Great photograph! That “Essex Ferry to Vermont” sign is posted at the entrance to the Essex-Charlotte ferry dock located two houses and one library south of Rosslyn. That’s our boathouse in the center of the image.
I came across this charming Essex image on the Essex Shipyard‘s website, so it was most likely photographed by Linda or Ray Faville who run the marina and restaurant. We’ve enjoyed many memorable (and tasty!) evenings at Chez Lin & Rays over the last couple of summers, and Errant – my Catalina 310 – is in the marina’s “home fleet”.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Faville’s welcoming waterside establishment, here’s a better introduction.
Essex Shipyard was recently renovated to provide boaters with safe, modern and convenient services. The bulkheads and harbor walls were raised and rebuilt after the historic floods in 2011. New floating docks, electric & water services have been installed. Boaters staying at the Essex Shipyard for the season or for a day or two, enjoy calm water (no matter how rough the Lake gets), comfortable slips, modern amenities and spectacular views of the Green Mountains, Adirondacks and Lake Champlain. (Essex Shipyard)
Essex Ferry to Vermont
For a great many travelers passing through town that sign just about sums up Essex, New York. Ever since the early 1800s Essex has been vital as a gateway to Lake Champlain. Long ago it was an important port for shipbuilding, and later for the North-South transport of raw materials and merchants’ goods. Nowadays the ferry East-West across the lake is the vital link that draws many visitor to our otherwise quiet streets.
Ever since the early 1800s Essex has been vital as a gateway to Lake Champlain.
It’s a common refrain among residents. “I discovered Essex when I was taking the ferry.” While it’s not our personal connection to the area, there is something appealing to me about passers-through becoming enchanted with the historic architecture, the gentle rhythms, the magnificent outdoor recreation opportunities, the views. Often while traveling the globe my bride and I muse about what it would be like to settle a while in one beguiling spot or another. We recently returned from a pair of weeks in France and Sicily. There were many such moments. Daydreams. “What if?” scenarios teased out verbally, half serious, imagining, wondering…
The Essex Ferry to Vermont delivers a steady stream of curious drivers. They stop and wander, snap photographs, shop or eat a meal. Sometimes they wonder what it would be like to live here. A few return to find out.
When it was built it was just right for the times. But it didn’t adapt… Rooms were shut off and fell out of use. Neglect left the paint chipped, with bare wood and brick showing through… rehabilitation fails with no sustainable plan for use. ~ Stef Noble (www.stef.net)
I don’t recollect how I came across Demolition, a blog post by Stef Noble (@stefnoble). I don’t know her. I don’t even know about her. But somehow I stumbled across her reflection on what happens at the end of a building’s life. She ponders demolition, debris, salvage, sensitivity to neighbors and environment. And she wanders into wonders about the transition, preparedness, shelter…
Like an enigmatic poem that continues to resonate long after that first encounter… Stef’s words have hooked me, drawn me back again and again.
The post moves from conviction and resolve to questions. From “sometimes you find that there is nothing left to save” and “It must be a salvage process” to “What does your shelter look like now?”
It’s a poignant, provocative post despite its brevity and abstraction. I have no idea what or where the building is or even whether the building is a metaphor for something else that’s beyond rehabilitation, something else that must be dismantled sensitively and responsibly before moving on. But like an enigmatic poem that continues to resonate long after that first encounter, inspiring rereading upon rereading, Stef’s words have hooked me, drawn me back again and again.
There are obvious differences. Rosslyn was repeatedly adapted across almost two centuries. From year-round residence to seasonal residence to inn, restaurant and tavern. From Georgian to Federal to Greek Revival to Victorian and back to Greek Revival/Georgian. From stately home and outbuildings to dilapidated, structurally failing buildings more readily, easily, and cost effectively demolished than rehabilitated. Rosslyn adapted.
But rooms fell out of use, and rooms were shut off. A large portion of the rear ell (wing) was removed half a century ago. In fact the rear ell has undergone four or five, maybe even six significant rebuilds and alterations since the 1820s. And the front facade was dramatically altered early in the 1900s when a vast Victorian wraparound porch was added. This lake overlook was removed several decades before Rosslyn became our home.
In short, Rosslyn’s story is first and foremost one of adaption. Repeat adaption. Her perseverance has been at least partly due to her perennial adaptability.
Nevertheless when we were in the final pre-purchase days, the inspector opined that the boathouse and icehouse were probably unrecoverable. Use them while we could or demolish and replace them. There were other eleventh hour surprises that jeopardized the sale too, but demolition as a recommendation was unnerving.
Rosslyn’s boathouse was precisely what I’d fallen for. Tear it down? No chance. And the ice house promised to be the perfect office/studio/playhouse. Think desk, aisle, pool table, bar!
In both cases we forged ahead, prevailing upon the planning board, engineers, contractors (and detractors) that these buildings should be, could be, would be preserved. Underpinning our confidence and our persistence was the conviction articulated so well by Stef Noble:
rehabilitation fails with no sustainable plan for use
In order to ensure that Rosslyn’s iconic boathouse/dock house would continue to welcome ferry passengers to Essex long into the future, it needed to be more than an historic artifact. It needed to be relevant and useful. It needed to adapt. No longer serving the Kestrel as a boathouse and coal storage facility, the boathouse needed to adapt to our waterfront and boating needs, and then eventually to Rosslyn’s future stewards. We windsurf. We waterski. We sail. We entertain nieces and nephews and friends who enjoy fishing and playing on the beach and barbecuing… The sustainable plan for Rosslyn’s boathouse involved adapting the precarious building into a safe, inviting and attractive place of waterfront activity once again. And despite the odds, we prevailed. The boathouse remains the heart and soul of our Rosslyn lifestyle.
The ice house is another story. We stabilized the failing structure, replaced the failed roof, repaired the crumbling stone foundation and upgraded the mechanicals. But then we mothballed the project, deferring the next phase indefinitely until circumstances warranted moving forward. For several years we’ve used the ice house as a storage and maintenance annex for the carriage barn, but recently we’ve begun to address a sustainable plan for use. I hope to address this in more depth over the course of the next year. But for now, I’ll just say that we understand that simply stabilizing the building is not enough. Successful rehab demands a sustainable plan for use. And we’re working on it!
The carriage barn and house have been rehabilitated and are serving the modern iteration of the original purposes for which they were built. The house is a home. We live and work and entertain at Rosslyn. I genuinely hope that the future is bright for this structure remaining a year-round residence for a long time. And while horses and carriages no longer come and go, the carriage barn is a handsome but utilitarian space for cars and tractors and a colorful parade of property maintenance equipment. There are bicycles and winter storage for kayaks and windsurfers. In a real sense the building has been rehabilitated into a modern “carriage barn”.
If you’re still with me, I apologize for getting carried away. My mind was wandered. And I’ve still fallen short of conveying why exactly Stef Noble’s post continues to resonate for me. I suppose I’m still not 100% certain. But it seems to share some DNA with the adventure my bride and I undertook in the summer of 2006 when we pulled up roots in Manhattan and set down roots in the Adirondacks with the dream of rehabilitating Rosslyn…
When you don’t harvest your artichokes in time they bloom. And then they look like sea anemones!
On the one hand, it’s a pity. One fewer chokes to steam and dab in mayonnaise or butter or… hollandaise sauce. Yum.
On the other hand, these giant thistle blossoms are stunning! The size of softball, and violet purple the same shade as those sickening candy-shelled, marshmallow filled Easter candies from my childhood. They honestly look like sea anemones. Beautiful. Lethal.
This year we had sooo many artichokes that allowing a few to blossom wasn’t such a sacrifice. In fact, now that the frosts have dried and desiccated the last couple of dozen chokes, I think it’s fair to venture an estimate of how many Imperial Start Artichokes we produced this summer.
We planted fifteen plants, and all survived. Until today I’d claimed that fourteen out of fifteen had produced chokes. Only one plant “aborted” as gardening books sometimes explain an artichoke that fails to produce an edible choke.
But today, with all of the plants beginning to expire I discovered that the one plant which had remained a bit dwarflike, failing to produce any artichokes was the most vital of them all. Short but lush with green foliage. And in the very center, a lime green artichoke!
So even our one “dud” had come through. Fifteen out of fifteen. Not bad.
The other fourteen plants produced, on average, 12-15 artichokes. Nobody believes me until they visit our vegetable garden and witness it for themselves. We’ve been harvesting for more than three months. I don’t think we’ll manage to eat any more, but on Saturday I gave away the last half dozen edible artichokes. So we grew at least 180 artichokes on a mere fifteen plants. This is far and away the best season we’ve ever had. Most of the credit goes to nature, good luck and attentive assistance from a couple of loyal watering helpers. But the single most notable difference between this summer and the preceding three years that we’ve experimented with Imperial Star Artichokes is that we planted them in mounds to ensure that the roots wouldn’t rot if we received excessive rain. That seems to help. We’ll repeat next year.
And now, as we put this summer’s garden to rest for the winter, I’m tempted to try and overwinter a few of the artichokes. Last year’s attempt flopped, but I’m curious to see if it isn’t possible to keep a few plants alive to produce again next year. Any advice?
My day was made when part-time Essex resident Kelly Youngs-Schmitt shared these fun photographs on Facebook.
Kelly’s a relatively new acquaintance (although her Essex connection is far deeper, longer and more historically significant than my own.) But the Facebook-powered social web and the curiously compelling Essex DNA have brought us together. She participates in the Essex on Lake Champlain community blog, and she generously shares the stories and artifacts from her family’s Essex past.
That curiously compelling Essex DNA is in no small part responsible for our decision to relocate here. It’s an elusive topic, one that surfaces and then almost as quickly vanishes again throughout this blog. Like Champ, the Lake Champlain monster, who so many have experienced, but few can clearly and concisely explain or even prove… Essex exerts a quasi-mystical pull on many of us. I suppose the closest analogy would be a large, loosely knit family or a college or prep school that becomes woven into your fibers in a way that you can never quite grasp. You meet a cousin or a fellow alum for the first time and instantly you are drawn to one another, despite only the most nominal connection.
No, these analogies falter. Because living in Essex, even for a few short weeks at a time, forges far deeper, far more relevant connections. Human connections. Civic connections. Architectural, cultural and historic connections. Environmental connections too, for so much of Essex’s magnetism is derived from its geographically perfect location between Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks. Access to nature and outdoor recreation, year-round, often elicits the “playground” analogy to the annoyance of some. Certainly far more than play happens in these sacred waters, valleys, hills and mountains. But it’s true that this environment is a proverbial fountain of youth. It invites childhood energy and dreams and playfulness, so in a sense it is a metaphorical playground.
But I’m wandering far from my starting point which was Kelly’s photographs shown here.
October Wind & Canada Geese
Despite the on-again-off-again Indian Summer that we’ve enjoyed this autumn, there have been some bracing days, many like the one captured in these photos. Picture perfect. Bluebird skies and sunshine. But crisp. And windy. That “selfie” in the canoe captures what I’m describing. Kelly’s husband, James W. Schmitt, is pretty well bundled up!
You can practically hear the Canada Geese clamoring across the sky or settling onto the lake for a deserved rest. This time of year vast flocks of Canada Geese ply the skyways from early morning late into the night. It’s the soundtrack of Essex autumn. And Essex spring. And while no Canada Geese are visible in Kelly’s photos, I know they are there. Honking.
There’s something else that’s not visible in the photos: summer sunshine. In addition to Canada Geese, Technicolor fall foliage, and the Gingko shedding its leaves suddenly, dramatically, another autumn highlight is the changing light. During midsummer these photographs would have been bathed in a considerably stronger, more orange hued light. But as autumn advances, even the brightest daylight shifts toward buttery yellow hues and flatter light. This is particularly apparent in the photograph of Rosslyn and the boathouse. They appear to be off-white. And while some credit for this may be due the camera or phone, the reality is simply that the paint colors appear fainter, less pigmented in the autumn light, even in the early morning when the sun rises up out of Vermont’s Green Mountains displaying its most colorful rays of the day.
Hmmm… A meandering, ruminating post if there ever was one. Time to wrap up!
Autumn appears to be coming early this year. For at least a week nights have been dropping into the chilly 50s. And this morning I see that temperatures slid even lower.
Perhaps this is normal? Yet it doesn’t seem normal. The 40s in mid August? In Essex, New York? On the shores of Lake Champlain which usually acts as a “heat sink” effectively extending our warm season?
Early Autumn’s Reminder
Whether or not early autumn is here to stay, it’s serving as a reminder. Get out and enjoy the temperate weather before it’s gone. Today and tomorrow promise to be sunny and warm, perfect days for cycling and hiking and gardening. Perhaps even windsurfing? Or wake surfing? Hopefully one or the other!
And there’s another goal I’ve set but neglected for several years. I’d like to make a habit of working in the boathouse for a few hours away from my study, my desk, my piles and files. No better time than the present. No better motivator than a crisp, early autumn morning when I can faintly see my breath in the sir as Griffin sniffs around the yard. Soon it will be too cold to work in the boathouse. Soon…
In short, August’s recent summer lullaby marks both a bittersweet ending and a joyful beginning. It’s a time to savor summer’s delicacies and anticipate autumn adventures ahead. I think I’ll call a chum and bum a sail!
A miniature barn up the road from Rosslyn that I pass by on many of my bike rides. Movie credits view. Silent except for a few crickets and a single leaf flapping against something harder than another leaf. The tree trunk perhaps. Now the shishishish of tall grass rustling in a faint breeze. Now quiet again. Crickets.
Some days it’s enough to wake up and smell the young herbs with July’s morning sun on the back of my neck. I make a cup of tea and head outside with Griffin. I wander barefoot into the herb garden while he takes care of his morning constitutional. As the plants warm up they release their perfume, some more than others. Dill. Lemon balm. Rosemary. Thyme. Lavender. Sage. Sometimes mint. Other herbs invite a gentle rub between thumb and index finger, imparting their tempting aroma throughout the morning whenever my hands pass near my nose. Basil. Parsley. Cilantro. Chives.
That seems like the perfect, cheesoise title for this photo I just snapped standing in the road between our home and the boathouse. Looking east at Vermont’s Green Mountains, though you’ll have to take my word for it since the rain and fog have veiled the view.
But fully in the dairy free camp in recent years, I’ll sidestep the cheesoise in favor of the inane.
No rainbows were injured making this picture.
Just to show I’m a nice guy. And comfortable patting myself on the back for being a nice guy. Or is that goofy? No, this is goofy.
No ferries were injured making this picture…
Basically the photo speaks (or whispers) enough on its own. I need to zip up my blather mouth and let the moment carry the post. Quietly. Except of the wind which was whipping. Is whipping. And the raindrops which — despite the sun and clear skies behind me — were beginning to pelt down. Hence my retreat from the boathouse hammock to the sunporch with a very soggy Griffin who chased frisbees in the rolling waves without the least concern for darkening skies and rainbows.
Yes, rainbows. There are actually two. Can you see the slightly fainter echo of a rainbow just to the right of the more pronounced one? Look carefully. And you might even spot a pot of gold. Or a ferry?
I’ve just received a lovely email from local artist and friend Eve Ticknor (aquavisions.me) with four soothing images of our boathouse. Eve’s dreamy boathouse photos last appeared in “Hammock Days of Indian Summer” last September.
Her new series offers a seasonal bookend to the last set. “Spring!” the photos sing soothingly. “Springing into summer. Soon. But for now, still spring…”
What your boathouse porch looks like in my world. (Photo: Eve Ticknor)
You can see your boathouse better here now. (Photo: Eve Ticknor)
Your boathouse on a more glassy day. (Photo: Eve Ticknor)
It’s an incredible gift when I receive artwork inspired by Rosslyn, and I offer my deepest thanks to Eve (and all of the other generous artists who’ve shared their creative visions with me) for allowing Rosslyn to a-muse you.
In addition to the boathouse photos, Eve included this enchanting image of a duckling family paddling along between the Essex ferry dock and the boathouse. They seem to have swum directly out of a patina’ed storybook!
Before I even realize it I’ve counted the ducklings. Today there are twelve remaining, twelve significantly larger and less fluffy adolescent ducks. I imagine a few ducklings fell prey to eagles or snapping turtles. Or perhaps they swapped momma ducks to join a smaller brood? My mind wanders to the the many perils ducklings face on their sprint to duckdom.
Found him! Birdwatchers from across the United States studied the elusive golden-winged warbler as part of the 12th Annual Adirondack Birding Celebration June 6 at an Essex thicket. The golden-winged warbler is a “species of special concern,” said trip leader Brian McAllister. Populations have declined precipitously during the past 45 years due to a loss of breeding habitat and the expansion of the blue-winged warbler into the former’s range. (Denpubs.com)
I was meandering joyfully if absentmindedly along Lake Shore Road recently when I came upon a half dozen vehicles tucked into the tall grass at the intersection of Lake Shore and Clark Roads. I slowed. As I idled forward I passed at least another half dozen cars and then a “flock” of birders…
Actually, at first I didn’t know they were birder. I asked. They laughed. Apparently everyone who passed was asking them the same question.
“We’re birdwatchers,” one man explained.
“We’re looking at a golden-winged warbler,” a woman added. Or maybe she said, “We’re looking for golden-winged warblers.”
“Neat,” I said and pulled out my smartphone to document the occasion. Needless to say, I snapped a photo of the golden-winged warbler watchers and not the birds themselves.
At the time I was pretty sure that the crowd of binocular wielding birdwatchers were spying on one or more golden-winged warblers in a thicket near Webb Royce Swamp. But then I mentioned it to John Davis, intrepid explorer of wild places and critters. John was surprised. Really surprised.
“You mean they actually saw a golden-winged warbler?” He was excited if slightly incredulous.
“I think so,” I offered, suddenly uncertain.
“They weren’t just looking for it?”
Hmmm… Not such a subtle distinction, but suddenly I wasn’t 100% certain what I’d been told.
So I checked my phone to see if I could find any indication from the photo whether or not the birdwatchers were seeking or celebrating. No photo. I looked again. I know I took the photo, maybe even two photos. But I must have inadvertently deleted the evidence. Or, perhaps the elusive golden-winged warbler is behind this mystery!
Perhaps you’ve witnessed a golden-winged warbler in the Adirondacks? Or the Champlain Valley?