YC Students Experience New England
Hiking along the banks of Thoreau’s Walden Pond.
Standing on the deck of “Old Ironsides,” a naval frigate dating to the War of 1812.
Enjoying seafood dockside at Plymouth Harbor.
Walking the street where British muskets fired on angry Patriots, victims of the Boston Massacre.
Climbing the stairs leading to the study where Mark Twain wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
These were just a few of the many experiences a dozen York College students shared with four faculty members on their recent study trip to New England. Students included Nathana Faddis, Sarabeth Robison, Kathey Stewart, Amber Soderholm, Kirsten Clements, Charity Regenniter, London Hawley, Sarah Eggar, Sarah Stoutzenberger, Caroline Gaudreault, James Tidei, and AJ Wharton.
The trip (May 18-31) was part of a three-hour study course on New England, sponsored by the YC History and English Departments. It was the fourth such study trip for History Professor Tim McNeese and English Professor Bev McNeese, who began taking students on the road in 2003, when they followed the Lewis and Clark Trail, a journey they repeated in 2005. In 2008, along with English Professor Kent Ross, they took students through the American Southwest. This year’s course destination, which also included English Instructor Summer Dickinson, took YC students and faculty even further from the plains of Nebraska, all the way to the Atlantic Coast. The trip was longer than previous outings at 13 days, compared to ten days on other such trips.
Although the trip to New England was the centerpiece of the course, the students attended 20 hours of classroom instruction for four days prior to heading to the Northeast. The McNeeses, Ross, and Dickinson took turns presenting the relevant material the students would need to orient themselves for the places scheduled to visit in New England.
The English instructors took class time to introduce selected authors, while Mr. McNeese covered such topics as the Pilgrims and the Mayflower, the Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party, utopian communities, and early textile mills.
Students were provided with books and notebooks of material on colonial and revolutionary-era New England, such as collections of poetry, essays, short stories, and other writings by the featured authors, as well as three books written by Mr. McNeese. They also received a leather journal in which they were to write about the places they visited. Much of the classroom time was spent in literature discussions. Following a long weekend of concentrated classes, faculty and students were ready to hit the road.
While earlier trips had largely focused on American history, this one was planned around both history and American literature destinations. Given New England’s rich literary heritage, a major focus of this trip was on a dozen writers, including Edith Wharton, Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson, Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Greenleaf Whittier, Henry W. Longfellow, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mark Twain, and Washington Irving. The YC group visited at least one site per author, typically an historic home.
Although there are always similarities with each study trip, this year’s venture was unique in several ways. For one, the group had to travel more than two days to just get to New England, plus two days to get back. But once they arrived in New England, travel from place to place was minimal, sometimes with four or five sites just a few miles apart.
“It’s all due to the tight geography of New England,” says Mr. McNeese. “Once you’re there, it isn’t that far across entire states.” This meant that the group could visit several sites in a single day.
“The sheer number of historical sites increased greatly from previous trips,” notes Bev McNeese. “Days on the road were so packed with stops that there was little time for reflection. Also, while previous trips included students of all majors and freshmen through seniors, this time it was a trip involving English and history majors and minors, plus they were all juniors and seniors.”
One of the additional significant differences on this trip compared to earlier ventures was the sheer number of guided tours scheduled ahead of time. Through several months of planning and endless phone calls, Mr. McNeese had booked three dozen tours of houses, inns, estates, and historical sites, which meant the group’s days in New England were packed, and the pace was sometimes relentless.
“It was really hard to keep up with all the information presented by guides and docents,” says Mrs. McNeese. “But since several of the students had already taken American literature this year, as well as American history courses from Colonial America to Early National, they were informed enough to ask really insightful questions, not only of the faculty, but of the guides and interpreters. The students had their favorite guides on this trip, especially the older guides who were often retired school teachers or college professors.”
The party of faculty and students left campus on Tuesday morning, May 18, and faced the long drive of nearly 1,500 miles to New England. The hours of tedious driving were broken up with several DVDs purchased for the trip which featured topics related to the course content. Students watched films on the Shakers, Louisa May Alcott, the Pilgrims voyage on the Mayflower, the Native American peoples the Pilgrims encountered in New England, as well as feature films based on such novels as Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence and Alcott’s Little Women. The second day on the road, students were informed of a surprise destination, one they had not been told about before—Niagara Falls.
By Thursday afternoon (Day 3), the YC party arrived in western Massachusetts and the first of their scheduled destinations—the homes of writers Edith Wharton and Herman Melville. Students were given guided tours of each home, including visiting the room where Melville penned his classic novel, Moby Dick. That night, the group stayed at Merrill Inn, an historic stagecoach inn dating back to 1794.
“When I began planning this trip months ago, I decided early that I wanted to have the students experience a night in an historic inn or bed-and-breakfast,” says Mr. McNeese. “The Merrill Inn could not have fit the bill better. It’s a rambling, three story inn, and the night we stayed there we had the run of the place, since we were the only guests. It was even better when the innkeeper told us that George Washington may have stayed there.”
Over the weekend of May 21-23, the YC group visited additional author sites, including the homes of Emily Dickinson, Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Greenleaf Whittier, as well as a pair of living history sites—Hancock Shaker Village and Old Sturbridge Village, a recreated early 19th Century Massachusetts community. The Shaker village gave students the opportunity to visit the communal living quarters of the 19th Century Shaker community, as well as a traditional Shaker round barn.
“Sunday was a pretty busy day for us,” says Mr. McNeese. “We started off that morning attending the Trinitarian Congregational Church in Concord, a congregation founded by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Then over to the Alcott and Emerson houses, which are just down the street from one another. Then a drive north to the Whittier birthplace, followed by supper at the historic Longfellow Wayside Inn, which dates to the early 1700s. It was a tiring day, but one that really gave the students their money’s worth.”
Monday was given over to additional sites in Concord, as well as Lexington, where the first shots of the American Revolutionary War were fired on the Lexington Green. Students visited historic houses and inns, as well as Walden Pond where writer Henry David Thoreau spent two years contemplating the simple life and writing one of his most famous works, Walden. Led by a National Park Service guide, the group hiked the banks of the pond and visited a replica of Thoreau’s cabin, as well as the original cabin site. Later that day, the YC group stopped at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, where they paid their respects at the graves of Thoreau, Emerson, and the Alcotts.
The next day featured the “Freedom Trail” and a long walk through the heart of downtown Boston. The trail began at Boston Common and finished at the USS Constitution, known as “Old Ironsides,” the legendary U.S. naval vessel dating before the War of 1812. In between, the group followed the trail’s famous red brick line in the city’s sidewalks, stopping at such sites as the Old South Meeting House (where angry Bostonians met before the Boston Tea Party), the location of the Boston Massacre, Fanueil Hall, Park Street Church (where such famous 19th Century abolitionists as Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison spoke), and the Old North Church (where lanterns were hung in the church’s steeple in 1775, leading to Paul Revere’s famous ride). The day was yet another that was jam-packed, ending with a boat ride across Boston Harbor, and a subway ride back to Boston Common.
Although the group spent nine days total in New England, there was always more to see than time could possibly allow. Mr. McNeese notes of the trip’s destinations: “Throughout this trip, we visited around eight churches; a couple dozen individual, historic homes; a half dozen or so ships, and five living history communities. We gave YC students the opportunity to visit so many places and make connections with so many people that they had otherwise only been able to read about. That’s the kind of thing that has always made these study trips such great experiences for our students. We go to the places were the action unfolded, where history was made. Each destination becomes an educational touchstone.”
Following Boston, the next day featured visits to Salem and Plymouth, two eagerly anticipated destinations. At Salem, the group toured a replica 18th Century merchant ship, Hawthorne’s House of the Seven Gables, Plimoth Plantation (a recreated Pilgrim village), as well as a replica of the Mayflower, and Plymouth Rock. In a local cemetery, Mrs. McNeese searched for the grave of one of her ancestors, Edward Doty, a passenger on the 1620 voyage of the Mayflower.
Their final days in New England included visiting the 200-year-old Slater Mill in Rhode Island (the nation’s first textile mill), Mystic Seaport (a recreated 1840s, whaling village in Connecticut), and the homes of authors Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Washington Irving.
“Students were surprised to learn that Stowe and Twain were literally next door neighbors in Hartford (Connecticut),” says Mrs. McNeese. “Their backyards adjoined one another.”
But, despite all the traveling and touring, the trip was part of a college course, so it was more than just sightseeing. After visiting each site, students were given a responsive writing assignment to enter in their personal journals. The journals were collected after the trip to then be read and graded as one of the course assignments. Additional assignments included readings and other writings were made following the trip to be done as post-work for the course.
All in all, students who participated in this year’s study trip gained new insights concerning their study of history and literature, as well as an appreciation for those of the past, whether they defied the British on Lexington Green or wrote an American masterpiece. As with previous YC study trips, learning was taken out of the classroom and brought to life.