Saturday, July 27, 2013

Finding the Stories: Rock Run Historic Area

Visiting an historic home, or old factory, or those fast disappearing grist mills, is a walk among the ghosts of the former inhabitants. I love exploring these places, peering into corners for the stories of the people who lived and worked there, and Rock Run Historic Area, tucked away in the Susquehanna State Park, in Harford County, MD, didn't disappoint. Including the beautifully preserved buildings, it comes replete with the stories of the mansion's inhabitants, including some about contemporary descendants of the original family that tried to pilfer china given by the family to the park service and the heroic (but misguided -- personal opinion only) exploits of Confederate Brig. Gen. James J. Archer, one of the family members. Take the opportunity to hike along the river as well -- the trail and view are lovely.

The Rock Run Historic Area is the site of an historic grist mill, the mill-owners' home -- the Rock Run, or "Carter-Archer" Mansion, an old spring house, a gorgeous stone carriage barn (that helpfully provides restrooms for the over-saturated traveler), a mill pond and rather lovely little waterfall, the miller's house, and the toll house for the covered bridge (that washed away in the 1850s).

The old grist mill, built in the last years of
the 18th century and operational in 1800, has much of its machinery still intact inside. Although because the mill operated until the 1950s, not all of what remains actually dates back to 1800. In fact, the mill was refurbished several times -- the inside machinery around 1900, but the water wheel, which originally was wood, is now steel, and was installed in 2007. Still, the boys and I found meandering around the four floors, poking into the cobwebs, interesting... okay, I may have found it more interesting than they did, but they did ask a few questions about the machinery, and I was satisfied with that.

The next stop on the tour is a two-story spring house, well preserved, and sporting the same stone the mill and most of the other buildings on the site were built with. After that we walked up the hill to the Carriage Barn, although it wasn't open to go inside -- a situation I'd like to see the park service remedy, although it's worth noting that rest rooms take up much of the lower floor of the building. From there, it's a short stroll up to the mansion, which is well worth touring.

Some of the rooms are refilled with furniture reflecting the period of the original inhabitants. Of particular interest, I thought, especially for my sons (who really weren't as awestruck as I was by the period pieces and the well-equipped colonial-era kitchen) was the slave quarters above the kitchen.

By the way, I love when docents call it the servants' quarters, but then admit that, no, really only slaves ever stayed in rooms so dingy and small and sweltering as the apartments above the kitchen, including the attic sleeping quarters. The Archer family were slave holders, and in fact, at least one of the sons ended up fighting for the Confederacy.

The narrow stairway leading to the slave quarters are about 2 feet wide, and then finally the ladder stairs up to the attic sleeping quarters, where supposedly the family would lock their slaves into each night -- no matter the heat, the windows were nailed shut. Our guide offered to bring us up the narrow stairway -- maybe 2 feet wide at most, and the doorway itself was about 18 inches. I squeezed through it. And then my feet were treading the same staircase that those unnamed slaves trod each night, as they were forced upstairs and locked in (according to the docent) because of laws made in the wake of the Nat Turner uprising. I was also struck that despite the fact that the house was inhabited until fairly recently, and even air conditioning and electric, as well as a bathroom installed, these quarters obviously remained much as they had been in the 1800s. I wondered if it had been used as storage or whether the family had simply locked the door and then just ignored the space.

James J. Archer, born at the house (according to the information plaque near the mansion) December 1817, was the eighth of his parents' 11 children. He graduated Princeton in 1835, attended Bacon College in Kentucky, then studied law at University of Maryland. He practiced law until 1847, when he was commissioned a captain in the U.S. Army during the Mexican American War. He was cited for meritorious conduct at the Battle of Chapultepec (Sept 12-13 1847) and brevetted to major. Archer returned to civilian life, but rejoined the army in 1855, serving in Washington and Oregon until the outbreak of the Civil War, when he resigned his commission and was given the rank of colonel. He served with distinction in the Peninsula Campaign, the battles of Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Gettysburg. During the latter battle, he was wounded during Pickett's Charge and taken prisoner by the Union Army. He stayed a year in a Union prison on Johnson Island, OH, ruining what remained of his health. Through a prisoner exchange, he made his way back to Richmond, VA, but died there before he could rejoin the fight.

From the house it's worth taking a walk in the woods behind the house to the mill pond, if only to see the lovely little waterfalls. From there follow the trail back down to the river to see the Toll House, which also sells water and sodas, and offers an interesting exhibit on the area ecology and the merits of recycling.

Getting there: The back of the self-guided walking tour brochure that I downloaded from the park's website lists an address that is, in fact, the maintenance facility for the park. I know because I went there. However, that's where we encountered two very adorable, curious spotted fawns, who just stared at us, and even started moving toward us, until one of them got spooked and fled. If you punch that into the GPS, but then keep going on Wilkinson Road, you'll encounter signs for the historic area that will get you to where you really want to be.

Hours: The mansion is open 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. The park itself is open sunrise to sundown. Admission fee required.

Dogs: Welcome in the area and the trails, but not in the grist mill or mansion, so if you're planning on poking around in those buildings, then get one of your group to agree to stand outside with the pooches or leave the poor mutts at home.

Eats: Pack a picnic -- the scenic river drive leads out of the historic area, and there are several places for picnics.


Updated May 2018

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Friday, July 19, 2013

Lady Liberty and Ellis Island

Every once in a while I'm going to throw in some favorite day trips that the boys, Ed and I have taken, like the one we took to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. That was a year ago -- Liberty was being renovated, and unfortunately, we couldn't go up to the top.

Then, a few months later, Superstorm Sandy struck. Sandy made landfall one day after the statue's 126th birthday, flooding most of the 12 acres she stands upon with water that surged as high as 8 feet. Railings broke, docks and paving stones were torn up, and buildings were flooded, according to news reports. The storm also destroyed boilers, sewage pumps, and electrical systems. Lady Liberty itself survived just fine (symbolic, really). The National Park Service only re-opened Liberty Island this past Independence Day.

A gift from France, the statue was intended to symbolize the friendship between the two countries and their shared love of liberty. Although France is hardly this country's best friend -- and one could argue that perhaps we're not a free as we'd like to be-- the statue has endured as a beloved American icon. It was dedicated in 1886 and welcomes about 3.5 million visitors every year. I wonder whether we've ever given another country such a gift as France gave us.

We decided to ferry over from Liberty State Park, in New Jersey, although you can also ferry over from New York City in Battery Park. Immediately upon arriving at Liberty State Park, we noticed the beautiful memorial to 9-11 victims, and we paused for a moment of silence to honor them.

After we had a quick picnic and boarded the ferry, the spectacular views of Manhattan grabbed our attention -- it's worth just riding the ferry, even if you don't get off! (Well, maybe not, but it's a thought.)

Our first stop was Ellis Island. We toured the exhibits and museum, considered looking up our last names and then gasped at the lines and decided against it. We appreciated the architecture of the building, and the conditions incoming immigrants must have faced -- how crowded and smelly and confusing it all must have been! The exhibits detailed the countries the immigrants came from and what might have prompted them to come, as well as highlighted where they ended up -- not all settled in New York City, although many (most) did. Most poignant? The row of luggage in the main hall.

From there we entered another line -- again, causing us to sympathize with the immigrants and all the long lines they'd had to endure -- this time the line was for the ferry to take us over to Liberty Island. It was a fairly short ride and suddenly, we were there.

Since we couldn't go up into the crown, we walked around the base, taking in the views of New York City and the harbor, as well as looking up at Liberty herself. It was pretty awe-inspiring. Even if you've been there before (say, as a kid), it's worth seeing again. The photo ops will garner post-card images of Manhattan.

Things to plan for:
  • Depending on the time of year, tickets can sell out months in advance. I just checked -- and tickets are sold out through August. Especially those that allow the visitor access inside the Statue of Liberty Monument or Crown. You may purchase advance tickets online before they sell out.
  • Tours are self-guided, and can last between three to five hours, depending on your pace when you visit both Ellis and Liberty Island.
  • Dress for the weather when you visit the Statue of Liberty National Monument and the Ellis Island Immigration Museum. During the summer month,s temperatures can rise to the high 90s with high humidity.
  • Wear comfortable shoes as you will be walking a great deal.
  • Large bags are not allowed on Liberty or Ellis Islands. There are no locker facilities at the New York and New Jersey embarkation points. Backpacks, strollers and large umbrellas are not permitted in the Monument. We had to go back to the car and store the backpacks we'd hoped to keep with us.

Getting there: Liberty State Park, NJ, is at Exit 14b on the New Jersey Turnpike. It is well-signed and easy to find.

Hours: Liberty State Park is open 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. However, ferries running to Liberty Island operate between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.(?); last ferry to leave Liberty State Park for Liberty Island is at 2 p.m.; admission fee required.

Dogs: They're allowed in the park (leashed) but not, obviously, on the ferry or on Liberty Island, and of course, you can't leave them in your vehicle. They'd be happier at home, chewing on your furniture.

Eats: There are concession stands on all the ferries and also concession stands and gift stores on both Liberty and Ellis Islands. There are also picnic tables at Liberty State Park -- so pack a cooler and a picnic basket and eat before you board the ferry.

Websites: and

Updated May 2018

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Saturday, July 13, 2013

A Taste: Wineries of Maryland (first in a periodic series)

 I am sipping one of the wines we purchased even as I write this.

Last Saturday -- a glorious day of bright blue skies and few clouds lingering overhead -- my friend, husband, and I visited three local Maryland wineries: Serpent Ridge Vineyard, Berrywine Plantations/Linganore Winecellars, and Black Ankle Vineyards. According to the Maryland Wine Passport -- a nifty $2 purchase that lists all Maryland wineries, addresses, organized by region -- there are some 44 wineries in Maryland now. We chose these three based on recommendations and our preferences at the Wine in the Woods Festival last May.

During the day we learned some surprising and heartening things, including that local wineries seem to be diligently pursuing green business practices, that are not only helping the environment but seem to be paying off for the wineries as well. Among the practices embraced by the wineries we visited are recycling, almost a 100 percent dependence on re-newable energy, and water conservation.

It's worth noting as you try to plan your route that wineries' hours vary. We started with Serpent Ridge because not only was it further out, but it opened earlier than the other two -- we'd decided to start out early, a lucky decision as it turned out!

Located just south of Westminster in rural Carroll County, Serpent Ridge is only 25 minutes away from Baltimore. The winery specializes in small lots of handmade wine from grapes grown its own vineyards and other Maryland vineyards.

Serpent Ridge consists of about two acres of grapes, allowing, according to the winery, a "hands-on" approach to wine making. Each vintage is made in small lots and aged in stainless steel or new age oak. The bottles are sealed with a "Zork," a relatively new approach to bottle closures that attempts to mimic the breathability of cork. Zorks are re-usable at home, by the way, and make it easier to re-cork a bottle of wine, should any be actually left over. I encountered Serpent Ridge at the Wine in the Woods Festival, took a Zork home, and on that basis, decided to visit the winery. :) Such is the randomness upon which we live our lives!

Serpent Ridge's wine tasting comes with a souvenir wine glass, with which you sample 6 wines. So now is the time for a confession: I'm not an educated wine drinker. And as hard as I tried to look like I knew what I was doing as I swirled and sniffed, I doubt I fooled anyone. The server shared a brief description of the wine as he poured the glass, and was willing to discuss each glass. I smiled, feeling out of my depth, although I appreciated his efforts. It boiled down to: I liked it or I didn't. It turned out I appreciated some wines I didn't expect to (a dry red), and didn't like one of the wines I thought I'd love (a sweetish red). The wine tasting room was cozy and comfortable, not intimidating.

Our next stop was Berrywine Plantation/Linganore Winecellars. I've long enjoyed fruit wines as accompaniment to an otherwise simple dessert, or sometimes the entire dessert, so this was a necessary stop for me. I also was interested in a tour of the facilities, and several were offered at different times of the day -- I love factory tours and the like, so I figured a tour of a winery had the potential to be equally interesting. It did, although without actual operations ongoing, it was a little static and frankly, just how interesting can tall silos of empty wine caskets be?

The winetasting room is in a repurposed a 200-year-old barn, that also holds a banquet hall and part of the wine-making facility. As part of its environmental efforts, the winery is 100% wind powered facility since 2011, and recycles approx 72,000 lbs of fruit pulp back into the vineyard as compost and deer control. In 2012, the winery recycled more than 15 tons of post consumer waste. This appeals to my values! Notably, Berry Wine Planation/Linganore Winecellars participates in Maryland Green Travel, a voluntary certification program that recognizes tourism business committed to improving and diminishing their impact on the environment.

Although expensive for three bites of summer sausage, four bites of cheese, a piece of chocolate and a bit of cheesecake, I recommend trying the pairings, as it really brought the wine -- and food -- alive, in a way that just seeing suggested pairings written down on paper doesn't. It made the experience much more interactive, and the server was happy to chat about each wine and how it interacted with the food. She didn't make me feel dumb or inadequate for my lack of wine knowledge -- a plus. Ironically, after enjoying the grape wine samples, when it came time to sample some of the fruit wines, I found I liked them less. Raspberry wine is one of their bestselling fruit wines, though, and when paired with summer sausage, is outstanding.

So it would be important to note at this time: either bring a picnic, or eat a meal beforehand. But sampling 16 wines here plus the six from the previous winery on an empty tummy was perhaps not my wisest decision; my friend and I were rather jolly as we stumbled back to the car. Luckily, my hubby had offered to serve as our escort and designated driver.

Black Ankle Vineyards, despite being relatively new, having only had its vineyard planted on 2003, enjoys an excellent reputation as one of Maryland's finest vineyards. The winery derives its name from its address on Black Ankle Road -- and there's two theories on how the road was named. The first is that the road remained a dirt and mud track long after other nearby roads were paved, so the name may stem from the muddy feet that travelers were left with on raining days. But local lore also suggests that there is an old native American trail called the Black Ankle Trail that passed through the area.

Black Ankle farms according to the principals of the original organic farming movement, including a strong emphasis on biodiversity, self-sufficiency for the farm as a whole, and a belief that the winery is a system of interrelated organisms.

In fact, the wine tasting room was constructed according to these principals: the building, which is eco-friendly, uses as many materials from the farm as was possible, including wood, straw, and soil. Its walls are insulated with straw bales grown on the site. It has a passive solar design, a living roof to capture and use rain water, but which also provides insulation in the winter and cooling in the summer.

The setting was exquisite -- even on an extremely hot day, the porches were breezy and comfortable and picturesque. There were places to unpack a picnic basket and enjoy your own meal accompanied by a bottle of wine. The only off putting aspect to this was the commercial at the end of the tasting, which requested that we join the wine club.

One of the features of the day writ large was the outstanding beauty of the countryside and wineries -- well worth an afternoon drive any day!

This will be the first in a series of articles on the wineries we visit, in which I review the experiences and share any tips gleaned along the way.

Tip: If you avoid purchasing wine and pack your own picnic, this is a budget-friendly day trip!

Getting there: I recommend GPSing it. Visit the vineyards' websites for addresses and directions.

Hours: Different for each winery. Check their websites for hours and tour availability.

Eats: Several restaurants close to Black Ankle and Linganore Winecellars, but best choice of all? Pack a picnic. All three wineries offered picnic tables or indoor facilities and seemed to encourage folks to bring their own food, supposing, of course, that most likely you'd also purchase a bottle of wine to go with it!

Websites: Visit for hours, maps, and directions.

Serpent Ridge:

Berrywine Plantation/Linganore Winecellars:

Black Ankle Vineyard:

Updated May 2018.

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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

I Spy a Change of Plans: International Spy Museum

We awoke to a morning of steady and heavy rain fall. Today our plans were to join in on the 150th Anniversary celebrations of the Battle of Gettysburg, walking Pickett's Charge, although not as re-enactors, at the exact time of day as the original. Then, as the Confederate side met the Union lines, Taps would be played. Good plan, memorable, touching -- and a once-in-a-lifetime experience: all the successful ingredients of a day trip. But the fun quotient was evaporating as quickly as the rain was falling. I made the tactical decision to change plans.

My youngest son suggested going to the International Spy Museum instead. Hmmm. Nearby. Easy to get to. Indoors. Not muddy. "Okay!" I relented.

Besides, all the stuff about Edward Snowden in the news lately seemed to make the choice appropriate.

The highlight of the International Spy Museum's exhibits was the 50 Years of Bond displays, which ran intermittently throughout the entire museum. Throughout the 50 Years of Bond exhibit, we met the various evil villains of the 007 movies, including the various incarnations of Bond himself. One of the more interesting tidbits was Ian Fleming's background and how James Bond came to be named James Bond. Short story: Fleming read an orthinography book by one James Bond, and considered the name to be the most boring and bland possible, and therefore, the perfect moniker for his uber spy. Particularly interesting as well was the comparison of aspects in the films, for example, the laser-fire satellite, with the real-world story (it doesn't exist).

The museum focuses on on mostly CIA-ish spy history -- the cloak and dagger aspects that the Bond films celebrate. Very little focused on other intelligence gathering aspects, although at the end there was a scary exhibit about the cyber battlefield space that my youngest found riveting. Edward Snowden, although not yet a part of the museum's narrative, very much came to mind during the exhibit on the Manhattan Project and how difficult it was for the us to keep our own secrets to ourselves. Insider threat is the most threatening, it seems.

In every museum I have my list of favorite artifacts, and the International Spy Museum is no different. My top  six are:

  • the Bulgarian umbrella gun
  • the bugged U.S. embassy medallion
  • the lipstick pistol
  • the Bond car
  • the pidgeon camera and the photo shot from such a camera, in which the pidgeon's wings are clearly visible
        • high-heeled switch-blade shoes (truly a killer pair of pumps)

Getting there:  800 F Street, NW—one block from the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metrorail Station and the Verizon Center. If you drive it, there's plenty of parking garages nearby, but parking can be expensive.

Hours: Hours vary; please check the website for the date you intend to visit.


Updated May 2018.

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Monday, July 1, 2013

A Visit to the Ponds: Lilypons Water Gardens

Although perhaps not a destination in and of itself -- unless you have or would like to have a backyard water garden -- Lilypons Water Gardens is set in lovely Frederick County farmland, and well worth a visit if you're near by or taking a scenic drive through southern Frederick County. If you're visiting SugarLoaf Mountain (either the park or the nearby Sugarloaf Winery), or if you're spending the day in Frederick, then I recommend taking a short drive over to Lilypons.

Lilypons started off as Three Springs Fisheries. Back in the 30s, when the post office deemed that the business needed its own post office, the owner at the time named the post office after his favorite opera singer, Lily Pons.

In the interests of full disclosure - I worked there for a couple of summers 20 years ago, and loved working around -- and in -- the ponds then. I always thought the scenery was quite lovely. Since then, they've added a number of formal water gardens to the property and created a lovely garden area to walk around or enjoy a few moments of peaceful solitude.

While we were there last Saturday, we noticed a young couple, dressed very nicely, there, taking photos of each other and clearly enjoying their picturesque surroundings, so we were not the first to have considered just dropping by for the pleasant surroundings. :) The ponds in July are a flower photographer's dream, so if you enjoy photography, bring your camera and have fun. Be careful around the edges of the natural ponds, as these are uneven and may be slippery.

Getting there: 6800 Lily Pons Road, Adamstown, MD 21710

Hours:  March thru June: Monday thru Friday, 9 am to 6 pm eastern time. July thru October: Monday thru Friday, 10 am to 5 pm eastern time. (closed July 4); November thru February: Monday thru Friday, 10 am to 4 pm eastern time. (closed Thanksgiving Day & Friday, Christmas Eve thru New Years Day and during inclement weather). Best time to visit: June - August.


Updated May 2018.

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A Place to Return To: New Market, MD

One of the places that I keep returning to is New Market, MD. 

Just a few minutes up I-70 (from Baltimore), New Market calls itself the Antiques Capital of the World. Whether true, or not, there are a lot of antique and boutique-y stores along its main street, and it's a pleasant afternoon walking up one side and back down the other. The sidewalks offer plenty of shade to make hot days bearable, and the residents seemingly have consciously made an effort to emphasize the picturesque aspects of their homes.

One of my favorite stores offers a mix of antiques and jewelry that  make browsing fun. I rarely leave this store without making a purchase -- and try to time visits for upcoming special events for which I'll want small gifts to give.

Established in 1793, New Market boasts a mix of colonial and Victorian-era homes, along a tree-lined main street that represents the best of old-time, small town Maryland. New Market holds two annual festivals that highlight the town's historic past. The "A Day in New Market" festival is held annually on the first Saturday in May. "Christmas in New Market" is held on the first Saturday in December every year as well. Both festivals celebrate the traditional life of 18th and 19th century residents.

Getting there: Take Exit 62 off of I-70. About 15 minutes east of Frederick; 30 minutes west of Baltimore.

Hours: Tricky -- all the stores keep different hours. Weekends almost sure to be open.

Dogs: Clean up after your pooches if you bring them along -- but they may not be welcome inside the stores.

Updated May 2018.

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