Goodbye, Sagamore Farm

 

I recently trekked to the New Hampshire seacoast to investigate the origins of two cyanotype photogram albums recently posted to this site. There, botanical specimens gathered by Helen Chase Gage when she was a child on her family’s country estate known as “Sagamore Farm” in Rye, New Hampshire were compiled during the summer months of 1929 and 1930.

 

1-foundationAt Odiorne Point State Park in Rye, New Hampshire, remnants of foundation walls belonging to "Sagamore Farm" can be seen in this view looking west towards the seacoast photographed October 1, 2018. Helen Chase Gage (Miller) 1917-1982 was a schoolgirl when she roamed near here during the summers of 1929 & 1930 collecting botanical specimens used to make two albums of cyanotype photographs. The estate, a grand sixteen-room summer home built in 1892 by Dr. William Duncan McKim, (1855-1935) was purchased by Helen's parents in 1918 and eventually condemned and demolished by the US Federal Government in 1942 with other homes in order to build Fort Dearborn, which provided a coastal defense for the United States on the Atlantic seaboard during and after the World War II era. Photo by David Spencer for PhotoSeed Archive.

 

2-sagamore-farmA surviving photograph of "Sagamore Farm" located in Rye New Hampshire, the summer country home where schoolgirl photographer Helen Chase Gage made her cyanotype albums during the summers of 1929-30. A sixteen-room home originally built in 1892 by Dr. William Duncan McKim, (1855-1935) it's described in the 1994 volume Footprints in Time: A Walk where New Hampshire Began as: "This was a large house with two matching sides separated by a porte cochere (a carriage drive-through) which went through the house to the large barn behind." Notice the stone wall in front of the home, indicating the presence of farm fields that criss-crossed the future Odiorne Point State Park property. Photo courtesy Seacoast Science Center.

 

3-sweet-alyssum"Sweet Alyssum" (Lobularia maritima) Helen Chase Gage- American: 1917-1982; Cyanotype: 1930: (18.0 x 12.9 | 21.6 x 14.6 cm) Inscribed on opposite album page: Sweet Alyssum Blue Print made August 17, 1930 At Sagamore Farm, N.H. By Helen C. Gage. From: PhotoSeed Archive

 

Known today as Odiorne Point State Park, Helen’s family summer home was located on land at Frost Point at the mouth of the Piscataqua River and Gulf of Maine. In 1942 during World War II, the US federal government appropriated nearly 265 acres making up the future park boundaries through eminent domain, including the Sagamore Farm estate and other properties owned by 24 families. (11 homes are said to have been demolished) This was done in order to build Fort Dearborn, a coastal outpost manned by large gun emplacements designed to protect the nearby Portsmouth Naval Ship Yard on the Piscataqua.

 

4-ordiorne-pointThis ca. 1942 US War Department map shows the future area of Odiorne Point State Park in Rye, New Hampshire. Using the color green, this website has shaded the parcel belonging to photographer Helen Chase Gage's family- 43.6 acres. The US Government appropriated nearly 265 acres owned by 24 families through eminent domain in order to build Fort Dearborn, which took three years to complete. Graphic courtesy Seacoast Science Center.

 

5-tansy-tanacetum-vulgare-comboLeft: Tansy flowers in bloom at Odiorne Point State Park in Rye, New Hampshire photographed October 1, 2018. Photo by David Spencer for PhotoSeed Archive. Right: "Tansy" (Tanacetum vulgare) Helen Chase Gage- American: 1917-1982; Cyanotype: 1929: (17.6 x 12.5 | 30.0 x 22.8 cm) Inscribed on same album page: Tansy: Blue Print made on July 17, 1929 at Sagamore Farm By Helen C. Gage. From: PhotoSeed Archive

 

6-markerThis granite marker on the coastline at Odiorne Point State Park marks the location in the Spring of 1623 where English immigrant David Thomson (1593-1628) of Plymouth, England established the first European settlement on land that would become the future American state of New Hampshire. Originally installed in 1899, the marker was eventually moved but re-installed and re-dedicated in its' original spot in 2007: "Here Landed In the Spring of 1623 The First Band of Englishmen. Pioneers in The Planting of New Hampshire. Consecrating This Soil to The Service of God and Liberty. Photographed on October 1, 2018 by David Spencer for PhotoSeed Archive.

The area is rich in American history: at Odiorne Point within the present-day state park, a large granite marker (installed 1899 |rededicated 2007) marks the location in the Spring of 1623 where English immigrant David Thomson (1593-1628) of Plymouth, England established the first European settlement on land that would become the future American state of New Hampshire.

 

7-helen-chase-gage-comboLeft: "Sumack" (Rhus coriaria?) Helen Chase Gage- American: 1917-1982; Cyanotype: 1929: (18.0 x 13.0 cm | 21.6 x 14.6 cm) Inscribed on album page: Sumack: Blue Print made on July 23, 1929 at Sagamore Farm By Helen C. Gage. From: PhotoSeed Archive. Right: Sumac leaves from a shrub showing off their fall colors at Odiorne Point State Park in Rye, New Hampshire photographed October 1, 2018. Photo by David Spencer for PhotoSeed Archive.

 

8-calling-cardHelen Chase Gage hand-drawn calling card inserted within 1930 Blue Print album of botanical specimen photograms: Helen Chase Gage- American: 1917-1982: This hand-made album is shown opened with the front pastedown made from blue art paper extending full width of opened volume. Overall dimensions: 23.0 x 30.0 cm : Calling card: 7.6 x 15.1 cm. Helen Chase Gage spent her early childhood at 2 Avon Road in Bronxville, New York but assembled this album and another in 1929 at Sagamore Farm in Rye, New Hampshire. From: PhotoSeed Archive

 

9-larkspur"Larkspur" (Scientific name: Delphinium; Family: Ranunculaceae) Helen Chase Gage- American: 1917-1982; Cyanotype: 1930: (17.7 x 12.6 cm | 21.6 x 14.6 cm x2) Inscribed on opposite album page: Larkspur: Blue Print made August 10, 1930 At Sagamore Farm By Helen C. Gage. This representative album spread from Helen's 1930 collected cyanotypes is unusual because the original collected botanical specimens are featured as part of the volume. Thirty-one individual prints are included within the album closed by means of cloth ties, seen at far right of frame. From: PhotoSeed Archive

 

10-bronxville-review-press-and-reporter-1970-photo-of-helen-gage-wedding"Big Sister, Little Brother" Left: This cropped photograph of Helen Chase Gage Miller accompanied her 1970 wedding announcement in the Bronxville (New York) Review Press and Reporter newspaper. A graduate of Bronxville High School and Pratt Institute in Brooklyn earlier in life, she also attended Ursinus College. Later, the young photographer is known to have worked at Lord and Taylor, a department store in New York City, and was a member of the Reformed Church in Bronxville, the Anne Hutchinson Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the League for Service. Right: In 1935, Helen's younger brother Edward Augustus Gage (1919-2007) is shown behind the wheel of a 1918 Model T Ford depot wagon, along with his dog Ski at rear, in a photograph believed to have been taken near the family's summer property in Rye. The caption for this photograph which appeared in the volume "Footprints in Time" states: "Edward Gage later played an important role in trying to get the government to sell Odiorne land back to its pre-war owners." His 2007 obituary mentions he was a pilot and flight instructor in World War II and finished in the Naval Reserves at the rank of lieutenant commander. Trained as a lawyer, in 1970 he was appointed to serve as judge of the Exeter District Court in New Hampshire until his retirement in 2003. Photo courtesy Seacoast Science Center.

 

12-impasto-painting-exercise-helen-gageThe pursuit of art was evident for Helen Chase Gage after early childhood. Although it's not known if she pursued it in any professional capacity later in life, Helen did attend Pratt Institute-School of Fine and Applied Arts in Brooklyn, New York from 1939-40, graduating in June, 1940. Above are several examples of original artwork by Gage used in her Art History course she was enrolled in as part of a series of lessons on painting presented by school Director James C. Boudreau kept in a notebook held by the PhotoSeed Archive. Top left: a tondo (13.8 cm) female form frontal view by Helen Chase Gage as an example of Impasto painting done using tempera paint. Top right: tempera study (5.5 x 9.5 cm) by Helen Chase Gage of the fresco "Pazzi Crucifixion" by Pietro Perugino; bottom: tempera study (8.4 x 15.9 cm) by Helen Chase Gage of Leonardo Da Vinci's "Last Supper". Bottom: tempera study (12.9 x 18.1 cm) by Helen Chase Gage of a painting by English artist Joseph Mallord William Turner titled "A Heath Scene" in the Gage notebook. From: PhotoSeed Archive

 

Jumping to the present day, the focal point of the park is the Seacoast Science Center, a non-profit marine science education organization. When I visited on October 1st recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with the center’s president Jim Chase, who gave me a brief history of the property and was helpful with directions to the area where Sagamore Farm was once located. He told me of the park’s efforts in clearing out some of the invasive plants on the property and about one of Seacoast’s more popular activities- BioBlitz, described as a “daylong species scavenger hunt…..where families explore alongside scientists and field experts to find and record data on as many different species in the Park as possible in one day.”

 

 

13-lily-of-the-valley"Lily of The Valley" (Convallaria majalis) Helen Chase Gage- American: 1917-1982; Cyanotype: 1930: (18.1 x 13.0 cm | 21.6 x 14.6 cm x2) Inscribed on opposite album page: Lily of The Valley: Blue Print made August 17, 1930 At Sagamore Farm By Helen C. Gage. This representative album spread from Helen's 1930 collected cyanotypes is unusual because the original collected botanical specimens are featured as part of the volume. Thirty-one individual prints are included within the album. From: PhotoSeed Archive

 

14-hampton-beachAt dusk, waves crash on a rock outcropping at Hampton Beach, New Hampshire on September 30, 2018. Located twelve miles south of the present day Odiorne Point State Park along New Hampshire Route 1A, the popular summer destination spot for tourists is known for its' scenic beauty on the New Hampshire coastline, which measures in at 18.57 miles, the shortest ocean coastline of any US state. (or 235 miles of “estuarine shoreline!) Attractions and geographical proximity such as this give ample reason for visitors to visit both locales. Photo by David Spencer for PhotoSeed Archive

 

15-i-do-not-know-blue-p"I Do Not Know" Helen Chase Gage- American: 1917-1982; Cyanotype: 1929: (18.0 x 12.5 cm | 30.0 x 22.8 cm) Inscribed on same album page: I do not know.: Blue Print made July 8, 1929 At Sagamore Farm By Helen C. Gage. Perhaps one of the most interesting cyanotypes in both albums is this unidentified leaf specimen-endearing because the young artist who collected it was just being honest with her knowledge and told us so. As I've mentioned previously with these overall works, a few of the specimens may not be “right” botanically and possibly misidentified in some cases. Your expertise is welcomed! From: PhotoSeed Archive

 

Feeling like a kid myself, I used my phone to show Jim one of the many fine botanical specimens Helen had made into a cyanotype from the 1930 album and realized she could have been rightly called one of the first BioBlitz scavenger hunters. As I left and walked outside the Seacoast Center, I found confirmation for Helen’s love of place on the New Hampshire seaboard all those years ago: a large group of school children getting ready to set out on their own happy discoveries.

 

David Spencer- October, 2018

 

16-benchA Special Place Indeed: a poignant reminder of the property where Helen Chase Gage collected her plant specimens in order to make precious blue prints so many summers ago yields some new opportunities in the form of fall leaves and Goldenrod resting on this granite bench dedicated to the memory of the McKim and Gage families inside Rye's Odiorne Point State Park where "Sagamore Farm" once stood. Photographed October 1, 2018 by David Spencer for PhotoSeed Archive

 

 

Afterword

 

An interesting segment from New Hampshire Public Radio from 2016 reports on how Odiorne Point State Park in New Hampshire was developed in the aftermath of World War II. The voice of Helen’s younger brother Edward Gage, (1919-2007) who went on to become a lawyer and spent decades trying to reclaim his family’s property is included in the report.  To the credit of the park in not glossing over the loss to the Gage family and others-specifically the namesake Odiorne family who had owned property here since the 1660’s, signage outlining this history can be seen inside the Seacoast Science Center:

 

“In 1942,when the U.S. government took over Odiorne Point, homeowners were given short notice to vacate their beloved vacation homes and, in the case of the Odiornes, a farm that had been in their family almost three hundred years.

 

After the war, a debated legislative technicality at the federal level prevented Odiorne Point landowners from regaining their property. In ensuing years, discussion over what would become of the land covered the full range of development and preservation schemes.

 

In the end, thanks to preservation activist Annette Cottrell and the interest of New Hampshire Park Director Russell B. Tobey, the state-owned land became a park. The park is now the site of the Seacoast Science Center.

 

The story of Odiorne Point continues. Visitors and students from around the world are making new use of the park through the Seacoast Science Center and its educational programs. This little point of land seems destined to make more history.” 

 

Additional Reading

Footprints in Time: A Walk where New Hampshire Began. Compiled by Howard S. Crosby, Wendy W. Lull, and Richard T. MacIntyre: Arcardia Publishing, 1994 

This entry was posted on Sunday, October 7th, 2018 at 7:51pm and is filed under Alternate Processes, Childhood Photography, New Additions, Painters|Photographers, Scientific Photography. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

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