Maria Mitchell House and Observatory // 1790 & 1908

Although Hezekiah Swain built this house in 1790, the property is better known as the home of Maria Mitchell and is to this day, preserved to interpret her amazing legacy. Maria Mitchell’s father William bought the house in 1818, and Maria was born there later that year. Maria grew up on Nantucket and she became the first female astronomer in America. After she discovered a comet in 1847 (which was named Miss Mitchell’s Comet), her international recognition led to many awards and that acclaim enabled her to continue her work. She accepted a position as professor of astronomy at Vassar College by its founder, Matthew Vassar, in 1865 and became the first female professor of astronomy She established the Association for the Advancement of Women and became the first female member of the American Academy of the Arts and Sciences. She was also very involved in the anti-slavery movement in New England. After Maria Mitchell died in 1889, the Maria Mitchell Association, was established in Nantucket to preserve the sciences on the island and Mitchell’s work. On July 15, 1908, the Observatory on Vestal Street near the Science Library and Mitchell House was dedicated. The Observatory, built by the Nantucket Maria Mitchell Association, stimulated local interest in science. The success of the Observatory’s programs prompted the construction of an astronomical study in 1922, joining the existing facility with the Maria Mitchell Birthplace. The museum operates in Summers to this day, and continues Maria’s rich legacy in the sciences.

Old Gaol – Old Nantucket Jail // 1805

Nantucket built its first jail in 1696 on Vestal Street, which was at the time, far from a lot of the houses and businesses on the island. In 1805, taxpayers decided to spend $2,090 (roughly the cost of building a whaleship at the time) to build a new, sturdier jail nearby the original structure. Opened in 1805 and dubbed the “New Gaol,” the wooden structure represents colonial-era architecture with exceptional reinforcements, as to keep the prisoners inside those small four walls. The Gaol was constructed using massive oak timbers with iron bolts running the length of the walls, iron rods across the windows and heavy wooden doors reinforced with iron. The small structure saw a new neighbor when in 1855, the House of Corrections was moved from the Quaise Asylum and situated next to the Old Gaol. The House of Corrections was used for debtors, habitual drunkards, mentally ill, and juvenile prisoners—also used as a workhouse where debtors could ply their trades to pay their bills. It was no longer needed by 1933 and dismantled in 1954. Like with the old House of Corrections, the old jail saw its last prisoner in 1933, and sat underutilized (but surviving) until it was acquired by the Nantucket Historical Association in the 1940s and restored in 2013.

Greater Light // c.1790

Located on the island of Nantucket, this barn, now known as Greater Light was built circa 1790. Although the exact date of construction is unknown, historic research indicates it was built sometime during the ownership of two early Macy family members who held the property between 1748 and 1814. The barn remained in the Macy family until 1866, when Zephaniah Macy (then in his eighties) sold the property with the barn to their neighbor David Folger. Folger most likely used the barn for his herd of milking cows. In the summer of 1929, Hanna and Gertrude Monaghan, two Quaker sisters, discovered the barn and saw it as a perfect structure to become their home and art studio when vacationing on the island. The sisters began working on the dilapidated building and set about transforming it into their own summer oasis, adorning it with cast-off architectural elements, decorative objects, and eclectic furniture. Hanna Monaghan, the surviving sister, bequeathed Greater Light and its contents to the Nantucket Historical Association in 1972. The building is open in the summers for visitors who can catch a glimpse at the spirit of Nantucket as an artist’s colony in the 1920s and beyond.

Otis Company Mill #1 // 1845

This five-story granite mill building was one of the major catalysts for the 19th century population surge in Ware, Massachusetts. As New England’s fledgling textile industry of the era played a vanguard role in transforming the U.S. into an industrial nation, the significance of this type of mill can hardly be understated. The Otis Mill #1 in Ware is one of the last remaining granite textile mills of this early period in central/western Massachusetts. The mill was built in 1845 for the Otis Company, which initially manufactured woven cotton fabric, but later branched out into stockings, woolen shirts and drawers underwear. The company was Ware’s largest employer for about 100 years! The company prospered thru WWI employing over 2,500 people. During the 1920’s the business began a decline due to the southern state’s mills and lack of modernization. In the mid 30’s the Otis Co sold its property to the citizens of Ware, which they formed Ware Industries, Inc to continue the major employer in the town. Due to this Ware came to be known nation-wide as “The Town That Can’t Be Licked.” The mill is now home to local small businesses as a sort of incubator, providing jobs to local residents!

Dorset Playhouse // 1929

During the spring of 1927, Mr. and Mrs. Edward Goodman, devotees of the performing arts, were able to interest a number of Dorset residents in producing a play. In April 1927, a three-act play entitled ’39 East’ was presented in the Dorset Town Hall for the benefit of the PTA and was received with great enthusiasm. From this, a movement took off. Many summer residents and artists in town formed a group, the Dorset Players, who would continue performances for the town. They realized that the space in Town Hall was not suitable nor permanent enough for the goals of the group. May Goodman purchased land at the edge of the village and the group held two years of performances in nearby towns to gather funding to erect a playhouse. Ernest West, a member, offered two barns on his property in town and it, plus one more barn, were incorporated into the new playhouse. The auditorium was built so that the weathered sides of the barn boards were on the inside and hand hewn timbers 12 by 12 inches were used to achieve a rustic effect which draws many favorable comments from those visiting the Playhouse. It remains a cultural center of the town and greater region to this day.

Old Peru Schoolhouse // 1864

In 1816, the turnpike to Manchester, Vermont was completed and ran through the small town of Peru. As a result, inns and taverns were built, and the young village of Peru began to grow, with farming and lumber businesses being the most common employment in town. A village school was built here and in the town’s other school districts. By the end of the 19th century, the lure of moving to the Western U.S. and cities for industrial work caused some population decline in Peru, and a larger, consolidated school was built in the town village. This schoolhouse on the hill was constructed in 1864, replacing the former one-room schoolhouse on the lot. The school consolidated again in the mid-20th century when further population decline necessitated a school district encompassing Peru and nearby towns. This building was later converted to town offices, a use that remains to this day.

The good news is that the town’s population is seeing a resurgence, led by both tourism and the Bromley Mountain Ski Resort as an anchor.

Landgrove Old Schoolhouse – Town Offices // c.1900

Before driving down the winding dirt roads of Landgrove, Vermont, I had never even heard of the town, let alone what I would find. It is always a treat to explore a rural Vermont town, not knowing what lies beyond each hill and bend in the road. Landgrove was chartered in 1780 and is one of the least-populated towns in New England at just 177. The town’s founding occured in the spring of 1767, when Captain William Utley (1724-1790) and his 16-year-old son Asa, traveled from Connecticut to what is now Springfield VT, across a newly created road to the frontier town of Chester. Upon arriving, they spent the rest of the year cutting a road from Chester to the West River. He thought that he arrived in the Town of Bromley, one of the New Hampshire Land Grants. After building his cabin, settling here with his family, he realized he was in unincorporated land between other grants. He petitioned for a new town and it was accepted after the Revolution. The town grew slowly with farms sprouting up along the countryside, never expanding beyond 355 people. This old schoolhouse was constructed, likely around the turn of the 20th century at the geographic center of town after the town consolidated their school districts. When the town’s population shrunk further, Landgrove’s school district merged with nearby Londonderry and Weston. This former school was converted to town offices.

Church of the Holy Transfiguration // 1891

Highlighted by the establishment of the Catskill Mountain House in the 1820s, and furthered by the construction of subsequent resorts and boarding houses, the Catskill Mountains enjoyed a lively seasonal tourist industry that continued largely unabated throughout most of the nineteenth century. Mead’s Mountain House was representative of the smaller, less ostentatious boarding houses that sprang up in the region to serve a more middle-class clientele of tourists. This church, the Church of the Holy Transfiguration was originally constructed in 1891 in association with Mead’s Mountain House as a modest place of worship for guests of the Mead family’s boarding house and those of the nearby Overlook Mountain House. The chapel was constructed in 1891 and modestly built, constructed with a wood balloon frame above a fieldstone foundation with detailing reminiscent of the rustic aesthetic, popular in the Adirondacks to the north. In the 1960s, Father Francis, the much-beloved “hippie priest”, here welcomed hippies who had congregated in town during those years that culminated in the famous art and music festival. Fr. Francis began the practice of this lesser known branch of Catholicism, which acknowledges the Pope as an earthly spiritual leader but, unlike classical Roman Catholicism, does not consider the Pope to be supreme or infallible. The small chapel remains as a quirky and important piece of local history.

Overlook Mountain House Ruins // 1923-

One of the most intriguing and historical hikes around is at Overlook Mountain in Woodstock, there is just something so mesmerising and enchanting about abandoned places. Overlook Mountain has long been a significant location in New York. In the boom years of New York City after the Civil War, more than 90 quarries in the Town of Woodstock (many around Mount Overlook) produced bluestone for sidewalks in Manhattan. By the end of the 19th century, the mountain and surrounding area became a tourist location for New Yorkers escaping the woes of city living, looking to breathe in the fresh mountain air up the Hudson. The current ruins Overlook Mountain House was actually the third hotel on the site. The first Overlook Mountain House was built in 1871 and accommodated 300 guests, before it was destroyed by fire in 1875. It was rebuilt in 1878 by the Kiersted Brothers of Saugerties. Overlook was used irregularly between 1887 and 1917, when Morris Newgold of Manhattan purchased the hotel. In 1921, it was the site of a secret organizational meeting of what was to become the Communist Labor Party of America. The second incarnation of the Overlook Mountain House was destroyed by fire in 1923. And Morris Newgold sought to rebuild with fireproof construction.

His architect used concrete to rebuild the hotel, which likely would have been covered with stucco. They also broke ground for a chapel, stables, and a standalone lodge for private housing for his family. Newgold’s shaky finances paired with the Great Depression made for slow progress, and portions of the resort were still “under construction” as late as 1939 (and the main hotel never being finished from what I could find). Morris Newgold died in 1940 and the property was either sold by his son or acquired via eminent domain by the New York State Conservation Department and made part of the Catskill Forest Preserve. You can now explore the old ruins of the Overlook Mountain House between views of the Catskill Mountains.

1928 House

Trippy Tower House // 2002

One of the most unique buildings I have ever stumbled across is located in the mountain town of Woodstock, NY. Often referred to as the Trippy Tower House, the house was built over the course of 15 years by artist John Kahn, who designed sets for the Muppets and “Fraggle Rock”. The Tower House is crafted from repurposed materials such as slate, copper, aircraft grade aluminum and redwood with the property being considered his largest “sculpture” and his life’s work. The 3,518 square foot home has three bedrooms and four bathrooms across its five floors The cylindrical house was completed in 2002 and sold five years later when Kahn moved to Easter Island. Kahn sold the house to Rhoney Gissen Stanley, who was former secretary to the Grateful Dead and wife of Owsley Stanley, the Dead’s sound man and the alleged first mass producer of LSD. It was listed for sale again in 2017 for $1.2 Million.