Hey! It’s September – or it was September. A month we were looking forward to because we had plans on the books! But first…
Did you know Abraham Lincoln’s only son to survive to adulthood had a country estate in Vermont? And that Robert Todd, as head of the Pullman Car Company, carted his father’s papers back and forth between DC and Vermont before finally donating them to the Library of Congress? I had heard this story while working at the Library – the folks there were desperate to get Lincoln’s papers to take care of them for posterity. So we headed north to Manchester to check it out…The tour was very interesting – they even have a restored Pullman car onsite. They don’t hide the fact that Robert Todd did little to advance civil rights for African Americans, but you have to hunt it out a bit. The failure of Reconstruction.
The next weekend, which happened to coincide with my birthday, couldn’t have been better – thanks to high school friend Nicole who has a superpower for making plans and the kindness to invite others along.
Her father has a house in Willsboro (see red dot on the map below) on the New York side of Lake Champlain. Vermont is on the east. The Adirondocks are to the west. We’d been wanting to see Lake Champlain, in part because we’d heard that was the closest sailing.
We had a glorious 24 hours, stopping at Fort Ticonderoga on the way up. (A state historic site, valiantly trying to offer hundreds of years of history on the continent, with thousands of artifacts and dozens of buildings.) We didn’t love Fort T: too much to take in, not very successfully curated. But perhaps we were just anxious to keep moving…
Our time with Nicole and her husband Ed was a feast of beautiful landscape, great food, scintillating conversation (some even political!) in a sweet house in a sweet spot. We went kayaking and I swam about 10 strokes from a pier to a float and back. Even in late summer the water was cold! We went to a local brewery and butcher. I practiced taking food photography. Below is an example of what not to do. For some examples of what to cook and how to photograph it, check out Nicole’s cooking blog, Riegl Palate.
We took ferries across the lake coming and going- here we are (above) going with the Adirondacks in the background.
Next weekend we did a day trip to St. Johnsbury, VT. There, in the Athenaeum/public library, you will see the largest extant Bierstadt (below). It is about to undergo a comprehensive restoration – in fact, the canvas is separating from the frame in the upper left. It’s going to be quite the operation to even get it out of this building. Note the narrow doorway in the bottom pic, right.
On our way home, we stopped by Craftsbury, VT, home of a well-known sculling school. It would be a dream to come here for a week some summer. Anyone care to join me? They do running, mountain biking and yoga too.
Then it was our turn to host a high school friend – Monica and Hunt! Monica is an American history professor and a genius. For years, in all the places I have worked, she has patiently answered my questions about history.
We made it to the Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site. Ben and Hunt had fun in the gift shop, while Monica and I reenact Calvin’s swearing in (after Harding died in office). Took place in that room right behind us. His father, a justice of the peace, officiated.
You may recall my great great grandfather died on the Mormon trail. Quite the story, so gotta check in with my peeps when we can. We were the only non-church members on the tour, so we got extra attention when it came time for q and a.
We then hightailed it a few miles away to the Justin Merrill site. Merrill was the Senator responsible for the Land Grant College Acts – a big push in conjunction with westward expansion to professionalize farming, civilize the frontier, and educate more people than just those who were going to become lawyers or preachers. Merrill himself made a fortune in business, but regretted he did not get a formal education. Hoped that would change for future generations. The woman who was the director of the site also gave the tours (above) in period costume, took the money, and I am pretty sure cleaned, budgeted, writes grants, does PR, and keeps the ghosts from scaring people. Made me appreciate my NPS job.