Thursday, January 29, 2015

A View of Richmond from Its Canal

Another post from last summer about an often overlooked aspect of Richmond -- its canals. 
One interesting way to experience and explore Richmond's history is by taking a 40-minute narrated canal tour. The narrated canal cruise offers a pretty good synopsis of Richmond's colorful history. Along the way, you'll see a part of the canal and the old Tobacco Row. And, if you're observant, you'll even get to see some local wildlife.

Richmond, lying on the fall line of the James River, was destined for a history steeped in canal navigation. The canals form an integral part of Richmond's history, and contributed to the city's development. The James River and Kanawha Canal was a partially built canal intended to facilitate shipments of passengers and freight by water between the western counties of Virginia and the coast.

George Washington, a staunch proponent of canal transportation, appeared before the Virginia General Assembly in 1784 to support legislation to create a waterway to bypass the falls. By linking the James River with the Kanawha River in western Virginia, which in turn flowed into Ohio, he hoped to improve transportation and trade with the west. The first section of the canal to be completed circumvented the seven-mile falls near Richmond.

Surveyed and planned by George Washington, the canal project was begun in 1785 as the James River Company, and later restarted under the James River and Kanawha Canal Company. It was an expensive project, which failed several times financially and was frequently damaged by floods. 

During the 1850s — and peaking in 1860 — canal traffic was at its busiest. As many as 195 boats regularly traversed the waters, bringing goods such as tobacco and wheat from western Virginia to market and returning home with finished goods from the city. Passenger voyages made up a small percentage of boat traffic. Only six passenger boats — called packets — ran on a regular basis during this busy time. Packets could carry 30 to 40 people and took approximately 33 hours to reach Lynchburg via canal.

All this came to an end as flooding, Civil War damage, and competition from the expanding railroads eventually took a huge toll on the canals. In the end, its right-of-way was bought and the canal was largely dismantled by the new Richmond and Allegheny Railroad, which laid tracks on the former towpath. The R&A became part of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway in the 1890s, which developed much of the former canal route into an important line for West Virginia coal headed eastbound to the Hampton Roads coal piers at Newport News for worldwide export.

Interestingly, three centuries of transportation can be viewed during the tour: the 18th century canal, 19th century rail road lines, and 20th century roadways.

Know before you go: Combine the short canal tour with either lunch or dinner at one of the nearby cafes or bistros.

Getting there: The canal cruises are located at 139 Virginia Street in Richmond’s historic Shockoe Slip. It is directly across from the intersection of 14th and Dock streets.

Hours: Tours begin the first Friday in April and ends the second week of November. Historic tours leave every hour on the hour and run on the seasonal schedule listed on the website. 

Dogs: Not on the boat, sorry!


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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Enjoying Greenwell's Legacy

Another summer afternoon adventure -- this time exploring a lovely little state park in southern Maryland.

"If I lived here...." I spent an afternoon saying that to myself. If I lived here, I'd go riding across the fields every day (I don't ride, so I'm not sure where that daydream fantasy came from).

If I lived here, I'd go kayaking along the Patuxent River.... If I lived here, I'd hang a hammock between two trees and enjoy the view and river breeze, with a glass of wine and a good book.

Most of us can only daydream about living on a place like John Phillip Greenwell Jr's farm. But his legacy to the State of Maryland ensured that lots of people for generations to come, will be able to spend an afternoon on the property that once was his farm and do some daydreaming of their own.

Greenwell donated his 166-acre farm to be used as a public park. Although Greenwell lived in Washington, D.C., and traveled the world, he treasured his time back on his farm in St. Mary's County. He granted the farm, which he called "heaven on earth" to Maryland on the condition that the park would be accessible and inclusive to people of all ages, races, abilities, and disabilities. The state subsequently purchased an additional 430 adjacent acres, creating the almost 600-acre Greenwell State Park.

Greenwell State Park is only about 20 miles from D.C. and just over 60 miles from Baltimore but vastly different from other Maryland state parks, so it's worth checking out. The park is essentially typical southern Maryland farmland that follows along the western shore of the Patuxent River.

I'd read a blurb about Greenwell Park and the views of the Patuxent River, and decided to drag my family and three dogs for an afternoon ramble. The weather was perfect and it would have been a shame to have stayed inside.

We rambled along the different trails -- we started out on the Green Trail, found ourselves on the Grey Trail, walked along the River Trail, looped back to the Red and Yellow Trails before heading back to the car. It was a nice easy walk -- not a hike that will cause you to workout and sweat. (I eschew sweating.)

The walk is well worth the time -- we spent easily a couple hours roaming around, and it was well worth it for the variety and views! The trail travels through fields, meadows and woods, and offers dramatic views of the river, with visits to several old barns, lending interest to the walks. The Patuxent River was the star of this afternoon -- along the park the river is wide and the views it offers are dramatic. We were there when the honeysuckle peaked, and the familiar scent from my childhood was strong in many places, lulling us. My husband and I recalled pulling out the stems (or stamens or whatever they're called) to taste the tiny sweet drop of nectar when we were kids.

Our hike visited three coves, one with a sandy beach where we noticed a family settling down with a picnic lunch, beach towels, and obviously about to go for a swim. We looked down and sure enough -- we found a fossilized shell -- Greenwell is nearish to Calvert Cliffs State Park. Greenwell’s trails take you through a variety of settings typical of traditional rural St. Mary’s County: forest, farm field, old barns, manicured lawns of a old plantation house. We passed quite a few folks who were fishing.

The second cove visits open fields separated by hedgerows and stream valley woodlands predominate. These open fields offer a welcome change of view. A delightful surprise includes two historic barns far from anywhere for hikers to discover. Antique farming equipment is scattered inside, and for the implements that aren't readily apparent to those of us who don't hail from a farming heritage, there are also helpful information sheets explaining what they were used for. We were the only ones in the barn -- it was fun to poke around it and explore the different spaces of the barns, imagining what it might have been like when these were actively used.
Greenwell's beloved 19th-century furnished home, which overlooks the Patuxent River, is open to the public some Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. (It was closed the day we were there.)

The Greenwell Foundation, which Greenwell founded, also brings wounded warriors being treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and their families, to stay in the Greenwell Lodge, so they can enjoy the idealic beauty of the park.

Getting there: 25420 Rosedale Manor Lane, Hollywood MD 20636

Hours: Greenwell State Park is open from sunrise to sunset every day of the year.

Dogs: Of course!!

Website: or publiclands/Pages/southern/greenwell.aspx

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Exploring Richmond's Rich History

Richmond is a lovely city, loaded with history. I enjoyed spending several days there last June. 

Bus tours or segway tours are both excellent ways to learn more about a city -- especially if it's a first-time visit. I decided to learn more about the city and its residents by taking a segway tour -- always a fun way to hear some local history and learn about important sites.

In 1606, James I granted a royal charter to the Virginia Company of London to settle colonists in North America. After the first permanent English-speaking settlement was established in April 1607, at Jamestown, Captain Christopher Newport led explorers northwest up the James River, and on May 24, 1607, erected a cross on one of the small islands in the middle of the part of the river that runs through today's downtown area. The current site of the cross (reconstructed) was the first stop of the segway tour.

During the Revolutionary War period, several notable events occurred in the city, including Patrick Henry's impassioned "Give me liberty or give me death" speech in 1775 at St. John's Church, and the passage of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, written by Thomas Jefferson. 

After the American Revolutionary War, Richmond emerged as an important industrial center. To facilitate the transfer of cargo from the flat-bottomed bateaux above the fall line to the ocean-faring ships below, George Washington helped design the James River and Kanawha Canal in the 18th century to bypass Richmond's rapids, intent on providing a water route across the Appalachians to the Kanawha River. The canal, combined with ample access to hydropower due to the falls, enabled Richmond to become home to some of the largest manufacturing facilities in the country, including iron works and flour mills, the largest facilities of their kind in the South.

View of the Virginia State House from Brown's Isle.

During the American Civil War, Richmond served as the capital of the Confederate States of America, but more on that in another blog.

Three modes of transportation
typical of three centuries can be
viewed from this point: canals
from the 18th century, railroads
from the 19th century, and high-
ways from the 20th century.
Richmond's strategic location on the James River, built on undulating hills at the rocky fall line separating the Piedmont and Tidewater regions of Virginia, provided a natural nexus for the development of commerce. Throughout these three centuries and three modes of transportation, the downtown has always been a hub, with the Great Turning Basin for boats, the world's only triple crossing of rail lines, and the intersection of two major interstates.

The segway tour took us to Brown's Isle, between the canal and the James River, where we could see the Federal Reserve Building -- the sister to the ill-fated Twin Towers in 1/3rd miniature. Then we crossed the canal and headed up a street just behind the Virginia State House. 

We heard about Bojangles -- not of fried chicken fame but for what he was really known for: an African American tap dancer and entertainer who helped break down important racial barriers in the entertainment industry. We passed by the two city hall buildings -- the ugly but efficient new one and the gorgeous gothic old one, that looks like a castle of old.

We eventually ended up in front of the State House, where the iconic monument to George Washington is located, opposite the Governor's Mansion. This elegant avenue also sports several monuments and statues, including the one (pictured to the left) of Stonewall Jackson.

Tip: Make sure you use sunblock as you are out in the sun for several hours. Taking a bottle of water wouldn't hurt either. Flat comfortable shoes are a must!

Getting there: Tours leave from  Cary Street. There are several parking garages nearby. Use them and avoid expensive parking tickets (not that I'm speaking from experience, or anything).

Hours: Check the website for segway tour hours.

Dogs: Dogs and segways do not mix.


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Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Covered Bridges of Frederick County

My 16-year-old son needed more driving hours, so we headed out one Saturday afternoon last summer on an impromptu and entirely unplanned "day trip." We ended up checking out the three covered bridges of Frederick County: Roddy Road Bridge, Utica Mills Bridge, and Loys Station Bridge. It was a win-win. He got some highway experience, some twisty winding country road experience, and four more hours of drive-time; for my part, I received a few more grey hairs ("no, you really don't need to drive that close to that car" and "watch out for that motorcyclist!!") but I had a fun afternoon photographing covered bridges, which I turned into a blog post. 

Whether you live in Maryland or another mid-Atlantic state, there are likely some quaint covered bridges within driving distance. 

Frederick County boasts three of Maryland's remaining eight covered bridges. All three bridges are listed on the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places and are conveniently located in northern Frederick County, within 12 miles of one another.

At one point, there used to be 52 of them in Maryland -- mostly in the central and western counties -- but between storms, fires, floods, and simply progress, most have been destroyed. In their hey-day, covered bridges were present on most of the major pikes, including US 40, and Buckeystown and Jefferson Pikes. The summer storms of 1889 and the subsequent flooding destroyed many of the bridges, especially those over the Monacacy River.

If you're interested in architecture or bridge design, the three covered bridges of Frederick County provide a good comparative study of wood bridge truss techniques, as each displays a different truss design. The remaining three bridges have been in continuous use since they were built in the latter half of the 19th century.

So what's with the roof? Many believe that the bridges were covered to prevent animals, such as horses drawing a carriage, from being spooked by the flowing waters below while entering or crossing the bridge. Another belief is that the animals would gladly cross the bridge thinking they were entering a barn (clearly those who believe that don't know animals very well). Some have suggested that the cover provides shelter for travelers in case of inclement weather. On the face of it, it seems silly to cover a bridge, but in an era when the building materials were likely to be only wood, the roofs protected the wood trusses from the wind, snow, and rain. This was the technology and engineering of choice until steel trusses replaced wooden trusses as the go-to material for bridge-making. Ironically, all three bridges are now supported by modern steel beneath, ensuring the bridge is strong enough for today's vehicles.

The smallest -- and my favorite -- of the bridges we saw, the Roddy Road covered bridge, was built in 1856 by the Roddy family (of course!), and rests just north of Thurmont off of US 15, where Roddy Creek Road meets Roddy Road at Owens Creek.

Roddy Road is a single-span Kingpost design bridge measuring 40 feet long.

The Utica Mills Covered Bridge, circa 1850, is located on Utica Road off of Old Frederick Road. The bridge originally spanned the nearby Monocacy River but like many similar bridges, was washed away during the 1889 floods. Thrifty local citizens salvaged the remains and reconstructed the 101-foot long Burr Arch design bridge at its present location crossing Fishing Creek, where it's been ever since.

First constructed circa 1880, the Loy's Station covered bridge is on Old Frederick Road, just south of Rt. 77. Although it has been structurally modified and rebuilt, the bridge's original timbers remain throughout the 90-foot long structure crossing Owens Creek. It features a multiple Kingpost design.

Interestingly, the Old Frederick Road itself is historical: Old Frederick Road is shown on an 1853 map as the route to Emmitsburg from Frederick. The Union Army pursued the Confederate Army in late June 1863 on their way to what turned out to be the Battle of Gettysburg in early July. After that historic battle, Union forces wearily made their way back down Old Frederick Road toward Frederick.

Nearly 14,000 authentic wooden covered bridges once existed in the United States. Today, less than 900 are still standing, and most of these are more than 150 years old. Sadly, these remnants of a by-gone era continue to decrease across the United States, making the three in Frederick County precious and worth protecting.

In case you're wondering, there is a fourth covered bridge in Frederick County, in Frederick itself, spanning Carroll Creek in Baker Park. Although very cool, this is not an authentic covered bridge, i.e., one that's existed since the 19th century; it was erected in 1965 by the city of Frederick. 

Tip#1: There are several wineries located nearby. Combine going to one or two wineries with the covered bridges for a full day! Cunningham Falls State Park and Catoctin Mountain National Park are also close by; both offer hikes (the falls are lovely but the view from Chimney Rock in the national park is worth the uphill climb!).

Tip#2: Pack a picnic to enjoy on the creek by Loys Station Bridge -- there's a lovely little park that provides a nice setting to while away a warm afternoon.

Getting there: Roddy Road Covered Bridge is at 14760 Roddy Rd, Thurmont, MD 21788; Loys Station Covered Bridge is at 3600 Old Frederick Rd.,Thurmont, MD 21788; and Utica Mills Covered Bridge is on Utica Mills Road, just off of Old Frederick Road, in Frederick, MD 21701. Detailed driving directions may also be found at the website below.

Dogs: Beagles would find themselves bored by an afternoon taking photographs of bridges, but if you were to take them on a hike in nearby Catoctin Mountain National Park, now you're talking!!


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Have you daytripped somewhere interesting? I'd love to hear what you're doing! Email [email protected] if you're interested in being a guest-blogger!