Here to return to
NEW ENGLAND AS THE TRAVELLER SEES IT
TO really see and know New England
one must leave the railroads and take time for a long tramp or drive. Railroads
are only intended to link together the cities and larger towns, and they seek
the level and monotonous for their routes, and pursue always as straight and
prosaic a course as circumstances will admit. The view from the windows of
ragged banks of earth or rock, where a path has been cut through a hill, or of
the sandy embankments, where a hollow has been filled, and of pastures, swamps,
and stumpy, brushy acres, where the timber has lately been cut off, are often
dismal. At the same time the real country as seen from the winding, irregular
roadways that link the villages and scattered farms together may be quite
cheerful and pleasing.
TO really see and know New England one must leave the railroads and take time for a long tramp or drive. Railroads are only intended to link together the cities and larger towns, and they seek the level and monotonous for their routes, and pursue always as straight and prosaic a course as circumstances will admit. The view from the windows of ragged banks of earth or rock, where a path has been cut through a hill, or of the sandy embankments, where a hollow has been filled, and of pastures, swamps, and stumpy, brushy acres, where the timber has lately been cut off, are often dismal. At the same time the real country as seen from the winding, irregular roadways that link the villages and scattered farms together may be quite cheerful and pleasing.
With the purpose of seeing the real New England in its highways and byways, its hills and valleys, its nooks and corners, I started out one autumn day on a buckboard. I had a little bay horse, fat and good-natured, quite content to stop as often and long as I chose, and to busy herself nibbling the grass and bushes by the roadside, while I sketched or photographed. She had a decided disinclination for fast travelling, and wanted to walk as soon as a hill came in sight. But I wished to go slowly in the main, and we got along very agreeably, though at times I fear my remarks and hints to the creature between the shafts were not complimentary or pleasing to that animal. Houses where one could get a lunch at noon were not always handy, and I took the precaution to carry along some eatables for myself and a few feeds of oats for the horse.
THE VILLAGE CHURCH
It was nine o’clock when I left Old Hadley in Central Massachusetts and turned northward up the valley. A cold wind was blowing, and many gray cloud-masses were sailing overhead. The region about was one of the fairest in New England, — a wide, fertile valley basin stretching twenty miles in either direction. The Connecticut River loops through it with many graceful curves, and blue ranges of hills bound it on every side. At intervals of about ten miles on this level you come upon the few scores of houses, which cluster about the churches at the centre of the towns, and there are many little hamlets where are lesser groups of homes.
I was jogging across some meadows, when I came to a few houses flanked by numerous out-buildings and half hidden by the trees about them. Some children were by the roadside. They had rakes and a big basket, and were intent on gathering the maple leaves which carpeted the ground. They stopped to watch me as I approached.
“Take my picture,” cried a stout little girl, and then threw the basket over her head and struck an attitude.
“All right,” was my reply.
“Oh!” she said, “I want my cat in,” and raced off to the house to secure it.
She was no sooner back and in position than she found a new trouble.
She had on a little cap with a very narrow visor, and as the sun had now come out, its bright light made her eyes wink. Suddenly she spoke up and said the little cap made her cry, and wanted to get a hat, if I would let her. When she returned I made haste to snap the camera before any other ideas could occur to her. We were pretty well acquainted by the time I finished, and she wanted to know how much I charged for my picture, and said she guessed she would get one if I came that way again.
The town of Sunderland lay a little beyond. It is a typical valley town, with a long, wide street lined by elms and maples, thickset on either side by the white houses of its people. Everything looked thrifty and well kept. The wind blew gustily, and sometimes would start the leaves which had just begun to strew the ground beneath and send windrows of them scurrying along the road like live armies on a charge.
I was in the village in the late afternoon, when school let out. It was interesting to note the way the boys came down the street slamming about, shouting, and trip ping each other up. It seemed to me there was one sort of youngster who had need to reform. You find this variety in every village where half a dozen boys can get together. He talks in a loud voice when any witnesses or a stranger is about, is rude to his fellows, jostles them and orders them about, cracks crude jokes, either exceedingly pointless, or else of great age and worn threadbare, at which he himself has to do a good share of the laughing. He is, in short, showing off, and the show is a very poor one. He makes himself both disagreeable and ridiculous to most, and can only win admiration from a few weak-minded companions or overawed small boys. He is apt to grow into something of a bully among those weaker than himself, and to become, when older, a young man with a swagger.
It was October, the days were short, and I had early to seek a stopping-place for the night. It still lacked something of supper-time when I put my horse out at one of the farm-houses, and I took the opportunity for a walk on the village street. The damp gloom of evening had settled down. There were lights in the windows and movements at the barns, and a team or two was jogging homeward along the road. Westward, in plain sight across the river, was the heavy spur of a mountain, dark against the evening sky. A single little light was trembling on the summit of the crag. This came from a building known as “the prospect house.” The proprietor lives there the year around, and from Sunderland’s snug street, on cold winter nights, the light is still to be seen sending out shivering rays into the frosty darkness.
A HOME UNDER THE ELMS
I returned presently to the house and had supper. That finished, the small boy of the family brought a cup of boiled chestnuts, and while we munched them, explained how he had picked up eighty-one quarts of nuts so far that year. In his pocket the boy had other treasures. He pulled forth a handful of horse-chestnuts, and told me they grew on a little tree down by the burying-ground.
“The boys up at our school make men of ‘em,” he said. “They take one chestnut and cut a face on it like you do on a pumpkin for a jack-o’-lantern. That’s the head. Then they take a bigger one and cut two or three places in front for buttons, and make holes to stick in toothpicks for legs, and they stick in more for arms, and with a little short piece fasten the head on the body. Then they put ‘em up on the stove pipe where the teacher can’t get ‘em, and they stay there all day. Sometimes they make caps for ‘em.” He got out his jack-knife and spent the rest of the evening manufacturing these queer little men for my benefit.
A DOORSTEP GROUP
The next morning I turned eastward and went along the quiet, pleasant roads, now in the woods, now among pastures where the wayside had grown up to an everchanging hedge of bushes and trees. Much of the way was uphill, and I sometimes came out on open slopes which gave far-away glimpses over the valley I had left behind.
About noon I stopped to sketch one of the picturesque watering-troughs of the region. There was a house close by, and a motherly look ing old lady peeked out at me from the door to discover what I was up to. I asked if I might stay to dinner. She said I might if I would be content with their fare, and I drove around to the barn. An old gentleman and his hired man were pounding and prying at a big rock which protruded above the surface right before the wagon-shed. They had blasted it, and were now getting out the fragments. By the time I had my horse put out, dinner was ready, and we all went into the house. We had “a boiled dinner,” — potatoes, fat pork, cabbage, beets, and squash all cooked together. The dish was new to me, but I found it quite eatable.
I was again on the road, jogging comfortably along, when I noticed two little people coming across a field close by. They walked hand in hand, and each carried a tin pail of apples. The boy was a stout little fellow, and the girl, a few sizes smaller, very fat and pudgy and much bundled up. I told them I’d like to take their pictures. They didn’t know what to make of that; but I got to work, and they stood by the fence looking at me very seriously. I was nearly ready when a woman from the doorway of a house a little ways back called out, “Go right along, Georgie! Don’t stop!” I told her I wanted to make their photographs — it wouldn’t take but a minute. She said they ought to be dressed up more for that. But I said they looked very nice as they were, and hastened to get my picture. Then the two went toddling on. The boy told me there was a big pile of apples back there; also, as I was starting away, that his father had just bought a horse.
A ROADSIDE FRIEND
I took the sandy long hill way toward Shutesbury, a place famous for miles about for its huckleberry crops. It is jokingly said that this is its chief source of wealth, and the story goes that “One year the huckleberry crop failed up in Shutesbury, and the people had nothin’ to live on and were all comin’ on to the town, and the selectmen were so scared at the responsibility, they all run away.”
The scattered houses began to dot the way as I proceeded, and after a time I saw the landmarks of the town centre — the two churches, perched on the highest, barest hilltop eastward. The sun was getting low, and chilly even ing was settling down. Children were coming home from school; men, who had been away, were returning to do up their work about the house and barn before supper, and a boy was driving his cows down the street. I hurried on over the hill and trotted briskly down into the valley beyond, but it was not long before the road again turned upward. The woods were all about. In the pine groves, which grew in patches along the way, the ground was carpeted with needles, and the wheels and horse’s hoofs became almost noiseless. There were openings now and then through the trunks and leaf age, and I could look far away to the north-east, and see across a wide valley the tree-covered ridges patched with evergreens, and the ruddy oak foliage rolling away into ranges of distant blue, and, beyond all, Mount Monadnock’s heavy pyramid. The sun was behind the hill I was climbing, and threw a massive purple shadow over the valley. Beyond, the ridges were flooded with clear autumn sunlight. Far off could be seen houses, and a church now and then — bits of white, toy-like, in the distance. The east ward shadows lengthened, the light in the woods grew cooler and grayer, and just as I was fearing darkness would close down on me in the woods, I turned a corner and the hill was at an end. There were houses close ahead, and off to the left two church steeples.
BETTER THAN HOEING ON A HOT DAY
This was New Salem. The place had no tavern, but I was directed to one of the farm-houses which was in the habit of keeping “transients.” There was only a boy at home. His folks were away, and he had built a fire in the kitchen and was fussing around, keeping an eye on the window in expectation of the coming of the home team. It arrived soon after, and in came his mother and sister, who had been to one of the valley towns trading and visiting. The father was over at “the other farm,” but he came in a little later. Mrs. Cogswell told of the day’s happenings, and how she had found a knife by the roadside. It was “kind of stuck up,” and she said she would bet some old tobacco-chewer owned it. However, Mr. Cogswell, having smelt of it, guessed not.
His wife now brought in a blanket she had bought at the “Boston Store,” and we all examined it, felt of it, and guessed what it was worth.
Then she told what she paid, and how cheap she could get various other things, and what apples would bring.
THE PET OF THE FARM
As we sat chatting after supper, Mr. Cogswell took out his watch and began to wind it. It was of the Waterbury variety, and winding took a long time, and gave him a chance to discourse of watches in general, and of this kind in particular. Frank had such a watch, he said, and he took it to pieces and it was about all spring.
“You never saw such a thing,” said Mrs. Cogswell. “Why, it sprung out as long as this table.”
“Ho, as long as this table!” said Mr. Cogswell; “it would reach ‘way across the room.” He said his own watch kept very good time as a general thing, only it needed winding twice a day.
THE BIG BARN-DOOR
I was out early the next morning. The east still held some soft rose tints, streaks of fog lingered in the valley, and the frost still whitened the grass. After breakfast I went northward, down through the woods and pastures, into Miller’s valley. I followed a winding ravine in which a mountain brook went roaring over its uneven bed toward the lowland. I came into the open again at the little village of Wendell Depot. It was a barren little clearing, I found, wooded hills all about, a railroad running through, several bridges, and a dam with its rush and roar of water; a broad pond lay above, and below, the water foamed and struggled and slid away beneath the arches of a mossy stone bridge, and hurried on to pursue its winding way to the Connecticut. There was a wooden mill by the stream-side. It was a big, square structure with dirty walls and staring rows of windows. No trees were about, only the ruins of a burned paper-mill, whose sentinel chimney still stood, a blackened monument of the fire. There were a few of the plain houses built by the mill for its help, a hotel, some sand-banks, a foreign population, a dark, hurrying river, the roar of a dam, long lines of freight-cars moving through, and grim hills reaching away toward the sky.
From here I went westward, and in the early afternoon crossed the Connecticut River and began to follow up the valley of the Deerfield. I had to go over a big mountain ridge, but after that had comparatively level travelling. I went on till long after sunset, and presently inquired of a man I met walking if there were houses on ahead. He said Solomon Hobbs owned the nearest place, and lived up a big hill a ways off the main road. A little after I met a team, and concluded to make more definite inquiry. “Can you tell me where Mr. Hobbs lives?” I asked.
“Who, John?” he questioned as he pulled in his horse.
“No, Solomon,” I replied.
“Oh, er, Solly! He lives right up the hill here. Turn off the next road and go to the first house.”
THE BOY WHO MOWS AWAY
It was quite dark now, and when I came to the steep, rough rise of the hill I got out and walked and led the horse. In time I saw a light on ahead, and I drove into the steep yard. I had my doubts about stop ping there when I saw how small thy house and barn were. A man responded to my knock on the door and acknowledged to the name of Solomon Hobbs. He was a tall, broad-shouldered, long-bearded farmer, apparently about fifty years of age. He had on heavy boots and was in his checked shirt‑sleeves. He didn’t know about keeping me overnight, but their supper was just ready, and I might stay to that if I wanted to. He directed me to hitch my horse to a post of the piazza and come in. On a low table was spread a scanty meal. Codfish was the most prominent dish on the board. After eating, I was ushered into the little parlor, for they had certain pictures of the scenery thereabout they wished me to see. Mr. Hobbs brought along his lantern and set it on the mantel-piece. It remained there though Mrs. Hobbs came in and lit a gaudy hanging-lamp. She was a straight little woman with short hair, rather curly and brushed up, wore earrings, did not speak readily, and acted as if her head did not work first-rate. The little boy, who was the third member of the family, came in also. There was an iron, open fireplace with charred sticks, ashes, and rubbish in it. The carpet on the floor seemed not to be tacked down, and it gathered itself up in bunches and folds. The sofa and marble-topped centre-table and many of the chairs were filled with papers, books, boxes, and odds and ends.
SUMMER SUNLIGHT IN A "GORGE ROAD"
There was some doubt as to where the pictures were, and it required considerable hunting in books and albums and cupboards and boxes and top‑shelves to produce them. I did not notice that they put up any of the things they pulled down. Mr. Hobbs said of his wife that she had been in poor health for a year past, and hadn’t been able to keep things in order. When I had examined the pictures I got ready to start on Mr. Hobbs said there was a hotel a mile up the road. I unhitched my horse, and the little boy, with a lantern, ran before me and guided me through the gateway.
At the hotel, when I had made the horse comfortable in the barn I betook myself to the bar-room, where a brisk open fire was burning. A number of men were loafing there, most of them smoking. One was a tall, stout-figured man who was always ready to back his opinion with a bet of a certain number of dollars, and quoted knowledge gained a year when he was selectman to prove statements about the worth of farms.
ONE OF THE LITTLE RIVERS
The proprietor of the place was a young man, with small eyes rather red with smoke or something else, a prominent beaklike nose, a mustache, and receding chin. He had an old, straight, short coat on, and he had thin legs, and looked very much like some sort of a large bird. He had a very sure way of speaking, and emphasized this sureness by the manner in which he would withdraw his cigar, half close his little eyes, and puff forth a thin stream of tobacco smoke.
In the morning I was out just as the
sun looked over some cloud layers at the eastern horizon and brightened up the
misty landscape. I left the hotel, and soon was on my way up the Deerfield
River into the mountains. It was a fine day, clear at first, and with many gray
clouds sailing later. I jogged on up and down the little hills on the road
which kept along the winding course of the river. All the way was hemmed in by
great wooded ridges which kept falling behind, their places to be filled by new
ones at every turn. The stream made its noisy way over its rough bed, and every
now and then a freight train would go panting up the grade toward the Hoosac
Tunnel, or a passenger train in swifter flight would sweep around the curve and
hurry away to the world beyond.
THE VILLAGE GROCERYMAN
A little off the road in one place was a log house, a sight so unusual in old Massachusetts that such rare ones as one may come across always have a special air of romance and interest about them. This had a pleasant situation on a level, scooped out by nature from the lofty ridge which over‑shadowed it. It was made of straight, small logs, laid up cob-fashion, chinked with pieces of boards and made snugger with plaster on the inside. It had a steep roof of overlapping boards, through which a length of rusty stove pipe reached upwards and smoked furiously. There was a spring before the door, which sent quite a little stream of water through a V-shaped trough into an old flour-barrel. There were some straggling apple-trees about, and behind the house a little slab barn. Inside was a bare room, floored with unplaned boards. There was a bed in one corner, a pine table in another, and a rude ladder led to a hole in the upper flooring, where was a second room. The only occupant then about was cooking dinner on the rusty stove. Light found its way through two square windows and through certain cracks and crevices in the wall.
I followed the rapid river, on, up among the wild tumble of mountains which raised their gloomy rock-ribbed forms on every side. The regions seemed made by Titans, and for the home of rude giants, not of men. Presently a meadow opened before me, and across it lay the little village of Hoosac. The great hills swept up skyward from the level, and here and there in the cleared places you could sec bits of houses perched on the dizzy slope, and seeming as if they might get loose and come sliding down into the valley almost any day.
AN OUTLYING VILLAGE
At the tunnel was a high railroad bridge spanning the river, a long freight train waiting, a round signal station, a few houses, and the lines of iron rails running into the gloomy aperture in the side of the hill. This was in a sort of ravine, and so somewhat secluded and holding little suggestion of its enormous length of over four miles. Sonic sheep were feed ing on a grassy hillside just across the track, and looking back upon them they made a very pretty contrast to the wild scenery. The hills mounded up all about; the sun in the west silvered the water of the rapid river; a train waiting below the iron span of the bridge sent up its wavering white plume of smoke; and here on the near grassy slope were the sheep quietly feeding.
The road wound on through the same romantic wildness; now a mountain would shoot up a peak steeper and higher than those surrounding; but none of them seemed to have names. As one of the inhabitants expressed it, “They are too common round here to make any fuss over.”
In the late afternoon, after a hard climb up the long hills, I passed Monroe Bridge, where in the deep ravine was a large paper-mill. The road beyond was muddy and badly cut up by teams, and progress was slow, I expected to spend the night at Monroe Church, which I understood was three miles farther up, but I got off the direct route and on to one of the side roads. The sun had disappeared behind the hills and a gray gloom was settling down. The road kept getting worse. It was full of ruts and bog‑holes. Like most of the roads of the region, the way followed up a hollow, and had a brook by its side choked up with great boulders. I came upon bits of snow, and thought there were places where I could scrape up a very respectable snowball.
A VILLAGE VIEW IN A HALF-WOODED DELL
After a time I met a team and stopped to inquire the way to the church, and the distance. The fellow hailed had a grocery wagon, and no doubt had been delivering goods. He seemed greatly pleased by my question; in fact, was not a little overcome, showed a white row of teeth beneath his mustache, and he quite doubled up in his amusement. He said he did not know where the church was; and he guessed I wasn’t much acquainted up in these parts; said he wasn’t either. He stopped to laugh between every sentence. He apparently thought he was the only man from the outside world who ever visited these regions, and now was tickled to death to find another fellow had blundered into his district. There was no church about there, he said; I must be pretty badly mixed up; this was South Readsboro’, Vermont. “This is the end of the earth,” he said. He kept on laughing as he contemplated me, and I got away up the road as soon as I could, while he, still chuckling to himself, drove down.
THE OLD WELL-SWEEP
The snow patches become larger and more numerous, and soon I came into an open and saw a village up the hill. This was October, and the sight ahead was strange and weird. The roofs of the buildings were white with snow; there were scattered patches of it all about, and a high pasture southward seas completely covered. It seemed as if I had left realities behind; as if in some way I was an explorer in the regions of the far north; as if here was a little town taken complete possession of by the frost; as if no life could remain, and I would find the houses deserted or the inhabitants all frozen and dead. There was a little saw-mill here and some big piles of boards; everywhere marks of former life; but the premature frost seemed to have settled down like a shroud on all about. I entered the village and found a man working beside a house, and learned from him that I had still three miles to travel before I came to the church.
IN HAYING TIME
I took a steep southward road and led the horse, with frequent rests, up the hills. Darkness had been fast gathering, the unset colors had faded, one bright star glowed in the west, and at its right a gloomy cloud mass reached up from the horizon. The neighboring fields got more and more snow-covered, until the black ribbon of the muddy road was about the only thing which marred their whiteness. There were rocky pastures about, intermitting with patches of woodland. Here and there were stiff dark lines of spruce along the hilltops, and these, with the white pastures, made the country seem like a bit of Norway. Snow clung to the evergreen arms of the spruces and whitened the upper fence-rails, and the muddy trail of the road ceased in the crisp whiteness.
I seas going through a piece of woods when I saw a house ahead with a glow of light in a window. I went past the friendly light. The dreary road still stretched on. No church seas in sight, and I drew up and ran back to the house. A man came to the back door with a lamp. He said it was still two miles to the church, and I asked if I might stay over night. Soon I had my horse in the yard and was comfortably settled by the kitchen fire. The kitchen was large, but the long table, the stove, a bed, and the other furniture made it rather cramped when the whole family were indoors. There were grandpa, and grandma, and “Hen” and his wife, and “Bucky,” and “Sherm,” and “Sis,” and Dan, and little Harry, not to mention a big dog and several cats. After supper, grandma fell to knitting with some yarn of her own spinning; grandpa smoked his pipe and told bear stories; “Hen” mended a broken ramrod so that his gun might be ready for a coon hunt he was planning; Mrs. “Hen” sewed; “Sherm” and “Bucky” were in a corner trying to swap hats, neckties, etc., and “Sis” was helping them; Dan ran some bullets which he made out of old lead-pipe melted is the kitchen fire; and Harry circulated all about, and put the cats through a hole cut for them in the cellar door, and climbed on the chairs along the walls, and picked away the plastering at sundry places where the lath was beginning to show through.
THE STREAM AND THE ELMS IN THE MEADOW
Bedtime came at nine and I was given a little room partitioned off in the unfinished second story. In the first gray of the next morning a loud squawking commenced outside of so harsh and sudden a nature as to be quite alarming to the unaccustomed ear. Later I learned this was the flock of ducks and geese which had gathered about the house to give a morning salute. The wind was whistling about, and carne in rather freely at the missing panes in my window. As soon as I heard movements below I hastened downstairs. The two fellows in the bed in the unfinished part adjoining my room were still snoozing, and there were scattered heaps of clothing about the floor.
There was no one in the kitchen, and though the stove lid was off, no fire had yet been started. I heard old Mr. Yokes out in the back room.
UNDER THE OLD SYCAMORE
“‘Bout time ye was gettin’ up,” he called to me,
“Yes,” I said, “I heard you stirring, and thought it must be about time to turn out.”
“Oh, it’s you, is it? I thought ‘twas one of the boys. They didn’t bring in no kindlings last night.”
He sat down by the stove and went to whittling sonic shavings. He had not yet got on either shoes or stockings. One by one the rest of the family straggled in, and the fire began to glow and the heat to drive out the frostiness of the kitchen atmosphere. Outdoors the weather was threatening, and there were little drives of sleet borne down on the wings of the wind. After breakfast I concluded to leave this land of winter and followed down one of the steep roads into the autumn region of the Deerfield valley. By brisk travelling I succeeded by close of day in getting to the quiet meadows along the Connecticut. It had been a five days’ journey. I saw only a little patch of New England, and the description is necessarily fragmentary; but at least there is presented characteristic phases of its nature and life as the traveller on a leisurely journey may see them.
THE BROOK IN THE WOODS