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Cuyahoga Valley NP History

Cuyahoga Valley National Park is one of our newer national parks, having been designated on October 11, 2000 by President Bill Clinton.  It is the only national park that began its public life as a National Recreation Area, having been designated as an NRA in 1974.  Cuyahoga Valley is unique in several other respects as well; it is the only national park in Ohio, located between Akron and Cleveland in a fairly populated area.  It was already filled with roads, farms, small towns and several existing parks before it became a national park, so the National Park Service coordinates with the towns and the metro park system to administer the park.

The land that Cuyahoga Valley National Park sits on has a long history of use by several tribes, including the Wyandot, Ottawa, Objibwe, Munsee, Potawatomi, and Shawnee, but the Lenapé Nation is considered the grandfather of many of the other tribes in the upper Ohio River Valley.  A series of treaties and white encroachment on their land pushed the tribes off the land in this area in the late 1700s and early 1800s.

White settlement began in the late 1700s, and increasing when the Ohio and Erie Canal established a well defined trade path between Akron and Cleveland in 1827.  Towns and services sprung up along the path of the canal, feeding passengers and workers on the barges, and quenching their thirst at the taverns!  Farming and sawmills were also common in the area.  Even after the railroad came to the valley in the mid-1800s and greatly lessened the use of the canal, it still operated as a method to move coal to the Great Lakes for the ships there.  The canal was finally doomed when a flood in 1913 washed out large portions of its banks, and some of the locks had to be dynamited in order to release the floodwaters.

The park is located along a 20 mile section of the old Ohio and Erie Canal, and it’s towpath has been turned into the Towpath Trail, for walkers, runners and bicyclists.  The park also has dozens of waterfalls, including the 65 foot Brandywine Falls, which is the tallest in the park and the second tallest in Ohio; some of the waterfalls dry up in the dry season though.  There are historic buildings, and living history museums, and some old cemeteries scattered throughout the park.  A rebuilt covered bridge, a marsh and lots of wildlife round out the park!

The park has an annual visitation of 2,096,053 in 2018, and I was one of them!  I spent two days there in August 2018; I’m excited to share my experiences!

 

Circus Trip 2018: William Howard Taft NHS

Day 34, Saturday, August 18, 2018

Cincinnati, Ohio

On my way through Cincinnati I stopped at the William H. Taft National Historic Site.

Taft was the 27th President of the United States, as well as the 10th Chief Justice of the United States.  He was born in 1857, and lived at his family home in Cincinnati, Ohio until he went to Yale University in 1874.  Even before he was President, he achieved many notable accomplishments!  Taft rose quickly through the ranks, becoming a judge while he was still in his twenties and then he was appointed as a judge of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.  He also served as the civilian governor of Philippines, from 1901 to December 1903.

William Howard Taft (from Wikipedia)

Roosevelt spoke with Taft about appointing him to the Supreme Court in 1902, but Taft didn’t feel like his work in the Philippines was finished, and he also still had a desire to run for the Presidency.  One of Roosevelt’s goals that year was to eliminate Taft as a potential rival to the Presidency, as Roosevelt wanted to run himself.  Taft did accept the role of Secretary of War in 1904, and added Presidential Cabinet member to his list of accomplishments.

In 1908 he was elected President against William Jennings Bryan with Theodore Roosevelt’s assistance.  Taft and Roosevelt’s relationship deteriorated due to political disagreements during Taft’s Presidency and ultimately Roosevelt decided to run for President as a third-party candidate and split the vote, resulting in Woodrow Wilson’s win in 1912.

Several years after Taft left the Presidency, he did finally realize his dream of becoming the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in 1921, and served until his death in 1930.  He was the only person in our nation’s history to serve both as President and as Chief Justice!

The National Historic Site is located in Taft’s birthplace and childhood home in Cincinnati.  The home was built in the Greek Revival style and is believed to have been built in 1842 in the Mount Auburn neighborhood of the city.  At the time, Mount Auburn was a popular place for wealthy residents of Cincinnati, where they could escape the heat and humidity of the inner area of the city.  Taft’s parents lived in the home until 1889, when they moved to California to benefit from the better climate.  The home was leased for ten years, then finally sold to a local judge in 1899.

The exterior of the Taft family home

The home went through the usual decline in the time period after it was sold out of the Taft family.  Outbuildings were destroyed, the home was divided into apartments, and by the time it was acquired by the William Howard Taft Memorial Association in 1953 for $35,000 it was in a sad state of disrepair.  The home needed restoration, and once it was completed, the home was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1964.

The home has been restored to the period when William H. Taft lived there during his childhood.  The first floor of the home has rooms decorated in period furnishings, and it’s beautiful!

The upstairs rooms are set up as exhibits, with information on Taft’s life and career.

The home is open as a part of a tour, but you are welcome to go through the upstairs exhibit areas at your own pace and take your time.  The Visitor’s Center has an interesting movie on William H. Taft and his life and career.  Be sure to check it out!  The day that I was there, there was a large bus tour of elderly women, but they were on the tour in front of me; my tour was fairly small.  You can see it all in about 90 minutes; and keep in mind, I go slowly…

Taft wasn’t a President I knew much about, but the William J. Taft National Historic Site provided an interesting overview of an accomplished man.

Circus Trip 2018: Henry Clay’s Ashland

Day 32, Thursday, August 16, 2018

Lexington, Kentucky

Lexington was home to another prominent historical figure of the early to mid-1800s; a contemporary of Mary Todd Lincoln’s father, and definitely where she picked up some of her interest in politics.

Henry Clay, Sr. was born in 1777, and was influential in a long career in U.S. politics, from 1803 to his death in June 1852.  Henry Clay served in the Kentucky House of Representatives, the United States House of Representatives, the U.S. Speaker of the House, a United States Senator, and Secretary of State during John Quincy Adams’ Presidency.  He became known as the Great Compromiser, for his role in diffusing a number of charged political disagreements during his career.

Despite his impressive political career, Clay’s ultimate goal eluded him.  He was a candidate for the Presidency three times: in 1824, 1832, and 1844.  In addition, he also sought the nomination in 1840 and 1848, but did not gain the support to be selected as the nominee.

Clay held a moderate view on slavery that was popular at the time; he believed slaves should be gradually emancipated, and he also promoted the idea of colonization, that is, returning freed slaves to Africa.  Clay inherited slaves as a young child and owned them his entire life, but historical documents of the time period show that he treated his slaves relatively well.  He was known to rarely split up families, and no evidence of him raping any of his female slaves or fathering children with them exists.  He freed his slaves upon his death in 1852.  Clay also consistently supported the recognition of Haiti as an independent nation; it was founded through a slave revolt.

At Clay’s estate in Lexington, Ashland, he was a farmer and innovator.  He imported the first Hereford cattle to the United States in 1817, and was an early enthusiast of horse racing.  He bred and refined race horses, and raced his own under buff and blue colors (the colors of the Whig party).  Eleven descendants of Clay’s horses have won the Kentucky Derby, which was first run in 1875.  He grew hemp, and manufactured hemp rope for the cotton industry.

Henry Clay also had a huge influence on an idol of mine – Abraham Lincoln. The first time Lincoln voted for a President, he voted for Henry Clay in 1832.  He campaigned for Clay in later elections, and heard Clay give a speech in 1847.  Abraham and Mary stopped in Lexington for three weeks in 1847 to visit her family on their way to Washington after Lincoln had been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.  Although the historical record does not say if Lincoln and Clay met during his time in Lexington or had corresponded before or after, I would like to think that they did.  A book of Clay’s speeches was recently discovered, showing that Clay had given it to Lincoln with this inscription, ”To Abraham Lincoln with constant regard to friendship H. Clay 11 May 1847.”

Lincoln delivered a eulogy of Clay in Springfield after his death in 1852, and frequently quoted Henry Clay in his later speeches.  Clay’s son John sent Lincoln a snuff box owned by his father in 1864; Lincoln’s letter to John indicates that he treasured the gift.

The home at Ashland was built in stages, with the center section of the home originally completed in 1809.  By 1811, Clay planned extensions, and the side wings were completed in the next year or two.  The home was designed in the Federal style, with the wings designed by Benjamin Latrobe, architect of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C.  Unfortunately, after Clay’s death in 1852, his widow Lucretia moved in with their son John, and the home was purchased by another son James.  The home was in such a state of disrepair that James felt that his only option was to raze and rebuild it.

James saved all of the pieces that he could from the original home, then had it rebuilt on the original foundation using the original architectural drawings.  After his death it was sold out of the family but returned when Clay’s granddaughter purchased it 16 years later.  They owned it until it was opened as a museum in 1950.  The home now contains features as originally designed, as well as Italianate, Victorian and Eastlake styles.

The tour is interesting, focusing on Henry Clay’s life and the features of the home.  You can visit the grounds, including an original ice house and the reconstructed formal garden, on your own.  And let me just say, you have no idea how many photos I took of that bumblebee trying to get one in focus!  I give myself a B-, but an A for effort (ha!)…

Unfortunately, no photos are permitted inside, but it is still well worth the visit!

Circus Trip 2018: Mary Todd Lincoln House

Day 32, Thursday, August 16, 2018

Lexington, Kentucky

The Mary Todd Lincoln House itself was built between 1803 and 1806, and originally served as an inn.  If you don’t know Mary Todd Lincoln or why you should care about her family home, she was the wife of our 16th President Abraham Lincoln. Mary’s father, Robert Todd, purchased the 14 room mansion in 1832 and lived here until his death in 1849.

The Mary Todd Lincoln House

 

Mary Todd Lincoln – 1846 – from Wikipedia

Mary was born in 1818, and didn’t move here until 1832, and even then, spent much of her time living in a boarding school for girls about a mile away.  Even though she could have traveled back and forth to school from home, she felt that staying at the school was a better option; she described the school as being more of a home for her than the home with her father and stepmother.  In her late teens, Mary moved to Springfield to live with her sister.  That’s my long way of saying that Mary Todd Lincoln really didn’t spent much time living in the Mary Todd Lincoln House, even though it was the family home during a part of her childhood.

Unfortunately, legal disputes after Todd’s death meant that the home was auctioned.  In the days after it left the Todd family, it was used as a boarding house, a grocery store, and even a brothel.  By the 1950s, the home was in rough shape, and a grassroots campaign began to save the home.  It was opened as a museum in 1977, making it the first museum dedicated to a First Lady.

Due to the fact that it is dedicated to Mary Todd Lincoln’s life, it tells a different story of her than is frequently depicted.  They are honest about her struggles with grief and mental illness but they also share that Mary was a very intelligent woman who played an enormous role in shaping her husband’s political career.  Abraham Lincoln married up; Mary Todd came from the upper class – high society of the West.  She knew politics, was very ambitious, and was not a woman content to wait in the wings in what was a society controlled by men.  The docents let visitors know about Mary’s qualities and her genteel upbringing.  They share openly about her trouble with her stepmother, and the fact that her father was often absent.  It was Mary’s sisters who felt more like mothers to her.

The home has been restored to what it would have looked like when Mary Todd Lincoln lived here, and they have been able to acquire some of the original Todd furnishings and household goods that were in the home.

They also have artifacts from Mary’s later life, including an original advertisement announcing the last night of Our American Cousin from its run at Ford’s Theatre, the play that Mary and Abraham attended the night Lincoln was assassinated.  If you read the date, you see that it was advertising the last night as Friday, April 14, 1865, the very night Lincoln was shot.

An advertisement for Our American Cousin

The docents at the home really do a great job of telling the story of Mary as her own person, rather than an extension of her later President husband.  As I have said, they are honest and candid about her shortcomings.  However, they also explain that her own and President Lincoln’s opponents painted an unfair portrait of her in the media, and their later “tell all” books.  Sensationalism drives sales; this hasn’t changed since the 1800s, and what better way to make a buck?

They allow photos within the home (yay!) and allow enough time in each room for guests to see everything and ask questions.  They really encourage questions even!  This was my second visit to the Mary Todd Lincoln Home, and it is still one of the best home museums I have been to.  If you are in Lexington, do visit!

 

 

 

Circus Trip 2018: Mary Todd Lincoln

Day 32, Thursday, August 16, 2018

Lexington, Kentucky

My first morning in Lexington, I knew I wanted to visit the Mary Todd Lincoln house.  It was pouring rain, so an indoor activity was perfect!  If you don’t already know, Mary Todd Lincoln was President Abraham Lincoln’s wife.  Most of you have probably heard of her, and I imagine what you have heard has been negative…  Mary Lincoln (she didn’t use her maiden name after marrying – we have added the Todd back in later in history) has been unfairly maligned, so maybe I can offer some information in her favor.

The Mary Todd Lincoln House

Mary was the fourth child of Robert Todd and his first wife Elizabeth “Eliza”; her mother died in childbirth when Mary was six years old.  Soon after, Robert married his second wife Elizabeth “Betsy,” and the couple had nine more children.  Mary’s relationship with her stepmother was rocky; but although history books often seem to portray Mary being the only problem child, it has been documented that none of the first six Todd children liked their step-mother.  Their father was distant and often absent, leaving the raising of the children to Betsy and the slaves.  Mary spent several years of her childhood in this home in Lexington, living in comfort; the family were slaveholders and she grew up attending a refining school, where she learned French, literature, dance, music, and social graces.  Mary was also raised with a knowledge of politics and formed her own opinions, long before she met or married Lincoln.

Mary Todd Lincoln – 1846 – from Wikipedia

Mary moved to Springfield, Illinois at the age of 20 to live with her sister; it was there that she met Abraham Lincoln.  Before courting Lincoln, his rival Stephen Douglas was also a suitor of hers, and it is no surprise, as Mary was pretty, refined, witty and intelligent.  During the Lincoln Presidency, her detractors criticized her for all sorts of perceived transgressions.  She was considered a traitor to the Union cause because several of her brothers served in the Confederacy.  What do you expect though?  Her family was from Kentucky, a border state and a slave state; loyalties there were divided.  The Lincolns were not the only family to have family members on both sides of the war – it was quite common.

Mary was villainized for her extravagant spending in the White House; modern historians theorize that it was a symptom of bipolar disorder, as she was known to swing between seemingly manic periods and deep depressions.  Another historian believed she suffered from pernicious anemia, which can apparently also cause these symptoms. The White House was in need of repair and updating too!  Mary was tasked with redecorating the White House; and as a woman of the time period, she set herself on this task that was one of the only things it was acceptable for a woman to control.  Perhaps she went a bit overboard, but the White House was essentially a pit when they moved in!

Regardless of whether she was mentally or physically ill, who could blame her for being a bit erratic?  Her every move as the President’s wife was watched and criticized by the media and Lincoln’s political rivals.  Contrary to modern-day beliefs, there was just as much mud-slinging and politicians and their supporters made vicious attacks on those they didn’t agree with then too.

Mary lost three of her four sons before they reached adulthood (Tad was 18 when he died); Robert Todd Lincoln was her only immediate family member to survive her.  She was sitting next to Lincoln as he was shot at point blank range in Ford’s Theatre; he slumped over onto her and she held him up until the doctors arrived.  All of this would make any of us go a little bit crazy.  It’s sad that nobody talks about how well she held up in the face of enormous pressure and grief.

As if that weren’t enough, her surviving son Robert had her committed to a mental institution.  He gained control of her finances after she was institutionalized; did he really have her best interest at heart?  She was only there for a few months before convincing the doctors that she was indeed sane, and was released.  Understandably, it created a rift in her relationship with her son that lasted the rest of her life.  I’m not sure I would trust my son after that move either…  After years of declining health, Mary died in 1882 at her sister’s home in Springfield, where she had lived for several years.

After Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, his former law partner William Herndon was responsible for the biography that provided much of the information on Lincoln’s pre-White House life.  It is also known that Herndon and Mary Lincoln did not get along (that’s putting in mildly) and many scholars believed that Herndon unfairly portrayed Mary as a “serpent,” “she-wolf,” and the “female wild cat of the age.”  Was the characterization fair, or merely the result of a man who despised that she did not confine herself to the social norms of the era?

I’m reading Jean Baker’s biography, Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography to learn more.  I’ll tell you about my visit to the Mary Todd Lincoln House next!

 

 

Astoria Weekend: Lewis and Clark!

Day 2, Saturday, May 25, 2019

Astoria, Oregon

After visiting Seaside, we decided to head over to the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park.  I have visited before, but Jeff and the kids had never been there.

Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery spent the winter 1805-1806 here in this approximate location; they named their camp Fort Clatsop.  When the expedition left the West Coast in the spring of 1806, they gave Fort Clatsop’s structures to the local Native Americans and the fort was eventually reclaimed by nature. A replica was built when the site was designated as a National Historical Park in 1958, but sadly it burned in 2006; a replacement was built in 2007. The replica is thought to be historically accurate, having been built from sketches and descriptions that Lewis drew in his journals.

We checked out the museum in the Visitor’s Center, with its artifacts.  Beaver hats and pelts, a Coastal tribe canoe, grasses and foods that the Native Americans in the area used, as well as historic muskets and examples of clothing that the expedition members would have worn.  It is always interesting to revisit a place.  We also checked out Fort Clatsop, and the kids enjoyed exploring it.  There wasn’t much space for 30 people to spend a cold, rainy winter!  Jeff and I enjoyed wandering and following after the kids, relaxing and reading the signs.

The kids did the Junior Ranger program and got their badges; just in the nick of time too, because it started raining pretty hard!  I didn’t really take many photos since I had visited there before, and apparently I was more into taking selfies!  For more about the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, see my previous post.

That afternoon we went to the Fort George Brewery for pizza and some beer; while we were waiting for a table we checked out some of the nearby shops in downtown Astoria.  The pizza was delicious, and everybody was happy!  Jeff and I tried a couple different beers, it was nice to do some sampling and see what we liked.

Nearby to Fort George Brewery is the Reveille Ciderworks; one day I’ll visit there and try their ciders!  It just wasn’t in the cards that day because the kids were more interested in pizza than some of the “weird food” they have at food trucks.  Traveling with kids is a change of scenery for me!  That said, I was still able to get a couple of oyster shooters at Fort George – nobody else wanted any – it was so strange because they are so delicious!

 

 

Circus Trip 2018: Abraham Lincoln Birthplace NHP

Day 31, Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Hodgenville, Kentucky

I have for so long wanted to visit the site where our sixteenth President, Abraham Lincoln was born.  I have seen where he was a young man, where he was a lawyer, where he was President, and where he died…  It was so humbling to stand at the place where this great man began his life!

Sign Posing!

Lincoln was born here at Sinking Spring Farm (named for the water source) on February 12, 1809; he lived here for the first two years of his life.  His parents, Thomas and Nancy Hanks Lincoln made their living as farmers, and contrary to the usual story, Lincoln didn’t grow up particularly poor, by the standards of the day.  He did move around a lot though, as the family had to leave Sinking Spring Farm after a dispute about the ownership of the land.  They moved to nearby Knob Creek Farm in 1811, when Lincoln was two years old.

The Lincoln family Bible

The birthplace memorial here was completed in 1911, a few years after the 100th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth.  A huge marble and granite Memorial Building was built between 1909 and 1911, in Greek and Roman architectural styles.  It has 56 steps up to the building, to represent the 56 years that Lincoln was alive. Sixteen windows on the building and sixteen rosettes on the ceiling represent the fact that he was our nation’s 16th President.  Inside, a symbolic birth cabin gives visitors an idea of what the cabin where Lincoln was born might have looked like.

The symbolic birth cabin was moved to the site when the Memorial Building was constructed, and had to be made smaller to fit inside the building, and to more accurately represent what Lincoln’s first home probably looked like.  At the time the Memorial Building was constructed, many people actually believed that this was the cabin where Lincoln was born.  Later technology allowed them to do dendochronology (tree ring analysis) in 2004 to determine that the cabin was not built until the 1840s, so it could not have been Lincoln’s birthplace.

When I first arrived, it had been pouring down rain, so I hurried into the Visitor’s Center and then hurried over to the Memorial Building.  When I went back outside, the sun had come back out!  I went down the 56 steps of the Memorial Building to check out Sinking Spring, the water feature which gave the farm its name.  Sinking Spring is an underground spring, with an outlet to the surface set down into a hole; this was certainly the first water Abraham Lincoln ever drank!

Knob Creek Farm is also part of the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park; it is located ten miles away from Sinking Spring Farm.  Unfortunately, due to budget cuts, this portion of the park was not staffed, so I didn’t get to see inside this cabin.  It was also not original to Lincoln or his family, but belonged to the family of one of the Lincolns’ neighbors.  The young boy who lived in this cabin is thought to have once saved young Abe Lincoln’s life when he fell into Knob Creek.  The cabin was moved here when the historical park was created.  It was peaceful and quiet and interesting to see another place where Lincoln spent time as a child; he lived here from the ages of two to seven.  Another land ownership dispute caused the family’s move to Indiana.

There were several signs posted indicating that Copperhead snakes make their home in the area.  I didn’t see any, but also didn’t go tromping off through the field to the creek!

After leaving Lincoln behind for the day, I made my way to Lexington, Kentucky, where I would be stopping for the night.  I saw a highway sign advertising Wildside Winery and decided to check it out!  They had good wines, and a nice selection of both dry and sweet wines.  I enjoyed talking with my server – it was his first day working at the winery – but he had lived in Brookings, Oregon for eight years, so we had the Pacific Northwest in common!  I purchased four bottles; one was their Wild Duet.  Sadly, they are all long gone now – but they were delicious!

That evening I camped at Boonesboro State Park in Lexington; the first of two nights I would spend there!