Monday, May 25, 2015

Help Save Syracuse's Barnes-Hiscock Mansion

If you are a follower or occasional reader of this blog, then you know that I love old homes and there is a high probability that you do too. There is an old home in my hometown, Syracuse, NY, that I have a special affinity for. James Street, in that city, was once lined with remarkable homes like the Barnes-Hiscock Mansion. Over the years, they have been demolished or neglected to the point where only a small handful still survive.
Exterior view of the Barnes-Hiscock Mansion on James Street in Syracuse, NY. Photo by Eric Payne. 
In my other blog, I’ve written a little about the home because of its amazing interiors, some of which were designed by nationally renowned architect Joseph Lyman Silsbee. It doesn’t take a PhD in Art History to realize that the architectural history of the home is very rich.
Photo of the Barnes Dining Room fireplace.
Photo of the Barnes Dining Room built-in sideboard.
Equally rich is the home’s social history. It is uniquely intertwined with the history of the city of Syracuse. Because of its owners and their political and historical associations, the home has connections to Abolition and the Underground Railroad.  The home was host to many meetings of local and national politicians and activists. While in Syracuse, President Taft once stayed in the home. To see a bit of the home and its history, click the video below:

The Barnes-Hiscock Mansion is currently overseen by the George & Rebecca Barnes Foundation and the Foundation needs your help. Presently, there is a fundraising effort going on to replace and reconstruct the roof and its historic details. At this point, there is no donor that has stepped forward to single-handedly pay for this much needed restoration. Instead, the Foundation must rely on small donations from many individuals in order to fund the work and receive additional grants.
View of deteriorating portico balustrade and roof. Photo courtesy of the George & Rebecca Barnes Foundation. 
Arial view of the Barnes-Hiscock Mansion showing a makeshift patchwork of blue tarps to help protect the room. Photo from Google maps.  
Help save and restore the Barnes-Hiscock Mansion. The easiest way to give is by clicking on THIS LINK to the online fundraising campaign. No donation is too big or too small so please give what you can. It would be terrible to see this remarkable piece of our history lost forever. 
Also, please take the time to give and to follow their Facebook page to learn more about the Foundation, its activities and this amazing structure.     


Sunday, May 24, 2015

More Garden Photos

I've finally been able to spend a couple days cleaning up the yard and everything is coming in nicely. I am particularly excited about the new irises. We planted them about four years ago but this is the first they are blooming. They were well worth the wait. How amazing they look. The wisteria is on the verge of blooming as well and takes up just under half of the pergola. I am guessing it will look great in another week.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Spring in the Garden

Some pics of the garden this spring. The lilacs are blooming, the forget-me-nots are spreading and the wisteria looks like it is going to be very showy in a few weeks. There is a ton of work to do out there but I still have painting to do indoors. Hopefully things don't get too carried away before I finish inside.

Monday, April 13, 2015

I Love the Smell of Burning Rubber in the Morning

It's that time of year when the youth soccer leagues migrate from indoor warehouse fields to the great outdoors. I generally like watching my daughter play soccer. The parents and coaches aren't too crazy and it gives me a chance to relax for a little on a Sunday afternoon. Also, my daughter loves it. One thing that I DON'T look forward to are home games. Sounds crazy huh? No, I am not averse to the idea of a "home field advantage" or anything like that. Instead, I loathe the hour of breathing in the smell of burning rubber for an hour or so.

When we travel with the team to Glen Elyn, Western Springs, LaGrange, Elmwood Park or any of the other suburbs where my daughter plays, we play on grass. It is nice. In Oak Park, we want our children to play on artificial turf and on sunny days, when those fields warm up, they let off a stench that is hard to describe.

At first I found this a little shocking. In the land of rain barrels, honeybee and butterfly gardens, backyard chicken coops, and organic food co-ops , we seem have an obsession with synthetic turf. What I find most bizarre is that this obsession seems to crop up every time we have a park rehabilitation being planned. When fields were replaced at Ridgeland Common, we NEEDED synthetic turf! When Irving School rehabbed their playground, we NEEDED synthetic turf! The cry came out again when they were rehabilitating Taylor Park. We NEED synthetic turf! Luckily they didn't get their way at Taylor.

Now there are plans in the works for converting two more fields, at Julian and Brooks Schools, to synthetic turf. Leading the charge for all of these fields of waving plastic is none other than the youth soccer leagues, AYSO and Chicago Edge. Their reasoning? If we don't get synthetic turf, then the children can't play soccer 24-7, 365 days a year!!! WE NEED IT FOR OUR POOR UNDERPRIVILEGED CHILDREN! The reasoning is effective. Who ever says no to the children? The question I have is this: why can't they just be proponents of new well-maintained playing fields that are made of natural grass. Why must they be synthetic?

With all of this synthetic turf, you would think that Oak Park has such a surplus of green space that it can afford to give it up to put install what amounts to a plastic-covered parking lot. To the contrary, the Park District encompasses a meager 84 acres of land for roughly 52,000 people.

I have a hard time wrapping my head around the reasoning behind artificial turf. The pros and cons would take me days to compile: You don't have to mow it but it still requires regular maintenance. You don't have to water it but it creates local storm water issues because it creates a huge impervious surface. It is always green and flat, no matter what time of year, but it gives of noxious smells during warm weather. I could go on but I think you get the point.  

I think that the unseemliness of it to me comes down to what this stuff is: it is a mat of polypropylene and plastic strands with tiny rubber granules in it. It is not something I would sit or walk on by choice and it isn't something I would ever put in my own yard.  

The local detractors to synthetic turf in the OP seem to be few and far between. The cry that we are somehow depriving our children of a full childhood if they have to sit out a game or two because of wet field conditions seems to be reigning the day. There may not be a ton of wisdom in the decision to change over our fields to artificial turf though. Published statistics of increased injuries on turf are widespread. Professional athletes have even entered the fray, bringing attention to these issues. It also seems that with the jury still out on whether playing on this material might be harmful to your health in other ways, that folks might want to take a pause on adding more such fields to the community.