Archive | February 2016

Virginia 2015: Stratford Hall

Day 10: Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Our next place was Stratford Hall. Moving up about 100 years for the George Washington Birthplace, we were going to see the birthplace of Robert E. Lee!

Stratford-Hall-Sign

Stratford Hall was the plantation home of Colonel Thomas Lee, who purchased the land for the plantation in 1717 – it was then known as “The Clifts.” He renamed it Stratford Hall, after his grandfather’s home in England. Thomas Lee was kind of a big deal; he was a founder of the Ohio Company, a member of the Virginia colony’s governing council. At the time of his death, he was the President of the governing council and acting Governor of Virginia. The home was not constructed until 1737 (it was finished in 1738).

The landside of Stratford Hall, with original outbuildings

The landside of Stratford Hall, with original outbuildings

Thomas left the home to his son, Philip Ludwell Lee, who left the home to his daughter, Matilda Lee. Matilda married her cousin, Revolutionary War Hero “Lighthorse” Harry Lee – he was Robert E. Lee’s father – but Matilda was not his mother. Upon her death in 1790, she left Lighthorse Harry Lee a life interest in the property – he could live there until his death, but she willed it to their son together .

Harry Lee married a second time, to Robert E. Lee’s mother Ann Hill Carter. Unfortunately, Robert E. Lee’s father was better at war than he was at finances, and after spending a couple of years in debtor’s prison, he moved the family to Alexandria and his son from his first marriage took over the property, and soon had to sell it due to a lawsuit over an unrelated scandal. After having been home to the Lees for four generations, the sale took Stratford Hall out of the Lee family for good.

The cliffside of Stratford Hall

The cliffside of Stratford Hall

Although Robert E. Lee only lived at Stratford until he was four, he had fond memories of the home and estate his entire life, and wrote about wishing he could once again consider it home.

The architecture is Georgian, with a Central Hall and wings on either side. It has beautiful central staircases; one on either side of the home. The home has four outbuildings, one on each corner of the house, and they are all still standing. I loved the symmetry of the home.

An artsy shot of Stratford Hall

An artsy shot of Stratford Hall

The stables are also original I believe, and there are reconstructed slave quarters at the site.

Slave Cabins at Stratford Hall

Slave Cabins at Stratford Hall

When we got there, we headed over first to have lunch at the restaurant on site before they closed for the day. We split some baked potato soup and crab cakes, which were both fine but not spectacular. Then we headed back over for the tour – Jon chose not to go (I guess he was “historic homed” out at that point).

My crabcakes at the Stratford Hall restaurant

My crabcakes at the Stratford Hall restaurant

I found the tour interesting, but slightly odd. There wasn’t really much formal information; the docent pointed out some interesting artifacts and then left everybody to peek around the rooms on our own. I did appreciate that she didn’t bug me about the fact that I was sucking on cough drops; better than coughing violently throughout the whole tour, as I was still getting over the cold.

At one point there was a machine in one of the rooms; I imagine it was used as a part of the historic restoration. I asked her to tell me about the machine; but she misunderstood and launched into a lengthy explanation of the particular green in the room (the paint). She went on for several minutes on the paint and its history, at which time I didn’t have the energy to explain that it wasn’t at all what I was asking about. SIGH…

After the tour, I checked out the outbuildings, and made friends with a chicken in the stable. Oddly, there was only one… I also took a little time to look at the exhibits in the Visitor’s Center, which detailed the restoration of the home (but don’t explain that funny machine).

My chicken friend

My chicken friend

Stratford Hall’s architecture was probably my favorite historic home of the trip. I loved the brick and the symmetry, and the clean lines and simple styling of the home. The grounds are beautiful, and I’m sure would have been a lovely place to live.

Sadly, the staff were odd. The lady selling the tickets was kind of rude… The docent was nice, but not as well informed as she should have been, and the gift shop clerk… Let’s just say that while I was waiting to make my purchase, she was talking on the phone because she was having some trouble with the credit card machine. No worry, because I was going to pay cash! But she actually asked me if I could “come back later.” Umm… No… So, yeah, the service part of the experience at Stratford Hall could use some work…

2010 Airlie Winery Joie de Vie

I got this wine at last year’s Willamette Valley Bubbles Fest.  A 2010 vintage that had been hiding in the wine fridge, due to its crown cap (I kept thinking it was a cider!), I opened it last night, and was very pleased.

Creamy with a lot of yeast on the palate, it has flavors of ripe apple.  It has tiny bubbles that quickly dissipate, releasing a bright acidity.  I think I opened it at just the right time!

It was produced in the Méthode Champenoise, disgorged in house, and resealed with the crown cap.  In searching Airlie’s website, it seems that this is the only vintage of a sparkling wine they have produced – what a shame!

2010 Airlie Winery Joie De Vie

2010 Airlie Winery Joie De Vie

Sadly, this was my only bottle…  But I loved every sip.

Virginia 2015: George WA Birthplace NM

Day 10: Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Who loves snakes?  This girl!  That will become relevant later on – trust me…

The next morning, we got up and went downtown to take a walk (and a run for Jon) on the Fredericksburg Riverwalk. The morning was cool and crisp, and the sun was just rising. I took my camera along and was able to get down to the riverbank and take some beautiful pictures of the river with the rising light. Then Jon and I met back at the car to get ready for the day.

The Rappahannock River, bathed in morning light.

The Rappahannock River, bathed in morning light.

Our day was going to be action packed! We headed out from Fredericksburg, passing George Washington’s boyhood home, Ferry Farm, along the way. It would have been nice to stop, but we have to make choices about what we are going to see, and what we have to skip – can’t wait until retirement! We were going to see some of the Northern Neck of Virginia!

Our first stop of the morning was at George Washington Birthplace National Monument. As indicated by the name, George Washington was born here, and this was his home until he was three years old (when he moved to Ferry Farm). The home that Washington was born in was built sometime before 1718, and then enlarged between 1722 and 1726 – by the time Washington was born in 1772 it was a ten room mansion that the family had named Wakefield. Sadly, the home was destroyed by fire on Christmas Day 1779 and was not rebuilt, but there are other points of interest on the farm.

George Washington Birthplace National Monument

George Washington Birthplace National Monument

The Commonwealth of Virginia acquired the property in 1858 with the intention of restoring it, but the Civil War got in the way. The state donated the site to the federal government in 1882, but nothing was really done there until the 1920s. A historic preservation society raised the money to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Washington’s birth. They had a 1/10th replica of the Washington Monument built and placed at the entrance to the site, and also built a Memorial House.

The site was established as a National Monument on January 23, 1930, and has an annual visitation of about 130,647 (in 2011).  When Jon and I walked up about 10:30 am, the place was empty. But we were greeted by a beautiful bald eagle who was sitting in a tree just above the Visitor’s Center. Talk about symbolism!

A Bald Eagle at George Washington Birthplace National Monument

A Bald Eagle at George Washington Birthplace National Monument

The Memorial Home is not intended to look like Washington’s birthplace home, as there are no surviving records to show what it looked like. Rather, it is supposed to look like a typical home from the period, constructed with hand-made bricks from the area, and furnished with period furniture. There is one tea table that is believed to have been in the birthplace home.

The Memorial Home - this is not what George Washington's birthplace looked like - it is an example of what a home of the period might have looked like.

The Memorial Home – this is not what George Washington’s birthplace looked like – it is an example of what a home of the period might have looked like.

We visited the home site and saw where the outline of the original home is marked with crushed oyster shells. Then we got to see the inside of the Memorial Home. We could tour it at our leisure, as the rooms are just blocked off with plexi-glass in the doorway so you can’t go inside. Even though it wasn’t an authentic 18th century, they did a good job of making it appear to be period.

The outline is the foreground is where George Washington's birthplace home stood.

The outline is the foreground is where George Washington’s birthplace home stood.

 

The interior of the Memorial House

The interior of the Memorial House

The ranger was pretty useless though – I asked her a couple of questions about the home, and she just kept saying that the home was not intended to look like the original home on the site. Even after I explained that I understood that, and I was really asking a more general question about homes of the era, she just kept repeating the same thing until I gave up. She was, without a doubt, the strangest park ranger I have ever encountered.  Sigh…

After seeing the Memorial Home, Jon and I set off to find an old cabin on the site. We had to cross a short bridge that lead over an inlet of Pope’s Creek, and then walk long a trail that led alongside the creek (Pope’s Creek is really more like a river, by the way). We saw a gorgeous Great Blue Heron out fishing for his breakfast.

Great Blue Heron at George Washington Birthplace National Monument

Great Blue Heron at George Washington Birthplace National Monument

We had just gotten across the bridge when Jon spied a snake in the brush next to the trail. He (Jon) stopped dead in his tracks and refused to go any further. He waited cautiously as I took a couple of photos and then announced that he was going back.  Apparently no cabin for me, unless I wanted to go it alone…

A black rat snake.

A black rat snake.

So back over the bridge we went, and suddenly, we saw a second snake swimming up to the bridge, and then under the bridge and out the other side! This snake was bright orange, and gorgeous! I was able to get some good photos of it too. At that point, Jon was very insistent that his exploring was over.

A copperhead! Swimming!

A copperhead! Swimming!

I did convince him that it would be safe to see the heritage sheep and cows on the farm though – they are so cute! The monument does a lot of educational programs with local schoolchildren, but thankfully we were there on a day that the farm was not crawling with kids.

Heritage cows pose with a 1/10th sized replica of the Washington Monument.

Heritage cows pose with a 1/10th sized replica of the Washington Monument.

As we were wrapping up our visit, I headed back into the Visitor’s Center to check out the exhibits, and to see if the ranger could ID my snakes. The first one was a Black Rat Snake, a non-poisonous snake that eats mice and rats and are considered very helpful snakes. However, they grow to about 6 feet long, so they freak a lot of people out. The one we saw was only about 2 feet long.

The second snake we saw was a copperhead! This snake is poisonous, although they aren’t really aggressive and prefer just to be left alone. From what I read, it is unusual to find them swimming, so I consider us lucky to see him!

George Washington Birthplace National Monument gets extra points for having fascinating wildlife! A Bald Eagle, a Great Blue Heron and two snakes, all in one visit!

Virginia 2015: Jackson Shrine and Spotsylvania

Day 9: Monday, October 12, 2015

In the afternoon, after visiting the Hugh Mercer Apothecary, and the Mary Ball Washington House in downtown Fredericksburg, Jon and I decided to do more exploring of the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania NMP.

We started by visiting the site in Guinea Station where Stone Jackson was evacuated after he was wounded and had surgery to amputate his arm. They were going to evacuate him by ambulance, and then get him on a train to Richmond, where he could recuperate in a hospital.  Jackson was taken to Thomas C. Chandler’s plantation, called Fairfield, and placed in the farm office, but his condition had deteriorated and he was unable to be moved further.  He developed pneumonia, and died six days after coming to the farm.  Fortunately, the Army summoned his wife to his bedside, so they had a chance to say their goodbyes.

The Stonewall Jackson Shrine, in Guinea Station, Virginia

The Stonewall Jackson Shrine, in Guinea Station, Virginia

The Fairfield home is no longer there, having fallen into disrepair after the Civil War.  The railroad acquired the property in 1909, and tore down the main house, but also restored the farm office.  The railroad donated the the site to the National Park Service in 1937, and it is open to visitors. The Jackson Shrine, as it is now known, contains the bed in which Jackson died, and other period pieces from Jackson’s ill-fated stay.

The front door of the Jackson Shrine

The front door of the Jackson Shrine

 

The bed where Jackson died of pneumonia

The bed where Jackson died of pneumonia

After the shrine, we saw the Spotsylvania Court House battlefield. Spotsylvania was the second major battle of General U.S. Grant’s Overland Campaign in 1864.  The campaign’s target was the destruction of Lee’s army, rather than a city.  And it was brutal war – although the battle was a tactical draw, there were 32,000 casualties on both sides, one of the costliest battles in the war.

A marker showing the battlefield trails.

A marker showing the battlefield trails.

We were still getting over our colds, but we did take a few walks on the battlefield to various points of interest. There are some remaining Confederate earthworks, which look like gentle hills and valleys in the landscape. There are also a couple of old farmhouse foundations, marked with foundation stones.

Earthworks at Spotsylvania Court House Battlefield. Would you have known?

Earthworks at Spotsylvania Court House Battlefield. Would you have known?

A cannon overlooking the Spotsylvania Court House Battlefield

A cannon overlooking the Spotsylvania Court House Battlefield

The site is well marked with several markers, so visitors can tell what happened at a specific area of the battlefield.  It is always hard to contemplate that such peaceful farmland was the site of such horrible death and destruction.  It really was a beautiful place to enjoy a walk on a warm, sunny fall day.

A turkey vulture flying over the battlefield.

A turkey vulture flying over the battlefield.

That evening we had a low key dinner at Panera Bread, which was close to our hotel, and relaxed.  A perfect way to unwind for our big driving day the next day!

Driving Distance for Day 9: 51 miles – Fredericksburg, VA – Stonewall Jackson Shrine – Spotsylvania Court House Battlefield Fredericksburg, VA

Hotel for the night: Another night at the Sleep Inn in Fredericksburg.

Virginia 2015: Fredericksburg Historic Homes

Day 9: Monday, October 12, 2015

Our morning in Fredericksburg started off with a tour of the Hugh Mercer Apothecary. It is restored to the 1771 period, when Hugh Mercer actually lived and worked here before joining the Revolutionary War. Mercer was born in Aberdeenshire, Scotland (near where some of my relatives lived) and was present at the Battle of Culloden, another place I have visited in my travels.  After living as a fugitive in his homeland, he was able to escape to America, and eventually made his way to the Virginia colony.

Hugh Mercer Apothecary - they didn't allow photos inside

Hugh Mercer Apothecary – they didn’t allow photos inside

An apothecary, if you don’t know, is a pharmacy. The druggist used a combination of proven medicine and folk remedies to treat and heal the sick. As we know now, some treatments worked, some didn’t.

Hugh Mercer owned the shop for 15 years.

Hugh Mercer owned the shop for 15 years.

The docents at the apothecary go full “period” during their tour. By that I mean, they live and breathe their roles as assistants in the centuries old apothecary. The tour starts out with a broad overview of all the various herbs and medicinal substances, from alum for cough to crab’s claw for indigestion and upset stomach. They explained the unpleasant side effects of various treatments, from exhaustion after being bled to all out poisoning from substances we know to be toxic today.

The apothecary’s docents also showed us the surgical side of the business, including several live medicinal leaches, and instruments for extracting teeth, and even doing cataract surgery. Did you know they had cataract surgery dating back to Roman times?! The surgery involved cutting the cataract away from the lens and letting it fall to the bottom of the eyeball. You were already blind by the time you got the surgery, so really, what did you have to lose? Cringe…

Sadly, Hugh Mercer died during the Revolutionary War, so he never did return to his apothecary…

I worried that Jon would be irritated by the period docents, but he listened patiently, and told me afterwards that he found the museum fascinating. I thought it was really well done, and they gave you a lot of information in an engaging way. Sadly, they didn’t allow photos inside, but I would say it is one of the best tours I have been on!

After the apothecary, we headed a couple of blocks over to visit the Mary Washington House. We got there a few minutes late for the tour, but they let us sneak in and then sit in on the beginning of the next one to catch what we missed. The house was the retirement home of Mary Ball Washington, George Washington’s mother. He bought the house for her so she could be closer to family – both his brother and sister lived in Fredericksburg.

The Mary Ball Washington House

The Mary Ball Washington House

Mary lived in the home for 17 years, before she finally died of breast cancer; between 1772 and her death in 1789. Interestingly, she was a customer of the apothecary just a few streets away.  The museum doesn’t mention when Mary’s home was built, but it was an existing home when George Washington purchased it, although he did renovate and enlarge it for his mother.

Mary Ball Washington lived here between 1772 and 1789.

Mary Ball Washington lived here between 1772 and 1789.

After Mary died, the home went through a series of owners, and was finally saved by Preservation Virginia in 1889, when there was talk of disassembling the home to ship it to the 1893 World’s Fair. What was up in the Victorian age – why were they so interested in shipping all of their historic buildings to World’s Fairs? Sigh…

At any rate, the home was saved, and visitors can see where Mary lived in the last years of her life. Most of the furnishings are period, but not hers, although they do have her beautiful mirror and some of her dishes. In the back, the original kitchen and slave quarters have been restored as well.

The kitchen of the Mary Ball Washington House - this is an original kitchen.

The kitchen of the Mary Ball Washington House – this is an original kitchen.

This was another tour with period docents, although they didn’t work as hard to remain in period. The Mary Washington House also doesn’t allow photos inside, and like the Hugh Mercer Apothecary they didn’t have postcards of the interior either! That was a disappointment.

After our two historic tours, Jon and I got lunch at a restaurant called Cantiglia’s in downtown Fredericksburg. Jon had a steak salad and I went with the more carb-loaded Chicken Parmesan Sub sandwich. It was sooooo good!

 

Virginia 2015: Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania NMP

Day 8: Sunday, October 11, 2015

On this land, within a radius of only 17 miles, over 100,000 men were casualties of Civil War fighting between 1862 and 1864.  After leaving Montpelier, we headed to our next destination, Fredericksburg, VA. On the way into Fredericksburg, we passed by the information shelter for the Wilderness Battlefield. The Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park is made up of land on which five Civil War battles were fought over the course of the war – Fredericksburg in 1862, Chancellorsville and Salem Church in 1863, and The Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House in 1864.

To be honest – looking out at the battlefield, it didn’t look anything like The Wilderness that I had seen in old Civil War photos. I had heard about the horror of the Wilderness; a battle fought through such thick undergrowth that it was impossible to see 20 feet in front of you. A battle where the artillery and bullets lit the undergrowth on fire, and wounded men lying on the battlefield were consumed by the blaze. But why was there so much thick undergrowth – and why wasn’t I seeing it now?

An area of the Wilderness Battlefield where some of the heaviest fighting occurred. It looks a lot different now than it did then.

An area of the Wilderness Battlefield where some of the heaviest fighting occurred. It looks a lot different now than it did then.

The short answer – development. The creation of the Orange Plank Road and several iron mines in the area before the Civil War had destroyed the virgin forest there. A thick second growth forest had grown; all the trees were about the same size – 25-30 feet tall and 3-5 feet wide. These shorter trees allowed the light to reach all the way to the ground, so the forest floor was clogged with vines and briars. It was difficult for a few men to penetrate the undergrowth, much less a whole army…

There is one building remaining on the Chancellorsville battlefield (right in the same area as The Wilderness) from the time of the Civil War – the Ellwood house. Ellwood was a prosperous but not ostentatious plantation that belonged to the Lacy family at the time of the Civil War – although they were not in residence at the time. It was interesting to see this more modest plantation home – Ellwood was a large house (probably four bedrooms), but certainly not a mansion like Monticello or Montpelier and the decoration was much more modest.

Ellwood - a plantation home in the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania NMP

Ellwood – a plantation home in the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania NMP

 

The fireplace at Ellwood, with some Civil War artifacts

The fireplace at Ellwood, with some Civil War artifacts

Ellwood does have a unique claim to fame – in the family cemetery behind the house lies the grave of Stonewall Jackson’s arm. Yep – just his arm. During the battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863, Jackson was wounded by his own troops, and had to have his arm amputated at a field hospital nearby. The division chaplain saw the arm lying on the ground outside the tent, and thought it would be more appropriate to give it a proper burial, so he brought it over to Ellwood where his brother lived, and buried it there. Interestingly, none of the 14 family graves have markers, but Jackson’s arm does. Being famous got you perks, even back then…

Selfie with Stonewall Jackson's arm's grave. Is that weird?

Selfie with Stonewall Jackson’s arm’s grave. Is that weird?

We had just a little while to get stamps and postcards at the Visitor’s Center before they closed for the day, but we wanted to check it out because we didn’t know if we would get back again.

Then, we headed into Fredericksburg for dinner downtown – we happened upon a place called J. Brian’s Tap House. It is a pub in a historic building – but we sat outside on their back patio. It was perfect – the temperature was wonderful and we were surrounded by plants and flowers. I had the shrimp and grits with a mixed greens salad – it was delicious, with a bit of Cajun spice on the grits to make them less bland. My Adventure Brewing Backpack Wheat beer hit the spot too. Jon had the Blackberry Salmon with rhubarb greens, and mashed potatoes. He loved his Hardywood Great Return IPA too – it was a NW style bitter IPA.

My shrimp and grits at J. Brian's Taphouse

My shrimp and grits at J. Brian’s Taphouse

We finished our evening with a short walk along the Rappahannock River Walk – we walked until the light was getting too low in the sky to see the view.

I loved this random sign in downtown Fredericksburg!

I loved this random sign in downtown Fredericksburg!

Driving Distance for Day 8: 101 miles – Waynesboro, VA – James Madison’s Montpelier – Fredericksburg, VA

Hotel for the Night: Sleep Inn, Fredericksburg, VA.  It had an odd space shower, with a unique bubble on one end.  It was clean and quiet, but had an abandoned steak restaurant and house next door that looked a bit sketchy. The housekeeping looked a bit haggard too.