When he was director of Historic Deerfield in Western Massachusetts, Donald Friary visited many cities here and abroad, but he never traveled America's back roads.
While planning his early retirement, Friary, 62, now Deerfield's emeritus director, senior research fellow, and consultant, decided to take his first road trip, one that would focus on history and culture. Alone in his '94 Saab, Friary logged 14,127 miles from April 1 to June 13. His wife, Grace Friary, director of public relations at Historic Deerfield, flew in to join him for the two lectures he gave during the trip.
``My basic intent was to go to places I'd always wanted to visit but had never been. For example, Cape Hatteras or Key West,'' Friary said. ``I grew up when Truman was president, and he was always going to Key West. I'd never been to Cajun country in Louisiana. And I'd always wanted go to Deerfield Township,'' he said of the area so named by Deerfield, Mass., descendants.
In 1854, the Ashley family left Massachusetts for Iowa and settled Deerfield Township there. Coincidentally, the Friarys recently moved into a wing of the Ashley House in Historic Deerfield.
Friary realized his route would be more of a perimeter tour than a cross-country trip. ``I did an itinerary, which turned out to be 22 pages.''
He was often hosted by friends or family, but also enjoyed his hotel stays. ``Those gave me a break to write in my journal and catch up on things.''
One highlight was seeing 18 former students from the summer fellowship program he first came to Deerfield to run, in 1965. ``One student was a man I hadn't seen since he was a fellow 26 years ago. He's now director of a museum in Wisconsin.''
Friary started his travels after a lecture in Boston, driving down the East Coast. Stops included the Outer Banks in North Carolina, the Florida Keys, and back up along the West Coast of Florida to the Cajun country of St. Martinsville, La., where the Acadians went after being deported from Nova Scotia.
Friary enjoyed his first trip to the Southwest and plans to return with his wife. ``I liked New Mexico and Arizona enormously.'' He visited a cousin in tiny Florence, Mont., and stayed at a ranch in Wyoming.
In Tulsa, Okla., he visited the Gilcrease Museum. ``I'd known about it since I was in college. It's a fine collection of American paintings.''
In California, he stopped at the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Autry Museum of Western Heritage. Farther north, he toured the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria, Ore., and, many miles later, could not pass up the Corn Palace in Mitchell, S.D. His one night of luxury was at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island in Upper Peninsula, Mich.
In Tucson, Friary stayed with one of his students from 30 years ago who arranged for him to have a private tour of San Xavier del Bac Mission, ``a great white church in the desert, '' dating to 1797.
Another mission that impressed him greatly was the 1854 Coeur d'Alene in northern Idaho. ``It really is a stunning sight, as one emerges from the wilderness on I-90, to find a little Baroque facade all alone on a mountainside in the Rockies.''
Iowa held special surprises. After visiting a former student who works at the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Friary stumbled upon Spillville, where Antonin Dvorak spent the summer in 1893. And then there was Deerfield Township, where he visited the Ashley descendants.
``They're very much Iowa farmers. Lovely people. There's no town, just a township and farms. The church is not in use any longer.''
Friary is pondering what, if anything, to write about his drive around America. It did reveal to him that ``every locality in the United States has an identity, something with which the people of the locality identify. And in almost all cases that is something historic.''
Send suggestions to email@example.com.