Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Biking the Butler - Freeport Rail Trail

On the southeastern side of Butler County, about an hour northeast of Pittsburgh, is a delightful bike trail, the Butler - Freeport Community Trail, which runs 20 miles through a scenic wooded valley, along the corridor of the diverse Buffalo Creek Watershed.

In fact, in several sections, the trail parallels Little Buffalo Creek to Buffalo Creek, and then on to the Allegheny River at Freeport, offering lovely views and an uncrowded and very enjoyable trail. 

The trail offers a level, natural crushed limestone surface with a gradual uphill grade as it travels north and the converse downhill grade as it travels south.

As with all rail trails, the Butler - Freeport Community Trail started as a branch of the Western Pennsylvania Railroad between Butler and Freeport. The line primarily transported the quality limestone deposits needed by the growing Pittsburgh steel industry, but construction of the line opened up the entire region to growth and travel. 

Butler eventually developed its own steel industry, using the line to haul iron ore, but other local communities also transported farm produce, sand from the mines that opened up along the railroad, oil from local wells, and bricks from the brickyards that grew along the line.

Although our ride was cut short because of a malfunctioning brake (so yeah, only rode about two miles of the trail, for a total ride of a much-too-short 4 miles, instead of the 10- or 12-mile round-trip we were hoping for), I'm putting this rail trail on my must-ride list because of cool ruins that still linger along the trail.

According to the trail's website, remnants of several of the many industries that flourished along the railroad in the 19th and early 20th centuries are still visible along the trail, including old stone foundations, small dams and the remainders of brick kilns. North of Cabot the former Saxon City Hotel, built in 1871 still remains.

Getting there: Find your access point here. For a map of the complete trail, click here.

Website: http://www.butlerfreeporttrail.org/

Beginning in mid-October, I started a series of posts about things to do and see in Butler County, PA. This is the fourth installment of this series. To see others in this series, click on the label "Butler County" below this post.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Schuylkill River Paddle!

So ready for warmer weather and kayaking season again! On a warm Saturday last fall, we started our exploration of the Schuylkill River, near Landingville, PA, down to the basin created by the Auburn Dam.

Because of a dam constructed to catch coal mine silt in the late 1940s -- part of the effort to restore the river to health -- the water current is lazy at best, making it an easy paddle, even for beginners. Much of the area immediately surrounding the river is incorporated into the Schuylkill River Heritage Area, and protected as a result.

The Schuylkill River Heritage Area was created by an Act of Congress in 2000 to preserve and protect the Schuylkill River Valley because of the role the region played in the American, Industrial, and Environmental revolutions, according to A River Again: The Story of the Schuylkill River Project, (http://delawareriverkeeper.org/sites/default/files/A_RIVER_AGAIN_2012.pdf).

The river had once been one of North America's most polluted, vile waterways, not fit to drink, and not really safe to swim or fish in, not that there was much fishing, since fish and other wild creatures couldn't survive in or near the river. Through the efforts begun in 1947, it is no longer so polluted. We saw a number of fish jumping out of the water, attesting to their numbers. Unfortunately, we didn't see any eagles, but eagle sightings are not rare in the area.

We picked up the river at a parking lot across from Landingville Playground, following the river down a few miles to the lake created by a dam. We explored the lake for a bit, pulled up on the shore to enjoy a picnic lunch, and then headed back.

The several bridges we passed under made the paddle interesting and fun.

Although it was theoretically against the river current, the Schuylkill River at this point is lazy enough that it was easy paddling in both directions. This is a good beginner trip, and in fact, we went with about 12 friends (and four dogs), six of whom were entirely new to kayaking and canoeing.

For more information about the history of the Schuylkill River and the effort to clean it up, check out http://delawareriverkeeper.org/sites/default/files/A_RIVER_AGAIN_2012.pdf.

For an aerial tour of our picnic location: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M5b53chdBhQ

Know before you go: The parking lot is unmarked but obvious. Access to the river is about 60 yards through a small field and then some brush immediately adjacent the river, but there's a nice shallow bank access point to launch from.

Getting there:  I have not located a GPSable street address for the parking lot. From PA 61 and PA 895 in Deer Lake, go north on PA 61 for 3.3 miles and turn left onto Adamsdale Road (two roads go left at this point, Adamsdale Road is the second (westernmost) one). Continue 0.9 mile and turn left (south) on Meadow Drive. Go 0.8 mile and turn left on Canal Street. Go through the park, along the river, and over the one-lane bridge 0.9 mile to the parking area on the left. Canal Street becomes Tunnel Road south of this point.

Website: http://www.schuylkillriver.org/

For other kayaking trips, go to the Blog's Find a Great Place to Day Trip or click on the kayaking label below.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Chasing Patty Cannon

March is Women's History Month, an excellent time to share the story of one of the mid-Atlantic region's remarkable although monstrous women. If you've ever traveled on the Delmarva peninsula and wondered about those historical markers about Patty Cannon or the Cannon Gang, this post is for you!

The Nanticoke River, at Woodland Ferry (formerly Cannon Ferry)

Patty Cannon was, by all accounts, a monster. She was possibly America's first serial killer, and certainly America's first female serial killer. She killed 11 and was involved in the deaths of another 12. She ran what amounted to an organized crime organization on the edges of Sussex County in Delaware and Caroline and Dorchester counties in Maryland that extended well beyond her home turf into Washington DC, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. She was smart, independent, charismatic, and a scary woman to oppose. She supposedly threw a child into the fire to make it be quiet and confessed to murdering her own husband. She also murdered two other children. This is not someone you'd want to meet in person.

In fact, children still growing up in the region view her as a boogey man. "Be good, or else Patty Cannon will come for you!"

The Nanticoke River, at Phillips Landing Park. Landscape such as this
aided Patty Cannon and her gang in their nefarious dealings.

There is also a lot of myth and confusion about Cannon's story. What we know of her is a combination of local legend, historical record, and fiction both from a novel written two decades after her death and newspaper articles of the times. In this post I've tried to present the facts about her life, and have identified legend and theories as such.

In the early 1800s, Cannon led a gang who kidnapped free blacks and sold them into slavery further south. She would indiscriminately murder anyone — including her own husband — who stood in her way.

The Cannon Gang took advantage of the Nanticoke River, often shipping their captives down to North Carolina.

Despite Delaware being a slave state -- even in 1830 only 4% of its population were slaves -- 20% of its population were free blacks. The state was both an attractive destination for runaway slaves and incredibly dangerous for free blacks who might be kidnapped and sold into slavery. This was what ultimately attracted Patty Cannon: kidnapping free blacks and slaves was highly profitable and virtually risk free.

It was a perfect storm in politics, attitudes, and fear in the surrounding community that allowed almost everyone to turn a blind eye to the Cannon gang's evil doings. She operated in a rural, sparsely populated part of the Delmarva Peninsula that allowed her gang to freely come and go. And the Cannon family -- none of them model citizens, by the way -- were populous in the area, operating a local ferry across the Nanticoke and owning several regional homes.

They used the Nanticoke River and its innumerable inlets and small islands to hide their captives and evidence of their operations. The river provided a convenient route to transport captives. The sparsely populated landscape shielded them.

Photo courtesy of the Nanticoke Heritage Byway

Cannon's past is shrouded in mystery. She was born in the mid 1760s. One account has her descended from a debauched English aristocrat, another as the daughter of a British or Canadian military officer living in Canada, where amazingly a wheelwright from Delaware just happened to be traveling, just happened to fall sick, only to be nursed back to health by the charming, teenaged Patty. Regardless of how they met, they married and ended up in Sussex County.

They settled down on the Nanticoke River, near the Maryland border, and had two children. If so, she must have had twins or the two children in quick succession, because supposedly within just three years her husband was dead. Cannon would later confess to poisoning him. Her nefarious activities probably started in the first decade of 1800s, when importing kidnapped Africans as slaves was outlawed.

Cannon Hall was once a hang out of Patty's Johnson Gang; they hid their captives in the basement. Cannon Hall is conveniently located along the banks of the Nanticoke River and spitting distance from the Cannon Ferry (now the Woodland Ferry). Cannon and her gang would often shackle their captives to trees on a river island, which is now underwater, until they had enough captives to make it worth shipping them down to North Carolina, where they'd start the trek inland or further south.

Cannon Hall burned to the ground a decade ago, and is now being rebuilt and restored,
and may become a bed and breakfast inn in the future.
Patty and her son-in-law, Joe Johnson, built a house and set up a tavern, known as “Joe Johnson’s Tavern” at the crossroads of what is now Md routes 577 and 392; 50 yards east is the state line between Maryland and Delaware. Cannon used the juxtaposition of three jurisdictions -- Caroline County and Dorchester County in Maryland and Sussex County in Delaware -- to her advantage.

A photo (of a photo) of Joe Johnson's Tavern in the late 1800s. In the attic, captives were found manacled.

An historical marker in Reliance, MD now identifies the location of Patty Cannon’s house, in front of another building, which was built on top of the foundation of Joe Johnson's Tavern.

Joe Johnson's Tavern, today. It's now a private residence. It's missing its highly gabled attic and two fireplaces.

Cannon's illicit activities were an open secret. Her neighbors and community members feared her, so turned a blind eye to the disappearances of the lowest rung on society: free blacks and slaves. Multiple times local sheriffs in Maryland or Delaware would try to serve warrants but were averted each time as Cannon took advantage of the nearby state or county lines.

Finally in 1829, according to local legend, when she was 64 years young, the Dorchester County sheriff -- apparently a nice looking man -- asked Cannon to go on a walk, during which he somehow tricked her into stepping over the Delaware state line, where she was finally taken into custody.

When the tavern was searched, incriminating evidence was found. In the attic the sheriff found 21 people in chains, awaiting transport to the slave market. They were immediately freed. Patty and all the members of the gang were arrested and taken to Georgetown, DE to be tried. One member of the gang turned state’s evidence and told the police where the bodies were buried.

(A photo of a photo) Patty Cannon's house in 1929. By that time,
it was quite dilapidated, and was being used as a farm shed.

Cannon and two of her accomplices were convicted of murder and sentenced to be hanged. Three others were convicted as accessories and each was sentenced to four years in prison. Despite her death sentence, her death is as mysterious as every thing else in her life.

She ingested poison while in jail, and while many believe she took poison in a last defiant act against authority, some say she was poisoned so she wouldn't incriminate others in her gang. She was buried in the yard of the old jail, where recent excavations unearthed a skull, believed to be hers.

This historic building is still open to the public.

If you want to chase Patty Cannon:
  1. Start in Seaford, DE, with a quick tour of the Seaford Historical Society, where you'll get a little history of early Sussex County and a quick introduction to Patty Cannon. Getting there: 203 High Street, Seaford, DE 19973
  2. Next, travel to the Woodland Ferry, formerly known as Cannon Ferry, which is conveniently right across from Cannon Hall (a privately owned building and not the original structure, which burned down about a decade ago). Getting there: RR 3 Box 111, Seaford, DE 19973
  3. Then head to the corner of Maryland routes 577 and 392 to see Joe Johnson's Tavern, now a privately owned residence. Getting there: 6070 Reliance Road, Reliance, MD 21632
  4. Then head across Rt 577 to the Delaware border with Maryland to see the site of Patty Cannon's house, now gone, but marked by an historical marker. Getting there: Cross Rt 577 to the florist business. In the farm field on the other side of the florist is site of Cannon's home.
  5. Finally, head to Georgetown to see the Courthouse and jail where she died. While you're visiting Georgetown, grab a bite to eat at one of the local restaurants! Getting there: 10 S Bedford St, Georgetown, DE 19947
Know before you go: This tour should only take you an hour or two, giving you time to eat a nice meal before or after (or before AND after). You may want to consider one of the area's restaurants: Seaford: Bon Appetit -- excellent white linen French restaurant (really excellent!); Dona Maria's Pupusaria; Abbott's on Broad Creek in nearby Laurel; and Heritage Shores in Bridgeville. 

In Georgetown, right on the circle near the old courthouse, is The Brick Hotel, Restaurant and Tavern, an historic property and excellent fine dining restaurant. There's also Patty's Deli, a great gourmet sandwich shop, and for brew fans, 16 Mile Brewery.

Finally, the area has many wonderful antique/vintage//collectible shops. Check out the itinerary on the Western Sussex County's website here.

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Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Enjoy the Countryside, Drink Some Wine!

Beginning in March, I started a series of posts about Clearfield County, PA. This is the second of the series. To see others in this series, click on the label "Clearfield County" at the bottom of this post

Central PA usually raises visions of coal mines, lumber operations, or simply (and more positively) as elk country. We don't often think of that region as a mecca for wines, but Clearfield County hosts several wineries, and the rolling countryside is perfect for grapes. In that weird time of not really spring but not really winter (and no snow), going to a winery sounds like a great way to spend a weekend afternoon!

Starr Hill Winery

I am binge watching (America's new favorite past-time) Amazon Prime's Fire-Ball Run, an 8-day, 2000-mile life-sized, trivia pursuit road rally competition. Why? Because Starr Hill Winery was featured on Season 10, and was, of course, playing when we visited.

In addition to being a destination for Fire-Ball Run, the winery is also a fun destination for wine enthusiasts or those just wishing to enjoy the countryside on a weekend afternoon.

Ken Starr learned the art of making wine by his father’s side in 1952. When stationed in Europe in the early 60’s, Ken visited many wineries and appreciated the German style of wine making. He started making wine on his own from 1966 to 1977.

In 1994, he purchased property in Curwensville, Pennsylvania and planted 12 vines. By 1998, there were 3000 vines. The winery primary grows Concord, Niagara, Traminette, Foch and Leon Millot grapes, producing some 40-odd wines: a mix of red, white, and rose, ranging from dry to sweet dessert wines. 

On the drier side are the winery's Chardonnay, made from grapes from Washington State. Stay local with the Pinot Grigio and the Reisling, both semi-dry, and my two favorites there.

Entertain your sense of humor by trying (and probably then buying) Sexy Beeaches, a wine created by six women who won the bid at the annual Anne Thacik Charity Auction in 2014. This auction benefits the Area Agency on Aging. The women blended and named the wine, name it andthen they designed (and are featured on) the label. Probably to their surprise, they also had to wash the bottles, bottle the wine, cork it and apply the label and capsule. Sexy Beeaches is a blend of Auora and Niagara grape -- and is now the winery's second best selling wine. There's also 50 Shades of Blush -- so tempting -- and Goddess, now the best selling wine.

Ken Starr, owner and son of the winery's founder, posing with his Pink Zone
label wine, proceeds from which help support survivors of breast cancer. 

As you may have guessed already, the winery supports national and local charities -- it's a family-owned business with a conscience and a sense of community. What I like about the winery, in addition to the supporting charities thing (which is very important)? They seem like they're having fun. If they are, you probably will too.

Getting there:
861 Bailey Rd, Curwensville, PA 16833 and several other locations.

Hours: Monday-Friday 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.; closed Sundays from January 1 - April 1

Website: http://starrhillwinery.com/

Why yes, yes those are my toes and my dog on that lovely bottle of delicious rose!

Bee Kind Winery
Bee Kind Winery offers wines inspired by Clearfield County's farmlands, natural areas, and the West Branch Susquehanna River itself. Although the winery specializes in sweet and semi-sweet wines, including some with honey, some dry wines are available.

Among its two dry wines are Bone Dry Red and Bone Dry White, the latter of which I both tasted and really enjoyed. On the sweeter side is its most popular wine, Rails to Trails Red, a blend of red and white grapes. History lovers should appreciate the sweet Clearfield Historical Society label, proceeds from which benefit the historical society.

Two of the winery's wines are made with honey: Bee Berry Blue, which is entirely made of blueberries, sweetened with honey, and Bee Berry Black, which is reminiscent of blackberry strudel.

In addition, several local restaurants feature Bee Kind wines, including Denny's Beer Barrel Pub, Race Street Brew Works, Depot at Doolittles Fine Dining Car, Luigi's Ristorante, and the Moena Restaurant.

Getting there: 14325 Clearfield Shawville Hwy, Clearfield, PA 16830

Hours: Tuesday, Wednesday noon - 6 p.m.; Thursday - Saturday 10 a.m. - 7 p.m.; Sunday and Monday, closed.

Website: http://www.beekindwinery.com/

Winery at Wilcox

You're in elk country when you're in Clearfield County, so why not try the Winery at Wilcox's Elk Country Red, a Chianti-style red with a touch of residual sweetness and no oak. There's also a clean crisp citrusy Elk Country White, made with Cayuga grapes.

Drinking Elk Country White...

This winery offers 25 different wines, from dry, oaked, Cabernet, to sweet blackberry dessert wine, and everything in between.

Niagara grapes grow well in the region, so be sure to try the sweet white Niagara. And of course, one of my favorites, the Pinot Grigio, less acidic than the typical Italian-style Pinot Grigios, and a little more fruity, I thought. The winery also offers an interesting Germanic-style Reisling and a semi-dry Traminette.

What is fun about this winery is that it will host special events, such as pizza and wine pairings. Ba-bye beer -- wine is what it's all about!

Getting there: The Winery at Wilcox at the DuBois Mall, DuBois Mall, 5522 Shaffer Road, DuBois, PA 15801

10 a.m. - 8 p.m. Monday - Thursday; 10 a.m. - 9 p.m. Friday, Saturday; noon - 5 p.m. Sunday

Website: http://www.wineryatwilcox.net/

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For other day trip destinations in and around Clearfield County, go to the Blog's Find a Great Place to Day Trip or click on the Clearfield County label below.

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! 

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Murals of Chesapeake Country

All too frequently, folks drive right through Cambridge without recognizing its rich history and everything Cambridge and Dorchester County have to offer as a day trip destination it their own right. I've blogged about the region before

The murals highlight Dorchester County’s culture and history and were inspired by James Michener's famous novel, Chesapeake. Created by Michael Rosato, a nationally known muralist who lives in Dorchester County, the five murals were funded by the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority and the Federal Highway Administration.

Goose on a Caboose Mural

An unused train caboose owned by Powell Real Estate serves as the canvas for a richly textured depiction of Canada geese seeming to break out of the caboose, with a view of the marsh behind them. Canada geese are a frequent sight in Dorchester County, especially during spring and fall migration.

Getting there: 200 Trenton St, Cambridge, MD 21613

Big Bird Mural

J.M. Clayton’s Seafood is the oldest continuously operating crab factory in the world, so a mural on the side of the building just had to include a crab. But what will catch your eye first is a stunning great blue heron about to enjoy his own private feast.

Getting there: Best view of the mural is from the drawbridge over Cambridge Creek (near Maryland Avenue and Academy Street). Close up: 108 Commerce St., Cambridge, MD and walk around the back of the J.M. Clayton’s building.

Reflections on Pine Street Mural

The mural highlights Cambridge’s rich African-American history, culture and heritage, particularly in the community around Pine Street, which is one of the oldest African-American communities in the country that dates back to the mid-1800s.

At the center of the mural is Harriet Tubman, as a symbol of courage, hard work, perseverance, and loyalty to her family and community. To Tubman’s left and right are leaders, including Gloria Richardson Dandridge, a key figure in the civil rights movement in Cambridge in the 1960s, and small business owners and everyday people whose contributions may not be as well known but resonate to this day—a bricklayer, a barber, a baker, a farmer, a high school athlete, and more. Other figures in the mural represent a Tuskegee airman; Dr. J. Edwin Fassett; Nurse Maxine Magee, one of the first African-American public health nurses in the country; and Ella Fitzgerald, one of many popular African-American musicians who performed on Pine Street.

Getting there: Near the corner of Maryland Avenue and Route 50 in Cambridge, MD 21613

Ode to Watermen Mural

This mural honoring local watermen graces the outside of the Dorchester County Visitor Center facing the Choptank River. The 33-foot by 11-foot mural, which shows three watermen harvesting oysters, is visible from the Malkus Bridge for people driving into Cambridge.

Getting there: Dorchester County Visitor Center, 2 Rose Hill Place, Cambridge, MD 21613

East New Market Murals

Photo courtesy of the Dorchester Tourism

Photo courtesy of the Dorchester Tourism

Historic East New Market is home to two murals across the street from each other at the small town’s main intersection. One is on the Mason building; the other is on the municipal building. Both murals capture a sense of the business and commerce of the area. One shows trading between Native Americans and settlers; the other shows a train, a nod to the important role railroading played in this area.

Getting there: Main Street (Route 16) and Railroad Avenue (Route 14), East New Market, MD 21631

Native American Life Mural

Courtesy of the Dorchester Tourism

The mural offers a timeline of local history, beginning with Native American culture and continuing through the time of colonial settlers. Located along the banks of the Nanticoke River in Vienna, a town established more than 300 years ago on the banks of the Nanticoke River.

Getting there: Murphy Community Hall, 104 Race St., Vienna, MD 21869

Jimmy & Sooks Raw Bar and Grill

While you're in Cambridge, if you get a chance, pop into Jimmie & Sooks for one of the restaurant's delicious crab dishes. All along the main wall in the dining room is an interesting water scene mural.

Jimmie & Sook’s Raw Bar and Grill in downtown Cambridge commissioned the mural from folk artist Danny Doughty, when he lived in Cambridge, to fill the entire wall of its main dining room with a vibrant celebration of the water, boats, sea creatures, and more. With a name like that, the restaurant would have to specialize in crab. Try the Mango and Avocado Crab Salad, the Crab Fries, the Crab Mac and Cheese, or the classic Crab Cakes.

Hours: Sunday - Thursday: 11 a.m. - 8 p.m.; Friday, Saturday 11 a.m. - 9 p.m.; bar open later
Getting there: 527 Poplar St, Cambridge, MD 21613
Website: https://jimmieandsooks.com/

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