PORTSMOUTH — Since local history isn’t usually taught in the schools, Rose Escobar is bringing her advanced placement photography students out on field trips so they can see some of Portsmouth’s most notable landmarks themselves.
“We have the gift of having a lot of historians in our town who have a wealth of information. Sometimes they come into the school, but it would be so much better if we could have the schools here,” said Ms. Escobar, who was at the Portsmouth Historical Society Monday morning along with a dozen of her students.
For the third straight year, Society members Gloria and Richard Schmidt guided the photography students to various historic landmarks around town, including Glen Farm, Greenvale Vineyards and Founders Brook.
“Portsmouth has some really special historic places where you can touch history, where you can see history, and we’re very fortunate for that,” said Ms. Schmidt, who keeps a local history blog that the students used as a reference.
Local residents will get to see the fruits of their labors next month.
“The AP kids are not only being exposed to history, they in turn will be bringing that back to the town. So, after their photo shoot and their research today, we’re going to pull it all together and create an exhibit for the community at the library in November,” Ms. Escobar said, noting that each student has a specific focus and will be writing a report to accompany their photographs.
For example, three students — Ruthie Wood, Gillian Crotteau and Nicolas Drennon — were focusing on the Society’s museum and grounds, the first stop on the tour.
Nicolas said he was struck by the size of the Society’s one-room Southermost School House, built in 1725 and said to be the oldest in Rhode Island.
“It’s very small. The kids must have been (very tiny) back then,” he said. “I’ve lived here for 14 years and I’ve never been here.”
Neither had Gillian, who lives in Little Compton. “The architecture here is really pretty — like the ceilings, which are gold-tinted,” she said.
It was Ruthie’s first visit as well. “I’m not a huge fan of antiquities, but I appreciate them here, she said. “I was looking at the old schoolhouse; its rules are just hilarious. You got three lashes if the boys went to the girls’ side of the playground.”
Ruthie enjoyed playing around with her camera’s aperture while taking photos of the museum’s upstairs meeting room — a former church — from above, while Gillian, who’s more into landscapes, preferred taking pictures outside. Nicolas was trying to capture images using unique perspectives.
“I’m trying to get different patterns, like with the organ,” he said.
Glen Farm visit
After leaving the Society’s headquarters, the trip continued to Glen Farm, where students explored a historical cemetery and the Glen Farm Stables that are currently being rehabilitated.
Ms. Schmidt related shared some history and interesting trivia of each location. She talked about the cutting-edge technology of the former A.C. Taylor family estate, which at one point numbered 1,500 acres.
“They had hot water running under the floors in the dairy barn so the cows and their little ones would stay warm,” she said.
That same barn was also outfitted by Edith Taylor as a hospital during World War II and served as a training base for the Red Cross, she said. Mrs. Taylor was “intimately involved” in many causes, Ms. Schmidt said.
Students then walked through the Glen, where remnants of the farm’s mill pond and power house still stand. A tea house that was popular with tourists was relocated years ago, she said.
“That’s what our town was built on, and it’s good to highlight that there still are farms,” she said. “These are historical landscapes and I think it’s just as important to save the historical landscapes as it is to preserve particular houses, because that gives you a sense of what your ancestors were seeing. When you walk through parts of the Glen and other areas, someone who walked through there 100 years ago was seeing the same thing.”
The other historical spots that students checked out were the Glen Manor House, Prescott Farm and Founders Brook.
Connecting with the past
Ms. Escobar said she hopes the project will help connect students to their roots, as well as to their own parents’ story.
“I’m hoping they walk away today with this beautiful, new respect for the place, respect for conservation and open space, respect for history,” she said. “And as they are developing their own photography knowledge and skill and vision, that they actually get a little more sensitive and start tuning in, and not to just the light patterns and the natural environment that surrounds them, but tuning in more from the heart – place and space and why we’re here.
“Local history is not only often forgotten, but taken for granted.”