Daniel Emberley, May 2007
My niece Jessica got married recently outside Boston, giving Michael and me motivation for a road trip up the Interstate 95 corridor. Despite the many times we’ve traveled this route before, the intervening turf continues to surprise us with cool things to see and do. Looking for something worth getting off the highway for in New Jersey or Connecticut? Read on!
Tuesday, May 15
About 2.5 hours north of D.C., in southern Jersey, is Wheaton Arts in Millville. This is well off of the Turnpike/Garden State Parkway corridors, but worth the trip. Millville had been a center of glass production since the early 19th century, and several factories have been rehabbed into working hot glass, pottery, and wood carving studios. Hot glass is what you tend to think of when picturing glass craftsmen; guys around a furnace blowing shapes at the ends of rods. They gave a brilliant demonstration of same at one of the studios; a better presentation and education than we saw last year in Tacoma. The Museum of American Glass on campus has a collection at least as good as Corning’s. They concentrate on industrial uses of glass and the Victorian development of art glass when bottle production was automated in the late 19th century. Also lots of paperweights; hard to imagine why people invest so much energy in a product that is so unnecessary today. Our friend and teacher Kari Minnick was in a show of Mid-Atlantic glass artists; was great to see her in the company of her peers. Also on site are a stained glass studio, museum of South Jersey folk life, and nifty little general store.
Back to the Turnpike; lunch at Woodrow Wilson rest stop, and on to Paterson, NJ. Remember Alexander Hamilton’s plans to industrialize and subvert Jefferson’s agrarian vision? He made his most concrete move in Paterson, where the Great Falls of the Passaic River powered cotton and silk mills from the 1790’s through the 1960’s. The mills William Carlos Williams wrote about are now begging for uses; some with small manufacturing or software operations, others used as artist studios, some being redeveloped into condos. With Paterson just a short NJ Transit ride from Manhattan’s Port Authority, it should be a no-brainer, but the city’s industrial history has held it back. There is a Paterson Museum, telling the industrial history, but we skipped that to concentrate on the Falls. The Passaic River plunges 70 feet here, the second highest falls in the eastern U.S. after Niagara. A series of parks preserve access to the site and related industrial detritus. Impressive even though the majority of the water is now diverted for electrical power.
One legacy of Paterson’s history is the current concentration of Latinos in town. We had dinner at a great and inexpensive Peruvian place on Market Street, beet salad and massive plates of grilled pork, chicken, menudo and rice. Delicious. Drove up the Jersey side of the Hudson to the Tappan Zee, crossed over into NY and Connecticut, and camped at a Microtel in Danbury.
Wednesday, May 16
Museums don’t usually open until 10, but Targets open much earlier <smile>. The Danbury Target was the nicest we’ve ever seen, with a great toy section and product lines we were not familiar with. Then to Weir Farm, in Ridgefield, CT, near the NY state line.
Weir Farm was the home of three generations of artists. J. Alden Weir was an American Impressionist painter at the turn of the last century. He used the farm as an art colony, where his daughter met Brigham Young’s grandson sculptor Mahonri Young. They married, and Young built a sculpture studio on the grounds. At the couple’s death the farm was bought by artist friends Sperry and Doris Andrews. The National Park Service took the farm over in 1990, and interpret it as a tribute to the artists who worked here. There is no collection of art here, but you can see the landscapes that Weir captured here in paintings now at the National Museum of American Art on F Street in D.C. The house is cool, but the grounds with scattered studios better.
Across the line into New York is Purchase. PepsiCo was founded in 1965 by the merger of Frito Lay and Pepsi-Cola (it now also includes Quaker). They built a corporate campus here in the 1970’s, with a building by Edward Durrell Stone. The building is absolutely hideous; a giant three-story concrete U. While everything leads you to think the entrance is inside the U, only limousines go there, and in reality employees use a service entry near the company gym. I never thought I would respect Stone’s Kennedy Center, National Geographic Building (both D.C.), or Huntington Hartford Museum (Columbus Circle, NY), but any of these is a masterpiece in comparison.
So, what were we doing there? In addition to creating PepsiCo, Donald Kendall collected sculpture. Lots of it. Big stuff. In the 1960’s, corporate titans thought they were the new Medicis, sponsoring the arts for a better society. David Rockefeller’s collection decorated Chase Manhattan Bank’s buildings, and Joseph Hirshhorn’s became the museum on the Mall. Kendall hired landscape architect Russell Page to turn Pepsico’s grounds into a sculpture park. Page’s “Golden Path” (actually, red bark mulch) leads one from Henry Moore to Kenneth Snelson to Isamu Noguchi to Louise Nevelson: sort of a “Who’s Who” of American sculpture circa 1972. Visitors drive into the campus, stop at a center off the parking lot, pick up a site map, and walk the grounds to see 45 pieces of art. This was one of the most dystopian experiences we have ever experienced (and remember, we have been to St. Louis). The campus is yesterday’s over-manicured vision of a future under surveillance. The other visitors were buses of school kids and retarded patients. Visitors are allowed to walk around the building, but not to enter it. There are no food facilities for visitors, unless you count a Pepsi vending machine. There is a picnic area, so we drove to a deli outside the grounds and got amazingly good sandwiches which we took back. Then we discovered the picnic area is “rained” on by the wind whipping through Russell Page’s fountain onto us and the retarded. Is the “us and” redundant? Packed up our trash, left our empty cans of Diet Coke prominently displayed, and fled.
Across from PepsiCo is another corporate wonder, the State University of New York (SUNY) Purchase campus. PepsiCo and IBM teamed up with Governor Nelson Rockefeller to create a new university dedicated to the arts. The grounds are mainly golf-course-like fields and woods, with parking lots scattered through them. In the center, like an above-ground bomb shelter, are the buildings. Everything is a black-grey brick, low slung, nearly windowless 1970’s hell. I’d been reading about shows at the Neuberger, the college art museum, for years. It took four different types of signs to clue us in to which building it was, including a giant blue metal sculpture of the letters “A-R-T”. The collection is pretty excellent for a college museum. Decent American art from 1900 forward and several innovative contemporary shows. They had a wonderful show up of 1960’s Op Art, including work by artists we’d seen in Buenos Aires, plus Richard Prince (appropriated Marlboro cigarette ads), and some funky new stuff using recent technology. Worth seeing, but don’t expect to linger.
Having put ourselves through 1970’s art purgatory, we rewarded ourselves with the Bush-Holley Historic Site in Cos Cob. On the Connecticut shore east of Greenwich, the site is a 1730’s farm house and an 1850’s barn where Childe Hassam and friends rented rooms in the summer to paint and vacate. Absolutely lovely, with many original works of the period hung in the same rooms that are portrayed. The Historical Society of Greenwich has done an amazing job interpreting a difficult site. Difficult? You get off I-95, park underneath I-95, and from the front porch, where Impressionists once painted fishing boats; you try not to see I-95 in front of you blocking the vista. It could have been worse; as the docent explained, the original freeway route went right through the buildings, not around them. Difficult? The Historical Society discovered that the attic once housed the Bush family’s slaves, and has restored the room to that period despite fierce town objections to bringing that part of Greenwich’s past to light. Go, this place is totally worth it.
Unfortunately, as we left to get on I-95 north, we hit NYC rush hour traffic plus buckets of rain. When do these guys leave Manhattan to create a traffic jam at 3:30 in the afternoon in Connecticut? The combination made us decide to try the Merritt Parkway instead. Two hours sitting in traffic jams later, we probably would have suffered just as much for less time on the freeway. Eh. Found a nice diner for dinner in Shelton, then a La Quinta in New Britain where we watched the “American Idol” semi-finals.
Thursday, May 17
We took the Mass Turnpike directly into Boston to the new Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA). The ICA was founded at the same time as New York’s Museum of Modern Art, but instead of collecting, it made a point of showing cutting edge stuff as more of a transitory venue. It was housed in a former fire station in the Back Bay, but has just moved to a new facility on Fan Pier. The whole development is amazing: Fan Pier used to be abandoned wharves; now it’s a giant Michael Graves courthouse, the museum, and a convention center in the old Commonwealth Pier. Tons of parking in what will soon be condos and office buildings, all under laid by a new subway that was put in as part of the Big Dig. Okay, not really a subway, just the tunnel; right now Boston is running buses through it in an experiment called the Silver Line. It must be what people experienced going to Crystal City, VA in the 1970’s, where rail yards became office parks seemingly overnight.
The ICA building is by architects Diller & Scofidio. It is truly great, with massive overhangs and galleries putting you right on the harbor, and seemingly over it. They’ve begun creating a permanent collection to fill their new home, but frankly, that is sort of drek, and the shows up (Louis Bourgeois, Misaki Kawai) lame. Go for the building, eat in the café, shop in the shop, and get out. Was glad Michael got us comp’ed, the art is so not worth $12 each.
Walked the waterfront and over the now-buried Central Artery to Chinatown for lunch, and took the Silver Line back to our car from South Station. Fun.
We drove the Southeast Expressway (aka, I-93) to Quincy on a quest for the National Park Service-run Adams National Historic Site. I’d been there back in the 1980’s, and remembered it being a bit of a hike from the Quincy-Adams subway station. Well, the exits on I-93 don’t really correlate with any reality on the ground. We got lost in residential Quincy to find ourselves at the foot of the first railway in America. This was an incline built in the 1830’s to take Quincy granite to the coast and up to Charlestown to become the Bunker Hill Monument. Interesting, but not on our agenda. Wandered back to downtown Quincy, where a cool Richardsonian-Romanesque building turned out to be the town Historical Society. They had a really terrific show of local history (did you know Howard Johnson’s and Dunkin’ Donuts both started in Quincy?), and also told us we could leave our car in their lot, walk two blocks, and find the Park Service.
One can no longer visit the Adams sites as I once did – the neighbors must have complained about the traffic. Instead, at the Quincy T stop, there’s a Park Service Visitors Center. You get a trolley there that takes you to the hovels where John and John Quincy were born, then across town to the estate that Abigail renovated into a country seat when John left the Presidency. Cool. I love the Adams family, especially Abigail and Henry. Michael was appalled at the poverty of the birthplaces, but recovered when he saw the estate. The library built by Charles Francis (Lincoln’s Ambassador to England) and shelved by his brother Henry (“The Dynamo and the Virgin”, “The Education of Henry Adams”) has to be one of the most beautiful rooms in the world. Two great Park Ranger interpreters. The trolley takes you back to the Center, and two doors down is the church that the family paid for and worshipped at. Now a gay-welcoming Unitarian congregation, it’s open to the public and interprets the family with the most liberal bent possible. Suspect that aristocrat Louisa Catherine Adams is turning in her grave down in the crypt. There’s an amazing candy shop a few doors down on Hancock Street, The Fudge Bar, with homemade fudge. We stocked up.
Checked out a Chinese import store, then back onto the SE Expressway to Weymouth to rendezvous with Alice and KathyAnn for dinner. We met at Ecco Trattoria, the kind of excellent, inexpensive, white table cloth Italian restaurant that one takes for granted in Boston until one becomes an émigré and discovers just how rare that is. Fabulous and terrific catching up with our friends. Back on the freeway, drove I-93 the entire length of the Big Dig, over the funky cable-stayed bridge, and into Somerville. Janni and her housemate Aladdine were putting us up for the next two days; we got caught up and crashed.
Friday, May 18
Janni works in the architecture department at MIT in Cambridge. We drove her to work, and she showed off the recent Stata Center by Frank Gehry. My townie connections condescend to this building, as they do to any new architecture at MIT or Harvard. Michael and I really liked it, however. The internal “street”, and the way the building crams tons of uses into an oddly shaped space, reminded us of Peter Eisenman’s Wexner Center in Columbus. The use of industrial materials like plywood and raw metal is very MIT; you expect a TA to come along and cut a hole in the wall to accommodate lab apparatus at any moment. Crowds of Asians huddling outside classrooms looked like they’d gone to geek heaven. Decent café and fun. Dragged Michael to the MIT Press Bookstore to refresh my supply (their stock of art, architecture, and urban design books is fantastic), and he dragged me to the Coop to look for sweatshirts. Kendall Square has never looked so affluent.
We got on Route 2 northwest to Lowell. 1n the 1800’s the Boston Manufacturing Company gave the American Industrial Revolution a solid footing in my hometown of Waltham, with a self-contained factory to turn cotton into cloth, and another plant down river to dye and finish that cloth. That pretty much exhausted the water power of the Charles River, and though the plants continued in use right up through the 1950’s (Dad cut clothes there), the Cabots and Lowells needed a better site in which to invest their slave and China trade fortunes. They found it on the Merrimack and Nashua Rivers, north and west of Boston. They created the town of Lowell to implement the Waltham factory ideas on a large scale. A major success, these mills created the fortunes behind most Boston Brahmin families. They ran their mills well, then okay, and by the 1950’s into the ground. In the 1970’s Paul Tsongas got the Park Service to come turn some of the abandoned mills into a museum of the Industrial Revolution. Like the Adams site, I hadn’t been since the early 1980’s, and the change is tremendous. Lowell will probably never again be an industrial powerhouse, but the museums there have sparked enough investment to keep the city alive. The extensive canal system can be walked on interpretive trails, a trolley connects the sites, and several mills tell different aspects of the story.
We started at the Visitors Center in the former Lowell Mills, which covers the overall story and points out the Park Service and other sites to be visited. Had good panninis at a deli, and then a short canal hike over to the Boott Cotton Mills Museum. This had been the only building open in 1980. Now the Park Service has filled a floor with restored spinning and weaving machinery, and interpreters costumed as 1830’s mill girls run the machines. Incredibly noisy, NPS gives out ear plugs to all visitors. The workers must have gone deaf. Upstairs, with the rumbling of the machines beneath your feet, are galleries dedicated to the cultural history of what the mills and cheap fabric meant to America and the world, and of the people who worked in them. The movie on the social convulsions that led to and were caused by the Industrial Revolution is brilliant.
The New England Quilt Museum is in a former commercial building. The collection is good, but Southern museums (MESDA, DAR) do it better. The temporary show, of recent quilts dedicated to mothers, was okay. Michael liked the way they showed/stored quilts in shallow drawers; I think he has designs on the bureaus that house my Monopoly game collection. I’d go if you are a quilter, but skip it otherwise.
Had pastries at an Italian coffee house (hmm, Italian again – is anyone sensing a theme here <smile>?). Refreshed, crossed the canal to the American Textile History Museum. This is a totally different experience from the Textile Museum here in D.C. The collection is less of fabrics and more of machinery. Leaving the Park Service to tell the cultural story, this museum covers the technology, from creating fiber, processing it into yarn or thread, weaving/knitting/braiding into cloth, finishing, and creation of garments. I had low expectations, but really enjoyed this one. Many dead machines well explained, interesting questions rose about where fiber comes from and the steps that turn it into a Gap t-shirt. The Industrial Revolution is explained as a series of incremental technological tweakings and innovations. Each change was made to solve successive bottlenecks in the process, from the cotton gin making fiber inexpensive through changes in what people expected clothing to do for them. Together, they transformed a home-based economy into one of mega corporations. Made me appreciate the fabric and yarn I take for granted in my quilting and crochet.
There is tons more to do in Lowell. We never got to the sites commemorating Jack Kerouac and James McNeil Whistler, Boarding House Park, the mill girls, or the railroad. You may want to give this place two days. Instead, we headed south on I-495 to my brother David’s house in Shrewsbury, just east of Worcester. Had a mini-reunion there with David and Karen’s family, brother Tony, our parents, and nephew Tom and his fiancé Jen (getting married in July). Karen is one of the best cooks; her white lasagna and strawberry trifle were terrific. We were able to unload about 30 board games gleaned from our collection on Karen and the kids, and my Dad took two inoperable power tools off my hands as potential fix-it projects.
Saturday, May 19
Wedding Day. Had some time to kill, so walked south from Porter Square on Mass. Ave., in Cambridge. Again, more money has poured into that neighborhood in the last decade than it’s ever seen. The old Sears is now Lesley College and a Japanese mini-mall, the stores have gone upscale, and even the CVS was selling luxury umbrellas. We broke down and bought a pair, as it rained buckets the rest of the weekend.
Drove back out Route 2 to Littleton, the town just past Concord where my brother Tom and his wife Kathy live. Jess’s wedding was in the back yard, fortunately tented. Very low key and easy. Food was by a local Italian place down the road; chicken parmagiana to kill for. Great time reconnecting with our immediate family and Kathy’s family.
Post-ceremony, got onto I-495 which took us directly to the Cape. I met Janni and her husband Jeff when they moved into the condo next door to me in Cambridge back in the 1980’s. They now live in the family home in Hyannis port, which Jeff’s grandfather bought shortly before a group of Irish upstarts moved into the house down the road. The beach you see in all those Kennedy photos is their beach. Sounds swank, but honestly, is just relaxing and comfortable. After a week of running around, we chilled out, walked the beach, ate fried clams and Thai takeout, and listened to music. Thanks, Janni and Jeff!
Sunday, May 20
More of same. Met the Senator on the pier, he was heading out to sail as we were coming back in. Jeff and Ted said “Hi”, we moved on. I asked my husband the star-watcher if he knew who we had just passed, he didn’t, I explained. “That old man? He looks HORRIBLE.” I hope we look that good when we’re Senator Kennedy’s age. With luck, the wind was blowing our conversation inland.
Monday, May 21
More of same, but all things must come to an end. Hopped into the car mid-morning, checked out the Cape Cod Canal, then got on I-95. Being a Monday, museums and all were closed. We stopped at the New Haven IKEA for lunch and break, but pretty much did a straight shot home.
Potential places for future visits up the I-95 corridor:
Fuller Craft Museum, Brockton, MA
Aldrich Museum, Ridgefield, CT
Gillette Castle, East Haddam, CT
Glebe House Museum & Gertrude Jekyll Garden, Woodbury, CT
Lockwood-Mathews Mansion, Norwalk, CT
Roseland Cottage, Woodstock, CT
Ellarslie Mansion/The Trenton City Museum, Trenton, NJ
Lambert Castle, Paterson, NJ
Liberty Hall Museum, Union, NJ
Montclair Art Museum, Montclair, NJ
Red Mill Museum Village, Clinton, NJ
Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms, Parsippany, NJ
Wildwoods, NJ, for the googie architecture
Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Antietam Battlefield, MD