This week, not postcards but more postcard-like gems from the collection of the Boston Public Library. Here we see Providence’s imminent Blackstone Park, circa the early 1860s. The pictures were in a brochure proposing the establishment of the shore-front park. Blackstone Park was indeed established in 1866, but 40 years later it had become a delight for small boys — since the city had allowed it to fall badly… “into disuse and neglect by the early 1900s”. This was when the young free-range Lovecraft knew the place as a boy, and thought he glimpsed flute-playing fauns in its dappled depths.
I’ve colourised the picture. We have to imagine another 40 years of growth added to this, and trees consequently much larger above the grassy rides and rills. Perhaps some of these watery “brooklets”, as Lovecraft called them, were by then dried up in summer. Since drainage of College Hill and the adjacent shore-line was changed, as the city developed and the local ravines were filled in or blocked.
Here is Lovecraft on the Park, writing in 1918…
Scarce a stone’s throw from the house lie the nearest parts of that beautiful rustick reservation known as “Blackstone Park” — wherein I have been wont to wander some twenty or more years. Here Nature unadorn’d displays a multi-plicity of agreeable phases; ravines, groves, brooklets, thickets, & Arcadian stretches of river-bank — for the park borders on the wide & salty [river] Seekonk. … How beauteous indeed is untainted Nature as beheld in so idyllick a spot as Blackstone Park! … I think this park would explain why such a born & bred town man shou’d possess such a taste for rural musings & Arcadian themes!
Lovecraft occasionally took favoured friends there. Here he is in 1927…
the next day we [he and Cook and Munn] lounged about the Blackstone Park woods beside the Seekonk — agrestick haunt of my earliest infancy, and true genesis of my pastoral soul.
And in the mid 1930s he was sitting on the banks of the Seekonk… “Almost every warm summer afternoon” or else he took a short trip up in the “the fields & woods north of Providence”.
Below we see, from the same Boston collection, Blackstone Park’s grassy water-meadow. Most likely this is the “meadow” marked on one map as being roughly in the middle of the park, and located back across the road from the Boat Club house.
Above we also see the edge of the “meadow” area in winter flood, in the context of the Boat House and the shore road. The river Seekonk often flooded over, and thus the meadow would have been seasonally a boggy salt-meadow in its lowest section. It’s quite possible that this Boat House was the point from which the young Lovecraft set off on his solo rowing expeditions on the Seekonk. It was then a difficult and somewhat dangerous river to be out on in a small boat. Yet he became skilled enough with his boat and the river currents to land on the mud-squelching “Dagon”-like ‘Twin Islands’, so rarely shown on maps. Here is an exception.
This was the landscape of water and mud and washed-in sea-things which stirred his early nightmares of a drained Seekonk, and to which the genesis of his “Dagon” can be traced.
Modern seekers can note the boathouse and the site’s current drainage channel here on the right of the current map. It’s my recent composite of a 1972 bird’s-eye picture I found and a modern outline map of the Park. By 1972 the trees were crowding in. If the river’s salty winter over-wash has since been kept out, then I’m guessing they may have now fully colonised the old meadow.