Nothing’s New at Newport News

Well, I suppose that’s not strictly true, but there sure is a whole lot of old on the Virginia Peninsula.

I got set up at the Newport News City Park. There was water and electricity at the site, good phone reception – which means I also had internet access – and lots of TV signals that I could catch with my antenna. Let the good times roll!

As soon as I got set up, I decided to head over to Virginia Beach. I wanted my “sea to shining sea” moment.

On the Boardwalk
On the Boardwalk

Just six months earlier, I was on the Pacific.

I actually thought that it would be warm enough to go into the water. It was 70º, after all. But, I was rather chilly. Heck, even the hamburger I bought at the Dairy Queen was cold!

The Norwegian Lady Statue seemed like an appropriate addition to the chilly breezes coming off the water.

Norwegian Lady Statue
Norwegian Lady Statue

The Norwegian Lady Statue is there to commemorate the aid given to the crew of The Dictator, a Norwegian sailing ship that grounded off the shore in 1891. Eight of the seventeen people on board were saved. Captain Jørgensen washed ashore later, alive, but semi-conscious. Unfortunately, his wife and four-year-old son were among the people who died as the ship broke apart in the surf.

The figurehead of the ship eventually washed ashore and was placed in a vertical position facing the ocean as a memorial to those who perished in the shipwreck. It remained there until 1953 when it was damaged in Hurricane Barbara. It was taken down and stored in a city-owned building for safe keeping. Somehow, the figurehead disappeared.

Interest in Moss, Norway and Virginia Beach grew, and there was a drive in both cities to replace the memorial. Norwegian sculptor Ørnulf Bast was commissioned to create two nine-foot bronze statues – one for each city. They were unveiled in 1962. Moss and Virginia Beach are now sister cities.

Driving around a beach city on a chilly day after tourist season is over is kind of …pointless?

Another sight I made a point of seeing was The Cavalier. It was a hotel built in 1927 that was known as the world’s largest hirer of big bands, such as Benny Goodman, Cab Calloway, Lawrence Welk and Glen Miller.  In 1929, Coors Brewery founder Adolph Coors mysteriously plunged to his death from this sixth floor room. It also served as a U.S. Navy radar training school in WWII. The sailors stayed in the stables and they drained the pool for use as a classroom.

The Cavalier
The Cavalier

It was under reconstruction, and will reopen in 2016.

The Cavalier dome
The Cavalier dome

One of the domes was sitting in a lot across the street.

I love my HISTORY Here app, but it doesn’t necessarily tell you if something is “tourist friendly.”

One of the items that I saw on the listing for the area was Drydock Number One. It is part of the Norfolk Naval Shipyard. You should have seen the confused expressions of the guards at the gate when I showed up and told them that I wanted to see Drydock Number One. The politely informed me that the public wasn’t admitted. I had to hand him my drivers’ license, which they kept until I turned around and was on my way out.

Why would I want to see a dry dock, you ask? Well, I’ve never seen one, have you? Also, it was completed in 1834, although it was opened while it was still under construction. It serviced the USS Delaware in 1833. During the Civil War, the remains of the USS Merrimack were transformed into the ironclad CSS Virginia, a Confederate warship.  It was built from Massachusetts granite at a cost of $974,365.65.

According to HISTORY Here, it is still in use today. I make that out to be $5.444.63 a year. I’d say we’ve gotten our money’s worth.



Ash Lawn-Highland and UVA, Eh?

Those founding fathers sure had great views!

View from Ash Lawn

This is the view from Ash Lawn-Highland, James Monroe’s home near Charlottesville, Virginia.

James Monroe was the last of the Founding Fathers to be president, holding  office March 4, 1817 – March 4, 1825. He purchased Highland in 1793. He and his good friend, Jefferson, were neighbors.

Now, Ash Lawn-Highland is no Monticello, and that is probably just as well. Whereas Jefferson’s estate needed to be liquidated to pay off debts after his death, Monroe sold his plantation and moved to New York after he left the White House. The guide indicated that he didn’t leave debt behind at his passing on July 4, 1831. When I was researching for this post, it seems that he was plagued with financial difficulties at the end of his life. I guess everything is relative. In any event, this property wasn’t sold off to satisfy his debts.

You may have heard of presidents dying on July 4. There are three of them. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams also died on July 4, 1831, five years before Monroe. However, July 4th isn’t all bad for presidents. Calvin Coolidge was born on that date in 1872.

But back to Monroe.

I entered through the gift shop, paid my fee and was told to meet the guide at the front door. The clerk gave me a map and invited me to explore until the tour started.

Mounting Stones
Mounting Stones

The map guided me to these mounting stones. They were not addressed by the guide and there wasn’t an interpretive sign. I don’t know if they were used by Monroe, but they might have been. He was 6 feet tall, so I imagine he could have mounted a horse easily enough. Maybe they were there for someone else. And maybe they are just a random collection of stones from some other use.


This mileage marker casting was from Highway 40 was from the first federally-supported interstate roadway, which was created during James Monroe’s Presidency. It is from a section of the road in Pennsylvania, and was given to Jay Winston Johns, who began Ash Lawn-Highland’s restoration in 1931.

Mileage Marker - backside
Mileage Marker – backside

I had taken a course at Fallingwater in Pennsylvania that focused on the highway. I had seen these markers then, so I knew to look at the backside. I guess I should be glad that they didn’t waste money casting both sides.

Those people coming along the path in the picture above helped me out with a photo op with a statue of James Monroe.

Monroe and Me
Monroe and Me

And then it was time to meet at the front door for the tour.

Ash Lawn Museum entrance
Ash Lawn Museum entrance

The first thing I found out was that this wasn’t the entrance to Monroe’s home. This was a portion that was built on after Monroe sold the house.

The entrance to Monroe's house
The entrance to Monroe’s house

The white part is what is left from Monroe’s home after part of it burned in a fire. Fire was a big danger in those days. Living on the top of a mountain also didn’t help, as we all know that water runs downhill.

Monroe was a thrifty soul, and I do appreciate that. Houses were taxed based on the number of chimneys and windows they had. This tunnel is through the the chimney. There are fireplaces on either side and they share the same flue.

Tunnel between the fireplaces
Tunnel between the fireplaces

The tunnel wasn’t particularly high.

Watch your head
Watch your head
Original construction
Original construction

Our first stop was the study. They had a section of the plaster removed, and we could see one method they used for fire suppression. They would stack bricks between the studs. They weren’t mortared in; just stacked.

Monroe's Desk
Monroe’s Desk

This is Monroe’s own desk; one that he used during his time in the White House.

Our next stop was their bedroom.

Window with the last original pane of glass
Window with the last original pane of glass

If you look at the middle pane of glass, four panes up from the bottom, you are looking through glass that Monroe looked through. According to the guide, it is the last original pane of glass in the house.

In front of the window is a Monroe family heirloom, the crib that generations of Monroe babies slept in – or didn’t. You know how babies are. The guide pointed out the signs of wear on it. It received some heavy use.

Stink Bug on the Curtain
Stink Bug on the Curtain

As a northerner, I had heard about stink bugs, but I wasn’t sure what they were. I learned that THIS is a stink bug. Everyone tells me they are really malodorous. If that is the case, I am lucky that I haven’t smelled one yet.

After that photo, the guide told me that they didn’t allow photos. Oops. Had she mentioned that at the outset, I wouldn’t have been shooting. But, I did as she requested and put my phone away.

We went through a few more rooms, but I have no photos to share. They were small and homey and the tour was rather short. We exited through the yellow portion of the house that is now used as a museum. I took a glance at the cabinets in the house, but I didn’t see anything that caught my attention.

Right outside the front door was a large white oak.

White Oak

The guide said that the tree was growing when Monroe owned the land. I thought the lightning rod running the length of the tree was interesting. A tree this old is worth taking care of.

Left side

From this side of the house, you can see all the additions. The part on the left is the part that dates back to Monroe’s time.

Spinning wool

One of the docents was spinning wool from the sheep raised on the farm. Monroe raised merino sheep. He became acquainted with when he served as a diplomat in Europe and imported them to his plantation. The docent and I had an interesting discussion about spinning and how to ply the yarn.

There were a few other recreated buildings on the property, but I still had to get to UVA, so I bid adieu to Ash Lawn-Highland and headed back to Charlottesville.

My first impression of the University of Virginia is that it is ENORMOUS! I stopped at a visitor information and got a map and directions to visitor parking. If I hadn’t I think I would have just skipped it. Not only is it a vary large campus, but it is on hills.

After I parked, I tried to orient myself. I ended up crossing the street and going into the college of education. I took the elevator up to the level that had a bridge crossing the road. After I crossed the road, I still had some climbing to do. Finally, though, I ended up at the The Lawn.

Dome - library

The Rotunda was under renovation. It is an old building – nearly 200 years old. Jefferson designed it as a library and put it at the heart of the university. The guide at Monticello pointed out that having a library at the center of a university rather than a church or a chapel was a radical idea.

The original structure was heavily damaged by fire in 1895. It was re-envisioned by Stanford White of the New York architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White. It was also modified in 1938. It was again renovated and much of Jefferson’s original design was restored in time for the nation’s bicentennial in 1976.

Better than a Bicentennial fire hydrant, I say.

Bicentennial fire hydrant
Bicentennial fire hydrant

They are really working hard on bringing back the glory to the is World Heritage Site.

Work on the dome
Work on the dome
The Colonnade Club
The Colonnade Club – AKA “Pavilion VII”

The Colonnade Club is the oldest building on the Lawn. President James Monroe laid the cornerstone in 1817, with former presidents James Madison and Thomas Jefferson also attending the ceremony. Jefferson designed the pavilion and this was the first structure in his “academic village.” Today it serves as a faculty club with reception facilities and overnight guest rooms.

The columns on this building have Doric capitals.

Columns 2

This building, on the other hand, has Ionic capitals on the two story portion of the building. You can compare and contrast them with the Doric capitals on the one story portion.

Corinthian Columns
Corinthian Columns

Now, throw in the Corinthian Columns on this two story building. It is almost as it Jefferson was creating a three-dimensional architecture lesson.

Rooms facing the Lawn

The two-story portions of the building lining the Lawn seem to be dedicated to offices. The one-story portions are students’ dorm rooms! Can you imagine living with this beautiful porch right outside your door? They even have rocking chairs there – although they are locked to the building.

Can’t trust those students.

Triple hung windows
Triple hung windows

I was fascinated by the triple hung windows. I noticed some of them at Monticello, too.

Serpentine wall for the gardens

This serpentine wall was designed by Jefferson to provide garden space between the building of the Lawn and the Range. In something I read while I was there, I got the impression that the gardens were intended for the people providing services to the students. I’m not sure what that meant, but the gardens are still here, although the walls have been rebuilt.

There is an East Range and a West Range on either side of the Lawn. These are also residences for students. Two of these rooms were lodgings for famous people.

West Range
West Range
Woodrow Wilson's room
Woodrow Wilson’s room

This was Woodrow Wilson’s room. He stayed here 1879 – 1881. He was a local boy, hailing from Staunton, Virginia, just about 40 miles away. Of course, commuting was out of the question back then.

Someone is living in this room now. The name is on the shiny brass plaque. Unfortunately, the brass is so shiny that I can’t read the name of the current occupant.

Edgar Allan Poe's Room
Edgar Allan Poe’s Room

Just down the Range a bit, is the room that Edgar Allan Poe occupied for one term. The University is proud of his attendance and has a glass door on the room with furnishing in the style that Poe would have had.

Marker fo Edgar Allan Poe's Room
Marker fo Edgar Allan Poe’s Room

After that, I made my way back to the car. I have to admit that I thought this short arch was a nice bookend to the day’s tourism.

Watch your head
Watch your head

It kind of reminds me of the tunnel-like entrance to Monroe’s house.

After that, I got to meet up with a Facebook friend for dinner.

Mickey and me
Mickey and me

Some people knock Facebook, but I have met lots of wonderful folks there. Mickey is one of them. We had a great time over tapas and sangria and getting to know each other in real time.

And that was all for Charlottesville. Next stop: Newport News, Virginia.



Who can visit Virginia without stopping in at Monticello?

The money shot

Well, actually, you don’t just “stop in” at Monticello. It is at the top of a mountain. But, what a view!

What a view!

When you visit, you park down the mountain a ways and they run you up with a shuttle bus. Jefferson thought of so many things when designing his estate, but he didn’t anticipate automobiles and the need for parking.

Who's got a big truck?
Who’s got a big truck?

Oh, my! Bart sure does take up space!

Line to get in

Actually, given the hordes of history hounds visiting, I am glad I was able to find a spot I could get parked in with a minimum of jockeying.

I think the problem with the line had to do with the the self-service kiosk being off-line. After I stood there for a bit, I noticed that volunteers were looking for people who had purchased their tickets on line. I raised my hand and a kind lady directed me to an office that normally handles group sales. After a short wait, I got my ticket and was on my way to the shuttle.

I had opted for the in-depth historic tour, and that didn’t start until 3:30. That gave me a few hours to stroll the grounds and see what I could see.

There is a lot to see. I made a quick stroll about to see the general layout. There is the central part of the house, where the family and visitors lived, and two wings, which he called dependencies. At the end of each dependency is a small brick building.


This was Thomas Jefferson’s first dwelling. He built this small, one-roomed house with the kitchen in he cellar. He brought his wife, Martha, to this house in 1772.

Outchamber interior
Outchamber interior

Thomas and Martha were married until her death in 1782. I’m not quite sure how long they lived in this “starter house” – but long enough to have a baby. Martha Washington Jefferson was born here.

Just outside the door of the outchamber was a fish pond. Fish caught live in nearby streams were kept here until they were needed for meals.

Fish pond

On the other side of the outchamber was Mulberry Row, a lane on the property named for a pair of mulberry trees planted along side it.

Mulberry Row was the industrial heart of Jefferson’s agricultural enterprises. A variety of shops and dwellings lined the row. There are no existing structures from that time, but archeology is on-going and reconstructions based on what is discovered in the ground and in contemporary records are being made.

Joinery Chimney
Joinery Chimney

The was a chimney still standing, and archeologists were working on the dig when I was there. I can’t believe that I don’t have photos of the dig! I know I took them, but I guess my phone ate some of my photos. I am including a shot I obtained from another source.

Hemmings Cabin
Hemmings Cabin

This cabin is labeled as “Servant’s house t” on Jefferson’s plans. Based on archeological and historical research, this cabin may have housed John Hemmings and his wife Priscilla.

View with chimney
View with chimney

John was the head joiner, which is a woodworker, and Priscilla was nurse to Jefferson’s grandchildren. John and Priscilla had close relationships with the Jefferson family, and they had additional opportunities to earn money and purchase goods that were beyond the means of most of the enslaved workers at Monticello.

Inside Hemmings cabin
Inside Hemmings cabin

John helped build this and two other single-family log houses in 1793. Other family members – Critta, Peter, and Sally Hemings – at times lived next door. And yes, there are two different spellings of Hemmings. “Hemings” is not a misspelling.

However, much of the working part of the estate is still waiting for study and perhaps restoration.

Saw pit
Saw pit
Coal sheds
Coal sheds

Near the coal shed was the part of the land used for making charcoal. Charcoal was important, as it was needed for one of the money-making products of the estate.

They made nails. A small item, but an extremely important product in an area enjoying growth. Jefferson calculated that, on average, 666 bushels of charcoal would be needed to make 172,480 nails in the nailery. Jefferson kept records of almost everything.

North dependency 1938 archeological dig

This is a photo I took from a display in the north dependency, which is on the other side from the outchamber that Jefferson used as his first home at Monticello. Since the north and south dependencies are very similar, I imagine that their archeology might be similar, as well.

The 1938 restoration project began with an archeological investigation to find physical evidence of the Jefferson-era building, which was constructed 1802-1809. The archeologist, Mr. Grigg, discovered a deteriorated sill that may have supported the outer wall of the original dependency.

The north dependency contained carriage and stable bays, and is currently being restored to reflect the original construction as well as providing areas for education and meeting the needs of visitors. The room behind the door in the photo is currently home to a small gift and snack shop.

The South Dependency
The South Dependency

The south Dependency is on the other side, and is anchored by the Outchamber at the end. It was where the kitchens and domestic preparation areas were.

Privy vent close up

Archeology and restoration is ongoing. For instance, this privy vent was restored just this year. Since I was not allowed to take pictures inside Monticello, I guess this will be as close as I get to a presidential bathroom shot for Jefferson.

It was still a while until my tour started, so I explored the garden. I managed to join a tour for a bit.

Slave quarters to shelter the garden

The garden is on a terrace. The land on top of a mountain is not know for being level. If I remember correctly, the hill and the buildings along Mulberry Row sheltered the garden and extended the growing season. Or, maybe I made that up.

Row of clay pots

Anyway, I am fairly confident that these clay pots in the garden are cloches being used to keep the sea kale tender. I could relate to that. As a third grade teacher in Kalamazoo, AKA “Celery City”, I knew that the celery was covered to keep it pale and tender. In my day, Kalamazoo was covered in Social Studies in third grade, but that was five years ago. I wonder what they’re studying these days?

Texas Bird Pepper
Texas Bird Pepper

The guide said that this pepper was particularly hot. I was perfectly happy to take her word for it. I spoke with a gardener who was busily trying to prop up plants that had been trampled by deer. It seems that deer are the largest recipients of the produce of the garden, although they say that they use the produce in the restaurants in the visitor center.

Balsam plum
Balsam plum

I wonder how this plant would be prepared?

Shadows lengthening in the garden
Shadows lengthening in the garden

Jefferson was always looking for possible cash crops. He wanted to bring wine making to the New World, and experimented with many varieties. Again, you can make out the stone retaining wall. It helped to moderate the temperatures by absorbing the sun’s heat during the day and radiating it back during the night.

Garden with observatory

Jefferson enjoyed his garden and agricultural ventures so much that he had a small room built on the wall above the vineyard. He called it is “Observatory” and he could look out over his fields. This structure has been rebuilt.

The Observatory in the Garden
The Observatory in the Garden

And, finally, it was time for the tour!

Now, I had to go to the web to find a shot of the entrance. I kept waiting for a chance to get a photo without the hordes of history hounds, but they just kept coming and coming.


And, since no photography was allowed on the tour, the following photos are taken from a booklet I bought in the gift shop.

I doubt if I would have been able to have taken a decent photo anywhere inside Monticello. It was so crowded!

This is the part of Jefferson’s suite that they called his “cabinet”. When they told us that we’d be seeing his cabinet, I envisioned a piece of furniture. It is actually an office.

Jefferson's cabinet
Jefferson’s cabinet

On the table, you can see his polygraph. This was a machine that copied what he wrote. The guide told us that he kept copies of all his correspondence. I asked her what did the copying, and she told me quills and ink. I can’t imagine how that worked. I find it difficult to write with quill and ink.

He was really interested in gadgets. If you look in the corner, in front of the telescope, you see his revolving bookstand. That way, he could keep a number of books in play at the same time.

Jefferson's bed alcove
Jefferson’s bed alcove

His bed was located in an alcove between his cabinet and the portion of his suite that had the fireplace. There really were not a lot of fireplaces in house of that size. There were eight fireplaces and two openings for stoves on the main floor.

Jefferson was really interested in allowing light to stream through the house. There were lots of windows and skylights. There weren’t any storm windows and the house was on top of a mountain. It must have been a chilly place to live. Our guide pointed out a painting of Jefferson where he was wearing lots of layers.

Those oval windows in the wall above his bed were there to let light into his closet for clothing he wasn’t wearing at the moment. The windows were necessary for ventilation as well as light. It wouldn’t have been a good idea to take open flames into a clothes closet.

Wouldn’t it have been wonderful to have dined with Jefferson in this room?

Dining Room
Dining Room

When guests would come to stay, they really came to STAY. This room was set aside for James Madison, who was Jefferson’s Secretary of State, and his wife, Dolley. Of course, I do imagine other people used it when they weren’t there.

Mr. Madison's Room
Mr. Madison’s Room

When we signed up for the tour, they warned us that there would be stairs. Lots of stairs. Steep stairs. Narrow stairs.

The steep winding stairs
The steep winding stairs

They did not disappoint.

One of the highlights of the tour was the Dome Room, which Jefferson sometimes called the “Sky-room.”

rotunda room

The round skylight in the center is called an oculus. These days, it is filled with hand-blown glass. When Jefferson lived here, it was covered with wood. He hadn’t gotten around to glazing it.

One other amazing thing the guide told us is that there is only one recorded instance of Jefferson ascending those stairs. And, in spite of the fact that the dome is one of the most notable features of the building, this room was rarely used. Records suggest that it was used as a bedroom by a grandson, a playroom for the children and for storage. Two of the granddaughters used a closet off the Dome Room as their private hideaway. They carved out a little private space for themselves.

Their little hideaway as behind the semicircular window you see here.

The Money Shot
The Money Shot
The real money shot
The real money shot

After that, I wanted to visit Jefferson’s grave before heading home. I followed the signs and came upon the graveyard that still belongs to the Jefferson’s descendants and is still active.

They decide who is to be buried there. Descendants from Jefferson’s union with Sally Hemings have not been allowed so far.

Gates to the graveyard
Gates to the graveyard
Jefferson's grave
Jefferson’s grave

While Jefferson’s grave was inspiring, this one was my favorite. The name of the person is on the other side, but I like her description.

A talented lady headstone

I decided to enjoy the beautiful fall day and walk back to the visitor center rather than wait for the shuttle bus.

Path to the visitor center
Path to the visitor center

Note to self: sandals and gravel paths do not go well together.

Luckily, there were benches along the way where I could stop and empty out the stones.

Me and Thomas Jefferson
Me and Thomas Jefferson

I stopped in to the gift shop and picked up that booklet I took the interior photos. Fittingly, this is the bill I received in change.

two dollar bill

I had one more stop before I left. I needed to visit the graveyard for the enslaved workers.

Slave graveyard 2

A sad note to end the tour.




Manassas Miscellany

Before I leave Manassas, I just want to finish up with a few things I didn’t get in other posts.

One of the delightful features of my stay in Manassas was visiting with friends I hadn’t seen in a while.

Susan, a friend I met on a forum for lovers of words, invited me over. I spent the day with her and her mother, Grace.

Del Sur and me

Grace took the photo for us, but declined my request to take one of her with Susan.

We ate breakfast, lunch and dinner and watched High Society on TV. We also played Susan and Grace’s version of Scrabble. They play with the goal of using all the tiles and they don’t bother with keeping score. That was a fun way to play, and they even have one of those deluxe spinning Scrabble boards.

I also spent an evening with Linda and Tom. Linda and I went to Daemen College in Buffalo, New York.

Linda and Tom
Linda and Tom
Linda and me
Linda and me

It was fun catching up a little. Since we graduated about 35 years ago, (gulp!) I am sure we didn’t catch up on everything! Where does the time go?

Visit to the vet
Visit to the vet

I took Cora to the vet for a follow-up on her ears. One ear was all cleared up. The other one needed another course of treatment. I have to find one here in North Carolina for yet another follow-up. Her ears seem like they are doing better, so the next visit may be this will be the last visit for a while.

There is no such thing as a free cat!

One day, while driving around, I told Siri that I was hungry. (Siri is the voice on the phone that helps me with research and things.) She said, “Well, we can’t have that.” And the first restaurant on her list was right around the corner.

Pollo Campero
Pollo Campero

This is the same Pollo Campero that I enjoyed when I lived in Guatemala. Oh, the memories! I parked and ordered my food.

Delicious fried chicken and fries served on a real plate
Delicious fried chicken and fries served on a real plate!

The woman who took my order confirmed that it was the same chain from Guatemala. I told her that I loved Guatemala. She thanked me and told me that it was her country.

It was delicious!

Another day, I happened upon a Duck Donuts store. I had heard the name, but had never seen it before.

Duck donut box

The unique thing is that they are served hot and topped when you order them. You need a fork to eat them.

Duck donut box open

I’m glad I tried one, but once was enough. Hot donuts are just not my thing, I guess.

H Mart bag

The Manassas area is really multicultural. When I went to the laundromat, the instructions were in English, Spanish and Korean. Next door was this huge and interesting grocery store. I just went in for a couple mundane things – milk, toilet paper. I could have spent an hour just looking at all the exotic items for sale.

Spanish and Korean books
Spanish and Korean books

I went to the library to use their wifi, and I found these books on the shelf.

Another mini-adventure I had was looking for the grave of Stonewall Jackson’s left arm. I followed the directions provided by HISTORY Here when I left the Marine Corps Museum in Triangle, VA. I passed the sign for the place where Jackson was shot. I passed the sign for the place where his arm was amputated. I turned at the corner, and then the voice in my phone told me to turn again. I saw a gravel road and one of those familiar white signs by the road, so I turned in.

About a hundred feet in, I saw a graveyard, and I figured that I had found it. I parked and started looking around. I examined all the stones, and it wasn’t there. I had just found one of the ubiquitous southern graveyards that you see all over.

On the way out, I stopped an looked at the sign by the road.

Sign I found near where I thought Jackson's arm was buried

Whoop! Wrong war!

I did find the entrance to Ellwood, the estate where the arm is buried. However, I arrived after hours. I could have parked and walked in, but I didn’t exactly know where I was going and my Spidey Sense was telling me to move along. And so I did.

Bull Run Regional Park has Christmas lights. The display must be stunning! I never saw them turned on, as they were only working on installing them during my stay.

Festival of lights sign

Squirrel lights

Since I was staying right by Bull Run, I decided that I ought to get a picture of the actual stream – a “run” is a stream. I parked and walked over to the edge of the the trees lining the stream.

Bull Run

I figured I could get closer, so I started down the bank. I slipped and fell and landed hard.

As long as I was down, I thought I might as well get that close-up photo I was came for.

Bull Run up close

I landed really hard on my right wrist. After crawling on my hands and knees up the slippery slope, I was covered in slimy stinky mud. I got a shower, changed and took myself to the hospital. Just a sprain.

Latest casualty of Bull Run

Bull Run’s last casualty.

An Historical Rock and Flying Things

After my effort to get to Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum in  Ellicott City, Maryland – it was closed the day I went – I decided to try to find SW-9 Intermediate Boundary Stone, which is located in Benjamin Banneker Park in Arlington, Virginia.

It was no easy task. Oh, my HISTORY Here app sent me right to the park.

WElcome to Benjamin Bannaker Park

It was a lovely park and a great day for a stroll.

Good thing. I strolled and strolled and strolled. No luck. After more than an hour, I gave up and got into BART. I still thought that I might find it, so I kept my eyes peeled.

And I found it!

Benjamin Bannaker location

It was near the corner of N. Van Buren and N. 18th Streets.

Benjamin Banneker stone close up

This is one of 40 boundary stones laid in 1791 to mark the boundaries of the newly created District of Columbia. Benjamin Banneker was part of the team that surveyed the land. This was especially important after the initial designer, Pierre Charles L’Enfant left the project. Well, actually, L’Enfant was dismissed for refusing to cooperate with the commissioners, but that is another story.

Benjamin Banneker stone in cage

This was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1980. The plaque states, “This site possesses national significance in commemorating the history of the United States of America.”

With that mission accomplished, I set out for Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.

What is the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, you ask. It is a part of the the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. It is a home for historic aircraft that are too large for the main museum in Washington. It is located at the Dulles International Airport.

It is open every day, 10:00 – 5:30.  Admission is free. Parking is $15, but, if you come in after 4:00, parking is free. As everyone knows, free is my favorite word. I figured that an hour and a half of free is great.

I parked and went to the information desk. I asked if there was a map to the highlights of the collection. He gave me a guide and I set off to see what I could see.

What I saw were planes, planes and more planes!


Yes, that is the Concorde in the back. There were 20 built. It was introduced in 1976 and was retired in 2003.

I was stopped in my tracks when I turned to the right and there was the Enola Gay, which was the plane used in the bombing of Hiroshima. It dropped the first atom bomb.

Enola Gay

Enola Gay 2

Enola Gay from underneath

In addition to the Enola Gay, there was also a Kugisho MXY7 Ohka. Ohka is Japanese for cherry blossom. It was the aircraft that was used by the kamikaze pilots. This one was still in development. They were trying a new engine, but they never got it operational.

Kaamekazi plane

I was captivated by another small aircraft with no connection to death and destruction. Sky Baby – the World’s Smallest Airplane.

Worlds smalles plane sky baby

It is 9 ft 10 in long, has a wingspan of 7 ft 2 in and is 5 ft tall. It was built in 1952. No one challenged the builder Ray Stilt’s claim until 1980s when Robert Starr announced that his biplane, Bumble Bee II was smaller. Ray’s son Donald restored the family honor in 2002 by designing and building Baby Bird. The Guinness Book of Records crowned Bumble Bee II the world’s smallest biplane and Baby Bird the smalls monoplane.

So, I guess that Sky Baby isn’t the World’s Smallest, but it sure is cute!

Airliner models

There were cases and cases of models of airline planes.

And a hangar for working on restoring historic crafts.

Restorations Hangar

Restoration Hangar 2

Restoration Hangar 3

And off into the era of space exploration.

Discover Space Shuttle

Space Shuttle Discovery. Its first flight was in 1984 and its last flight was in 2011. It flew a total of 39 missions.

Satellites and space probes

Satellites and space probes.

Space thing

I really liked this one, but I don’t know what it is.

And, I have to admit that I was particularly drawn to Mobile Quarantine Facility.

Airstream 1

Airstream 2

Airstream 3

It’s Flo’s cousin! (Flo is the name of my Airstream, in case you are a recent reader of this blog.)

Just one more stop, and then my whirlwind visit would be finished. The ladies’ room.

I was impressed with the Clean Escape.

Clean escape sign

Clean Escape

What a great idea! You can open the door with your toe after you have washed your hands!

I think I have seen all the aircraft I need to see for a while, but it was worth the time.

And it was FREE!



Oorah! National Museum of the Marine Corps

Overall building view from a distance

When I looked up the name of the museum, to be sure that I got it right, I found out that the architectural style of the building is deconstructionism. That was a new one for me.

However, anyone familiar with the iconic photo and statue of the flag being raised on Iwo Jima during World War II can probably see the inspiration for this building.


Well,  you have to be able to mentally flip the statue to see it. Go ahead. I’ll give you a moment.

The museum opened in Triangle, Virginia on November 10, 2006, after being in the works since the late 1980s. It is still growing, though, and will be closed from January – March 2016 to hang an SBD Dauntless aircraft in Leatherneck Gallery and to continue to expand and improve displays.

Leatherneck gallery

This is the Leatherneck Gallery.

For those that may not have heard the term “Leatherneck” before, this term refers to Marines. It comes from the 3.5 inch high stiff leather collar that they wore from 1798 until 1872. It served two purposes: it held the Marine’s neck erect while on parade, giving him a great military bearing by forcing the wearer to hold his chin high, and it protected the neck from cutlass attacks when boarding pirate ships during the Barbary Wars.

It wasn’t exactly a practical piece of equipment, as it restricted movement. I guess that is why it was abandoned long ago.

The museum is absolutely filled with artifacts and information from the Corps’ long history. In fact, the Corps is older than the USA, as it was formed on November 10, 1775.

In addition to artifacts, there are three dimensional displays that involve life-sized models of Marines in action with their equipment.

Who would be interested in a museum of the history of the Marine Corps? Well, would you be surprised to hear that there were many Marines visiting on the day I was there?

Tank in the lobby with actual marine

For the record, the live Marine is the one closer to the camera.

There were also people of all ages. Young families with children as well as retirees of my age and much older. After an introductory movie, it was on to the exhibits.

In the beginning

In early 1776, Captain Samuel Nicholas boarded hastily converted merchant ships. bound for the Bahamas, a British Colony. Any able-bodied man willing to volunteer was accepted. John Martin, of Wilmington, DE, was the first black Marine. It was a short battle, and the Grand Union flag – which was the predecessor of the Stars and Stripes – was raised over the island.

Grand Union Flag
Grand Union Flag

Marines have been involved in just about every part of American history that involved other countries, and helped promote American interests around the globe.

Marine life aboard ship - hammocks

Marines and sailors serving on board Navy warships in the early 19th century slept in hammocks slung between hooks on bulkheads. At reveille, they they secured the hammocks for the day. When they died at sea, they were sewn into their hammocks, wrapped in a flag and committed to the deep.

From the halls of Montezuma, to the shores of Tripoli…

Bombardment of Tripoli Harbor
Bombardment of Tripoli Harbor

The northern coast of Africa is called the Barbary Coast. Barbary pirates seized American ships repeatedly, commencing with the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783 and leading to the Barbary Wars in 1800 – 1805. European practice had been to pay ransom for hostages. Sometimes the Europeans would even pay protection in advance.

Thomas Jefferson sent a message to the ruler of Tripoli, May 21, 1801.

“We mean to rest the safety of our commerce on…our own strength and bravery in every sea.”

Derna Plaque
Derna Plaque

This marble plaque, inscribed in English and Arabic, marked the location of the fort in Derna, Libya, that was captured by U.S. Marines on April 27, 1805. It was placed there in the 1940’s by the British. It was found broken and partially buried in the garden of the former American Embassy residence in Tripoli.

19th century hat and sword
19th century hat and sword

Did you know that these hats were called “chapeau de bras”? They were worn by officers in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The hat was designed to be easily folded and stored under the arm. Formal uniform orders from April 1810 directed that the end was to be worn over the right eye with the hat tilted at a rakish angle.


The USS Vincennes, commissioned in 1826, became the first U.S. naval vessel to circumnavigate the globe. She was decommissioned after that venture, refitted and named the flagship of the Wilkes Expedition in 1836. Although lead by LT Charles Wilkes USN, Marines also took part in the expedition, which surveyed South America, Antarctica, the Far East and North Pacific.

There were many other expeditionary activities, intended to advance American interests in the early 1800s, but I will leave those for you to discover when you visit.

(You might properly infer that I am finding it difficult to decode my notes from that era. Besides, I want to get on to some other artifacts and displays that caught my attention.)

Harpers Ferry sedge hammer
Harpers Ferry sledge hammer

Yes, the Marines were involved in apprehending John Brown in Harpers Ferry. Here is the sledge hammer used to break down the door.

Officer and his men in drew uniform 1864
Officer and his men in drew uniform 1864

In 1900, Marines landed in China to help protect western diplomats and their families from an anti-foreign and anti-Christian uprising by the “Society of the Righteous Harmonious Fists” also known as the “Boxers”. I always wondered why this was called the Boxer Rebellion. Marines took part in scaling the walls that surrounded the central governmental offices, including the foreign legations in Peking. This was no ordinary wall, though. It was 60 feet high, 40 feet wide and extended 25 miles.

Marine on guard in China 1915. They were there until 1941.
Marine on guard in China 1915. They were there until 1941.

And World War I was just around the corner.


World War I was the first war with newspaper correspondents right in the midst of the battle.

Combat correspondent WW I
Combat correspondent WW I
Trench Art
Trench Art

Marines took advantage of extra time by using an almost inexhaustible supply of shell casings to create “trench art”. These works were made by Marines out of 75mm brass casings.

Of course, the war to end all wars didn’t live up to its name.

Pearl Harbor bugle
Pearl Harbor bugle

During the attack on Pearl Harbor, Private Roy F.W. Rieck, a Marine bugler, sounded the call to arms as Japanese planes flew overhead. Later, he used the same bugle at funeral services for the dead.

Pearl Harbor log
Pearl Harbor log

In this logbook, Naval Ammunition Depot personnel recorded the start of the Japanese attack with the words, “Twenty-eight Japanese planes flew over Depot toward Schofield Barracks at 0759.”

War in the South Pacific
War in the South Pacific
Map showing the relative size of the Central Pacific
Map showing the relative size of the Central Pacific

It was quite a feat to manage to conduct a war with so much water to deal with. However, deal with it they did. Which brings us back to raising the flag over Iwo Jima.

First Flag on Iwo Jima

This is the first raising of the flag on Mount Suribachi, on Iwo Jima, February 28, 1945. They put it up quickly, so the next day, they did it again so they could get better photos.

Second Flag on Mt. Suribachi

As might be expected, they have a good display in the museum about this image. Below is a close up of the inscription from the photo in the display.

Photographer's inscription
Photographer’s inscription

japanese Flag captured on Iwo Jima

This is a flag that was captured on Iwo Jima. It bears the names and addresses of the men who served with the 28th Marines.

The war was taking place in Europe, as well.

M1 Sherman Tank
M1 Sherman Tank

My time in the museum was growing short, so after I left the World War II gallery, I headed for the exit. In the hallway that lead back to the Leatherneck Gallery, there were mementos from September 11, 2001.

From the Pentagon
From the Pentagon
From the World Trade Center
From the World Trade Center

Of course, I had to take a look in the gift shop before I left.


That was quite a display!

Marines at the museum

As I walked back to BART, I passed a group of Marines that had been touring the museum.

Emblem on the right




Washington Slept Here


From the Potomac side present day

Ah, yes. The classic view of Mount Vernon. (Actually, I had to borrow this shot. I didn’t get a good photo from this side.)

Actually, it’s pretty much a miracle that the house is still standing. This is the way it looked around 1860,

c. 1860
c. 1860

Those spindly looking things between the columns are ships’ masts, being repurposed to hold up the roof.

After Washington died in 1799, the estate passed through a few relatives, and they apparently didn’t have the will or the money to maintain the property. Part of the problem was that everyone wanted to visit Washington, and after his death, the visitors kept coming.

The visitors came and the stayed and stayed and stayed. They were a real drain on the household budget.

John A. Washington, Jr, Washington’s great-grandnephew, was the last owner in the family. He offered it for sale. Both the Commonwealth of Virginia and United States governments declined to buy the house.

In 1858, Ann Pamela Cunningham saw the house from board a ship in the Potomac. She thought it was terrible that the George Washington’s home had fallen in such disrepair. She formed the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association of the Union, and they bought the house for $200,000 and took possession on February 22, 1860.

A good chunk of the money was raised by Edward Everett, who traveled around, delivered speeches and donated the proceeds to the cause.

Edward Everett
Edward Everett

Remember Edward Everett? The man who spoke for two hours before Abraham Lincoln delivered the 272-word-long Gettysburg Address? THAT Edward Everett.

Whenever I hear of a date anywhere in the 1860s, I always stop to think of the relationship to the Civil War. Lincoln was sworn in on March 4, 1861 and the war began on April 12, 1861. Ann Pamela Cunningham managed to obtain pledges from generals on the Union and Confederate sides, and, although fighting raged across the nearby countryside, the estate served as neutral ground for both sides.

Soldiers from both sides had to leave their guns by the gate houses. See the gate houses?

Gate houses
Gate houses

Well, they are a mile away from the main house.

A little closer
A little closer

Let’s see if I can get just a little closer.

See them now?
See them now?

Do you see them now? Those little white houses in the center of the frame.

I learned these tidbits of information from this marvelous private tour I took with Bill on the preservation efforts at Mount Vernon. It wasn’t supposed to be a private tour, but no one else ponied up the extra $5 for the extra tour.

He also took me through the basement. It was really interesting to see the things that are still there from when the house was built. Unfortunately, I couldn’t take any pictures inside – not even in the basement!

He did urge me to take a look at Washington’s “Necessary.”

The necessary

Yes, another Presidential loo.

The necessary inside

This one seems set up for a meeting.

This structure was rebuilt on the original site.

Archeology is on-going, and they recently discovered the site of a blacksmith site. Previously, they thought it was an icehouse.


This wasn’t my first visit to Mount Vernon. Mom and Dad took us here on the vacation we took with Uncle Norm’s trailer in 1966. I only remembered three things from that trip.

I remember the bedroom where Washington died. Unfortunately, he died inside the house, so I don’t have a photo of it.

The Washington's Crypt
The Washington’s Crypt

I remember this tomb. I also remember being rather perplexed with why the coffins were above ground.

And I remember boxwood. Specifically, I remember the SMELL of boxwood.

The Parterre
The Parterre

I hated the smell of boxwood! It nauseated me at the time, and I still don’t like it.

While walking around the grounds, I discovered the Old Burial Vault. Originally, George and Martha and twenty other family members were interred in this vault.

Old Burial Vault
Old Burial Vault

George left directions in his will that a new vault be built on the property. He wanted it built on a larger scale and made of brick. In the end, he got his way, but only because his great nephew, John A. Washington,  stood his ground in 1832, on the centenary of Washington’s birth. That was the last time Congress tried to move Washington’s remains.

In spite of Washington’s specific directions in his will about his burial, Congress asked Martha if they could move his remains to the Capitol. She agreed, but the various parties and houses couldn’t come to an agreement. I guess governmental gridlock isn’t a strictly modern phenomena. At one time, they even had plans drawn up to bury him outside the Capitol in a larger, Egyptian-style mausoleum.

In any event, his tomb is right where he intended it to be. They only finished the New Tomb and got the remains moved in 1831. I guess John A. Washington figured that there was no point in moving them again so soon.

Ice House

Not too far away from the Old Burial Vault is the Icehouse. It looks an awful lot like the Old Burial Vault. Actually, the above-ground portion is a restoration that was completed in 1938. The 22-foot-deep brick chamber, which was a dry well, is original. Layers of ice from the river were harvested and packed into the chamber with layers of straw and sawdust to insulate it. According to the sign at the site, further restoration is planned for 2015.

Since 2015 is winding down, I think the only restoration that might be taking place this year will be on the sign.

Dung Repository
Dung Repository

Another restoration is the Dung Repository. Washington designed this repository for composting animal manure and other organic materials to improve the soil in the gardens and orchards, which was a progressive farming technique at the time. In fact, this was the first known structure dedicated to composting in the United States.

First in war, first in peace, first in organic gardening.


Where did the manure come from? Well, the stables were nearby. Washington was known as a horseman.

Riding chairs

He also had vehicles like these, known as “riding chairs”. They were relatively inexpensive, in comparison with other wheeled vehicles, and they were well-suited to the rough roads and hilly terrain of Virginia.

Left side facing the river

See that little structure with a door at the end of the mansion? That is one of the doors to the basement. There’s another one on the other end of the house.

In front of the house, you can see the Potomac River. With a wharf on the river, Washington had direct – if slow – access to Europe, where he could sell his goods receive products in exchange.

The view of the Potomac from the wharf
The view of the Potomac from the wharf
Modern supplies that are available at the wharf
Modern products available at the wharf

I found it interesting that products still come in by the wharf. This machine was there to meet the needs of the visiting hordes. Luckily, I didn’t need the poncho, first aid supplies or cough drops.

George, Martha and other family members aren’t the only ones buried at Mount Vernon.

Slave Burial Ground Marker
Slave Burial Ground Marker

Slave burial excavation site

Archeology is on-going at the burial ground. There was no one available to to talk to about it, but a sign stated that the methods used were non-invasive.

Potomac from the porch

In addition to preserving the buildings, the members of the Mount Vernon’s Ladies’ Association is working hard to preserve Mount Vernon exactly as it was in Washington’s day. That includes the view. At one point, a tank farm was proposed for a spot directly opposite, as well as housing developments. The Ladies’ Association, working with the Federal Government has worked together to purchase the land necessary to preserve the view. In fact, airplanes don’t even fly over. The whole time I was there, I never heard one. I didn’t notice the absence until it was pointed out by my guide, Bill.

After doing a fairly thorough job of checking out the estate, it was time to head in to see what the museum had to offer.

But first, one more look back at the mansion.

Another classic shot
Another classic shot with hordes of tourists

And a shot of another method for prying a few more dollars out of the hands of visitors.

Classic shot with 3-D

Buy a pair of 3-D glasses and you can look at historic photos with them. It’s almost like being there.

Museum cornerstone
Museum cornerstone

We are always reinterpreting the past. This museum is new since my last visit.

I was running short on time, so I had to move fairly quickly through the exhibits. My favorites were the series of forensic reconstructions of George though his life time.

Young George
Young George

It looks like he is surveying here.

Middle-aged George
Middle-aged George
Close-up, age 45

This figure is from 1777, when he was a revolutionary war general. The forensic experts studied his uniform’s waistcoat and breeches, which are now located in the Smithsonian, to be able to determine the exact proportion and density of his torso and limbs. They based the hair color on samples of Washington’s own hair, that is found in Mount Vernon’s collections.

George being sworn in, age 57

The forensic experts paid close attention to the roll that tooth loss played in shaping his face. A lifetime of tooth decay had lead to bone loss around the jaw, creating hollowness around the cheeks. At the time he was sworn into office, he had only one tooth left in his mouth.

And, while there are so many more things that could be said about George Washington, his life, the building of Mount Vernon and the struggle to preserve it, I would like to close with something that George wrote in a notebook as a young man. He copied it from another source, I do believe, but may these words guide all our actions.

Every action done in company

ought to be done 

with some sign of respect

to those that are present.



Manassas, Virginia (AKA “Bull Run”)

The countryside looks so peaceful.

Henry Hill countryside
Henry Hill countryside

The rolling fields are turning golden and the trees are starting to show signs of fall. People are taking advantage of the sun and the weather to make photos that will mark their places in time.

Taking a family portrait
Taking a family portrait
Wedding Portrait
Wedding Portrait

Yet, a little more than 150 years ago, this land was awash in blood.

Henry Hill was the site of fighting in the first and second battles of Bull Run, as we say in the North, or Manassas, as the Southerners refer to it. The first battle raged around the Henry House on July 21, 1861.

Rebuilt Henry House
Rebuilt Henry House

The Artillery from both sides formed up less than 1000 feet apart from each other. The Henry House was in the middle. Judith Henry, and 85 year-old widow was bedridden and unable to leave her bed. Her sons attempted to carry her out to a safer location, but she begged to be taken back inside. She died in her bed.

Henry House after the battle
Henry House after the battle

This is what was left of her house after the battle and after wood was pulled off the splintered house to be used as firewood.

From the various sources at the battlefield and museums, I got the idea that this battle was particularly gruesome due to the inexperience of the troops. This was the first battle of the war. The Union soldiers had only been called up for three months. Both sides thought that it would be over quickly.

Limber and cannon
Limber and cannon

The supplies a cannon needs are carried in a two-wheeled cart called a limber. The limber is usually hitched to the horse or horses, and the cannon is towed behind the limber. If you have ever heard (or used) the word “unlimber” – meaning to prepare for action – this is where the term comes from. The lines of cannon were  less than 1000 feet apart, judging by the map and the map scale. Actually, considerably less, in some instances. For my friends in Kalamazoo, this is about from one side of the Westnedge Meijer parking lot to the other.

While the battle raged, General Thomas Jackson, road back and forth on his horse. in an effort to rally his men, General Bee said, “There stands Jackson like a stone wall! Rally behind the Virginians!”

Stonewall jackson's statue
Stonewall jackson’s statue
General Bee Monument
General Bee Monument

General Bee marker text

Civilians on both sides gathered on hill tops to experience what there was to be seen and heard. In fact, the Union retreat from the first battle was hampered by congressmen and others who had come out from Washington to watch. Panic ensued and the retreat became a overwhelming defeat.

Hill Family Graveyard
Hill Family Graveyard

Fewer than 5,000 were killed or wounded in the first battle of Bull Run and 1,325 were captured or missing out of the 36,000 troops involved. It was a bloody, ugly affair that set the stage for the long, brutal war that would follow.

The second battle in this area took place a little more than a year later, on August 28–30, 1862. This time, about 112,000 troops took part. This time,  18,300 were killed or wounded.

Some of the fighting was particularly deadly. In 1906, New York State was given permission to erect three monuments to honor the sacrifices of the Fifth New York Volunteers, the Tenth New York Volunteers and the Fourteenth Brooklyn.

New York Monument 1

New York Monument 2

New York monument 3

It appeared to this regiment that they had escaped combat that day. Suddenly, the Confederates crashed through the brush and leaves. The  unit was overrun within ten minutes. 123 men were killed or mortally wounded, which was the greatest loss of life in any Union infantry regiment in any single action of the war.

A veteran, remembering the one-sided slaughter compared it to “the very vortex of Hell.”

Just across the road from this grouping of memorials is the Groveton Confederate Cemetery.

Groveton confederate cemetery gate

With so many dead, soldiers were buried in shallow graves where they fell. In 1867 The Bull Run and Groveton Ladies Association launched a campaign to re-inter around 500 Confederate fallen in this cemetery. Few could be identified, and there are only two individual headstones.

Groveton Cemetery marker 1

Groveton Cemetery marker 2

Groveton marker 2 and the world goes by

And so life goes on.

At the end of the war, Union soldiers stationed at nearby Fairfax Courthouse erected this monument by the Henry House. It is one of the oldest extant memorials on any Civil War battle field.

Henry Hill Monument 1865
Henry Hill Monument 1865

Henry Hill Memorial photo

And we continue to honor their sacrifices. If only these issues had been able to be worked out in a civil manner instead of resorting to Civil War.




Harpers Ferry

Susan, a friend of long standing, joined me on the trip to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. What fun to be touring through a part of the country where I have friends to join me on adventures in real life!

Harpers Ferry. You say those words and you think John Brown. You think of the Civil War. I was amazed to find that the history of the location goes back further than that.


The reason for this town existing is water. It is located at confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers and was founded by Robert Harper who recognized the tremendous potential of water for transportation as well as for powering industry.

Actually, according to my research, the Iroquois nations lived in this area before George Washington surveyed the land and Robert Harper established his ferry in 1734, but the information given at the park didn’t go back that far.

In 1794, Congress passed a bill calling for establishing national arsenals. President George Washing chose Harpers Ferry, which was part of Virginia at the time. In 1796, the United States purchased 125-acre parcel of land from the heirs of Robert Harper, and construction began on the national armory in 1799. This was the beginning of the Military-Industrial Complex that President Eisenhower warned us of  – 155 years too late.

But the first incident that put Harpers Ferry on the map for the majority of us was John Brown’s raid in October 1859.

John Brown portrait from Marine Corp museum

John Brown was a fervent Abolitionist. As early as 1848, he was actively planning on fomenting insurrection to eradicate slavery.

Brown and his band of 22, which included five black men and three of his sons, overran the arsenal at Harpers Ferry on the night of October 16, 1859. The U.S. Marines, led by Colonel Robert E. Lee and Lieutenant J.E.B. Stuart cornered Brown, and ten of his band were killed. Brown would have been killed as well, except that the Marine who captured him left in such a hurry that he brought his dress sword with him instead of a sword suited for battle. The sword buckled and Brown lived to go to trial.

John Brown Fort
John Brown Fort

Brown’s band took shelter in the firehouse. Ironically, the firehouse survived the battles that were to come.

We had a great talk by Ranger Jeff. He walked us over to the remains of the arsenal.

Armory right corner

There really wasn’t much left. It was destroyed at the beginning of the Civil War. The perimeter of this building was reconstructed with bricks and stones that archeologists found when they excavated the site.

Lieutenant Roger Jones of the U.S. Army defended the arsenal on April 18, 1861 with 50 untrained regulars and 15 volunteers from the area. The war had just begun April 12, with the attack on Fort Sumter, South Carolina. Everyone was waiting to see what would happen next.

In nearby Charles Town, about 360 members of the Virginia militia were assembled and heading toward Harpers Ferry. Lt. Jones was severely out-numbered and unable to get reinforcements. He set fire to the arsenal and retreated across the Potomac.

Southern forces confiscated the stock, machinery and tools that survived the fire and then burned many of the remaining buildings.

Actually, it is amazing that John Brown Fort survived. Entrepreneurial folks took bricks and sold them as souvenirs.

Commemorative Brick
Commemorative Brick
The really good bricks got their own wooden boxes
The really good bricks got their own wooden boxes

And, if prying bricks out wasn’t enough to cause stress to the integrity of the building, the building was moved four times. In 1891, it was taken to Chicago to the World’s Columbian Exposition. In 1895, it was moved to the Murphy Farm near Harpers Ferry. In 1909, it was moved to Storer College Campus in Harpers Ferry. In 1968, it was moved to its present location, which isn’t too far from it’s original spot.

John Brown monument with John Brown Fort in the background
John Brown monument marking the original site with John Brown Fort in the background

Harpers Ferry changed hands eight times during the Civil War. It’s a wonder that anything is left of the town.

If war the war wasn’t hard enough on the town, there is no arguing with geography. The location at the confluence of two mighty rivers is prone to flooding.

High water marks for some of the notable floods
High water marks for some of the notable floods

And, here are some photos of the destruction.

The flood of 1889
The flood of 1889
The flood of 1924
The flood of 1924
The flood of 1996
The flood of 1996

Even on the day of our visit, the water was high.

The river is high
The river was high

The river is a good route, though. The train tracks run along the river. Several passed through while were were there.

Railroad tressle
Railroad trestle
Train coming out of the tunnel
Train coming out of the tunnel

The C & 0 Canal made use of the river, too.

C&O Canal
C&O Canal
C&O Canal lock 33
C&O Canal lock 33

This photo was taken around 1876. According to the text on the plaque, mule-drawn barges carried coal, corn, wheat and flour on the canal, which followed the north bank of the Potomac between Washington D.C. and Cumberland, Maryland. Winter water, flood damage and competition from the railroad kept the canal from becoming really profitable.

But, now, even though the canal doesn’t carry freight, the towpath is still in use. It is part of the several hiking and biking trails, including the Appalachian Trail.

Susan on the Appalachian Trail
Susan on the Appalachian Trail

Just walking into the frame, you can see some Appalachian Trail hikers coming along behind Susan waving at me. They are really moving! I tried to get a photo of them as they passed by me, and I couldn’t get the shot lined up because they were walking so quickly.

Me on the Appalachian Trail
Me on the Appalachian Trail

I walked across an old railroad bridge that has been repurposed as a part of the trail system. This is my idea of hiking!

And, if you remember my post about the Erie Canal, there are some locks on this bridge, too.

Lock 3

People declare their love, attach the lock to the bridge and throw the key in the water.

Lock old

I thought this lock was particularly interesting.

Lock A+M

Some people put combination locks on the bridge. I wonder if they threw the paper with the combination into the water?

The water of the two different rivers is quite distinctive. You can see where the waters come together.

The Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers merging
The Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers merging

Just for a little clarification, examine the interface between the two rivers.

two rivers merging close up

Also, notice how high the water level is.

It is amazing that anything is left in the town as it is. Between floods and battles and fires, this area has had its share of devastation. I suspect that the National Park Service is responsible for most of the historic buildings remaining standing.

Boarding house and other businesses

Brick buildings

St. Peter's Catholic Church
St. Peter’s Catholic Church

Stone building

And with that, it’s time to hit the road.

interesting pavement textures

I do love an interesting pavement pattern!

Ellicott City, Maryland

Cross another state off the list! I spent two nights at Patapsco State Park, just outside Ellicott City, Maryland. It’s located on 14,000 acres along the Patapsco River to the west of Baltimore and northwest of Baltimore/Washington International Airport. Despite being directly under the flightpath of BWI – the busiest of the three airports serving the Washington metro area – it was a relatively tranquil place to spend a couple days.

I did a fantastic job of backing in to my campsite, if I do say so myself. At first, I was a bit nervous. The campsite was located on a curve and the driveway was narrow. There was a nice sitting and campfire area, once you got parked, but it was kind of like threading a needle to get in.

Of course, I was doing my usual hopping in and out to check my progress. I was just thankful that the rain had stopped. All of a sudden, I heard a loud commotion coming from the campsite two down from me. I jumped out to see what was going on. The woman yelling was so loudly and angrily. I thought she was yelling at me; I couldn’t imagine that she would treat someone traveling with her so rudely. But, no, her angry words were directed at the man she was trying to guide into the campsite.

If it were me, I think I would have run her down. If she screams like that in public, what can their private life be like?

Anyway, I continued working my way into my site. I was just about in, and they called over, “Would you like some help?”


I thanked them and said that I was just about in. And then I slipped it in. Success! I was in the site so straight that I decided to see if I could aim for level, too. I got out my spirit level and the boards, and got it perfectly level! I was so proud of myself!

After unhitching and such, I checked the broadcast television channel available. WOW! I had everything I could imagine available. I almost wished I had booked more time there so I could catch up on my programs.

After a night of rest and relaxation – and television and popcorn – I decided that I had to do some exploring. Ellicott City seemed a likely goal.

Ellicott City Clock
Ellicott City Clock

Ellicott City was founded in 1772, and is named for four Quaker brothers by the name of Ellicott from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. It was originally known as Ellicott Mills, which reflected the industry they established at the falls line.They established flour mills, sawmills, a grain distillery, smithies and stables.

According to resources I’ve read, they helped to revolutionize farming in the area by persuading farmers to plant wheat instead of tobacco. I also read that they introduced using Plaster of Paris as fertilizer to improve depleted soil. I guess that makes sense, as Plaster of Paris is essentially gypsum that has been heated.

Eggplant EC Welcome Center

I stopped off at the tourist information center. I just had to find out about the large eggplant on a pedestal outside. I wondered if the area were particularly known for eggplants. Well, the tourist information specialist laughed and told me that it was a sculpture on display for their version of “Art Hop”, like they have on the first Fridays of the month in Kalamazoo.

Wouldn’t it be cool if Kalamazoo had a large celery sculpture somewhere downtown?

If you want to save money when you visit Ellicott City, plan your visit for a Monday. Everything is closed!

I had hoped to visit the railroad museum.


Gate to Rail Road museum

Ellicott City is home to the oldest extant railroad station in the United States, according to my HISTORY Here app. It was the first terminus of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, just in case you were wondering what B&O stood for. It opened in 1831.

Oldest Train Station

It was also the site of the famous race between a horse-drawn car and the early locomotive, “Tom Thumb.” According to my research, Tom Thumb pulled ahead of the horse until a belt slipped off and caused the engine to lose power. The horse won that round, but they soon improved the design, and the iron horse won in the end.

Tom Thumb
Tom Thumb

The railroad was so successful that it extended its line to Harpers Ferry in 1834. More about that in a later post.

The bands of steel that connect the county
The bands of steel that connect the county

While I was in town, several freight trains roared through at quite a clip.

Ellicott City is has a unique kind of granite. The truly nerdy may wish to click on the link. I found this information when I was trying to track down the claim that this granite indeed was found only in this area. It was a bit beyond my interest and/or my comprehension level.

EC granite sample

In any event, many of the buildings in the old historic district are built from it.

The rock

This one is even built right on top of it.

Respect the Rock
Respect the Rock

The Odd Fellows Lodge, right down the street, is also built from it.

Oddfellows lodge

Oddfellows sign brass history plaque

Now, I have always wanted to know what was so odd about the Odd Fellows. Of course I looked it up.

The International Order of Odd Fellows is a global altruistic and benevolent fraternal organization. It is based in the British Oddfellows service organizations of the 18th century. The name, Odd Fellows, comes from the notion that it was odd to find people organized for the purpose of giving aid to people in need and doing things that benefited all mankind.

Bear in mind that this was not long before the publishing of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”. It’s not hard to believe that people who looked out for the good of others would be seen as “odd fellows” indeed.

Back to the tour.

Ellicott City houses

Not all the houses are stone,  however.

Williams house

This is the John Williams house, which was built after he won the lot in the 1834 land lottery. It was extensively damaged by Hurricane Agnes in the 1970, but was remodeled and it is still in use.

main street houses

Stone building

Many of the buildings lining Main Street have been converted to commercial use. However did I mention that most businesses are closed on Monday?

Closed push hard

That’s right. I saved a lot of money and settled for window shopping.

Minnie Mouse and her shoes

Minnie Mouse has shoes that might fit my big ol’ feet.


I couldn’t agree more!

I had one more stop I wanted to make before I headed home. I climbed up-up-up the twisty turny narrow roads – that people actually live on, I might add – to the Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum.

According to the HISTORY Here app, this museum preserves the legacy of Benjamin Banneker, a respected African-American scientist born in 1731 to free black parents. They purchased this land in 1734.

Banneker is often described as a polymath. Isn’t that a great word? In case it’s not in your everyday vocabulary, it means “a person of wide knowledge and learning.” He had little formal education and was largely self-taught. He was an almanac author, surveyor, naturalist and farmer and is known for being part of a group led by Andrew Ellicott that surveyed the borders of the original District of Columbia.

Imagine that! He helped establish the capitol of the United States of America.

Benjamin Banneker Marker

And, would you believe it? The museum was closed. It was Monday, after all.