September 29, 2003

St. Johnsbury, VT

So the Holiday Motel turned out to be not $79, but $92! Apparently Becky misheard the clerk last night. It was okay, but we've had better for far less and certainly with far less attitude.

We started off the day at the recently-relocated visitor's center for the town of St. Johnsbury. Today was actually their first day in what appears to have been a train depot. The gentleman working the desk was quite helpful.

Our first site of interest was the Fairbanks Museum. The Fairbanks family made big bucks in the scale business (you know, those things they use to weigh stuff) back in the middle 1800's after one of them invented the platform scale. I wish I could tell you more about why the platform scale was such a big deal, or how it worked, but the part of this museum dedicated to the Fairbanks cash cow is woefully lacking in details.

Fortunately the bulk of the museum is dedicated to showing the immense collection of stuff the family accumulated with all that scale money. There's an extensive array of stuffed birds from South American hummingbirds to an enormous albatross. Most are presented alone, but some are in elaborate dioramas and one impressive "tree" (third picture below) which was evidently a uniquely Victorian display strategy.

cardinal or Don King?A whole batch of little brown jobs Victorian bird tree.  There's even a pair of passenger pigeons Description of the bird tree

The other artifacts on display include a smattering of primitive items from various indigenous cultures of the world, a small mineral collection, a small but wonderful selection of Japanese netsuke carvings, an array of children's toys including some doll furniture supposedly made by Mark Twain, Doll furniture made by Mark Twain?!a fair number of swords and daggers, a display of Civil War stuff, and on and on. Anybody who thinks stuff accumulation is a late 20th century phenomenon hasn't been to this place!

The building is an artifact in its own right with finely crafted wooden interior and an exterior festooned with arches and towers made from limestone and red sandstone.

If all that isn't enough, there's also a planetarium (only in action on weekends this time of year, alas) and working meteorology lab.

There's currently an exhibit of photographs by Zeva Oelbaum. She found a Victorian botanical journal in an antique shop and photographed the pages in an interesting multi-layered extension of the work of the young botanist who created the original journal. I didn't take any pictures in there (couldn't take another layer of indirection without having my head explode), but I'm sure there's examples on the artist's website, and the whole exhibit is available in a book that seems to be following us home.

Anyway, it's an extremely cool museum and well worth a visit if any of that stuff sounds interesting. Bright orange bracket fungusPlus there's a bright orange bracket fungus on one of the trees outside.

After the museum we headed East on highway 2 and stopped in for the factory tour at Maple Grove Farms of Vermont, one of the largest distributors of maple syrup. The tour consists of a video about the maple syrup making process followed by a walk through the bottling room and the maple candy making facility (sorry, no pictures of me in my hair and beard net) The inevitable gift shop offers samples of the four different grades of maple syrup they produce and the opportunity to buy all their various and sundry products as well as all the other normal tourist kitsch. It's a quick tour and worth the $1 charge.

Last night we decided that we'd head straight up to Bangor, Maine within striking distance of Acadia National Park, so we headed east on highway 2. We saw some of the brightest foliage (a word that gets tossed around a lot in conversation in this corner of the country this time of year) of the trip so far on this drive across northern New Hampshire and central Maine.

I haven't taken a lot of countryside pictures on the trip. One reason for that is that I don't feel like you can really capture a sweeping vista with a 35mm lens, at least not without doing a panoramic mosaic, but also because I haven't been able to figure out how to compose a picture that captures the terrain we've been seeing. All this area from NY through VT, NH, and ME has been kind of softly crumpled, thickly wooded hills. There are very few hard edges, everything is blanketed with trees. It's lovely country, but nothing has been catching my photographer's eye (such as it is) white birches and autumn leavesBecky did take these shots of a stretch that was just thick with white birches, which are especially striking with the fall colors.

Maine is a big state, so it was a long drive to get to Bangor.

Becky's been carrying around a New England country inns book from the library and we decided to make reservations at one last night, so this morning Beck called and reserved a room at The Lucerne Inn. Our wedding anniversary is Tuesday (the 30th) so we thought we'd splurge and stay two nights at a nicer place. This one is charging us $140 a night. On the plus side, the furniture in the room is quite attractive with a four-post bed, comfortable reading chairs and classy artwork on the walls. The view out the window across the grounds to a nearby lake and the wooded hills beyond was very nice before it got too dark to see. Free local calls, and inside Bangor's local calling area so I can get to my ISP. But for $140, we expected a little more and certainly didn't expect to hear the TV from the rooms next door or every step the person in the room above us takes. We didn't expect the room to be a typical hotel room with slightly fancier furniture. We didn't expect the bathroom to be less than spotlessly clean. Add to this all the fancy crap we didn't want in the first place like whirlpool tub (with illogically placed jets) and heated towel racks (which don't actually work) and gas fireplace (with timed switch that ticks loudly the whole time the thing is on). We made reservations for two nights, but we won't be staying past tonight.

The last couple of nights' less-than-stellar accommodation experiences have led us to think about what we really want out of a motel room vs. what we expect to pay. We might put that in a later entry.

Posted by jeffy at September 29, 2003 07:16 PM

Being a NEKer myself, I can tell you the importance of the platform scale. It was the first scale capable of weighing very large & very heavy things. At the time, it was expecially useful for rail cars.

so now you know...

Posted by: chris at December 9, 2004 09:25 AM
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