Wednesday, June 29, 2016

A Few More Sailor's Creeks...

"....a few more Sailor's Creeks and it will all be over." -- Confederate General Lee to President Jefferson Davis, April 6, 1865

The Sailors Creek Battles occurred after the fall of Richmond and Petersburg, on April 6 1865. Following the fall of Richmond and Petersburg, Gen. Robert E. Lee's primary objective was to get his army into North Carolina and unite with Gen. Joseph E. Johnston's Confederate force there. Rain-swollen rivers and mislaid food stores delayed Lee's army and allowed the Union troops to gain ground, and they were able to get in the road between Lee and North Carolina, forcing Lee to order his troops to move west to circumvent the Union block. That order set in motion the series of events leading to Sailors Creek, and ultimately to the end of the Civil War.

While often thought of as a single engagement, three distinct actions make up what is commonly referred to as the Battle of Sailor's Creek. First, the Confederate rear guard under Gen. John Gordon was forced to make stand against the Union Second Corps under Gen. Andrew Humphreys on the James Lockett Farm. To the south, the Union Sixth Corps under Gen. Horatio Wright, bombarded then assaulted Gen. Richard Ewell's two divisions along Little Sailor's Creek near the James Hillsman Farm. Lastly, Confederate divisions under Gen. Richard Anderson squared off against Gen. Wesley Merritt's three divisions of Union cavalry in the vicinity of Marshall's Crossroads.

These three battles raged almost simultaneously with one another, thus giving the illusion of one large general engagement, but there was little coordination between the three battles. In one of those -- Marshall's Crossroads -- my ancestor, George Washington Spertzel of the 21st Pennsylvania Cavalry, fought.

Lacking artillery, dispirited and hungry, the Confederates crumbled under the Union attacks. Some 8 thousand Confederate soldiers surrendered, as well as eight Confederate generals -- some of the Confederacy's most famous commanders: Richard S. Ewell, Joseph B. Kershaw, Montgomery Corse, Eppa Hunton, Dudley M. DuBose, James P. Smith, Seth Barton, and George Washington Custis Lee, Robert E. Lee's eldest son. By the end of the battle, both Lee and Grant knew the war wouldn't last much longer. Lee wrote to Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States, that "a few more Sailor's Creeks and it will all be over."

After the battles were over, the Overton-Hillsman House served as a field hospital. While we visited the park, we were lucky enough to enjoy a private tour of the house, which is set up to depict how it would have looked as a field hospital (derived from information gleaned from the journals of both a Confederate soldier and a Union officer treated there). In addition, two of the spaces, including the basement, are set up as they would have been as a private residence at the time of the Civil War.

Visitors to the Overton-Hillsman House have reported hearing a child on the second floor, when none was there (and in fact, the second floor is not open to park visitors). So yes, this beautiful little cottage is quite possibly a very haunted location -- which makes sense considering the history it witnessed.

A recreated surgery table stood by the door, according to contemporary accounts. Blood stains can still be seen on the original flooring; in the cellar below, blood dripped on the heads of the Hillsman family while they were confined to the basement by Union authorities during the battle.

A recreated traveling secretary and other accoutrements would likely have been present at a field hospital.

Contemporary accounts indicated that two men would have been on the bed, while several others lay on the floor recovering from their wounds.

The cellar kitchen is recreated much as it would have looked when the Hillsmans lived there during the Civil War.

Jim Godburn is an Education Specialist for the park; the Overton-Hillsman House Museum reflects his direct influence.

There's another story at this battlefield -- the story of how this hallowed ground is being protected and preserved. And it is hallowed ground -- park rangers suspect that the remains of Confederate soldiers are still present in shallow, mass graves along Sailor's Creek and Little Sailor's Creek.

Although the rural countryside hasn't changed that significantly from the days those battles were fought, any land not specifically preserved as an historic site is at risk. Houses and barns that were there may have come down, and a couple more houses put up, but mostly the land has been farmed and kept as it was at the time of the battle, and you can still see the contours of the land on which the battle was fought, unlike many of the battles further north, which are threatened by modern-day development. Preserving the battlefield has been the mission of Chris Calkins, who served as a national park ranger at Petersburg National Battlefield and came to Sailors Creek when he retired from Federal service. In fact, if you're interested in conducting any research at the battlefield, chances are you'll make use of the research library, which Calkin donated to the state park.

Sailors Creek Battlefield State Park is a relatively new park, having been added to the state park system in 2008. Its three missions are to protect the national historic battlefield, tell the story of how the Sailor's Creek battles ultimately led to Lee's surrender at Appomatox Courthouse, and share the story of how the Civil War impacted Southside residents (Southside is the region south of the James River and the North Carolina border).

We visited Sailors Creek on the same day we spent exploring other fun things to do around Prince Edward County and Farmville, VA. (Please check out the wonderful Moton Museum, the challenge of ziplining and the ropes course at Sandy Creek Retreat and Outdoor Adventure, and the High Bridge Rail Trail.

Know before you go 1: Allow yourself a half day, at least, to explore and enjoy this park. For a trail map, click here. In addition, there is a driving tour that traces Lee's retreat from Petersburg to Appomatox Courthouse. For more information about that, click here.

Know before you go 2: There's enough to do in the area to keep yourself busy two days. If you do, then consider staying at one of the quaint, but comfortable, cabins at Sandy River Retreat, in Rice.

Getting there: 6541 Saylers Creek Rd., Rice, VA 23966

Hours: Dawn - dusk. Visitor center, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 12 - 5 p.m. on Sunday.


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Sunday, June 26, 2016

Six Places in Pennsylvania You Don't Want to Miss!

Summer is here, and that means, the peak of day trip season! If you're getting ready for some day trips, then here are six places in Pennsylvania you don't want to miss! 

There's a little something for everyone in this list -- a little bit of history, some exploration underground, a good hike, an historic house tour... check out these suggestions for some great summer day trips; click on the link to explore each destination further!

6. The #9 Coal Mine and Museum

Opened in 1855, No. 9 Coal Mine, located in Lansford, PA, is the world's oldest continuously operated anthracite coal mine. It closed in 1972 and the opening was concreted over, only to be re-opened as a heritage tourism attraction in 2002. Today visitors ride by train 1600 feet into the mountainside, to see and experience first hand what it was like for miners to work underground.

5. Fort Necessity National Historic Site

A fort and a story about a brave young 22 year old, having adventures most young men only dream about (and surviving to talk about it). Fort Necessity tells the story of George Washington, who in 1754 at the very beginning of the French and Indian War, was a lieutenant colonel and set off with his Virginia militia through western Maryland to carve out what became the first federally funded and maintained highway -- now U.S. 40. Along the way he encountered a French patrol and ambushed them, setting in motion a chain of events that led to the construction of Fort Necessity by Washington, and ultimately its defeat and Washington's capture by the French, who were enemies of the British and the English colonists.

4. Eastern State Penitentiary

Opened on October 25, 1829, Eastern State is the world's first true penitentiary. At its completion, the building was the largest and most expensive public structure ever erected, and became a model for more than 300 prisons worldwide. Operational until 1971, Eastern State's revolutionary system of incarceration encouraged separate confinement (the warden was legally required to visit every inmate every day, and the overseers were mandated to see each inmate three times a day) as a form of rehabilitation.

3. Flight 93 National Memorial

Flight 93 National Memorial, in western PA, is the nation's permanent memorial to the 40 passengers and crew of Flight 93. It's their final resting place and their remains are still present. The crash site is bordered by the Memorial Plaza. The Memorial is touching and despite how lovely the day was, felt solemn. A cell phone tour guided us through the history panels. As we walked along the memorial plaza out to the Wall of Names, we passed little shelves, filled with tributes others have offered in tribute to the crash victims.

2. Fonthill Castle

Henry Mercer's built his dream castle built between 1908 and 1912 near Doylestown, PA. Fonthill Castle has more than 44 rooms, 18 fireplaces, 32 staircases, and more than 200 windows of various sizes and shapes. Mercer was an early adopter of the recycle and reuse philosophy, so if he encountered at a sale an old window from an old house or church or other public building that he thought would fit his castle, he bought it and inserted it into his design. Thus, there didn't seem to be many windows alike, and often within a room there would be windows that didn't quite match the others. His castle seems organic, in that it seemed to have been designed from the inside out. The ceilings are sloped and rounded (all with tiles inserted), and few rooms are square or rectangular.

1. Ricketts Glen State Park

Ricketts Glen State Park is a Pennsylvania state park on more than 13,000 acres in Columbia, Luzerne, and Sullivan counties. The park also is a National Natural Landmark, known for its old-growth forest and the more than 20 named waterfalls along Kitchen Creek. A gorgeous -- but strenuous -- 3.2 mile hike leads you past 18 waterfalls! Is it doable for children and families? Yes, but probably not toddlers, unless you're prepared to carry them. The trail leads you straight down and then back up the mountain, hence the 18 waterfalls, along trails that often include stone steps.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Maryland's Ghost Fleet Lurks in Mallow's Bay

Mallows Bay seems an unlikely destination for a daytrip. Oh, not that the beauty of the place is in dispute, but at first glance, you wonder exactly why you came here. The beauty of the place is echoed in many other places along the Potomac River.

Mallows Bay is a small bay on the Maryland side of the Potomac River, in Charles County, MD -- about two hours away from Baltimore, and about 1 hour away from Washington, DC. The bay is the location of Maryland's "ghost fleet," or rather, the "largest shipwreck fleet" in North America, and is, essentially, a ship graveyard. You can enjoy these shipwrecks confident that no lives were lost here.

The first thing you notice when you arrive at the kayak launch point is the Accomak, a massive decaying ship jutting out of the water, a distance away from the launch point. Brought to Mallows Bay in 1932, the former ferry had been used to haul rubber from Brazil during World War I.

Because of the historical significance of the site, the bay was listed as an archaeological and historic district on the National Register of Historic Places in 2015. Mallows Bay also is well on its way to becoming a National Marine Sanctuary. It is right that this place should be protected. It is indisputably one of Maryland's secret treasures, and incredibly, eerily, beautiful.

This small park contains more than 230 ships, many of which are from the United States Shipping Board Merchant Fleet Corporation that were purposely scuttled in the river. There are also ships -- long boats -- dating back to the Revolutionary War, as well as a wooden schooner dating from 1918.

More than 100 of the vessels in the bay were poorly constructed wooden steamships, part of a fleet built to cross the Atlantic during World War I that was obsolete even before they hit the water, mostly because they were built when wood as a construction material had already given way to metal. With the end of WWI, the need for these vessels vanished. So now what to do with them? Outmoded and unnecessary, the decision was made to turn them over to scrapping companies. Eventually, in 1925, they were towed ignominiously to Mallows Bay, where many of them were salvaged (the Accomak is missing its stern, due to salvage) or burned. One of the shipwrecks recently caught fire, burning for several weeks, according to our tour guide -- either the work of vandals or a stray lightening strike, no one knows the exact cause of the fire.

Many wrecks lie just below the surface as the tide starts rolling back in.

Later, Bethlehem Steel built a salvage basin during World War II to recover metal from the abandoned ships. As a result, the ships are in various stages of decay. Weather, tides, and the mud have eroded or swallowed many of the ships.

The ships gradually come into view as your kayak glides over the water surface. Some are higher above the water line than others, and others present a hazard to those not familiar with the underwater terrain. All evoke a sense of mystery -- as if we should not intrude on their watery graveyard.

The ships form reefs and small islands that host an array of wildlife, including beaver and a variety of birds. I can practically guarantee you'll see grey heron, bald eagles, and osprey. We also saw terns and a variety of other birds I couldn't identify. It is really amazing how the shipwrecks have become part of the environment. In several cases, small islands have formed on the shipwrecks, and trees and plants are now part of the shipwreck, offering additional refuge for birds, and even a beaver lodge.

Although we paid for a guided tour, if you own a kayak, you may kayak around the shipwrecks for free. There were 12 of us last Saturday on our tour, which lasted for three hours just after low tide. Judy, owner of Atlantic Kayak Company and our tour guide, led us -- often single file -- through the maze of shipwrecks.

Like other places I have visited -- Daniels in Patapsco Valley State Park comes to mind -- the ghost fleet of Mallows Bay invites thoughts about our impact on the environment, which far outlasts the brevity of our existence. In both cases, the wrecks and ruins of human dreams and aspirations have accidentally created places of wonder and mystery.

Know before you go: Wear water shoes. Bring a hat. Make sure you slather on sun block. It's a good idea to wear shoes you wouldn't mind getting wet.

Getting there: 1440 Wilson Landing Rd, Nanjemoy, MD 20662

Hours: The park itself is open dawn through dusk. However, Atlantic Kayak Company offers tours on weekend days during low tide; check their website for tour availability.

Website: and

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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Logan Inn:

The Logan Inn is a stand out. You could go on a day trip there for dinner, as the inn's restaurant offers excellent choices on its menu, and then enjoy browsing through New Hope's antique and boutique stores, or explore other Bucks County, PA attractions.

The Logan Inn, one of the five oldest inns in America, is known as the longest running inn and tavern in Bucks County. It also is purported to be the most haunted building in New Hope -- and after staying there two wonderful nights, I'm not going to quibble with that assessment. We went up to New Hope on May 13. It wasn't lost on us that we would be staying at a haunted inn, in room 14 -- which is the inn's 13th room -- on Friday the 13th.

Despite its age, the Logan Inn was recently renovated, and offers fine dining, live music and events. Its 19 spacious rooms are decorated in an upscale contemporary style and provide modern amenities, offering a nice combination of charm and comfort. It's only when you leave your room that you realize, wow, I'm staying in this really old building. 

The original inn and tavern, cleverly called Ferry Tavern, was built in 1727 by the founding town father of New Hope -- then called Coryell's Ferry --  John Wells, who also ran a ferry across the river to and from New Jersey. A terrible fire in 1790 destroyed the town's mills, and thus the town's economy. Shortly thereafter, however, Benjamin Parry, another prominent local citizen, rebuilt his mills along the Delaware River, calling them "New Hope." The name stuck, and eventually became the name of the town itself. 

Both the inn and tavern have expanded over the years. Additions to the inn wrapped around the earlier portions. The basement, dining area and bar are the oldest parts of the inn, with newer additions and areas added onto these areas. Around the American Revolution, the inn probably only had a second floor for guests to spend the night. Sometime later on, a third story was added.

Eventually, a modernized kitchen, and new inside and outside eating areas were added, giving guests the choice or either eating inside or outside on the lovely patio area. The menu features a variety of dishes, with the entrees ranging from meatloaf and burgers to filet mignon. My friend Lisa and I enjoyed lunch on Saturday at the restaurant. The first sunny day after almost three weeks of rain, we opted to eat outside, enjoying the view of the street.

Though today Logan Inn offers just 19 rooms on the second and third floors, earlier renditions of the guest rooms were probably much smaller, and more in number. Over the years, renovations and restorations transformed the rooms and outside areas to what it is today -- a lovely inn that invokes colonial-era charm with all of the comforts and amenities we expect for a comfortable stay.
During the Revolutionary War, the Ferry Tavern gave aid and comfort to George Washington and his troops, despite the real consequences they risked by angering our British colonial overlords. The inn provided George Washington and his troops a place to camp, eat, drink, and keep their wounded in the inn, and store the dead in the basement, until winter had passed.
By 1828, the ferry was no longer running, in part because Benjamin Parry built a bridge across the river -- wiping out the need for a ferry; Parry collected tolls on bridge traffic. During a town-wide celebration of George Washington's birthday, on February 22nd, 1828, the inn was renamed The Logan Inn, in honor of a Lenni-Lenape chief, whose kindness and hospitality toward the townspeople was greatly appreciated. This Indian chief had developed a close relationship with James Logan, and took James' name, to testify to the chief's admiration of this man.
The townspeople collected funds to pay for a metal weathervane depicting the Indian chief, showing how much they appreciated this chief's friendship and help. They were spared the horrendous Indian attacks suffered by other communities located in other areas of Pennsylvania. A replica of this metal sign stands in the lawn of the Parry Mansion, just across the street from the inn.

We had two interesting experiences while staying at Logan Inn, in room 14. The first was the photograph of an orb, which I saw move across my phone camera screen -- I was grabbing some photos of the room for the blog before our stuff would make the room look too lived in!

The second experience occurred on our second night at the inn. In the wee dark hours after midnight but well before dawn, I awoke, and heard a weak, possibly whispered or hoarse, cry, "help, help, help." Three "helps," well spaced apart. At first I thought it was my friend, experiencing a nightmare, but she seemed to be sleeping soundly, and rolled over soon after that, without waking. After a few wide-eyed moments, I also rolled over, pulled the covers up, and tried to forget it. Lisa, upon waking the next morning, didn't recall having any vivid dreams or nightmares that would cause her to cry out.

I'm not going to dissemble and say, I didn't think about it at all since then, because that would be a lie. I wondered if I'd somehow heard a ghost. In researching this blog, I came across several stories of inn hauntings, but the following one seems to match what I'd heard that night. During the Revolutionary War, dead soldiers were brought to the inn's basement for storage, until the frozen ground was thawed enough to bury them properly. Supposedly one soldier was brought in, believed to be dead. In the dark basement, surrounded by his dead comrades, he awoke, and weakly cried for help, until he succumbed to his injuries. 

There are several other ghosts associated with the inn, according to Haunted Many of the hauntings center on room 6, whose door we eyed nervously and enviously each time we passed it!

It's ideally located to enjoy the town of New Hope -- right down in the bustle of the little town, but offers ample parking, and sits far enough away from the road that it won't disturb you. Come stay at Logan Inn, if you dare! You won't be sorry if you do!!

Getting there: 10 West Ferry Street, Logan, PA

Parking: There is ample parking behind Logan Inn for its overnight and restaurant guests.


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Updated May 2019

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Art in the Park: Frederick's Festival of the Arts

Celebrating 23 years, the Frederick Festival of the Arts, presented by the Frederick Arts Council, is held along Carroll Creek Linear Park in the heart of Historic downtown Frederick, MD. The artists at the arts festival showed in a variety of mediums, including wood, fiber, metal, clay, and leather, and featured an elegant mix of jewelry, photography, paintings, and sculpture.

Paige Hirsch offers both incredible artwork and interesting jewelry reflecting her paintings.

The Festival of the Arts rose out of the "Art in the Park" festivals Mom would drag her two whiney daughters to after church in the 1970s. Now, fine artists line both banks of downtown Carroll Creek, offering everything from gorgeous scarves and ties to thought-provoking sculpture and photography. It offered a great excuse to spend a day with my mom, browsing the booths and chatting with the artists, and just enjoying the amazing change that has come to Carroll Creek since my childhood.

MEME Handcrafted Artisan Jewelry was a popular booth at the Arts Festival. Part of the fun of the festival is
getting to chat with the creators of the lovely things we bought!

When I grew up in Frederick in the 70s and very early 80s, Carroll Creek was a sad little stream flowing through the heart of Frederick that flooded frequently enough to be a bit of a hassle for those living near it. It wasn't the center piece of Baker Park, through which it ran, and it was pretty much ignored beside Culler Lake, a gathering place in Frederick (we lived just a block away).

One of the booths that attracted a crowd was one in
which you could dye your own silk scarves

Downtown Frederick was devastated by Carroll Creek flooding in both 1972 (Hurricane Agnes) and again in 1976. With millions in property losses, several dozen buildings were left vacant or underused.

But the City of Frederick has since developed a plan for Carroll Creek to provide flood control, and in 1991, the City enthusiastically adopted the final Carroll Creek Master Plan - an exciting vision for the development of Carroll Creek Park, which is still used today.  Led by the Carroll Creek Commission, the design called for a creekside park through historic downtown Frederick.

The park plan called for commercial, residential, cultural, and recreational development. A core part of the plan was to attract new development into downtown. Now, the Carroll Creek Linear Park is an engineering marvel, designed to rest on top of massive box concrete culverts that form the flood control project.  Like a zipper, the park ties the northern and southern banks of Carroll Creek and downtown together, with fountains, walkways, and bridges both physically and aesthetically connecting the two sides.

Festival sponsors include Frederick Magazine, Hood College, LeafFilter North of Maryland, Inc., Orases, Anthony Owens Remodeling and Repair, and Lancaster Craftsmen Builders.

On U Jewelry offers an "eco-chic" line of handcrafted jewelry that is created by hand, with glass,
semi-precious and vintage findings.
Know before you go: There are more than 5,000 public parking spaces available in historic downtown Frederick with five parking decks from which to simply walk to the festival site. The Downtown Frederick Partnership provides a comprehensive transportation and parking guide, with maps, here.

Getting there: The Frederick Festival of the Arts is held along Carroll Creek Linear Park between Court Street and East Street. If traveling, please set GPS to: 100 South East Street, Frederick, MD 21701.

Hours: The Frederick Festival of the Arts is held each year in early June. This year, it was held 3, 4, and 5 June.


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