Saturday, September 29, 2018

A Ghost Walk Through Ellicott City's Mount Misery

It is astonishing to me the amount of murder and mayhem a sleepy small town can endure over the years. Ellicott City -- once called Ellicott Mills -- has seen more than its fair share.

A town important enough in the 1800s to have America's first railroad track connecting it to Baltimore (just 13 miles away), the town was a major manufacturing center, the location of a girls finishing school, and the county's court house.

Union troops camped there; Confederate prisoners of war and casualties streamed through, carried by the rail line. Some Confederate soldiers are still buried in the Friends Quaker Cemetery. Criminals were executed at Willow Grove Jail until after 1900.

All this has left buildings and scenery ripe with hauntings and reports of the paranormal.

The hill which is now Ellicott City's Court Avenue was once called Mount Misery. Although why it was given such a dreary name is lost to history, as you enjoy the ghost walk, you start to understand why the name is apt.

The Mount Misery Ghost Walk starts at the Howard County Historical Society Museum, housed in the First Presbyterian Church on Court Avenue. It takes you up the hill overlooking the town and visits sites like the old jail,; Mt. Ida, still possibly inhabited by its namesake; the Patapsco Female Institute; the Weir building (a former Quaker school house); and the Hayden House.

As you stroll the dark streets, you'll hear about the humming ghost that haunts the old Presbyterian Church, the cooking ghost of Oaklawn, the cleaning ghost of Mt Ida, and the smoking ghost of the Patapsco Female Institute.

Watch out for the horseless carriage that drives along Church Road and stop in for a bite at the ghastly dinner party at the Old Manse. Along the way you'll learn about past inhabitants of this historic mill town — one of the oldest, most haunted towns in America.

Getting there: 8328 Court Avenue, Ellicott City, MD

Hours: Friday evenings, 8:30 p.m. Tickets must be purchased in advance.


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Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Riversdale House and Stories of the Stiers, Calverts and Plummers

This is another wonderful daytrip destination that's been lurking within less than an hour's drive of Baltimore, and 30 minutes from Washington DC but which is often overlooked. And that's really sad -- touring it helps folks understand an important part of Maryland state history.

Riversdale is a five-part, large-scale late Georgian mansion with an classic Federal interior, built between 1801 and 1807. The mansion was constructed for Henri Joseph Stier, Baron de Stier, a Flemish aristocrat who fled his native Antwerp with his family during the French Revolution.

The house museum primarily interprets the period when Stier's daughter, Rosalie Stier Calvert, and her husband George, lived in the home. (Before and during the construction of Riversdale, Stier lived in the Brice House in Annapolis.)

Stier planned the house in 1801 to resemble the Chateau du Mick. Four years later, Stier returned to Belgium (then France -- Belgium didn't become its own country until 1830), leaving the unfinished Riversdale to be completed by his daughter, Rosalie Stier Calvert and her husband, George Calvert, the son of Benedict Swingate Calvert, who was a natural son of Charles Calvert, 5th Baron Baltimore.

Today the mansion has been mostly restored to its original conditioned, although it has air conditioning and electric; rooms on the first floor of the left wing (as you face the house) have not been restored.

Like most large property owners in Maryland at the time, the Calverts were enslavers. We know a little about what it was like to be an enslaved individual on Riversdale Plantation because among those George Calvert enslaved was Adam Francis Plummer, who was born in 1819 on the Goodwood Plantation, also owned by Calvert. Plummer, unusual for those enslaved, was taught how to read and write. The tour of the house and grounds reveals details about Plummer's life, as well as the lives of the Calverts.

The dedication to the symmetrical Federal exterior meant
that inside, windows awkwardly spanned two stories.

Plummer was moved at the age of 10 to Riversdale. He began writing in his diary in 1841 after his marriage to Emily Saunders Arnold, continuing until his death in 1905. His daughter, Nellie Arnold Plummer, continued to write in the diary, expanding on the family narrative begun by her father. Plummer noted in his diary the arrival of indentured servants, as well as the arrivals, births, marriages, debts, and deaths of other enslaved individuals and servants on the property. Most of the entries in the Diary of Adam Francis Plummer are of dates of events, such as births and deaths, or inventories, like Plummer's possessions. The inventories often include the prices he paid for the items listed. These entries detail the conditions in which the author lived and tell us about the people and things he valued.

At its height, Riversdale Plantation spread out over 2,000 acres, stretching through many of the surrounding cities and towns, including Riverdale, Bladensburg, Hyattsville, and College Park. Rosalie and George Calvert's son, Charles Benedict Calvert, established the Maryland Agricultural College, now the University of Maryland, College Park, on part of the Riversdale property.

You will note that the name of the property differs, by an S, from the adjacent town: Riverdale. The Stier family likely named the property for its proximity to the northeast branch of the Anacostia River. But the town Riverdale, MD, was so named because its founders originally hailed from Riverdale Park, NY. 

Know before you go: Understand the history of Riversdale better by reading two books: Adam Plummer's Diary (available here) and Mistress of Riversdale: The Plantation Letters of Rosalie Stier Calvert 1795-1821.

Getting there: 4811 Riverdale Rd, Riverdale, MD 20737

Hours: Fridays and Sundays, Noon - 3:30 p.m.; Fridays and Sundays, tours depart from Visitor Center on quarter hour.


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Saturday, September 22, 2018

10 Great October Daytrip Destinations in the MidAtlantic

With summer 2018 firmly behind us, our thoughts start turning to autumn's glorious colors, scenic drives, the harvest bounty, and spooky destinations. Read on for a little of each, selected from MidAtlanticDayTrips' jaunts throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia! Start planning now!

October is a great time to enjoy the changing foliage and check out farmers markets in scenic Adams County PA, a picturesque rural county in south central Pennsylvania that often is overlooked in favor of the Civil War battle that took place in Gettysburg. It's known as Apple Country for a reason -- so as you explore the scenic valley drive, be sure to stop at one or all of the various farmers markets you pass for some of the region's delicious apples!

To explore more, click here!

Spooky abandoned churches and forgotten cemeteries make the forgotten town of Daniels into Maryland's very own ghost town, a great place to visit in October!

To see for yourself whether it's haunted, as it's reported to be, or whether it's just a really great day hike, click here.

October is when the height of elk rutting season! Elk Country, in north central PA, is the best place to view these magnificent creatures!

To find out the best places to hear an elk bugle, click here.

Ghosts don't just come out in October, but that's when most of us start thinking of checking out some spooky locations. Some say Carrie Furnace, in the outskirts of Pittsburgh, is the most haunted location, possibly ever! Working conditions over the years of this steel mill resulted in many horrific deaths of the men, women and children who worked there. Carrie Furnace is possibly both the coolest and scariest place I've ever visited.

If you dare to get your scare on, check out this article!

Turning to more wholesome pursuits, many places in the MidAtlantic region offer a variety of fall festivals, such as Front Royal VA's annual Festival of Leaves, October 13-14, at the foot of the Shenandoah Mountains and the Shenandoah National Park. Stop by to celebrate the autumn foliage with crafts, great food, and local bands and music.

Find out more about this autumn festival here.

The candlelight tour of Mount Olivet Cemetery is more about history than ghosts, but that doesn't mean it's not a little scary! Tours of this Frederick MD historic cemetery are offered weekly during the early fall.

To find out more about this night of fright, click here.

Another great October festival is the National Apple Harvest Festival, in Arendtsville PA. Whatever apple food you can think of -- it will be there: sausage and apples, apple pancakes, apple desserts, candied apples, apple cider, applesauce, apple jellies, apple butter, apples in caramel, and just plain apples for eating. But there are more than apples there -- local crafts, antiques, an historic car show and sale, and exhibits about the region's history and heritage make this a full day!

For more about tips to make the most out of your day at the Apple Harvest Festival, click here.

Truth: Pennsylvania offers more than its fair share of great fall festivals. Often these are understated treasures well worth exploring, such as Zelienople and Harmony's twin Fall Festivals, which include lively variety of crafts booths, food trucks, 5k runs, carriage rides, live music, and living history displays. These two towns, nestled within scenic Butler County are about an hour north of Pittsburgh!

For more about fun in Butler County, click here.

For one of the scariest places I've ever toured, keep reading! Paranormal groups and enthusiast travel guides consider WV Penitentiary to be one of the most haunted prisons in the United States, with ghost stories originating as early as the 1930s, and no wonder. It's scary enough during the day, but at night you're likely to experience a variety of knocks, bangs, touches, and weirdness. (There's just no other way to describe it!)

To see for yourself why Moundsville Penitentiary is so scary, click here.

October is primetime for hiking and other outdoor activities, and Eagle Rock offers a great payoff to an interesting day hike! Accessed via the Tuscarora Trail, the panoramic view here is one of the best in the Great North Mountain area, with expansive views towards the Massanutten Range and Shenandoah National Park to the east.

Explore the great outdoors by clicking here!

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Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Centre Furnace Mansion

Minutes from the Penn State campus in Centre County is an historic mansion that helps tell the story of the iron industry in America, how the county got named, and Penn State itself was founded.

An artist's interpretation of Centre Furnace Mansion in the early 1800s.

The mansion is a restored and furnished ironmaster's home listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is the headquarters of the Centre County Historical Society. This historic mansion and nearby iron furnace stack represent the 18th century beginnings of the charcoal iron industry in the central Pennsylvania area, and the 19th century beginnings of the Pennsylvania State University. It was the home of Centre Furnace ironmaster Moses Thompson, his wife Mary Irvin Thompson, and their children from 1842-1891.

The Centre County Historical Society operates the mansion as a house museum, which also houses various community exhibits and events and has been restored and furnished to reflect the period of residency of Thompson and his family.

When the first settlers arrived in North America in the seventeenth century, iron tools, weapons, and cooking implements were staples of Northern European life. Unwilling to rely on imported objects from Europe, the early colonists established their own integrated ironworks in Saugus, Massachusetts in 1646. All of the natural resources needed for iron production were available in abundance in Pennsylvania, and production began in 1716. The high quality of the resources made Pennsylvania iron among the best iron in the world.

By 1767, entrepreneurs saw the potential for great profits in the sparsely populated area west of the Susquehanna. After the American Revolution, 83 new iron works were established in Pennsylvania, with almost a third of the new growth concentrated in the middle of the state.

In the 1770s and 1780s, prominent Philadelphians bought large quantities of land in Centre County. In the spring of 1792, Centre Furnace, located on this site, went into blast and became the first major operation in what was then Northumberland and Mifflin Counties. When Centre County was formed in 1800, it was named for Centre Furnace. Other businesses quickly followed and by 1850, the “Juniata Iron Region” -- comprising of Blair, Centre, Clinton, Huntingdon, and Mifflin counties --boasted 48 furnaces and 42 forges. Until the rise of coal and coke iron making, the region produced more iron than any other in the nation.

Mary Thompson was well-known as a gracious hostess, and probably was the primary decorator of the Centre Furnace Mansion – the oasis in the middle of industrial Centre Furnace Village.Touring the house, you gain a sense of the Victorian decorum and elegance that the Thompsons carved out for themselves. The rooms are well appointed and furnished, windows span floor to ceiling as was common for Victorian homes.

Thompson was an American-style investor and entrepreneur, investing in the Bald Eagle Canal; several local turnpikes; the Bald Eagle Valley Railroad; and the Lewisburg, Centre and Spruce Creek Railroad. He also was one of the donors of acreage and money to the new Farmers High School in 1855, later serving as its secretary (1859-1865) and then treasurer (1867-1874). Farmers High School evolved into Penn State University.

Harold Altman, "Man Standing in a Park," oil on canvas.
Altman settled in Lemont in Centre County, and s
erved on the faculty of Penn State in the 1960s.

Throughout the house museum, there are some lovely paintings and artwork, all contributed to the Centre County Historical Society, which runs Centre Furnace Mansion. Behind the house is a lovely witness tree, a 250-year-old sycamore, which dominates the landscape graced with gardens and expanses of lawn, as would have been common in the Victorian Era.

Getting there: 1001 E College Ave, State College, PA 16801

Hours: 1 - 4 p.m. Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays


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This stay was provided by Comfort Suites and the Central PA Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

John Dickinson Plantation

As strange as it may seem to us now to call a plantation owner remarkable, I visited the former home of a remarkable man. John Dickinson, referred to as the Penman of the Revolution, for his Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, where he eloquently argued the cause of American liberty. He also was a solicitor and politician who played a key role in the founding of the United States.

  • His twelve Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania articulated the concerns of the coloniesin 1767 and 1768.
  • As a member of the First Continental Congress, where he was a signee to the Continental Association, Dickinson drafted most of the 1774 Petition to the King.
  • As a member of the Second Continental Congress wrote the 1775 Olive Branch Petition, two attempts to negotiate with King George III of Great Britain.
  • When negotiations failed, he reworked Thomas Jefferson's language and wrote the final draft of the 1775 Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms.
  • And when Congress then decided to seek independence, Dickinson served on the committee that wrote the Model Treaty, and then wrote the first draft of the 1776–1777 Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union.

But none of that is why I think this guy is remarkable (although all that certainly would make him remarkable in its own right). He inherited his family's plantation and enslaved community. But, unusually enough for his time, this white man thought freedom applied not just to white people but also to black people. In 1776, he conditionally freed some of his enslaved community -- men and women older than 21 were freed (it is unknown why he imposed this condition). By 1787, he fully freed all remaining slaves.

For his time, he was progressive.

Photo courtesy of Delaware State Gov't.

Without slaves, he was unable to work his plantation, which he then rented out, so unfortunately, slavery continued on the plantation grounds.

Photo courtesy of Delaware State Gov't.

After Dickinson's death in 1808, the early Georgian-style mansion and 13,000-acre plantation passed to his daughter; the house and diminished acreage remained in the family until 1933. Then the property passed through a series of owners.

In 1952, the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the State of Delaware purchased the mansion with 12 acres of land and presented the site to the State in Constitution Day ceremonies that year. The mansion opened as a museum in May 1956, after three and a half years of restoration.

Today you can explore the grounds immediately surrounding the mansion, which includes the Dickinson family burial ground (the location of the slave cemetery is unknown -- yes, I asked). The Colonial-era home built in 1745 and reconstructed outbuildings showcase the daily life of a plantation, including the lives and activities of the enslaved and free African Americans. The house tours lead you through the basement, first and second floors of the house, which have been restored to reflect the period when John Dickinson lived there.

The basement kitchen.

The slave cabin at the Dickinson Plantation is a replica built of wood with a dirt floor and a functional fireplace.

When we visited, there was an interesting exhibit, "Five Stories," which explored the lives of the people who lived in the late-18th- to early-19th-centuries on the plantation. Panels tell the stories of John Dickinson’s father Samuel; Dinah, an enslaved woman owned by Samuel Dickinson who was later manumitted by John Dickinson; Mary Norris Dickinson, wife of John Dickinson; William and Deborah White, tenant farmers at the John Dickinson Plantation; and John Furbee and his brother Peter Patten, free-black men who rented farmland from Dickinson.

Getting there: 340 Kitts Hummock Road Dover, DE 19901

Hours: April through September Tuesday - Saturday, 10 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.; Sundays 1:30 - 4:30 p.m.


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