Altered siding, but retaining historic integrity. Burlington, VT. #presinpink

Tourist Cabins: West Shore Cabins, North Hero, VT

Summer is winding down, but fall in Vermont is a perfect time of year to visit. The humidity has decreased, the leaves are changing, and you can readily find apple cider doughnuts to go with your craft beer. Take a drive on U.S. Route 2 and you’ll pass through the Champlain Islands (or “the Islands”). The Champlain Islands offer a completely different feel than central Vermont. The land is flatter, mountains are in the distance, the lake is visible for much your drive, and fall arrives a bit later than in the mountain towns. It would be a lovely time of year to stay in a tourist cabin on Lake Champlain. I’m happy to report that there are more tourist cabins operating in Vermont!

The West Shore Cabins are operating tourist cabins located adjacent to Lake Champlain on U.S. Route 2 in North Hero, part of the area known as the Champlain Islands. What began as the West Shore Inn in 1927, became the West Shore Cabins in 1945. At that time it was run by the Donaldson family who saw how a motor court would be a good economic venture as automobile traffic increased in the mid-20th century.  Some cabins were relocated to this site and others were constructed on site. Today the family operated business offers five cabins for daily or weekly rentals from May – mid October.

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West Shore Inn postcard. Image via West Shore Cabins.

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The vintage sign between the lake and U.S. Route 2.

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West Shore Cabins sit on U.S. Route 2 with a clear west view to Lake Champlain and its sunsets.

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The cabins retain much of their historic integrity including siding, porches, windows, and fenestration.

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Novelty siding, exposed rafter tails, screened porch and a barbecue out front; Cabin 5 is adorable.

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Cabins 4 and 5.

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Cabin 1.

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The cabins are set back from the road, with no obstructions to the lake views.

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Ca. 1880 (with later alterations) residence associated with the owners of West Shore Cabins.

Happy end of summer! Let me know if you find more tourist cabins and/or stay in one!

Demolished New York: Massena High School {or: How to Answer “What Used to Be Here?”}

Demolished? It’s a variant on “Abandoned” posts, yes. However; it seems like a good way to show you the mind of a traveling preservation (or at least how mine works). What does a preservationist think about when traveling? And how does a preservationist find the answer to her question? I’ll use Massena, NY as an example, which I visited earlier this summer.

Massena, NY is a town located on the St. Lawrence River in northern New York, just south of the Canadian border. Once economically supported by the railroad and a canal, the car manufacturer, GM, along with Reynolds and Alcoa, Massena has seen better days since GM closed in 2009, removing billions of dollars from the local economy. However, the town has a good stock of historic buildings with tree-lined side streets showing its former prosperity and its potential. We enjoyed walking around town studying its current state and wondering about its past.

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Downtown Massena: underground utilities, sidewalk pavers, trees, storefronts – it is clear that there has been investment in this town not too long ago.

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The 1918 Strand Theater on Main Street is currently closed, but rehabilitation efforts are in the works.

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Theater plans in the window.

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Massena Downtown Theatre Association – see here http://massenadowntowntheatre.com/

The remainder of the small downtown “main street” includes abandoned buildings (such as the School of Business), building under rehabilitation, empty storefronts, occupied storefronts, a hotel, a post office, and some stores.

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This corner building holds a gym on the first floor.

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The rehabilitated bridge over the Grass River.

Outside of the downtown block are tree-lined residential streets with sidewalks and historic houses with front porches. There is a large park between Clark Street and Danforth Street (see map below) with a monument in it. It’s part sign, part monument, you could say.

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Massena High School sign and school bell installed in the park.

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Memorial sign.

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The park and former school grounds as they appear today. The sign is behind me in this photograph.

I wondered what this sign was doing here, oddly located, in the middle of an empty park with nothing else. Where did it come from? A quick look on the map showed it labeled as “Wooden Park.” Other maps showed it as “Old Bridges Avenue Junior High School.” It seems like an odd spot for a school building, as the lot is fairly narrow. There certainly was no parking. What did it look like, if it was a school? When I have a question like this, I turn to historicaerials.com, which usually answers my question. See below. The school filled the entire space between the streets.

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The school is in the center of the photograph with Clark Street on the left and Danforth Street on the right. Note the courtyard in the middle of the school.  Photo: historicaerials.com

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Massena, 1976.

And, of course, I search for images on Google or Cardcow.com or eBay. In this case I searched for old “Massena High School” NY. I vary the quotation marks until I find what I’m looking for. When you have a common phrase such as “high school” it’s best to use it in quotes with its name, otherwise you’ll have an endless list of search results. Fortunately, this search wasn’t too difficult.

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Massena High School. Source: cardcow.com

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Massena High School (later Junior High School). Source: http://www.topix.com/album/detail/massena-ny/R3V9PSPSATQBVQOU. Thank you, kind strangers, who post information about your hometowns on the internet.

The high school was closed after the 1980-81 school year and demolished in 1986. I was unsuccessful in discovering why it was removed, but I would guess it had to do with expensive upgrades and maintenance issues. In its place a wooden park was constructed in 1990 and removed in 2015. It was officially known as the Danforth Place Creative Playground. Walking across the grass, you can still find wood remnants of the playground. The playground was removed due to deterioration and increasing vandalism and illegal activity on the playground.

And that, my preservation friends, is a simple way to find out answers to “what used to be here?” What tricks do you have?

Rare Playground Find: Miracle/Jamison 1975 Mark IV Imagine City

Playgrounds from the 1970s are almost extinct, at least the interesting (read: fun) equipment. Finding one in the wild is a treat and a scavenger hunt. By pure luck, while driving south on I-95 in Virginia, I caught a glimpse of what looked like a playground. I saw a metal spaceship-looking apparatus, which I assumed was a playground – or a carnival ride. Unable to switch lanes and get off at the exit, I made a mental note of the mile marker so I could search later.

Since I could knew it could be seen from the interstate, I traveled up and down I-95 on Google Earth until I spotted what looked like the spaceship playground (how I described it in my head). With the help of Google Street View, I found it! I was pretty certain I knew the manufacturer of the playground at this point (because I am a nerd and spend lots of time studying historic playgrounds). Fortunately, I had the return trip to look forward to so we could stop and check out this playground.

The playground is set between the interstate and a questionable motel that appears half operating, half closed. The restaurant on the property is closed and any reviews you read of the hotel are terrible. To get to the playground, you have to drive around to the back of the hotel.

This is what I expected to find (bottom right):

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Parks & Recreation August 1974. Source: Nels Olsen, Flickr (username: nels_P_Olsen).

And this is what I found:

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Playground view from the parking lot (June 2018).

It matches! I’m not ashamed to say that my excitement rivaled that of my childhood self. And if it weren’t 100 degrees outside, I would have slid down the slides and tested out the swings. Those old playgrounds can burn in the hot summer sun, as most of you probably know. Alas, I had to settle for climbing to the top and taking photographs.

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Miracle/Jamison ca. 1975 playground, Mark IV Imagine City model.

Take a look at the advertisement images below. You can see that the playground is indeed the Miracle/Jamison model, and there are slight differences in the configurations displayed. This playground has the central tower (center), 2-deck satellite tower (left), the tornado slide (right), a large wave slide (left) and a small wave slide (center), among the elements.

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Source, Bill Jensen: https://www.slideshare.net/billyjensen1/too-high-too-fast-too-fun. Bill has an entire slideshow about playground evolution. Check it out. However, this is Miracle, not Game Time, Inc.

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Source: Parks & Recreation Journal, April 1975, page 3.  Miracle & Jamison ad. See full page below.

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Found on Nels_p_Olsen flickr: https://flic.kr/p/7xQhkH

I’ve never seen such an elaborate, metal playground. How does this playground exist in 2018? Most have been removed in the 1990s for safety reasons and CPSC regulations, and because of lawsuits (including this 1985 lawsuit that required all tornado slides be removed). I assume that because this is on private property (hotel property) it has seen less use than a public playground and it is not in the most accessible location, and it seems structurally sound, so no one is forcing the owners to remove it. I hope it stays around for a while. Now, how about a tour of the playground, and some historical context?

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The playground is not maintained, as you can tell by the high grass.

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Wave slide in the center.

If the playground says “spaceship” to you, then you’re thinking in the right mindset. Playground equipment of the 1960s-70s had a space theme to it. Think of it in American historical context: the era of NASA, the Space Age, the moon landing, adventure, the unknown. Consider Googie architecture (mid-century design influenced by the Space Age) and the famous LAX airport theme building, resembling a flying saucer landing on its legs. Doesn’t this playground remind you of the terminal?

Playground equipment followed suit for architecture and societal interests. The names of equipment included radar screens, satellites, rockets, lunar lander, space cruiser, geodesic dome, and others. When you think about playground design it that way, it’s easy to spot playgrounds from the 1960s and 1970s. It’s another example as to how our built environment tells our history.

Now, back to the playground tour:

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View from above.

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View to the lowest platform.

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Looking down: You can also climb up the central satellite tower to get to the highest platform.

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The tornado slide. I’ll admit, this slide looks painful in the hot sun (maybe even dangerous).

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The 2-deck satellite tower. You can climb ladders (through the circles to platforms) to move up this tower and access the slide or move to other sections of the playground.

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View from the platform.

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Stair details.

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It looks like a slide used to be here.

 

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Not only did this playground have a Mark IV Imagine City, but it also had swings and other apparatus.

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Flying Pony Swings. I looked for a stamp on these pieces to identify the company, but no luck.

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Spring rider.

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Concrete creature hiding in the grass, commonly seen in the 1960s.

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This playground even has a basketball court with a low-hoop, clearly for the little kids.

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Some sort of shuffleboard/mini golf course next to the playground.

Have you seen a playground like this recently? Do you remember playing on one of these playgrounds?  Enjoy, and keep your eyes out for playgrounds, big or small. In the meantime, if you’re in need of an internet rabbit hole, check out these advertisements from Miracle Equipment company.

Playground Find: Ladysmith, VA

You never know when you’re going to find an old playground. By “old” I mean “vintage”, as in pre 1980s. On a recent family trip, we needed to find a place to stop for a picnic dinner and to let the baby stretch her legs for a while. Anyone who has traveled with kids knows that you don’t always gets to pick your exit – you make do with what you find. We turned off I-95 at Exit 110 for Ladysmith, VA, looking for a park. Not too far from the exit, on Route 639, we found a school.

The school is the former C.T. Smith School, built in the 1960s, which, not surprisingly, replaced a school from the early 20th century. C.T. Smith closed in 2009 due to school consolidation. Since then, the school has become a community space. The grounds still contain playing fields, basketball courts, and a small playground. The only pieces of playground equipment were a jungle gym and a slide, but they peaked my interest.

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My elementary school had this exact playground piece, only larger. This one appeared to be for the younger elementary school kids. You might call it a jungle gym. It has monkey bars, climbing bars, and more. My friends and I found hours of entertainment on it during recess. Its official name is the “Giant Outdoor Muscle Man” produced ca. 1971 by GameTime, Inc.

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From the book, “Once Upon A Playground” by Brenda Biondo.

The second playground apparatus was a classic metal slide, also made by Game Time, Inc., presumably from the same era.

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Also a GameTime Inc apparatus.

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Stamped on the underside of the slide steps.

When looking at aerial photos on http://www.historicaerials.com, the playground was not visible (to my eyes) until the 1990s. However, this playground equipment does not date from the 1990s; the 1970s is accurate. It is possible that a) the resolution of the aerial photography wasn’t clear enough to show the equipment and they blended into the ground or b) this playground was moved from another school in the 1990s.

What do you think? And, have you played on a “Giant Outdoor Muscle Man”? Have you seen any GameTime, Inc. equipment lately?