French Destinations in New England
This Bastille Day, discover 31 places deeply linked to Franco-American History in New England!
On April 27, 1780, General Lafayette, aboard the French frigate Hermione, arrived in Boston Harbor, where he was hailed as a prospective savior of the American nation. In 2015, a replica of the Hermione docked at Boston Harbor again, as part of an itinerary along the East Coast meant to emphasize the importance and diversity of the relationship between France and the United States.
Another testament to the rich relationship between Lafayette and New England is the Bunker Hill Monument in Charlestown, MA. Lafayette laid the cornerstone of this towering, 221-foot granite monument, which was erected between 1825 and 1843 to commemorate the June 17, 1775 Battle of Bunker Hill, one of the first confrontations between the British Army and the United Colonies.
In Boston Common near Tremont Street stands a simple monument to the memory of the Marquis. Erected in 1924 (a hundred years after Lafayette’s visit to Boston Common) to replace what was formerly known as the Tremont Street Mall, the monument features a plaque praising the Marquis for having ‘served the cause of Liberty on two continents’.
Among the many artworks in the Boston Athenæum is a plaster bust of Lafayette from around 1785. Made by French sculptor Jean-François Houdon, the bust was directly purchased from him by Thomas Jefferson in Paris in 1789 and has been in the Athenæum’s possession since 1828.
In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville was sent by the French government to the United States to study the penitentiary system, a trip that he used as a pretense to make a number of observations on American society at large, most of which found their way into his influential political essay Democracy in America. De Tocqueville was impressed with Boston, which he called « a pretty town in a picturesque site on several hills in the middle of the waters » and in particular with the recently constructed Quincy Market.
Both the Museum of Fine Arts and the Harvard Museum possesses an outstanding collection of works by French Impressionists, such as Renoir’s movement-defining Dance at Bougival, Claude Monet’s Water Lilies (both in the Sidney and Esther Rabb Gallery at the MFA), or Monet’s Charing Cross Bridge (Harvard Art Museums).
From 1808 to 1823, Jean Louis Lefebvre de Cheverus, a French missionary, served as the first Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Boston, before returning to France, much to the regret of his parishioners, most of whom were French Canadians. The Cathedral of the Holy Cross, in which Cheverus officiated, was historically a meeting place for a large French Catholic population. In 1862, a new cathedral was built in its place, on the original site
An impressive monument in its own right, the Boston Public Library also possesses interesting ties to France: not only were several elements of its architecture inspired by the Biblio-thèque Sainte-Geneviève in Paris, a renowned French muralist, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, was commissioned in 1895 to paint the frescoes that adorn some of the walls of the BPL, on which scholarly pursuits are represented in allegorical form. (Photo © 2012 Sheryl Lanzel)
Murals by American artist Albert Herter adorn the walls of the Massachusetts State House. Herter, whose work often depicts scenes from the first World War, spent some of his formative years in Paris, and his most famous work is displayed in the Parisian Gare de l’Est station. The Senate Chamber also features a plaster bust of Lafayette by 19th-century artist Horatio Greenough. Adding to the House’s connection to France is the fact that the French flag can be found alongside historic American flags and colors from other countries in the Great Hall of Flags
Harvard Memorial Church, which was dedicated to the memory of those who died in the First World War in 1932, features several testaments of the University’s close relationship to France, among which are its World War memorials, where French flags are displayed along-side American ones. The memorials themselves, which celebrate the memory of some Harvard students’ voluntary involvement in a war they did not have to take part in, stand as monuments to the closeness between the two countries
In 2012, the French Cultural Center gave Harvard University a collection of George F. Doriot’s personal library books and papers under permanent loan status. Born in Paris in 1899, Doriot quickly emigrated to Boston where he eventually became a renowned professor at the Harvard Business School, an appointment that lasted from 1926 to 1966. He is widely considered to have had a crucial role in American business in the first half of the twentieth century thanks to his work as a venture capitalist
The Harvard Center for European Studies was founded in 1968 by several Harvard professors who saw the need for an academic structure dedicated solely to the study of European matters. Among them was Stanley Hoffmann, who, though born in Vienna, had spent most of his life in France (and had become a French citizen) before joining Harvard first as an instructor (1955), then as Professor of the Civilization of France (1959) (Photo by Fiona E Lewis)
The Ames Family, one of the oldest in the United States, bought 3 Commonwealth in 1916. In 1961, they leased the building to the French Consulate (which had formerly been located on Beacon Street), an arrangement that lasted until 1995 when the Consulate moved to the Park Square Building (photo © backbayhouses.org)
There are several significant connections between France and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Not only were many of its conductors French, one of them, Charles Munch, an expert in the French repertoire, but also developed the 1960 Sister Cities program between Boston and Strasbourg, France, which is still active and provides educational opportunities for students on both sides of the Atlantic. (photo © The Dominion)
From 1961 to 2001, American food personality Julia Child lived at 103, Irving Street in Cam-bridge. Widely credited with having introduced French food to the American public, Child filmed her landmark cooking shows, such as The French Chef (1963), in her kitchen, which can be viewed today at the Smithsonian Museum of American History
Originally located in Arlington, the International School of Boston can be found on Matignon Road in Cambridge, MA since 1997. The school, which was founded in 1962, offers an immersive bilingual education from pre-school to grade 12.
Genzyme, a biotechnology company that was founded in Boston in 1981, became a part of French pharmaceutical multinational Sanofi in 2011 and is now one of its subsidiaries. Known as Sanofi Genzyme, the company’s manufacturing site in Allston, MA focuses on the production of medicine for several diseases, including leukemia and metabolic disorders
Back Bay is home to several international companies, including French ones. On 888 Boylston Street is the Boston seat of French corporate and investment bank Natixis Investment Managers, which has worked with major French banks such as the Banque Populaire and Caisse d’Epargne groups (Photo ©Adam B. Auel)
The Waltham campus of French software company Dassault Systèmes, whose focus is on 3D development and design, has received several awards, both for its sustainability and its role in the economic development of the area. (photo © Dassault Systèmes)
Ecole Française Greater Boston is a nonprofit organization dedicated to teaching children of Francophone families in the Boston area. With campuses in Cambridge, Watertown and Brookline, it provides immersive bilingual education from preschool to grade 12, as well as after-school programs designed to improve the reading comprehension and language com-mand of francophone speakers
A city with a rich and diverse food scene, Boston is home to several world-renowned French restaurants, many of which are to be found in Back Bay. From fine dining to brasserie-style home cooking, French cuisine is represented in its many varieties. (photo © Colette 1924)
Along with Boston museums, the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown possesses a sizable collection of works by renowned French painters, among which are iconic paintings by the likes of Bouguereau and Gauguin.
In October 1606, French explorer Samuel de Champlain landed in present-day Chatham, MA as part of his exploratory mission in what was then known as Cap Blanc (or the White Cape) and is now called Cape Cod; he decided against establishing a settlement thereafter several confrontations with the Nauset people. On 576 Stage Harbor Road is a plaque commemorating this legacy.
The town of Orleans in Massachusetts is named thus as a tribute to Louis-Philippe II, Duke of Orléans. Townsman Isaac Snow, who spent several years in France after escaping the British in the Revolutionary War, chose to give this name to the town as an acknowledgment of French support in the American Revolution. What’s more, the town is literally connected to France through a 3,200mile-long transatlantic cable that links the town with its French namesake. Although it is no longer in operation, the French Cable Station has been repurposed as a museum in which telegraph memorabilia can be viewed.
The Franco-Route links five cities in New England (Biddeford and Lewiston-Auburn, Maine, Lowell, Massachusetts, Manchester, New Hampshire and Woonsocket, Rhode Island) that hold particular significance in the history of French and French Canadian presence in New England. From Lowell, Massachusetts (the birthplace of Jack Kerouac, who spoke primarily French for most of his childhood and adolescence as his parents were French Canadians) to Woonsocket, Rhode Island (sometimes dubbed ‘the most French city in the United States’), the Route connects and commemorates these key Franco-American places.
Although it is uninhabited today, Saint Croix Island (ME) was the site of one of the first French attempts at colonizing the United Stated, when nobleman French Pierre Dugas, Sieur de Mons, established a settlement on the island in 1604. Though it was quickly abandoned in favor of the more hospitable conditions to be found on the coast, it was granted the status of International Historic Site in 1984
In 1609, a French Jesuit mission was established in Penobscot Bay, ME as a part of the French colony of Acadia (l’Acadie), which itself was a part of New France. In 1613, another mission was built for similar purposes on Mount Desert Island. The southernmost point of Acadia was Castine, ME, which was established in 1613 as part of the Penobscot settlement
The city of Calais in eastern Maine has a French namesake. Originally little more than a farm-ing settlement, the town was expanded upon and named in 1809 as a way of commemorating French involvement in the American Revolution
The University of Southern Maine possesses a sizeable collection of historic Franco-American documents, which include photographs, official documents, plaques, letters …, and whose aim is to enrich the public’s comprehension of the relationship between France and North Ameri-ca.
French author Marguerite Yourcenar lived in a house known as Petite Plaisance in Northeast Harbor, ME with her partner Grace Frick until her death in 1987. She demanded that the house, which is located near the border with Canada, be preserved as-is after her death. In 2014, it was officially granted the status of Maison des Illustres, a French label that aims at identifying and protecting historic houses. (photo © Dr. Bernard Guay)
A French territory until 1763, Vermont possesses a large number of Francophone citizens, and many of the state’s landmarks are a testament to this heritage. Lake Champlain is named after French explorer Samuel de Champlain’s visit of Vermont in 1609; moreover, the city of Burlington and the city of Honfleur, Normandy have been sister cities since 2012, and the partnership has resulted in several international visits
The historic Vernon House in Newport, RI, which served as the headquarters of the Comte de Rochambeau during his involvement in the Revolutionary War, has been granted the status of National Historic Landmark. On the Newport waterfront in King Park also stands a monument to Rochambeau. But the nobleman’s connection to the state runs deeper: at Brown University, several structures have been named or renamed after the Comte to commemorate both his role in the war and his stay in Providence.
Formerly known as the Kingstown Cotton Factory, Lafayette Village in North Kingstown, RI received its current name in 1825, as a way to celebrate Lafayette’s triumphal tour of America in the same year. The area, which centers around a historic brick mill, has been granted the status of National Historic Place in 1978. (photo © Jerry and Roy Klotz)
An American Francophile who enjoyed traveling, novelist Edith Wharton lived in France from 1907 until her death in 1937; she also lived in Lenox, Massachusetts, in a house known as ‘The Mount’ which she had designed herself. She often summered in her house in Newport, known as Land’s End; one of her most famous novels, The Age of Innocence (1920) depicts the rituals of the Newport upper classes
With a large proportion of the population being of Franco-American descent, both Maine and Rhode Island possess structures of education aimed at making the most of this bilingual heritage. Thus, both the Ecole Française du Maine and the French American School of Rhode Is-land, which respectively serve preschool to K-6 and preschool to K-8 students, provide an international dual-language education
The Special Collections of the Geisel Library in Saint Anselm College include the Francophone collection, which features both French and English language historical documents, amounting to a total of more than 3500 papers, monographs and periodicals which constitute an invaluable resource for those who wish to study Franco-American culture.
In 1947, the United States launched a nationwide food collection operation, and loaded $40 million worth of food and clothing onto a train which was then sent to Europe as part of post-war relief plans. Known as the ‘Friendship Train’, it was reciprocated by the ‘Merci Train’ in 1949 : the French filled 49 train cars with ‘gifts of gratitude’ to be given to each of the 49 states. New Hampshire’s Merci Train car included several artworks, and the boxcar itself can be seen on Reed Street in Manchester.
Check out our Bastille Day video featuring 5 of these locations below!