My name is Jill and I am one of the Designing the Parks interns at the Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation in Boston, Massachusetts. This summer I will be 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 most significant 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 once spoken might then be enough to recognize the melody.
The Baker-Biddle homestead is a 1792 ‘cape and a half,’ with three surrounding structures, most dating back to the 19th century. It is located on 10 acres, over looking a salt marsh that was once Duck Harbor and allowed bay-access. A lot has changed since the Bakers lived on the property.
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 Navy Shipyard in Charlestown. 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, Navy Shipyard, USS Cassin Young, USS Constitution, and took the ferry back to Boston. Next week, we will be traveling to Cape Cod to inventory the properties, and following week we will continue our research.