Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Block Island

I wrote a whole bunch of paragraphs here, but then I thought, it's a post about Block Island. Do people really want to read about history and facts and my childhood memories, or do they want to look at pictures? I'm guessing pictures. There are 27 here, so that should be worth at least 27,000 words. Which would be way too long for a blog post.



























(By the way, there are four Block Island spots among the 25 Rhode Island attractions I wrote about for Minube. These join the 25 Connecticut places I picked for the travel site last month.)

Monday, July 28, 2014

I Heart Connecticut

You know you go on about your state too much when someone gives you this as a gift.

The size of necklace-Connecticut.

When I've lived in other states, and when I travel now, it seems as if Connecticut is way behind on outward displays of state pride. Which always strikes me as a shame. Not that I'm going to get Qui Transtulit Sustinet tattooed on my face or anything, but I will definitely wear this necklace.

(P.S. It's from Sundance.)

Friday, July 25, 2014

Nutmeg Poisoning

-If you live in the southern half of Connecticut, you might not have strong feelings about Route 44. But the road that runs from Salisbury to Putnam has as many stories as the Post Road, and the Hartford Courant's Dan Haar is walking the length of the road to tell them in a special series.

-My mom nagged me to read this Maureen Dowd review of Price of Fame: the Honorable Clare Booth Luce by Sylvia Jukes Morris. My knowledge of Luce pretty much began and ended with The Women, so it was news to me that Connecticut voted her into the House of Representatives in the 1940s. (The Fourth District, naturally.)

-File under: Connecticut shows up where you seriously are not expecting it. Catherine (Caty) Greene, wife of Nathanael Greene, happened to meet Eli Whitney in Georgia, where she helped him develop the cotton gin. (Also, anyone want to go to the Cumberland Island National Seashore with me?)

-A few more Instagram accounts I've been loving recently (to add to the ones mentioned here): @CTLove1, @DTNL_VISIONS, @connecticutgram, @lovehartford, @humansofhartford, @mariamk39, and @IG_Connecticut. (And as always, if you'd like to follow me, I'm @johnnakaplan.)

-Regular readers of this blog will probably have noticed that I have a weakness for the history of Jewish farming colonies in rural Connecticut. That's why I track down little synagogues in Coumbia, Ellington, Hebron, and Lisbon, and think about Jews and chickens when I'm in towns like Colchester.

If that sort of thing appeals to you, you might like what I wrote about the erstwhile Jewish community in Montville in the Jewish Daily Forward.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Knock Knock

This schoolhouse in Durham is right behind the Sabbath Day House I went crazy for in February of 2013.

The 18th century school is now the home of the Durham Historical Society, whose website makes clear in what may be the most Connecticut-y sentence ever written that "The Durham Historical Society is not affiliated with the Durham Historic District Commission." Glad they cleared that up.

The first few times I saw this school, I basically ignored it. Though older than many others around the state, it was too big to really catch my attention the way the pocket-sized schools do. Plus I never want to spend too much time hanging around this area, because Durham (like Bethel) is a head-swivel town. You know that "You're not from here" head swivel. I don't know how they do it; I can't tell if someone's not from here unless they're, say, wearing a giant cowboy hat or trying to hail a cab in the middle of Pomfret.

Anyway, I should have paid more attention to this school earlier, because what it lacks in cuteness, it makes up for in doors.

I love the look of these double doors, crowded close together, painted red and adorned with stars.

And the flowers are a nice touch.

I also like that even the outbuilding gets a star. Not a big gold star, but a little honorable mention, consolation prize, at least you tried type of star.

Monday, July 21, 2014

North Branford Hall

Usually, it's easier to find out what an ambiguous Connecticut building once was than what it currently is. It's just the way memory works here. There's a store in my neighborhood that is moving a few blocks down. They have a large sign in their window announcing that their new location will be the former location of the business that occupied that space fourteen years ago. (See also: if you own a house in Connecticut, it will always be referred to as the home of the previous owners. Until you move.)

When I looked for the origin of this little building, however, that rule was flipped on its head. I found out that North Branford Hall recently housed the North Branford Senior Center, and that it might soon be used by a food pantry and a local library association. I read that the Totoket Grange meets here, or did meet here not too long ago. But as to the question of when it was built, or why, there was nothing.

But eventually, I found something. Perhaps unsurprisingly, North Branford Hall was originally a schoolhouse, dating from 1870 (though one website claims it was built as early as 1830.) It was later used as the town hall. The cemetery next to it was created when the burial ground of the church across the street ran out of room.

It is described simply as a "plain rectangular [building] with Victorian-era embellishments," but I think it's somewhat more distinctive than that. Or maybe that's just because it took me so long to track down its past.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Since Brass, Nor Stone, Nor Earth, Nor Boundless Sea...

The beach below the Point Judith Lighthouse, on the grounds of the US Coast Guard Station Point Judith in Narragansett, Rhode Island, is covered in cairns. It hasn't always been this way, and the certainty of uncertain New England weather means it probably won't be this way for very long. But perhaps, if you decide to go there, it will wait for you.






Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Prudence

Prudence Crandall, born in 1803, was named Connecticut's State Heroine in 1995. I had left the state the year before, which may be why I never heard very much about Prudence when I was growing up. But even since then, I'm not sure that Connecticut makes a huge deal about her. We tend to be more enthralled with State Hero Nathan Hale, whose story is rather simpler. It's fairly easy to have a collective state-wide crush on that tall, wavy-haired Ivy grad who was so brave (and so endearingly inept) when he volunteered for his fatal mission behind enemy lines. It's more complicated to deal with the prim-looking Canterbury schoolteacher who Connecticut essentially bullied across state lines for daring to stand up for the principles we now all recognize were obvious.

And then there's geography. The Nathan Hale Homestead in Coventry may be in the middle of nowhere, but the Prudence Crandall Museum is at the far edge of nowhere. Have you been to Canterbury? Have you been there on purpose?

But instead of writing about how Canterbury is close to just about nothing, I'm going to write about Prudence Crandall. Because if anyone doesn't know her story, they should.

Born into a Quaker family in Rhode Island, Prudence studied subjects usually reserved for boys at the time, like math, science, and Latin. In her late 20's, she opened a private academy for girls at her home in Canterbury, where she passed on her knowledge to the daughters of wealthy local families. It went quite well initially, and then Prudence admitted Sarah Harris, a young black woman, as a student.

This gave her white students' parents fits, and when Prudence refused to kick Sarah Harris out of her school, they withdrew their own children. Prudence, undeterred, simply changed her mission: she would now run a school for African American girls. The fat cats of Canterbury were not pleased.

"The four most prominent men in the town of Canterbury arranged a meeting in which they told Crandall that they were intent on destroying her school. The men objected to educating African Americans in their hometown and felt it might lead them to believe they were equal and to interracial marriages." They then held a town meeting - at which Prudence, being female, was not allowed to defend herself - where they voted against the creation of the new school.

Prudence, instead of being terrified into inaction as many women (and men) would be in that situation, continued with her plans, opening her school in 1833. Soon, girls from free and affluent black families were traveling to Canterbury to study "reading, writing, arithmetic, grammar, geography, history, philosophy, chemistry, astronomy, painting, music, piano and French." Townspeople yelled at them and threw "stones, eggs, and manure" their way when they ventured outdoors. Local merchants would not sell school supplies to the academy, the Congregational Church would not allow the black students to attend services, and some townspeople went so far as to poison the water in the school's well.

Far-flung abolitionists supported Prudence Crandall's work, but Canterbury representatives got the state legislature to pass the so-called "Black Law," making the education of out-of-state African Americans in Connecticut illegal. Prudence was arrested and briefly jailed, but although she eventually won the case on a technicality, her school was attacked, with windows and furniture smashed, by a mob of what Prudence's husband Calvin Philleo called "midnight ruffians." Only at that point did Prudence decide, for the sake of safety, to close her school. She and Calvin soon moved to New York, then Illinois. After Calvin's death, Prudence moved again, to Kansas, where she remained for the rest of her life.

The "Black Law" was repealed in 1838, and in 1886, the state of Connecticut - spurred on once more by the people of Canterbury, who now felt ashamed - awarded Prudence Crandall a pension.

I don't think about Connecticut's State Heroine very much, but I should. Her story forces you to ask yourself: do I fight for what is just, for what I deeply believe in? I don't, not really. Because I'm tired, and because it seems so futile, and because I'm afraid everyone would unfollow me on Twitter. Quite pathetic by any measure, but certainly extremely pathetic when compared with Prudence Crandall.

While researching this post, I typed "Prudence" into Google and, assuming it would auto-fill the "Crandall, Canterbury, Connecticut" part (Google knows me pretty well by now), I lazily clicked the first term that came up. I ended up staring at the dictionary definition of prudence, i.e., "the quality of being prudent." Synonyms for prudence include: wisdom, judgment, sense, caution, care, and circumspection. It occurred to me that Prudence, though certainly wise, had little of the other qualities we associate with being prudent. Surely a cautious, careful, sensible early 19th century woman would avoid getting on the wrong side of the most powerful men in her town and state, and would not risk having her house attacked, her livelihood destroyed, and her well poisoned. So thank you, Prudence Crandall, for the reminder to be less prudent now and then.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Mrs. Bridge's Pantry

Mrs. Bridge's Pantry in Woodstock serves tea, as in full-on British tea with scones and clotted cream and doilies. I've heard it's fabulous. So of course, I went straight for the gift shop.

The shelves are stocked with British foods and themed gifts, which reminded me of Penny Ha'Penny in Wilton's Cannon Crossing. The latter store is much larger, but (depending on where you live, of course) much farther away.

Mrs. Bridge's also sells greeting cards, jewelry, and some beauty products I wished I could afford. One was this Scottish Fine Soaps lip balm; another other was a range of citrus perfumes, which just seemed like a way to taunt bees into stinging you.

Short version: if you have extra money, want a scone, and/or are not afraid of bees, get over to this place right now.

(And while you're there, don't ignore Scranton's Shops next door. Much smaller than the enormous antiques bazaars in Putnam, Scranton's is also more manageable and therefore less likely to make you feel like a child two seconds away from hurling itself on the floor in exhaustion. And it's full of all sorts of things you didn't know you wanted. I came close - I mean, very close - to justifying the purchase of an old wooden butter churn. Because, you know, it's really more practical than it looks! It could be used as a weapon!)

Friday, July 11, 2014

Red-White School

When I saw this schoolhouse, with its accents of perfect turquoise-green, I had to stop. Built in 1873 in the North Woodstock section of Woodstock, this white building replaced an earlier school building, which had been painted red, and therefore is known as the Red-White School.

This school made me think of the schoolhouses-turned-homes you sometimes see in magazines, like this one in the Catskills. In reality I imagine living in a school could be a nightmare (or that it would cause me to have literal nightmares about the nasty little pieces of work who threw kickballs at me at Long Lots Elementary.) But I found myself standing on the grass staring up at this one thinking, "Would it be difficult to put a driveway in here? Would I use both front doors?"

So Woodstock, if you ever want to sell this schoolhouse for $5, call me. I'll think about it.






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