Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Maymont Mansion, Richmond's Gilded Age Spendor

Victorian exuberant excess is on display at the lovely Maymont Mansion, overlooking the James River in Richmond. Originally a 100-acre Victorian estate, Maymont is now a public park, and the mansion a house museum. On the grounds there's an arboretum, formal gardens, a carriage collection, native wildlife exhibits, a nature center, and a children's farm.

Maymont was bequeathed to the City of Richmond to be a public park by "Major" James H. Dooley and his wife, Sallie May, after their deaths. The Dooleys completed their elaborate Gilded Age estate, sparring no expense.

James Dooley was the son of Irish immigrants. After serving in the Confederate Army during the Civil War, he later became a lawyer, business leader, politician, and philanthropist during Reconstruction and the Gilded Age. He was a key figure in the construction of the Richmond and Alleghany Railroad, and represented Richmond in the Virginia House of Delegates.

When his father died in 1868, Dooley started using his father's honorific "Major," even though he himself never attained that rank. Following the Civil War, Dooley speculated in real estate as well as in steel and banking.

The mansion, which took three years to build and was completed in 1893, was named after Sallie May.

The tour begins in the basement, servant's quarters and the kitchen -- that part is self-guided, while you wait for the tour to begin of the upstairs. You walk out of the basement and around to the front door, placing into stark contrast the simplicity and utilitarian design and decor of the basement and the sheer splendor of the public spaces of the mansion.

Sally May's bedroom, complete with a swan bed.

Afterward, make sure you stroll through the Italian Gardens, which features a pergola, fountains, urns and roses. The garden is laid out in cascading levels, facing south toward the river. The design of the Cascade and the Fountain Court is patterned like the Villa Torlonia near Rome. The garden was completed in 1910, when the Petersburg granite stonework was laid down.

Getting there: 1700 Hampton Street, Richmond, VA, 23220

Hours: 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Daily; open until 7 p.m. March 15 - October 15

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Updated August 2019

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Fredericksburg: Quaint Town, Fun Shops, Good Eats

Fredericksburg, with its old, historic streets and predominantly colonial-era buildings downtown, really is a quaint town, with lots to see and do. The historic downtown area retains its colonial-era charm and is very walkable.

I particularly enjoyed walking along Caroline and William Streets, browsing its many shops, including quite a few interesting boutique stores.

I have to admit, Latitudes was a favorite!

But Dog Krazy ran a close second (my pooches at home certainly benefited from this stop!).

And I could have spent all day in Heather.

Antique lovers will be sure to find a special treasure at one of the eight or nine antique stores that line Caroline Street.

If you get hungry during your exploration of Fredericksburg, never fear. There are quite a few interesting restaurants, right downtown.

Start your day with a stop at Hyperion Expresso or Eileen's Bakery and Cafe. Both offer a variety of coffees and teas, along with some baked goods to die for.

An absolutely must is a stop at Goolrich's Modern Pharmacy. Leave your prescription at home (although you really can get it filled there), because what you're really going there for an old-fashioned malt, float, or shake at the country's oldest continuously operated soda fountain. I can vouch for the strawberry shake...

For lunch, dinner or a late night snack, take the 28-inch pizza challenge with one of Benny Vitalis New York style pizzas. Be prepared to stand, though. Benny's has lots of pizza, but not lots of seats.

For a more relaxed luncheon, head over to Princess Anne Street, where Foode is located, in a former bank building. Foode's farm-to-table menu offers a variety of comfort foods, light fare, and creative updates on traditional items. Be sure to try the Fredericksburger!

Two of the larger antique stores were the site of a famous 1960 protest of what was then segregated lunch counters. During the Jim Crow era, three downtown establishments -- W.T. Grant Department Store, F.W. Woolworth, and People's Service Drug Store -- had whites-only lunch counters. The sit-in enacted political and cultural change, and by the end of it, the three lunch counters rejected their former racist policies and integrated their lunch counters, providing equal access to all regardless of their skin color.

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Beginning in March, I started a series of posts about Fredericksburg, VA. To see others in this series, click on the label "Fredericksburg" below this post.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Discover Bucks County with the 24 in 24 Challenge

Little girl jumping rope is a touch of whimsy at the Pearl S Buck House.

Bucks County PA is a picturesque county, with lovely farmland, rolling hills, and historic little towns. Numerous historic homes, many dating to the 1700s, dot the countryside.

There is so much to see and do in the historic Bucks County! Take the "24 in 24 Challenge," below. 24 hours... can you do them all?*

The Delaware Canal goes through the heart of New Hope and along the banks of the Delaware River.

  1. Discover Bucks County's contributions to the arts and crafts movement at the Moravian Tile Factory
  2. Say hi to a friendly ghost in the Login Inn
  3. Take some action after taking the Taking Action Tour at the Pearl S Buck House
  4. Learn about old-time tools and other Americana at the Mercer Museum
  5. Grab a show at the Bucks County Playhouse
  6. Browse boutiques in New Hope
  7. Listen to rocks sing in Ringing Rocks Park
  8. Stroll along the Delaware Canal
  9. Explore art at the James M Michener Art Museum
  10. Drive through one of Bucks County's historic covered bridges
  11. Listen to a street band in Doylestown
  12. Explore one-man's dream home at Fonthill Castle
  13. Enjoy river views at the 1740 House
  14. Bike through historic Doylestown and learn about its history
  15. Explore colonial architecture at the Thomas Neely House
  16. Take a walking tour of the Doylestown Cemetery to meet Doylestown's dearly departed
  17. Get a early start on Christmas shopping at Peddlers Village
  18. Cross the Delaware at Washington's Crossing
  19. Lick an ice cream cone at Sweet Pea in downtown Doylestown
  20. Contemplate the meaning of life while walking the labyrinth on the corner of Ashland and Pine Streets in Doylestown
  21. Try to find fleas at the Rice Flea Market
  22. Look for dinosaurs and antiques at the Best of France Antiques Store
  23. Dine along the canal towpath at the Golden Pheasant Inn
  24. Look for wildflowers at the Bowmans Hill Wildflower Preserve

Bucks County offers a smorgasbord of history and quaint towns, just waiting to be explored! With some interesting restaurants, a growing number of distilleries and craft beer breweries, and lots of antiques stores and boutiques, there's something for everyone!

1740 House is a lovely inn along the banks of the Delaware River.

*Nah. It took me several days!
Best of France Antiques is an antique store to be experienced!

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Door and Surround, 1967, by Phillip Lloyd Powell; stacked
softwood and polychrome; at the James A. Michener Art Museum

Made possible by Visit Bucks County

Saturday, May 18, 2019

9 Great Hikes for Kids

The MidAtlantic states region offers numerous opportunities for hiking that will intrigue your kids without destroying their will to ever step into a forest again. The point of these daytrips is to have fun (actually, the point of ALL daytrips is to have fun!).

Before you head out, though, a little preparation can go a long way.

1. Know your trail. Find a trail guide online and print it out or take a photo of it on your phone to refer to along the way. Most of the trails below aren't difficult or likely to make you lost, but you don't want to be the first, either.

2. Bring snacks and even a picnic lunch. Not only will these offer energy to your kids, it'll give them a boost when they might, just might, be getting tired of walking.

3. Bring water or lemonade or something like, enough for everyone, because, yeah, you'll get thirsty. Hiking isn't the time to dry out!

4. Cultivate an easy-going attitude. Don't let their melt-downs get you down. Melt downs happen. Once they're settled down, move on.

5. Have a dry change of clothes and towels in your vehicle, in case clothing gets muddy or wet during the hike.

The hikes below are tried and tested, offering either great views (Turkey Point Lighthouse hike), something to do at the end of the hike (fossil hunting or rock climbing), or are interesting enough along the way to stretch their minds and legs. Most importantly, it's a great way to bond with your kids, play games (I Spy, anyone was always one of my family's favorites), and make up or tell family stories.

Calvert Cliffs State Park -- Calvert County, MD
2 miles to the cliffs; 2 miles back
Bring: bathing suits, towels, water shoes; a light plastic bucket, a digging trowel, and sand sifters to look for fossils; and bug spray

Instead of going to a museum to look at fossils someone's already found -- instead go look for fossils on the Chesapeake Bay! Slip in a little hike, and at the end of the hike, wade and float on the Bay after looking for fossilized sharks teeth -- yep, that sounds like an all around great day for your kids, no matter what their ages (the hike isn't so far that little ones can't walk it)!

There's enough beach to place towels or a beach blanket and enjoy a picnic.

Bilger's Rocks -- Clearfield County, PA
100 yards or less! But you can spend hours exploring the rocks!
Bring: sturdy shoes and a sense of adventure

Bilger's Rocks is a massive, 300 million year old rock formation covering some 20 acres in Clearfield County, PA. The formations tower up to 50 feet above ground level. Look for the graffiti dating back to 1921!

The most striking feature about Bilger's Rocks are the various openings, crawlspaces, passageways, and arches found throughout the outcrop. Whether you approach it from on top, as we did because of 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.

Cunningham Falls State Park -- Thurmont, MD
1.1 mile
Bring: a sense of adventure

Cunningham Falls Trail is very easy, clearly marked, but also is very popular. The falls can be accessed from two different directions: one from within the park is slightly hilly but very gentle, and is about a mile long. The other access is directly off of Route 77 and is only a 100 yards, all on board walk, so it's accessible for those in wheel chairs. The area is beautiful and under shade.

Ringing Rocks -- Bucks County, PA
less than 1 mile, there and back; more if you continue on to the falls.
Bring: a hammer

The thought of rocks that do more than just lie around on the forest floor doing nothing more than, well, looking like rocks lying on the ground kind will intrigue your kids -- so bring a hammer, otherwise, they're just rocks lying on the ground. This fascinating "field" of 10-foot-high rock piles that make ringing sounds when struck with hammers -- and with a little experimentation, you can even play simple tunes. Wear sturdy shoes, because climbing around the rocks can be tricky, and don't forget that hammer!

Beyond the rock field, the trail brings you to a lovely waterfall, worth the extra steps.

Soldiers Delight NEA Choate Mine Trail -- Baltimore County, MD
1.7 mile loop, with minor ups and downs
Bring: a sense of history

Soldiers Delight, standing in the midst of a high-density growth area in suburban Baltimore, is the largest and most diverse of the disappearing serpentine barrens on the East Coast. There are open fields, pine forests, rocky gorges, streams, swamps, and rolling meadows. The area used to be busy with chromite mines, and the Chaote Mine Trail leads hikers past two remnants of former mines.

You're mostly walking on unshaded trails, so make sure you wear hats and sunscreen, especially in the warmer months. 

Baltimore's Waterfront Promenade -- Maryland
About 5 miles end to end, flat, with opportunities to grab lunch, coffee (for adults), and snacks along the way. Make it a loop by taking the water taxi back to your vehicle.
Bring: money for the water taxi back to your vehicle and a camera for selfies with the giant blue crab

The Waterfront Promenade is a paved walkway that hugs nearly seven miles of the waterline of the Inner Harbor from Fort McHenry to the Canton Waterfront Park. We walked approximately 4.7 miles of it one Saturday morning, encountering not just sweeping views of the Inner Harbor, but also farmers markets and quaint streets in Fells Point.

If you aren't into "just" walking and prefer to also do some more serious sightseeing, the Waterfront Promenade offers many different opportunities. Tour the Seven Knolls Lighthouse or visit the USCG Cutter Taney, the only remaining survivor of the attack on Pearl Harbor, sitting in the water to the right of the promenade.

Government Island -- Stafford County, VA
Just under 2 miles, round trip
Bring: bug spray

Famous for the quarry from which the stones used to build the U.S. Government’s most famous buildings were sourced, Government Island is now a county park with a lovely, history-filled under 2-mile hike that you really shouldn't miss.

About halfway into your hike, you encounter the former quarry, which offers a too-tempting opportunity to climb and play in the rocks and crevices. Getting there -- and going back -- you get to enjoy the views of the surrounding marshland and river and creek inlets.

Scotts Run Nature Preserve -- Fairfax, VA
1.9 miles each direction, with places to wade and play along the way and at the end
Bring: shoes you can get wet and a towel

Develop your kids' love of hiking by bringing them to this amazing green oasis, right in the heart of suburbia. If you follow the Potomac Heritage Trail, the payoff is a sweet little waterfall as Scotts Run joins the mighty Potomac River.

There are lots of safe opportunities to get your feet wet and do some wading, so come prepared with bathing suits and towels! The hikes aren't strenuous, so even the littlest ones can do them.

U.S. National Arboretum East Side Trail -- Washington, DC
2.6 mile loop trail
Bring: a camera for the numerous photo ops and sunscreen since most of the walk is not shaded

The U.S. National Arboretum offers some surprises -- stately and mysterious columns rising out of the meadow, like Greek temple ruins. As you travel around the grounds, you enjoy different views of the columns. The arrangement of 22 Corinthian columns, originally from the US Capitol building, are placed amid 20 acres of open meadow, known as the Ellipse Meadow. 

The East Side trail covers some of the best sections -- the columns, Fern Valley, Asian Collections, and Conifer Collections. Dogwood Alley is an expansive lawn surrounded by a variety of pink and white dogwoods. Here, as elsewhere in the Arboretum, there are benches strategically placed to offer a few moments of rest and solitude, an opportunity to contemplate and appreciate the tranquility of the grounds and the beauty surrounding you.

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