The trip from Connecticut, around Providence, Rhode Island, to Mansfield, Massachusetts, south of Boston, took about an hour and a half and since it was along the Interstate it was an easy trip. Except for the traffic, especially after the break from the traffic in Connecticut. The Canoe River Campground is set in a residential area a couple of miles from the Interstate. Once you are in the campground you can ignore the fact that you are in a residential neighborhood as it has lots of trees and a nice pond. The GPS system gave us a bit of a scare as it was warning us about exceeding the weight limit as we approached the campground entrance. I am not sure if it was meaning a bridge over the Canoe River beyond the entrance or the bridges within the campground. We never did figure it out, but didn’t have any problems. When we checked it we asked about transportation into Boston for later in the week and found out that there was a commuter train station in Mansfield and they provided limousine service to the station (it was an actual limo!). We filed that information for later in the week and went to find our campsite. Most of the campsites at Canoe River did not have sewer hookups, but since we had requested this service we were placed clear in the back of the campgrounds. It turned out they had a nice open meadow with multiple full hookup sites and ours faced directly into a wooded area so we felt like we were in a state park. It was a nice site and since there was only one other RV in the meadow while we were there, it was very quiet. Of course, the walk to the bathroom was a bit of a hike, but not really a problem. I would certainly stay here again in the future.
We decided to wait on Boston until the weekend, figuring the traffic and congestion downtown would be much less. Therefore, on Tuesday we drove to Quincy, Massachusetts to visit the Adams National Historical Park. We knew that Quincy is today a suburb of Boston, but did not count on the traffic. The time on the 4-lane highways to Quincy was not bad, but the traffic once we left the highway to city streets was terrible. The Visitor Center for the Historical Park is a small corner of a large office/commercial building in the center of downtown and the road in front was under construction causing a mess. There is a public parking deck next to the building, but Kal was worried about the clearance (we should have been fine) and our experience with the parking deck in Charleston made us both nervous. The length of the truck and turning radius makes parking decks a real problem. Parallel parking is also impossible, so the metered parking on the streets was out of the question and all we saw were private lots that you are not suppose to park in. The main site for the Historical Park is the Adams home, named Peace field and is about 6 blocks from the Visitor Center. We noticed that there appeared to be parking along the street in front of their home and in fact there was a school bus parked there. So we pulled in front of the bus and parked the truck to ask the Park Rangers where we could park. They told us there was no problem parking along the street, which was free, and we could obtain our tour tickets for the home right there instead of at the Visitor Center! What a lucky break. We were able to get our tickets for the next tour and wait about 15 minutes for the next trolley.
The Adams National Historical Park consists of the homes of five generations of Adams, beginning with John Adams’ father Deacon John Adams house, which at the time was 7 miles from Boston on a working farm. John Adams was born in this house in 1735 and grew up wanting to be a farmer. However, Deacon John had other plans and sent young John (age 16) to Harvard to become a minister and civic leader like himself. John’s boyhood home reflects this modest beginning as well being a simple two story house. The most interesting feature was the size of the kitchen which was also used as a meeting place for the citizens to meet with the Deacon on religious and civic matters. Deacon John built a separate home for each of his three sons and John’s was built 75 yards from the family home. When John married Abigail in 1764 they soon moved into their own home which was also a simple two story home. They have furnished the home so you can see where John Adams did much of his writings early in his career as a lawyer instead of a minister. It was in this home that they raised their family including John Quincy Adams, who became the sixth President of the United States. During the years leading up to the Revolutionary War and especially during the war, John Adams did not spend a lot of time at home being either in Boston or Philadelphia. However, on his trips to France during the war he took along John Quincy as his interpreter and it is thru these experiences that John Quincy became a celebrated diplomat and ambassador leading eventually to President. After a fairly brief tour of these homes it was back on the trolley to the Peace field where we started the day.
This is the family home for the next four generations of Adams and was purchased by John Adams in 1785 while he was the first English ambassador for the new nation. He bought the home sight unseen believing it was a “very Genteel Dwelling” that would be more appropriate then the small home about a mile away. Much to their disappointment, it was not nearly as large as they thought with a parlor that was so small that most entertaining had to be done in the kitchen. They would eventually expand the house adding a wing to one side and doubling the size of the house behind the original structure for bedrooms and servant quarters. The National Park Service has done an excellent job furnishing the house with period pieces from the time of the Revolution, as it would continue to be the family home for three more generations of Adams. The third generation of Adams included Charles Francis Adams who inherited the house and built a stone library that was considered fire proof near the house to protect the books and papers of his father and grandfather. This is an impressive structure filled with books on two floors with a central open area for desks. Many of the books are foreign languages as John Quincy Adams was fluent in a number of languages. The fourth generation Adam that lived in the house was Henry Adams who was a well known historian publishing a number of volumes on American history that were world renown at the time. After a pleasant lunch eaten on a bench in the garden, we caught the trolley one more time to finally visit the Visitor Center where we watched a film about the family that would have been a good place to start, but not a bad place to finish. Since the tours of the homes are conducted by Park Service Rangers they are timed events, so we were done by mid-afternoon and headed back to the campgrounds before the evening rush. This did not mean we could avoid traffic jams as we trusted the GPS to lead us around a tie up on the Interstate. From a dead stop we were able to travel a couple of miles and re-enter the Interstate with virtually no traffic. I assume it was an accident that caused the traffic jam, since we did not see it.
After a day of dealing with traffic outside of Boston, we were ready for something different, so on Wednesday we headed east to Cape Cod National Seashore. This was a pleasant day of short hikes and looking at sandy beaches, hardwood and pitch pine forests, and beach dunes. It was far to chilly and windy on Wednesday to even think about getting in the ocean, which is fine by us since neither of us enjoy swimming in the ocean. Cape Cod National Seashore covers the entire eastern side of the cape which is over 40 miles long and we had only a single day to explore it. We began at the Salt Pond Visitor Center which is at the southern end of the cape and took a nice walk along the edge of a tidal marsh. I learned about Kettles, which are circular depressions, some large and some quite small, that were left when the ice melted at the end of the last Ice Age. Unless there is access from the sea they become freshwater ponds or bogs all over the landscape. After lunch in their picnic area which includes a very large boulder left from the glaciers, we drove down to the beach at the Nauset Lighthouse, which dates from 1877, but was originally located at Chatham, MA before being moved to this location. Unlike other lighthouses we have seen that are made of brick, this lighthouse consists of cast iron plates that have been overlaid with bricks, so it is in amazing shape even today. There is also a small shack that is not impressive, except that it was the terminus for the transatlantic cable that sent telegraph messages to England in the mid-1800s. Since it was going to take over an hour to get to the northern end of the cape we decided not to stop at Marconi’s Station Site as it was only a plaque marking the location of the tower from where he sent the first transatlantic wireless message to England in 1903. As you travel north along the cape the forests change from a mixed hardwood forest to stunted pitch pine forests and large sand dunes. Since the time of the Pilgrims, who landed first on the cape before proceeding to Plymouth, the cape had been cleared for agriculture and grazing by cattle and sheep. The sandy poor soil on the cape was completely destroyed and without the vegetation to hold the sand it became a desolate area of shifting sand dunes that completely filled the harbors and was a constant problem for residents. Today, most of the land is again covered with trees and grass which is slowly stabilizing the dunes. We drove through Provincetown unsuccessfully looking for a parking place for our huge truck, but did get a quick look from the truck at the Pilgrim Tower, which is the tallest granite tower in the US at 252 feet. We did take a walk along the beach, which by the middle of the day was attracting a few brave swimmers (certainly not warm enough for me) and went to the US Life Saving Station that has been reconstructed by the NPS after being moved back from the beach to protect it. They only have tours a couple of days a week and then only in the afternoon, but the tour we got from the volunteers was certainly worth the time and was the highlight of the day. We learned about the equipment they used to rescue people from ships that wrecked or ran aground on the cape usually in the worst possible weather conditions, the daily lives of the men stationed at the life saving stations, and the history of the life-saving stations which eventually became the Coast Guard. I especially liked learning about the methods used to save people, from the boats they used to the lines they would shoot out to the ship masts to erect a pulley system and hanging basket to rescue people up to a half mile off shore. The initial light line would be shoot using a small cannon out to the ship was stored in a box using an intricate method of laying the line so it would come off clean and not wad up into a ball. Unfortunately, they demonstrate the method on Thursday instead of Wednesday as this would have been something to see. From the life-saving station we went to the Province Land Visitor Center which is basically an observation tower from which you can look out over the pitch pine forest to the sea and Provincetown. The view was magnificent and well worth the time. By this point it was mid-afternoon and we had a two hour drive back to the campground, so we had to cut the exploration short without getting to visit the site of the Pilgrim’s first landing. Sacrifices must be made I guess.
Thursday was laundry, cleaning and working on this blog. I am thankfully beginning to get caught up but it is still going to take another month, especially if we continue to visit 4-5 sites a week.
On Friday, we headed back towards Boston, however, this time our destination was Brookline which today is another suburb of Boston as it was in the time of John F. Kennedy. Not wanting to live with their parents, Joseph and Rose Kennedy bought a small house in Brookline, outside of Boston to raise their family in 1914, which today is the John F. Kennedy National Historic Site. Conveniently connected to Boston by electric trolley, Brookline offered everything from good schools, a local Catholic church, and retail stores within walking distance. Rose Kennedy was the daughter of John Francis Fitzgerald, the mayor of Boston, and thus had a good education in The Netherlands, The New England Conservatory in Boston and Manhattan College of Sacred Heart in New York City. Joseph also came from a political background whose father, P.J. Kennedy, was a major figure in the Democratic Party in Boston. Joseph would go on to become a very wealthy businessman making a large fortune in the stock market and real estate, but at the time of living at this home in Brookline he was one of the youngest bank managers in the US at age 25. Their wealth and background allowed a comfortable, yet modest, living in the suburbs where they were able to afford a cook and maid to free up Rose to raise the children. Their first born son, Joseph P. Kennedy, was groomed to be a politician from an early age which freed up John F. Kennedy (known as Jack) to be a rascal at an early age. Family dinners were semi-formal affairs where the children were all expected to voice opinions about current events and how to defend those opinions. Following Jack, there was Rose Marie and Kathleen Agnes Kennedy born in this house. After six years, the family had outgrown this three bedroom house and moved to a larger home a few blocks away in Brookline. Along with the great achievements of the Kennedy family: John F. Kennedy becoming the 35th President, Robert (Booby) Kennedy serving as US Senator and Attorney General, and Edward (Ted) Kennedy as long time US Senator from Massachusetts, there was also great tragedy. Joseph Kennedy, Jr. was killed serving in the Air Force during World War II in 1944, Kathleen dying in a plane crash in 1948, John F. Kennedy assassinated while serving as President in 1963, Robert Kennedy assassinated while running for President in 1968, and Rose Marie was institutionalized in 1941 following a lobotomy to attempt to treat her mental disability. After JFK was assassinated his boyhood home in Brookline became a “national shrine”, especially after they erected a stone plaque in the front yard. The Kennedy family had not owned the home since the moved, however, Rose Kennedy decided to purchase the home and revert it back to the condition when they lived there including the furnishings for visitors. When we arrived at the home on a narrow one-way street in Brookline it was early enough in the morning that we were able to back into a parking space at the end of the block from the house. I can imagine the complaints from all the neighbors as there is no other parking available anywhere close to the house. The Visitor Center is in the basement of the house, where you get the free tickets for touring the house. Along with two other couples we had a good time with our NPS volunteer that conducted the tour. She did a fine job, but had problems handling some of the questions, since we were all familiar with mid-20th century appliances and furniture since we had all grown up with it. Since it was a tour, it only took 30 minutes to tour the house so we were done before noon.
Still having most of the day available we drove a couple of blocks to another National Historic Site, honoring Frederick Law Olmsted, the father of landscape architecture. Once again the challenge was figuring out where to park the truck, so after circling around the property, which again is in a residential area, we found a small parking lot for visitors set behind the house. It was a bit of a struggle to get the truck into the parking area, but once we were in, we had a great spot again right at the Historic Site. We went in and got our tour tickets for 1:00. Having about an hour to kill we looked at some of the exhibits and ate lunch on the beautiful landscape grounds around the house. The Historic Site is also called Fairsted and is both Olmsted home and the offices of his landscape architecture firm. With my forestry background at Auburn which has a program in Landscape Architecture that we worked with from time to time, I was already somewhat familiar with Frederick Law Olmsted. I knew that his firm had designed many of the better city parks and college campuses in the nation, including his most famous project in New York City, Central Park. What I did not know was his early life that was provided in the museum that takes up the bottom floor of the house. He was self taught when as a journalist he reviewed public parks in England and traveled throughout the South and Texas before the Civil War. Along with Clavert Vaux, an architect, they began the construction of Central Park after winning a design contest, this being his first landscape project! He continued as the Director of Central Park until the Civil War when he accepted a position as Executive Secretary for the US Sanitary Commission. His job was to design and oversee the construction of the hospitals and caring for the wounded during the war. After many successful projects, he decided to move to Brookline in 1883, purchasing a property close to his frequent collaborator H.H. Richardson. Obviously he turned the property into a showcase for landscape architecture that highlighted his design concepts for potential clients and named it Fairsted. The NPS has restored the property to his original design using the many records that came with the property. The tour itself encompasses the offices of the landscape architecture firm and had seen many expansions over the years, making a virtual warren of working spaces. Along with the property the NPS also became the custodian of over 1,000,000 original design records that they are still in the process of restoring and preserving. On the tour you get to see where the small army of draftsmen worked, where they copied the original plans onto blueprints, and where all the originals were stored. It is an amazing tour and I was thrilled to learn more about his work and legacy. After the tour we finished looking at the exhibits in the museum where I learned a couple of interesting things. First, his projects included many University campuses, including Troy University. Second, Olmsted was one of the first and most ardent conservationists. He was instrumental in creating and defining the mission for the National Park System.
On Saturday it was time to “bite the bullet” and catch the train for the Boston National Historical Park in downtown Boston. Since it was the weekend, we drove ourselves to the commuter train station since their was free parking and plenty of it during the weekend. We arrived a half hour early, not knowing how long it would take and especially since the ticket office was closed, it meant we had a lot of time before the train arrived. This also meant we would have to buy our tickets from the conductor on the train which would cost $3 more each. While we waited we got into a conversation with another passenger waiting for the train that was mostly blind. He has had a very colorful past traveling all over the world and the US and knew about more places to visit in Boston then we had any chance of seeing. We enjoyed our conversation immensely and assisted him with boarding and exiting the train. Once the train left the station I remarked to Kal that I thought it would go faster than the 20 mph we seem to be traveling at and it turned out they were having a problem with the train. The front cab was not working, meaning they had to pilot the train from the rear which limited them to 20 mph. We even stopped for about 20 minutes while they attempted to fix the problem with no luck. Instead of a 20 minute train ride, we were over 1.5 hours getting to South Station in Boston!! Luckily this also meant that they did not charge for the trip, so it was not a total loss. However, this cut severely into our time downtown, especially since we waited with our blind friend while he tried to contact his friend to pick him up. Unfortunately, they still had not arrived after half an hour and we just had to move on. Unlike Philadelphia where the historic district in concentrated in one place and has been preserved mostly for tourists, the historic sites in Boston are scattered all over the place in the center of a very busy, congested, and modern city. I am glad we came on a Saturday as I could not imagine what it would be like during the work week. Thankfully, they have created the Freedom Walk which is a red brick line in the pavement that leads visitors to most of the historical sites. Of course from South Station, we had to walk a number of blocks to intercept the Freedom Walk at about its middle at the Old State House. It was within the Old State House that the Massachusetts legislature met during the Revolutionary times and where John Adams made some of his famous speeches to the legislature. Today, it is a private museum about Boston’s place in the Revolution with live actors, however, in order to save money and time we choose not to visit the inside. Outside is also the location of the Boston Massacre where British soldiers killed 5 Boston citizens that were protesting the occupation of the city by the British in 1770. From there we walked on to Faneuil Hall, which was the old marketplace in Boston and today houses the NPS Visitor Center and a museum about the military arms and uniforms during the Revolutionary War. Unfortunately the museum was closed for some reason and they were holding a series of orchestra concerts all day on the second floor of the hall, which again we did not have time to participate in. Today the market is a series of local fast food outlets of every type and description so we got some Greek food and set on the steps for lunch.
After lunch we continued along the Freedom Walk to the home of Paul Revere, which looks very strange set amongst more modern homes and businesses, even though they were all 50-100 years old. Again it was now a private museum so we did not spend any time there. From there it is a short walk to the Old North Church where they hung the lanterns to let Paul Revere and William Dawes know how the British were going to leave Boston on their way to Concord. We did pay the “contribution” to the church to look inside and it was worth the expense. Since the congregation had moved to a larger church they have been able to preserve the original furnishings of the church. The floor is broken up into multiple family boxes with individual doors into each box. A family would contribute to the church to retain possession of their box and they have put a small plaque on each box to give the owner of the box at the time. They have also furnished two of the boxes to give you a sense of how they could have been decorated by the family, since each family could decorate their box to their liking. There is also a number of interpretive signs about the rides of Paul Revere and William Dawes, both fact and fiction. Paul Revere had gone across the Charles River that day in preparation for carrying the warning and William Dawes had braved the English soldiers to position himself on the neck of land leading out of Boston at the time. However, they did not know how the British would be leaving Boston and it made a big difference in how much time the militia had to prepare since the land route through the neck would take much longer than crossing the Charles River, that is, “by sea”. Therefore, lanterns were hung in the steeple of Christ Church, or Old North Church, to provide them this information before they left to warn the militia in Lexington and Concord. From Old North Church we walked up the hill to Copp’s Hill Burying Ground which is the largest cemetery in colonial Boston, established in 1659. There are obviously a lot of old gravestones, the most noteworthy being the graves of Incense and Cotton Mather. This is also the location where the British put cannon to fire on Bunker HIll over the Charles River in Charlestown during the Revolutionary War. I found two interesting things in the cemetery. First, the gravestones had all been moved in the past to create pleasant walkways for visitors and second there are a number of tombs that extend into the side of the hill. The most interesting thing about this is that most of these “tombs” are only the plaques in the brickwork as there is nothing on the backside by air when they built the modern streets and buildings! From here the Freedom Walk crosses over the Charles River to Bunker Hill and the Charlestown Navy Yard, which we are very interested in, but will have to wait until a later time. Instead we backtracked to our starting point on the Walk and headed south. However, by following the red brick trail we ran into a public parade about “Gay Rights” that was fun to watch. The crowd would cheer as a float or organization went by waving at the crowd, which was very large. Thankfully, the walk turned at this point, so we were able to follow it to the Granary Burying Ground where you can find the graves of Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Robert Treat Paine, Paul Revere, and the five victims of the Boston Massacre. By this point it was getting late in the afternoon and it was time to catch one of the last trains back to Mansfield, so we headed back to South Station and rode the train back to our truck.
After the long day on Saturday in downtown Boston, we decided to wait on returning until the following week after we moved to our new location north and west of town. We spent the day taking it easy in the campground and preparing to leave the next day.