Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Green Is the Theme on the Old Main Line Hike in PVSP

Hiking along the Old Main Line in Patapsco Valley State Park is one of my favorite hikes, and I've visited repeatedly, but, it seems, always during the winter.

This time we returned just as summer was setting in, and everything was green, green, green. It was lovely! As we walked along the Patapsco River, trees leaned over to kiss the water.

Fog from the warm night was still lifting, making our first moments feel as if we were slipping into a mysterious world. Rain from the night before still sprinkled on our heads whenever the breeze touched the leaves.

When the path forks, go to the right, along the river. Both trails lead to the same place, but the rail trail is nearly unpassable because of the muddy puddles and it diverts briefly away from the river, so the rougher trail by the river is prettier, as well as more passable.

Lots of wildflowers hid along the trail, including a pretty little light lavender daisy, called Fleabane Daisy. We also saw ubiquitous buttercups and a few Jack in the Pulpits. It's always a good idea to look down while you're hiking -- you're not going to notice the wildflowers otherwise, or the snakes or frogs, both of which we saw on our hike.

We got to see this little Jack in the Pulpit, formally known as Arisaema triphyllum. I thought it was cool to discover its other common names: bog onion, brown dragon, Indian turnip, American wake robin and wild turnip. I kinda prefer Jack int eh Pulpit, don't you?

As its names suggest, this native North American wildflower has an underground tuber that is edible, although some of its above ground parts are poisonous to consume.

This trail follows the original path of the first railroad line, which ran between Baltimore and what was then called Ellicott Mills, an important, bustling center of commerce. Since then, the mills have closed and the town renamed itself Ellicott City to sound a little more sophisticated than it really is.

As you walk along the trail, you'll notice a number of rail artifacts, including a beautiful stone bridge still carrying the trail over a creek. 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.

It's about 2.5 miles to where the trail crosses the active CSX rail lines to continue on to Woodbine, making it a good turnaround point for an even five-mile hike. It's all flat -- literally no noticable incline at all, so it's good for families and all skill levels.

Read about a previous visit, which has more about the origins of this first rail trail here.

If Daniels sounds familiar, then thank you for being a return reader! MidAtlantic DayTrips has featured the Daniels area before, exploring several trails leading to Maryland's ghost town of Daniels and ruins of the churches in the fall, in the winter, and on the Howard County side above the dam exploring the Old Main Line (America's first rail trail) in the winter, and a pretty loop hike past house ruins.

Know before you go 1: I have yet to go when there aren't mud patches along the trail, so wear water-proof boots that you don't mind getting muddy. In warmer weather, put on bug spray: they're out there.

Know before you go 2: Parking is tight at the trail head -- maybe room for 10 cars unless you wish to chance parking illegally (not recommended, since big trucks can rumble by). Your best bet? Arrive early.

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

Hours: Dawn through dusk.

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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Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Johnstown Flood -- A Disaster Still Relevant Today

The Johnstown Flood Museum

Johnstown PA was a bustling city in the late 1800s, nestled in the Laurel Mountains, with a population higher than it enjoys today. By 1860, the Cambria Iron Company of Johnstown was the leading steel producer in the United States, outproducing steel plants in Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Through the latter half of the 19th century, Johnstown made much of the nation's barbed wire, prospering from skyrocketing demand in the western United States for barbed wire. A variety of immigrants - primarily German, Irish, Italian, Slovak, English, and Polish -- were drawn to the town by the promise of jobs in the steel plants.

On May 30, 1889, it became the scene of a terrible disaster. Although the Johnstown Flood occurred more than 130 years ago, one of the worst natural or man-made disasters in American history, it's implications are still relevant today.

The causes, boiled down, include man's greed and a sloppy disregard for the environment.

The Johnstown Flood Museum displays before and after the flood photos of Johnstown. This is before, obviously.

About 14 miles north of Johnstown, a dam was carelessly repaired below even the recommended standards of that time to provide an inexpensive summer retreat, (the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club) for Pittsburgh's wealthy elite. That and narrowed river bed channels through and below Johnstown led to the devastating events. The disaster also brings into focus the age-old conflict and disparity between the lives and life-styles of the very wealthy and the working class.

In Johnstown's case, a dam was carelessly repaired below even the recommended standards of that time to provide an inexpensive summer retreat, (the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club) for Pittsburgh's wealthy. That and narrowed river bed channels through and below Johnstown led to the devastating events. The disaster also brings into focus the age-old conflict and disparity between the lives and life-styles of the very wealthy and the working class.

The museum displays a variety of photos taken in the aftermath of the flood,
as well as newspaper headlines from around the country showing the reaction to the disaster.

In 1889, Johnstown was the center of a group of inter-dependent communities who's primary industry and employer was the Cambria Iron Company. Just over 30 thousand people lived or worked there or in the surrounding communities.

When the waters rushed into Johnstown that Friday, a stone bridge downriver snagged the debris being swept along, essentially creating a dam that covered about 30 acres, and allowing the water to spread through the town. A fire ignited in the debris, and many of the flood victims swept up in the debris  -- at least, those not drowned -- were burned alive.

The walking tour around the town leads you to important places in the towns history and
the flood, including to markers indicating how high flood waters reached.

The statistics are horrifying. Flood lines were 89 feet above normal river level; the initial wave hitting Johnstown was 37 feet tall. Nearly one in ten individuals in the flooded neighborhoods died -- more than 2200 are known to have died, although it's likely there were many more individuals, unknown and unlooked for. Ninety-nine entire families were wiped out. Bodies were still turning up down river until the early 1900s.

The Johnstown Flood Museum, in the historic downtown, documents the conditions that led to the dam's failure that released the waters of the lake formed by South Fork Dam, explores how geography contributed to the problem, and the timeline of events on the day of and the few days after the flood, which killed 2209 individuals, almost all of whom were the working class of Johnstown. The museum, which is run by the Johnstown Area Heritage Association (JAHA), is housed in the former Cambria Public Library Building, does a nice job of explaining the disaster through exhibits and media. There are a few cases with artifacts from the disaster. The museum also covers the flood's aftermath and clean-up efforts, including the nacent American Red Cross's efforts, led by Clara Barton, to help survivors.

Getting there: 304 Washington St, Johnstown, PA 15901
Hours: April - October, Tuesday - Saturday 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Sundays noon - 5 p.m.; closed Mondays
Website: https://www.jaha.org/

Johnstown Flood National Memorial

Upriver from Johnstown is the Johnstown Flood National Memorial, run by the National Park Service and set on the hillside above the now-disappeared Lake Conemaugh, just above the location of the failed dam, which caused the disaster. Like the other museum, the National Memorial chronicles the events and conditions leading up to the flood, examines its causes, and provides some personal accounts from survivors recounting their experiences of the flood that really help you see the personal impact.

There's a video and exhibits, including artifacts from the flood and from Johnstown around the time of the flood. In addition, you can walk out on top of the failed dam to the breach, which provides some perspective to the volume of water involved. There's also a hike down to the stream that once fed Lake Conomough, which I didn't have time to do because of failing light.

Now a train runs through the land that would once have been underwater. I noticed deer frolicking around the tracks.

The National Park Service is currently in the process of renovating and restoring the South Fork Clubhouse and has obtained and is renovating several of the Victorian-era summer cottages of Pittsburgh's wealthiest families. Brief tours of the clubhouse are offered during the park service's "Journey Around Lake Conemaugh" van tours offered Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from June to September.

One of the Southfork Hunting and Fishing Club's "summer cottages," undergoing renovation by the National Park Service.

Getting there: 733 Lake Rd, South Fork, PA 15956
Hours: The Visitor Center is open Fridays-Tuesdays from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. Park grounds are open daily from sunrise to sunset. The Visitor Center is closed for federal winter holidays.
Website: https://www.nps.gov/jofl/planyourvisit/index.htm

The Southfork Hunting and Fishing Club's clubhouse, badly in need of restoration.

Know before you go: There's enough in the Johnstown area, between the Johnstown Flood Museum, the National Memorial, touring the Wagner Ritter House (a working class home dating back to the 1800s) and the Heritage Discovery Center to make a very full day of exploration of the infamous flood and what life was like in the area, before and after 1889. There's also a walking tour around Johnstown highlighting major landmarks. Several places are marked with the height of the flood waters.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Two Lexington Hotels

Lexington VA, the home to the legendary Virginia Military Institute and the Washington and Lee University, has a lot to offer those seeking a getaway weekend. In addition to lots of Civil War history and historic sites, there are outdoor adventures to be had!

Not far away is the Virginia Safari Park and the Natural Bridge, and, of course, the James River and all the recreational possibilities that a scenic river offers! In the opposite direction, Grand Caverns invites you to explore its mysteries deep below the earth's surface.

Lexington was named in 1778, the first of many American towns and cities named after Lexington, Massachusetts, known for being the place at which the first shot was fired in the American Revolution.

We recently had the chance to explore two hotels in Lexington while enjoying the outdoor adventures I mentioned above.

Col Alto Hampton Inn

Although most Hampton Inns, while comfortable and accommodating, aren't particularly interesting, this one is, because it's attached to an old house and incorporates the historic charm of the original 1827 manor house -- that's where you check in and where you can have breakfast in the morning.

Col Alto Manor House is a two-story, Georgian style brick dwelling with a hipped roof. Col Alto was the home of Congressman James McDowell, for whom the house was built, and later, for Congressman Henry St. George Tucker. In the 1930s, the house was remodeled, enlarged, and modernized, and more recently, made into a Hampton Inn.

You can stay in a room that features contemporary touches or in one of the restored manor rooms offering a glimpse into the past: the Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson or the Washington and Lee Room featuring period decor.

Getting there: 401 E. Nelson Street, Lexington, Virginia, 24450,
Website: https://hamptoninn3.hilton.com/en/hotels/virginia/hampton-inn-lexington-historic-district-LXTSWHX/index.html

The Georges, a Boutique Inn

This is a relatively new inn, right in the heart of the former colonial town and within easy walking distance of restaurants, but it's housed in two historic buildings in downtown Lexington -- the Washington Building and the Marshall Building. Two of Lexington’s oldest surviving structures, they were built more than 200 years ago, and have served as private homes, shops, inns and offices over the years.

As a boutique inn, The Georges, no two of its 18 rooms are identical. Each has been elegantly decorated and offers all the modern amenities that would make your stay comfortable.

Getting there: 11 N Main St, Lexington, VA 24450
Website: https://thegeorges.com/

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Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Strolling Lynchburg's Old City Cemetery

The Old City Cemetery is a historic cemetery in Lynchburg, Virginia. It is the oldest municipal cemetery still in use today in the state of Virginia, and one of the oldest such burial grounds in the United States.

Between 15 and 20 thousand individuals are thought to be interred in Old City Cemetery. Unusual for its time, both whites and African Americans are buried there, even during the 1800s. In fact, almost all of Lynchburg's enslaved and free African American population are buried there since it was the primary burial site for African Americans from 1806 to 1865. At that time it was the only burial ground, excluding private family graveyards, available to African Americans in the area.

But Lynchburg's Old City Cemetery is part museum and part cemetery. Don't get me wrong, there are definitely people buried there.

But since the 1990s, the city has also used the cemetery as an historic park, a space to preserve historic buildings, and has moved several buildings, including a train station, to the cemetery. I kinda dig this idea. Cemeteries, in the mid-1800s, were often designed as rural garden parks, places you'd want to pack a picnic and visit for the afternoon, to get some fresh air and sunshine. Moving these historic buildings to the cemetery upholds and updates this tradition.

The cemetery also holds secrets. There are graves that don't give any clue to its inhabitant's amazing lives, such as Lizzie Langley's. She reportedly was a madam of a house of prostitution -- back in the day, Lynchburg was known for its houses of ill repute (the higher the hill you climbed, the better the class of girls).

Langley's clientele paid Lizzie directly, but she was kind. Out of those payments, she provided an allowance to the girls, but invested the rest. When the girls decided to retire, they were given the invested proceeds.

As with almost every cemetery below the Mason Dixon, there's a Confederate memorial, with 2,200 Confederate soldiers from 14 states.

Nearby, there is the Pest House, Lynchburg's first doctor's office and hospital. In addition to the Pest House, there's the Station House Museum (old rail station), a Hearse House and Caretakers Museum, and a Mourning Museum.

Among the notable notables buried there is Lottie Stanton's grave. Stanton worked in the "colored box office" at the local movie theater during the Jim Crow era (photo of the door and chair) and photo of her grave stone. She used to let the kids slide in to the movies free because she "didn't see them." We visited her grave, leaving a rock on it to show we'd visited.

Getting there: 401 Taylor St, Lynchburg, VA 24501

Hours: dawn through dusk

Website: https://www.gravegarden.org/

Looking for more tombstone tourism? Check out our other cemetery visits:
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Saturday, May 2, 2020

Five Little Known Must-See Civil War Battle Sites

The midAtlantic states offer a plethora of great Civil War battlefields and sites to explore, from the obscure (Balls Bluff) to the famous Gettysburg, Manassas and Antietam national battlefields.

Although many of these battlefields' visitors centers are currently closed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the need for social distancing, add these to your bucket list -- these are definitely bucket list worthy!

Although you absolutely should visit Gettysburg, Manassas and Antietam, there are some lesser known battlefields you should visit just so you get a better understanding of the Civil War in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Yes, there are many other interesting Civil War sites in the mid-Atlantic region. At the bottom of this article, click on the destination names to explore them all!

Cedar Creek/Belle Grove National Historic Site

This was the culminating, albeit confusing, battle of the Valley Campaigns of 1864 during the Civil War. According to Joseph W.A Whitehorne in his Self-Guided Tour, the Battle of Cedar Creek, the battle provides "lessons in leadership, command, cohesion, ... and the performance of men under stress" have a "lasting value" to all students of the Civil War.

With this battle, the final Confederate invasion of the North was effectively ended. The Confederacy was never again able to threaten Washington, D.C. through the Shenandoah Valley, nor protect one of its key economic bases in Virginia -- the "bread basket" of the Shenandoah Valley. Because of the Union army's "Burning" campaign destroyed the valley's food sources, making it impossible for the Confederates to feed themselves. The stunning Union victory helped re-elect Lincoln and won Sheridan lasting fame. Six months later, the Civil War was over.

Click here for more information and to plan your visit.

New Market National Battlefield

You want to go here for the story of the Virginia Military Institute cadets, who ended up fighting in this battle. There's a noteworthy film that tells their story and will likely bring you to tears -- every parent can identify with the worry their families felt.

New Market Battlefield State Historical Park is a historic American Civil War battlefield and national historic district located near New Market, VA, in Shenandoah County. The park is also the site of the Virginia Museum of the Civil War, which is operated by the Virginia Military Institute. The Shenandoah Valley encompasses the site of the Battle of New Market, which was fought on May 15, 1864, during Valley Campaigns of 1864. This is one of the smaller battlefields and there isn't a huge amount to see, although I did enjoy touring the farmhouse on the battlefield and of course, walking the actual battlefield is interesting and scenic.

This was the site of one of the last significant Confederate victories, although other battles, including Cedar Creek would take place throughout the summer and autumn. By the following spring, however, the Civil War was over.

The film at the museum humanizes the battle and the soldiers, including a Union colonel, which is important when we consider the impact the Civil War had on American society, regardless of sides.

Intrigued yet? Of course you are! Click here for the dets.

Monocacy National Battlefield

It was called the Battle that Saved Washington DC, and therein is the significance of this battle, which the North lost. Learning how and why a lost battle ended up saving the Union capital is why you'll want to spend a morning exploring the preserved battlefields and hiking the three farms that make up the battlefield park.

The driving tour takes you first to several stops around the battlefield, which took place over several local farms: the Best Farm, where the Confederates initially engaged the Union troops, then the Worthington and Thomas Farms on the east bank. You learn about the impact of the battle on local families and those they enslaved on their properties.

The battle was the northernmost Confederate victory of the war. Wallace's troops retreated to Baltimore, while the Confederates continued toward Washington, DC, but the battle at Monocacy had delayed Early's march for a day, allowing time for Union reinforcements to arrive and protect the capitol. Thus, it was a strategic win for the North, even though they lost.

For more information about this special battlefield, click here.

Monterey Pass Battlefield

It's because you haven't heard of it, but have heard of the Battle of Gettysburg, that you need to do this driving tour. There really isn't one specific battlefield, and what there is now has churches and late Victorian-era mansions on it.

The Battle of Monterey Pass took place immediately following the Battle of Gettysburg, as the Confederate troops retreated back into Maryland and across the Potomac into the relative safety of Virginia and was fought along a mountain ridge, in a blinding thunderstorm, during the middle of the night on July 4, just one day after the close of the battle of Gettysburg.

The only way to try to understand this battle is to take the driving tour -- plan on dedicating at least a couple of hours to do so. Most of the driving tour takes you past private property. It covers some steep terrain, and winding roads, but brings you past some of Pennsylvania's and Maryland's loveliest countryside. The tour takes you through the site where the battle began -- now there's a quaint church on the site, built well after the Civil War. But then it follows the Confederate wagon train, as well as the site where Union troops burned the Confederate wagons they'd captured. Look for the reference to George Custer along the way.

Does anyone remember Paul Harvey's radio show (yeah, totally aged myself) "The Rest of the Story"? Monterey Pass is the rest of the Battle of Gettysburg story. Click here for how to explore it.

Sailors Creek Historic Battlefields

The Sailors Creek Battles (yes, not one but three battles) occurred after the fall of Richmond and Petersburg, on April 6 1865. Following the fall of Richmond and Petersburg, Gen. Robert E. Lee's primary objective was to get his army into North Carolina and unite with Gen. Joseph E. Johnston's Confederate force there.

Rain-swollen rivers and mislaid food stores delayed Lee's army and allowed the Union troops to gain ground, and they were able to get in the road between Lee and North Carolina, forcing Lee to order his troops west to circumvent the Union block. That order set in motion the series of events leading to Sailors Creek, and ultimately to the end of the Civil War.

By the end of the battle, both Lee and Grant knew the war wouldn't last much longer. Lee wrote to Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States, that "a few more Sailor's Creeks and it will all be over." And so it was.

Plan your visit to this new Virginia State Park here.

Fort Delaware

Antietam Illumination
Antietam National Battlefield Dayhike
Dr. Samuel Mudd House
Fort Foote
Maryland Heights Hike: Part 1 and Part 2 
Monocacy National Battlefield Park
Monterey Pass Battlefield Park
Sugarloaf Mountain Park
Surratt's Tavern
Tudor Hall

Bloody Knox Cabin
Farnsworth House Inn
Gettysburg Heritage Museum
Gettysburg National Military Park
   via Segway 
    via bicycle 
   InSite iPad tour
   Cemetery Ridge Hike
Heritage Rail Trail
Shriver House Museum

American Civil War Museum 
Cedar Creek/Belle Grove National Battlefield and Historic Site
Confederate White House 
Fort Monroe Casemate Museum
Fredericksburg National Battlefield
Grand Caverns
High Bridge Rail Trail
Historic Jamestowne
Hollywood Cemetery
Malvern Hill Battlefield -- Seven Days Battle
Manassas National Battlefield Park
Museum of the Confederacy  
New Market Battlefield
Petersburg Crater Battlefield
Prospect Hill Cemetery (Front Royal, VA) 
Richmond National Battlefield Park, Cold Harbor
Sailors Creek Battlefield Historic Site
Stonewall Jackson Winter Headquarters (Winchester, VA)
Tilghman Moore House (Stonewall Jackson's Headquarters)
Winchester National Cemetery 

Lincoln's Summer Cottage

Bolivar Heights Battlefield
Harpers Ferry

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