Friday, September 28, 2012

Haskins Park gets a cleaning.

I blame it all on D.

She is the one who originally got interested in Haskins Park, which sits on a hilltop not far from where we live. Through the local Historical Society -- where she is a volunteer and board member -- she has unearthed a great deal of information on the Park and its creator, Leander M. Haskins.

While you can (and should) read about it hereherehere and here in D.'s blog, I'll give you the shorthand version: Leander Haskins grew up in this town and made a fortune after the Civil War. He purchased 70 acres on Poole's Hill and built an estate in 1892, which he left to the town (to use as a hospital or park) when he died in 1905. The main buildings were made into a public hospital, which eventually closed circa 1920 after the Spanish Flu epidemic. A local physician, Dr. Heberle, leased the place in 1932, and ran it as a combination sanitarium and hospital until 1938. The buildings were then abandoned and, in 1960, burned as a "training exercise" by the local fire department. Since that time, much of the site has steadily been swallowed up by vines, trees, catbrier and other obnoxious wild growth. Only the hilltop, though more heavily wooded than it was in 1905, and the area taken by the town to build a massive tank for the water system, are readily accessible. People like to take their dogs up there for exercise.

D. decided that something more was necessary. If the Haskins estate couldn't be rebuilt -- and it can't -- at least the grounds should serve two purposes: to be more accessible and attractive for use as a park, and to expose people to the history and generosity of Leander Haskins. Others in the Historical Society readily agreed and, after some time-consuming and careful preparatory work by D., so did the town's Board of Selectmen.

The plans even attracted the notice of the newspaper in the next town, which sent a reporter and photographer to do a story. While I generally find the paper to be mainly a source for bizarre typographical errors and new forms of improper English -- many articles read as if they are Google translations into English from Urdu, with side trips through Russian, Japanese and, perhaps, Tagalog -- the writer was reasonably accurate and comprehensible.

Last Saturday was the first Haskins Park Clean-up Day. Volunteers showed up starting at 8:00 A.M. with clippers, rakes, gloves and -- most vital -- insect repellent. By 3:00 that afternoon, more than 20 people had gone to work. And "work" is an understatement: We gathered up three dump-truck and two pickup truck loads of brush, leaves and other debris.

And whence, you might ask, came the dump truck we filled? From the town's Department of Public works, which sent a crew out do do some of the heavy cleaning on Friday...

...and returned the truck to be filled three times by the volunteers on Saturday.

Though contact had been made -- and posters were put out -- in a variety of places, we did not get any volunteers from the schools or other organizations we thought would be interested. D. calculated that the average age of the crew was 62. Hmmmm....

The "morning crew" -- a total of 24 showed up

And they worked! Harder and more effectively than we could have hoped. Some ugly overgrown areas were cut away, leaving open space and attractive plants. What was more surprising, all of them seemed to enjoy the work. No one complained -- not even me.

At the end of the day, Haskins Park looked better than it has in years. It looked a bit better still three days later, when we met four of our friends at the park so they could do their bit as well. And I cleared away a little more of the unattractive overgrowth.

This photo doesn't show any benefits of the clean-up, but I like it.

There was a secondary motive to getting the place spruced up a bit now: the sons of Dr. Heberle, who ran the place as Restcroft Sanitarium, will be visiting next week. D. wanted it to be as nice as possible for them. I think she succeeded.

In future, the hope is that a suitable memorial plaque will be placed to honor Leander Haskins, along with some new benches and some other appropriate amenities. D. is also working to see that the stone entrance pillars are restored, along with a couple of special (though not well known) features from the Haskins era that are tucked away in an inaccessible part of the property.

Me? I ache. If Restcroft was still in operation, I'd head up there for one of Doctor Heberle's electrical treatments (yes, he had some strange ideas, not unlike those employed by John Harvey Kellogg at his sanitarium) in hopes it would burn away the pain.

I will admit this is not the way I think history should be treated. I am not in favor of plaques and museum exhibits, preferring instead to keep historical objects large and small in usable, original condition.

PARENTHETICAL I'M-BEING-CONSIDERATE THOUGHT: You do not want to start me on a rant about historical homes and structures, or certain old and valuable objects of various kinds. I could launch into a 12-hour nonstop rant about the destruction caused by inattention, greed and ham-fisted, uneducated "restorers." But I have learned that it's a thankless task, and that's as true here as anywhere.

But Haskins Park is a lovely place and, after being introduced to its story by D., I am captivated by it. I'll be ready for the next phase of the work. I hope my muscles will be, too.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Signs that make you say "hmmmmm...."

I guess this one would qualify, yes?

D. and I were recently in New Bedford visiting some of her family. We happened to see this while driving through town; I must say I'm glad I wasn't driving, as I probably would have run into something while digging out my camera....

Now, I am not what you'd call really hip regarding some aspects of religion. I've spent a lot of time in churches, more than I've spent drinking beer. My pipe-organ service work accounts for a majority of those hours in Houses of the Lord, but never mind that. I simply haven't seen anything quite like this before*.

Well, one time I did. Many years ago, I was working on the installation of a new pipe organ in a Catholic church. We had been at it for several hot days, and were almost to the point where the heavy lifting had been completed. Father O' Something-or-other (I don't remember his name, but he was a foine old Irish priest who could have been played in the movies by the late Pat O' Brien) walked in and said (in a lush Ould Sod  brogue), "you lads look like you could use a beer." He proceeded to bring in a couple of six-packs of tall ones and -- dare I say it? -- a church key.

I don't think they were Budweisers, though.

But they were appreciated, even if one result was that we delayed some of the more skilled work (such as tuning) until the next day.

Perhaps, time permitting, I should have dropped by this feast and looked to see if Father O' Something-or-other has been transferred to New Bedford....

* You might say I'm a believer in the Separation of Church and Beer. Or not.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


That's what it is around here...finally!

The weather has been plenty cold, but there hasn't been much snow. I'm told the snowfall totals have been well below normal; we had a dusting on Christmas Day, a light fall later, and a more significant storm yesterday. With temperatures not going above freezing for the last few days, I expect the white stuff to last for a while. At least until Wednesday, when the forecast is for a daytime high in the mid-40s.

PARENTHETICAL IT-AIN'T-TRUE-JUST-BECAUSE-IT'S-ON-THE-INTERWEBZ THOUGHT: My clever little weather gadget from The Weather Channel is very optimistic when it comes to temperature: our thermometer says it's 26 degrees right now, while the the little gizmo on my computer screen says it's 37. Hah!

Anyway, it was a lovely (if cool) day for a walk, which took us around the Goose Cove reservoir...

The ice didn't look stable enough to walk on....
Otherwise, I've been spending an inordinate amount of time continuing work on the pipe organ in a local church. Weather gets some blame for that. Right after, that is, the installation of new carpet in the sanctuary. We scheduled a tuning for a couple of Sundays ago; turns out that was the day the carpet people were coming to pull up the shaggy old stuff and, to avoid problems, we had to remove part of the organ instead.

That went back together after a few days, after which I found I had to dismantle part of the organ's facade and some interior woodwork to gain any access to the pipes. This took long enough that we couldn't finish in one day. Returning the next morning, we found that what I had done on Day One was now hideously -- as in a squadron of angry cats shrieking at each other -- out of tune. The building's heat had been set to 68 the day before, and then was shut off overnight. The 20-plus degree change (down and back) did the damage.

Photo by D., who luckily couldn't hear what I was thinking!
After the heat came up, we got it all tuned the second day, got everything reassembled, and it was operable for the service on the following Sunday. The organist said she received comments on how well the organ sounded.

Naturally, the improvement wasn't solely the result of my sensitive ears and capable hands. Without getting too technical, most modern instruments are tuned to a specific pitch, which is A=440 cycles per second. When this organ was built (1920 or earlier), it was not uncommon to find pipes constructed to sound best (and speak the right note) at A435 instead. Tuning to the slightly flatter pitch made a noticeable difference in the sound quality.

D. was a trouper throughout. She put up with the noise, time spent rectifying mistakes, my finessing and fussing and the sheer tedium that are all part of the job. I will also say the check to come for the work will ease some of the aches and pains caused by crawling around in an organ that was clearly designed to be serviced by the likes of Tom Thumb and Billy Barty....

Outdoors, more snow possible this week, before and after the "warm" days midweek. Now prepared as I was not in my California days -- I'm now equipped with proper boots, thermal socks, undershirt and Long Johns, plus gloves and a wool cap -- I'm quite enjoying this mild taste of winter!