Saturday, June 29, 2019

Historic St Mary's City: Visiting Maryland's Colonial History

The fully working replica of The Dove sailing ship,
one of the two original settlers ships that established the first Maryland colony.

Historic St. Mary's City (HSMC) is a National Historic Landmark and an important archaeological site marking the former colonial town that was Maryland's first colonial settlement of the European invasion -- and the fourth permanent English settlement in North America -- and Maryland's capital for 61 years.

St Mary's City is spread across 800 acres along St. Mary's River, a brackish tributary to the Potomac River, near its mouth on the Chesapeake Bay.

In 1633, two ships, The Ark and The Dove, set sail together loaded with Protestant and Catholic settlers, Jesuit missionaries and indentured servants. After a long, rough sea voyage, they arrived in what is now Maryland in March 1634.

The site was already a Native American village when they arrived, occupied by members of the Yaocomico branch of the Piscataway Indian Nation, but a former Virginia colonist who was fluent in their language had accompanied the group, and they were able to negotiate the sale of 30 acres for the new settlement from the paramount chief of the region, who was motivated by his desire to develop the settlers as allies and trading partners (especially because of their advanced technology - farming implements, metal-working, gunpowder and weapons, types of food and liquor). For a while, at least, the two groups co-existed peacefully.

Now, St. Mary's City is a large, state-run historic area, reconstruction of the original colonial settlement, living history museum complex. You need walking shoes to visit, because you'll want to go exploring! There's an approximately mile-long trail from the visitors center through the historic St. Mary's City site.

Decades of research have shaped the foundation of exhibits assembled across the landscape: re-created structures in the town center, the Brick Chapel of 1667, the State House of 1676, a Woodland Native American hamlet, a tall ship, and a tobacco plantation complete with heritage livestock.

You can't help but draw comparisons with Williamsburg, VA, and the recreated colonial city there. St. Mary's City's reconstruction is to a period 100 years prior to Williamsburg -- the very earliest stage of the European invasion and settlement in North America. The buildings, aside from the lovely Catholic church, were constructed of wood. In many ways, however, St Mary's City is more similar to Historic Jamestowne and Jamestown Settlement, the recreated fort and native american village and living history museum adjacent to the original Jamestowne site.

It is startlingly to see how many buildings there were. "Ghost" buildings -- wood frames outline where the buildings would have stood and how they would have looked -- dot the landscape. We also enjoyed exploring the witch in the reconstructed Piscataway village.

Exhibits and signage do not shy away from the issue of the white European enslavement of African men, women, and children kidnapped from their homeland, although indentured servitude was the earliest form of forced servitude in the settlement. Most women came over as indentured servants, working for a period between four and seven years. If they survived until the agreed-upon period was over, they were free to marry and live their own lives. In fact, most of the early immigrants from England were indentured, until the 1660s, when the economy improved to the point that few were willing to come over.

But by the 1660s, St. Mary's City experienced an economic boom due to successful tobacco farming, which was the most important export commodity. As tobacco became a more valuable cash crop in the colony, white enslavement of Africans likewise increased. As enslavement of African individuals took hold, the older practices of allowing enslaved individuals to gain freedom by converting to Catholicism or by eventually grandfathering indentured rights to them after many years of servitude were abolished. White enslavement of Africans and their descendants quickly embedded itself into the colony's culture.

Interestingly, St. Mary's City is also considered the birthplace of religious freedom in the United States, with the earliest North American colonial settlement ever established with the specific mandate of being a haven for both Catholic and Protestant Christian faiths.

Re-enactors demonstrate life in the colonial city. Historic St. Mary's City also provides presentations on different aspects of colonial era woodland Indian life. At different times of the year, members of the Piscataway Indian Nation also provide reenactments and cultural demonstrations. The Piscataway people were the original inhabitants of St. Mary's City and also befriended and helped the early colonists.

The HSMC research department was established in 1966, with the archaeology program following in 1971 to study the history of St. Mary’s City, preserve its archaeological evidence, and interpret that history for the public.

Getting there: The visitors center, and logical place to start your visit, is located at 18751 Hogaboom Lane, St. Mary’s City

Hours: Historic St. Mary’s City’s hours change by season. Some on-site exhibits or shops may close on Sundays. Check the website for hours for the time you wish to visit.


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Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Battle of Fredericksburg

Innis House, which witnessed the Battle of Fredericksburg.

We first noticed the signs as we drove in along River Road, adjacent to the Rappahannock River: we were traveling through the battlefield of the Battle of Fredericksburg, which was fought December 11 -15, 1862, in and around Fredericksburg.

The Union forces, led by Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside, bombarded the city of Fredericksburg with cannons destroying most of the city's buildings -- its scars can still be seen throughout the historic town. Gen. Robert E. Lee's Confederate Army of Northern Virginia was ensconced on a strongly fortified ridge on the western side of Fredericksburg, referred to as Marye's Heights.

Despite its impact on the city itself, the battle was a major Confederate victory and one of the most lopsided defeats of the Civil War for Union forces. The battle had over 18,000 casualties.

Burnside's plan was to cross the Rappahannock River at Fredericksburg in mid-November and race to the Confederate capital of Richmond before Lee's army could stop him. Bureaucratic delays prevented Burnside from receiving the necessary pontoon bridges in time and Lee moved his army to block the crossings. 

From Marye's Heights, looking over the Sunken Road.

When the Union army was finally able to build its bridges and cross under fire, direct combat within the city resulted on December 11–12. Union troops prepared to assault Confederate defensive positions south of the city and on Marye's Heights.

An old house along the Sunken Road still bears the scars of the battle.

We headed to Marye's Heights to explore part of the battlefield, although in reality, we'd unknowingly spent the day on the battlefield, having been walking through historic downtown Fredericksburg all day.

The inside of the Innis House still shows how thick the
damage from the gunshot and shell fragments was by the end of the battle.

The battle is notable because it featured the first major opposed river crossing in American military history, and as Union and Confederate troops fought in the streets of Fredericksburg, they unknowingly participated in the Civil War's first urban combat.

We decided to walk the Sunken Road Walking Trail, which then led us up to Marye's Heights to the Confederate positions. Thousands of men, mostly Union troops, died along the Sunken Road.

Finally, we paid our respects to those who died in the battle at the Fredericksburg National Cemetery, which was placed on a prominent portion of Marye's Heights, overlooking the battlefield upon which they'd died.

Know before you go: We did not get a chance to go on the driving tour during our visit. The Fredericksburg Battlefield driving tour begins at the Fredericksburg Battlefield Visitor Center, located along the Sunken Road portion of the battlefield. Stop 2 takes visitors across the river to Chatham Manor, a Union headquarters and field hospital. Stops 3-6 are along the Confederate defensive line, including the location of the only Union breakthrough during the battle.

Getting there: 1013 Lafayette Blvd, Fredericksburg, VA 22401

Hours: Hours of operation vary by season and building. Park buildings are closed on New Year's Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day. Visitors can expect reduced hours on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve. Park grounds are open every day from sunrise to sunset.


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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.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Shop Local and Support Artists at the Central Maryland Fiber Art Studio Tour

These amazing colors were among the skeins offered at Avalon Springs Farm.

For the past three years on the first weekend in June, a number of indie dye fiber artists have opened their homes and studios to yarn and fiber arts enthusiasts. Knitters, weavers, and other fiber crafts enthusiasts travel around the rolling hills of central Maryland to visit indie dyers in their studios and farms. Plans are already underway for next year's studio tour.

This beauty produces mohair for Avalon Springs Farm.

This year there was 5 stops and 12 artists participating. We went to farms with fun names like Flying Goat, Avalon Springs, and Dancing Leaf. These are the kinds of places I'd always imagined I'd live, instead of the suburban cookie cutter neighborhood I've been happy in these past two decades.

In addition to seeing some incredibly and beautifully dyed skeins, there were cute farm animals scampering in the fields and pastures.

This cute fellow (honestly, not quite sure, actually) posed for me at Flying Goat Farm.

My sister is a knitter. She does nothing if not intensely and definitely follows the motto of "she who dies with the most yarn wins." She has no plans of dying, although she's in the market for fiber dyeing classes.

These beautiful skeins were produced by 29 Bridges.

She lured me onto the tour with the promise of cute farm animals (and no kidding, there were! and the artists were happy to introduce us to them!) and the promise she would knit me a lovely shawl for my birthday with the eight mini-skeins I picked out at each stop.

The studio tour showcases the art of indie dyers who create these beautiful skeins. It was fun chatting with the fiber artists and learning their stories -- how they got started in the fiber arts and indie dyeing. Many of them work other jobs -- ones that help pay the bills, I imagine. Creating their lovely skeins and yarn is a passion and an art.

Flying Goat Farm's origins was in the down turn, which brought Lisa and Bill from the West Coast to the East. Lisa suggested they purchase a farmette so they could have some goats and sheep. Now they have plenty of both, along with some guinea fowl that I found fascinating!

By the end of the afternoon, I was tempted to relearn knitting -- a skill I'd learned during college and have since forgotten.

One of the skeins at Flying Goat Farm.

For me, it was a fun way to enjoy the countryside, spend time with my sister -- this is a great way to spend an afternoon with like-minded friends. We made our final stop Wandering Wools, conveniently located at Doc Waters Cidery, where we enjoyed a flight of cider as well as a light pastrami and cracker lunch.

If knitting, crocheting or fiber arts is your passion, don't miss this tour next year!

Getting there: Each year the stops on the tour vary. Check the website below for the current tour stops.

Hours: The tour runs annually the first weekend in June.

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Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Allentown Art Museum

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing 793A, first installation 1996, India ink and ink color wash.

If you enjoy art -- or are trying to instill a love of art in your kids -- then regional art museums are the way to go.

William Glackens, Portrait of Kay Lavelle, @1914, oil on canvas

The Allentown Art Museum was founded in 1934 by a group organized by noted Pennsylvania impressionist painter, Walter Emerson Baum; its collection includes more than 13,000 works of art.

C. Maxime, Fantasy Flowers, @1778, etching

Agreed, a regional museum might not have a Mona Lisa-caliber canvas or sport five different Monet's, but they usually have a unique collection of significant works, often reflecting artists and movements focused on their geographic region. 

Robert Reid, Cascading Brook, 1916, oil on canvas

The Allentown Art Museum follows that trend, with a significant collection of by works by local Pennsylvania impressionist artists.

Richard Joseph Anuszkiewicz, Converging Yellow Green, 1980, acrylic on canvas

In fact, a regional art museum provides a viewing experience that big-city and national museums do not: you can see an entire collection in a short time without collapsing from exhaustion. 

Their collections are often creatively displayed and interpreted.

James Daugherty, Flight Into Egypt, @1920, oil on canvas

And it's more likely you'll remember what you've seen, because your brain isn't overwhelmed by the sheer number of images. 

Stephen Anonakos, The Room Chapel, Neon Behind a White Panel, 1983, white paint on wood with neon

Like other regional art museums, the Allentown Art Museum makes art accessible. It provides just three floors, running the gamut of Renaissance and Baroque paintings and sculptures and religious art to regional impressionists to contemporary sculpture. The museum even has a room from a Frank Lloyd Wright house. 

The Virgin Annunciate, @1524, oil on panel, transferred to Masonite

It is well worth an afternoon visit -- or several visits (why not??).

Mary Bauermiester, Untitled, 1965, river pebbles on fabric covered panel

Getting there: 31 North Fifth Street, Allentown, PA 18101

Hours: The Museum is open every day except Mondays, Tuesdays, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, Easter and July 4. Admission is free on Sundays. Wednesday - Saturday 11 a.m. - 4 p.m.; Sunday noon - 4 p.m.


Robert Crawford, New Hope Station, 1932, oil on canvas

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John Fulton Folinsbee, Hazleton Brick Yard, 1950, oil on canvas

Made possible by Discover Lehigh Valley.