Friday, November 27, 2009

Plymouth, Massachusetts

During the first half of our recent trip to New England, we visited the Plymouth, Massachusetts area.  Plymouth is best known for being the site of the colony established by the Pilgrims, passengers of the Mayflower. Plymouth has a very interesting history.  It was founded in 1620 and is the oldest municipality in New England and one of the oldest in the United States.  It also is the oldest continually inhabited English settlement in the modern United States. The town has served as the location of several prominent events, the most notable being the First Thanksgiving feast.  Plymouth served as the capital of Plymouth Colony from its founding in 1620 until the colony's dissolution in 1691.  Prior to the arrival of the Pilgrims, the location of Plymouth was a village of 2,000 Wampanoag Native Americans called Patuxet.  This region that would become Plymouth was visited twice by European explorers prior to the establishment of Plymouth Colony. In 1605, Samuel de Champlain sailed to Plymouth Harbor, calling it Port St. Louis.  In 1614, Captain John Smith, a leader of the Jamestown settlement, explored parts of Cape Cod Bay; he is credited with naming the region which would become the future Plymouth Colony as "New Plimouth."

The town of Plymouth is a typical New England town with an interesting collection of homes, shops, restaurants, and museums.  The main attractions of the town, of course, are Plymouth Rock and the Mayflower II, which both lie along Plymouth Harbor

Traditionally, Plymouth Rock is said to be the disembarkation site of the Pilgrims. However, there is no historical evidence to support this theory. The first identification of Plymouth Rock as the actual landing site was made in 1741 by 94-year-old Thomas Faunce, whose father had arrived in Plymouth in 1623, three years after the arrival of the Mayflower.  The rock is located roughly 650 feet from where the initial settlement was thought to be built.  When the townspeople of Plymouth decided to move the rock in 1774, the rock was split into two halves, and it was decided to leave the bottom portion behind at the wharf and the top half was relocated to the town's meeting-house.  During the Rock's many journeys throughout the town of Plymouth numerous pieces of the Rock were taken, bought and sold. Today approximately one-third of the top portion remains. 

The Mayflower II is a full-size replica of the Mayflower, the ship which brought the Pilgrims to Plymouth in 1620. It is located at the State Pier in Plymouth Center. The ship is open as a museum about the Pilgrims' historic voyage from Plymouth, England, and is considered a faithful replica of the original Mayflower.  It is officially a part of Plimoth Plantation.  The ship was built in Brixham, England in 1956, and sailed to Plymouth across the Atlantic Ocean in 1957 by famous mariner Alan Villiers.  The ship is still seaworthy, and routinely takes voyages around Plymouth Harbor.  When you're on the ship, it's hard to imagine about 120 people living there for the voyage across the ocean.  There are also a few very realistic-looking sailors in character to answer any questions.

Plimoth Plantation sits about three miles outside the town of Plymouth and is a living museum that reconstructs the original settlement of the Plymouth Colony established in the 17th century by English colonists, some of whom later became known as Pilgrims.  The 1627 English Village is a speculative re-creation of the settlement as it would have appeared about 1627, seven years after the arrival of the Mayflower.  No one knows exactly what Plymouth Colony looked like in 1627.  The original colonists lived where the modern town of Plymouth is now. The 1627 English Village re-creation is about one-third the size of the original colony and gives the visitor a picture of the homes, gardens, fields, work areas, animals, and people in 1627.  The town is populated by “interpreters” who stay in character to answer questions, discuss their lives and viewpoints and participate in tasks such as cooking, planting, blacksmithing and animal husbandry.

Another part of the Plimoth Plantation experience is a recreation of a Wampanoag Homesite alongside the 1627 English Village.  The homesite is a re-created home and garden of a single 17th-century Wampanoag family where you can interact with modern Native American People from a variety of nations who explain and demonstrate how the Wampanoag's ancestors lived and interacted with the settlers.  Unlike the 1627 English Village, there are no "characters" here.  The staff is dressed in traditional deerskin clothing and answer questions from a 21st-century viewpoint about the experiences of the Wampanoag.

During our three night stay in the Plymouth area, we stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn just outside town.  We’ve stayed at a number of HGI’s over the last few years in various locations.  If you don’t want to pay for something overly fancy but still want something very nice, you always know what to expect with the Hilton Garden Inns because they’re all exactly the same.  The room rate that includes the buffet breakfast is usually a good deal since the breakfast includes cooked-to-order hot dishes (eggs, omelets, pancakes, waffles, etc.).

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Rockport, Massachusetts

On our recent trip to New England, we drove from Plymouth, Massachusetts to Portland, Maine. On the way north, we decided to take a side trip to the scenic fishing village of Rockport, Massachusetts. This wasn’t our first visit to Rockport. Back in 1999, on a family road trip to Boston the see the Philadelphia Flyers play the Boston Bruins, we took a drive north of the city through Salem and Rockport, which shares the Cape Ann peninsula with the town of Gloucester.

Rockport Fishing Shack by Lou Ford

Historically, the area that is now Rockport was simply an uninhabited part of Gloucester for more than 100 years, and was primarily used as a source of timber -- especially pine for shipbuilding. The area around Cape Ann was also one of the best fishing grounds in New England. In 1743 a dock was built at Rockport harbor on Sandy Bay and was used for both timber and fishing. By the beginning of the 19th century, the first granite quarries were developed, and by the 1830s, Rockport granite was being shipped to cities and towns throughout the East Coast of the United States. Although the demand for granite decreased with the increasing use of concrete in construction during the Great Depression, Rockport still thrived as an artist colony -- which began years earlier due to its rocky, boulder-strewn ocean beaches, its quaint fishing shacks, a harbor filled with small, colorful fishing boats, and the fact that Cape Ann was made famous by Rudyard Kipling's Captains Courageous.

Rockport Motif Number 1 by Lou Ford

The most famous sight in Rockport, of course, is the red fishing shack sitting out on Bradley Wharf in the middle of the harbor. The fishing shack is well-known to students of art and art history as "the most often-painted building in America." Oddly enough, the shack actually has a name – Motif Number 1. Built in the 1840s as Rockport became home to a colony of artists and fishermen, the shack became a favorite subject of painters due to the composition and lighting of its location as well as being a symbol of New England maritime life. Painter Lester Hornby is believed to be the first to call the shack "Motif Number 1," a reference to its being the favorite subject of the town's painters, and the name achieved general acceptance. Battered and broken by the great winter storm of 1978, the original Motif Number 1 collapsed and was swept out of Rockport harbor. Within the year, a duplicate had been built and repainted to look as good as new. The Bearskin Neck area along the harbor, with its narrow streets and many quaint restaurants, art galleries, and shops, is also a favorite tourist area.

Rockport Motif Number 1 (2) by Lou Ford

NEXT POST: Plymouth, Massachusetts

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Portland Head Light Station

The highlight of a trip to Portland, Maine for any photographer has to be the Portland Head Light Station on Cape Elizabeth, because the lighthouse is one of the most photographed in the country.

I had seen some of the spectacular shots of the lighthouse before we left on the trip, so I wanted to get over there as many times as possible to take pictures under varying lighting conditions. This wasn’t much of a problem since our hotel was only 20 minutes from Cape Elizabeth, and the weather during the two days ranged from cloudy and rainy on Saturday morning to bright and sunny (and windy) on Sunday afternoon.

Moon over Portland Head Lighthouse by Lou Ford
Moon over Portland Head Lighthouse (Click on photo for info)

According to a number of sources, the lighthouse has an historic past. George Washington engaged two masons from the town of Portland in 1787, while Maine was still part of the colony of Massachusetts, and instructed them to take charge of the construction of a lighthouse on Portland Head. They were Jonathan Bryant and John Nichols.

The tower was completed during the year 1790 and first lighted January 10, 1791. The old tower, built of rubblestone, still stands as one of the four colonial lighthouses that have never been rebuilt. Today Portland Head Light stands 80 feet above ground and 101 feet above water, its white conical tower being connected with a dwelling. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a native of Portland, often visited the Portland Head Lighthouse and was friends with the keepers. It is believed he received inspiration at the lighthouse for his 1849 poem, The Lighthouse.

Clouds over Portland Head Lighthouse by Lou Ford
Clouds over Portland Head Lighthouse (Click on photo for info)

Portland Head Lighthouse sits majestically on the rocky Maine coast adjacent to Fort Williams Park. The park is a popular destination for picnicking, barbecuing, hiking, all types of sports, and spectacular views of the ocean. Kids love exploring the remains of the old abandoned fort and battery on the grounds. It’s a great place to spend a Sunday afternoon. I understand it’s also a great place in the winter for cross-country skiing, sledding, and ice skating. The lighthouse itself is not open to the public, but there’s a small museum and gift shop attached. The beauty of photographing this lighthouse is that you can shoot from so many different angles and elevations.

Portland Head Lighthouse in the Fall by Lou Ford
Portland Head Lighthouse in the Fall (Click on photo for info)

Portland Head Lighthouse by Lou Ford
Portland Head Lighthouse (Click on photo for info)

On our drive from Plymouth, Massachusetts up to Portland, Maine, we took a side trip to the scenic fishing village of Rockport, Massachusetts, which will be the subject of my next post.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Portland, Maine

We took a trip up to New England last week. Although the weather wasn’t that great, I’ll use my next few blog posts to show some of the photos of that trip.

We spent three nights of the trip at the Marriott at Sable Oaks in South Portland, Maine. The last time I visited Portland I was a teenager in the summer of 1964. I took the bus from Philadelphia to Portland to visit friends of the family. The main memory of that trip for me was taking the ferry out to the islands in Casco Bay and exploring old abandoned military fortifications.

This time we didn’t do any exploring through abandoned forts, but we did do some exploring around the streets of Portland. The main part of town is divided into three districts: the Old Port; the Arts District; and the East End. We spent a little time in the Arts District with its many galleries, but we spent most of our time walking around the Old Port area which extends up the hill from the busy port of Portland.

The Old Port is filled with shops, restaurants, and cafes, and has something of a 19th century European feel to it thanks to its many narrow cobblestone streets and old brick buildings. Commercial Street runs along the harbor at the foot of Old Port which has docks for the Casco Bay ferry to the islands and The Cat high speed ferry to Nova Scotia, as well as countless yachts and fishing boats.

A stay in Portland wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the LL Bean flagship store located in Freeport, Maine, a short 15 minute drive north of Portland. Besides the LL Bean Flagship Retail Store, which is huge, there is also an LL Bean Hunting & Fishing Store, an LL Bean Bike, Boat & Ski Store, an LL Bean Home Store, and an LL Bean Outlet Store, all within two blocks. The town of Freeport obviously exists because of LL Bean, but there are also many other shops and restaurants to explore along Main Street, plus a small outlet mall. We stopped for lunch at a small restaurant just off Main Street called the Corsican Restaurant. I had a bowl of clam chowder that was the best I’ve ever tasted.

The highlight of a trip to Portland for any photographer has to be the Portland Head Light Station on Cape Elizabeth, south of the city. The lighthouse is one of the most photographed in the country and will be the subject of my next post.

If you have a chance, please check out my ImageKind Galleries and Flickr Collections.