Friday, July 19, 2013

Embracing Community at Asbury Grove

Ilse and Carl welcome Jud and me to Asbury Grove (top), playfully mimicking the enthusiastic hands-outstretched pose they teasingly noted  I (over) favor.  Collage:  some of the historic cottages; the Chapel (yellow, right);  the red brick Cafe, with Jud in front, Carl walking in; Ilse and Carl's cottage, upper right.   
I enjoyed a slice of folksy Americana last week at Asbury Grove in Hamilton, MA, about 20 miles north of Boston.  Asbury Grove was founded by the Methodist church in 1859 as a summer camp meeting ground, part of the religious revivals that flourished around the 1850s to the turn of the 20th century. Religious groups of various denominations still "camp" at the 85-acre site, but today it is mostly a community of  privately owned rustic summer cottages for people from up and down the East coast and beyond. There's also a growing number of year-round residences.  The land is owned by the Methodist church.

Peace Corps friends Ilse and Carl invited me to their cottage in "the Grove," as it is affectionately called by the people who summer there, and I took them up on the invitation.  So did our PC friend Jud, who now lives in Washington, DC.  What a great place for a reunion of RPCVs who shared time in Ukraine!

Ilse and Carl, adventurers and world travelers, have summered at Asbury Grove for over 30 years."I fell in love with it the minute I saw it," Carl says. Over the years they've fixed up their cottage, modernized inside, added a great screened-in porch, and plan to paint the porch floor (deep aqua) and trim (eggplant purple), add "gingerbread" architectural features around the outside, and put in a garden. That cottage, in short, keeps them busy. Or, I should say it keeps Carl busy! They love it. And now their children and grandchildren do too.

In fact many of the friends and neighbors we met on the winding paths of the Grove, all friendly and welcoming, have summered here for generations. They waved hello or stopped in for tea or wine and great conversation on every subject imaginable, politics not excluded. Roger the photographer took photos. We met other neighbors tending their gardens; admired the latest updates to a cottage; shared concerns for preserving authenticity.  We joined friends for a hearty meal at the dining hall and for a Zydeco band concert at the Tabernacle, the oldest tabernacle in America. The band called themselves the "Squeezebox Stompers," and oh boy, did they get us dancing!  Among it's tall pine trees and exuberant bright blue hydrangea, Asbury Grove also features an olympian-size pool and other recreational amenities, great for families, campers, and kids of all ages.

A precious sense of community predominates.   Fellowship, bonds of friendship, the ties that bind. It's easy to feel as if you belong, even if you are a stranger.

Residents proudly note that Asbury Grove is now listed in the National Register of Historic Places. As part of the application process, residents researched the architecture of the cottages--Victorian Gothic, Italianate, Vernacular--and the history of the community. It was a labor of love, with many volunteer hours donated.  The folks of the Grove (including Carl) continue to do research, collect records, photos and memorabilia, and work with top-notch archivists, who are also residents, to preserve and digitize their collections (I think at Boston University) for future generations.  A "wholesome" place, as Jud put it.  A community of kindred spirits, rare in this day and age.  

On top of sharing a great community, Ilse and Carl, generous and accommodating hosts, took Jud and me to tour nearby towns along the beautiful North Cape area:  Ipswich, Halibut Point, Rockport, Newburyport, Gloucester and the Rocky Neck Art Colony, and historic sites like the Choate bridge (1764) and the General Patton house, soon to be a museum. We browsed at antique shops, souvenir stores, and various galleries; admired ocean fronts, boats, ships and lighthouses; reminisced about our PC days in Ukraine; shared fantastic meals and camaraderie.  Best of all, we savored a kinship that crosses time and space, and made many new memories.  Historic Americana all the way. A feast for the spirit, food for the soul.
Gloucester, the famed fishing village where the ship in "The Perfect Storm" went to sea and never came back. Monument to Fishermen, upper right, which is surrounded by a granite wall etched with the names of those who have died at sea. Sailor Stan's Cafe in the famous Rocky Neck Art Colony, and a few artists' cottages (lower right).  With Ilse, Carl and Bea at our  "farewell"  all-you-can-eat steak dinner at old Weathervane Tavern in Hamilton (lower left). "Okay," Carl called out, "hands outstretched!"
Halibut Point, a beautiful site, where Carl, Ilse and friends picnic on the large granite boulders.
Powerful storms have shifted their configuration over time, an amazing phenomenon. A lovely path
leads to the rocky shore (lower right corner)
"Perhaps Loren's path," the ever-kind Jud says to me. 

On to colorful Rockport, once known for its timber (for boatmaking), fishing, and granite quarries like Halibut point.

Choate Bridge 1764 in Ipswich (upper left), then over to lovely Newburyport.  Carl on the waterfront. Great dinner
 (clams, scallops and shrimp) at famed Clam Box on way back to Asbury Grove.
There's ALWAYS a line to get in. General Patton's homesite and future museum (right corner).

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