Saturday, June 30, 2018

Fort Monroe's Casemate Museum

Fort Monroe, the largest stone fort in America, is a decommissioned military installation in Hampton, VA on Old Point Comfort, the southern tip of the Virginia Peninsula.

For at least 400 years, the point of land that now includes Fort Monroe has served as the key defensive site at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. Beginning with Native Americans' use years before the settling of Jamestown to its most recent mission as the US Army’s Headquarters for Training and Doctrine Command until 2011, Old Point Comfort and Fort Monroe has influenced all aspects of our nation’s history, and has been making history for 400 years.

Completed in 1834, Fort Monroe was originally designed to protect the Hampton Roads waterway from an enemy attack. Within the fort is the Casemate Museum, which chronicles the military history of Fort Monroe from the construction of Fort Algernourne, the first defensive fortification at the site in 1609, through the last major command to be headquartered at Fort Monroe, the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command.

The museum also features the room where Jefferson Davis was held briefly as prisoner following the American Civil War.

More importantly, the museum highlights the 1861 “Contraband of War” decision that granted three enslaved men, and the thousands who followed, sanctuary at Fort Monroe, earning it the nickname “Freedom’s Fortress.”

From 1861-1865, most of Virginia became part of the Confederate States of America; however Fort Monroe remained a Union stronghold throughout the war. During that time, the fort became the birthplace of the Civil War-era freedom movement when three enslaved men escaped the Confederate Army at Sewells Point and fled in a small boat to Fort Monroe. Union commander General Benjamin Butler refused to return the slaves calling them “contraband of war.” General Butler’s contraband policies led to the Emancipation Proclamation and earned Fort Monroe the nickname “Freedom’s Fortress” or the “Freedom Fort.”

In essence, the museum notes that slavery in the United States both began and ended on Point Comfort, making this an important stop for those seeking to understand black history. Former President Barak Obama designated Fort Monroe a National Historic Monument to recognize the importance of this site.

You also get a sense of what life was like living on an US Army installation. Exhibits also focus on both girls and boys scouting groups on the fort, what living quarters in the casemate would have looked like, and more. It's a great introduction to Fort Monroe.

The Casemate Museum explains what Abraham Lincoln, Robert E Lee, Jefferson Davis and Edgar Allen Poe have in common, but you'll have to visit Fort Monroe to find that out!

Getting there: 20 Bernard Road, Fort Monroe, VA

Hours: Open daily 10:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. from May - September; Tuesday - Sunday from October-April. Closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.


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Accommodations during our stay in Hampton, VA were provided by Embassy Suites by Hilton Hampton Roads Hotel, Spa, and Convention Center.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Making Soap and Keeping Clean

In York on Beaver Street there's the home of the Sunrise Soap Company. More than a boutique, it's a factory. And of course, it's more than a factory, it's also a day trip destination in its own right, right in the heart of downtown York.

As you enter you are embraced by the scents of the various soups and bath-bombs, as well as the array of colors inviting you to touch and smell the bath products.

All soups, fizzies, and bath bombs are made onsite, and depending on what they're making that particular day, you can see the soaps being made. You can also make bath fizzies, lip balm and more.

I recommend, though, that you head straight back, to the soap making table, and ask to make your own.

Store owner Christina Clarke (in red, center) demonstrates how to make bath fizzies.

One of the store's helpful assistants, or perhaps the owner Christina Clarke herself, will walk you through the steps to creating your personalized set of soaps.

You start by picking a mold, out of dozens upon dozens of choices. Don't like dogs? Then chose a cat, or frog, or peace sign! Gamers and science fiction fans will appreciate the Dr Who, Star Trek and Star Wars themed molds. From flip flops to flamingos, from monkeys to mustaches, there will be a mold that speaks to you!

Next, you pick out a color -- yellow, blue, green, pink, purple, or orange -- for your soap, and with just three or four shakes into your measuring cup of soapy goodness, you begin stirring to mix the color crystals into your soap. A few minutes later you add scent, again choosing from among dozens -- coconut, green tea, cucumber, rose, lavender, jujuberry, love spell, and many others.

You stir and stir, until finally it's judged to be fully mixed, and then you pour your soap into your molds, which are then whisked into the freezer to set and cool, so you can take them home.

While your customized soaps are setting, look around the store -- there is so much to take in!

The make your own part of Sunrise Soap Company has really taken off, Clarke noted. "A lot of groups come in, even groups of all adults," she said, noting that birthday parties for kids are her biggest draw: "Kids love the hands-on activity."

In fact, she credits those birthday parties for bringing in the adults for a soap-making party of their own. "Moms and dads see the kids having so much fun, and they decide to get a group together too," Clarke said.

"If you book a girls-night-out soap-making, bring the wine! It's so much fun!" she said. Groups from local organizations will come out for team building and morale building activities, as well as ladies night out, and birthday parties.

You will notice the racks of bar soaps curing -- they have to sit for several weeks before they're hard enough to sell. The store owns a one-of-a-kind soap-cutting machine, an antique that Clarke claims "the Universe brought them."

Which it did, actually. Christine's husband is an antiques dealer. A few years ago, he was at a barn auction. In the dust and grim of 75 years' of accumulated neglect was a weird machine. No one knew what it was, but her husband poked around the machine, and discovered a label identifying it as a soap cutting machine. He brought it home for Christine to use in her store. When they took it to a local carwash to spray off the years and years of dust, the scent of soap confirmed the small label identifying the machine.

She now displays this working antique in her store, where she uses it to cut all her bar soaps. The really cool thing is, what used to take an hour to do -- cut all those bars apart -- now takes just minutes.

Continuing to use this practical old antique is just one way Clarke keeps her business as green as possible. From the glitter added to the soaps, which is biodegradable (and NOT plastic) to encouraging the re-use of the store's bags, being eco-friendly is a business model Clarke is following. She encourages customers to bring back the bottles and containers of soaps and lotions they purchase, to receive a discount on the next purchase of those items.

Know before you go: There are three parking garages downtown. If you’d like to park in a garage and walk, the Philadelphia Street Garage is the most central option. Parking Garages are free on Saturdays and Sundays.

Getting there: 29 N Beaver St, York, PA 17401


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Saturday, June 23, 2018

Swimming in History on the Miss Hampton II Harbor Tour

A great way to introduce yourself to the Hampton Roads area is to take a harbor tour out of historic downtown Hampton, VA, on the Miss Hampton II.

Hampton is swimming in history, which the harbor tour brings to life. Four hundred years of European settlement is highlighted, from the earliest arrival of European ships on the "Strawberry Banks" of Point Comfort (so named, because those aboard the first ships were suffering from scurvy, and saw banks filled with wild strawberries to today's use of the harbor as a recreational marina, shipyards, a commercial port, and the Norfolk Naval Base.

During the tour, which generally lasts 3 hours, you will pass historic Hampton University, numerous marinas, Blackbeard's Point, and two historic forts: Monroe and Wool.

​You are traveling historic waters: not only will you be traveling on the same waters of Captain John Smith and the First Settlers of the United States, but the harbor tour takes you past the site of the famous Civil War battle of the Ironclads.

It is likely you will see dolphins -- we did, numerous times -- and if you're lucky, a submarine or other military vessels cruising into or out of the Norfolk Naval Base.

The cruise will take you to the man-made island, atop which is Fort Wool for a 45-minute guided walking tour of the Civil War era fort (weather permitting). The harbor tour is the only way to see Fort Wool, unless you own or rent a boat and travel across the harbor on your own. Hampton maintains Fort Wool as a city park; if you visit without a guided tour, there are numerous placards providing a discussion of what you are seeing.

The tour continues past historic Fort Monroe and the Old Point Comfort Lighthouse.

Old Point Comfort Light is a lighthouse located on the grounds of
Fort Monroe in the Virginia portion of the Chesapeake Bay. It is the second
oldest light in the bay and the oldest still in use.

But really, the highlight of this tour is cruising past the massive warships at the Norfolk Naval Base, home to aircraft carriers, nuclear-powered submarines, and various types of support ships.

You also will see everything you might expect of a deep channel working harbor: commercial container ships, tugboats (so cute), channel dredgers, clamming work boats, and Coast Guard ships.

Getting there: 710 Settlers Landing Road, Hampton, VA 23669

Hours: Check website for specifics, but the tours generally run April 25 thru October 31, Tuesday thru Saturday, departs 11 a.m., returns 2 p.m. (approx); Sunday, departs 2 p.m., returns 5 p.m.


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Accommodations during our stay in Hampton, VA were provided by Embassy Suites by Hilton Hampton Roads Hotel, Spa, and Convention Center.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Biking on the David Ammerman Trail

As a first biking trip after a long winter of cold, snowy or rainy and dreary weather, hitting the David Ammerman Trail was a delight.

Once known as the Clearfield and Grampian Trail, in 2011, the name was changed to the David S. Ammerman Trail, honoring the man who championed turning the abandoned rail corridor into a recreational trail.

After a short initial stretch in Grampian paralleling some backyards and farmland and Kratzer Run, the rail trail soon becomes fully shaded, and follows Anderson Creek. Right from the beginning, the Grampian end of the trail is gorgeous. Often fully shaded, the trees envelope the trail and the creek that runs alongside.

Eventually the trail crosses a bridge, and then the trail follows the western branch of the Susquehanna River. Although you're never fully out of ear shot of the nearby roads, mostly you can't see them, until you start getting down into Curwensville, when you parallel the road on one side and the river on the other.

The trail offers several opportunities for stops to enjoy the scenic beauty of the area, with picnic tables available at around 2.5 miles, 4 miles and 6.7 miles outside of Grampian. Several railroad bridges remind you of the commerce that was important to the area when the railroad was built in the late 1860s and 1870s. The first two bridges you pass are located in the borough of Curwensville about 4 miles outside of Grampian.

There is a elevation gain. In Clearfield, the elevation is just over 1100 feet. In Grampian, the elevation is 1640: not terrible, but you will feel it. That's why we decided to start in Grampian.

We were grateful that we'd arranged to be dropped off at the Grampian parking lot and were able to load our bikes in Curwensville onto our waiting vehicle, as the elevation change is significant enough to allow us to coast our bikes several miles down hill.

There are multiple ways to enjoy this trail: biking and hiking in the warmer months; snow-shoeing and cross-country skiing in the winter months.

The former railroad line carried tons of coal and quarried stone along the East Coast, as well as clay, which was used to make bricks in the many brickyards along the trail.

As you head into Curwensville, the woods start thinning out, the road noise increases, and the landscape becomes more light industrial. The trail crosses a road and then immediately crosses again.

You're still by the river, but closer to the road. Further along, you head into Clearfield, passing by Elliott's Park, a memorial a man made for his loyal dog.

Getting there: To reach the Clearfield Trailhead, take I-80 to Exit 120 for Clearfield. Take Route 879 South about 2.5 miles and turn right on the Spruce Street Exit. Take the first left (Chester Street), and in another 200 yards turn left. Parking is available at the trailhead.

The Grampian trailhead is one block from the stoplight at the intersection of U.S. 219 and Routes 879 and 729. A large sign on Route 729 identifies the trailhead and public parking area

Beginning in March 2018, I started a series of posts about Clearfield County, PA. This is a continuation of the series. To see others in this series, click on the label "Clearfield County" at the bottom of this post.

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Fishing is popular in the West Branch Susquehanna River.