The Second Razing of Montpelier

On December 19, 2017, Scott Thistle of the Portland Press Herald reported the Knox Museum in Thomaston (also known as “Montpelier”) was on the verge of closing.  Thistle reported that a December 15, 2017 letter, written by chairman of the museum’s board of trustees, Peter Ogden, noted Montpelier was facing a “dire” situation.

Thousands of cars drive by the Knox Museum in Thomaston during high tourist season.  It sits majestically overlooking Route 1, at a point in the road that curves slightly to the left heading out of town and toward Rockland.  How many happy motorists realize the house is a replica of the original mansion is unknown.  The original mansion, built by Revolutionary War General and first Secretary of War Henry Knox, was demolished in 1871.

Absent from Thistle’s news story and difficult to find on the museum’s modern website is the fact that the replica of Montpellier was built and furnished with a generous gift of the late Cyrus H.K. Curtis and the work of the General Knox Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR).  The Maine DAR website notes “in 1931 the replica, built and furnished by the Maine Daughters – under the leadership of the General Knox Chapter of Thomaston – was dedicated.”

Ogden’s letter, according to Thistle, is quoted as saying “the museum has largely been funded by a finite gift which has now been exhausted.”

I don’t have a copy of the letter and I’m making an assumption that the now-exhausted “finite gift” was the same one mentioned fleetingly on the Knox Museum website as “the generous gift of the late Cyrus H.K. Curtis.”

Who was Cyrus H.K. Curtis?  He was a very wealthy man.  Born in Portland, Maine in 1850, he made his fortune, in part, from magazine publishing.  The “K” in his name stands for Kotzschmar, and he did, indeed, donate the Kotzschmar Organ to the city of Portland.  According to Wikipedia’s sources, he is still considered “one of the richest Americans ever.”

The Knox Museum managed this gift for approximately 86 years before exhausting it.  Without hiring a forensic accountant to review the records, I can’t comment on the museum’s financial management, other than to say history is replete with gift-recipients who blew away an inheritance in a day.

Back in the early 1970’s, one of the cars that approached the Knox Museum in Thomaston was a Plymouth Fury.  I’m not sure what year, make, and model it was.  My father never bought new cars.  But we visited one summer; it was a family day trip.  I saved the brochure, printed by the Maine State Park and Recreation Commission.  They ran the museum until 1999 and then gave the property to the nonprofit after “failing to make the museum’s operations financially viable itself” according to Thistle’s news story.  My brochure says it was “Published Under Appropriation 5410.”

How old was I?  Not more than 10, I think.  I remember the magnificent house and the semi-flying staircase.  The trip home was fraught with some terror, though, thinking how General Knox allegedly died from an infection after a chicken bone lodged in his throat.

Frightened or not, I often thought of Montpelier after our visit and kept the brochure in my envelope of souvenirs.  I consider this visit the beginning of my appreciation for beautiful things and my passion for their preservation.  Why else would I be drawn to flying staircases at the Foss Mansion, the Ruggles House, and the Victoria Mansion had my child’s mind not contemplated the symmetry of Montpelier’s replica?

Scott Thistle’s Portland Press Herald story did not answer all of my questions; I have many.  Newspaper reports written during the construction of the replica would be rich with names of men and women involved in this project.  I’m especially interested in the role the General Knox Chapter of the DAR played in this project.

Women once did interesting things.  It used to be their work.

Sifting through the internet this morning, I once again chant the old George Bailey mantra of “I wish I had a million dollars.”  If I did, I’d give it to the Knox Museum with the proviso that I am allowed regular access to all of their historical records.

Should any of my readers have a million dollars, please contact the Knox Museum pronto and find out how you can be instrumental in preserving this very interesting building.

Posted in Talk of The Toile | Tagged , , , ,

This Year’s Christmas Portrait

I am year-end busy today.  Maybe that’s a good thing.

Scroll over here next week for “The Ghost of Christmas Present.”

Merry Christmas!

Posted in Weather and Seasons

The First Person in Food Writing

Because I am a part-time food writer, I occasionally read about food.  Nothing gets my morning blood pressure elevated like a boring gastronomic account of soup, butter, or bacon.  But is all food writing worth the paper or bytes consumed to produce it?  I think not.  The current tendency of kitchen dwellers calling their diary entries “food writing” is an unfortunate display of the 21st century disease called “look at my cookies.”  Please…don’t boil some vegetables in a stock pot for an hour, puree it with an immersion blender, and tell me you’ve made soup!  That’s a vegetable smoothie, dearest, not a soup.

Put that in your plastic mobile goblet, aka sippy cup, and take a deep draught.

This morning, I’m thinking of the food writer, Cecily Brownstone.  Brownstone was the Associated Press Food Editor from 1947 until 1986 and her syndicated food features appeared in papers across the United States, including the Lewiston Evening Journal.  Her most memorable recipe is “Country Captain Chicken,” a curried chicken dish that has waxed and waned in popularity since Brownstone first published it.

Brownstone knew how to cook and fortunately, she was also skilled in journalistic forensics.  She traced the curried chicken recipe to an 1857 Philadelphia cookbook and then offered her readers an interpretation by Delmonico chef Alexander Filippini.  The internet is full of articles about Brownstone and this chicken recipe; interestingly, no current food writer or blogger has noted the recipe’s first date of publication.

Brownstone was a friend to Joy of Cooking writers Irma Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker.  They featured it in their classic cooking volume and the 1975 edition prefaces the recipe with “this dish has become a favorite in America, although it probably got its name not from the sea captain who brought the recipe back from the shores, but from the Indian officer who first made him acquainted with it.  So says Cecily Brownstone, a great friend; this is her time-tested formula.”

There.  After a flavorless bowl of vegetable smoothie and two shots of espresso coffee, I’m back on the beam.  2018 is just around the corner and there will be interesting chefs to interview, local food growers and producers to meet, and maybe even a cookbook author speaking interesting words I can put inside quotation marks.

Carry on.

Posted in Cooking and Food | Tagged , , ,

Living in History

On Sunday, December 3, the Ruggles House Society hosted their annual Christmas Tea.  According to Peter Winham, a member of the Ruggles House Society Board of Directors, over 100 visitors attended the event.

Winham and his wife Kathy own Teas of Cherryfield and they provided a variety of restorative beverages for the event.  In addition to their tea business, the Winhams also own The Englishman’s Bed and Breakfast located at 122 Main Street in Cherryfield, a few miles down the road from The Ruggles House.   The bed and breakfast, a two-story Federal style building known as the Archibald-Adams House, is located along the Narraguagus River and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Back in July, when I first visited Columbia Falls and decided to attend the tea, I had only an inkling of the area’s historic credentials.  It was a whimsical idea, taking a car trip in December when the bad weather odds increase exponentially.  But Paul Cousins, Maine meteorologist, predicted “a sublime and unusually mild weekend” and his predictions of fair skies held firm.

I invited a friend, one with Revolutionary War roots dating back to the Battle of Machias and we sallied forth.

Fortunately, since my July visit, I had planted a seed of interest in my friend’s mind, encouraging her to begin her Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) membership.  I told her she might meet a number of DAR members at the Ruggles Tea, and we could even wander around old cemeteries looking for her ancestors.

When we first arrived in the area, we visited the Rock Maple Cemetery in Harrington.  She located the stone of her great-grandfather, George Wellington Stevens.  From a family history written by one of her great aunts, I learned Stevens was a “sturdy heavyset man and he did hard work but was never in a hurry.”

We made it our mantra to not be in a hurry while we were in Washington County.  It was a pleasant respite and in fact, one local woman told us we could slow time to the extent that we could “go back in time” if we visited Jonesport and Beals.

Of course, the allure of reversing time is always of interest to women and so we did visit the suggested idyllic area.

The highlight of the trip came when my friend’s 79-year-old cousin Carole Ann, a DAR since the age of 17, gave us a private tour of the Burnham Tavern in Machias.  The building is significant because it was a meeting place for the local militia prior to the 1775 Battle of Machias.  The Hannah Weston Chapter of the DAR operates the Burnham Tavern today and it’s an interesting repository of information.

After our tour, we took our time heading home and even stopped at the iconic Helen’s Restaurant in Machias for a cup of chowder and a piece of pie.  Cousin Carole Ann provided a wealth of historical information in addition to knowing almost everyone at the restaurant.

Stepping back in time courtesy of Washington County towns is a relaxing off-season practice.  If you have any reason to believe your ancestral roots may be planted in this area, I highly encourage you to visit.  And if you do, take a cue from Grampy Stevens and do not hurry.

Posted in Lady Alone Traveler | Tagged , , , ,

Your Morning Flight

Two years ago, I was drawn to “aspics.”  I wrote a blog post about this old-timey trend I revived in my mind.  I never made an aspic and the gelatin packets still sit on my kitchen counter keeping a silent sentry to another time and food fad.

More recently, I’ve been reading vintage cooking pamphlets before bed.  Other women my age are probably surfing “Stitch” on their mobile devices.

(What is “Stitch?”  Why, it’s an online community “which helps everyone over 50 find the companionship they need” according to the Stitch website.  Surf to it yourself.  And yes, that’s a direct quotation from their site; I did not write the grammatical error.  Besides, no one cares whether it’s “that” or “which” anymore.  The important thing is the “stitch.”)

Flying over the staircase of time, I was intrigued by this promotional undated pamphlet, extolling the virtues of “sandwiches for every occasion.”  It was published for The Cushman Bakery, once located on the corner of Elm and Kennebec Streets in Portland.  Cushman’s was a popular business, noted for its bread trucks that sped along the city streets delivering the staff of life to homes.  It’s hard to believe, but food delivery existed before Jeff Bezos and Amazon.  The brochure says “Cushman’s service to your home is a great time-saver…right at your door you have the undivided attention of a trained salesman who knows that courtesy, clean habits and intelligent service are as important for your satisfaction as fine quality products.”

The inside cover of the brochure featured a photograph of “pretty Miss Yvette Gagne, 1946 Potato Blossom Queen” receiving a loaf of Cushman’s Maine Potato Bread from Mr. E.S. Cushman, Vice-President and Manager of the Cushman Baking Company.  The photo caption noted this loaf was presented to Miss Gagne at a banquet introducing the new bread.

“Keep a good table by keeping Cushman’s Maine Potato Bread on it!  It’s made for New England folks who insist on good bread!”

The brochure featured a forward by Demetria Taylor, a nationally noted food editor for the Parade magazine who also authored a number of cook books.  She wrote:

“Ever since the Earl of Sandwich invented the idea of putting meat between bread slices so that he could eat without interrupting his game of cards, the sandwich named after him has been forever popular as fine fare for all occasions.”

The pamphlet featured almost fifty recipes for tasty treats like “Quick Supper Sandwiches” and “Too-Hot-To-Cook-Sandwiches.”  (Is the latter the Stitch signature sandwich?)

Clubbed, crust-less, or toasted, Cushman’s bread was the foundation of good eating.  And the implication was that these gluten-filled morsels were also the glue of companionship.  No one would eat a “Bridge Luncheon Sandwich” alone.  Nor a “Porch Supper” sandwich.  These sandwiches were meant to be shared.  Please, darling, pack more than one in the lunch box for sharing with co-workers.

There will be more to say about sandwiches in the coming weeks, but for now, I’ll take a ham and cheese on rye for my morning flight of fancy.

Posted in Cooking and Food | Tagged , , , , ,

Pajama Shopping Day

How have the sands of today’s hourglass slipped away without my creaky content making its appearance?  ‘Tis the season.

On Saturday, November 25, the Chamber of Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, and Arundel hosted a Pajama Shopping Day.  When I first saw it online, I was horrified.  Then, I was intrigued.  I looked at the participating businesses and realized I could get a free cup of coffee at H.B. Provisions and some deep discounts on letterpress cards at Ink & Thistle Press.

But wearing pajamas in public?  Readers here know how I feel about “Hobo Couture.”

Readers also know I love letterpress printing.

I rifled through my sleepwear and looked honestly at my leopard print bathrobe.  Was there a way to elevate hobo couture to a new level with style and grace?

I thought the scene would resemble the fabled “Running of the Bulls” in Pamplona, Spain.  I was disappointed.  Nary a flannel-clad shopper could be seen and I inadvertently sat at a regular’s table at H.B. Provisions.

It all worked out, I got my letterpress cards, some free coffee and a half-price lobster omelette.  I took a “selfie” at an iconic tourist location and then motored home.

This morning in the Lewiston Sun Journal, reporter Mark LaFlamme wrote a funny article in his “Street Talk” column.  It was called “Dressed for success:  I hate that.”  He was recently quizzed at a crime-scene about his identify as a reporter based on his attire.  He said “I don’t dress purty, yo.”

In classic LaFlamme style, he outlined why it’s difficult to cover the news wearing a starched shirt and tie.  He said “the problem with being a newspaper reporter is that unless you’re a firmly entrenched State House reporter or something godawful like that, you don’t know from one minute to the next what assignment will fall with a plop onto your plate.  Will I be sent to cover a school committee meeting tonight?  Or will I be required to elbow crawl through a swamp to adequately cover an armed standoff out in West Canker Sore?”

LaFlamme has his Carhartt and I have my leopard print bathrobe.  We do what we must to get our stories.

Posted in Lady Alone Traveler | Tagged , ,

Favorite Things

One of my blog readers is demanding their Wednesday morning post.

Thanksgiving leftovers are one of my favorite things and I’ll bet they’re yours, too.

Because I aim to please, click on the snazzy suit and feast on blogging leftovers.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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