My name is Jill and I am one of the Designing the Parks interns this summer, focusing on the Baker-Biddle property on Cape Cod National Seashore. I recently graduated from Virginia Tech (Let’s go – Hokies!) earning a BLA (Landscape Architecture), and will enter Cornell University in the fall to study Historic Preservation Planning. I am a New Englander at-heart, and Boston brings me closer to my hometown in central Connecticut. I love landscapes and discovering their stories – nothing tickles me more than finding a remnant stonewall, browsing through Sanborn maps, or enjoying the shade of an old-growth tree. My interest in vernacular landscapes led me to the Olmsted Center, where I hope to explore the stories of our nation’s cherished landscapes.
In commencing my research and investigation of the Baker-Biddle Property and its contributions to the Cape Cod National Seashore, I realized frequent discontinuity in the homestead’s history. History, alas, can appear confusing, and one should always take caution when a story seems too polished. Preliminary research, as I often see it, is playing sheet music without having heard it aloud. You organize, connect, and redefine following known parameters and rules that you trust; the story then spoken might then be enough to then recognize the melody.
The narratives from the Baker era, although lacking specific detail, paint the family’s sustenance lifestyle and connection to the shore. Parts of their landscape – the windmill that ground their flour, fields that grew their food, and vats that processed their salt – drop away from the tangible remnants of today. The open-ended existence of the landscape demands a physical investigation of the homestead.
With every transfer in ownership, the homestead reappears in a new light, for new uses, and with new inhabitants. These different visions for the landscape intrigues me, because it must reflect, to a certain degree, the condition and ephemerality of each owner’s presence in the place. The Bakers lived off their land, while Jack Hall used the property to practice his craft, and finally, the Biddles found their respite and retirement on Bound Brook Island.
In addition to researching the Baker-Biddle property, I joined the other interns to the Charlestown Navy Yard. There, we met with the Olmsted Center staff and learned more about their work in education and maintenance. Making use of the beautiful weather, we explored the Captain’s Quarters, Shipyard, USS Cassin Young, USS Constitution, and took the ferry back to Boston. Next week, I will be able to share an in-person experience of the Baker-Biddle property.