Travels with the American Guide Series: Friendship, Maine and Seabrook, New Hampshire, A Study in Contrasts

The American Guide Series, produced by the Federal Writers’ Project, is one of the most well-known WPA projects. Written as a collection of travel guides, the series included recommended tour routes as well as essays on the history and culture of each U.S. state and territory. This post, following a suggested tour in Maine, is the third in a series of articles based upon the guides.

Exploring Route One is not all sweetness and light. The route was the main highway during colonial times and it remains heavily traveled today. Even in 1937, the Federal Writers’ Guide described long stretches of abundant ugliness: 

“Though US 1 runs through many attractive areas, its roadside for long sections, as
on other express highways of the country, is depressingly ugly, being characterized by hideous shacks, enormous signs, dumps, and raw cuts.”

But I encountered no ugly areas just off Route One in Friendship, Maine. It remains very much as it was when the guide’s writer described it: 

“A fishing village of small neat homes, is at the end of a peninsula. Local travel here being generally by boat, small floats or wharves appear at the ends of the side streets, which slope sharply down to the shore. Pride in the building and care of small boats is traditional in Friendship, as evidenced by the large number of well-painted craft in the bay.”

Friendship’s fishing village character still remains today. The WPA writer would recognize exactly what I saw this week. The houses are modest, 19th century wood-frame farmhouses and fisherman’s homes. 

The streets still end in wharves jutting into the harbor. And the boats offshore are lobster boats and dinghies. Not a single luxury sailboat in sight. 

Fishing and boat-building are still the mainstays of the economy. Lobsters and shellfish abound and charter boats are still available for deep-sea fishing. It is just as the Guide says: 

“Salt-water fishing, from both sail and motor boats, is the chief pastime in the vicinity of Friendship, the coastal waters offering many kinds of fish. Casting
for mackerel has become popular, but heavy catches are often made by trolling in the early morning and in the evening; these fish are as lively and agile as trout. 

Gunners, excellent pan fish 12 to 15 inches in length and up to 1 pounds in weight, are usually caught on the incoming tides, with sharp hooks on straight poles baited with worms, clams, or periwinkles. 

Pollock, gamey as salmon, are caught with a fly rod, by trolling bright flies in a swift current, or with herring attached to a colored spinner. The silver hake,
which when fresh is one of the most satisfying foods for a hungry fisherman, can be caught from small boats near the shore. 

As at other points on the Maine coast the skipper who takes parties out for deep-sea fishing is generally an entertaining fellow who knows the fish runs, as
well as many fish stories; he furnishes tackle and good advice, and cooks a tasty chowder.”

I couldn’t find a fisherman to cook me a “tasty chowder” but the local lobster shack did it quite well.

The next town, Seabrook, New Hampshire, is of historic colonial lineage dating even farther back than Friendship. Seabrook was likewise a small fishing village in 1938. In fact, it remained so isolated that the names of some of the original settlers had persisted for the intervening three hundred years: among them such names as Byrd, Peavear, Boynton, and Bachi.

“Seabrook (1,666 pop.), a village with limited accommodations, is Old Worldish
in appearance and atmosphere. Its landscape has been unchanged for three centuries; cocks of salt hay still dot the wide sand dunes beyond it as they did in Colonial days. A part of the people
of Seabrook speak a language reminiscent
of rural England, and at times almost unintelligible to a visitor. The names of some of the original settlers have come down for almost three hundred years, among them such names as Byrd, Peavear, Boynton, and Bachiler.“

Some remarkable traces remain. For example, the White Pages still lists 87 Peavears, 412 Boyntons, 108
Bachilers, and 1034 Byrds living in Seabrook today. 

So, too, The First Meeting House in Seabrook, beautifully restored, still sits directly on Route One today. 

But today’s view across the street is radically altered.

Driving on Route One, any additional traces of the old village have been completely obliterated and, instead, the road is lined with strip malls, as ugly as the guide suggests. 

Other sights have been altered as well. One cannot access the “wide sand dunes” anymore. The road that would take you there in 1937 now leads directly into the parking lot of the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant. 

I drove it on a Sunday. There was no one in the guard house, no one outside the main entrance. The only indication that it I might be unwelcome or that it might be unsafe to visit was this sign: 

Unless you are fascinated by strip malls or want to participate in an anti-nuclear protest, I’d recommend giving modern-day Seabrook a pass. 

Fern L. Nesson May, 2019 

Living New Deal Mentioned in Smithsonian Magazine Story about George Washington

Photo: Jim Wilson / The New York Times / Redux


Smithsonian Magazine published a story by David Preston about young George Washington and his role in the French Indian War. Preston also briefly reports on the struggle to save the Arnautoff mural at the George Washington High School.

“The city’s board of education initially voted to paint over the murals, but hundreds of academics and preservationists protested and signed a petition. Richard Walker, a UC Berkeley professor emeritus who leads the Living New Deal project, insisted that the murals had been designed to show “uncomfortable facts” about the nation’s first president. In August, the school board voted to cover the paintings rather than destroy them.”

Read more here

New Book: Wisconsin Post Office Murals by David W. Gates Jr.


David W. Gates Jr., author of the Wisconsin Post Office Murals, has published a book focused on the murals created by New Deal artists for post offices across Wisconsin. Titled, Wisconsin Post Office Murals, the book includes:

  • 130 full-color images of the murals
  • 70 images of buildings and cornerstones
  • Full-color map with the location of each town
  • The history and story of each mural

The book is available online from several retailers. Find more details on postofficefans.com.

SF Chronicle Reports: “Feinstein on SF mural flap: Don’t destroy it, don’t cover it up”

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Sen. Dianne Feinstein told the San Francisco School Board that to cover up the George Washington High School Mural would be “to deny our past and to fail our students.” Read the San Francisco Chronicle story here. Photo: Lea Suzuki / The Chronicle.

Danny Glover Speaks Out In Opposition To Destruction Or Covering Of New Deal Murals At George Washington High School

For Immediate Release:    August 12, 2019

Contact:  
Jon Golinger – for Coalition to Protect Public Art (415) 531-8585
Noah Griffin – for Mr. Glover (415) 756-3933

News Release

DANNY GLOVER SPEAKS OUT IN OPPOSITION TO DESTRUCTION OR COVERING OF NEW DEAL MURALS AT GEORGE WASHINGTON HIGH SCHOOL

Today, internationally acclaimed actor, activist and social justice warrior Danny Glover signed on to join the Advisory Committee of the Coalition to Protect Public Art to support the cause of preserving the 13 Victor Arnautoff New Deal Murals at George Washington High School and oppose destroying the murals or blocking them from view.

In a statement today, Mr. Glover said: “As a Washington High graduate, I’ve spent my entire life fighting for freedom and the right of artistic expression.  Whether it was being in the forefront to bring about the first Black Studies Department in the country at San Francisco State or being involved in films like The Color Purple and most recently the Last Black Man in San Francisco, my record is clear and unambiguous.

I am for freedom of expression and against artistic censorship.  I view Arnautoff’s murals, as they were for me, a reminder of the horrors of human bondage and the mistreatment of native peoples, even by the father of our country. 

To destroy them or block them from view would be akin to book burning.  We would be missing the opportunity for enhanced historic introspection this moment has provided us.”

Mr. Glover joins more than two dozen artists and art community leaders, civil rights leaders, educators, George Washington High School Alumni, and San Franciscans from across the political spectrum on the Advisory Committee for the Coalition to Protect Public Art.  

The CPPA Advisory Committee now includes the following individuals:

COALITION TO PROTECT PUBLIC ART ADVISORY COMMITTEE

Art Agnos, former Mayor of San Francisco

JoAnne Bernstein, Professor Emerita of Art History, Mills College

Robert Tamaka Bailey, Choctaw Nation Elder

Enrique Chagoya, Painter, Printmaker, Professor, Stanford University Dept. of Art

Gwen Chan, Former Interim Superintendent, SF Unified School District

Dewey Crumpler, Professor, SF Art Institute and Muralist, GW High School

Danny Glover, Actor and Alumnus of George Washington High School

Noah Griffin, Commissioner, USA 250 Commission

Emil de Guzman, former leader, International Hotel Tenants Association

Henry Der, former Executive Director, Chinese for Affirmative Action

Dianne Fukami, Bay Area filmmaker

Matt Gonzalez, former President, SF Board of Supervisors

Alvin Ja, former leader, Asian American Political Alliance

Robert Johnson, Curator Emeritus, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

Quentin Kopp, former Judge and State Senator

Anne Kronenberg, former Director, SF Department of Emergency Services

Rocco Landesman, former Chairman, National Endowment for the Arts

Will Maynez, Curator, Diego Rivera Mural Project at City College of San Francisco

Annette Melville, Executive Director Emeritus, National Film Preservation Foundation

Dale Minami, Civil Rights Attorney & Co-founder, Asian Law Caucus

Therese Poletti, Preservation Director, Art Deco Society of California

Jeffrey Pollack, Former President, Fisherman’s Wharf Restaurant Association

Barth Chief Eagle Robinson, Rosebud Sioux Tribe

John Rothmann, President, George Washington High School Alumni Association

Natalie Sabelnik, President, Congress of Russian Americans

Harvey Smith, President, National New Deal Preservation Association

John Trasvina, former U.S. Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing & Equal Opportunity

Lope Yap, Jr., Vice-President, George Washington High School Alumni Association

# # #

Paid for by the Coalition To Protect Public ArtFinancial disclosures available at sfethics.org

Statement of Coalition to Protect Public Art on proposed new SF Board of Education Resolution Regarding SF Washington High School Murals

For Immediate Release:  August 9, 2019
Contact:  Jon Golinger, (415) 531-8585

Statement of Jon Golinger, Executive Director of the Coalition to Protect Public Art, on the proposed new SF Board of Education Resolution Regarding the 
SF Washington High School Murals 

Friday, August 9, 2019 If this proposal is adopted at Tuesday’s Board meeting as proposed, we will applaud the decision by the School Board not to proceed with the destruction of these unique and historic murals.  It will be a positive step forward for the School Board to recognize that irreversibly destroying this important work of public art is the wrong course of action.  While we are open to a wide range of reasonable options to address the concerns that have been raised, we will continue to oppose putting up an impenetrable barrier that blocks anyone from ever seeing these important works of art.  It’s critical that any solution include a way for the murals to be made available for students, teachers, and others to view them for educational purposes.  We also are ready to work with the School Board to support the creation of new murals from different perspectives and to develop an educational curriculum and materials that will put these historic murals in context and use them for educational purposes.  We look forward to participating in cooperatively creating that result.
See the proposed resolution at:  https://go.boarddocs.com/ca/sfusd/Board.nsf/goto?open&id=BDLBWW2678D6

PRESS RELEASE: S.F. School Board President Stevon Cook Proposes Solution to Dispute Over Controversial Mural

PRESS RELEASE  
For Immediate ReleaseCONTACT: Laura Dudnick  
Office: (415) 241-6565  
Cell: (415) 730-0314  
Email: [email protected]
S.F. School Board President Stevon Cook Proposes  
Solution to Dispute Over Controversial Mural
“Life of Washington” Mural Could be Preserved by Covering Over It to Make Way for New, Positive ArtworkSan Francisco (August 9, 2019) – The San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education President Stevon Cook said he will introduce a solution at the school board meeting on August 13 that will preserve the controversial “Life of Washington” mural by covering it without destroying it. “I am pleased to propose this solution to the controversy over the objectionable content depicted in the mural,” said School Board President Stevon Cook.  “I am introducing a vote at our next regular Board of Education meeting to cover-over the mural with panels or another similar treatment, which will preserve the artwork and not destroy it.  This should satisfy those who were concerned about the possible destruction of art.” He said it is important to note that there are strong passions on both sides of the debate. “Where we all agree is that the mural depicts the racist history of America, especially in regards to African Americans and Native Americans.  It is important that we all share the agreement and acknowledgement of racism, discrimination, and the dehumanizing of people of color and women in American history,” Cook said. “Without harming this artwork we want to see something in its place that shows the heroism of people of color in America, how we have fought against, and continue to battle discrimination, racism, hatred, and poverty,” he said. “I can’t tell you what image ought to be on the walls of Washington High School, but it should be one that inspires young people, not one that dehumanizes them.” Earlier this year the District convened an 11-member community advisory committee (CAC) to address longstanding public concerns over objectionable content depicted in the 13-panel “Life of Washington” mural, located in the administration building at George Washington High School.  

The controversial mural, commissioned by the U. S. Government in 1936 under a New Deal era art program, was painted using the fresco technique by the late Victor Arnautoff. Fresco mural painting is done on wet plaster; once the plaster dries, the mural becomes a permanent, integral part of the wall it was painted on. The CAC supported permanently removing the offensive content of the mural. In recent months, numerous community members, art historians and local preservationist have voiced their concern over the District’s intention to paint over the murals. Now, the Board will consider a resolution at its next meeting on August 13 at 6:00 p.m. that authorizes staff to develop a project, assessing a range of alternatives, for the purposes of CEQA review that removes from public view the Arnautoff Mural at George Washington High School using solid panels or equivalent material. The mural will be digitized as well, so that art and art historians can access it, but it will no longer be on public view at the school.