Adventures with Beth

Posted on January 12, 2012


Usually when I’m home my sister and I make a point of going some New Englandy place.  Sometimes its a museum, sometimes it’s an old mill in the woods. I always bring my camera home just for these jaunts.  Beth is very into all things New England and New Hampshire.  She wrote a book on the town she and my parents live in and has a remarkable blog of her own,  Dream New England, over there on the link list on the right. So she usually finds some interesting stuff and I challenge her to do so.

Franklin is, well, a gritty little mill town. They dot the entire landscape of New England dating from the beginning of the industrial revolution when the short, steep rivers powered innumerable mills, eating Southern cotton and spewing forth so many toxins that the rivers would change colors depending on the products being made.  (Only Concord and Portsmouth were not founded on mills.) Now, the mills are all empty. Too expensive to remodel. I don’t know who owns them or why they would want them. Sure, some places like downtown Manchester, and even a small one in Franklin have been reused. But mostly there are miles of blank-faced broken windows. Next to them you find the cloned Cracker Jack mill houses for the workers and on top of the hills the mansions for the owners.

I’ve looked at plenty of these mills, thinking there must be something artistically stimulating about them. Walked around with my camera, spent several days in the wastelands of Western mass looking at them.  And never taken a single frame. There is something so desolate about them, almost post-apocalyptic. I’ve always been fascinated and intimidated about the scale of things men dared to build during that time. Those people were fearless and daring, but what is left is just the decaying skeleton of their efforts. It’s really sad, no matter what else is going on in town the empty buildings make it feel like a ghetto. It’s  a stigma I’ve yet to see a town crawl out of. You can love your town, but all of them have this inescapable sadness at the core.

Franklin, once called “Crotch Town” because the Pemigewasset and Winnipesaukee rivers meet there to form the mighty Merrimack which fueled I don’t know how many mills in NH and Massachusetts, is divided by the Merrimack. My parents live on one side and my sister on the other. As I’ve documented before, in the summer whenever I cross the river, I stop and take 3 nice trout, no matter how long or short that takes.  Life is good on those days. At any rate, my sister picked me up and as we were heading back to her house I asked her to stop at the high school as there was a boat launch there with good access and I wanted to scope it out. From the launch I could see that I actually would want to be on the other side of the river, land owned by a local which currently serves as a graveyard for old cranes and locomotives.

As we looked up river there is a little hydroelectric plant right in the center of town, with a mill across the river from it.  Water was gushing through the dam at high volume and riming the side of the mill. Now that was something I might be able to capture on film. (I found out later that the waster was at 2400 CFS when normally it should be 600.) Suddenly I was ruing not having my big camera. At any rate we drove up to the plant, and parked down behind it. I’d been here before, and as I said didn’t take photos, but I could see if I could get out  behind the mill onto this little ice-encrusted spit, I would get some great angles on the ice wall. We walked up and as I was heading down the iron ladder I said “Just keep an eye out.” Beth said, “You mean like for the guy who just drove up?” “Charm him, I’m busy.” My sister has a way with people I lack, and besides I was already into it so I figured I might as well get the shot and ask for permission later.

Everything was crusted with ice and I really didn’t fancy going for a plunge so I slowly worked my way along this tiny jetty (i.e. bumped along on my ass) and shot the better part of a roll of film. I didn’t hear any yelling so I just kept going. When I came back, Beth was chatting amiably with the owner, Alan Larter (although I was amused later to find the greasy card he handed me gave him the title “Treasurer”). Turns out that he is a big history buff knew of her. Pretty soon we’re offered a tour of the hydro facility.

At any rate they chatted away while I switched to digital and started shooting (somehow I didn’t pack the 6 rolls of film I’d set out).  It was fascinating. The 1930s-era equipment had a patina that was incredible. They have their own machine shop to make parts and keep it running. Alan, it turns out, also owns a train station and running trains, and  a couple of Indian motorcycles he got from his dad.  He brings his sons to work to show them that it’s important to use your hands. He was a pretty cool guy.

I was really missing my tripod in that interior light, so I pumped up the ISO a little and shot pretty wide open. Thinking of some of the interesting things fellow blogger Rob Howard (also on the right, Creative Splurges) is doing with selective depth of field, I decided to go with it and see what interesting things I could do. I really considered this just a precursor to returning for a B&W film shoot. Especially when he mentioned the motorcycles, and the trains. Could be a book in just his stuff.

Again, I’ll publish these gallery style without much editing. In the last shot Alan is holding a big battery in his hand, somehow I found this whimsical, but I tried to take it on the sly and it didn’t work out. Click on any image to open a slide show.

Oh, yeah, Alan said I could use his land to access the river, so I have my own private run, right through town.

P.S. Who Are You and Where are You From?

Who is visiting me from the Ukraine?
Who is visiting me from the Ukraine?

WordPress gives me these awesome reports and I can see how people find me, where they live, how they found the blog, what pages they visited. I see people from Europe, Asia, South America, and I always wonder who they are. I would love to get comments from  you! Kind of like a WordPress stamp album.

Posted in: Outings, Photography