Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Fort Monroe by Segway

For almost 200 years, Fort Monroe has guarded the navigation channel between the Chesapeake Bay and Hampton Roads -- the natural harbor, or roadstead, at the confluence of the Elizabeth, the Nansemond and the James rivers. Surrounded by a moat, the seven-sided star fort is the largest stone fort ever built in the United States.

One way to see Fort Monroe indepth is via a segway tour. The segway tour begins at the historic old firehouse just outside of the Main Gate of Fort Monroe. The tour takes you throughout the fort, as well as around the outside. The tour takes you on a journey through the vast history of the fortress.

Even during the Civil War, Fort Monroe stayed under Union control, despite Virginia becoming part of the Confederate States of America. It became notable as a historic and symbolic site of early freedom for former slaves under the provisions of contraband policies.

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.

For two years thereafter, the former Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, was imprisoned at the fort. His first months of confinement were spent in a cell of the casemate fort walls that is now part of its 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 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.”

Following the War of 1812, the United States realized the need to protect Hampton Roads and the inland waters from attack by sea. In March 1819, President James Monroe came up with a plan of building a network of coastal defenses. In 1822 construction began in earnest on the stone-and-brick fort which would become the safeguard for Chesapeake Bay.

You'll also get to see Old Point Comfort Light, which is 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. The lighthouse is owned and maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Know before you go: Hats are a must, if it's a sunny day, as are sunglasses. Sunscreen, and if it's a really hot day, bring a small hand towel if you lean toward sweating a lot! The day we went it was close to 100 degrees F and humid. I wish I had that towel as the sunscreen rolled into the one eye... and then the other. And comfortable shoes -- because you're standing still, essentially, as you lean forward or backward to control the Sequeway.

Getting there: 1 Ruckman Road, Fort Monroe, VA 23651

Hours: Please check the website for availability of tours.

Website: http://www.patriottoursva.com/

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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, January 22, 2019

Bilger's Rocks Update

I've visited Bilger's Rocks twice now. The first time was cold, icy and foggy, and in February. But I was fascinated by this rock formation. It was fun exploring from on top, looking down into the crevices. But this second visit was all about experiencing it from within the rock formation itself.

When I visited the first time, it rained and rained and rained. I couldn't explore the crevices because ice and snow made the rocks slippery. And then my camera jammed. I barely was able to cobble together the blog post because of all the bad luck! I vowed to return, and in May I was able to.

Bilger's Rocks is a massive, 300-million-year-old rock formation in a county park in Clearfield County, PA. The formations tower up to 50 feet above ground level.

The most striking feature about Bilger's Rocks are the various openings, crawlspaces, passageways, and arches found throughout the outcrop. Some of the crevices are only a few inches wide.

Whether you approach it from on top, as we did in February because of the rain and ice and snow still hidden in the fissures (what doesn't see the sun won't melt quickly) or from below to explore the maze of caves and walk ways leading to mysterious "rooms" named Devil's Dining Room" and "Devil's Kitchen," this is one of nature's marvels.

When I returned to explore this amazing place, it lived up to my expectations.

When I went into the formation, I found myself getting lost in the crevices. It was a wonderful experience -- mostly because it was unlikely that we could actually get lost: just a shout out would have had folks come running to help.

A lovely day, I had lots of company in the rocks -- families, couples, and kids exploring the crevices, rooms and caves. This is not where you'll find solitude (unless you go early morning). But even so, I frequently found myself alone in any given area.

Know before you go: Go with friends and stay together -- there are some slippery sections, even on a beautiful day. You'll want company.

Getting there: 1921 Bilger Rocks Rd, Grampian, PA 16838

Hours: Dawn through dusk.

Website: www.bilgersrocks.net and www.facebook.com/bilgersrocks/

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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Saturday, January 19, 2019

A Tale of Two Cemeteries

If you visit Petersburg National Battlefield to learn about the Battle of the Crater, then you should take some time to visit two local cemeteries, Poplar Grove National Cemetery and Blandford Cemetery, as the young men on both sides who fought and died in that battle (as well as others in the area) are interred there.

Poplar Grove National Cemetery

The Civil War was the inception of the National Cemetery system in the U.S. Poplar Grove National Cemetery is managed as part of the Petersburg National Battlefield. In July 1862, Congress passed legislation giving the President the authority to purchase land to establish cemeteries "for the soldiers who shall die in the service of their country."

At Petersburg, the implemention of this system didn't begin until 1866. During the Siege of Petersburg, Union soldiers who were killed  in battle were hastily buried pretty much where they fell, some in single, shallow pits, but others in mass graves. If there was any identification, it usually was simply a name carved on a wooden board. But usually there wasn't even time to do that much. Some units, such as the IX Corps, had small cemeteries near their field hospitals for soldiers who died in their care.

Thus, in 1866, Lt. Colonel James Moore began surveying the Petersburg region to find land for a cemetery. Eventually, a farm just south of the city was chosen. This tract of land had been the campground for the 50th New York Volunteer Engineers; during the war they'd constructed a Gothic Revival pine-log church called Poplar Grove.

Once the cemetery was established, work began to move approximately 5,000 Union soldiers from nearly 100 separate burial sites around Petersburg. Bodies were removed from nine Virginia counties, reaching as far rest as Lynchburg.

With 10 army wagons, 40 mules, and 12 saddle horses, the 100 men of the "burial corps" began their search and recovery mission. They would march in a line a yard apart, each examining a half yard on both sides as they proceeded. They would search whole battlefields with this method; when a grave was found, the entire line halted until the teams came up and removed the remains. Many graves were marked with stakes, but some were discovered only by the disturbed appearance of the ground. Bodies that had been buried in trenches were barely decomposed; those buried singly in boxes often only were bones and dust.

Remains were placed in plain wooden coffins; headboards, if there was one, were attached to the respective coffin. It took the burial corps three years to gather all the remains, but by 1869, they'd recovered and re-interred 6718 remains, of which only 2139 bodies were positively identified.

Getting there: Google Poplar Grove National Cemetery on Google Maps or your GPS.
Website: https://www.nps.gov/pete/learn/historyculture/poplar-grove-national-cemetery.htm

Blandford Cemetery, Petersburg

Bla-n*dford is a historic cemetery where Confederate soldiers were buried -- some 30,000 of the Confederate soldiers killed in the Siege of Petersburg were buried there. Located on Memorial Hill, which is a mass grave consisting of 30,000 interments. Similar to Union casualties, of those, only about 3700 names are known. The cemetery's gravestones, sculptures, and tombs represent a diverse array of 18th, 19th, and 20th century styles of funerary art.

While you're there, check out the Blandford Church, which played a significant role in Civil War Petersburg. Beginning in May 1862 the church served as a major telegraph station. During the Siege of Petersburg from June 15, 1864 to April 2, 1865 Blandford Church was hit by three shells. Its major use during the siege was as a hospital, most notably after the Battle of the Crater on July 30, 1864.

Getting there: 319 S Crater Road, Petersburg, VA
Website: https://www.petersburgva.gov/303/Blandford-Cemetery

Looking for more tombstone tourism? Check out our other cemetery visits:

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Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Battle of the Crater -- Petersburg National Battlefield Park

The Battle of the Crater was a battle of the Civil War, part of the Siege of Petersburg and the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign, fought between June 1864 and march 1865. Petersburg was an important goal for both armies: four railroad lines met there before continuing on to Richmond, and most of the Confederate Army's supplies funneled through there.

Battery 5 of the Dimmock Line, part of the Confederate defenses surrounding Richmond.

The Battle of the Crater took place on July 30, 1864, between the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, commanded by General Robert E Lee and the Union Army of the Potomac, commanded by Maj. Gen. George G Meade (under the direct supervision of the general-in-chief, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant).

After weeks of preparation, on July 30, Union forces exploded a mine, blowing a gap in the Confederate defenses of Petersburg. From that success, the Union pulled a mess of a defeat. Lacking a coordinated plan of what to do AFTER the explosion, unit after unit charged into, rather than around the crater. Inside the crater bowl, the Union troops were mired in mud, blood and muck, easy targets for Confederate soldiers shooting at them from above the sides of the crater.

At the top of the path on the right was the Confederate lines.

The Confederates recovered pretty quickly from the shock of the explosion, and launched several counterattacks. The breach was sealed and Union forces repulsed, inflicting severe casualties.

The crater today -- it's hard to imagine how horrific it would have been on July 30, 1863, at around 5 a.m.

During this battle, both sides engaged in horrific war crimes. In the later stages of the battle, many of the Union casualties were black soldiers killed by Confederate bayonets and musket fire, even after they'd surrendered. (Confederate soldiers had received similar treatment from Union troops immediately after the mine explosion.) But even more horrifically, white Union troops turned on their black compatriots, bayoneting them mercilessly, because of their own fears of reprisal at the hands of the victorious Confederate troops.

Grant labeled the assault "the saddest affair I have witnessed in this war." It certainly is a low point in military ineptitude and horrific treatment of other Americans. And it was a disaster for the Union forces.

A cannon along the Confederate line.

Although the battle technically was a tactical Confederate victory, nothing changed. Both sides remained entrenched, in pretty much the same location as they were before. Although that mine explosion was Grant's best chance to end the Siege of Petersburg, this battle merely was a huge blip on what turned out to be another eight-month-long siege in the muddy and cold trenches.

As you explore this battlefield, you'll want to do so both by vehicle and on foot. The northern/eastern battlefield tour starts at the park's visitor center, where you'll want to walk out to Battery 5 of the Dimmock Line, part of the 10-mile line of Confederate defenses around Richmond, and then down to see the famous Union mortar, "the Dictator." Then head out on the driving tour, stopping to do the short walks and hikes.

The eastern battlefield driving tour culminates at the crater itself, where again, you'll want to get out of your vehicle to explore the mine entrance, look up the hill at the Confederate lines, back behind you across the valley at the Union entrenchments, and then walk up the hill to the crater. You'll appreciate the distance the Union army miners had to dig to reach the Confederate lines. You'll wonder that the Confederates didn't realize the plan sooner.

From the area near the mine, looking back over the slight valley to Union positions --
the landscape is lovely, belying the violence that occurred here those years ago.

Now the landscape is grass covered, making it harder to imagine the chaos and mud that was the newly exploded crater -- it doesn't even look that deep. The day we were there, we were the only ones there. It was quiet, birds sang in the trees. We saw butterflies flitting from wildflower to wildflower. We walked along the pathway, listening to the recordings on the informational signs, before continuing on to visit the western battlefield driving tour. Next week, we'll talk about what happened to the men and boys who died on the battlefield, and visit the hallowed ground where these Americans are now buried.

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Saturday, January 12, 2019

Winter Hike in Catoctin Mountain National Park

Catoctin Mountain Park, located in north-central Maryland, is part of the forested Catoctin Mountain ridge−range that forms the northeastern rampart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, in the Appalachian Mountains System.

Despite the federal government shutdown, the sunny, 50-degree day was too nice -- especially in January -- not to go hiking.

This national park has a number of interesting hikes, primarily to rock outcroppings along the ridge lines on the east side of the park. In fact, Catoctin Mountain Park offers more than 25 miles of hiking trails. In the past, I've hiked up to Wolf Rock; read more about that here.

This time, we decided to hike through the woods to the adjacent Cunningham Falls State Park to pick up the boardwalk trail to see the falls. The Falls Nature Trail is accessed from the gravel parking lot directly across from the visitor center.

The trail begins at the back of the gravel parking lot on the right hand side and crosses Md. Rt. 77 1.1 miles from the Visitor Center. The most popular trail in the park, this trail takes visitors to the largest cascading waterfall in Maryland.

Cunningham Falls

Along the way, we encountered multiple hills as well as uneven and rocky surfaces and sometimes small streams.

After walking along the short board walk to see Cunningham Falls, as we returned to Catoctin Mountain Park, we saw a sign indicating Hog Rock Trail, so without figuring out where that would place us (relative to where our car was parked), we decided to head up: despite having grown up in nearby Frederick, neither of us had ever been to Hog Rock. The trail was just 1 mile, straight up the side of the mountain. (We also didn't have a trail map.)

The view at Hog Rock.

Along the way, on both trails, we enjoyed seeing smaller rock outcroppings.

In the 1930s, after years of making charcoal to fuel nearby iron furnaces, mountain farming, and harvesting of trees for timber, land was purchased to be transformed into a productive recreation area, helping to put people back to work during the Great Depression. Beginning in 1935, the Catoctin Recreational Demonstration Area was under construction by both the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps.

The northern portion of the park was transferred to the National Park Service on November 14, 1936 and the southern 5,000 acres transferred to Maryland as Cunningham Falls State Park.

Know before you go: Plan your hike with the online trail map at https://www.nps.gov/cato/planyourvisit/hiking.html. 

Please note: During the federal government shutdown, all buildings, offices, and facilities in Catoctin Mountain Park will be closed. Parking areas and hiking trails will remain open. Park Central Road from Manahan Road to Foxville Deerfield Road is closed. Please plan on carrying out any garbage you bring in.

The week prior to our hike, I'd been reading and hearing news stories about how the government shutdown was impacting other national parks. So my sister and I brought along a few garbage bags to pick up any garbage we saw. We were pleasantly surprised to see no overflowing garbage or recycling cans. However, there was still a bit of litter along the way, which we picked up and packed out.

For additional hikes in Catoctin Mountain National Park: Wolf Rock Hike and Hog Rock Hike

Getting there: 14707 Park Central Rd, Thurmont, MD 21788

Hours: Dawn through dusk.

Website: https://www.nps.gov/cato/index.htm

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This was the perfect hike to start breaking in my new Columbia hiking boots.

Updated January 2020

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

First State Heritage Park

The First State Heritage Park at Dover is Delaware's first urban "park without boundaries," linking historic and cultural sites in the historic city that has been the seat of state government since 1777.

First State Heritage Park includes the Biggs Museum, the John Bell House, the Johnson Victrola Museum, Legislative Hall, the Old State House, and the Woodburn and Hall House.

I visited three of the attractions at the First State Heritage Park: Old State House, the John Bell House, and the Johnson Victrola Museum, which I previously posted about.

Old State House

Located on the historic Green in Dover, the Old State House has served as a focal point in the state's civic life for over 200 years. Built in 1791, the Old State House served as Delaware's capitol during the United States' critical early years as a nation, as well as the Kent County seat of government. With additions and modifications, the building continued to serve as the state capitol until 1933.

Exhibits discuss the plight of enslaved individuals in Delaware as well, including one that describes how, on October 14, 1797, James Summers walked into the Recorder of Deeds office seeking to purchase the freedom of his two enslaved children: Thomas, aged five, and Ruth, aged 7. A copy of the original Manumission Transcript is on display.

The first floor of the Old State House features an 18th century-style courtroom while the second floor features the former chambers of the state legislature.

The House chamber contains notable portraits by Thomas Sully of Commodores Jacob Jones and Thomas Macdonough, heroes from the First State who served in the War of 1812.

The Senate chamber houses an imposing portrait of George Washington painted by Denis A. Volozan.

Notable architectural details include the gilt sunflower ceiling sham, and the grand, dual stairways, known as a geometrical staircase, that served as the portal of entry to the state's legislative chambers. These features give the building an elegant and airy feel, that counters the seriousness of the business that was conducted within.

Over the course of 224 years of continuous governmental use, the Old State House had undergone a number of structural and stylistic changes that had radically altered its original 18th century appearance. These changes included the addition, over time, of a number of wings to accommodate increasing governmental needs, and the Victorian-style remodeling of the building's exterior in 1873.

In 1933, the General Assembly re-located from the Old State House to its new, more spacious, home in Legislative Hall, and in 1976, the Old State House was restored to its original 18th century appearance as part of Delaware's bicentennial celebration commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

During your tour of the Old State House, you'll also be able to learn about Samuel D Burrris, a free man who also served as a conductor on the Underground Railroad. He was charged with helping free enslaved individuals. Found guilty of the charges, he was sentenced to banishment from Delaware and was sold into slavery. Lucky for him, he was purchased by an abolitionist, who then set him free.

Monday through Saturday:
9 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
1:30 - 4:30 p.m.

John Bell House

The oldest wooden structure on The Green is the John Bell House, now serving as the interpretive center for the First State Heritage Park, where visitors can learn about the history of Dover and take thematic walking tours around Dover’s historic Green.

The building -- most likely a work room rather than a home -- was standing in 1787 when statesmen ratified the Constitution at the Golden Fleece Tavern, located just across The Green. The building was owned by several generations of the John Bell family and through the years, saw several owners and uses.

The west wall showcases those construction techniques and the old materials, such as tree nails, that were used

Monday through Saturday
9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Walking tours leave hourly from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Johnson Victrola Museum

The Johnson Victrola Museum highlights the life and achievements of this businessman, innovator, philanthropist and progressive employer; exhibits include phonographs, recordings, memorabilia, trademarks, objects, and paintings that highlight Mr. Johnson's successful business enterprises and chronicle the development of the sound-recording industry. 

Victrola is indelibly linked to the iconic image of a dog, with his head cocked, staring intently into a Victrola. Almost everyone I know -- of a certain age that is -- recognize the image of the dog intently staring into and listening to the phonograph. 

The image was still on records produced by RCA, which had by then bought the rights to the image, up until the 1970s. The second floor of the museum, the Heiges Gallery, offers an extensive collection of artifacts from the Victrola industry, including an comprehensive collection of Nipper statues.

For a more detailed article about the Johnson Victrola Museum, click here.

Wednesday through Saturday
9 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. and by appointment for groups

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