June 2004               


As we mentioned last month, when Franklin Roosevelt died, Eleanor moved from Springwood, which had been his mother’s home.  She moved a few miles away to Val-Kill.  This was the only home in her life that was truly hers.

We visited Val-Kill on an overcast day.  We were in a very small group to tour the cottage and as such were fortunate to be able to see the second floor of the house.  Eleanor lived very simply.  The cottage is small, but she found it very comfortable.  Her personal assistant lived in a small apartment in the cottage. 

Grandchildren liked to come and stay with her in the summers.  Eleanor loved Christmas and had family for dinner in the small dining room.  Her good “china” was the Franciscan Apple pattern and she used Libby glass tumblers instead of fine crystal. 

Many world leaders visited her at Val-Kill and she entertained President Kennedy with tea in a small alcove of the living room. 

In contrast to Val-Kill, the Vanderbilt Mansion, located about a mile from Springwood, is a lasting example of the gilded age.  Frederick and Louise Vanderbilt purchased the property in 1895 but the house was structurally unsound.  They razed the house and began building a 50 room mansion.  The house was built of Indiana limestone and contained up-to-date items such as central heat, plumbing and a hydro-electric plant to provide electricity.  The Vanderbilt’s moved into the house in 1898 although it was not completed until the months later.

This house was not their principal residence, but was used in the spring and fall of the year.  Many guests were entertained at the house.  A beautiful view of the Hudson River and mountains were seen from the house and grounds.

The Vanderbilts had no children and after Frederick’s death in 1938, Louise’s niece inherited the property.  She offered it for sale but had no takers.  Franklin Roosevelt talked to her about donating it to the federal government.  One of the important things about this house is that the mansion and its furnishings are intact and unchanged from the time that the Vanderbilts lived here.

West Point is the home of the United States Military Academy.  Tours are offered from the Museum in the town of West Point.  West Point is also an active military base.  We visited the week after graduation, so the campus was very quiet. 

We requested the long tour which included a visit to the cemetery.  Nope, a funeral was scheduled that afternoon so no tours of the cemetery.  We did take the shorter tour.  This tour was to include a stop at the famous Chapel on the campus.  As our bus arrived at the driveway to the Chapel, fire trucks and ambulances arrived, placing the Chapel off limits for the tour.  We continued past other buildings on the campus including the home of the Director. 

We left the bus at the parade ground where we faced the dormitories.  These buildings house the cadets and the dining hall.  Each “hall” has a name and cadets are separated by class. 

Behind the parade ground are the Hudson River and a park containing cannons from each war the U. S. has been in.  One exhibit is 13 links of a large chain that was stretched across the Hudson River to prevent British ships from going further north and obtaining control of this very important river.  There is also a beautiful large monument commemorating those graduates of West Point who served their country in the Civil War.

We visited the West Point Museum, located in the town at the Visitor’s Center.  This museum contains artifacts of the history of our military from the Revolutionary War to modern times.  Of particular interest was a display commemorating the Civil War Medals of Honor.  The first Medal of Honor was awarded during this war to Private Jacob Parrott of Ohio.  1200 Medals of Honor were awarded during the Civil War, 23 to graduates of West Point. 

Since 1861 more than 2300 Medals of Honor have been awarded, 75 to graduates of West Point.

We took a Hudson River cruise on “the Pride of the Hudson”.  It was a sunny afternoon, perfect for a cruise on the river.  We boarded the boat at Newburgh, NY and cruised south towards West Point. 

The views along the shore were beautiful and we were given a brief history of the area.  Of particular interest are the ruins of a large “castle” on Bannerman Island.  The island was purchased by Frank Bannerman in 1900 and for 17 years he built the buildings on the island.  The large armory castle was used to house a large stock of surplus war supplies.  Frank Bannerman is known as the father of the modern Army Surplus Stores.

The family gave the island and the buildings to the state of New York who intended to establish a park on the island.  However, a fire of unknown origin destroyed all the buildings on the island.  Only shells remain of the 17 structures originally on the island.  More of the history of Bannerman Island and the Bannerman family can be read at www.hudsonriver.com/bannerman.htm

On a cool, rainy Sunday we drove into the Catskill Mountains to take a ride on the Catskill Railroad.  The train was not operating when we arrived so we drove to Arkville, NY to see if the Delaware and Ulster Railroad was operating.  We arrived just in time to catch the train.  This train runs along the East branch of the Delaware River from Arkville to Roxbury.  At Roxbury we were given a tour of the historic station which was built in 1872.  This station is remarkably well preserved due to its being turned into a feed store and the original building was covered with roofs and loading docks.   

We booked a tour to New York City, leaving from the KOA campground a short distance away from Jellystone Park where we were staying.   We felt this was the best way for us to see the city. 

Our bus entered the city through the Holland tunnel.  We were driven to Battery Park where we boarded the ferry to the Statue of Liberty.  Unfortunately, the Statue was closed following September 11 and had not reopened when we visited.  We did walk around the island, getting great views of the statue and Manhattan and New Jersey.  One day perhaps we can return and visit the inside of the symbol of our freedom.

We re-boarded the ferry for a return trip to across the river.  The ferry stopped to discharge passengers at Ellis Island, but this stop was not on our tour.  We were given some of the history of the island by our guide while we were docked there.  We would like to go back another time and see this national landmark.

Back at Battery Park, we walked through the park.  On display there is a large sphere that had been outside the World Trade Center when the attack occurred and shows the damage it incurred. 

We walked down part of Broadway to Wall Street, passing the symbol of Wall Street, the Bronze Bull.  The New York Stock Exchange was surrounded by security guards when we walked past.  TV crews were also stationed there, but no one could tell us what was happening.

After a lunch break we re-boarded the bus for a trip through China Town and Little Italy.  Then it was time for the Empire State Building.

We were surprised at the number of people waiting to go up to the observation deck.  First you stand in line to catch the elevator to the 80th floor.  There you again stand in line to catch the elevator to the 86th floor and the observation deck. 

We walked all the way around the deck, looking over Manhattan and the city.  It was quite an experience!  There are plaques on each side showing what can be seen from that vantage point. 

The Empire State Building was built during the great depression and was completed in just a year.  At 102 stories tall, it was the tallest building in NYC until the World Trade Center towers were built and due to the 9/11 tragedy, it again has that distinction. 

Due to the large crowds, our trip up, a quick walk around and the trip down took more than an hour! 

On the bus again we drove to Broadway and Times Square for our last stop in the city.  It was fun to see all the sights in the area.  The theaters were much smaller than we had imagined.  According to our driver and our tour guide, Times Square was much quieter than usual.  There were a lot of sidewalk vendors in the area and some of our group tried the famous dirty water hot dogs. 

We were all tired when we returned to the KOA.  It was after 7:00 and had been a long day.  It was good to get home and put our feet up.

Lakeside Resort in Brookfield, MA would be our home for the next 30 days.  We arrived early on a Thursday afternoon and got set up. 

On Friday we cleaned house and then showered and dressed.  We were here to attend the wedding of  Dick and Phyllis Davis’s son Maurice “Mo”  to Agnieska Kopec  on Saturday and Dick wanted to make a trial run to Indian Orchard to be sure we could find the church and reception hall.  We were able to find both and determined that parking was ample for our truck. 

On the way out of Indian Orchard we spotted the Davis’ going the opposite direction.  They were on their way to the church for the rehearsal.  Millie quickly grabbed the cell phone and said hello to them. 

Saturday was a sunny, warm day, perfect for a wedding.  We arrived at the church and visited with the Davis family on the lawn.  We had not met Dick and Phyllis’s children and grandchildren before and enjoyed meeting them. 

This was our first Polish Catholic wedding and it was an interesting and beautiful ceremony.    The parents of the couple participated in the mass by presenting the gifts at the altar. 

After the ceremony and picture taking, we drove a few blocks to the reception hall.  The bridal party members were driven around town in the limousine, (a tradition) while the guest were treated to horsderves.

After the arrival of the bridal party, a toast was given to their happiness and we were all seated for dinner.  The menu consisted of chicken soup, salad, roast beef and chicken with oven roasted potatoes and vegetables (served family style), bread and butter.  The chocolate wedding cake was served with ice cream for desert. 

A band played for dancing and everyone had a great time. About 9:00 PM a buffet was served.  Salad, Ziti, Polish sausage, bread and fruit cups.  Also in tradition, a buffet table of pastries was available.  Everyone helped themselves, taking boxes of the pastries home for eating the next day (also a tradition).

On Monday following the wedding, we spent the afternoon visiting with the Davis’ at their motor home.  It was a good day spent visiting with good friends.  Dick Davis grilled steak and Phyllis prepared salad and baked beans.  For desert we had a pie that Millie had made. 

We had not seen Dick and Phyllis since we had left Alaska in September and we had a great time reminiscing and catching up.  It had only been 6 weeks since Dick Davis had undergone major surgery and he was doing very well.

Millie and Phyllis spent some time going over a quilt pattern that Phyllis was preparing to make.  Phyllis is going strong on her quilting; she has completed 3 in the past year. 

We said goodbye to Dick and Phyllis, they are going west to the Michigan area for the summer and we will be staying in New England.  However we did discuss the idea of getting together in the fall.

Old Sturbridge Village is a recreated New England village in Sturbridge, MA. About 40 buildings have been moved to a site of 200 acres to show life as it was in the 1830’sCostumed re-enactors demonstrate daily life of that era.  Farm life if also depicted with breeds of animals common in that time. 

Yankee Candle Company in Deerfield, MA was at the top of Millie’s list of places to go.  These have been her favorite candles for many years. The company has built a large Flagship store near their factory.  This is not just a store, but a destination. 

One of our favorite areas was the Candle Mountain Lodge with its musical stage show of animatronic figures.  These figures were so lifelike it was easy to forget they weren’t real. 

The store is much like a village of shops, with a Bavarian Christmas Village, a Nutcracker Castle, Santa’s Toy Factory (complete with Santa himself), a Home Store with items for the home and garden, Chandler’s Restaurant and the Wine Cellar Lounge. 

The Candlemaking Museum presents demonstrations of Colonial candlemaking and the history of candles.  The 30 minute presentation by costumed chandlers is very informative and interesting.  Did you know that it takes a bushel of bayberries to make one candle? 

Millie’s favorite area was the area where the candles are sold.  Yankee Candle produces nearly 200 fragrances in many types of candles.  In the area with the votives you can pick your favorites, mixing or matching them in packs of 15 or any number you like.  The 15 pack is further discounted.  Millie had a great time walking up and down the rows of votives filling her 15 pack and then some! 

Shelburne Falls, MA is the home of the Trolley Museum and the “Bridge of Flowers”.  We arrived to discover that the Trolley Museum is only open on weekends (it was a weekday), but we did enjoy the unique Bridge of Flowers

The bridge, 400 feet long with 5 arches, was built in 1908 to carry the trolley tracks across the Deerfield River.  It was abandoned in 1928 due to the ending of the trolley line. 

In 1929 Mr. and Mrs. Walter Burnham launched a fund raising effort to convert the bridge into a pathway of flowers, trees and shrubs.  A Bridge of Flowers Committee now keeps the flowers and pathway cared for, using volunteers to assist a paid gardener.  The bridge is free to enjoy and donations make up a large part of the funding. A small rose garden is located at one end of the bridge. 

Just a couple of blocks away from the bridge is an area of glacial potholes in the riverbed.  We walked to the viewing area to see these potholes carved long ago by a glacier.  Salmon Falls is also in the area, but we were unable to find a good viewing spot to get a full view for photos.

Near the potholes are several small business, a candle making company, restaurant, art gallery and of interest to us, a glass blowing shop.  We stopped and watched as several craftsmen worked with the molten glass, blowing it into gorgeous vases, etc. 

Salem, MA was a great sea port in early New England. Salem was one of the busiest ports in North America for nearly 200 years. A recreated 1797 sailing vessel Friendship  is berthed there as part of the Maritime National Historic Site. It was also a strong Puritan community.  Salem’s greatest fame comes from the famous witch hunt which took place in 1692.

The House of the Seven Gables, built in 1668 and made famous by Nathaniel Hawthorne is located next to the harbor in Salem.  We enjoyed the tour of the house, and the related historical facts of the evolution of the house from a simple dwelling to the large house with 7 gables that it now is. 

The birthplace of Nathaniel Hawthorne has been relocated to the grounds of the House of the Seven Gables and we also toured this smaller, less fancy house. 

Across the street is located Ye Olde Pepper Candy Companie, the oldest candy producer in the Americas.   We looked at all the goodies there, but didn’t let temptation overtake us and made no purchases.

Due to the extremely narrow streets in Salem and lack of parking, the Trolley is the best way to see the town.  You can get off and on as much as you like for one price.  Interesting historical facts are given as you ride through the town.

The Salem Witch Museum was somewhat of a disappointment.  There was a large gift shop and a tiny “museum” of witchcraft.  A presentation of the Salem Witch Hunt was given in a large room using dioramas.  Seated below the dioramas, it was hard to see them, although the dialogue was interesting.  We felt this attraction could be improved upon.

The Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, MA was the third  of major Shaker community in New England, New York, Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana between 1783 and 1836.   The society was founded by their leader, Mother Ann Lee in Manchester, England in 1747, based on celibacy, communal life and confession of sin.  They also believed in gender equality, pacifism and creating a heaven on earth. 

Hancock was founded in 1783 and peaked in the 1830’s with more than 300 Shakers living there.  The group then began a decline and in 1960 the remaining property and buildings were sold by the Shakers to a local group committed to preserving the Shaker heritage there. 

Tours are given and many of the buildings contain demonstrations of daily life of the Shakers.  Unique to this community is the round stone barn which stabled 52 dairy cattle.  Wagons entered the upper level, where hay was unloaded into a central haymow.  The cows were on the lower floor facing inward, where they could be fed and milked.  Manure dropped through trap doors to the basement and was stored for fertilizer.  This barn was built by stonemasons hired by the Shakers in 1826. 

The Brick Dwelling built in 1830 was the home for nearly 100 Brethren and Sisters.  The sexes were separated, with sleeping quarters divided by a large hall and staircase.  Dining room and meeting rooms are on the main floor with sleeping rooms on the floors above.  The simple but beautiful crafted furnishings these people are known for are displayed throughout the building.

The basement of the dwelling house contains the large kitchen needed to feed the members.  The Shakers were innovative people and used many of the modern conveniences, having running water and steam power for their shops, kitchen and laundry.   They were also among the first in the area to own an automobile.  The garage was steam heated to keep the autos warm during the winter.

More of this Shaker community can be found on their website, www.hancockshakervillage.org.

Hartford is the capitol city of Connecticut.  The Capitol was completed in 1878 and was designed by Richard Upjohn, a cathedral architect.  The exterior is Connecticut marble and Rhode Island granite. The dome is gold leaf.  The interior floors are of white marble and red slate from Connecticut and colored marble from Italy. 

A restored plaster model of the “Genius of Connecticut” stands in the lobby on a small gold dome.  This plaster model was used to cast a bronze statue that once topped the Capitol dome.  The statue was removed and placed into storage prior to WW II, as it was in need of restoration.  However, during the war metal was need for arms and the statue was generously donated to the war effort.

Our tour also viewed the chambers of the House of Representatives and the Senate of the state.  We did not get as much information on the history and architecture of the building as we would have liked due to the fact that we were included with a school group of 4th Graders, so the emphasis was more on the governing aspects of the building.

Connecticut’s Old State House is located in the heart of downtown Hartford.  Completed in 1796, the Old State House was based on the designs of Charles Bullfinch, a preeminent architect of the time.  It was soon outgrown and replaced by the new State House.  At that time it became the City Hall of Hartford.   It was extensively restored in 1996.  The Senate Chamber contains most of the original furnishings.  Another room is restored as the City Council chamber

A museum of strange curiosities is housed on the second floor.  This collection would seem small to us today, but during the 1800’s it was very unusual.  Exhibits such as a two headed calf, tow headed pig, large alligator, stuffed birds and sea shells would have been wonders to most people.

The first floor also contains a large court room.  Unfurnished, it is used as an education area.  The famous Amistad trial was held in this building.

Samuel Clemens, (Mark Twain) and his family moved to Hartford and constructed a 19 room mansion where they lived for 17 years.  He wrote seven of his books in this house, including “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”. 

The interior decorating was done by Louis Comfort Tiffany.  Clement\s had one of the first telephones in Hartford, an instrument housed in a small closet.  You both listened and spoke into the same part of the instrument. 

He invested heavily in a typesetting venture that failed and was virtually bankrupted.  The family moved to Europe, where they could live more cheaply and never returned to the home.  The house and furnishing were eventually sold to help repay debts.

Harriet Beecher Stowe was the Clemens next door neighbor and her home is also open for tours.  It was late in the day when our tour of the Clemens was over and we did not tour the Stowe home. 

Stellwagen Bank, off the coast of Massachusetts, is a nutrient rich area that attracts a large population of humpback whales to feed every year.  We booked a trip from Gloucester for a whale watching trip.  It was a perfect day, the sea was nearly flat and the sun was shining.  However, someone forgot to tell the whales we were coming and they were not home.  The only sealife we saw were two Basking sharks.  These large sharks float just below the surface of the water and “bask” in the sun.

The policy of the whale watching companies is that if you don’t see whales, you get a free trip.  We received our certificate for a free trip when we left the boat.  We will try later in the summer.  We did enjoy our afternoon on the water however.

Providence is the capitol city of Rhode Island.  The beautiful State House was constructed between 1895 and 1904.  It is built of white Georgia marble and contains the 4th largest self-supporting marble dome in the world.  A bronze replica of the State seal is inlaid into the rotunda floor.  A mural of Roger Williams colonizing Providence Plantation is painted in the dome.

The Senate Chamber is roughly cubic and above the speaker’s rostrum is an archway featuring seals of the original 13 states with Rhode Island in the center.  This room has been restored to its original colors.

The House chamber is larger and more decorative than the Senate chamber. On each side of the chamber are 4 large needlework panels that resemble paintings.  These have been cleaned and restored and are exquisite.

The State Reception room is used as a formal reception area.  It is beautifully decorated and contains many Rhode Island historical artifacts.

A large steel vault contains the most revered document in the state, the original Royal Charter of 1663.  Granted by King Charles II, it declares the rights and privileges to the people of Rhode Island.  The state adopted a constitution of their won on May 2, 1843.

Another beautiful room is the State House Library. It is part of the Secretary of State’s office and specializes in legislative law and research.

Roger Williams founded the first permanent settlement in Rhode Island after being banned from Massachusetts.  He established a policy of religious and political freedom in this settlement.  Other settlements based in freedom of religion soon sprang up and the settlements united to become Rhode Island. 

The Roger Williams National Memorial is the only National Park in the state of Rhode Island.  We visited the Visitor’s Center and viewed the exhibits and film on the settlement he founded.

The island of Newport, Rhode Island was a center of American society during the Gilded Age at the beginning of the 20th century.  Many of the industrial giants made Newport their summer home. Many large mansions are found on the island. 

Many of these ornate homes are preserved and tours are offered.  We toured The Breakers, home of Cornelius Vanderbilt, II.  This 70 room home was designed by Richard Morris Hunt. 

This home had some of the most unusual crystal chandeliers that we have ever seen.   Our guide told us that the children would go to the kitchen and get the large silver serving trays and use them to slide down the huge carpeted central staircase.  

The view from the verandas of the ocean was beautiful.  On the lawn is a small “children’s playhouse”.  The house contains two rooms.  The main room contains a large fireplace and child size furnishings.  The other room is a functioning kitchen where lunch was often prepared for the children by staff members.  It also contained child sized kitchen furnishings for play.

Cape Cod National Seashore was established to preserve and protect 44,000 acres of the cape.  It stretches for 40 miles from Chatham to Provincetown.  We began our visit at the Salt Pond Visitor Center.  After getting suggestions from the staff there as to what to see, we drove to the picnic area and enjoyed a leisurely lunch. 

Nauset Light is one of the five lighthouses on the seashore.  The Three Sisters lighthouses are reconstructions of a group of lighthouses in the same area. 

We stopped at Highlands Light (also known as Cape Cod light) and viewed a film on the light.  This lighthouse was built in 1857.  It was electrified in 1932 and was one of the most powerful lights on the east coast.  Its beam could be seen for 25 miles. 

The seaward side of the cape is constantly eroding and in 1996 the lighthouse was very near the edge of the cliffs.  It was moved intact 500 feet back from the cliffs.  The view from the top of the light is impressive.  This lighthouse is still in use and maintained by the Coast Guard.

At the north end of the park is the Province Lands Visitor Center where you can climb the steps and see an outstanding view of the area.  The Pilgrim monument in Provincetown is visible from this porch.  The Mayflower stopped at Cape Cod first but the Pilgrims decided that it was not a suitable place to establish a colony and after a brief stay sailed across the bay to Plymouth. 

We drove to Race Point to visit the Old Harbor Life Saving Station Museum only to find it closed for some reason. 

The Marconi Station site at Wellfleet was the home to the towers built for the first Trans-Oceanic wireless station.  Due to erosion, there is very little left of this historic site.

             Boston is a city with a rich history.  We had been advised that parking is not readily available in the city and chose to take our first ever subway trip.  We boarded the train and after a 30 minute ride, debarked at the Boston Commons. 

            We had decided that our first day would include a sightseeing tour on the Beantown Trolley.  You can board and get off at 18 stops around the city.  Included in our ticket was also a harbor tour.  We boarded the trolley at the Robert Gould Shaw memorial, across the street from the Massachusetts State House.  This memorial honors the 154th Massachusetts Regiment, the first black regiment to serve in the Civil War.

            We enjoyed the tour on the trolley and were more than happy that we had chosen not to drive into the city.  Traffic on the narrow streets was bad, even the trolley driver was complaining.  The end of July the traffic congestion will be even worse, as the Democratic National Convention will take place at the Fleet Center.  During the convention part of I-93 and the subway system will be shut down.  They are predicting traffic back-ups for 22 miles!   Many are planning vacations at that time so that they can leave the city.

            We hopped off the trolley at Rowes Wharf and boarded a boat for our harbor cruise.  The view of the city from the water was wonderful and we were given a lot of the history of the city from the seaport aspect. 

            The stop for our boat tour was at Charlestown Naval Yard.  The USS Constitution (Old Ironsides) is docked there.  As our luck would have it, it was closed for tours that day.  There had been a tragic accident that morning, a civilian working on the boat had fallen from the rigging and was killed.  The Constitution is the oldest commissioned warship in the world.  In order to maintain that standing she has to sail 1 mile every year.  This is done on July 4th; she is towed out in the harbor, gives a 21 gun salute and is taken back to her berth.  This also turns the ship around so that all sides will weather equally.  She will have 150 passengers when she takes this trip this year.  These will be immigrants who will take the oath to become U S Citizens.  What a great day for them.  We will try to get back another time to see this icon of American history. 

            A WWII destroyer, the USS Cassin Young is also on display and we did tour this example of ships built in the naval yard.  This was a very interesting and informative tour.  These ships are much smaller than the movie industry depicts them!

            We hopped on the next boat and finished our cruise of the harbor.  Back at the wharf, we got back on the trolley and finished the tour of the city. 

            Next month we will come back for a walking tour.   See you then.


(Be sure to visit the Photo Gallery for more photos.)