The Three Most-Often-Asked Questions
1. Were “spring dance floors” built to spring?
2. Where, exactly, does “down east” begin?
3. Why were bridges covered?
WELL, LET’S BEGIN with the term “down east.” We all know it’s a nautical way of referring to sailing with the wind or down wind when traveling northeast off the Maine coast. Where down east begins, however, is more controversial. A few people, mostly summer people, equate down east with the entire coast of Maine. In other words, they maintain that it begins the second you cross the Piscataqua Bridge in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, going north. The majority of New Englanders would say Portland, Maine, is the southernmost port down east. Purists argue that Camden or even Penobscot Bay is the starting point. But for me, I’d call the area east of Penobscot Bay the beginning of way down east. Then, of course, Nova Scotia would become way, way down east.
Now as to the spring dance floor debate — deliberate or accidental — I had a conversation with one Philip W. Baker of Antrim, New Hampshire, on this subject a few years ago. Phil, a noted expert on historic-building restoration, had studied spring dance floor construction during some of his company’s projects. His conclusion: some were made deliberately and some were that way by accident. He told me that the Jones Tavern in Weston, Massachusetts, had one of the very best spring dance floors, but like so many of them, it didn’t conform to present-day legal specifications and had to be reinforced, which removed the spring. The original Jones Tavern floor joists were made of 3×10-inch spruce — “a real whippy wood,” Phil said. Certainly that had to be deliberate. Phil and his fellow workers were amazed at how easily they could make the floor “pick up a lively rhythm.” I’ve walked and bounced (but not danced) in the ballroom of the historic Hamilton House on 9 Chestnut Street in Salem, Massachusetts, and I’m convinced that the considerable spring of that floor is such an otherwise solidly constructed house was no accident.
Finally, were bridges covered to keep the snow and rain off? And why were many built so high? Joe Allen, who answered reader questions for YANKEE Magazine many years ago, grew really sick of the covered bridge questions. As he grew older, his irritability at having to constantly address this subject became quite apparent in his answers. In fact, since I’d agreed not to edit him, some I couldn’t use. The following, written about a month before he suffered the stoke that eventually proved fatal at age 89, is a case in point. It was just too harsh. So here it is, verbatim, for the first time…
“Jesus for Guard Almighty, we thought all hands knew by this time. Bridges were covered, damn fool, for the same reason women used to wear petticoats — to protect their underpinnings. Ever hear that wood rots when it gets wet? Your asinine suggestion that they were covered to keep the snow off the road is dead wrong. In fact, I recollect throwing snow inside the bridges after a snowstorm so our sleighs wouldn’t grind on the wood. As to the heights of covered bridges, any simpleton would know it took some height to get a full hay wagon through.”
Thanks, Joe. We miss you…