Catching Up

Here’s the next installment in the account of Anna’s visit. On Monday (12/27) we arose to snow squalls but decided to go to New London anyway. There wasn’t supposed to be any snow along the shoreline, and we had an appointment for our own private tour of the Shaw Mansion by the executive director of the New London County Historical Society.

We headed out after breakfast. The snow got heavier and the wind blew harder as we drove south. The storm tapered to flurries when we reached the shoreline, and rain was falling when we arrived in New London but the wind drove away any notion that it might be warmer.

Despite the bad weather we were early so we parked on Bank Street and walked by Hygienic Art. It used to be called the Hygienic restaurant or diner, and Anna’s dad walked the couple of miles from his house to eat there pretty much every day. Now an artist’s coop and gallery occupy the space, though the place looked desolate. The gallery displayed bare walls, and the former dining room still had the counter and stools from its days as an eatery.

I’d never walked down Bank Street before, and when I was driving I was always too distracted by the traffic to look at the storefronts. This time I was duly impressed by the number of bars, which filled easily three-quarters of the occupied spaces. A Curves at the corner looked quite lonely.

We drove around the block to the mansion where Edward Baker gave a thorough tour, describing its history as the naval war office during the American Revolution. The displays include gorgeous wares seized from British ships. (I could hear my mother drooling over the large collection of fine silver). Ed’s knowledge of New London’s history is both broad and deep. He corrected a couple of my mistakes and helped Anna locate Stony Hill where her Bush relatives lived, which is now in the middle of a housing project. He also found her great-grandmother and a great-aunt living there in 1915. They had moved by 1920.

We spent about an hour going through the place, as he explained the series of renovations (they lowered the floor at one point and created false fronts over the fireplaces). We also gazed longingly at the garden, which in the summer is exquisite, a cool and restful place no matter the weather elsewhere. We saw the room where George Washington slept (yes, he really did), and I was able to buy a copy of Tapestry: A Living History of the Black Family in Southeastern Connecticut, which contains a great deal of information about Anna’s father’s family, among others.

My favorite part of the Shaw Mansion is the room on the second floor that has been recreated as a whaling office with a worn rug on the floor, a strong box from Smith & Perkins, and the flags of the various whaling agents. There Ed told us the story of the Resolute, the British ship rescued by a New London whaler and later broken up. A portion of the ship was returned to the States as a gift from Queen Victoria to Rutherford B. Hayes. Ed concluded, “And here’s the desk with its current occupant.” It was a picture of Barak Obama, sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office.

It was then time for lunch and we turned to State Street where I knew there was a diner with OK food – at least it would fill us up without making us sick. We spotted a few steps away Mangetout Organic Cafe. It was a small place with no more than 10 tables, and the sun was streaming in. We looked at the small menu, which offered one kind of soup, a hummus wrap, and a few other items most of them vegan or gluten free. We decided it would be a definite improvement over the diner.

We were right. After going back and forth about sandwich or soup, we both settled for the tomato-rice soup because it was cold out, and we were having a large dinner that night. The soup was so thick it might have almost been stew, and the young man who is one of the owners served it with crusty homemade bread. I was too full even for tea but took Larry a decadent cookie for dessert.

After lunch we revisited Anna’s roots: Bank Street, where her DeSant relatives lived; Hempstead Street where her great-great-grandfather Bush purchased a house in 1845. It is now the Savillion Haly or Haley house, named for the abolitionist who sold the place to Anson Bush. And it is within walking distance of the Second Congregational Church where her grandfather William Bush played the organ for years and years.

That night we returned to Max Fish for dinner. I won’t bore everyone with another paean to the place (see “Max Fish,” December 17, 2008) except to say that I was a tad disappointed that many of the fish selections included some form of meat – bacon here, pancetta there. Food was still delectable, though, and I was pleased to note that the place was busy on a frigid Monday right after Christmas.

Up next: our cozy dinner on Tuesday, the coldest night of the year.

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2 Responses to “Catching Up”

  1. Deborah Donovan Says:

    Thanks for all the nice comments about the New London County Historical Society and of course thank you again for your donation. We are very grateful to the support of people like you who don’t live in New London County, but have roots or passions here. Also, regarding the ‘desolate’ look of Hygienic when you were here on 12/27, that was probably due to a changing of exhibits from their pre-holiday “gift” art show and the one that is up now. The Hygienic is rarely desolate these days. Thanks for coming down and thanks for the good words and thoughts. Deborah

    • lizr128 Says:

      You are more than welcome. I do love New London and will be back as I work on the book about Antone DeSant. So glad the Hygienic is doing well.

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