me. I am fascinated by the Transcendentalists of the early 1800’s. They included: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Bronson Alcott (and his famous daughter Louisa May), Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau (whose name rhymes with “furrow” we learned) and my favorites: the Peabody sisters: Eliza, Mary and Sophia. Concord was the center of the movement.
As we walked the streets and grounds of their homes we could almost hear their converstations. Orchard House was the home of the Alcotts and Bronson’s progressive school. Amos Bronson Alcott is among my favorite people from history. His school stands behind the house. He was influenced by Peztalozzi. His assistant, Eliza Peabody, is credited with creating the first kindergartens in the United States. He treated his students like adults and abhorred corporal punishment; his school was based on the Socratic Method and he stood strong behind his ideals believing that all students, boys and girls, Black and White should be educated. When he admitted an African American student to his school, he wouldn’t back down even as parents complained. He counted among his many students, Emma Lazarus (who wrote The New Colassus engraved on the base of the statue of liberty). We found the folks at Orchard House to be very helpful sharing with us many interesting facts about the Transcendentalists and offering suggestions about other things to see in the area.
Among those places, of course, was Walden Pond and the replica of the cabin that Henry David Thoreau built and lived in for two years, two months and two days. William Ellery Channing was another Transcendentalist and frequent walking companion of Thoreau.
It was Channing who had first suggested to Thoreau that he use Channing’s land and go out to Walden Pond and build himself a hut. And it was Alcott that Thoreau borrowed an ax from to build his cabin! And it was Emerson who mentored Thoreau…such connections boggle my mind!
Finally we visited Sleepy Hollow Cemetery where for all eternity most of the Transcendentalists remain neighbors. In 1855, the original cemetery was extended when the town of Concord bought additional acreage including a pretty park-like area that the locals called, Sleepy Hollow, probably named after Washington Irving’s short story, The Legend Sleepy Hollow. Emerson had suggested that cemeteries like Sleepy Hollow could serve more than one purpose acting as places for contemplation and reflection as well as honoring the deceased. We hunted until we finally found Author’s Ridge, where lay the remains of the Alcotts, the Hawthornes, the Emersons, the Thoreaus, the Channings, two of the Peabody sisters.
The other Peabody sister, Mary, is buried with her husband Horace Mann in Ohio. We passed the Horace Mann home in Concord but it is a private residence. Imagine living in Horace Mann’s home! And it’s not far from the Wayside where Nathaniel Hawthorne lived with his wife, Sofia. But later the Alcott’s lived there. And then, as if that’s not enough, Harriet Lothrop, the author of The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew later lived there.
What an impact these thoughtful minds could have on our lives today. Of course before leaving Concord, I had to visit The Thoreau Bookstore at Walden Pond hunting for another book to learn more of the Transcendentalists.
We often encounter sights that make us smile, or make us think…or just make us wonder. Here are a few from the past month:
Massachusetts has such a rich history, even with a second month, there still remains places we want to visit. Guess that means one day we’ll have to return! For now, we’re headed next to Portland, Maine, and fall colors!