Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Gadsby's Tavern, a Gathering Place for our Nation's Rich and Famous

Gadsby's Tavern was a central part of the social, economic, political and educational life of Alexandria between 1785 and the mid-1800s. Here, the likes of George Washington, the Lee family, Dolly Madison, and Thomas Jefferson conversed, dined, and danced.

Founded in 1785, Gadsby's Tavern consisted of two buildings -- the older tavern building and the Federal City Hotel building, which was added on in 1792. Both offered large assembly rooms for public events, such as Washington's Birthnight Ball and other festivities. John Gadsby leased and operated the two buildings as Gadsby's Tavern through 1808.

The location was a good place for a drink. Before Gadsby's Tavern, there were a series of other taverns in the same location: Charles and Anne Mason ran "Mason's Ordinary" 1749 - 1752 and in the 1770s, Mary Hawkins ran a tavern there.

The end of the Revolutionary War brought prosperity and a booming economy to Alexandria. Marylander John Wise purchased the land in 1782, and built the Georgian-style tavern, running it until 1792, when Gadsby, newly immigrated from England, leased the property. In 1808, Gadsby moved to Maryland, but his name stuck to the tavern.

The tavern and hotel spaces were fashionable and in high demand. The ball room hosted the big names of the day of our young country. In addition to Washington and Jefferson, other prominent customers included John Adams, James Madison, James Monroe, and the Marquis de lay Fayette.

This was one of the finest of the hotel's bed chambers, perfect for upper-class men and women.

There is a fair amount known about slavery on the site -- Gadsby enslaved 11 individuals as well as rented several other enslaved individuals. The enslaved men, women and children would have worked in the kitchen, stables, the laundry, and serving and taking care of the guests. Wise, before Gadsby, enslaved ten adults. The enslaved individuals lived in small outbuildings on the property; none of the original outbuildings still exist.

Taverns only promised travelers a space to sleep and clean sheets.
They could often find themselves sharing a room, or even a bed.

Eventual, Gadsby's Tavern declined; by 1900, the building was in complete disrepair. Instead of fancy balls and elaborate public events, the building hosted odd shops, lawyer's offices, auction houses, and even probably a hospital during the Civil War.

The buildings were saved and preserved, thanks in part to the American Legion. The Metropolitan Museum of Art purchased the entire ball room, which is now on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City as the Alexandria Ballroom. (The current ballroom is a faithful recreation of the original.) The buildings reopened as a museum in 1976, dedicated to preserving and interpreting the social and cultural heritage of Alexandria.

Getting there: 134 N Royal St, Alexandria, VA 22314

Hours: November to March Wednesday to Saturday: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday: 1 - 4 p.m. Closed New Year's Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas. April to October Tuesday to Saturday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday and Monday: 1 - 5 p.m.

Website: https://www.alexandriava.gov/GadsbysTavern

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Saturday, April 25, 2020

12 Urban Oases To Escape To!

When the urban jungle becomes too much for us, we naturally seek an oasis of peace and calm amidst the asphalt and pandemonium. I've found twelve surprising urban oases offering us the promise of lovely vistas, green relief, or a pleasant walk. These are all near or in major cities in the mid-Atlantic region: Pittsburgh, Richmond, Washington DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia... Check them out below, and click on the link for more information!

But in this time of social distancing, don't be surprised if some of these places are super busy! If so, keep walking (away) and add them to your bucket list!

In the heart of northern Virginia suburbia, Scotts Run Nature Preserve is easy to get to, and only minutes off the Washington Beltway. This urban oasis is a sweet little park in busy Fairfax County, VA that offers luxurious tree cover and a chance to explore a number of trails throughout the preserve, leading to various overlooks, waterfalls, and the ruins of the former owner's cabin. Its 336 acres of woodland is bordered by its namesake, Scott's Run, flowing through its west side to the mighty Potomac River, which forms its northern border. While you're walking in the preserve, you'll often hear the river, falls, and lots of birds.

The Baltimore & Annapolis Trail is a local favorite, and thus can get quite crowded with both walkers and bikers. The B&A Trail runs for just over 13 miles between Glen Burnie and Annapolis, following the old Baltimore and Annapolis Railroad. Although the "park" is only 60 feet wide, many parts of it are wooded and it is relaxing to get away from the roads and the more suburban scenery of strip malls and shopping centers. It is also frankly interesting to peek into the backyards of homeowners along the trail. Many have superbly landscaped their back yards to be lovely oasis-es. Even with such a narrow park, there is wildlife. On an early spring day, we saw a lot of birds and the ubiquitous grey squirrels. There were also deer and what I believed to be fox prints in mud along the trail.

Patapsco River Valley State Park is strung like a string of pearls from northern Howard County into the city of Baltimore, and offers valleys of hidden surprises, from the Grist Mill Trail and its swinging bridges to Maryland's own ghost town. There's mountain biking, hiking, urban exploration of ghost towns, and water tubing, as well as a variety of picnic areas to make spending an afternoon pleasurable and refreshing.

If you're looking for an oasis in the midst of cluttered suburbia, Brookside Gardens offers a great place to check out, pretty much anytime in spring or summer. Brookside is a standout for its variety of azaleas, making early to mid-spring the best time to vist. The grounds of Brookside Gardens are designed around three formal gardens leading to a Wedding Gazebo, an Azalea Walk on the brow of the hill, plantings around the entrance, and the Conservatory.

The U.S. National Arboretum is a garden, a park, and a research institution, part of the USDA. Its 446 acres include world-famous collections, such as its azalea, bonsai, and Asian plant collections. It is green and lush and colorful. There are wooded walks and expansive meadows and quite a bit in between.The 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. There's some history there too: 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.

Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Heritage Trail evolved from five separate trails and today comprises several unique sections. Most of these segments are riverfront trails along both banks of the three rivers that form Pittsburgh’s famous point: the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio. It's also one of the treasures of Pittsburgh. The route provides an urban outdoor experience with vistas up and down the rivers, a connection to downtown Pittsburgh and close-ups of the contrast between old industry and new.

Richmond's Hollywood Cemetery, like many large city cemeteries established in the late 1800s, was created to be both a final resting place AND a park, often serving as arboretums with a wide variety of ornamental and interesting shrubs and trees. Our Victorian forebears understood this, and would take picnics and luncheons and spend an afternoon in a cemetery, even if they didn't have loved ones resting there. Our modern day sensitivities have driven us away from viewing -- and using -- these as parks, but that's a shame.

As green-spaces rapidly diminish, we need oases like these pastoral cemeteries even more now. Take a bike or take a hike -- most of these cemeteries were designed to provide changing vistas and often dramatic views of rivers, as is the case of Hollywood. Enjoy the Victorian-era head stones -- usually lovely and quite dramatic statuary of angels and weeping women. Most of all, enjoy the solitude and quiet that a pastoral cemetery can offer!

The Delaware Canal, north of Philadelphia, is a favorite place to escape the suburban hustle and bustle because it has soothing water throughout. For most of its length, the towpath travels between the Delaware River and the canal, offering both greenery and lovely water views. Keep your eyes peeled -- you're almost certain to encounter small wildlife and birds aplenty!

Further south, another canal also offers respite from the urban clutter: the C&O Canal Towpath in Montgomery County, MD.  The C&O Canal Towpath stretches 184 miles from Washington DC all the way up to Western Maryland. Nearer to Washington DC, and through Montgomery County -- one of Maryland's most crowded and urban counties -- the towpath offers moments of solitude and respite from the urban jungle. When the concrete makes your eyes sore, and the incessant noise of civilization makes your ears ache, then go to the towpath. Enjoy green trees, sweeping views of the Potomac River, and listen for the birds singing in the trees. Although Great Falls has plenty of parking, it also is one of the most visited sections, so instead check out Swains Lock, Brunswick, or the Monocacy Aqueduct areas.

Columbia's Four Lakes await just 20 minutes outside of Baltimore minutes from I-95, in the planned community of Columbia, MD. James Rouse, the visionary who founded Columbia, incorporated winding, tree-lined roads and lakes in his planning, making this community a pleasant one to live in. The lakes all have paths that offer changing views and a chance to enjoy seeing beaver, deer, herons, ducks and geese, as well as a variety of other birds, and offer a great place to feel as if you're back in nature for a few hours.

Built around Baltimore's popular Inner Harbor, Baltimore's Waterfront Promenade doesn't offer solitude as much as it offers a chance to re-connect with Baltimore's working harbor past -- that, and some magnificent views of the water, which makes this an urban oasis, despite it's lack of having trees and greenery.

As you stroll along its five + miles, you'll travel through Baltimore's historic neighborhoods as well: Canton and Fells Point among them. Grab a coffee or grab lunch in Fells Point, or visit one of the historic light ships or lighthouses -- the promenade offers a brief interlude of relaxation away from the major hustle and bustle of Baltimore's city life. What makes this particularly a fun place to spend some time is you can travel in one direction on foot, then take a water taxi through the harbor back to your starting point!

Philadelphia's Laurel Hill Cemetery is a hilly cemetery, where trees, monuments, and rolling hills can obscure the view of other living creatures -- cemeteries like Laurel Hill are far from creepy. The city street noises echo through, although muffled, and in Laurel Hill, I heard the sounds of a rowing race in the river below. Birds twittered from the trees, and squirrels played hide and seek among the stones.

Not surprisingly, given its location on the bluff overlooking the Schuylkill River, Laurel Hill became an immensely popular destination in its early years. Laurel Hill was the favored burial place for many of Philadelphia's most prominent political and business figures, including Matthias W. Baldwin, founder of the Baldwin Locomotive Works; Henry Disston, owner of the largest saw factory in the world (the Disston Saw Works); and financier Peter A. B. Widener. Civil War generals and military heroes can be found there, as well as Revolutionary War figures, whose remains were moved there by the cemetery's organizers, who wished to make Laurel Hill the place to be, or rather, The Place to be buried. During and after the American Civil War, Laurel Hill became the final resting place of hundreds of military figures, including 42 Civil War-era generals, including Battle of Gettysburg victor General George Gordon Meade.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Boating up the Broadkill River

The Broadkill River flows for its entire length in eastern Sussex County, DE. From Milton, the Broadkill River flows generally eastward, although it snakes through the landscape with lazy S curves that change the view constantly.

The river passes through the wetlands and salt marshes of the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge and skirts the Great Marsh Preserve, where you can see numerous waterfowl, herons and egrets.

Periodically, but usually in the fall, you can find boat cruises out of Lewes, that take you up the Broadkill River to Milton.

It's a 15-minute drive between Lewes and Milton, but by boat, it's a relaxing 90 minute journey, evoking a slower-paced, idealized past in which the river was used less for recreation and more for industry.

From Lewes, you travel through the canal to the Broadkill River. To the right as you head out of Lewes along the canal, beach homes indicate where land ends and the ocean starts, not far away.

But soon we entered the wetlands, where it wasn't hard to spot the graceful heron and egrets searching the marshes for their lunches.

Then, slowly the marsh and swamp landscape gives way to scrub bush as you journey through the s-bends and begin to near Milton. We had to laugh -- the captain brought along a power saw, an unusual item for a boat tour, but he explained that trees often come down unexpectedly, blocking passage. Although the state of Delaware is responsible for ensuring the river remains passable, he admitted that more often than not, he and his crew are the ones clearing the way.

Milton is a very small, quaint town -- a few restaurants and boutiques downtown. It's heyday occurred in the 1800s, when the town prospered through shipbuilding and shipping.

The shipyards have long ago disappeared, though. Boating activity in the Broadkill, still important today, has reoriented itself to fishing and recreation over the years. There's a cute little historical museum in an old church building -- go in for both the history and to see the gorgeous stained glass windows!

After a 45-minute layover, you'll again board the boat for the journey back to Lewes. All told, you'll spend about four hours on the river, a relaxing journey.

Did I say to bring your binoculars already? Because you really should. We saw bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, and a Coopers hawk (the latter identified by someone who knows their birds).

Know before you go: Pack a picnic lunch to bring with you, including snacks and drinks. The boat tour stops for 45 minutes in Milton, offering opportunities to pick up food if you didn't pack your own, but you'll also want to take that time to walk the few blocks that make up the village of Milton and browse some of the boutiques.

Getting there: The confirmation emails will provide you the location and address of the dock.

When: Check the Cape Water Tours website for upcoming tours.

Website: https://www.capewatertaxi.com/

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Saturday, April 18, 2020

Three Great Hikes in Patapsco Valley State Park

Some of these hikes are really popular -- so social distancing might be a bit difficult. But if you haven't been on these hikes, these are three good ones to add to your bucket list!

Patapsco Valley State Park extends along 32 miles of the Patapsco River, encompassing 16,043 acres and eight developed recreational areas. Recreational opportunities include hiking, fishing, camping, canoeing, horseback and mountain bike trails, as well as picnicking for individuals or large groups in the park’s many popular pavilions. The park offers more than 200 miles of trails spread out through the eight recreation areas. Below are three interesting hikes in Howard County -- each worth a few hours of your time!

Marriottsville Road to McKeldin Rapids Hike

This hike takes you along the Patapsco River, up some slight elevation gains (nothing strenuous) that offer pretty views of the river below, and then along the river to see the falls and then the rapids that come afterward. You'll also encounter lots of other hikers and horse riders. It's a pleasant walk in the woods, along a scenic river, and well worth an afternoon or morning!

Park along Marriottsville Road, either immediately by the railroad tracks or a little away, on the northern/western side of the road, near where "Marriottsville Road 2" and Ridge Road intersect with the main Marriottsville Road (when I was there, there was no indication that this was illegal parking, I was recently informed that the better bet is the larger parking lot by the railroad tracks).

The trail begins across the road and immediately starts slightly up a hill and toward the river -- the South Branch Patapsco River. You'll descend again (both elevation changes are really minor) and the trail parallels the river, which flows gently here. Trails split off to the left, but the main trail curls around a slight hill with lovely glimpses of the river below.

At the top of the hill there are restrooms and a paved road. Listen and you'll hear the falls. Turn right on the road and follow it to a parking area where it dead ends. There you'll pick up the path descending to the falls below.
For this hike, I followed the orange (either white or no blazes on the
trail itself) to the yellow/orange- blazed McKeldin Rapids Trail. 
Enjoy the kids, and most likely the dogs, playing on the sandy beach in the water below the falls. The trail continues, heading off along the river. Follow it as it twists around the river bend. Once around the bend, follow the trail until you come to rock face. You have a few choices: you can pick your way carefully along, almost at water level, or you can climb up and pick up a dirt trail, or you can backtrack a bit and find the dirt trail shooting off from the left.

Once over the bare rock face, the trail flattens, until it meets up with the North Branch Patapsco River. That's where I ended my hike -- approximately 2 miles, give or take -- and turned around to head back to make it a complete 4 mile hike. Of course the falls and rapids were the stars of the hike. But I encountered several groups of horse riders, and thoroughly enjoyed watching them.

For more details about this hike, check out MidAtlanticDayTrips' first article about it here.

Getting there: The intersection of Marriottsville Road Number 2 and Marriottsville Road, Marriottsville, MD.

Website: https://dnr.maryland.gov/publiclands/Pages/central/PatapscoValley/McKeldin/McKeldin-Area.aspx

Cascade Falls Trail

In the heart of suburban Ellicott City, this trail is popular and often crowded, but still worth enjoying.

The Cascade Falls Trail, in the Avalon area of the park, is a 2.1 mile out and back trail that runs along a stream with several small and one larger waterfalls. The trail is good for all skill levels -- we saw families with very young and very old members enjoying the trail. However, its location, right in the heart of suburban Ellicott City, means you're unlikely to find much solitude along the trail.

The trail is very diverse -- some sections are exceptionally rocky and rugged and other sections are smoother. With its minor ups and downs, the trail is entertaining, and although it claims to have an elevation gain of 272 feet, it's probably not that significant if you only go down to the falls and back.

From the Landing Road trailhead, the trail heads almost continually down the side of the hill, coming soon to a stream, which you follow the rest of the way to the main waterfalls, which are just 10 feet high, give or take. Beware of mountain bikers, as they'll come up on you fast and without warning; some are more considerate than others.

Multiple stream crossing, both by bridge and by hopping rocks make it fun. No matter how old you are, you feel young when you hop rocks.

For more details about this hike, check out MidAtlanticDayTrips' original article about it here.

Know before you go: There are two accesses for this hike -- one from within the park, where there is ample parking and the other along Landing Road in Ellicott City, where there is not ample parking.

Getting there: For the trailhead at Landing road: 5095 Landing Road, Elkridge, MD 21075; or the trailhead within the main park area: 8020 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City, MD 21043. Follow the drive left of the river all the way back to the swinging bridge and park in that parking lot.

Website: http://dnr.maryland.gov/publiclands/Pages/central/PatapscoValley/Avalon/Trail-Maps.aspx

Old Main Line Rail Trail

The Old Main Line, in the Daniels area of the park, is still an active railroad line owned and operated by CSX Transportation. It runs from Relay (outside Baltimore) west to Point of Rocks, through Ellicott City and, of course, Daniels, Maryland's very own ghost town. The Old Main Line was once the main line of the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad, one of the oldest, if not THE oldest, rail lines in the United States.

Moorings for the railroad bridges, washed out by the remnants of Hurricane Agnes in 1972, still remain in the river and along the river shores. The trail follows the river pretty closely and is almost entirely flat, an easy walk in the woods. You are, literally, walking on history. Although the Old Main Line Trail travels 7 miles to its end, walking to where the rail trail intersects with the active railroad line and back is only a 5- to 6-mile hike.

The initial 1830 design of the B&O incorporated a number of designs, such as minimizing elevation changes but not smoothing out curves. As the engineering technology and knowledge developed over the next century, bridges and tunnels were constructed to eliminate some of the sharp curves. The unintended but welcome (for us) consequence was that stretches of the original railroad bed was abandoned.

Now serving as a rail trail for bikers and hikers, the Old Main Line Trail is possibly the first rail trail in the U.S. The Old Main Line is still an active rail road, traveling on the opposite shore of the river in the early part of the hike; at one point, the trail actually crosses over the active tracks to continue along the river.

When the original railroad bed was abandoned, artifacts of the railroad were left behind. Unknowingly, we walked over the granite stringers, which helped us navigate a particularly muddy part of the trail. 

The rail artifacts remain because much of the river valley, through which the Old Main Line ran, became part of the Patapsco Valley State Park. In fact, the area along the line contains an uncommonly large range of early 19th century railroad artifacts and structures.

For more details about this hike, check out MidAtlanticDayTrips' original article about it here.

From the trail you can see what's left of the former community of
Daniels, now a ghost town filled with memories and mystery.

Know before you go: There is parking for about eight cars. After that fills up, you park illegally (not recommended). For such a beautiful area, it is disappointing there's not more space for parking legally. Go early.

Newt, our treeing walker coonhound puppy, climbs the steps as if to enter the vanished house.

Getting there: Patapsco Valley State Park - Daniels Area, 2090 Daniels Road, Ellicott City, MD 21043

Website: https://dnr.maryland.gov/publiclands/Pages/central/PatapscoValley/Daniels/Daniels.aspx
For other hikes in the Patapsco Valley State Park, check out the following articles:

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