Saturday, May 29, 2021

Hiking the Lower Susquehanna Ridge Trail: a Perfect Morning Hike

It was the best way to spend a morning -- hiking in the mountainside above the Susquehanna River in Harford County, where the river is wide and calm(er) and beautiful glimpsed through the trees, before it opens into the Chesapeake Bay just a mile or two away. 

We chose the Lower Susquehanna Ridge Loop Trail. It's an incredibly beautiful, approximately 4-mile hike up the side of the mountain overlooking the Susquehanna River, through both forest and fields.

It's not immediately apparent where the trail heads are. Look for the old stone spring house -- it's to the right of that.

From the parking lot, across the park road just opposite the mill is the Historic Walking Ttrail, blazed in a light purple, which leads you up past old carriage barn and the Carter-Archer Mansion, climbing up the mountain to pick up the white-blazed Land of Promise Trail. 

The name of the trail refers back to the original tract of land, which was called the Land of Promise. 

At one point, the Land of Promise Trail offers two forks -- take the right, although the left will dead-end (at an overlook, we believe -- we missed the chance to check). 

Numerous times we passed old farmers fences, some neatly dry stacked, others just heaping piles, pulled from the fields as they tried to eek out a living from inhospitable fields.

Follow the right fork, which continued our ascent until we crested near the Steppingstone Farm Museum, breaching the deep shade of the woods for about 15 minutes of walking along the edge of open fields.

But soon we were back in the wood, heading down toward the red-blazed Susquehanna Ridge Trail. It's a good thing we got a rest from the steep ascent on the Land of Promise section. 

The Susquehanna Ridge Trail soon started leading us upward along a sharp drop off, stretching our legs one last time before finally starting to steeply descend to the river, and depositing us on the road within eyesite of the old Rock Run Mill. My friend's run tracker said we'd hiked just over 4 miles.

Located along the Susquehanna River valley with its heavy forest cover and rocky terrain, Susquehanna State Park offers a wide variety of outdoor recreational opportunities, with more than 15 miles of marked and maintained trails. 

It's also a popular place for fishing, canoeing and kayaking. 

This park is ideal for hikers, mountain bikers, equestrians and nature lovers. 

The park hosts a variety of historical buildings, including the remnants of the Carter-Archer estate, an old mill, the toll house for the covered bridge, long since washed away in a flood, and other buildings.

The park is home to some of the most popular mountain biking trails in Maryland -- and that's your word of warning if you intrepidly go hiking along its trails, although you should! 

We were almost hit by a group of nine mountain bikers as they came hurtling around a corner and saw us suddenly in front of them, walking at our own pace. Luckily for us (but not for them), most of them were able to stop and only a couple of them collided with each other, but they took it in good spirit -- part of the adventure, I guess. No one was hurt.

However, once we encountered them, they were more wary and we listened more acutely to their telltale sounds, and the second time they came up behind us, we had enough time to move safely off the trail. We enjoyed watching them go by.

While we were there, we were enticed to try walking along the unmaintained trail along the old railroad tracks.

Here's where I'm going to editorialize -- because how beautiful the trail would be, following along the river where the old tracks are. We tried -- but soon it became impassable. 

Where the sections weren't overgrown, prohibiting easy passage, the iron rails bridged wash-out gaps. We tried in both directions from the parking lot. 

Still, it offers some beautiful vistas onto the Susquehanna River and it's fun to indulge in the instinct of urban exploration. The ruined railroad reminding us of the impermanence of civilization.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Planes, Trains and Automobiles at the Old Rhinebeck Aerodome

The Old Rhinebeck Aerodome is one of those hidden gems that make writing MidAtlanticDayTrips so rewarding! 

But despite the title of this article, there really weren't any trains there, other than an old caboose near the runway that didn't look as if it was in very good shape.

But there were many historic and reproduction of historic planes. And some really cool looking OLD automobiles! If you love all things that mechanically fly, this is the place for you!

If you're looking for a quirky place to spend a few hours, well then, the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome is the the place for you. If you love engines and such, then again, the ORA is the place for you. 

And if you want to see some old historic and classic cars, including a 1908 Brush Runabout and a Sears Motor Buggy, then the ORA is the place for you. And as its name suggests, if you love airplanes, ORA is the place for you.

With more than 50 vintage/historic aircraft and more than 40 vintage cars, trucks or motorcycles, ORA provides an extensive exploration of the history of flight and flying machines, through model airplanes, life-size replicas, historic airplanes themselves, as well as flight-capable reproductions. 

Throughout the year, ORA offers up to 30 air shows. Before and after the airshows, you can sign up for (in advance) an air tour in a 1929 New Standard open-cockpit biplane.

This is a really quirky place to visit. I wish we could have visited during an air show, but unfortunately, we had just one rather rainy weekday morning to visit.

The museum aspect of the ORA provides a history of flight and the development of the airplane. In one hanger/shed you see replicas of the early flying machines, including multiple historic canvas-covered wings, roughly covering flight between 1900 and 1913. 

Then you move to the next hanger, which covers pre-WWI flight, with historic planes.

The third hanger by the museum covers post-WWI flight.

Many of the historic planes were owned by Cole Palen, who founded the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome in 1958 to share his life-long love of airplanes with the world.

Getting there: 9 Norton Road, Rhinebeck NY 12572

Hours: Museum is open daily mid-June through mid-October. Airshows every Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. between mid-June - mid-October but may be cancelled due to inclement weather.


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Saturday, May 22, 2021

Wagner Ritter House and Garden

Part of understanding the Johnstown flood disaster is understanding how working-class families lived in and around Johnstown, PA in the late 1800s. Although many homes of the time were destroyed by the flood, what weren't destroyed then, re-development since has destroyed. Even if you're not interested in the Johnstown disaster, this home is fascinating because it allows us a glimpse of what life was like for average Americans at the time.

The Wagner-Ritter House, located on Broad Street in the Cambria City neighborhood in Johnstown, is unusual for a house museum, since most are either architecturally important or the home of a prominent person or family. The Wagner-Ritter House is neither. It's a small, relatively nondescript house of a working class German immigrant family, built by George and Franziska Wagner in the 1860s. 

The Wagners were witness to the flood in May 1889 -- in fact, they watched the flood from their second floor and helped drag a woman in the flood waters in through one of their windows, to safety. 

Although their house was spared (barely), those one block over toward the river were not. Post-flood devastation surrounded them. 

Some of the original wall paper. Actually quite pretty.

The modest home started with four rooms, growing to seven after the birth of the Wagner's 13 children (even with the addition of three rooms, it's a REALLY small space for 15 people! Among the Wagner's children was Anna, born in 1866. Although she moved out briefly when she married Louis Ritter (hence the name of the house), she returned to the family home again in 1903 after her husband died, bringing her three young children with her. 

In 1910 and 1917, respectively, George and Franziska died, leaving Anna in possession of the home, where she lived until she died at the age of 102 in 1968. Marie, her eldest child and only daughter, never left the home, and lived there until her death in 1984. Louis, her youngest son, moved back into the home in the 1950s, after his wife died, and lived there until his death in 1990. 

Anna Wagner-Ritter as a young woman, and later, a few years before her death.

After Louis died, the Ritter family donated the house to the Johnstown Area Heritage Association, which decided to bring the house close to its original form, although original furnishings from several periods adorn the various rooms.

Anna with Louis, Jr., and Marie as a young child.

Touring the home, you begin to understand what it was like to live as an average, steel-working family in the late 1800s, and thus you start to understand the home lives of the thousands who toiled in the shadow of the mill.

Inside you'll find appliances, furnishings, and recreations of the original wallpaper of the late 1800s. Outside, there's a 19th-century German raised bed garden. The yard also contains a barn, privy, and a bake oven shelter that have been recreated based on historical and archaeological evidence.

This house is one of about a dozen remaining structures in this working-class neighborhood that survived the Johnstown Flood. 

Know before you go: Park on a side street to Broad — such as Fourth or Fifth Avenue. In addition, two parking spaces are available directly behind the house, on Brallier Place. Or, park across the street (down a block) at the Heritage Discover Center, also run by the Johnstown Area Heritage Association as it's just a short walk to the house from there.

Getting there: 418 Broad Street, Johnstown, PA, 15906

Hours: Saturdays 11 a.m. - 4 p.m.

Looking out the back window, over the garden. The view probably hasn't changed much.

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