Adventures in Boxcar Land

Maybe you’ve just read about our plans to publish a Boxcar Children prequel written by Patricia MacLachlan. It goes without saying that we’re excited—after all, the world of that very first book is so enchanting that we’re looking forward to having Patricia return to that world and explore how it all began for the fictional Alden children.

It’s also exciting to explore where it all began in real life, too. Which is why we picked Putnam, Connecticut, the hometown of Gertrude Chandler Warner, as a place to meet Patricia earlier this week. Josalyn and Michelle have visited Putnam and the Gertrude Chandler Warner Museum (housed in a boxcar!) in the past year, but this was my very first visit.

I flew into Providence, Rhode Island, on Monday morning and drove woodsy two-lane highways all the way to Putnam. The museum doesn’t have a formal address, but I followed the GPS directions to a nearby business and was able to spot the boxcar —right across the tracks from the old railroad station!

Only one set of tracks runs by the boxcar now.  When Gertrude Chandler Warner was a young girl, there were at least six tracks here. She lived just up the street and used to stand on a ridge a few hundred yards from this spot and watch the trains go by.

After taking artsy pictures of the boxcar I wandered around town a bit and then met up with the director and the founder of the museum, Barbara and Fred.  They took me on a tour of places where Gertrude lived, taught school, and went to church.  One of my favorite spots was her grandfather’s house.

Gertrude wrote her first stories for Grandfather Carpenter, who lived a few miles outside of town. I’ve always imagined Grandfather Alden’s house looking like this.

That night we had dinner at The Courthouse Restaurant (in the building where Gertrude’s father served as a judge!), and in the morning I drove back over to the Boxcar to meet Patricia for the first time. Although the museum doesn’t open for the season until May, Barbara and Fred let me explore the inside, full of photos, memorabilia, and displays inspired by the book.

Patricia arrived soon afterwards. I confess to being a bit star-struck at first.  She confessed later to be a little daunted at the sight of the boxcar and the classic story that it represents. But for all of us there that day, the world inside the boxcar was hard to resist, and we looked and looked for as long as we could (and as long as our fingers and toes could stand, because while it was cozy inside the boxcar, it was COLD).

After another tour and a visit to the Putnam mayor’s office (he lives in Grandfather’s house!), we headed downtown to a beautiful tea room where we met up with a small group of Gertrude’s former students.

Everyone had such great stories to tell about being in “Miss Warner’s” class. One woman had Gertrude as a teacher for both first and third grades—”I’m a double-dipper,” she said.  It was a perfect gathering—intimate enough so that everyone in the room could speak and hear each other.  We agreed that Gertrude Chandler Warner would have been thrilled to know that she is remembered so fondly, and that her spirit continues with the Boxcar Children.

By the time the tea wound down, the sun had come out. Patricia headed back home to work on the new novel, and I took a few more pictures of that gorgeous boxcar before driving back to Providence.

 

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Adventures in Boxcar Land