Tag Archive | history

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…

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Shenandoah National Park History

Shenandoah National Park provided a challenge for the National Park Service.  Unlike many of the parks they had created in the west in vast, open spaces of largely uninhabited land, Shenandoah National Park had thousands of people already occupying its boundaries.  Hundreds of small farms dotted the landscape, their residents making a living from the land with crops, orchards and animals.  The park was authorized in 1926, but it wasn’t until December 26, 1935 before it was established.  Between those two dates, the Commonwealth of Virginia purchased some of the land from residents, and condemned other parcels of land through the process of eminent domain.  Over 500 families were ultimately relocated out of the park, and a few other residents were allowed to remain until they died. 

Looking down at the Shenandoah Valley from Skyline Drive

Looking down at the Shenandoah Valley from Skyline Drive

Unfortunately, as was all too common during that era, the Park Service relied on some flawed information to make its decision to displace residents.  They hired a woman named Miriam M. Sizer to conduct a study of the resident population.  Her assessment was that the area residents lived in basically squalid conditions, unable to care for themselves, and were completely devoid of education or culture.  In her opinion, the government would be doing these folks a favor by removing them from their homes and relocating them where they would be better off. 

The reality was somewhat different.  Although the region had not been adequately served by the Commonwealth of Virginia’s education system, residents had banded together to create community schools.  There was poverty, but many families enjoyed a rich, cultural existence.  Ms. Sizer’s study has contributed to continuing stereotypes and sweeping generalizations of the residents of Appalachia as a completely backwoods, uneducated population.  The Park Service features an exhibit in the Big Meadows Visitor’s Center addresses this “study” and its impact on the people who once lived here. 

Also interesting is that unlike parks in the West, Shenandoah has a history that began with segregation.  In the 1930s the park had multiple areas that were “whites only.”  Only one campground and picnic area within the park was designated for African Americans.  World War II changed all that – concessions closed and park usage went way down.  After the war, the Park Service mandated that facilities be integrated; the mandate was fully accomplished in 1950.   

Me posing with the Shenandoah National Park Sign

Me posing with the Shenandoah National Park Sign

Today the park is long and narrow, with its most prominent feature being the 105 mile Skyline Drive, that traverses the entire length of the park.  The park encompasses 79,579 acres (124.34 sq. miles), and spans eight Virginia counties.  The rocks making up the mountains of Shenandoah are some of the oldest in Virginia, over a billion years old.  Over 40% of the park is designated wilderness, and 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail run through the park.  It is home to white-tailed deer, black bear, bobcat, raccoon, skunk, opossum, groundhog, red fox, gray fox, coyote and eastern cottontail rabbit.  The park also provides habitat for over 200 species of birds and thirty-two species of fish. 

Due to its location so close to major population centers, 1,209,883 visited the park in 2011, making it one of the more popular parks in terms of numbers.  And when you visit, it is easy to see why.  I’ll share our visit with you next! 

Have you been to Shenandoah National Park?  What were your favorite parts? 

 

 

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park History

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is one of the relatively new entrants to the National Park system, designated on October 21, 1999 by Congress and President Bill Clinton.  Before becoming a National Park, it had been a National Monument since 1933.

I love the sign at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park!

I love the sign at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park!

The park protects 12 miles of the 48 mile Black Canyon of the Gunnison, so named because the canyon is so narrow and the walls are so steep that some areas of the canyon only receive 33 minutes per day of direct sunlight!

Black Canyon is also notable because of its steep river drop; the Gunnison River drops an average of 34 feet per mile within the canyon, compared to the Grand Canyon’s average drop of 7.5 feet per mile.  At its steepest point, at Chasm View, the river drops 240 feet in one mile!

The canyon’s walls are predominately made up of Precambrian gneiss and schist rocks that are approximately 1.7 billion years old.  During the Laramide Orogeny, that also formed the Rocky Mountains, these rocks were uplifted, between 40 and 70 million years ago.

The Gunnison River took on its current course about 15 million years ago; the flow of the river was much higher than it is today.  As a result of the river not being able to change course within the canyon, it began to cut through the relatively soft volcanic rock at a rate of about 1 inch every 100 years.

The Ute Indians knew about the canyon and avoided it out of superstition; the first Spanish explorers had passed by before 1776.  However, the first written record of the canyon was created in 1853, by Captain John Williams Gunnison, who was looking for the best route between St. Louis and San Francisco.  Gunnison was killed by Utes the next year, and the canyon was named in his honor.

The Denver and Rio Grande Railroad began cutting a rail bed through the canyon in 1881; it took more than a year of heavy manual labor and was enormously expensive.  The narrowness of the canyon meant that they had to use the narrower gauge track – 3’ instead of the standard 4’ 8 ½” (how that ever became the standard is insane!).  The railway didn’t last long though, as it was bypassed not long after for cheaper, easier routes.

Our first view of Black Canyon.

Our first view of Black Canyon.

Visitors today can visit either the North Rim (closed in winter) or the South Rim.  The two rims are not connected within the park, the route outside of the park to reach one rim from the other is about 90 minutes.  The South Rim, that we visited, has a 6 mile road along the rim of the canyon, with several viewpoints.  There is also a 5 mile, very steep road that provides access to the river, and a campground.  Vehicles over 22 feet are prohibited on that road, as it has very sharp switchbacks and over a 16 percent grade.

The park has a lot of plants and animals, including aspen, Ponderosa pine, sagebrush, desert mahogany, Utah juniper, Gambel oak and single-leaf ash.  Wildlife includes coyote, elk, and mule deer. Birds include great horned owls, American dippers and Steller’s jay as well as migratory birds such as the mountain bluebird, peregrine falcon, white-throated swift and canyon wren.

183,045 visitors went to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in 2014, making it one of the lesser visited National Parks.  But we had an opportunity to visit on our trip!

MI Road Trip: Landing Crafts and Pantyhose!

Have you ever seen an LST?  In particular – USS LST-393?  What the heck is USS LST-393, you ask?  Well, it is in Muskegon, Michigan, and we had the opportunity to see it after our visit to the Hackley and Hume Historic Site.

This is an LST-1 class landing ship, built during World War II to transport troops, vehicles and equipment. There were 1051 built during the War; this is one of only two to survive in its original configuration. USS LST-393 was critical to the following operations: the Sicilian occupation in July 1943, the Salerno landings in September 1943, and the one she is most famous for – the Normandy invasion in June 1944. She landed on Omaha Beach on the night of June 6, 1944 and offloaded several Sherman tanks and other materials, before spending another two days stuck on the beach due to the tides.

The back of USS LST-393.

The back of USS LST-393.

In all, she made over 30 trips back and forth between Normandy Beach and England, supplying equipment and bringing back wounded soldiers and German POWs. After the European theater wound down, she was retrofitted for service in the Pacific Theater, she was on her way to the Panama Canal for a trip to Japan when the Japanese surrendered.

USS LST-393 in Muskegon, Michigan. Sorry about the quality of the photo; there was a fence so I couldn’t get a better angle.  These are the doors where the equipment was unloaded onto the beach.

USS LST-393 in Muskegon, Michigan. Sorry about the quality of the photo; there was a fence so I couldn’t get a better angle. These are the doors where the equipment was unloaded onto the beach.

After her wartime service, she was purchased by the Sand Products Corporation and began life as a merchant ship, transporting new cars from Muskegon to Milwaukee. Since 2000, a couple of volunteer groups have been trying to restore her; she has been cleaned and painted and is open for tours during the summer. As she was closed for the season when we visited, we took some pictures and marveled at her enormous size – 328 feet in length and 50 feet wide, carrying a crew of about 140 men.

While driving around Muskegon, we also saw a gigantic, empty building that piqued our interest; it had a giant sign that said Amazon on top. I was sure it wasn’t the current Amazon retailer, but what was it?

As it turns out, the Amazon Hosiery Company moved from Indiana to Muskegon in 1895. Amazon produced cotton underwear, gloves, hosiery, hooked rugs and army shirts. At its peak, it employed over 1,000 people – mostly women. Unfortunately, materials rationing during World War II spelled the end for the Amazon Hosiery Company.

The Amazon Hosiery Company Building – Now an apartment complex

The Amazon Hosiery Company Building – Now an apartment complex

After the war, several businesses occupied the space, and then it sat vacant for about a decade, until it was converted to apartments beginning in the 1990s. The project was completed in 2001. It is a beautiful building from the outside; it would be neat to see what they did with the apartments!

MI Road Trip: Hackley and Hume Historic Site

After our lunch at Founder’s Brewery, we got back on the road and made our way to Muskegon, Michigan. It is a small lakefront city established during Michigan’s lumber boom, and kept vibrant due to its location on the lake and shipping routes. We wanted to tour the Hackley and Hume Historic Site, which consists of two historic homes that are owned and operated by the Lakeshore Museum Center. Charles H. Hackley is Michigan’s most famous lumber baron (as if each state has a most famous lumber baron!) and Thomas Hume was one of his business partners.

When we showed up to tour the homes, we were pleasantly surprised to learn that the tour was free in October! They charge a nominal fee all season long, but the home is also partially funded by property taxes, so October is the time the museum gives back to the community in the form of free admission.

Hackley purchased the double lot in 1887 and promptly sold part of it to Hume. The homes and the City Barn behind the homes were designed and built between 1887 and 1889. Despite having been designed by the same architect and largely using the same color scheme on the exterior of both homes, they are very different from each other. Hackley was married and had two older adopted children; he was the founding partner of the business and had his home built as an extravagant retirement home.

The exterior of the Hackley House – smaller but more elaborate than the Hume House

The exterior of the Hackley House – smaller but more elaborate than the Hume House

The Hackley home was built to impress; it was very detailed and intricate. Both homes are built in the Queen Anne Victorian style, but the Hackley home features elaborate woodcarving throughout, majolica tile, leaded glass windows, imported marble and expensive furniture.

The stairway in the Hackley House – No that’s not a ghost outside the window; its the painter.

The stairway in the Hackley House – No that’s not a ghost outside the window; its the painter.

The entryway of the Hackley House has five carved heads, representing the five races of man. This one is the Native American.

The entryway of the Hackley House has five carved heads, representing the five races of man. This one is the Native American.

The beautiful woodworking around the sink in the bedroom.

The beautiful woodworking around the sink in the bedroom.

The bathroom was also very unique – apparently Hackley was a bit of a germo-phobe, so he had the bathroom completely tiled to ensure that it was sanitary – even the ceiling! The bathroom also had an old time toilet paper holder. The toilet paper came in squares back then, not rolls, and the squares were held down by a spring-loaded metal bar.

Have you ever seen tile on the bathroom ceiling?

Have you ever seen tile on the bathroom ceiling?

The Hackley home largely remained true to the turn of the century period. Hackley’s daughter lived in the home for a period of time after her father’s death, then eventually sold it to the American Red Cross, who took good care of the place.

The Hume house had a more open floor plan, and was more modern, but also more modest. The Hume family had 6 or 7 children, and he was a lesser partner in the business, so he didn’t have as much money. As a result, his home was nowhere near as richly appointed. It is presented as it existed later in life after being redecorated in the 1920s. It is still clearly a rich man’s home, but the décor in the home is much more simple.

One of the fireplaces in the Hume House

One of the fireplaces in the Hume House

Both homes are great examples of Queen Anne style architecture, and it is interesting to note the differences. The two homes also share a gigantic carriage house; with each half of the carriage house a mirror image of the other. Now it houses a small museum, a theater for the movie of the area and family history, and a gift shop. The museum is small, but it explained more of the history of the area, and has an incredible amount of detail about the Hackley and Hume families and even the servants who lived in the homes and carriage house. Part of the barn has been restored to its look as a stable and the coachman’s quarters.

Photos are allowed inside, without flash, and just in case you are wondering, yes, the homes are painted in their original colors. The Hume house has… 14… exterior colors!

 

The Hume House (with the City Barn in the background) – larger much less intricate than the Hackley House. And 14 exterior colors!

The Hume House (with the City Barn in the background) – larger much less intricate than the Hackley House. And 14 exterior colors!

The Lakeshore Museum Center also operates two other historic properties that are open to the public, a replica of a fire barn built in 1875 (and largely funded by Charles H. Hackley) and the Scolnik house, a historic home decorated to explore the lives of working class families in the Depression era. We didn’t have time to visit these other properties, but I would love to go back and check these out as well!

A Stop in Historic Jacksonville

It was the third day of our Southern Oregon long weekend and we were headed to Jacksonville!  Jacksonville, Oregon is a historic town just 5 miles outside of Medford.  It experienced a huge boom in 1851 and 1852 when gold was discovered there, and the town became the principal financial center for Southern Oregon at the time.  However, the gold dried up, and so did the town, especially after the railroad passed it by in 1884.  It remained the county seat until 1927, but the economy of the town drastically declined.  As a result of the decline, progress bypassed Jacksonville and a large number of the commercial and residential buildings were left intact.

The Old Drug Store

The Old Drug Store

Now the large number of historic buildings are the stars of the town, drawing tourists to the quiet downtown.  The main street is lined with shops, selling a variety of art, local clothing and handmade jewelry, and fair trade products.  Jon and I visited in 2011, and loved the relaxed little town so much that we couldn’t wait to come back.

A Historic Saloon turned Coffee Shop

A Historic Saloon turned Coffee Shop

We had lunch at the Bella Union – a restaurant in a historic building downtown.  The Bella Union began as a restaurant and saloon in 1864, and operated until it burned on April 14, 1874.  After that it was home to many businesses; a machine shop, saddle shop, saloon, deli and finally a restaurant and saloon once again.  The present restaurant has been in business since 1988.

The outdoor patio at the Bella Union Restaurant

The outdoor patio at the Bella Union Restaurant

I had a turkey cranberry sandwich and vegetable soup; Jon had steamed clams and salad.  Both were delicious.  We sat outside on the patio in the warm shade and enjoyed a relaxed conversation with Jon’s parents.  After lunch, we shopped a bit, and then headed off for our next adventure – wine tasting!

A Tour! A Writer’s Tour!

This brief hijacking takes us on a different kind of tour: a Writer’s Blog Tour.  It’s an interview, of sorts, about my blog and writing process.  Although I often share a little bit about my offline life, this post includes a bit more about me – I’m Camille, the woman behind the blog.

I was nominated by Susan Kalasunas, the writer behind The History Tourist, one of my favorite blogs.  Susan writes about historical sites as well, but she takes it a step further, by looking for an interactive experience to write about.  She wants to experience history as a tourist.  She recounts her experiences in a way that makes me want to visit each and every place she goes to!

And now for me….

What am I currently working on?

I’m currently working on catching up from my summer and fall travel. I recently began a series of posts about my Southern Oregon travels in August. Jon and I, along with his parents, did a tour of the Oregon Caves, hiked down to the bottom of Crater Lake and took the boat tour, and did a day of relaxing and wine tasting in historic Jacksonville, Oregon.

I’ll also be posting about our trip to Michigan in October. Mostly it was a family trip, but we managed to sneak off for a few days and do some sightseeing. In those few days, we toured two historic homes and a converted mental hospital, hiked at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and sampled beer and wine from several local Michigan establishments.

Lastly, if Jon hadn’t poached the rest of the bottles from my mixed case of wine, I’d be posting reviews of those, but as it stands, I’m not sure I have any of them left. SIGH…There’s never a shortage of wine to comment on around here though!

How does my work differ from others in my genre?

My mother once famously described my travel style as “eclectic,” and I think this blog reflects that. I love history and historical sites, but I don’t really stick to one genre or experience. I love it all. Being one half of a duo though, I try hard to consider Jon in the travel planning. Although I could tour historic homes for a week straight, I think he would go crazy. So historic homes, prisons, battlefields, National Parks, cemeteries, boat rides, breweries, and quick stops to take pictures of quirky Americana on the roadside, they all make it on my list.

One thing that we seem to do differently is the pace of our travels. Both Jon and I work full-time and have a limited amount of time we can be away. And we live in a part of the country that is somewhat lacking in historical sites. So when we do travel, we really try to pack it in and make the most of our time! If I don’t come home from vacation feeling like I need a vacation, I haven’t done my duty.

Why do I write what I do?

I suppose I started the blog to share my experience. I figured if I created a written record of the wines I have loved, I might be able to remember them better. And my vacation series have become a way to remember the great vacations that Jon and I are fortunate to take. From the hotels to the restaurants, to all the fabulous places we go, I can look back and smile when I need a pick me up. Reading all the positive comments from all of you is the icing on the cake!

How does my writing process work?

I write for a living. In my day job though, the writing is sterile… focused on clarity… on standing up to a legal challenge. Union contracts, policies, grievance responses, separation agreements – those aren’t the kind of writing that make you want to reread it a year later and relive the warm memories. So this blog allows me to be quirky (my usual personality), to express my pet peeves, and to hopefully make you feel like you are here with me.

When I visit a historical site, I like to give my readers an overview of the place, so they know a little bit about it without having to Google it. Self-contained history, if you will. And I like to share my experience. Mostly I love everyplace I go, because I try to maintain a childlike wonder when I get to experience something new. But if there were too many bugs or the tour was too short or if you should get a hat with a chinstrap to prevent it from blowing off, I’ll pass that along to you too.

I take notes in a travel journal when Jon and I are traveling; I record the day and what we did and where we ate and what we had.  Occasionally, I record prices or travel tips, but this really isn’t that kind of blog.  I also collect brochures to take home with me so I can remember the details of the places we visited, and I always take to the internet when I’m writing a post.

Onward in the tour!

Sarah Angleton is a fiction writer and history enthusiast from Missouri. Her short stories have appeared in a number of anthologies and journals you’ve probably never read. Her first novel was recently accepted for publication by High Hill Press and may one day find a home on your bookshelf. In the meantime, Sarah blogs weekly as the Practical Historian, exploring the ways stories of the past intertwine with experiences of the present.

Sarah Angleton, The Practical Historian

Sarah Angleton, The Practical Historian

Kirsten is a wine blogger who fell in love with wine over 24 years ago, and has never fallen out of love.  She’s a chronic CSW (that’s Certified Specialist of Wine) student, but can’t seem to reach the finish line.  She started her blog as a way to be her own teacher, and teaches many of us along the way.  She is tasting her way through the world according to wine, studying and learning about wine one bottle at a time.  And then she blogs about it at The Armchair Sommelier.

Kerstin bio photo

In a previous life, Kirsten was a high school history teacher and a fundraiser for non-profit organizations.  She’s a wife, and mom to 2 teenagers!

She is a student of photography and history, and takes some really great photos!  And bonus — wine almost always allows her to incorporate both of those passions into her blog posts.  She also loves to travel . . . the world’s a big place.

Thank you for coming along with me as I share three of my favorite blogs!  Cheers!