One of the great joys in owning Rosslyn these last 15 years (hard to believe it’s been a decade and a half since we purchased our Essex home from Elizabeth and George McNulty!) has been discovering the memorabilia of those who’ve come before us. So many Rosslyn memories, stories, and artifacts. Today I’d like to introduce you to the Keuhlen family who vacationed at the Sherwood Inn in August 1951.
Almost three years ago I was contacted by Phillip Keuhlen via the Rosslyn Redux page on Facebook. The impetus for his outreach was contextualizing photographs from a family vacation in Essex many decades ago. I was immeasurably grateful for the opportunity to peer into Rosslyn’s past when the property was operated as the Sherwood Inn. As happens remarkably often in this quirky existence, Phil and I uncovered a handful of additional life overlaps, the sharing of which has evolved into a penpal friendship of sorts.
I asked Phil recently to remind me how we had initially connected.
As for how we came to be in correspondence, it started with a group of photos sent to me from my Mom’s estate, and thinking I might provide some context for my children if they were ever of interest to them.
The breadcrumbs lined up thus:
- Internet search on “Sherwood Inn”… much too broad… you would be surprised at the number!
- Internet search on “Sherwood Inn Lake Champlain NY” led to a post on the Essex on Lake Champlain website
- From there to a link to your Rosslyn Redux website
- Finally to initial contact via messenger after following link to your FB page…
Digital breadcrumbs for a fortuitous connection across an historic and geographic divide. Oh, brave new world!
Tantalizing Time Capsules
What is it about time capsules, especially serendipitous time capsules? Is it the wink of familiarity across decades, despite initial dissimilarities? Is there just something intrinsically compelling about time-hazed mirrors and patinated backstories? Something irresistibly intriguing about glimpsing earlier iterations of our realities?
I can’t answer these questions, but I suspect that there’s something universal in the fascination I experience when permitted to time travel backward into Rosslyn’s history. My earnest hunch, squinting eyes, and furrowed brow – perhaps the subtle conceits of an amateur sleuth – and my fluttering pulse are familiar and welcome as I study the black and white images shared by a man who lives on the other side of the country, a man I’ve never actually met in person, a man who has generously shared a nostalgic cache of personal artifacts that just happen to illuminate Rosslyn’s blurry past, a sneak peek into an earlier chapter of the property we’ve been revitalizing for years.
In that first photograph above Phil Keuhlen as a youngster is flanked by his proud parents. They’re kneeling in front of a porch that adorned Rosslyn’s East facade for many years. At first the brick home as we know it today isn’t recognizable to me. And then it is. A flash of familiarity. The entrance door sidelights with those delicate, curved mullions are unmistakable.
They are better visible in the photograph above as well, however the center transom light (over the door) appears to have been altered at some point.
Adding to my good fortune, Phil has filled in details that his family photographs leave out.
Here are the Sherwood Inn photos I promised… All were taken in August 1951. We lived in Bloomfield, NJ at the time. The little guy in the photos is me at 2 weeks shy of my 2nd birthday. Wish I could offer more background, but both of my folks have passed and the first of my siblings had not joined us yet, so there is no one else left to ask. My only recollection of that vacation is a vague memory of falling backwards and getting briefly stuck between a bench and a bulkhead on a ferry trip across Lake Champlain! Look closely at the one whose file title includes “Note Sign” and you will see a sign for Sherwood Inn in the background. It says there were cabins available… not sure if that is news to you. There is also one that is very blurry… that I included because it shows that there used to be an extension well beyond your boathouse. The names of Florence & Chuck Sherwood, staff member Jean and guest/daughter(?) Judy are all retrieved from my Mom’s contemporaneous inscriptions on the back of the photos.
There’s plenty to muse and chuckle over in Phil’s message, but two threads especially strike me.
Let’s start with Phil’s mother’s “contemporaneous inscriptions on the back of the photos”￼. The photographs are opulent time capsules in and of themselves. They instantly offer a potent visual connection across the decades, an accessible and inviting bridge between now and then. The presence of Phil, his parents, and several others in the photographs contributes to the allure. These are not mere architectural artifacts. They are intimate snapshots of love and laughter and memories-in-the-making in the very same yard, beach, buildings where we love and laugh and make memories seventy years later. There’s a relevance and resonance that functions like a time machine, embracing two disconnected slivers of time so that they overlap for a moment.
And that is just a reaction to the time tarnished images. The inscriptions that Phil refers to remind me of the messages memorialized on the back sides of vintage postcards I collect.
Although I remain somewhat conflicted whether or not it’s appropriate to share the messages from vintage and antique postcards, I tend toward a quasi-archeological justification (unless the content is obviously sensitive or inappropriate). (Source: Sherwood Inn Landing on Lake Champlain – Rosslyn Redux)
From time to time these words illuminate the image. Time capsules in and of themselves, these quickly scrawled artifacts can enrich and amplify the value of the photographs. This is certainly the case with the notes recorded by Phil’s mother.
I’m especially intrigued to see mention of Florence and Chuck Sherwood. Although I’ve been fortunate in amassing many artifacts from the days that Rosslyn served as the Sherwood Inn, I’m thin on information about this couple. And the staff member smiling in the photos below, who is she? Might she be identifiable? Is she perhaps still a member of our Essex community?
And Phil’s young companion, Judy, will she remain a mystery? Or perhaps a dash of crowd research will help us to identify her as well.
What gratitude I feel to Phil (and to Phil’s mother) for recording and sharing these moments. And yet, I can’t help but repeat thoughts from an earlier post about a vintage photograph.
This faded photograph kindles nostalgia and wonder, revealing a glimpse into the history of Rosslyn… while dangling further mysteries to compell me deeper into the narrative of our home. Kindred sleuths are welcome! (Source: Rosslyn Boathouse, circa 1907 – Rosslyn Redux)
As for the second thread I’d like to revisit, Phil mentions the Sherwood Inn sign in the photograph above.
It says there were cabins available… not sure if that is news to you.
While the presence of cabins or cottages at the Sherwood Inn is known to us, this is a reminder that we’ve never managed to locate any record (photograph, title, etc.) that precisely captures the locations or looks of these cabins. I’d like to. I’m hoping that somebody may have snapped a photograph once upon a time.
As I’ve mentioned time and again since I began sharing this story over a decade ago, it was Rosslyn’s boathouse with which I was initially smitten. It’s my first and enduring passion when it comes to this property. So, needless to say, Phil’s mother’s photographs of the boathouse are especially captivating for me.
Although salvaging and rehabilitating this architectural folly was an epic project, it’s immensely satisfying to see that there are so few differences between today’s pier, dock house, and gangway (to shore) and their earlier iteration in the photograph. Preserving this +/-125 year old Essex monument is a perennial challenge. Engineering and construction location hurdles for “a boathouse that was one ice flow away from a watery grave” were not insignificant. And then there was the ahistoric flooding. Not the 1983 flood which took place more than two decades prior to our ownership. The 2011 flood, on the other hand, visited weeks upon weeks of high water upon us immediately after we had completed the boathouse’s lengthy renovation.
The second Keuhlen family photo of Rosslyn’s boathouse was taken when the photographer turned slightly more eastward, away from the beach and toward Vermont.
There is also one that is very blurry… that I included because it shows that there used to be an extension well beyond your boathouse.
Phil’s note touches on one of the notable differences with Rosslyn’s 21st century boathouse. Although a portion of the cantilevered section at the end of the boathouse remains, the extensive pier that continued eastward through the 1990s is no longer extant. Ruins of the old stone and timber crib dock remain however, and they’re visible at low water (usually August to September or October). An ice flow approximately a decade prior to our purchase effectively erased what at one time more than doubled the pier’s extension into Lake Champlain. A studious eye can spy the original pier (and the coal bunker built atop it) in these posts: “Kestrel 1892 Steam Yacht in Essex” and “Rosslyn Boathouse, circa 1907“.
Toward a Poetics of Place
I mentioned at the opening to this post that Phil and I have discovered several uncanny life coincidences. While some (i.e. New Mexico parallels) aren’t germane in this blog post, others are. It turns out that Phil and my wife, Susan, grew up — albeit a generation apart — within walking distance from one another. And his family was similarly drawn to old home rehabilitation.
Funny how small the world can be, huh? My folks restored an old Victorian house in Glen Ridge, the little town between Montclair & Bloomfield… When they took possession, there was a (leaky) slate roof, a well in the attached shed, a coal fired boiler, an earthen floor in the basement, some remnants of lead piping and gas lighting. I learned a lot watching and helping with that rolling renovation… largely an early lesson in blowing cost and schedule. I used to joke with my parents that I would have been a genius if I hadn’t ingested all the dust from sanding and scraping lead based paint in that house as a youngster! […] My folks lived in that old home from 1954 until they moved to Colorado in 1970, and subsequent owners have been generous in allowing my family occasional walks down memory lane there. It sounds like Rosslyn has the same attraction of fond associations for many in Essex. I explored your site some more and found the link to the article in OHJ. Your restoration is simply stunning.
I want to close by telling you how much I have enjoyed your blog. I lived in Saratoga Springs in ’72-’73 and enjoyed exploring up your way every chance I got (ok… when not casting on the Battenkill or Ausable). You write evocatively about a special part of this beautiful country and the history that is integral to a sense of place and community.
I too want to close by telling Phil Keuhlen how much I have enjoyed these photographs and our communications, conversations sometimes rooted in a shared experience of the Sherwood Inn / Rosslyn and other times meandering far afield. It has brought me immense satisfaction journeying into this 1951 time capsule through the memories and artifacts of a stranger-turned-friend. And I am humbled once again with the proof that a sense of place and community is the heart and soul of Rosslyn Redux. I have approached this topic tangentially for years, wondering and wandering toward a better understanding of what defines our Rosslyn experience; what bound us so passionately to this property from our first encounter; and what after all are home, home-ness, homing?
In the early days of this blog I suspected our inside-out rehabilitation story might offer something useful — even practical — to others pursuing similar adventures. Perhaps this is still sometimes the case. But I’ve mostly migrated from prescriptive to curious. Wonder has long since eclipsed practical. Still coalescing is what I’ve come to see as a poetics of place.
With that somewhat nebulous prognostication, I close this pre-Thanksgiving post with heartfelt appreciation to Phil and his late mother. Your gift of memory and family artifacts are now woven inextricably into the Rosslyn narrative. Given the overalled youngster’s self assurance in this final photograph below, it seems almost inevitable that his grown up self would reach across the country and across the years to reconnect with a place that endures in memory. A place that endures as our home. An auspicious connection for sure! Thank you.