On the first Sunday in November, the weather was gray and indifferent, not pleasant enough to encourage outside chores, not bad enough to stay inside with a book.   Even as I was contemplating this dilemma, knowing that outdoor chores were really the correct answer, the phone rang.   It was Sidekick, in much the same mood, wondering if I might be interested in a road trip 'up' to the Colby College Art Museum in Waterville (although actually due west a couple of hours, like all trips inland in Maine, it feels 'up').  Road trip with a favorite partner in crime or chores?  The decision took about 1.3 seconds.

On the outskirts of China, a Greek Revival farmhouse with beautiful Ionic columns
Further down the road, this handsome whitewashed brick Federal was once the summer home of Ellerton Jette, who was the chairman of the Hathaway Shirt Company, whose long defunct factory was once Waterville's major employer.  Here was housed much of the collection of American art that Jette later donated to  the Colby Art Museum.
For those too young to remember, 'The Man in The Hathaway Shirt' was one of the most successful ad campaigns of all time.  Hathaway was a small regional manufacturer when Ellerton Jette went to David Ogilvy, then arguably the most powerful man in advertising, with a tiny budget and convinced him to take on the Hathaway account.  The rest is history.  When the Dilettante was little, Dunham's of Waterville, with its rows of pastel oxford button downs was where we all got supplied with our Hathaway shirts and Bass Weejun loafers.
Not quite two hours later, after a drive through China, we arrived at Colby. The  campus is a handsome one, created in the 1930's.  It is a classic of its era, the creation of one Dr. Bixler, then the ambitious president of what the then small regional college.  Sitting on  Mayflower Hill, its Georgian buildings and quadrangles were inspired by the great early Universities, including Harvard and the University of Virginia.

The original 19th century Colby College Campu
The centerpiece is the Miller Library, a  Colonial Revival building with a whiff of Independence Hall in its architecture.  191 feet high, it was, until the 1970s the tallest building in Maine.  (Since you ask, the current tallest building is an apartment building in Portland.  At 203 feet, it ranks 46th or 47th---depending on how you interpret the Wikipedia information---among each State's tallest buildings.  Only Vermont, North Dakota, and Wyoming rank higher, I mean, lower.)

The Miller Library on the 'new' campus at Colby College, for years the tallest building in Maine.
We parked and strode to the museum entrance,  only to be confronted with a chain link fence with a sign that said 'Closed for Renovation until November 8th'.  We had checked the schedule online before leaving home, and on the museum's schedule page found no evidence that the museum was anything but open.  As it turned out, the closure was mentioned on the home page, but we had googled 'schedule', thus by-passing that page.  You'd think those smart people at the museum would have troubled to mention it on their schedule page also, wouldn't you?  Thank-you.  So would I.  Especially on the schedule page.  Really.

The museum was closed to prepare for the construction of the new Lunder Pavilion, to house a collection of artworks donated by the Lunder family, heirs to the Dexter Shoe fortune.  While I find it a handsome design, I question the agressive way in which it breaks scale with the surrounding buildings.
Colby's collection is well worth the visit.  Among the works we didn't see that day are:

John Singleton Copley
Mrs. Metcalf Bowler (Anne Fairchild), 1758-1759
Oil on canvas
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Ellerton M. Jetté
Winslow Homer
The Trapper, 1870
Oil on canvas
Gift of Mrs. Harold T. Pulsifer
John Marin
Stonington, Maine, 1923
Watercolor and charcoal on paper
21 3/4 in. x 26 1/4 in.
Gift of John Marin, Jr. and Norma B. Marin
Fairfield Porter
Stephen and Kathy, 1963
Oil on canvas
Museum purchase from the Jere Abbott Acquisitions Fund
Regrouping, we decided to save the day by going through Rome---and then continuing on to South Solon and visit the South Solon meeting house, with its amazing frescoed walls, for our dose of art.  

In Norridgewock, on the banks of the Kennebec, this 18th century tavern hangs on, barely....
Hungry, we stopped for lunch in Skowhegan, an old mill town on the Kennebec,  where a few years ago HBO filmed 'Empire Falls', based on the novel of the same name by Richard Russo, about...an old mill town.  The first time I went to Skowhegan, decades ago, the last log drive was taking place on the Kennebec---millions of logs being floated downriver for processing.  Not environmentally sound, but a stirring sight nevertheless.
The last log drive on the Kennebec.  In places, one sees the Kennebec as it appeared 240 years earlier, when Benedict Arnold led his troops upriver to Quebec during the American Revolution
The 'Empire Grill',  the old diner from the movie, had closed, and a sports bar offered no sustenance.  On the strip heading out of town, we found a family restaurant, in what appeared to be a converted Pizza Hut---the architecture is unmistakeable.  Perhaps here I should mention that a friend refers to the road out of Skowhegan as 'the driveway to Quebec', and one definitely senses the French Canadian influence in the area culture. 
For these two hungry tourists, the defining moment was when we spotted Poutine on the menu.   Somehow, in a lifetime of trying all foods bad for me, this one had eluded me, a Canadian logger favorite of French Fries covered with brown gravy (ever the effete elitist, I was about to type 'sauce', but in fact, it was gravy) and melted cheese curd, and in our case, crumbled bacon.  Appalling in concept, delicious in execution.

Poutine.  Okay, so it wasn't Lutece, but trust me, we licked the plate clean.
We reached Solon in the mid-afternoon bellies full, arteries clogged (did I mention that we also had the restaurant's home-made meatloaf sandwich, well prepared and delicious---comfort food on a crisp fall day,on the largest slices of bread I have ever, ever, ever seen?  It was a sandwich for Brobdinagians).  Solon is an old town, its streets lined with handsome buildings that have see better days.  In this part of Maine, the way of life is often hard, employment scarce, and the smug pleasures of the coast, romanticized and ordered to the satisfaction of the well to do, are far behind.

Up in the middle of nowhere:  the Solon hotel anchors the town.  A friend said 'Oh yeah, the Solon hotel.  R.E.M. played there'.  One learns to expect the unexpected in rural Maine.
As in most of early 19th century Maine villages in more prosperous times, the evidence of talented builders using Asher Benjamin's pattern books for inspiration can be found.  This lovely little Greek Revival doorway, complete with triglyphs and metopes (however oddly spaced in the apex of the pediment) can be found on a Cape on Solon's Main Street.  In this part of Maine, tin roofs are the norm

Across the street, this oddly shallow 19th century house, not even 12 feet deep,  is irresistable.
The road to South Solon
A handful of early 19th century farmhouses survive on this high ridge--this example has escaped modernization, and has yet another lovely pattern book door surround.   It sometimes seems that the early builders could do no wrong.
At the meeting house, we spent a happy hour marveling at the 1950's frescoes in the late afternoon fall light.  While there, we were charmed by the appearance of a young man who had grown up in the neighborhood and had brought his son to see the murals and the pew where his father had sat when he was a boy.   For a full account of the Meeting House and its frescoes, please click HERE

We decided to go home by way of Athens, and mapped out our trip, only to find that the road petered out to a single dirt lane.   With the light waning, we decided this was not the day to be lost driving about the woods of Maine, and turned around and head down to I-95.   All was not lost, though, for we were rewarded on that back road by this view of Saddleback Mountain and the Rangeley hills an hour distant.

Leaving the Meeting House, a rainbow illuminated a sky that echoed that of the frescoes within
The view from a field near Athens. 
(Skowhegan was also the home town of Maine's estimable Senator, Margaret Chase Smith. In this season of really silly presidential hopefuls, here story is worth recounting.  Click HERE for the Dilettante on Mrs. Chase)



From Elsie deWolfe, who gave us such deathless design advice as "I believe in plenty of optimism and white paint", came this design for a house in the 'Modern Regency' style in 1926.  It was published in Arts & Decoration, and appears to have been a promotional gimmick, much like the "House of Tomorrow" or "Idea House" spreads that one reads in today's magazines, with lots of cross-promotional ads. Whatever the intent, it presages the style so beloved of Hollywood moguls for the next 2 decades.

One suspects that the future Lady Mendl did not actually do the architectural design, nor the professional looking sketches--or maybe she did, for the plan is very eccentric. 

Beyond that, I know nothing more about it.  You heard it here.



I intended to visit Ashintully again this fall, but schedule, weather, and a bad cold all played against me.  Well, procrastination was  involved also, but the point is, I didn't get there.

I'm a road trip kinda guy---I've never met a road I didn't like. A car, a road, I'm there. Some are better than others, but all offer something to think about.  I remember watching the landscape of urban industrial New Jersey flash by from the back of a town car on the way to the Newark Airport from Manhattan one day years ago.  It was a grey day, the driver was listening to a classical station.  The bleak industrial landscape reminded of Charles Sheeler paintings, and of F. Scott Fitzgerald's description of a similar landscape on Gatsby and Daisy's fateful drive.  Suddenly, in that unlikeliest of surroundings, I saw a palace fit for a czar rising on a hill to the left.  At second glance, it proved to be a just a high school, but its proportions, classical details, and pastel painted stucco surface would have been at home on the banks of the Neva.  In the time it took to travel a thousand feet, Daisy Buchanan had been replaced by Natasha Rostova.

At the other end of the spectrum is the Main Road in Tyringham, Massachusetts, one of those beautiful winding lanes that the Berkshires do so well,  taking one through hill and dale, past farms and little hamlets of toy buildings.  Ethan From is long forgotten in this 21st century version, hardscrabble farms replaced with weekend houses.  I'm sorry that I was rushing to my destination.  It was the last hour of the last visiting day of the season, and I didn't dare take time to stop, not even to photograph perfect Federal farmhouses, not even to photograph the surprising cottage at Santarella (speaking of Hansel & Gretel), the former studio of Henry Hudson Kitson, sculptor of the Lexington Minute Man statue.  Fortunately, one can remedy this with the aid of Wikipedia Commons:

According to the Santarella website, the 'thatched' roof is actually composed of 80 tons of asphalt shingles.  But, I digress---This post is really about Ashintully, which I first read about decades, centuries, ago in an article in Horticulture.  I'd ever since wanted to see it, and finally I managed to be in the Berkshires on a visiting day, and racing from the other garden wonder of the region, Naumkeag, I arrived 45 minutes before closing.

The Ashintully estate was created by Egyptologist and politician Robb de Peyster Tytus (An Egyptologist! Hard to believe that nowadays one need only to own a pizza chain to become a politician), who combined three farms in the Tyringham valley to create a 1,000 acre estate.  Titus had Hoppin & Koen design a large classical house (with more than a whiff of that high school in New Jersey in its aspect) sited halfway up a mountainside, with spectacular views across the Tyringham Valley and Bartholomew's Cobble.

Titus died young, of tuberculosis, and in due order, his widow married Canadian publisher John Stewart McLennan.   Their son John McLennan, the noted modern classical composer, inherited Ashintully, and took up residence in a farmhouse at the foot of the hill, on the corner of Sodom Road.  Here he created a garden, both modern and classical, full of surprises and mystery.  I've visited many beautiful gardens, but never one more affecting.

These pictures cannot convey the full experience---the gray fall afternoon, the sensation of ever-chaging vistas---one moment formal, the next wild and asymmetrical, the allusions to other times and places, and the sound of the jet of water in the central pool mingled with rustling leaves, and the sesation of fine mist blown  in the air from the fountain as one approached.  It is a complex garden of simple elements.

The stairs to a little mount topped by a finial are mysterious and dramatic, and the effect breathtaking.

The Regency Bridge

The Ram's Head Terrace

A minimalist vista, created with little more than a pair of finials and judicious pruning

The big house, known locally as 'The Marble Palace', burned in 1952.   This gate at the end of McLennan's garden leads to a trail up to the house site.

The dramatic ruins of the gardens of the old house are slowly being reclaimed by nature, but at the end of the trail one is rewarded by the breathtaking sight of the columns of the house breaking the sky, with the valley spread out below---Greek ruins, New England style (and yes, I do realize the columns are a Roman order). 

For a more comprehensive history and description of this amazing garden, with pictures taken in high summer, please click HERE for a link to 'Great Gardens of the Berkshires' at Google Books.

And courtesy of the superior search skills of a favored commenter, is a lovely video about the history and making of the garden at Ashintully.   Click HERE