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Saturday, December 4, 2010

Newport, Rhode Island

Continuing our tour along the coastline of Connecticut and Rhode Island, we now come to the town of Newport, located on an Island in the Rhode Island Sound.

Say "Newport" to a native Oregonian like myself and I immediately think of the Oregon coastal town, Mo's world famous clam chowder, and the obligatory stop at Mo's for any presidential candidate.

It turns out that there are other Newports. Lots of them!

And actually the most famous of them is probably Newport Rhode Island. After clearing the snow off our car in Narragansett and having a hearty breakfast at the nearby Olde Lighthouse Diner, we headed east to Newport. We first drove out to Fort Adams. Since 1954 this has been the site of the Newport Jazz Festival. Every jazz fan has a favorite song or two that was recorded there.

We drove by the Eisenhower House on Fort Adams which served as the Summer White House in 1958-60. Ike found it conveniently close to the Newport Country Club.

But the highlight of Newport is the "Millionaire's Mile" of mansions on Bellevue Avenue. Unlike many clusters of mansions, these are quite visible from both Bellevue and along the backside via a hiking trail know as Cliff Walk. Since it was raining and the temperature was around 40 degrees, we left the walk for our next trip.

But we did tour two mansions. Both of them were Vanderbilt properties. When you are in Rhode Island the second person you are likely to be reminded of after Roger Williams is Harold Vanderbilt. And why not? Yachtsman extraordinaire, developer of the scoring system for contract bridge and active member of the family railroad empire, he was a rather prominent citizen of the tiny state. Here we see him on the cover of Time magazine for September 15, 1930.

The Marble House was our first stop. While only a "summer cottage" built by William Kissam Vanderbilt, the home is notable because of its ostentatious construction and decor.
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Marble House also was home to W.K. Vanderbilt's two famous children Consuelo and Harold (mentioned previously.) Consuelo was coerced to marry into the Spencer-Churchill family in England and brought along enough money as a dowry to refurbish Blenheim Palace. Consuelo was famous for her graceful swan-like neck. The Marble House thoughtfully preserves the neck stretching apparatus used on her.

About a mile away from Marble House is The Breakers, the top dog in Newport Mansions.

Like the other mansions in Newport open to the public, no interior photos are allowed. This is "to preserve the historic property and prevent damage." I assume this is because of the belief that taking a photograph will steal the soul. I did take a couple of interior shots anyway. Unfortunately, the Japanese couple in front of us took a flash photo early in the tour. This put a young docent hot on their tail and made it difficult for me to get my shots. Darned amateurs! Well, here are a couple of shots of the interior, anyway. The marble bathtub required filling with hot water several times to warm it up.

The kitchen:

And a comfortable music room:

It is always worth reminding ourselves that we all lead lives today much more comfortable than the Vanderbilts thanks to the progress of technology. Just as an example, Harold Vanderbilt died at age 51 following complications from an appendectomy.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Southern Rhode Island

Continuing our Sunday drive along the Connecticut and Rhode Island coast, we soon reached Westerly. Westerly lacks the "quaint" and "cute" of some of the towns in the area but has a very nice antique shop in Mary D's. I picked up a 1909 Rhode Island Manual. Election results for every town, a great state map etc., all for $2.

It was easy to tell we had crossed into Rhode Island as we passed the Roger Williams Inn. The Inn is not terribly historic since it was built in the 1880s and Williams founded the Providence Plantation back in 1636. Still it is an interesting looking place and available to "the savvy investor" according to this site.

We continued our leisurely journey along the coastline on scenic US 1 to Narragansett. I understand that in the summer, this drive can be more than just leisurely. Bumper to bumper is the oft-mentioned description. Late autumn might be the ideal time to visit. Once we reached Narragansett, we headed south to Point Judith.

This small cape jutting out into the Rhode Island Sound has some interesting military history ranging from the Revolutionary War to World War II. It was the site of the sinking of the S. S. Black Point by a German submarine on May 5, 1945, resulting in the loss of 12 lives including members of the U.S. Navy Armed Guard. On the next day, the german submarine was sunk. It was the only foreign vessel sunk in U.S. coastal waters during WWII. (Linda's father, by the way, was a member of the U.S. Navy Armed Guard.)

As in many towns in this area, there is a memorial to the men who have lost their lives in the sea.

And, there is another light house. This one is active.

By this time, we had finished the day and watched the sun set.

We spent the night in Narragansett. I though I'd take a picture of the beach and ocean the next morning. When I went outside, though, much to my surprise there was about a three-inch covering of wet snow! But, while I have beach pictures and snow pictures, this was my first chance to take a snow-beach picture.
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We headed over to the nearby Old Lighthouse Diner for breakfast. There we had a great breakfast, good value, and pleasant conversation with the owners. It was nice enough that we came back for dinner.

I'd rate the food as superior to The Towers, Narragansett's fancy dining spot on the beach. Got to give the view from The Towers the edge, though. And the food prices aren't out of reach there if you choose from the "Pre Fixe" menu. Pre Fixe??? Well, just pretend it says Prix Fixe!

Mystic, Connecticut. Stonington.

We had only been in Connecticut for about five minutes when I heard the first suggestion that we should visit Mystic. I had stopped at the first travel information stop that we encountered along I-95 after leaving New York. After that, it was common to hear the question, have you been to Mystic?

Mystic is a small town on the Connecticut coastline but it also refers to an area along the coast. The drive along the coast from New London / Groton through Stonington, then into Rhode Island's Westerly, Narragansette and Judith Point is only about 40 miles. It is easy to spend the whole afternoon exploring these towns, though.

Here is the broad view of the area from New York to Boston. The letter "A" is at Stonington.

This closer view covers just the area from New London / Groton to Newport. Newport, is going to have its own blog post, later.

We visited this area on a chilly Sunday morning, November 7th. Like most of the little towns in the area, Stonington has its origins as a fishing village. A narrow road takes you through town and out to a point with a lighthouse, one of many in the area. The town is worth stopping for a walking tour.
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We stopped in at the Water Street Cafe for an excellent brunch after visiting the old lighthouse on the point.
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During the War of 1812, the British stopped by to make a major attack on the town. A suitable memorial marks the spot.

Exploring the town leads to lots of homes marked with signs giving a brief history:

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Providence, Rhode Island

After touring the submarine center of Groton / New London in Connecticut, we headed inland from the coast and crossed the entire state of Rhode Island to arrive in Providence. This is not a long trip - about 55 miles. Rhode Island is only 37 miles wide "by the books" but that must be at the wide spot. I'd guess 25 miles is closer to the truth in the center.

We were headed for the state Capitol. Providence is a city of about 170,000 within the city limits but is the center of a much larger metropolitan area that reaches across the border into Massachusetts. (Boston lies a mere 50 miles to the Northeast.) The Capitol building sits atop a hill with a nice view of the surrounding town.

This was late on a Saturday afternoon so we didn't get to see the inside of the building. Here is the view of the surrounding area:
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We circled the Capitol looking for a parking place. There was a concert scheduled for the evening nearby so both circling and parking were not simple. We eventually found a spot near Roger Williams park. This soon led us to the discovery that this Roger Williams was not "Mr. Piano." Say "Roger Williams" in Rhode Island and you are talking about one of the settlers of the Providence plantation in 1636. Parks, statues, streets and even a university bear his name.

Industry is a bit scarce in Rhode Island. Once a textile center, that industry is long gone. The local auditorium is called the Dunkin Donuts Center but Dunkin Donuts is headquartered in Quincy Massachusetts. Tourism is a big contributor to the state's economy and I'll highlight that in another post.

Leaving Providence to return to Baltic Connecticut we encountered one of the rare "black holes" that my Garmin GPS can fall into. It seems that Interstate 195 has been relocated in Providence.

"Miss Garmin," as I call her, was quite confused by this. Heading along the freeway, she kept saying "turn left" and so forth. We ended up doing a loop around, confusing her again and then just ignored her until we were back onto highway 6 headed West.

New London - Groten, Connecticut

No visit to Connecticut would be complete without visiting the submarine museum in Groton. Groton is on the East bank of the Thames and New London is on the West bank. New London is home to the Navy's submarine base while Groton holds the "submarine factory."

Since we were staying in Baltic Connecticut, just a few miles from Norwich, it was only a twenty-minute drive down the Thames river to the New London/Groton area. Groton is home to the Electric Boat Company, currently a General Dynamics division. Wander around the www.gdeb.com website for a bit and you will soon get the idea that they take security seriously:

Q: How can I get information on submarines - facts, photos, etc.?

A: Our web site provides photographs and basic public information. For security reasons, we do not release additional information.
I'd love to have taken a photo of the "No Photographing" signs that are posted on the fence along the road beside the E.B. facility. I was outvoted by the passengers in my vehicle, however. So the best I can do for you is to show you this shot captured on the Internet from Google's Street View:

And note that this is what the sign looked like when the Google Van drove by:

Fortunately, there is a public Library and Submarine Museum right on the harbor. And the museum serves as the entrance to the submarine, Nautilus. This, you may recall, was the first Atomic powered submarine. For that matter, it was the first Atomic powered vehicle of any kind. Just up the road (East, toward Rhode Island) there is a great place to stop for a picture of the Nautilus.

While we had the bad luck to arrive at a time when the Nautilus was closed for a few days, we did get to tour the museum.
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Inside, I ran into a very helpful submarine veteran. He and I got to chatting and he was telling me about Mamie Eisenhower christening the Nautilus in 1954. I told him I recalled the event from the newsreel pictures that I saw as a kid. He, of course topped that by pointing to himself in one of the pictures of the event. He claimed that Ike wasn't too happy about Mamie coming up to do the christening since it was only an "experimental" vessel.

Well, that only leaves us one more item of Connecticut culture to discuss. Everywhere we went, we saw signs advertising "Grinders." Take this shop, for instance:

Wikipedia redirects "Grinder Sandwich" to Submarine Sandwich. Do more exploring and you can find some folks that claim a grinder should be a hot sandwich and should have crusty bread to distinguish it from a sub. There are even some suggestions that a "grinder" was a slang term for an Italian dock worker. I'll leave it for others to explore the origins of the term but let's just note that this is the area with the submarine factory. It also holds a lot of people of Italian background. Odds are good that one of the jobs the Italians held involved grinding the welds on submarines. Make up your own story from there.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Hartford Connecticut

While we were visiting in Connecticut, we headed over to the state's capital, Hartford. The greater Hartford area has over a million population and is home to many of the larger insurance companies. The Travelers, The Aetna and The Hartford, just to name three.

Here's downtown Hartford:

It also was home to Mark Twain, and as you can imagine, Twain's house has long been on my list of places to visit. But our first stop was at the State Capitol building. We arrived on Friday around 4:00 p.m. and were fortunate to find the building still open. The Capitol sits on a hill overlooking the city and has one of the better displays of historical memorabilia on the first floor. The building was pretty much empty except for a few security personnel and the Secretary of State's office where they were still dealing with the previous week's election problems.

The Capitol:

There are Revolutionary war treasures and Civil War treasures on the first floor. (Connecticut claims Ulysses S. Grant as a grandchild.) Many Northeastern states have a place or two that claim "George Washington slept here." The Connecticut Capitol one-ups them by displaying General Lafayette's actual bed.
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Our next stop was Mark Twain's home. Here is the classic view:

On this particular autumn day, the house looked very nice from below:

Attached to the home is a small museum. Here in the Aetna Gallery, they have saved the printing press that bankrupted Twain and put him off to France, living on a shoestring, for a period of time.

There's a display about the controversy that has raged over the years with regard to Huckleberry Finn.

And a couple of posters to remind people of the movie versions of Finn that they may have seen.
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