Essex Ferry to Vermont

Essex Ferry to Vermont (Photo: Ray and Linda Faville)

Essex Ferry to Vermont (Photo: Ray and Linda Faville)

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.

Paris, Rome, New York City and Essex

Living Past: Paris, Rome, New York City prepared me for Essex, NY

Living Past: Paris, Rome, New York City prepared me for Essex, NY

Early in the millennium I lived in Paris and Rome for a little while. Twin hardship posts!

I shuffled back and forth on a roughly two week cycle with frequent detours to New York City to visit my then-girlfriend-now-bride. I lived out of a suitcase and a briefcase. I collected frequent flyer miles and passport stamps instead of chotchkies because they were portable and well suited to my itinerant existence.

As I orbited through Paris, Rome, New York City I grew accustomed to certain similarities… but it was the differences that intrigued me most.

It was a frenetic time, juggling life on two continents and work in three countries. But it was an exhilarating and thoroughly intoxicating chapter of my still-young life. I was thirty years old and hungry for adventure. Needless to say, my jet-set life was indulging (and dilating) my appetite if never fully sating it.

As I orbited through Paris, Rome, New York City I grew accustomed to certain similarities (ie. all three cities encourage a cosmopolitan, lively, gastronomically diverse and culturally rich lifestyle), but it was the differences that intrigued me most.

Aside from the obvious social, cultural and linguistic differences, the way all three cities engage with their past sets them apart. All three are old — though New York and Rome bookend the age spectrum — and all three embrace their history. Architecture and urban planning are two of the most visible indications of this, and both set Rome apart.

Rome is old. Sure, all three cities can make that claim, but Rome is really old. Ancient. And while Paris reveals Roman vestiges when quaint or historically beneficial and even highlights older archeological roots clinging to the swampy banks of the Seine, so much of the grandeur of Paris dates from the mid 1800s when Napoléon III commissioned Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann to renovate and modernize the squalid descendent of Lutetia Parisiorum.

Essex is a mere freckle on the cheek of Paris, Rome, New York City, but this charming freckle simultaneously lives in the past and the present. Comfortably, happily and willfully. Essex embraces its living past…

Although Rome has periodically made efforts to modernize, there’s no escaping the city’s ancient history at every turn. New and the old are interlaced, and Romans habitually extol and condemn their ancient city in the same sentence. They bemoan the frustrations of abysmal traffic circulation, for example, and yet they pride themselves on navigating the labyrinthine quarters with alacrity, colorful language and wild gesticulation.

Romans’ love-hate relationship with history is evident in the architecture and urban planning, but it also informs their art, design, food, music and language.

Although I’ve been a collector, even a hoarder since childhood, I credit Rome with awakening my fascination with the living past. One man’s artifact is a Roman’s quotidian necessity. The past is not relegated to museums or worse, the dump. It coexists and enriches the present.

New York covets the new and improved, and Paris fastidiously collects and curates the most valuable gems from the past. But Rome simultaneously lives in the past and the present. Comfortably. Happily. Willfully. In a sense, Rome is timeless for this reason. It embraces its living past.

W.D. Ross House, Essex, NY (c.1822)

Rosslyn (aka W.D. Ross House) circa 1822 in Essex, NY

This has been a circuitous meander to be sure, but it leads to Essex, New York, another “city” that embraces its living past. Alright, “city” is a stretch. Essex is a village, a small village. With a year-round population well under a thousand residents Essex is a mere freckle on Rome’s or Paris’ cheek. And yet this charming freckle simultaneously lives in the past and the present. Comfortably, happily and willfully. Essex embraces its living past, especially when it comes to architecture. Two centuries of heritage and life permeated by a built environment dating almost exclusively to the first half of the 19th century. Indeed many of the current residents were drawn to Essex precisely because of the historic built environment.

While my bride and I didn’t understand it at the time — seeing our transition from Manhattan to Essex primarily as a lifestyle choice — it was Rosslyn, one of the most historic structures in town, that ultimately seduced us. And it is Rosslyn that took me by the hand and guided me back through the years.

Through Paris, Rome, New York City to Essex in one meandering rumination, this is the journey through the coupling of past and present that has drawn me since purchasing Rosslyn in the summer of 2006.