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Thursday, November 26, 2015

Postcard Thursday: Greetings from Plymouth (UK)

A week ago we were in Plymouth, Massachusetts -- today we're across the pond in Plymouth, Devonshire, to help kick off the countdown to the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower.

We've posted a few pictures of our trip on Instagram ( and more will be forthcoming as we sort through them. Have a look!

We hope everyone is having a wonderful Thanksgiving.

-- James & Michelle

Friday, November 20, 2015

Postcard Thursday: Greetings from Plymouth!

Greetings from Massachusetts. As some of you may know, we are off on an adventure tracing the path of the Pilgrims and the reverse, from Plymouth (Mass.) to Plymouth (UK) to Leiden in Holland. This is primary research for what James hopes will be a new book about the intersections of history, memory, genealogy, and more.

We'll be posting updates on James's various social media accounts if you'd like to follow along:
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Thursday, November 12, 2015

Postcard Thursday: The Morris-Jumel Mansion and Aaron Burr

Today's card shows the so-called "Council Chamber" -- really the parlor -- of the Morris-Jumel Mansion in Washington Heights. The country house, built in 1765 by Roger Morris, served briefly as George Washington's headquarters during the Revolutionary War. Later, after the British re-took New York, it was used by British general Henry Clinton. The postcard was issued when the site was run by the Washington Headquarters Association, which placed great emphasis on the home's limited role in the Revolution.

The Morrises, staunch loyalists, had the house taken from them by the fledgling American government after the war. It served as a tavern before being purchased by Stephen and Eliza Jumel in 1806.

After Stephen's death, Eliza Jumel married the former vice president, Aaron Burr. Ironically, there are only two great country homes left in this part of Manhattan: Burr's and that of his rival, Alexander Hamilton, whose home "The Grange" is now run by the National Park Service.

Hamilton is, of course, the subject of a blockbuster Broadway musical.

This month in New Jersey Monthly magazine, James ponders what an Aaron Burr musical might look like. You can read the story at:

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Thursday, November 5, 2015

Postcard Thursday: Central Park's Lost Spur Rock Arch

This lovely view of the Bridle Path in Central Park, mailed in 1908, shows one of the few bridges and arches in the park that has been demolished. Called the Spur Rock Arch, it stood where today's Hecksher Playground was later built.

When Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted were planning the park's roadways, they incorporated an innovative series of bridges and arches to separate traffic. As we write in Footprints in New York:
Vaux and Olmsted came up with three categories of roadway that they simply called the “Walk” (for pedestrians), the “Ride” (for horseback riding), and the “Drive” (for carriages). All together, there are today about seventy miles of Walk, Ride, and Drive wending through the park. In the master plan, none of these paths ever touched. If the Drive crossed the Walk, a bridge was constructed to pass pedestrian traffic below the carriages. Similarly, the Ride was kept separate from the other paths so that horseback riders would never have to rear up suddenly when confronted with an obstacle.... 
On its face, Vaux and Olmsted’s traffic plan seems eminently practical, but there was more than simple engineering afoot. Since only the wealthiest New Yorkers could afford a carriage or the luxury of horseback riding, the Drive and the Ride were de facto upper-class thoroughfares. In most places, they were kept at a safe remove from the working-class Walk, though some- times the Drive was paralleled by walking paths, presumably so that poorer New Yorkers could see what they were missing—and so that the rich could set a good example.
Alas, the handsome Spur Rock Arch is no more. According to the book Bridges of Central Park,
Spur Rock Arch, sometimes called Oval Arch, was located on the longitude of Seventh Avenue and the latitude of 61st Street.... It was 25 feet long and rose 12-and-a-half feet above the bridle path.... 
The distinctive oval outline of its archway and the S-curve sides were repeated later with different dimensions for Gothic Bridge. The ornament of the spandrels was altogether different although both designs stemmed from the Gothic, with Spur Rock's spandrels filled and braced by large wheels with interior cusping, not unlike some church windows. The supporting members were wrought iron; the more finely drawn decorative members were cast iron.
Spur Rock was demolished because it got in the way of the expansion of the Heckscher Playground. Instead of being incorporated into the playground, Spur Rock, probably looking old-fashioned, rundown and unimportant in 1934, was destroyed.

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