Friday, October 30, 2009

George Washington Really Did Sleep Here, Day 10

George Washington awoke on October 30, 1789, in the bustling port city of Salem, and he was on the road by 8 a.m. to continue his month-long tour of New England. Washington headed north, escorted by the red-uniformed corps of Andover's Captain Peter Osgood, who had joined the presidential party the previous day in Lynn.

The president crossed the bridge from Salem to Beverly and was quite taken by the span's appearance--and price. He wrote in his diary that the bridge had a "handsome appearance" and noted that it "was built for about 4500 (pounds) lawful money--a price inconceivably low in my estimation, as there is 18 feet water in the deepest parts of the River over which it is erected."

Washington had breakfast in Beverly at the mansion of Mr. George Cabot. The house of George Cabot no longer stands, but his brother John's brick house, located diagonally across the street, still stands at 117 Cabot Street and is the headquarters of the Beverly Historical Society & Museum, which has some rich historical collections. Following breakfast, Washington took a tour of Cabot's cotton mill in north Beverly. Washington had quite a bit to say about the cotton factory in his diary before summing it up: "In short the whole seemed perfect, and the Cotton stuffs wch. they turn out excellent of their kind." You can find a stone marker at 2 Dodge Street, beside the North Beverly fire station that commemorates the site of the cotton mill and Washington's visit 220 years ago.

George Washington's next stop on the North Shore was Ipswich, 10 miles north. He was met at the entrance to town by selectmen and a militia regiment. Washington partook of a cold collation at the Swasey Tavern at 2 Poplar Street, which still stands but has been renovated since colonial times, before continuing on to Newburyport. (The Ipswich Historical Society and Museums has in its possession a scrap of the bed drapes from the bed he slept in at Newburyport along with a photo of a reenactment of the president's visit dating from the 1930s.) Washington also gave Ipswich's lace industry a much-publicized boost by purchasing some black silk lace for Martha, and it was used to trim a cape, which is still in the possession of Mount Vernon, but too delicate to display.

The president arrived in Newburyport around 3:30 p.m to much pomp and circumstance. According to accounts, Washington again quit his carriage and rode on horseback into town, accompanied by a number of horse troops. A parade of citizens followed, and Newburyport resident John Quincy Adams (son of the Vice President and future president himself) read a letter of welcome he had penned on behalf of the town. According to this article in the Newburyport Daily News, a group of young men sang this ode to the president: 'He comes! He comes! The Hero Comes! Sound, sound your Trumpets. Beat, beat your drums. From Port to Port, let Cannons Roar. He's welcome to New England's Shore.'"

The president was the guest of honor at a reception at Jonathan Jackson's High Street residence, and the skies of the autumn night above Newburyport were lit up with celebratory fireworks. Washington turned in for the night at the brick Tracy mansion on State Street, which now houses the Newburyport Public Library. The house at 94 State Street was built by Patrick Tracy in 1771 for his son Nathaniel, who equipped and sent out the first privateer which sailed from the colonies against England. Among the furnishings and decor that surrounded Washington at the house would have been some loot seized from British ships by Tracy's privateers.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

George Washington Really Did Sleep Here, Day 9

After four full days in Boston, George Washington hit the road again on October 29, 1789, to continue his tour of New England. Unlike his grand entrance into town on Saturday, Washington's departure from Boston was a low-key affair. The presidential traveling party left Boston at 8 a.m. by way of the bridge to Charlestown, due north. Washington was impressed with that bridge, and another nearby one, writing in his diary: "The Bridges of Charles town and Malden are useful & noble--doing great credit to the enterprizing spirit of the People of this State." (Along the way, Washington would have been in eyeshot of Breed's Hill, site of the bloody Battle of Bunker Hill in June 1775, a couple weeks before he took command of the Continental army.)

First stop for the president and his entourage, which included Vice President John Adams, was Harvard College. Washington was invited to visit the college by its leader, Joseph Willard, who had met with the president on Tuesday prior. Washington's tour of America's oldest college included visits to the philosophy room, a museum, and the library, which contained 13,000 volumes.

From Cambridge, Washington traveled through Medford and Malden to the Essex County line, where he was met by an escorting party led by General Jonathan Titcomb. The president's final destination for the day was Salem, but he requested to pay a stop in Marblehead, a town that had paid much in blood and treasure in the fight for independence. Nearly 600 Marbleheaders served in General John Glover’s regiment of mariners, who are best known for rowing George Washington and the Continental Army across the icy Delaware River to attack Trenton. By the end of the war, this town of 5,000 seventeen miles north of Boston had paid a terrible price for freedom, leaving more than 400 widows and nearly 1,000 orphans.

George Washington's description of Marblehead in his diary wasn't exactly Chamber of Commerce material, but it was reflective of the difficult days for the town following the Revolution: "About 5000 Souls are said to be in this place which has the appearance of antiquity. The Houses are old--the streets dirty--and the common people not very clean."

Washington was taken to the stately Jeremiah Lee Mansion, which can still be visited in Marblehead. The 1768 Georgian manse, more luxurious than Mount Vernon, must have awed even the president. Today, the estate still elicits “oohs’’ and “aahs’’ from visitors who enter the grand entry hall with its rich mahogany wainscoting and eight-foot-wide staircase. (Click here for an article I wrote about the mansion and other Marblehead sites.) After leaving the mansion, the president made a short trip down to Marblehead Harbor before turning north to Salem.

As soon as the presidential party crossed into Salem, guns were fired and church bells rung. As with his entrance into Boston, Washington chose to quit his carriage and ride his white horse. He arrived at the Court House where an address was presented and an ode was sung in his honor. Then, he was taken to his lodgings at the Joshua Ward House on (of course) Washington Street. The house at 148 Washington is today home to the Higginson Book Company.

Between 7 and 8 p.m. Washington went to a party in his honor at the Assembly House at "where there was at least an hundred handsome and well dressed Ladies," according to his diary. The building at 138 Federal Street is now the Cotting-Smith Assembly House, which is owned by the Peabody Essex Museum (and available for rentals if you'd like your own presidential gala.) Washington returned to his lodgings to turn in by 9 p.m.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

George Washington Really Did Sleep Here, Day 8

George Washington got an early start on his final full day in Boston--October 28, 1789. The president normally ate breakfast around 10 or 11 a.m. on his journey, but with a full day planned, it was an earlier first meal of the day for Washington.

Just like modern presidents, part of George Washington's itinerary included tours of thriving local businesses. (Unlike modern presidents, Washington probably wasn't wearing goggles or a hardhat as he surveyed the factories.) His first stop was to the Boston Sailcloth Manufactory, which was located near today's intersection of Tremont and Boylston Streets near Boston Common. Washington wrote in his diary that the business appeared to be "carrying on with spirit, and is in a prosperous way." Washington then visited a cotton and wool card manufacturing facility.

Having concluded his commerce inspection duties, the president hit the water. He was taken around 11 a.m. to visit a couple of French 74-gun ships anchored in Boston Harbor. Along his harbor cruise, Washington was saluted by two frigates near the waterfront and by the fort at Castle Island.

Back on the mainland after his harbor visit, Washington dined at the home of former Massachusetts Governor James Bowdoin. The house was located where the former Bellevue Hotel now stands, at the corner of Beacon and Bowdoin Streets. Washington then went, according to his diary, "to the Assembly in the evening where (it is said) there were upwards of 100 Ladies. There appearance was elegant and many of them very handsome; the Room is small but neat, & well ornamented." The reception was held at Assembly Hall, which was located near his lodgings at the intersection of Hanover and Court Streets, where City Hall Plaza stands today.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

George Washington Really Did Sleep Here, Day 7

After spending a quiet Monday under the weather in his Boston lodgings, President George Washington resumed a more active schedule on October 27, 1789, in his tour around New England. At 10 a.m., he received visits from some of Boston's clergy, and then he headed down the street from his Court Street lodgings to King's Chapel, which still stands on the corner of Tremont and School Streets. (Just a short distance up Beacon Street from King's Chapel is the Boston Athenaeum, which now houses a portion of George Washington's library of books.) The president attended an oratorio at the chapel, which was known more commonly as the Stone Chapel in the post-Revolution glow. Unfortunately for the president and other attendees, several of the performers were ill, perhaps with the Washington Influenza, so the program was scaled back. (King's Chapel still hold Tuesday concerts at 12:15 p.m.)

After returning from the chapel, Washington received addresses from the governor, the town of Boston, and Joseph Willard, the president of Harvard College. Willard's address reminded the president of the state of disrepair that had befallen the institution during the Revolution, the last time Washington had seen it: "When you took command of the troops of your country, you saw the University into state of depression--its members dispersed--its literary treasures removed--and the Muses fled from the din of arms, then heard within its walls. Happily restored, in the course of a few months, by your glorious successes, to its former privileges, and to a state of tranquility, it received its returning members, and our youth have since pursued, without interruption, their literary courses, and fitted themselves for usefulness in Church and State. The publick rooms, which you formerly saw empty, are now replenished with the necessary means of improving the human mind in literature and science, and every thing within the walls wears the aspect of peace, so necessary to the cultivation of the liberal arts." In Washington's reply, he said, "It gives me sincere satisfaction to learn the flourishing state of your literary Republick."

The address from the inhabitants of the town of Boston was equally lofty in its language: "As men, we have long since considered you, under God, as the great and glorious Avenger of the violated rights of humanity--As citizens we have observed with peculiar satisfaction, that you have unvariably respected those liberties, which you have so successfully defended. And as inhabitants of a great commercial town, we attribute the security we enjoy, to the singular merit and success of those measures, in the progress of the war, which you had the honour to conduct."

At 3 p.m., the president traveled a short distance to Faneuil Hall, where he was the guest of honor at what Washington referred to in his diary as a "large & elegant dinner given by the Govr. and Council." Among the 150 privileged guests were Vice President John Adams, but Governor John Hancock was not present, due to illness. After dinner, 11 toasts were raised, including ones to Washington; the Fourth of July 1776; the patriots and heroes who suffered and bled in the cause of America; the completion and cement of the Union; the happiness of all mankind; and agriculture, the fishery, and manufactures. Visitors to Faneuil Hall today will see a copy of the portrait of George Washington at Dorchester Heights done by Gilbert Stuart.

Monday, October 26, 2009

George Washington Really Did Sleep Here, Day 6

The weather was lousy in Boston on October 26, 1789, and President George Washington didn't feel much better. Now six days into his trip to Massachusetts on his journey across New England, Washington had taken ill. He wrote in his diary that he was "disordered by a Cold and inflamation in the left eye."

The president wasn't the only person in Boston who wasn't feeling well. Numerous citizens were suffering from colds and influenza. When Washington had arrived in Boston two days prior, the weather was raw, and Washington and the thousands who thronged to the festivities spent hours exposed to the less-than-ideal conditions. So many spectators took ill that the sickness that struck Boston was referred to as the "Washington influenza." It's thought the illnesses were part of an epidemic that was sweeping the Eastern states and would have affected Boston whether Washington had come or not.

Due to his condition, Washington was forced to cancel his scheduled plan to visit Lexington, which the president referred to in his diary as the place "where the first blood in the dispute with G. Britn. was drawn." (Interesting in this day in age to read Washington referring to the Revolution as a "dispute." Surely, the war rose to at least the level of a "hubbub" or "brouhaha.")

While Washington stayed nearby his lodgings at the Widow Ingersoll's, he was visited by numerous well-wishers, and he did have tea with Governor Hancock.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

George Washington Really Did Sleep Here, Day 5

As was today, October 25 in 1789 fell on a Sunday. Even though we tend to think of our Founding Fathers in secular terms, they still were religious men. And much like today, even if they weren't personally devout, it was politically expedient to embrace the religious nature of the populace.

The Massachusetts Centinel on October 24, 1789, reflected the sentiment that public officials should respect the Sabbath: "How pleasing the idea that the most venerable and respectable characters of our Federal Legislature pay such strict attention to the Sabbath--that time which is by many gentlemen too often appropriated to serve their temporal interests in journeying, is spent by our national rulers, in such a manner, as, while it reflects the highest honour on our holy religion, must be considered as a gentle rebuke to those whose conduct on such days, as occasion offers, is truly reprehensible." (Of course, much like in today's society there was another side to those celebrating piety. The Centinel's lead story in that issue: "An Oration in Praise of Rum.")

So, on George Washington's trip through New England it was his practice not to travel on Sundays and spend much of the day in church services. On this glistening fall morning, the president attended services at the Trinity Episcopal Church, then located on Summer Street. In the afternoon, he attended services at the Brattle Street Congregational Church. Washington also dined at his lodgings with Vice President John Adams.

On Sunday, the president finally met with Governor John Hancock, who had not been present at the city-wide celebration the day before. Washington wrote in his diary: "I received a visit from the Govr., who assured me that Indisposition alone had prevented his doing it yesterday, and that he was still indisposed; but as it had been suggested that he expected to receive the visit from the President, which he knew was improper, he was resolved at all hazds. to pay his Compliments to day. The Lt. Govr. & two of the Council to wit Heath & Russel were sent here last Night to express the Govrs. Concern that he had not been in a condition to call upon me so soon as I came to Town. I informed them in explicit terms that I should not see the Govt. unless it was at my own lodgings."

There is some speculation as to whether Hancock's illness was real or just an excuse to cover his faux pas of waiting for the president to come to him to pay his respects. Winfield M. Thompson wrote in "When Washington Toured New England" (in the Magazine of History) that the governor pleaded that he was ill with gout. "He presented himself at Washington's lodgings, his legs sheathed in red flannel, and carried from his carriage by two stalwart servants." Perhaps it was some elaborate charade to cover his bases, but Hancock would miss a banquet in Washington's honor a few nights later, and again it was chalked up to illness.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

George Washington Really Did Sleep Here, Day 4

When George Washington awoke on the morning of Saturday, October 24, 1789, he knew the tenth day of his trip through New England would be unlike the first nine. His itinerary called for him to return to Cambridge, where he first took command of the Continental Army on July 3, 1775, and, despite his protestations, the town of Boston was planning a warm welcome for Washington’s return to the town he helped to liberate in 1776.

With a full day of festivities in front of him, the president was dressed to the nines in his blue uniform crested with epaulets and his sword at his side. Before leaving Flagg’s tavern in Weston, he was formally welcomed by the inhabitants of the town and officers who had served under him in the Continental army. By 8 a.m., Washington was on his way, and the Watertown Calvary Company escorted the president to Cambridge.

The presidential party passed through Waltham (an historical marker commemorating the George Washington Memorial Highway stands at the intersection of US 20 and Route 117) and Watertown, arriving at Cambridge by 10 a.m. It was a town very familiar to Washington. On Cambridge Common, he first took command of his troops, and he made in his headquarters in what is now the Longfellow National Historic Site, which is open to the public.

While Washington arrived in Cambridge at his duly appointed time, unfortunately the militia he was due to review didn’t materialize until after 11 a.m.—undoubtedly stuck in Boston’s notorious traffic. (The true reason was the long distance they needed to traverse.)

After reviewing the troops and meeting up with Lieutenant Governor Samuel Adams, Washington set off for Boston about an hour behind schedule. His approach into Boston would take him through Roxbury to the lone thoroughfare connecting the town’s peninsula to the mainland. The section of that road from Roxbury to the fortification guarding the city was rechristened Washington Street in 1788. However, the portions of the road in town that Washington rode down atop his prized steed, having quit his coach in Cambridge, still retained their original monikers and would not be renamed in his honor until the 1800s. (This map from 1796 shows how the peninsula was configured in Washington's time with the one road on the isthmus. It also shows that only the stretch on the outskirts of the city was named Washington Street.)

The weather was cold and raw when Washington made his grand entrance into Boston around 1 p.m. The crowds lined the windows and rooftops, and the skies reverberated with the sounds of church bells and artillery fire from Roxbury, Castle William (on Castle Island), and the heights of Dorchester, from which Washington’s troops ensured the British evacuation in March 1776.

The president recounted in his diary the splendor of his procession into Boston: “We passed through the Citizens classed in their different professions, and under their own banners, till we came to the State House; from which, across the Street, an Arch was thrown; in the front of

which was this Inscription--"To the Man who unites all hearts" and on the other--"To Columbia's favourite Son" and on one side thereof next the State House, in a pannel decorated with a trophy, composed of the arms of the United States--of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts--and our French Allies, crowned with a wreath of Laurel was this Inscription--"Boston relieved March 17th. 1776." This arch was handsomely ornamented, and over the Center of it a Canopy was erected 20 feet high with the American Eagle perched on the top.”

A rendering of the arch, designed by Charles Bulfinch, is at the left.

Washington was then taken into the State House, now open to the public as the Old State House Museum. He was led out to the balcony where he was given three cheers by the vast crowd and serenaded with an ode composed in his honor. That was followed by a parade of the citizens of Boston organized by their different professions. Following the festivities, the president was taken to his lodgings owned by the Widow Ingersoll—a house at the corner of Tremont and Court Streets.

It seemed as if the whole town had turned out to greet Washington—with one notable exception. Governor John Hancock was not to be found among the dignitaries welcoming the president to the state capital, and he did not call upon him at his lodging. Apparently Hancock hadn’t brushed up on his Emily Post because, according to some accounts, he believed protocol dictated the president should pay the first call.

Hancock’s snub effectively sunk the dinner plans that the president and governor had for the evening. Washington chose to dine at his lodgings instead and wrote in his diary: “Having engaged yesterday to take an informal dinner with the Govr. To-day, but under a full persuasion that he would have waited upon me so soon as I should have arrived—I excused myself upon his not doing it, and informing me thro’ his Secretary that he was too much indisposed to do it, being resolved to receive the visit.”

TOMORROW: Hancock's mea culpa and sabbath in Boston.

Friday, October 23, 2009

George Washington Really Did Sleep Here, Day 3

Not long after waking up in Spencer on October 23, 1789, President George Washington was again on the road, pressing ahead to Boston on his month-long tour of New England. The ride from Spencer to Worcester was hardly a smooth one. The springs in Washington's dentures (not wooden by the way) probably got a teeth-chattering workout as the president's coach traveled up and down the Worcester hills along a stretch of the Post Road that he described in his diary as "very stoney."

After traveling through Leicester, Washington was greeted at the Worcester town line by an escort party of about 40 men on horseback. The party marched down Main Street into the village around 10 a.m. where the president was greeted by a 13-gun salute delivered by a uniformed militia artillery. Washington then had breakfast at the United States Arms, which was located near where the Crowne Plaza hotel stands today.

While in Worcester, Washington met with a committee from Boston that wanted to make arrangements and set the time for his parade into the town. Washington had tried to dissuade the town leaders from having any big to-do, but the power of persuasion was limited, even for the founder of the country. Washington wrote in his diary: "Finding this ceremony was not to be avoided though I had made every effort to do it, I named the hour of ten to pass the Militia of the above County at Cambridge and the hour of 12 for my entrance into Boston desiring Major Hall, however, to inform Genl. Brookes that as I conceived there was an impropriety in my reviewing the Militia, or seeing them perform Manoeuvres otherwise than as a private Man I could do no more than pass along the line; which, if he thought proper might be under arms to receive me at that time."

After breakfast, the party set off again over the north side of Lake Quinsigamond. Washington wrote that the road was "uneven but not bad." At the Middlesex county line, he was met by another escort party that took him on to Marlborough, where they dined at the tavern owned by Captain George Williams. Even in 1789, the tavern was quite historic. It dated back to 1662 and was burned in King Philip's War. Washington was familiar with the Williams Tavern, having visiting it on his 1775 trip to Boston.

The tavern remained in business, in one form or another, for centuries until it was torn down in 1947. The only dining going on at the site now is at a D'Angelo sub shop (a steak and cheese sub would probably have wrecked havoc with George Washington's dentures), but there is a marker on US 20 near Williams Street. The Marlborough Historical Society web site has more on the rich history of the Williams Tavern. The Marlborough Enterprise has some photos of the historical marker and the strip mall now occupying the site.

After dinner, the party hit the road again for its final 14 miles of the day. Washington was quite happy with the quality of this part of the Post Road, proclaiming it "leveller with more Sand." The president was also impressed with the quality of the land, writing in his diary: "The Country about Worcester, and onwards towards Boston is better improved & the lands of better quality than we travelled through yesterday. The Crops it is said have been good--Indian Corn, Rye Buck Wheat & grass--with Beef Cattle & Porke are the produce of their Farms."

Washington traveled through Sudbury and Wayland, and a marker near the Wayside Inn in Sudbury proclaims that both Washington and Lafayette had passed by that site when it was Howe's Tavern. After a 42-mile journey, the longest leg on Washington's New England swing, the presidential party finally arrived at John Flagg's Tavern in Weston, which no longer stands but was located near the intersection of today's Boston Post Road and Bypass Road.

Meanwhile, the back and forth communication between George Washington and John Hancock continued on October 23. Hancock wrote to Washington that "I had the honor to receive, at three o' clock, this morning" the president's declination of his invitation to stay at his estate while in Boston. One doubts, though, that Hancock was particularly enthused to be roused from sleep to be given that news. Governor Hancock sent another letter to Washington requesting his company for dinner the following night. Washington received that letter in Weston and sent back his reply, which could be found at this web site, accepting the dinner invitation and informing the governor of his plans for the following day.

TOMORROW: Washington's grand entry into Boston

Thursday, October 22, 2009

George Washington Really Did Sleep Here, Day 2

Just after the sun broke the horizon on October 22, 1789, George Washington hit the road to continue his New England tour. The president preferred to get an early start and make some progress on the road before having a hearty breakfast. Washington may have had a customary few bites of bread and cheese or some beer--hardly a Denny's Grand Slam breakfast--but probably not much more before leaving Parson's tavern in Springfield at 7 a.m.

Washington's journey out of Springfield took him by the arsenal before heading onto the Boston Post Road, in many towns roughly the route of the present-day US 20. The road was not unfamiliar to Washington. He had passed by many of the same towns and taverns in 1775 on his way to take command of the Continental Army. Surely as he passed over the hills and vales along the Boston Post Road, Washington must have thought back to his trip 14 years ago, a time when the fire of freedom was merely a flicker, a time when the future course of the colonies and his own personal fate was a great unknown. Now, here he was as the first leader of a new nation.

Washington planned to visit all of the New England states on his trip. In October 1789, that meant a grand total of three, not six, states. Vermont did not achieve statehood until 1791, and Maine did not become a state until 1820. Washington chose to snub Rhode Island, which had yet to ratify the federal Constitution and was the only state to refuse to send delegates to the Constitutional Convention.

The traveling party stopped at Scott's tavern in Palmer for breakfast. The tavern was located near the present-day intersection of US 20, Route 181, and Shearer Street. An historical marker along US 20 commemorates Washington's trip through Palmer in 1789 and on June 30, 1775.

The presidential convoy then traveled through Warren and the Brookfields along a route near today's Routes 67 and 9. In West Brookfield, the traveling party was met by a messenger from Governor John Hancock with an offer to lodge at Hancock's private Beacon Hill mansion (located on the land occupied by the State House today) when the president arrived in Boston. "I could wish that the accommodations were better suited to a gentleman of your respectability; but you may be assured that nothing on my part shall be wanting to render them as agreeable as possible," Hancock wrote to Washington. The letter also sought to begin the formal arrangements for Washington's arrival in the city. Click here to read Hancock's letter.

The president declined Hancock's offer to stay at his private estate as he decided before the trip to stay at public taverns and inns and not in private homes, so as not to offend. Washington wrote to Hancock, "From a wish to avoid giving trouble to private families, I determined, on leaving New York, to decline the honor of any invitation to quarters which I might receive while on my journey and with a view to observe this rule, I had requested a Gentleman to engage lodgings for me during my stay at Boston." (Click here to find Washington's response.) The back and forth between Washington and Hancock as to the arrangements for his stay and protocol will bear watching in the next few days.

While in West Brookfield, Washington reportedly visited the Ye Olde Tavern, which dates back to 1760 and still stands today on East Main Street. According to the tavern's web site, John Adams, Lafayette, and Daniel Shays were also notable visitors.

Washington then traveled through Brookfield, and today there is a small marker across the street from the Brookfield Inn on West Main Street designating the road as the George Washington Memorial Highway. According to the Brookfield Inn's web site, George Washington, well, almost slept there: "As the story goes, Washington and his entourage stopped at Brookfield Inn, then owned by a Mrs. Bannister, and wanted to stay the night. Unfortunately, Mrs Bannister was suffering from a migraine headache and turned them away not knowing it was George Washington who wanted to stay the night. Washington moved on to Spencer, MA, where the innkeeper there was only too happy to oblige! Poor Mrs. Bannister was devastated when she learned of her faux pas, exclaiming that had she known it was Washington, her headache would have gone by the way."

If the story is true, the beneficiary of Mrs. Bannister's hard luck was Issac Jenks of Spencer. The tavern keeper ended up hosting the president and his party for the night, and he likely would have been pleased at Washington's Good Housekeeping seal of approval as the president wrote in his diary that Jenks "keeps a pretty good Tavern." Alas, Jenks's tavern no longer stands, but there is a marker at the tavern's former site at the corner of Main and Pleasant streets noting Washington had passed through Spencer to take command of the Continental Army and spent the night in the town on October 22, 1789.

For more, read Washington's diary entry for October 22, 1789.

TOMORROW: Washington travels from Spencer to Weston

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

George Washington Really Did Sleep Here, Day 1

Two hundred and twenty years ago today, a coach drawn by four bay horses crossed over the Connecticut border into Massachusetts. The event would hardly be noteworthy, except this carriage was hauling some very precious cargo--George Washington.

Less than six months after being inaugurated as the first president of the United States, Washington undertook a 600-mile, month-long journey through New England, in his own words, "to acquire knowledge of the face of the country, the growth and agriculture thereof--and the disposition of the inhabitants toward the new Government."

Washington's trip through what he referred to as the "Eastern States" would also provide an opportunity for the chief executive to thank New England towns that sacrificed much blood and treasure for independence and were still emerging from the scorched aftermath of the Revolution. (While traveling through Connecticut, Washington noted in his diary: "The Destructive evidences of British cruelty are yet visible both in Norwalk and Fairfield; as there are the chimneys of many burnt houses standing in them yet.")

The presidential traveling party set out from the nation's capital--New York City--on October 15, 1789, and hugged the coast of Long Island Sound (spending nights in Rye, New York; Fairfield, Connecticut; New Haven, Connecticut) before heading north through the Connecticut River valley (spending nights in Hartford, Connecticut).

George Washington's "Air Force One" was a horse-drawn carriage. There was no massive entourage, no Secret Service. His simple retinue included his personal secretaries Major William Jackson and Colonel Tobias Lear atop their horses along with six servants, including slaves, trailing behind with the baggage wagon, driven by two horses, and Washington's great white steed.

Many of the details of the presidential visit are recorded in Washington's personal diary. The presidential notes also serve as a colonial TripAdvisor, including Washington's reviews of the colonial inns where he lodged; the quality (or lack thereof) of the rocky, rutted New England roads; even the inability of some New Englanders to give proper directions (perhaps excusable given the lack of Dunkin' Donuts to use as local landmarks).

On the rainy morning of October 21, 1789, Washington set out from Hartford and traveled up the west side of the Connecticut River before taking a ferry across the river to Springfield, arriving around 4 o'clock. The president reported that "The whole Road from Hartford to Springfield is level & good, except being too Sandy in places & the Fields enclosed with Posts & Rails generally their not being much Stone."

Washington stayed in the center of Springfield at the tavern of Zenas Parsons in Court Square. While dinner was being prepared, the president took a walk up the hill overlooking the town to inspect the Continental stores at the site of the present Springfield Armory. Washington's diary reported "examined the Continental Stores at this place, which I found in very good order at the buildings (on the hill above the Town) which belong to the United States. The Barracks (also public property) are going fast to destruction and in a little time will be no more without repairs. The Elaboratory, wch. seems to be a good building is in tolerable good repair and the Powder Magazine which is of Brick seems to be in excellent order and the Powder in it very dry."

Unstated, but no doubt on the mind of the president was the thought of the bloody scene that had unfolded on that plot of land two years prior when rebels in Shays Rebellion attempted to seize the barracks, cannon, muskets, and ammunition stored at arsenal, which played a critical supply role during the Revolution. Washington would later select the site to be the location of one of two federal armories (the other being in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia). Washington returned to Parson's tavern, which he proclaimed to be a "good house," for dinner with some locals before turning into bed. Parson's tavern no longer stands.

I will be writing daily blog posts covering the progress of George Washington's 1789 tour of Massachusetts and New Hampshire. In addition to writing about his historic 17-day visit, including passages from Washington's diary, I plan to highlight any still-standing buildings where he visited (and, yes, slept), any historical markers commemorating the trip, and any artifacts from the tour in the possession of local historical societies. Hope to have you along for the journey!

TOMORROW: Washington journeys from Springfield to Spencer as he heads towards Boston.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

When an Out-of-Control Balloon Drifted over Boston

It was hard not to be captivated by today's pictures of a runaway balloon over the Colorado plains that was thought to be carrying a 6-year-old boy. The boy wasn't found inside when the balloon finally touched down. Let's hope this story has a happier ending than the balloon accident that happened over the skies of Boston on July 4, 1892.

A festive crowd had gathered on Boston Common to celebrate the Fourth of July. As part of the festivities, a gas balloon named the Governor Russell was launched from Boston Common. The balloon was piloted by Augustus Rogers and his assistant Thomas Fenton. Delos Goldsmith, a reporter with the Boston City Press Association, was also on board. As the balloon lifted off from the Common, the thousands gathered raised a cheer and the balloon passengers waved their hats above their heads in a hearty huzzah.

Everyone was in good spirits, but that didn't last long. The pilot intended the balloon to sail westward, but the winds unexpectedly brought the balloon east out over Boston Harbor, with the vast, empty Atlantic--and certain death--staring them in the face. Professor Rogers tried the escape valve to land the balloon on Thompson Island, one of his last landing spots before the desolation of the Atlantic, but it didn't work properly and the balloon plummeted into the harbor. Goldsmith was rescued, but Rogers and Fenton drowned in the harbor before they could be rescued from the netting and the balloon.

Terrible story. One that hopefully isn't repeated. Click here to read The Boston Globe from July 5, 1892, which has illustrations of the balloon accident and a full account.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Fan’s Guide to the 2009 Head of the Charles Regatta

This weekend brings with it one of the highlights of the Boston sporting calendar: the Head of the Charles Regatta. The 45th edition of the race is this Saturday and Sunday (October 17-18), and a trip to this autumnal tradition is definitely one of the top 10 things that all Boston fans must do before the fat lady sings. If you’re interesting in watching the armada of 8,000 rowers navigate the snaking course, headwinds, and bridges, here are a few spectator tips to the 2009 Head of the Charles:

If you can take the T, do so. You can walk to the river from the Central and Harvard stops on the Red Line and the BU Central stop on the Green Line's B Branch.

Parking is much easier on Sunday. If you're driving to the regatta, free parking is much easier to find on Sunday since you'll be allowed to park for free on the side streets in Cambridge without a permit. Be aware that the parking lots along Soldiers Field Road are closed to the public and that Harvard football is playing on Saturday so parking on the first day of the regatta will be at even more of a premium.

Take a shuttle. If you want to watch the action along the winding three-mile course from the starting line to the finish line, and don't want to walk, there is a free shuttle bus with stops at the Singles and Doubles Launch Site, Lars Andersen Bridge (Boston-side), Cambridge Boat Club, and the Finish Area Launch Site.

Bring a draw and schedule with you. There are more than 50 different race events, some with as many as 60 or more competitors, so it's tough to keep track of who's who. Each boat has a number on its bow, so if you have the draw with you, you'll be able to identify competitors and teams. You can purchase a program at one of the vendor areas along the river, but a cheaper option is to get a copy of the Friday Boston Globe. It has the complete schedule and list of competitors, which you can easily tear out, fold up, and take with you.

Watch the clock. Rowers start at 15-second intervals near the BU Boathouse, so they compete against the clock and not each other. You won't be able to follow a race from start to finish or even get a good sense of who is winning at any given point in time. One clue of how the boats are doing is, if you're watching down the course, if you see a bow with a higher number in front of one with a lower number. That means they are racing at least 15 seconds faster through that point on the course. You'll need to catch a glimpse of one of the race results board to see who has won a particular race.

Stake out a bridge. There are seven bridges that span the Charles River along the race course. They are great places from which to catch the action. If you get there early enough, you should be able to stake out a spot from on top of the bridge and see the competitors as they row underneath. I actually like seeing the action from the banks right next to the bridge. Much like Boston rush hour, traffic on the river can be treacherous, and fender benders and close-quarter collisions worthy of NASCAR are common as boats try to pass each other and squeeze through the narrow arches of the bridges. If you're on the banks, you can have a good view of the commotion. The Eliot Bridge is my favorite spot from which to watch. You'll see the competitors having to negotiate the hairpin turn and straighten out to get through the bridge. Plus, you can listen to the commentary being broadcast from the deck of the Cambridge Boat Club, which is the race headquarters.

Need some food? There are concession stands located at the Cambridge Boat Club, the Rowing and Fitness Expo (which also sells workout and rowing gear) near the finish line, the north bank of the Charles right outside of Harvard Square near the Weld Boathouse, and at Magazine Beach near the launch. Think fair food: lots of kettle corn, hot chocolate, chowder, hot cider, burgers, hot dogs, fried dough. There's also food and drink at the Reunion Village (see below). Sometimes the exhibitors near the Weld Boathouse will be giving out free samples of food and drink products; you might be able to get all the Kashi and Monster Energy drinks you'll ever want to have.

Reunited and it feels so good. Many colleges and prep schools, mostly ones with teams racing in the regatta, have alumni reunion events at the Regatta. Most of these schools have tents set up inside the Reunion Village, which is on the south bank of the Charles near Harvard Square, between the Weeks and Anderson bridges. Even if you're not an alumni member, the Reunion Village is open to everyone for a $3 admission. Breakfast and lunch are served in the dining tent, and the Reunion Village is the only place along the route where you can legally get a beer or other alcohol.

Bring a blanket or chair. There are plenty of spots along the banks of the Charles to watch the action, but bring a blanket or lawn chair and you'll be a lot more comfortable.

You’ll find many more tips—along with a map of the course—in The Die-Hard Sports Fan’s Guide to Boston. The 270-page spectator handbook is packed with history and the only comprehensive guide to the incredible range of spectator sporting events in metropolitan Boston. Click here for more information or to purchase a copy.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Explore galaxies far, far away

While Columbus Day weekend is usually a time for apple picking, leaf peeping, and country fairs, the three-day weekend also commemorates one of the world’s most famous explorers. More than five hundred years after Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue, the world of exploration has shifted to the great unknowns of outer space.

It’s appropriate that Columbus Day weekend kicks off the “New Views of the Universe” exhibition at the Ocean Explorium in New Bedford. The traveling exhibition put together by NASA highlights the deep-space discoveries of the Hubble Telescope, which orbits 350 miles above the earth and has located fledgling galaxies as far as 12 billion light years away. Visitors will be able to see some of the Hubble’s dazzling images of planets, galaxies, black holes, and other cosmic bodies along with a scale model of the telescope. Interactive activities, including computer games and videos, showcase how the telescope works. The exhibit will also preview the next generation of exploration with the James Webb telescope, due to launch in 2014.

The exhibit opens on October 10 and will be at the Ocean Explorium through January. The science education center—a blend of aquarium and museum—will also feature talks by some of NASA’s premier scientists and engineers on Tuesday nights in October. The Ocean Explorium is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thursdays through Sundays and on holidays. Visit for more information.