Waterbury Dam // 1938

In November of 1927, a disastrous storm hit the State of Vermont. Severe flooding in the Winooski River Basin area resulted in the loss 55 lives and damages totaling over $22 Million. A Corps of Engineers study was initiated soon thereafter to investigate “the improvement of the Winooski River for the purposes of navigation in combination with the development of waterpower… and the control of floods.” The report presented a comprehensive plan for flood control and power development, consisting of: the construction of seven reservoirs; the installation of seven new hydropower plants, and the enlargement or improvement of 12 existing plants. Construction of the Waterbury Dam and Reservoir began in 1935 and was completed in 1938. The dam and reservoir were designed and built by the Corps of Engineers using contract services and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) labor, all thanks to the New Deal legislation enacted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The gatehouse at the top of the dam’s embankment is a rare example of Art Deco architecture in the state of Vermont and was completed in 1938 as the last piece of the project. The building and dam remain today as part of the Little River State Park and are a great example of Engineering History and a look into human intervention in the natural landscape.

Seaside Sanatorium – Nurse’s Residence // 1935

Next to the Maher Building at Seaside Sanatorium, the Nurse’s Residence building (1935) sits in the same sad state but retains a lot of its architectural character and charm. The Nurse’s Residence was built for… you guessed it, housing for the nurses who worked at the Seaside Sanatorium and treated the young children with Tuberculosis. Like the main building, this structure was designed by famed architect Cass Gilbert in the Tudor Revival style. In designing the buildings, Gilbert met the requirements of the sanatorium to have a self-contained hospital for the children and a large separate dormitory for the nursing staff, but adapted an essentially domestic architectural
style to de-institutionalize their appearance through the use of applied, decorative detail and an extraordinary wealth of materials. The Nurse’s Residence is constructed of brick and is capped with a polychrome slate roof which is lined by 15 dormers on each slope, alternating in size. The end gables, which are similar to those of the main building and in surprisingly decent condition given the circumstances, are covered with decorative tile and add a punch of architectural intrigue. Oh too see these buildings restored one day…

Fort Dearborn // 1943-1961

Odiorne Point in Rye New Hampshire was owned by the Odiorne Family from at least 1800, when the family built a farmhouse on the land. The peninsula juts out into the Atlantic Ocean, just south of Portsmouth, and it was seen as a strategic position by the United States Government, to protect the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. With the advent of World War II, the United States Government deemed it necessary to improve the fortifications commanding the approaches to the Portsmouth Navy Yard, so the Government acquired this property and named it Fort Dearborn. Giant 16” coast defense guns and other equipment were installed to protect the coast from the impending German advance into North America. The Government acquisition on Odiorne’s Point included Mr. Odiorne’s home and 24 other properties, with many fine old homes on the coast demolished to make way for military facilities, but the Odiorne house was converted to a barracks. When The Nazi forces were beat in Europe, the fort was deactivated and all the guns were removed. In the Cold War period, the U.S. Air Force took formal possession of 45.3 acres at Odiorne’s Point in 1955, which it had been using since 1949 as the Rye Air Force Station. By 1961, the defensive use of the site was not as important, and the site was sold to the State of New Hampshire as a State Park. Today, you can explore the park and the decaying concrete batteries up close, which is a favorite excursion of mine.

Ames Mansion-Borderland // 1910

One of the more stunning homes and parks in Massachusetts is located in Easton, known as the Borderland State Park. Borderland was the 1,200-acre estate of Blanche Ames Ames, an artist, political activist, inventor, writer, and prominent supporter of women’s suffrage and birth control. Blanche Ames’ husband, Oakes Ames (of the Ames Family of Easton), came from a wealthy Massachusetts family that owned the Ames Shovel Works. Marrying in 1900, Blanche and Oakes (who were not related even though they had the same last name) constructed their stone mansion in 1910 and created a system of ponds and dams on their property. Blanche and Oakes, who wanted a fireproof house, became displeased with the work of their architect because of the challenges he faced with their design and engineering requirements. Dismissing the architect, Blanche took over the design and construction management of the mansion and hired the Concrete Engineering Company to draw plans according to her specifications. Also on the grounds is a hunting lodge with fireplace, overlooking the large pond on the estate.

Once the mansion was completed, Blanche set up a studio on in the house and developed a scientific color system for mixing paints. She became the sole illustrator of her husband’s botanical books (Oakes was a renowned authority on orchids and taught botany at Harvard from 1900 until his retirement in 1941). Later in life, Blanche became the co-founder of the Birth Control League of Massachusetts and the Treasurer of the League of Women Voters from 1915 to 1918. She also gained notoriety for her political cartoons depicting the struggle for women’s suffrage. In addition to these many accomplishments, Blanche was an inventor who, in 1939, designed a hexagonal lumber cutter. During World War II she designed, tested and patented a method for ensnaring enemy airplanes in wires hung from balloons. Remaining active her entire life, Blanche received a patent for a water anti-pollution device in 1969, a year before her death.

The estate remained in the Ames family for 65 years, until 1971, when the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was gifted the Borderland Estate and all furnishings inside for use as a State Park.

Halibut Point Coastal Defense Tower // 1942

Located in the center of my favorite State Park of Massachusetts, Halibut Point State Park, this odd tower emerging out of a house caught my eye. Upon closer inspection and research, the building was constructed as Boston Harbor Defense Station #136, one of over 20 observation towers along the coast of Massachusetts.

In 1942, the United States Government took two acres of land on high ground of what is now Halibut Point, to construct an observation tower and barracks to defend the New England coast from foreign invasion shortly after entering the WWII arena. The concrete tower was constructed to scan the ocean and bay for enemy submarines. Twenty men were housed in the barracks dormitory on the second floor, office and kitchen were located on the first floor. The building sits overlooking the old Babson Farm Quarry and beyond it, the Atlantic Ocean. After the conclusion of the war, the building was converted to a fire tower. By 1982, the entire 56-acre parcel of land was purchased by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to be utilized as a the Halibut Point State Park.