Sunday, June 30, 2013

History, Good Friends, and Home

Saturday, June 29, 2013
A great nights’ sleep, a yummy breakfast and we were off to explore Lexington with our friends. Lexington is a very old town with history from the 1700’s. We visited both Washington and Lee University and Virginia Military Institute which were begun in the 1700’s. The Chapel at Washington and Lee was also a museum housing the graves of the Robert E. Lee family. George Washington was instrumental in the success of the college when he made a financial contribution to the struggling school which was then named Washington College. After the Civil War, Robert E. Lee became the president of the College where he remained until his death in 1870. He is known for expanding the role of the college into the sciences, engineering, etc. There was a very nice museum here as well as a sculpture of Lee in repose in his military uniform. The sculpture was very intricate and my photo does not do it justice.
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VMI is very close by and much larger than Washington and Lee. VMI is a state military school as opposed to WL which is a private college. VMI was instrumental in training many of the officers for the south in the Civil War. “Stonewall Jackson” is buried nearby. George C. Marshall was an alum and our short visit did not allow us to learn all the history of this location. We did visit their chapel and smaller museum.
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After touring around this fascinating town for a while we settled on lunch at The Bistro on the main street. After a tasty lunch with our friends we got back in our Sprinter and headed south on I 81 for the last part of our journey. We listened to the remainder of our mystery and crossed into TN arriving home at about 5 PM.
We unloaded the essential things saving the majority of the task for tomorrow. After an enjoyable trip we were glad to be home!

Unplanned WV Excursion

Friday, June 28, 2013

After a good nights’ sleep and a quick breakfast we were on the road again. Our destination was Fairfield Virginia and a short visit with long time friends who have recently relocated there. We started out driving south on I 64 with plans for a short stop at the New River Visitor Center for a National Park Stamp.

We looked around the Tamarack Center – a WV craft center – interesting building but that is about it.

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We were both watching for the signage for the Visitor Center since it was not noted on our map.

Finally we put it in the GPS and were directed to exit at an upcoming exit. This was the start of a 90 minute adventure on the back roads of WV! Review of maps conflicted with the GPS but we journeyed on certain we would soon come to the river. We passed through very small towns, going up and down mountains on very curvy roads – about as bad as they can be with “hairpin” curves. When we went up the rhododendron was blooming and quite pretty. When we went down there would be small towns – in various levels of repair. We had little choice but to continue…. until we came to the New River – AT RIVER LEVEL. There was an old bridge crossing the river but – the state had installed a bar across the road at the entry to the bridge – the sign said clearance 9 feet.

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When we had the air conditioner installed on the Sprinter this past winter, it increased the height significantly – we think around 10 feet but we are not 100% sure. Oh no – will we have to retrace our journey!? A man working nearby talked with Ben. The guy must have had this situation before…he said “Oh, I think you can make it – the clearance over near your side of the bridge is 10 feet or more – I will watch and let you know if it is too close”. We started and he said we had about 8 inches of clearance…so we drove slowly across hoping the other side was the same height! The river was probably 6 feet or so below the level of the bridge.

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We made it and continued on with much the same terrain as we climbed back out of the river valley. We passed by Prince WV (very small) which had what seemed to be a functioning train station. There were abandoned coal mines and other support functions in several areas.

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Finally we came to a larger road and found it on the map…in about 15 minutes we ended up back in Beckley WV – some miles before we began looking for the New River Visitor Center earlier! We had driven in a circle. In Beckley we stopped at a Sheetz and ordered lunch before traveling through Beckley and getting back on I 64 to try it again.

This time we saw the sign – there were the signs we had seen and one that we had missed – the one telling you to exit! The visitor center was small and constructed on the site of an elementary school that was no longer used. From this visitor center you could not even see the New River. The displays were primarily related to ecology. I got the National Park Passport Stamps but this visitor center is certainly an example of a “pork” project of WV Senator Byrd! When we were leaving the center to return to I 64 we saw the road we had traveled on earlier – bet if we had gone the opposite way from what we did when we left I 64 the first time we might have ended up at the Visitor Center! Oh well it was an interesting experience.

We continued on across WV and entered VA. The mountains and farmland as we neared I 81 were beautiful.

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At I 81 we drove a few miles north to Fairfield which is a little north of Lexington and arrived at our friends home. They had purchased the model home in a new small development of about 15 homes. This was a great location for them; near their children who live in Lexington about 12 miles to the south. The home was perfect for them.

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We spent the late afternoon enjoying visiting and experiencing nature at its best! There is a lovely small pond behind their home. There were beautiful water lilies blooming while the sun was shining.

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There were many brightly colored red-wing blackbirds living in the cat tails around the pond edges. My photos do not do the area justice.  I dropped my camera back in Uniontown and have only my i-phone which can zoom but not like my camera. The mountains in the distance were a beautiful back drop to the pond.

Then after dinner suddenly the barn swallows came – hundreds of them. They would zoom by and swoop down to gobble up some sort of insects from the pond. Then after about an hour – they were gone as quickly as they came. Next came the fireflies – and they appeared as twinkling Christmas lights in the trees below the pond. It was an absolutely magical sight. We also experienced a concert by a bull frog. Visiting with good friends in such a wonderful setting was a great end to our fun week of exploring.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

PA, WV, OH, and WV again…and RAIN

Thursday June 27, 2013

Heavy rain soon after we awoke at 8 AM…change of plan.. we quickly dressed, broke camp, and headed to somewhere dry for coffee. We can easily make coffee and cook in the Sprinter – in fact do it everyday – but we were out of most breakfast food and not looking forward to sitting around in the rain when we had a long day ahead… we were on the road by 8:30!

We found coffee in Chaulkhill – right where the road from Ohiopyle joins UW 40. Ate the pastries we had gotten yesterday in Ohiopyle and off we went. We stopped for only two interesting sites – first was the Searight Toll House named for William Searight who was commissioner of the National Road for many years and the author of “The National Pike” which is the most comprehensive history of the road.

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Searight Toll Booth

The second and last interesting remnant of the road in PA was the “s” bridge. Unique in that it is built in the shape of an “s”. This was an architectural feat in the day. Luckily the rain had diminished to only a drizzle for our short hike to the bridge. Note in the photograph the road markers – these follow the road mile by mile. Also the Inn on the far side of the bridge is from the 1800’s. Looks as it is a private home today.

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Then we watched and watched for our entry into WV and never did see a welcome sign. We had been seeing evidence of oil wells and fracking as we came through western PA and it was even more evident in WV. There were makeshift RV lots where the workers were staying in many places.

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Wheeling arrived soon – the National Road only lasts for 18 miles in WV. The original section extended from Cumberland to Wheeling.

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Wheeling did not much interest us so we headed on across the Ohio River into Ohio. The two road signs for WV and Ohio are posted below but the WV is not very clear through the rain…

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It is now nearly 1 PM and we are getting hungry. Trip Advisor sent us to the Bear’s Den in Cambridge and had a fantastic steak sandwich. We were stuffed but noting the desserts when we left made us wish we had enough space for one!

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We got on I 77 and headed south towards Charleston WV. Nothing to report along this route but more rain….and we are now listening to another CD book. This time Collateral Damage by Robert B. Parker.

5 Pm we arrive at a Day’s Inn – no camping in the rain for us! We watched FOX news for the first time in a week and had dinner at a nearby Cracker Barrel. Today has been the only really poor travel day of our trip.

Connecting with the past

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

We had heavy rain most of the night. Never did have lightening and thunder or hail but we had plenty of rain! Ohiopyle is the Indian word for “rushing white water” – and that is what the water here looks like. There are rapids and lots of white water rafting enterprises in the park as well as biking and hiking trails. There is a very small town right past the park which has outfitters, rental of bikes etc and several eating establishments. The Campground is nice but the bathrooms are only adequate and could use a little upgrading!

We headed off towards Hopwood and Uniontown. Along the way we stopped at Fort Necessity National Battlefield. The battle was one of the first the George Washington took part in as a young Lt. in the British Forces. He was battling the French and Indians in the War of 1812.


The Visitor Center also had an interpretive display about the National Road. It was very well done. In looking through their resource materials, Jane found she already had a copy of the most complete book written about the National Road – a soft bound copy now sells for $33. We have a hard bound copy that also includes a 1916 Travelogue of the National Road. They did not have that in print there.

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The National Road Exhibit was very well done with several scenes to make you feel you were part of traveling the road.


Interesting quote from the museum

Also associated with the battlefield was the Mount Washington Tavern - a fully furnished Tavern and Inn of the 1800’s.



Mt. Washington Tavern and Inn, Tavern Room, and Barn for Wagons

It was very nice and furnished very appropriately. They even had a small barn to the rear much as the Inn’s of the Road had.


We continued on towards Uniontown and Stopped for Lunch at the Stone House Inn. An Inn of the 1800’s still operating today.  Ben had chicken and dumplings and Jane had a hamburger. The interesting thing about the lunch was the biscuit with the chicken and dumplings was a blue cheese biscuit.  Both were excellent. We also took a few photos of the lobby and dining room. We ate in the Tavern section and avoided a pretty heavy thunderstorm by eating inside.

We continued on towards Hopwood and Uniontown. Hopwood was really a suburb of Union Town. We had no addresses to look for so continued on to Uniontown and found both the location of the Tavern at the corner of Main and Arch. While we were not 100% sure which corner – it really would have made no difference. All corners were without buildings. We photographed all corners and the environs.

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We also had an address where Aaron Wyatt (Jane’s great great great grandfather) had lived – address was now a one block high rise public housing facility. But the next block still had some very old looking several story buildings that were probably mulit-family dwellings. Oh one will never know for sure...

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Above is newly constructed housing and below is nearby old building in poor repair.

We went to the Pennsylvania Room at the Uniontown Public Library and searched around in photos, maps, etc for about 2 hours. Two of their resource books, Jane’s mom had in her possession. The Nesmith family history they have was written by a distant Nesmith cousin – and Jane has a copy. So it appears Jean Beck did a pretty good job. Many many hours spent here might yield photos of the buildings we were looking for… but we did not have that much time. We already had wedding records, death records etc. So the day gave us the flavor of the community and the time when Jane’s relatives lived here, and the satisfaction of having been in these places.

Getting to be late afternoon we headed back to camp and sat around a while reading until we were hungry and then Jane whipped up a quick supper in the microwave. Does not look rain tonight but it is much cooler – in fact we have not even turned on the ac yet.

Tomorrow we move on to finish the last leg of this portion of our National Road journey.

Into Pennsylvania We Go…

Tuesday June 25, 2013

Up and ready to get on the road by 9:30. We reviewed our maps and list and we are going to drive to Ohiopyle State Park near Hopwood PA to spend the next couple nights. Most of the remainder of the highlights along the National Road in MD will not take long…and that will let us have plenty of time to hunt around in Hopwood and Uniontown PA where several of Jane’s ancestors lived.


We stopped first at the Wilson Bridge, a stone bridge built in 1819 and used until 1937. This part of MD is quite different than the eastern shore or the very metropolitan area where we were yesterday.


C & O Canal and Lock – Jane was expecting water…

Rolling farms and the further west we travel – the more mountains we encounter. We stop in Hancock to visit a C&O Canal Visitor Center only to find it is only open on the weekends. Nice view of the canal and one of the locks. There continue to be well preserved homes and farms that are easily over 100 – 150 years old.


Example of home along National Road

We are continuing to follow MD 144 and US Alt 40 which follow the National Road. Interstates 70 and then 68 were always close by. In fact after traveling up and down one mountain on US 40 we chose to follow the Interstate over the next. The guide said before the day of the interstates many semi-trailers lost their loads on these mountain roads. The highest pass we crossed was 2900, but the crest of the highest mountain was listed at 3500. There was an old toll house at one point on the road – this portion of the National Road (Baltimore to Cumberland) existed before the construction of the actual National Road to Wheeling W VA . The told of a private home nearby where George Washington had stayed – we did not verify this!


National Road Signage in MD

We continued through Cumberland which is much bigger than we had anticipated. It is a huge railroad town. Here the state of MD is only 1 ½ miles wide – between West VA and PA. At a pass called the narrows – there was the interstate highway, US 40, two railroad tracks, and a canal! Pretty good land use! After Cumberland we watched closely for another Toll House and found it – we stopped and took some photos. There was a nice picnic area and restrooms which were locked. Lack of $$ we guess. We drove on down the road a way and had lunch.


Toll House in Cumberland MD

After Cumberland we continued through mountains and foothills. Another large stone bridge that was used until 1937 had been well restored. We took some photos and walked around a small alpine village (Penn Alps) where craftsmen and women of the Appalachians were demonstrating their crafts in very attractive small shops. Most were permanent craftsmen but a few said visiting craftsman on the sign. Ben enjoyed watching one craftsman work in metals. There was a nice restaurant and a non-working mill at the same location.


Before many more miles passed we were watching for the PA state line… and then the road signs for the National Road changed – much as they had for other trails we had followed in the past. Soon we saw another toll house – one of two that we will see in PA. This one maintained by the Daughters of the American Revolution. It was well preserved and sitting in the midst of a residential neighborhood. Ben’s comment – well I guess we are in Yankee Land – there was a huge “GO AWAY” sign on the porch of one of the houses!


Old Petersburg Toll House


National Road Signage in Pennsylvania

We were not sure where the Ohiopyle State Park was so plugged it into the GPS – this time she got us there but by a very round about poor road! The park is very nice and we have a great campsite – we will stay here two nights and spend tomorrow exploring around. There is a Revolutionary War battlefield and we are going to track down as much as we can about Jane’s relatives.

We had a good dinner and as we were clearing things up from dinner the tornado alert went off on Jane’s phone…we had a severe thunderstorm and hail alert. So we finished up, stored away things we normally leave outside and holed up in the Sprinter a bit earlier than usual…a good thing as the rain soon began.

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Campsite at Ohiopyle St. Park

Ben is watching a movie; Jane is typing this and is going to study up on her ancestors to be ready for research tomorrow!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Ellicott City to Hagerstown

Monday June 24, 2013

Up feeling like ourselves again! After breakfast and breaking camp we reviewed our plan for today. We planned to continue on the National Road through Frederick with visits to see the home of one of Jane’s relatives, visit Monocay National Battlefield and Antietam National Battlefield, and then  head to a KOA campground near Hagarstown. The day went pretty much as planned.

Primarily we are following MD Route 144 and/or US 40. They follow the old route of the National Road also known as the Old Pike. I 70 is also usually a little to the north. In fact often one or the other is within sight of the National Road. It is interesting as we see the old homes that were probably originals in the 1800’s right up along the road – there are beautiful farms with homes set back on hills, and then there are modern housing developments interspersed along the way. Some of the old buildings have been repurposed but many still seem to be homes and even a few remain as inns. There seems to be a small village about every 10-15 miles which would have been the distance traveled in a day. Back in the day – the inns had large barns behind them to care for the horses. Each stage line had certain inns that they tended to frequent and all the drivers and inn keepers knew each other.



Somewhere along the way we got on a wrong road and drove about 12 miles out of the way but found our way back. In Frederick we found Rose Hill a large manor house that was the home of Thomas Johnson who was uncle to Jane’s great great grandmother Ann Johnson Nesmith. Thomas Johnson was the first Governor of MD and evidently a wealthy man from the looks of the home. It is now a children’s museum and we did not visit. We did drive through Frederick a very well preserved town. Jane had hoped to visit the historical society for some documents but alas – closed on Monday. One interesting sign along the road was a small metal sign of a man on  horseback – Jane was just able to make out the words – George Washington traveled this road. Sure wish I could have gotten a photo.


Rose Hill in Frederick MD

We headed south to Monocacy National Battlefield. This was a battle of the Civil War, that neither of us had ever heard about – it was much smaller in scope than Gettysburg and Antietam but was critical as it forced the northern troops to defend a raid of the south towards Washington. After the battle the south withdrew back into VA. It has been designated a national battlefield early in the 1900th century but not funded until in the 90’s. Something we would never have known about without a stop to get a “stamp”!

We enjoyed lunch beside a river in the shade. Rain was expected and we hoped it would hold off until we reached camp. We enjoyed more scenery along the 20 miles to Antietam National Battlefield. This battlefield was much like Gettysburg with numerous markers and statues for the troops from the various states. We watched a film and toured the museum. There are some outstanding paintings here done by an artist who observed the battle. The losses on both sides here were enormous. Lincoln’s decision to sign the emancipation proclamation came soon after this battle. Jane tried the automatic panorama setting on her new camera and I do believe it works! You however will have to wait until I have adequate internet to post.



Not quite perfect – seems I stopped too soon!

Storm clouds were gathering as we left Antietam and headed towards Hagerstown. We found the KOA easily and selected a site. We are hooked up and have the air cooling down the Sprinter as we sit besides a creek/river reading in the shade. Relaxing way to end the day…. Jane cooked dinner and Ben tried to get the cable TV to work. Never did so we watch a movie from his collection. Jane is trying to write and post 4 days of blog….done in fairly short order since no photos will post at all. This is a nice campground but definitely old and not as technologically up to date as some. Can’t complain tho it has some internet.



KOA at Hagerstown

We like everything about the state parks – settings, spacing of sites, etc – but few of them have wireless. We are likely back in state parks for next couple nights so may be no photos until we are home.

Beginning of the Historic National Road

June 23 Sunday

With that new air-conditioner it is a wonder we didn’t sleep till 10:00! We woke up at 8:30 and made it through the morning tasks and left by 9:45. We have been in and out of Tuckahoe State Park everyway possible – when we left this morning we looked at the GPS showed we had been all 4 ways from a crossroad…I will have to say I still don’t think I could make it without the GPS. The traffic on the main roads here on DELMARVA continues to amaze us. There never seem to be a lot of people any where we go but the traffic is constant.

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Cross road near campground – blue means you have driven on the road!

It was beginning to spit a few drops of rain as we headed back towards the bay bridge. Huge difference from our crossing on Friday afternoon. Now 3 of the 5 lanes are going back towards the mainland and there are cloudy threatening skies. Back on the mainland we headed north towards Baltimore. Sunday morning traffic was not too bad but we would not have wanted to make this trip on a weekday! THANK YOU GPS for getting us to Fort McHenry. We wanted to get the National Parks Passport Stamp. They have a fairly new and very impressive visitor center. A good movie ends with the playing of the Star Spangled Banner and as it ends the screen opens to a view of the fort with the flag flying! Since it is raining heavily they are not flying the 32x40 foot flag they usually fly – but one about half that size. Still quite impressive.

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We hiked out to tour the fort, and viewed the Baltimore skyline from across the inner harbor. They have a shuttle running back and forth to the Inner Harbor on weekends. It would have been a nice trip if we had wanted to go to that area. Jane was photographing a flag folding demonstration and ended up getting drafted to hold one end of the flag. They had various individuals in period costume telling about life in the time of the battle – very well done.

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It finally quit raining but was very hot and humid…we had a nice lunch under a tree in the parking lot before heading out of Baltimore on the Historic National Road.

The second part of our trip is to discover what life was like in the 1800’s along the National Road – this first “highway” was envisioned by George Washington and finally begun by Thomas Jefferson in 1806. The road carried many early settlers west and one of Jane’s great-great grandfathers was an innkeeper along the road.

We have directions downloaded from the National Road website, the original book by Robert Bruce published in 1916, and several family historical documents. The road begins in Baltimore and eventually ends in Illinois. We will follow it through Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and into Ohio before turning south on I 77 and heading home. Later in the summer we will complete the remainder of the road.

GPS took us to the Bromo-Seltzer Tower and then we followed Frederick Avenue out of Baltimore towards Cantonville and Ellicott City. The streets were lined with row houses right along the sidewalks as in most cities of the northeast. We were again glad it was Sunday traffic.


When we reached Ellicott City we toured the First Railroad Station in the country – the first railroad was more like horse drawn cars on a track- Some of the early rail cars looked very much like stage coaches on runners! The first line was between Baltimore and Ellicott City about 10-15 miles. While we had not traveled very many miles today we were beat from the humidity.


Model of Early Train !

So we headed to Patapsco Valley State Park which is on a bluff above Ellicott City. Great difference in the Maryland Park System in the Eastern Shore and here in urban MD…. We never saw a park official at Tuckahoe. Our campsite had our name on it when we arrived and we did pass a ranger in a pickup once or twice. Here Ben had to read 2 pages of rules and then sign them in front of a ranger before we could enter the park! It was a nice park and we relaxed for a while before heading out for supper at Bon Chon Chicken. Jeff and Robin had raved about it since their last visit up this way…it was only 2 miles from the camp so we searched for it…. It was a Korean Restaurant with a variety of dishes to offer. We had the wings, drums and pot stickers. It came with rice and a sweet slaw. Great supper and it certainly was crispy and finger lickin’ good ! There are Bon Chon in several locations and we will definitely go again if we find ourselves near one.




Back at camp we watched a move and were soon sound asleep. Like I said we are on vacation!