Sunday, May 20, 2012
Armchair Day Trip
I wouldn’t say I’m an insomniac, exactly; I just don’t sleep much. This can have its benefits. I get a lot done between 4 and 8 AM, and I’m not aware that I’m missing much by hitting the sack at 11 PM. This strange sleep pattern also comes in handy when I’m traveling. For example, if I leave home before dawn, I can be in Philly for lunch. New York is an easy day trip. I zip into the City, preview an auction, do some scouting, and get myself home in time for a late dinner (followed immediately by a five hour nap.)
Back in the 19th century, before Route 95 was even a gleam in a civil engineer’s eye, there was a much slower, but infinitely more wonderful way to get from Boston to New York and back.
You took a train from Boston to Fall River, then boarded a steamer for the journey through Narragansett Bay and Long Island Sound to a Hudson River dock in Manhattan. This was the route of the famed Fall River Line. But other steamship companies got in on the act and, as passenger traffic increased, the steamships themselves became bigger and more elaborate.
Not surprisingly there was a recreational aspect to all this.
One could take the Long Island Railroad, say, to any of several departure points on the north shore of the island, and steam across the sound to Newport. Connecticut ports offered similar day trips.
But the best of them was the voyage from Providence to Block Island and back. Not only did you get hundreds of miles of beautiful and historic coastline, you could also retire to a luxurious salon for refreshment.
These “Excursion Tours” became so popular that a firm called the Excursion View Company commissioned an artist to draw the complete trip just as a passenger would see it. These drawings were transferred to lithograph stones which were used to print, in color, panels which were then glued together to create a continuous image of the entire trip. These strips were mounted on rollers in a wooden box, so that by turning the handles, a viewer could simulate the entire voyage – Providence to Block Island and back.
I don’t know how many of these were produced. One sold at auction in the early 1990s, and a couple are listed on the Internet. Reproductions are offered occasionally on eBay, but originals, with their fragile paper strips, are certainly scarce.
This one turned up earlier in the spring, before I left for Ireland. I’ve been thinking about it ever since…
Excursion View Company. EXCURSION VIEWS OF NARRAGANSETT BAY AND BLOCK ISLAND. Providence, RI. 1878. Two chromolithographed strips, each 30 feet in length and 3 3/4 inches wide. Contained in a double sided glazed walnut box measuring 5 x 6 x 13 1/2 inches.
The first scroll starts at Fox Point in Providence and travels south passing Squantum Point, Silver Spring, Pomham Rocks Light, Riverside, Sabin Point Light, Annawanscut, Nayatt Point Light, Warren, Hog Island, and Bristol. It then proceeds around Bristol Point and heads northward into Mount Hope Bay, passing Church’s Cove, to Fall River, Mass. and then southward again passing Globe Village and Bristol Ferry to Newport. The end of the fist scroll shows Benton Reef at the southern tip of Newport Island and the Atlantic.
The second scroll starts at Southeast Light on Block Island and travels northward along the coast to New Shorham (Old Harbor). The viewer then passes Clay Head and Black Rock, Fort Dumpling and Jamestown on the eastern shore on Conanicut Island, Rose and Gould’s Islands, then around to the western shore of Conanicut Island into the West Passage heading south. Next, past Dutch Island and Beaver Tail lighthouses, Point Judith Lighthouse and north again to Narragansett Pier, Bonnet Point, South Ferry, Wickford, Quonsett Point, East Greenwich, Buttonwood, Warwick Lighthouse, Rocky Point, Conimicut Point Lighthouse, and Pawtuxet. This second scroll ends at the old Sassafras Point Lighthouse in Providence.
Both strips show and identify many of the leading shoreline hotels of the day, private homes, rivers, industries, rocks, forts, and sailing vessels of all kinds. Many important paddle steamers are shown including the Bay State, Florence, City of Newport, Rhode Island, Canonicus, Bristol, Bay Queen, Empire State, and Providence.
Strips and box are in excellent original condition, with only the wooden scroll turners having been restored to match. $15,000