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Where We Live by John Silveira and Richard Blunt. Photos and commentary from Oregon and New England.

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Archive for the ‘Historic Places’ Category


Olmsted Park—From Malarial Swamp to Popular Green Space.

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

In 1880 the growing pollution in the brackish water of a winding tidal creek forming a natural boundary between Brookline and Boston, concerned the townspeople that lived in this area . In Brookline, a three man Park Board was elected to work with the Boston Park Commission and Fredrick Olmsted to develop a plan for improving conditions in this small stream called the Muddy River. Olmsted developed a plan for “The Sanitary Improvement of the Muddy River. The Brookline Commission led by Charles Sprague Sargent (first director of the Arnold Arboretum) worked for fifteen years to make Olmsted’s plan a reality. Olmsted’s plan called for changing the meandering line of the river to more regular course. Both banks of the river from Longwood avenue, on the Boston side of the Necklace, to Olmsted park, were planted with native trees and shrubs. Most of the Muddy river that flows through the park was reworked. The large malarial swamp at the northern end of the park was dredged, and a out flowing stream was dug from  an ancient kettle pond at the southern end of the park, allowing water to flow to the dredged area to create Leverett Pond. The swamp was now transformed into a linear park with three major ponds connected by a natural looking but man-made watercourse. The park also features six granite pedestrian bridges, and several attractive walkways and natural stone walls. All of this is embedded in 17 acres of dense woods configured to shelter the park from the busy city that surrounds it. Unfortunately,over the years this chain of waterways has become clogged with silt and invasive vegetation grew up along it’s banks and in shallow water. These conditions have caused flooding along the river from Olmsted Park in Brookline to it’s outlet into the Charles River in Boston. The Muddy River is currently undergoing a restoration project to improve flood control and water quality. This was started in the 1980s when the State appropriated about one million dollars for the restoration of Olmsted, the Muddy River, and other parks in the Necklace. With the support of then- Governor  Michael Dukakis the Emerald Necklace Plan was completed in 1989. This plan, which is still in progress, represents a road-map for the long-term restoration of this majestic park system.

Of special interest to those that frequent Olmsted Park was the restoration of the Babbling Brook section of the Muddy River, which flows inside the park from Willow Pond to Leverett Pond. Other improvements to the park include: the transformation of a parkway originally designed by Olmsted as carriage road  into a bicycle and pedestrian path, and the recreation of Allerton Overlook. This semi-circle walk descends into the park onto the bicycle and pedestrian walk and provides a scenic view of the banks and islands of Leverett Pond. Two influential and productive Town of Brookline park advocacy groups, the High Street Hill Association, and the Friends of Leverett Pond have been very active participants in the implementation of Master plan in Olmsted Park. For the past two decades these groups have held neighborhood celebrations, park clean-ups, and pruning workshops. They have also worked to increase awareness of issues of park stewardship.

I made two walking tours of this park in late September. The first walk was a pleasant experience on that  warm sunny day, but I wasn’t impressed with the basic simplicity of the park. I felt that it lacked the spender of  other parks that Olmsted designed.  I decided to visit the Olmsted National Historic site, which is in the same neighborhood. I wanted to learn more about what was Olmsted’s intention when he designed this park. I found what I was looking for in a report that he wrote on the design of Franklin Park. In this report he wrote: “The urban elegance generally desired in a small public or private pleasure ground is to be methodically guarded against. Turf, for example, is to be in most parts preferred as kept short by sheep, rather than lawn mowers; well known and long tried trees and bushes to rare ones; natives to exotics; humble field flowers to high bred marvels; plain green leaves to the blotched, spotted and fretted leaves for which, in decorative gardening, there is now a passion.”

Olmsted’s designed this park to create a countryside setting in middle of an urban setting.  In this park and others like it, he designed broad spaces of growing grass, broken groves of trees. Throughout the park a visitor experiences the reflection of foliage on bodies of water to produce an element of in intricacy. This effect was similar to parks on estates that Olmsted had visited  in England. He called this style of park design, pastoral.

My second tour was during Boston’s busy evening rush hour. Walking through this park, even during this hectic time of day, is an exercise in peaceful relaxation. The noise and confusion of city is left at the entrance. On my first tour, I was  preoccupied with looking for some sort of majestic grandure. As a result, I failed to recognize the familiar pastoral eloquence that made growing up in this area such a wonderful experience .

I entered the park at the north entrance near Brookline Village, and walked along the pedestrian path to Allerton Overlook.

Allerton Overlook

Behind this vista of trees is Leverett Pond. For most of the year this overlook offers a spectacular view of the pond and it’s islands.

This granite  foot bridge gives access to the park, over the river outlet from Willow Pond to Leverett Pond.

Two Views of Leverett Pond facing north toward Brookline Village.

Daisey Field

Originally, Olmsted designed this area as large meadow surrounded by woods. It has since been redesigned into playing fields to serve community groups for little league, soft ball, soccer and touch football.

Muddy River/Babbling Brook Area

The babble has been restored to this section of the river.

Wards Pond

Wards pond is an glacial “kettle hole” formed at the end of the last ice age. In this scenic , heavily wooded area I found a quite wilderness just yards form the busy rush hour traffic surrounding it.

Wards and Willow Pond Granite boot bridge

There several gravel walking paths in the park that invite the visitor to safely walk through heavily forested areas. The path that I took led me to this recently restored foot bride and back to the paved pedestrian path.

The park is open an well maintained during the winter months. The cold weather and the snow add very different but unique beauty to this place. I visit  the Boston/Brookline area several times during the holidays. During these visits, I will return to this and other parks in Necklace and share the experience with you.


Fairsted–Olmsted’s Home in the Heart of the Emerald Necklace

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

I have been a frequent visitor to the six Emerald Necklace parks  for more than fifty years. I grew up in a neighborhood about a two miles from the largest one– Franklin Park. Unfortunately, like many other Bostonians, I knew very little about the man whose  visionary genius created this wonderful park system.  Last week while touring Olmsted Park,  located just north Jamaica Pond; I decided to visit Olmsted’s estate, which is less than a mile to east of the park. I wanted to learn a more about the man whose visionary genius made these parks possible. I went on two  guided tours of Fairsted conducted by the Park Department. These tours helped me to better understand the man and the  complex  systems that he employed in the designed of the Emerald Necklace and other  park systems. Many of the concepts that he employed in his urban parks have been incorporated into the 1.74 acre landscape of Fairsted. I also did a little research that revealed some interesting facts about this remarkable man.

In the fall of 1937  Frederick Olmsted was preparing to enter Yale University.  An unfortunate a side effect of  sumac poisoning  severely weakened his eyesight and  prevented  him from attending his planned course studies.  In the twenty years  that followed he embarked on a variety of endeavors that helped create a new profession— landscape architecture. During this period he worked in a dry-goods store, took a year-long voyage in the Old China Trade and ran a farm on Staten Island from 1848 to 1855. He also studied surveying, chemistry, engineering and scientific farming. In 1850 he took a walking tour of Europe and the British Isles. During this adventure he visited numerous parks and private estates nestled in Europe’s scenic countryside. He later published a book of this adventure–Walks and Talks of an American Farmer in England. By the time he began his career as a landscape architect he had developed a set of values that gave special purpose to his design work. He had a strong belief in community and the importance of public institutions of culture and education. He developed a firm commitment to developing visually compelling and accessible green space that nurture the body and spirit of all people , regardless of their economic circumstances.  His believed that the restorative value of landscape and parks which provide recreational opportunities, would help establish a greater sense of community, especially in urban areas. This vision began when he and Calvert Vaux, a young architect from London, submitted their winning “Greensward” plan for the design of Central Park in New York City. Together, these two men of genus would help change the face of America’s cities and elevate the practice of landscape architecture to a respected profession. In later years they worked together on some very special projects, which included the restoration of the Niagara Reservation, a narrow strip of land along the Eastern shore of the Niagara River at the site of the American falls. In 1885 this site was designated  New York’s first national park.It is and the oldest state park in the United States.

With his work in New York nearing completion and his involvement in the development of Boston’s Emerald Necklace in full swing, Olmsted  moved his family to the Green Hill section of Brookline, Massachusetts.   He purchased an 1810 farm house owned by two sisters, Sarah and Susanna Clark who had lived on the two acre estate their entire lives.  He later built another house, for the sisters , on an adjacent piece of land. This picturesque neighborhood  and its residents provided fertile ground for Olmsted to cultivate ideas that he had been espousing his entire life. One prominent horticulturist described the area as,”a kind of landscape garden”. He named his new home “Fairsted”. It was here that he formed the landscape architectural firm that continued to operate from Brookline until 1979. In 1980 the house, office and land were purchased by the National Park Service, and appointed as a  National Historic Site. In 1991 the Park Service created a “period plan” to restore the somewhat dilapidated house and grounds  to their circa 1930 appearance. The restoration effort continues today, but the site is open to the public, and free guided tours are conducted by knowledgeable Park Service representatives.   What follows are what I think are some of the most popular and distinctive features of the estate.

Guided tours of the site are conducted Wednesday through Sunday at 10 am, 11 am, 1 pm, 2 pm , 3 pm and 4 pm. This is the group that toured with me last week. As you can see, the groups are usually small, and the tour guides welcome all questions from tour participants. Also, if you visit the site, don’t forget your camera. There is plenty to see and photograph.

The Carriage Turn entrance is enhanced by a hillock in the center, on which Olmsted planted a Canadian Hemlock along with and assortment of creepers and vines. This is a miniature version  of  formal gates followed by rustic scenery found in some of his large parks. When he redesigned this entrance, he  replaced a linear drive with this circular drive to make it possible for horse-drawn carriages to  enter, drop passengers at the front door and exit without backing up

The hillock is positioned to make the main entrance to the house barely visible from the street.

As you go by the main house on the Carriage Turn, a shaded garden named the Hollow comes into view on the left.

A stairway carved from Roxbury puddingstone located at corner of the house marks the decent into the Hollow. This is a small shaded garden tucked into a sunken corner between the office wing and the street. Puddingstone is a bedrock formation underlying part or all of Brookline and many of the surrounding towns.

The Hollow teems with greenery of various forms, textures and values of color. This area can best expressed in Olmsted’s terms. “Scenery'” does not apply to any field of vision in which all that is to be seen is clear and well defined in the outline. It must contain either, “considerable complexity of light and shadow near the eye, or obscurity of detail further away”. As you stroll through Olmsted’s many parks it is difficult to focus on an single outstanding patch of greenery. It far more enjoyable to the appreciate the whole vista as it unfolds in front of you. The first photo of one end of the Hollow below reveals exposure of puddingstone. The second photo is the opposite end near the office wing.

Retracing or steps up from the Hollow and across the Carriage Turn we cross a narrow path that leads to a shady corner of Fairsted called the Rock Garden. Paths like this are a prominent feature in many of Olmsted’s parks. These natural looking paths are designed to transport the visitor out of the city and into the woods. There are many paths like this in Franklin Park. My friends and I would sometimes wander along these paths for hours picking wild blueberries that grew in spots that were sunny enough for them to flourish. This trail also shifts from a shady wooded path to  open sunny meadow. I looked for blueberries, but didn’t find any.

As we leave the Rock Garden we are greeted by a large meadow known as the South Lawn. When Olmsted purchased the estate the South Lawn was a dilapidated apple orchard. He had all of the trees removed except one, a magnificent  American Dutch elm. The tree graced this area  until it was removed by the Park Service 2011. Dutch Elm disease and core rot had severely weakened the tree making it unstable and in danger of falling. At the far end of the house, on the right side was, I am told, Olmsted’s favorite room. He called it his outside room.

There are several photographs of the South Lawn that were taken before the American Elm was taken down by the Park Service. This large color photo is the most popular. It was hanging on a wall at a perfect height  for me to take my own shot. Olmsted loved this tree because it reminded him of his boyhood in Connecticut. An attempt to propagate cuttings from this tree at the Arnold Arboretum failed, but arborists  also took genetic material with the hope of growing a clone on the same spot.

Looking out to the South Lawn from the from the “outside room”.

In 2009 The national Park Service launched it’s Witness Tree project in cooperation with the Rhode School of Design. Witness trees are long standing  trees that have witnessed key events, trends and people in American history. The Park Services arranges for fallen trees to be shipped from an historic site to RISD. There, students interpret the history the tree has witnessed and fashion relevant objects from the wood. I was fortunate to arrive at Fairsted a few days before these objects were scheduled for exhibit, and The Park Service kindly gave me permission to photograph the items pictured below. My favorites are the longbow and walking stick in the first picture and the camera and tripod in the second picture. The students that crafted these objects deserve recognition for their masterful work.  Fredric Law Olmsted would appreciate this level of precision.

This is the plant room where varies types of greenery was propagated and tested in an effort to determine if would suitable for planting in a park.

This is the engineers room and table where many of Olmsted’s project plans were developed

This is a photo of draftsman at their tables in the main drafting room.


Destination Salem–Tall Ships, Witches, and Art

Friday, July 6th, 2012

In 1626 Roger Conant, pictured below, led a group of English settlers away from the stormy Cape Ann coast in search of a new home, where day to day living would less of a struggle. They settled on fertile land at the mouth of the Naumkeag River, an 18 square mile area located  on the Atlantic coast in Essex county Massachusetts. In 1629 the settlement was renamed Salem, a Hellenized form of ‘peace’, in Arabic, salaam, in Hebrew shalom. Conant’s competent leadership provided the stability for the settlement to survive the critical early years.

In 1692 the daughter and niece of a local reverend became ill. A village doctor was called in when their illness lingered. He diagnosed the two girls as being bewitched. This put into motion forces that ended in the hanging deaths of nineteen men and women, the crushing death of one man,  along with several other people who died in prison awaiting trial. The trials began in June of 1692 with the establishment of a special Court of Oyer Terminer (to hear and to decide) was established to hear cases of witchcraft. The court was disbanded in October of the same year by Governor William Phillips, and replaced by  the Superior Court of Judicature. This court did not allow the admission of, so called, “spectral”, evidence, which was based on the  belief that the accused had the power to torture their victims with invisible forces and shapes. The new court released those awaiting trial and pardoned those sentenced to death. The short but horrific era of the Salem Witch Trials was ended.

The Friendship of Salem is is a replica of the Salem East Indiaman, a 171-foot, three masted merchant ship, first launched in 1797. She was captured as  a prize of war in 1812 by the British war sloop HMS Rosamond. This replica was based on a model at the Peabody Essex museum in Salem. As you can see, she is currently under renovation repair at the Salem Maritime National Historic site. However she is a fully operational sailing vessel that stays close to home so that everyone can come aboard.

Ansell Adams traveled to many well known shoreline communities in Massachusetts. He took many photos of seascapes and other simple scenes. Four of these photos taken during his 1941 visit to Cape Cod are currently being shown  at Peabody Essex Museum in Salem through October 8,2012. I plan to return to Salem again in September to see this exhibit.

Hawthorne was born in Salem on July 4, 1804. He was a descendant of John Hathorne, one of the presiding  judges at the Salem witch trials. In order to distance himself from his families participation in this shameful event, he added the w to his last name while in his 20s.He the searing novel, The Scarlet Letter. A story outlining the taboos of Puritan New England contemporary life  through the travails of Hester Prynne who gives birth to a baby girl after an adulterous affair. The success of this book made it possible for Hawthorne to write, my favorite, The House of the Seven Gables. A story of a gloomy New England mansion haunted by fraudulent dealings, accusations of witchcraft and sudden death. This was great reading for a 12 year old kid looking for literary excitement outside of his programed parochial school readings . This granite and bronze statue sat in the Museum of Fine Arts, in Boston, until 1925 when it was transferred  to this site in Salem on Hawthorne Boulevard.

My wife Tricia, and my son Michael joined me on my Destination Salem adventure. We started our tour at Artist’s Row on Salem’s painted red historic trail. This is a pedestrian only street known as Salem Marketplace. Following this red line leads us to many of the best known historic sites in Salem. You can see Tricia and Michael walking ahead as I stop to take a few shots. Artist’s Row was introduced in 2004. It provides free rent to artists. In exchange the artists provide free public workshops and entertainment throughout the season.

For visitors that prefer riding. Salem offers hourly Red Trolly tours ever hour from 10 am to 5 pm. These tours are conduct by professional drivers along with a knowledgeable tour guide. On the tour you will learn much of the  factual history  along with many entertaining tidbits about Salem.

Pictured above is the interior of  The Derby Square Book Store. If you like to read and looking for a new or out of print book at a great price, this store alone is worth a tour of Salem. The owner of this shop says that  he often buys the contents of other books stores going out of business. When he asked me what attracted me to the store. I confessed that it looked like my son Micheal’s bedroom when he is home . The cash register is behind the book stack on the near, right side.

The Witch History Museum, shown above ad below is one of the best commercial museums in Salem. It does a great job telling little known stories of the region during the witch hysteria period of 1692. It does so with a mix of insightful historic commentary and lurid thrills presented through a series of spooky dioramas in the basement. This museum also has a great gift shop filled with interesting Salem witch treasures.

Front lobby entrance to the Witch History Museum.

Inspired by the growing interest in Salem’s witch trials, generated by Arthur Millers masterpiece, The Crucible. The Salem Witch Museum opened in 1972 to provide a unique and accessible learning experience to the residents of Salem. It is prominently located opposite the Salem Common and is one of the most popular attractions on Boston’s North Shore.

My son Michael is a Theater Arts Major at Salem State University in his senior year. In the past three years he has performed and worked at some of commercial witch sites. Here is showing me his latest assignment



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