Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Exploring Mystic Seaport (I)

On day 5 of our exploration of the Northeastern USA, focused on New England, we started out by driving to the town of Mystic Connecticut, home of Mystic Seaport: The Museum of America and the Sea.  The weather was gray…with rain moving in later in the afternoon.

The Kingston II greets visitors to Mystic Seaport.  This tug boat was among the earliest of all-welded ships.  Made with scrap metal, she was originally built to train apprentice welders so they could qualify to work on U.S. Navy submarines.  She worked the docks in Groton Connecticut on behalf of General Dynamic’s Electric Boat plant.  When more modern submarines grew too large for Kingston II to handle, she was donated to Mystic Seaport, arriving in 1980.  She spent 20 years working at Mystic Seaport before being retired to this place of honor.

Mystic Seaport Museum occupies 19 acres along the Mystic River just above Mystic Harbor.  With its many ships and sailing vessels plus more than 60 historic buildings, this is the largest maritime museum in the United States. 
Just click on this link to view a map showing the layout and expanse of the museum:

We entered Mystic Seaport via the South Entrance.  In addition to the Kingston II, a café and bake shop as well as the Maritime Gallery flank this entrance. 
The museum was founded in 1929 in order to preserve the history and objects from our seafaring past.  

In addition to the historic buildings, actually a recreated New England coastal village, the museum features a working shipyard, formal exhibit space and a plethora of watercraft of varying sizes and types.  Currently, Mystic Seaport has a membership base of over 14,000 and the facility hosts over 280,000 visitors per year. 

This is the 123 foot long fishing schooner, the L.A. Dunton.  This schooner was built in 1921 and worked in the New England fisheries until 1934.  Then she worked in the Newfoundland cod fishery in the Grand Banks into the 1950s.  The Dunton was one of the last large fishing vessels that was powered only by sail.  In 1955, she was converted into a coastal cargo boat and in 1963, she was acquired by Mystic Seaport.  She is a National Historic Landmark and she’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Sabino (Sah-BYE-No) is a wooden, 57 foot long, coal-fired steamboat that was built in East Boothbay Maine in 1908.  Only one other ship of this type and age survives.  In Maine, Sabino first ferried passengers and cargo on the Damariscotta and Kennebec Rivers.  Beginning in 1927 and running through 1960, she operated out of Portland Maine, serving the islands of Casco Bay.  In 1974, Sabino was purchased by Mystic Seaport to serve as a working exhibit. 

The Sabino’s engine is still the original compound steam engine that was installed when she was built.  As per Wikipedia, Sabino is operated by a captain, an engineer and 2 deck hands.  The captain doesn’t directly control the direction or speed of the vessel.  He relays his commands through a series of bells or gongs to the engineer and the latter controls the engine. 

With a passenger capacity of 74 per voyage, Sabino serves well over 30,000 nostalgic passengers a years.   You can check out the Sabino in action at  

This is a view across the Mystic River from Mystic Seaport.  In reality, the river is only 3.4 miles long and it’s just an estuary with its main tributary being Whitford Brook.  Much of Mystic River is tidal and it empties into Fishers Island Sound and then into Long Island Sound.  Where we stood, it appeared to be a large river…or perhaps a bay leading to the ocean.

This is another view of the river and harbor area in Mystic.  The bridge in the distance is the Mystic River Bascule Bridge.  The bridge was built in 1920 It carries vehicle and foot traffic to and from the tourist district on US Hwy. 1.  The movable span is 218 feet long and 85 feet wide.  It opens for about 5 minutes around 2,200 times each year and it serves around 12,000 vehicles per day.

In 1967, research revealed that the Thomas Oyster House was one of the few remaining ‘typical’ small northern oyster houses.  This structure was built by a Mr. Thomas ca. 1874 at City Point in New Haven Connecticut.  New Haven was once the largest oyster distribution center in New England.  Currently, only such operation is still in business. 

Mr. Thomas used this building as a culling shed.  This is where the oysters are sorted by size in their shells and packed in barrels to markets across the country.  When Mr. Thomas’ son took over the business, he converted the structure to a shucking house.  Upon receipt from the oyster boats, the oysters were removed from their shells and then they were packed in wooden kegs for delivery to market. 

The building was used in the oyster business until the son retired in 1956.  It was donated to Mystic Seaport in 1970.  The structure was moved to Mystic from New Haven by barge and once it was restored, and using a crane, it was placed on its waterfront pier in 1984. 

When I first saw this building, I would have sworn that it was a nice old railway station… Wrong! 

This is actually the New Shoreham Life-Saving Station.  It’s one of very few remaining Atlantic seaboard life-saving stations.  Many similar stations were built along the coast from Maine to Florida.  This one was built in 1874 and it was in use on Block Island, Rhode Island, for about 16 years.  It changed hands several times and was reborn as a stable, blacksmith shop and finally as a club house on the shore of Great Salt Pond on Block Island. In the summer of 1968, after exchanging it for a reproduction, the original structure was moved to Mystic Seaport on a barge. 

This little 36 foot boat is an oyster or shoal draft sloop.  The Nellie was built in Smithtown, Long Island, New York in 1891.  She was used for oyster dredging in Long Island Sound.  Mystic Seaport acquired her in 1964.

The Nellie was used in fishing and oyster dredging for many years.  To limit the wholesale destruction and exploitation of the ‘natural growth beds’, power boats were prohibited from this business.  That meant that sailing craft used for dredging retained their usefulness for many years. 

When dredging, sloops like the Nellie let the tide push them across the oyster beds, some dragging as many as 6 dredges.  The oystermen would pull in the dredges by hand, remove their catch and repeat the procedure again.  After catching 100 plus bushels of oysters, the oystermen would deliver their catch to local processors or to others who sold them for ‘seeding’ private oyster beds. 

In 1837, Robie Ames’ grandfather, Issac, started a salmon fishing business on Penobscot Bay.  In about 1838 or 1839, he built a small shack which he used for the storage of his equipment during the off-season.  His gear included mooring lines, nets, floats and buoys, all of which made up his “hook of nets”.  Both his son, Issac, and his grandson Robie continued the business.  However, in 1847, after 100 years of fishing, the lack of salmon caused Robie to close up shop.  He stored all of his equipment in the shack and locked the door. 

In 1967, Mystic Seaport acquired all of Robie’s fishing equipment and not long after that, Robie donated the shack to the museum.  It was moved to Mystic and restored.  It is fitted out with the original salmon fishing equipment that was passed down through the family…

This lighthouse is one of the few replicas at Mystic Seaport.  It’s a copy of the Brant Point Lighthouse on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts.  Like the original, its 26 feet tall.  I liked this image of the lighthouse with the river and boats behind it.

The actual Brant Point Lighthouse is the 7th at the same site on Nantucket.  The first wooden tower was built in 1746.  The current wooden tower was built in 1901 and it was equipped with an automatic light in 1965. 

This replica was built in 1966.  It is home to “Sentinels of the Sea”, a multimedia display/exhibit that covers the history and diversity of lighthouses from all around the USA.  Two short films displayed on LCD screens show off these iconic and popular structures…

What does this big beautiful house have to do with Mystic Seaport?  Nothing really… It just sits across the river from the museum and I liked it well enough to take the photo.

Mystic Seaport also features a 250 foot long segment of the Plymouth Cordage Company’s rope walk.  It was built by the company’s founder in 1824.  The original building, which was located in Plymouth Massachusetts, was more than 1,000 feet long!  The ropewalk in this facility operated until 1947 when modern rope making equipment rendered it obsolete.

Plymouth Cordage made a variety of rope for a wide variety of ships, including whalers, where strength and long life was essential.   Plymouth Cordage supplied most of the rigging for the largest clipper ship ever built, the Great Republic as well as the rigging for many of the America’s Cup contenders. 

We wandered inside through an open door and found ourselves watching a young woman making some rope for one of Mystic Seaport’s vessels.  We were lucky in that she’d just left the door open to allow fresh air into her work area. 
The ropewalk itself looks like it’s ready to begin operations…but the machinery isn’t powered.  The first step in rope making, the spinning process, is portrayed on the second floor, but rope-making on a small scale is demonstrated by Museum staff. 

The rope-making process took three steps.  First, natural fibers are spun into yarn.  Then many strands of yarn are twisted together to form a strand.  The final step was to twist 3 strands together in the opposite direction in order to form the rope.  The long building was important because the spinning and twisting had to be done in a straight line.  A 1,000 foot path is needed to make a 600 foot rope.  The tension created by twisting the parts in the opposite direction at each step of production is holds the rope together. 

During our visit, a number of teenagers were getting sailing lessons in these small sailboats.  Two different types were in use, JY15s and Dyer Dhows.  The JY15s were a one-design centerboard dinghy and the Dyer Dhows are similar in design.

Mystic Seaport Museum also offers full-time sailing programs, the Schooner Brilliant Sailing Program, and the Joseph Conrad Summer Sailing Camp.  In the latter program, ‘campers’ actually bunk down on the 111 foot long Joseph Conrad sailing ship.


·         The original Dyer Dhow (without a sail and centerboard) were developed by William Dyer during WWII for sea and air rescue.  These 9 foot vessels were carried on many PT Boats…

This is the training ship,  Joseph Conrad.  The second photo of the Conrad was taken from another ship. 

This iron-hulled and fully rigged sailing ship, originally named the Georg Stage, was built in 1882 and she was used to train sailors in Denmark.  In 1905, she was accidentally rammed in the dark, sinking in Copenhagen’s harbor, killing 22 boys who were in training.  In 1934, Australian sailor and author, Alan Villers, saved the ship from scrappers and renamed the ship after author Joseph Conrad.  In 1936 Villers completed a circumnavigation of the world with this ship.  

This is a view of the deck of the Joseph Conrad.  She is a full-rigged ship.  FYI, a full-rigged ship is a sailing vessel that has a sail plan with 3 or more masts, all of them square-rigged.

In 1936 Villers sold the ship to Huntington Hartford, heir to the Atlantic and Pacific supermarket fortune.  Hartford added an engine and then in 1939, he donated the ship to the United States Coast Guard as a training ship.  The Joseph Conrad continued to serve as a training ship until WWII ended in 1945.  In 1947, she was transferred to Mystic Seaport for use as a static display and training ship.   

This is a general street scene along the waterfront at Mystic Seaport.  There are 7 historic buildings in this one block.  They include the Shipsmith Shop, Nautical Instruments Shop, Hoop Shop, Mystic Print Shop, Burrough’s House, Cooperage and the Mystic Bank/Shipping Office.  Keep in mind that there are 60 historic buildings at Mystic Seaport in addition to several exhibit buildings.

This is the Mystic Bank.  Back in 1850, this was a commercial bank.  In those days, checking and savings accounts such as we know them, didn’t exist so the average Mystic family wouldn’t ever use the bank.  However, dependable businessmen could secure loans and mortgages to support ‘safe’ ventures such as shipbuilding or farming.  Banks would never finance a risky venture such as a whaling voyage!
The bank moved into a newer and larger building in 1856.  In 1951, this Greek revival style bank was dismantled, brought down river from its original location and then rebuilt at Mystic Seaport.   

Originally, the Gerda III was built as a lighthouse tender in Denmark.  Launched in 1928, she was apparently also used as a common work boat.  In 1943 she was used to smuggle Jews from Nazi-occupied Denmark across to Sweden.  About 300 Jews were rescued by the Gerda III.  The Danish Parliament donated her to the Museum of Jewish Heritage (New York City).  Mystic Seaport helps care for the boat and it features her as part of their collection. 

Henny Sinding was the 22 year old daughter of the Danish Navy Officer who commanded the country’s Lighthouse and Buoy Service.  Henny and a 4-man crew smuggled 10 – 15 Jews at a time aboard Gerta III and hid them in the cargo hold.  They would then set out on their official lighthouse supply duties, detouring to the coast of neutral Sweden along the way to drop off their ‘passengers’.  The Gerta III was boarded regularly by the Germans but the refugees were never discovered…  

This is former Block Island Fire Engine #1.  It was built by Gleason and Bailey in the 1850s and it was operated by volunteer firemen to protect the homes and businesses on the island.  Pulled by hand, this pumper would be accompanied by a hose cart with two 500 foot long hoses.  The pump-break mechanism on the engine could develop enough pressure to throw a stream of water 100 feet!  In a shipbuilding community, these fire engines could be used to ‘water’ new wooden vessels to swell their seams before they were launched…

This is the Burrows House.  Based on some of the construction details, it was apparently built sometime between 1805 and 1825.  It was the home of storekeeper Seth Winthrop Burrows and his wife Jane, who was a milliner.  It was located on the other side of the Mystic River.  In 1953, it was about to be torn down when it was saved by Mystic Seaport and moved to the museum grounds. 
That’s about it for the first phase of our visit to Mystic Seaport Museum.  Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for a visit!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Monday, October 29, 2018

Ocean Pizza!

After we finished our train ride in Essex, we drove over to our hotel, a Marriott Springhill Suites in Waterford Connecticut.  Then it was time for dinner… My first 2 choice were both located in the adjacent city of New London…

This was our view of New London Connecticut as we neared the center of town.  The city is a seaport and port of entry.  Given its name, it’s location at the mouth of the Thames River fits perfectly.  In the early 1800s it was one of the world’s 3 busiest whaling ports.  While New London’s population is only about 27,000, the Norwich-New London metropolitan area has a population of around 275,000.


·         Famous Patriot Nathan Hale was from New London.

·         Playwright extraordinaire Eugene O’Neill was born here.

·         War hero, patriot and former Senator, John McCain was also born here…

Based on my inadequate research, my first choice for our evening meal was Captain Scott’s Lobster Dock down by the marina and across from the Amtrak route up and down the northeast coast.  The problems were that the place was packed with a long line waiting to place their orders, the weather was quite iffy and dining was outdoors at picnic tables…not the environment that we really wanted for dinner.  


·         New London is the home of the United States Coast Guard Academy.

·         The Coast Guard Station New London and New London Harbor is the home port for the Coast Guard Cutter Chinook as well as the Coast Guard’s tall ship, Eagle.  Learn more about the USCG Eagle at  ( 

 Since my first choice didn’t work out too well and since Laurie wanted…really wanted…lobster, she wasn’t too encouraged when I told her that our second choice for dinner was Ocean Pizza.  She was somewhat mollified and hopeful when I pointed out that the lower sign started out with “Lobster Rolls, Best Fish in N.E.” and “Fresh Clams”.  So I crossed my fingers, found a place to park on the street and in we went!

The formal name of Ocean Pizza is Ocean Pizza and Seafood House.  Since I’d done my pre-trip research, I felt hopeful that they would fulfill my bride’s ‘lobster’ wishes.

This is definitely a local joint…really a large diner in many ways.  A Chicago equivalent would be the local Greek operated restaurants.  As you can see from my photos, it truly is a popular place!  Most diners were regulars, of that there was no doubt.  Also, many if not most of the servers, appeared to have been with Ocean Pizza for a number of years.

Laurie ordered a cup of Clam Chowder to accompany her dinner.  It was above average, but not among the best that we’ve ever had.

Did I mention that Ocean Pizza is also apparently operated by a Greek family?  How else could you explain the several Greek Specialties on the menu?  They even offer Athenian Squid as an appetizer… I saw one of my favorite Greek style starters, this cup of Greek Lemon Rice soup.  It was quite nice and very filling, but I prefer a little more lemon in mine. (A Chicago thing?)

For my entrée, I went for the Fried Clam Strips with French Fries and Coleslaw. ($13.50) What a huge stack of clam strips!  I’ve never seen so many in one order… They were very nice and I ‘managed’ to finish them despite the size of the pile!

This is what Laurie wanted for her first dinner on the New England coast…  This pile of goodness on a bun is Ocean Pizza’s version of a Lobster Roll! ($19.99) 

It was far and away the biggest lobster roll with the most generous pile of lobster that Laurie had on the trip…and for that matter…ever!  She managed to finish every bit of that excellent stack of lobster…except for one bite that hit the floor.  She was upset about the loss too!  A couple sitting across from us commented that they come to New England all the time and that this lobster roll was the biggest they’d ever seen! Also, Laurie couldn't touch either of her sides. She was just way too full of that delicious 'Lobster Roll'! 

Needless to say, we were too full after the soup and our piles of seafood for any dessert.  It’s too bad that Ocean Pizza is so far from where we live.  I’d actually like to give their pizza a try too!

Ocean Pizza Restaurant and Seafood House is family owned and has been in business since 1962…56 years!  They offer pizza, Greek and Italian cuisine, seafood, steak, burgers and much more.  Ocean Pizza is open daily for lunch and dinner.  They are located at 88 Ocean Avenue in New London Connecticut.  Phone: 860-443-0870.  Their website and extensive menu is found at:

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by to see what was for dinner!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Friday, October 26, 2018

An Adventure in Essex Connecticut

It was the early afternoon on our 4th day of our summer road trip.  We’d just arrived along the central coastal area of Connecticut.  Time to check out a major local attraction…

Essex Connecticut on the Connecticut River is the home of the Essex Steam Train and Riverboat Cruise.  This locomotive with its train was just returning from a tour when we arrived.  The Valley Railroad Company, which operates the Essex Steam Train and Riverboat, has been in business in the lower Connecticut River Valley since 1971.

Locomotive #40, (a 2-8-2 wheel configuration), was built in 1920 by the American Locomotive Company in Dunkirk New York.  Originally it was built to haul logs and lumber in the northwestern USA.  Ownership bounced from one entity to another until it was purchased by the Aberdeen and Rockfish Railroad in North Carolina.  It was retired in 1950 and put into storage.  The Valley Railroad Company discovered it and bought it in 1977.  

Locomotive #40 is one of the less than 200 steam locomotives in the USA that is still operable.   That is a very small number when you consider that over 120,000 steam locomotives were put in use across the country…

Our timing was just about perfect!  The ‘steam train’, Locomotive #40 was ready to depart on its next tour, so we were just in time to catch the train. 

There is a fair amount of rolling stock at the Essex Steam Train depot property.  This Porter 0-6-0 tank engine, Simons Wrecking #2, was acquired from the city of Peabody Massachusetts in 2009.  It had been part of Scranton Pennsylvania’s ‘Steamtown’ collection.  Funds are being raised to try to return this small locomotive to service for Valley Railroad. 

Laurie took this photo of me as we waited to board the train… (Who the heck is that old guy?!)

The Valley Railroad Company leases about 23 miles of track from the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.  A big part of Valley Railroad’s success and continued operations is due to assistance by the Friends of The Valley Railroad.  This volunteer group works with the railroad to perform track and equipment maintenance and various other tasks… 

For information regarding the Friends of The Valley Railroad organization just go to

These photos show the inside of the 74-seat passenger coaches on our train.  Fortunately, it wasn’t raining and we were able to put the windows up.  The coaches are in fairly good condition considering how much use they get…
The Valley Railroad has 10 passenger coaches in service and 7 of them were built by the Pullman Company.  

The Pullman coaches were formerly owned by the Leigh Valley Railroad Company and the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad.  The other 3 coaches in were built by Bethlehem Steel.  4 newer (1950s) Canadian Car and Foundry coaches have been acquired from the Adirondack Scenic Railway and one of those will be put in service this November.

Here’s our conductor taking tickets from the family seated in front of us.  It is a 2.5 hour trip.

The fare for adults (train only) is $20.00, seniors $18.00 and children $10.00.  The combo fare, (train and river cruise) is $30.00, seniors $27.00 and children $20.00.  A first class parlor coach is available for an extra charge…  

Our route took us north along the shore and marshy area bordering the Connecticut River.

FYI, at 406 miles in length, the Connecticut River is the longest river in New England.  Flowing through 4 states, it produces 70% of Long Island Sound’s fresh water! 

Along the way, we crossed over this little creek draining into the river.  The Connecticut River has 148 tributaries feeding it before it reaches Long Island Sound.

In the distance across the river, we could see the Gillette Castle.  It’s located in a State Park of the same name.

The castle was a private residence that was designed and built by William Gillette, an actor who was most famous for his stage portrayal of Sherlock Holmes.  When it was Gillette’s residence, visitors to the castle included Albert Einstein, Helen Hayes and Charlie Chaplin.  It now receives 350,000 visitors each years and the park includes a visitor’s center and museum as well as hiking trails and a picnic area.

To learn more about Gillette Castle and Gillette State Park, just go to

…then there was this marina tucked away in a safe and secure harbor just off the river itself.

We passed 2 depots along the way.  This is the former Deep River Freight Depot at Deep River Landing.  The station was built ca. 1915 by the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad in response to a government-mandated program to update railroad infrastructure.  Today, it’s used as the offices for the Valley Railroad Company’s riverboat operation.  We didn't get a photo of the depot in Chester... 

Deep River Landing is where we stopped to pick up passengers that had just gotten off their 1 hour and 15 minute river cruise on the 69 foot long Becky Thatcher riverboat.  We watched the conductor trying to herd everyone on board... Unfortunately we arrived too late to do a combination rail and river cruise.

…as we sat on a second set of tracks, a few kids in our coach got excited when the dinner train passed by.  They waved at passengers on the other train until the entire train had passed.

The Essex Clipper Dinner Train has been featured in ‘USA Today’.  The dinner train operates on weekends throughout the spring, summer and fall.  Diners are served a 4-course meal in restored 1920’s Pullman Diner Cars.  The dinner train can also be chartered for private events.

To learn about the dinner train and to view the menu, you can just go to

This was the scene at the Essex Depot upon our return from the scenic train tour.  This is definitely a popular tourist attraction! 

The Essex Depot was built in 1915 by the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad on the former Connecticut Valley Railroad line which had been serving the Connecticut River valley since 1871.  Passenger service on the route had disappeared by 1933 but freight service continued until 1961 when the railroad went bankrupt. 

This large red building houses the Oliver Jensen Gallery.  The gallery presents varying art exhibits throughout the year.  Admission to the gallery is always free as long as the tourist operations are open. 

This building used to house the Dickinson Witch Hazel Bottling Plant.  After 130 years in Essex, the plant closed in 1997 after merging with another company.  In 1866, T.N. Dickinson commercialized the American Indian custom of boiling witch hazel twigs to make a soothing solution.  The company remained in the family’s hands until 1983.  

This attractive red Pullman Coach, built in 1914, is not part of the rolling stock on hand in Essex.  It's stationary and it serves as the Trackside Café, serving visitors to the Essex Steam Train and Riverboat experience.  It’s open on days when the train is operating and it offers soups, sandwiches, snacks and beverages. 

The closest Pullman Car in this photo is the 28 seat Parlor Car ‘Goodspeed’.  It was built in 1927 and it’s used with the Essex Clipper Dinner Train.  The passenger coach to the right is the ‘Putnam’.  It was built in 1924 by Bethlehem Steel. 

80-ton Diesel Locomotive #0900 was built in 1947.  It served at the General Electric Plant in Schenectady New York until it was acquired by the Valley Railroad Company.  As per Wikipedia, it is “used in occasional switching and work trains.  Suffered a catastrophic prime mover failure in one engine and is therefore limited in capability.”

The railyard occupied by the Valley Railroad Company contains all types of rolling stock.  This box car has been painted to represent a circus box car.  In addition to a number of box cars, there is a tank car, a hopper car, gondola, a caboose and a flat car and the dining cars.  There is another functional steam locomotive as well as another that’s being restored.  In total there are 4 diesel locomotives.  The company also owns a US Army Kitchen Car!  To view a layout of the Essex Depot and its rail yard, you can just go to

To visit the official site for The Essex Steam Train and Riverboat Cruise, go to

Well, this day was about done… Time to find something good for dinner!  That’s coming up next…

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them.

Thanks for stopping by and going along for the ride on the rails!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave