Thursday, May 5, 2016

Facets of America

Our recent travels to the Georgia-Carolina coast and its inland mountains added to our family experience of geographic and cultural America. We sought out acquaintance with the contemporary South and ante-bellum architecture draped in Spanish moss. We visited historic venues of the Civil Rights movement.

The Gatehouse, Biltmore

A Vanderbilt residence1

In Ashville we saw but didn't muster the $120 entry fee (for two) to 'Biltmore,'  America's most opulent residence . Nearby, we made pilgrimage to the site of impecunious  Black Mountain College, the avant-garde center of study where rector Charles Olson began his Maximus poems to Gloucester.
Tim and "The Angel," Burnsville NC

Up in the hills we bought an angel crafted of gourds. We marveled at Appalachian quilts. We saw the three domes of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello, at the University of Virginia, and at the Memorial in DC. We pondered the inability of this brilliant author of the Declaration of Independence to transcend a privileged life supported by slave-holding.

Slave quarters, Monticello

Dr. L. D. Britt, Monticello trustee, introducing Dr. Marian Wright Edelman,
recipient of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Citizen Leadership
In Savannah we entered the upper margin of the Floridian zone with semi-tropical flora and fauna: palm trees, alligators, fantastical bird rookeries. Turning north we savored three successive springs. We ascended from the lowlands into the Blue Ridge Mountains to see first the climax, then the beginning of the azalea, dogwood, and redbud inflorescences. They would soon start blooming here when we returned to Massachusetts in mid-April for a third spring.
Anhinga, the southern cormorant
Wood stork

Great egret rookery

Glossy ibis

Happily, most of the places we visited required no admission charge. We walked around cities, meandered through the countryside, reveled in National wildlife refuges, parkways, and DC monuments, all for free. Or I suppose you could say more accurately, those public treasures repaid us citizens who have funded government budgets for many decades.

Visitor Center, Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge outside Savannah

The opportunity to visit Charleston  added an extra lure to the itinerary. The yacht America, which eventually called Gloucester's Bay View its home port, figured in the maritime forces of both sides in the American Civil War. After winning the Hundred Guinea (America's) Cup in England in 1851 she became a diplomatic courier between Charleston and London for the Confederacy. She was offered by her English owner as a blockade runner possibly with slave-carrying intentions. Following her capture and refitting with cannon by Union forces the speedy vessel joined the North's blockade enforcement off the Carolina coast.

America, James Bard painting 18512

In the weeks ahead Notes from Halibut Point will embark on a series of essays touching on America and the diverse personalities of her owners as they shaped the unfolding of America.

Yacht America in the Ipswich Bay3
Just down the coast from Halibut Point sits a center of these themes in American history. The high-textured portion of the story begins when Civil War Major General Benjamin F. Butler of Lowell vacationed there in 1863 on a promontory he named Bay View. He went on to election as a United States Congressman and Governor of Massachusetts. His descendants, some still residing on the property, have commemorated their forebear with a model of his personal pride and joy, yacht America.
Butler family monograph

The family engaged Erik Ronnberg to recreate America as Butler had reconfigured her with naval architect William Starling Burgess. That model still graces the lobby of the Cape Ann Museum.

The America
Erik Ronnberg, 2003

A century after Ben Butler last held the tiller of America billionaire Bill Koch sponsored the design and construction of a new yacht by that name to wrest the America's Cup back from the national disgrace of a four year hiatus in Australia. Recently he commissioned Erik Ronnberg to make a model of the original America for his own maritime collection.
Victorious William Koch holding the America's Cup, 19924
America continues to astonish us with the wealth of its natural and human resources.  

1. Photographed from a movie screen at the Biltmore Visitor's Center.
2. From John Rousmaniere, The Low Black Schooner Yacht America, 1986
3. From Bay View by Harriet Robey, great grand-daughter of Benjamin Butler,1979.
4. Internet image, unattributed.


  1. What a trove of "off-island" history, culture, and geography you have shared with us here. We who live on Cape Ann and the North Shore, will, of course, strive to make the local connections, as you have done with the America. I'm sure you know about Ben Butler's Toothpick at the mouth of the Merrimack River in Salisbury, MA. There's a nice monument to Butler's philanthropic work there at the state reservation, too. Thank you again for a surprising and rich post!

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