Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Swasey Pavilion at 100 Years

by Barbara Rimkunas

This "Historically Speaking" column was published by the Exeter News-Letter on July 29, 2016.

Maybe they talked about Abraham Lincoln. In the summer of 1915, three men – Ambrose Swasey, Daniel Chester French and Henry Bacon – made a visit to Exeter, New Hampshire. Swasey and French were both born in Exeter and may have known each other as boys. Both had made their fortunes elsewhere, Swasey as an engineer and French as a world renowned sculptor. They knew Exeter well and on this trip they seemed to be planning something – looking over locations and beauty spots – to the puzzlement of local people.

Henry Bacon, an architect, had no ties to the town but was a friend and collaborator of French. For the previous 17 years he’d been consumed with one project – the creation of a great Greek temple dedicated to the memory of Abraham Lincoln. His single-mindedness had broken up his partnership with James Bright. Bright had been the financial administrator of the firm and Bacon’s often unpaid time devoted to the project had caused the rift. By 1915, the Lincoln Memorial was finally under construction and Bacon was able to focus on other projects. Yet here he was, standing in the square in Exeter, New Hampshire, directly in front of the Exeter town hall where Lincoln had addressed the town in 1860.

French had been a boy of 10 and Swasey was 14 when Lincoln arrived. French may have missed the event, his family was preparing to move away from town, but Swasey and his brother Eben memorably set a bonfire alight at the family homestead on Newfields Road to mark the event. The fire department had to be called to save the farm.

Also at the Lincoln speech was the Exeter Brass Band, at that time called the Exeter Coronet Band. James Prescott would later recall, “The Exeter Band was trying to ‘blow’ out in front of the Town Hall. Robert Atkins and I got up on the steps and listened. Pretty soon the band went around the building and in the back door, and blew some more inside.” The band had been organized in 1847, and was frequently called upon to play at town events and particularly political rallies.

The three men – the engineer, the sculptor and the architect – were planning something for Exeter. Swasey, who still spent summers in town, wanted to give his hometown a gift. Something monumental, but practical. He’d already donated money to his church and would later pay for the beautiful Swasey Parkway that is beloved by Exeter residents to this day. In 1915, he decided the town needed a bandstand.

There had, of course, been a bandstand in the center of town. In the 1890s, a wooden bandstand was erected to hold summer concerts. By 1902, however, the Exeter News-Letter reported that it was in poor repair and was slated to be removed. “In the square the stand constantly threatened accident, but was too long tolerated for the pleasure derived from midsummer concerts.” The bandstand was moved to the commons on Park Street, where it suffered from vandalism and neglect. It was later sold and moved again, leaving the band with no fixed place to perform. Swasey’s permanent bandstand, announced in early 1916, would be an ornament in the town.

The town accepted Ambrose Swasey’s generous offer. Henry Bacon set about designing an architectural gem worthy of a town that had hosted his idol, Abraham Lincoln. Whether French contributed any flourishes is unknown. He and Bacon were toiling away on the Lincoln Memorial project – French having been awarded the commission to sculpt the mammoth seated Lincoln. One thing is certain, the bandstand, officially known as the Swasey Pavilion, was far more ornate and elegant than any Exeter resident had expected.

The bandstand was built in the summer of 1916 at lightning speed. Ground was broken in May and it was ready for dedication in mid-August. The Norcross Brothers Company of Worcester served as the contractors, building the bandstand with modern construction – steel trusses and concrete form the base – and old-world style design. Pink granite with marble flooring creates the base of the bandstand, which is roofed with copper. Looking at it from the outside it is beautiful, but to really appreciate the design one has to step inside. From there the mosaic ceiling and floor can be viewed closely. The ornamental electric light chandelier has to be seen to be fully appreciated. In the center of the floor is a bronze plate with compass bearings and the zodiac – homage to Ambrose Swasey’s work with telescopes. A pine cone finial stands at attention on the peak of the roof, which has 16 lion’s head gargoyles to discharge rain water. Other towns may have bandstands, but Exeter has a temple.

The dedication was held on August 10th, 1916 – a day later than planned due to rain. Ambrose Swasey was there to hand over the symbolic keys to the Town of Exeter (no key is needed to visit the bandstand – it is accessible to the public at all times). A few speeches were made; there was polite applause and a bit of jovial horseplay. Finally the Exeter Brass Band took the stand for the first summer concert of 1916. As war was overtaking Europe, the first piece of music played on the Swasey Pavilion was a march called “International Peace.” From her home on Pine Street half a mile away, Helen Tufts wrote in her diary, “dedication of Pavilion going on. I can hear band.” Somewhere Abraham Lincoln was smiling.

Photos:
Swasey Pavilion under construction during the summer of 1916. From a snapshot taken by an employee of Exeter Hampton Electric.
Swasey Pavilion shortly after its dedication on August 10, 1916.

Swasey Pavilion at 100 Years

by Barbara Rimkunas

This "Historically Speaking" column was published by the Exeter News-Letter on July 29, 2016.

Maybe they talked about Abraham Lincoln. In the summer of 1915 three men, Ambrose Swasey, Daniel Chester French and Henry Bacon made a visit to Exeter, New Hampshire. Swasey and French were both born in Exeter and may have known each other as boys. Both had made their fortunes else ware, Swasey as an engineer and French as a world renowned sculptor. They knew Exeter well and on this trip they seemed to be planning something – looking over locations and beauty spots – to the puzzlement of local people.

Henry Bacon, an architect, had no ties to the town but was a friend and collaborator of French. For the previous 17 years he’d been consumed with one project – the creation of a great Greek temple dedicated to the memory of Abraham Lincoln. His single mindedness had broken up his partnership with James Bright. Bright had been the financial administrator of the firm and Bacon’s often unpaid time devoted to the project had caused the rift. By 1915, the Lincoln Memorial was finally under construction and Bacon was able to focus on other projects. Yet here he was, standing in the square in Exeter, New Hampshire directly in front of the Exeter town hall where Lincoln had addressed the town in 1860.

French had been a boy of 10 and Swasey was 14 when Lincoln arrived. French may have missed the event, his family was preparing to move away from town, but Swasey and his brother Eben memorably set a bonfire alight at the family homestead on Newfields Road to mark the event. The fire department had to be called to save the farm.

Also at the Lincoln speech was the Exeter Brass Band, at that time called the Exeter Coronet Band. James Prescott would later recall, “The Exeter Band was trying to ‘blow’ out in front of the Town Hall. Robert Atkins and I got up on the steps and listened. Pretty soon the band went around the building and in the back door, and blew some more inside.” The band had organized in 1847 and was frequently called upon to play at town events and particularly political rallies.

The three men, the engineer, the sculptor and the architect were planning something for Exeter. Swasey, who still spent summers in town, wanted to give his hometown a gift. Something monumental, but practical. He’d already donated money to his church and would later pay for the beautiful Swasey Parkway that is beloved by Exeter residents to this day. In 1915, he decided the town needed a bandstand.

There had, of course, been a bandstand in the center of town. In the 1890s a wooden bandstand was erected to hold summer concerts. By 1902, however, the Exeter News-Letter reported that it was in poor repair and was slated to be removed. “In the square the stand constantly threatened accident, but was too long tolerated for the pleasure derived from midsummer concerts.” The bandstand was moved to the commons on Park Street, where it suffered from vandalism and neglect. It was later sold and moved again, leaving the band with no fixed place to perform. Swasey’s permanent bandstand, announced in early 1916, would be an ornament in the town.

The town accepted Ambrose Swasey’s generous offer. Henry Bacon set about designing an architectural gem worthy of a town that had hosted his idol, Abraham Lincoln. Whether French contributed any flourishes is unknown. He and Bacon were toiling away on the Lincoln Memorial project – French having been awarded the commission to sculpt the mammoth seated Lincoln. One thing is certain, the bandstand, officially known as the Swasey Pavilion, was far more ornate and elegant than any Exeter resident had expected.

The bandstand was built in the summer of 1916 at lightning speed. Ground was broken in May and it was ready for dedication in mid-August. The Norcross Brothers Company of Worcester served as the contractors, building the bandstand with modern construction – steel trusses and concrete form the base – and old-world style design. Pink granite with marble flooring creates the base of the bandstand, which is roofed with copper. Looking at it from the outside it is beautiful, but to really appreciate the design one has to step inside. From there the mosaic ceiling and floor can be viewed closely. The ornamental electric light chandelier has to be seen to be fully appreciated. In the center of the floor is a bronze plate with compass bearings and the zodiac – homage to Ambrose Swasey’s work with telescopes. A pine cone finial stands at attention on the peak of the roof, which has 16 lion’s head gargoyles to discharge rain water. Other towns may have bandstands, but Exeter has a temple.

The dedication was held on August 10th, 1916 – a day later than planned due to rain. Ambrose Swasey was there to hand over the symbolic keys to the Town of Exeter (no key is needed to visit the bandstand – it is accessible to the public at all times). A few speeches were made; there was polite applause and a bit of jovial horseplay. Finally the Exeter Brass Band took the stand for the first summer concert of 1916. As war was overtaking Europe, the first piece of music played on the Swasey Pavilion was a march called “International Peace.” From her home on Pine Street half a mile away, Helen Tufts wrote in her diary, “dedication of Pavilion going on. I can hear band.” Somewhere Abraham Lincoln was smiling.

Photos:
Swasey Pavilion under construction during the summer of 1916. From a snapshot taken by an employee of Exeter Hampton Electric.
Swasey Pavilion shortly after its dedication on August 10, 1916.

Swasey Pavilion at 100 Years

by Barbara Rimkunas

This "Historically Speaking" column was published by the Exeter News-Letter on July 29, 2016.

Maybe they talked about Abraham Lincoln. In the summer of 1915, three men -- Ambrose Swasey, Daniel Chester French and Henry Bacon -- made a visit to Exeter, New Hampshire. Swasey and French were both born in Exeter and may have known each other as boys. Both had made their fortunes elsewhere, Swasey as an engineer and French as a world renowned sculptor. They knew Exeter well and on this trip they seemed to be planning something – looking over locations and beauty spots – to the puzzlement of local people.

Henry Bacon, an architect, had no ties to the town but was a friend and collaborator of French. For the previous 17 years he’d been consumed with one project – the creation of a great Greek temple dedicated to the memory of Abraham Lincoln. His single mindedness had broken up his partnership with James Bright. Bright had been the financial administrator of the firm and Bacon’s often unpaid time devoted to the project had caused the rift. By 1915, the Lincoln Memorial was finally under construction and Bacon was able to focus on other projects. Yet here he was, standing in the square in Exeter, New Hampshire, directly in front of the Exeter town hall where Lincoln had addressed the town in 1860.

French had been a boy of 10 and Swasey was 14 when Lincoln arrived. French may have missed the event, his family was preparing to move away from town, but Swasey and his brother Eben memorably set a bonfire alight at the family homestead on Newfields Road to mark the event. The fire department had to be called to save the farm.

Also at the Lincoln speech was the Exeter Brass Band, at that time called the Exeter Coronet Band. James Prescott would later recall, “The Exeter Band was trying to ‘blow’ out in front of the Town Hall. Robert Atkins and I got up on the steps and listened. Pretty soon the band went around the building and in the back door, and blew some more inside.” The band had organized in 1847, and was frequently called upon to play at town events and particularly political rallies.

The three men -- the engineer, the sculptor and the architect -- were planning something for Exeter. Swasey, who still spent summers in town, wanted to give his hometown a gift. Something monumental, but practical. He’d already donated money to his church and would later pay for the beautiful Swasey Parkway that is beloved by Exeter residents to this day. In 1915, he decided the town needed a bandstand.

There had, of course, been a bandstand in the center of town. In the 1890s, a wooden bandstand was erected to hold summer concerts. By 1902, however, the Exeter News-Letter reported that it was in poor repair and was slated to be removed. “In the square the stand constantly threatened accident, but was too long tolerated for the pleasure derived from midsummer concerts.” The bandstand was moved to the commons on Park Street, where it suffered from vandalism and neglect. It was later sold and moved again, leaving the band with no fixed place to perform. Swasey’s permanent bandstand, announced in early 1916, would be an ornament in the town.

The town accepted Ambrose Swasey’s generous offer. Henry Bacon set about designing an architectural gem worthy of a town that had hosted his idol, Abraham Lincoln. Whether French contributed any flourishes is unknown. He and Bacon were toiling away on the Lincoln Memorial project – French having been awarded the commission to sculpt the mammoth seated Lincoln. One thing is certain, the bandstand, officially known as the Swasey Pavilion, was far more ornate and elegant than any Exeter resident had expected.

The bandstand was built in the summer of 1916 at lightning speed. Ground was broken in May and it was ready for dedication in mid-August. The Norcross Brothers Company, of Worcester served as the contractors, building the bandstand with modern construction – steel trusses and concrete form the base – and old-world style design. Pink granite with marble flooring creates the base of the bandstand, which is roofed with copper. Looking at it from the outside it is beautiful, but to really appreciate the design one has to step inside. From there the mosaic ceiling and floor can be viewed closely. The ornamental electric light chandelier has to be seen to be fully appreciated. In the center of the floor is a bronze plate with compass bearings and the zodiac – homage to Ambrose Swasey’s work with telescopes. A pine cone finial stands at attention on the peak of the roof, which has 16 lion’s head gargoyles to discharge rain water. Other towns may have bandstands, but Exeter has a temple.

The dedication was held on August 10th, 1916 – a day later than planned due to rain. Ambrose Swasey was there to hand over the symbolic keys to the Town of Exeter (no key is needed to visit the bandstand – it is accessible to the public at all times). A few speeches were made; there was polite applause and a bit of jovial horseplay. Finally the Exeter Brass Band took the stand for the first summer concert of 1916. As war was overtaking Europe, the first piece of music played on the Swasey Pavilion was a march called “International Peace.” From her home on Pine Street half a mile away, Helen Tufts wrote in her diary, “dedication of Pavilion going on. I can hear band.” Somewhere Abraham Lincoln was smiling.

Photos: Swasey Pavilion under construction during the summer of 1916. From a snapshot taken by an employee of Exeter Hampton Electric. Swasey Pavilion shortly after its dedication on August 10, 1916.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Off to the Convention! Rally Round the Candidate!

by Barbara Rimkunas

This "Historically Speaking" column was published by the Exeter News-Letter on July 15, 2016.

The bane of summer vacation for children of the 1970s was the two weeks of gavel to gavel TV blackout caused by the party conventions. Politics was for grown-ups (and perhaps my wonkish eldest sister) and without our steady supply of Gunsmoke and Mary Tyler Moore reruns most of us became unbearable. And after the turmoil of the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, the rules for choosing candidates changed and conventions became even less, shall we say, exciting? State primary elections and caucuses now decide the candidates before the convention, so gone are the days of endless roll-call votes and dark horse candidates. Too bad, some of our earlier political conventions would have made great TV.

Exeter residents closely followed the political scene in 1848, which was a pretty anxious election. Here’s a quick review of the purpose of party conventions from Civics Teacher Barbie. There are three goals to achieve at the convention: 1.) nominate candidates for president and vice-president, 2.) approve a party platform, which is non-binding but still important and 3.) rally the party faithful. It is also generally assumed that: 1.) the candidate will be a member of the party, 2.) the party platform doesn’t directly encourage violating the U.S. Constitution and 3.) the party faithful will remain in the party.

In 1848, the party in power called themselves Democrats. Their president, James K. Polk, had been elected in 1844 as a dark-horse candidate. A slave-owning southerner with expansionist ambitions, Polk had supported the annexation of Texas, plunged the U.S. into the Mexican War and enlarged the country by gaining the entire southwest at the close of the war. Then he basically quit. By refusing a second term, he left his party with new territory and no real guidance on how to govern it. Except for some hand-wringing over Puerto Rico and Guam, we no longer expend a lot of political energy on territorial expansion, but back in the 1840s, this was a real and difficult issue due to the issue of slavery. At the time the constitution was written, it was assumed that slavery was on the way out. It was also notable, of course, that of the first 11 presidents, 9 of them had been slave owners at some time.

The Democrats held their convention in Baltimore in May. They chose Lewis Cass – an Exeter native and former governor of Michigan. Cass loved the idea of expanding the United States, but more than anything else in the entire world, Lewis Cass loved the U.S. Constitution, which he felt allowed slavery. One of his earliest memories was watching the celebration bonfires in Exeter’s downtown following the adoption of the Constitution. He was also devoted to his party. Of him Amos Tuck said, “General Cass was a genial gentleman, of genuine patriotism, modified by the erroneous belief that the Democratic Party was the country, and that whoever served that party served God and is fellow beings in the best possible manner.” Cass was also quite comfortable with slavery and didn’t object to its spread to the new territory. Because of this, a sizeable faction of the Democrats bolted after the convention in search of a new less slavery loving candidate.

The Whigs met in Philadelphia in early June. Still stinging from their defeat in 1844, they were determined to nominate a winner. Although they had a barn full of capable politicians, Daniel Webster and Henry Clay among them, after four ballots the nomination went to Zachary Taylor. Wait, who? Was this guy even a Whig? Taylor was a career soldier, having served in the U.S. Army since he was a teenager. He had no interest in politics and had to be coaxed into running after he received the nomination. But he was a war hero, and the Whigs needed a war hero. His running mate was Millard Fillmore, a disagreeable former member of the “Know Nothing” American party, which opposed immigrants and Catholics. Taylor hailed from Nashville. In attempting to make him seem likeable, the editor of the Exeter News-Letter, noted, “It is said that Gen. Taylor lives at the South and is a slaveholder. This is true. Slavery is wrong, a great evil, all know. Yet we should not lose our reason when we speak of it. The South, and those who live there are a part of this republic.” Unsurprisingly, there were members of the Whig party dissatisfied with this candidate.

Angry Whigs and anti-slavery Democrats found their way to a single-issue hippie party called the Free-Soilers. They’d already held a convention the previous year and nominated John P. Hale of New Hampshire (and Phillips Exeter Academy graduate, like Lewis Cass) as their candidate. They were persuaded to hold a new convention where they were joined by the disaffected Democrats and Whigs. Here they created a platform that opposed expanding slavery into new territory basing this on the Northwest Ordinance, which admitted new states without slavery back in 1787. The Free-Soil platform was a long list of anti-slavery planks. At the very bottom, someone must have realized they only had one issue, so they added “cheap postage for the people” almost as an afterthought. At this second convention, Hale was persuaded to step down and the nomination went to Martin Van Buren. Free-Soilers back home reacted with a collective, ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? Van Buren was a Democratic party man to the core, having served under Andrew Jackson as Secretary of State, minister to Great Britain and vice-president before being elected president himself in 1836. Sure he was something of an abolitionist, his only slave ran away long before the election, but voters still blamed him for the depression of 1837. Still, he seemed sincere so the Free Soil party decided to risk it anyway.

The 1848 election between three unpopular candidates was held that November. New Hampshire threw all of its electoral votes to Lewis Cass. He was one of the devils we knew and at least he hadn’t tanked the economy and wasn’t Zachary Taylor. Taylor’s name was enough to win him the election. He died just over a year later and Milliard Fillmore served out his term. The slavery issue remained unresolved – compromises were tried, tempers flared, boundaries were set and then relinquished. It was a complicated turbulent time in American politics. It would have made great TV.

Image: Political conventions, and local meetings like the one advertised here, frequently had unanticipated outcomes, unlike our party conventions today.