Saturday, October 03, 2009

Hello from Front Royal, Virginia. Today we are trying to catch up on a few things, as well as go for a walk/hike in the Shedandoah Valley National Park. It is nice to be parked at the Elks Lodge here because it is outside of town, so it is very quiet, and also there is a level parking lot with electricity available, which is nice. The first evening we were parked here, we were visited by 4 deer who materialized out of the nearby forest, munched a little of the grassy area on the edge of the parking lot, then disappeared again. Such elegant creatures.
The last blog entry was before we visited the Gettysburg National Military Park. This is not run by the National Park Service so we did not get a price break here for having a Golden Age Pass. The visitor’s center is huge and has 2 large theaters where they show an excellent film on the Battle of Gettysburg, which occurred July1-3, 1863. The outcome was a victory for the Union forces, but there were many moments of the battle when the Confederacy was very close to winning too. The statistics were sobering: eleven thousand men died and approximately 40,000 were wounded, captured or missing. Many men died later of infection or disease. During the entire Civil War, 620,000 men died, which was about 2 % of the population of the USA at that time. A loss on the same scale today would equal about 6 million deaths. After the battle, the poor people of Gettysburg were left to deal with all the dead and wounded as well as a town and surrounding area that had been severely damaged by the troops and artillery. Almost every building left standing became a hospital, with the townspeople as nurses and caregivers. It must have been overwhelming. The movie does an excellent job of showing the battle and maneuvering of troops, etc. and afterwards we were brought up to the cyclorama. This is a 377 foot mural of the battles which was painted on the inside of a round building and was finished in 1884. They flash some lights on various parts of the painting and simulate battle sounds while a narrator tells the sequence of events.

In the year that this was painted, it was the closest they could come to having a “moving picture” of the event. There used to be a lot more of these, but currently there are only 3 in existence. I thought it was cute that the artist pained himself into the painting. Also in the Visitor’s Center is an excellent museum which covers the entire Civil War, with emphasis on the Battle of Gettysburg. It has videos and displays as well as pictures and statistics, and if you go, allow more time than you think you will need because there is a LOT here. On the brochure they give you, there is a map of the battlefield with a driving tour that you can do yourself and descriptions of several of the stops. The driving tour is about 23 miles and goes all over the townsite of Gettysburg.
The Eisenhower Farm has also been turned into a national historic site and it is located right in the midst of all the battlefields, so to get there, you have to take a shuttle bus from the visitor’s center.

The house was donated with almost all of the original furnishings, and even has a lot of the knick knacks and kitsch that Mamie collected. Because of Ike’s military career, it was the only home the Eisenhower’s ever owned. There is a guided tour and some interesting information was given about some of the articles in the living room, because at the time they left the White House, the President was permitted to take with him any gifts he had received, including those from foreign governments. Today this is not the case. It was a working farm where Ike raised prize-winning Angus cattle, so there are also barns and stables, their old vehicles in the garages, and informational displays in an outbuilding.
When we got back to the visitor’s center, we went to the nearby National Cemetery. This was created to bury the dead from the July battles, but men were also buried here from other battlefields, and other wars. It is probably the most famous for being the place where President Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg address in November, 1863 when the cemetery was dedicated. The first thing you notice is the huge monument which is the focal point in the center, called The Soldier’s National Monument.

The seated figures represent War, History, Peace & Plenty, while above Liberty holds the wreath of victory and the sheathed sword of battle. All around this monument are the rows of gravestones, some with only numbers on the stones because many of the bodies at the Gettysburg battle were unidentified at burial.

After a last delightful day with Gerry and Karen, and a quick tour with Gerry through the surrounding apple orchards and winery, we drove to Charles Town race track and slot casino. The horses were running, and the casino was jumping. If you ever stay here, go in and get a player’s club card because they give you $25 of free slot play. Elaine played both of ours while I was doing something else, and she returned with $40 of their money. It is always fun when we get paid for staying somewhere! The next day we went to the nearby Harper’s Ferry National Historical Park. Once again we had to take a shuttle bus into the actual town because of limited parking. It is situated at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers and was of major significance in the Civil War. Many of the buildings have been recreated and the whole town looks very charming. Here is picture of what part of it looked like in 1880 and today:

The inside of some of the buildings has been recreated too:

Some of the buildings have been refurbished and are in use as stores or restaurants today.

After touring through the buildings and town, we proceeded across the bridge over the Potomac.

On the other side there is a railroad tunnel, where the train went through the mountain, and also part of the Appalachian Trail, which runs several thousand miles from Maine to Georgia. There is also a dry lock and part of the C&O canal on that side of the river. There was a contest between the railroad and the canal people to see who could build faster to connect this area to the industrial north and the railroad won. After a while the canal was abandoned and eventually went dry and has been used as a hiking and biking trail ever since. Here is a picture of Elaine at the dry lock #33.

Of course, the most significant event at Harper’s Ferry was in October, 1859 when John Brown and 18 of his followers stormed the federal arsenal trying to liberate guns in order to arm slaves and start a rebellion against slave-holding. They were eventually surrounded and trapped in the fire engine house, which today has been recreated and called John Brown’s Fort. Here is a picture of it:

They were all either killed or captured and John Brown was tried and hung. But many people believe that it was the incident that started the Civil War. We were ready to try to get some guns from the arsenal to use on some of the 300 kids who happened to be here during the same time we were! Most of them were noisy and unruly and could care less about what they were supposed to be learning during this field trip to what we thought was a very interesting place!
Another building in the town has some displays concerning Storer College, which was established after the Civil War to educate the newly freed Negroes. It also gives some of the history of the Niagara Society which was founded by W.E.B. DuBois and which was the precursor of the NAACP.
While we were staying at the Martinsburg Wal-Mart, Bob & Nancy Colbert called to let us know they were coming through on their way to Florida. So they joined us for dinner and a very nice visit before heading on their way again the next morning. This is one of the great things about having RVing friends: meeting up with each other in a variety of places and having a happy reunion every time.
A similar thing happened in Maine. We were walking through the Wal-Mart and ran into Bill and Gisela Pollock, who are friends from Boomer gatherings at Quartzsite. They urged us to visit them at their place in Front Royal, VA, so we contacted them when we arrived there several days ago. They were just returning from New York, so we had them over for a simple dinner and a pleasant reunion. They reciprocated last night by having us over to their delightful home in the mountains for a delicious gourmet dinner.

They lived and worked in the Washington DC area and this was their weekend getaway cabin. Now that they are retired, they have upgraded it to be their home when they aren’t out traveling in their RV. We so enjoyed seeing it and spending some quality visiting time with them there.
One main attraction we wanted to see within driving distance was Mount Vernon, the estate of George and Martha Washington. We spent an afternoon exploring there and it wasn’t enough because there is so much to see. So if you are going, allow more time.

It is located right on the banks of the Potomac River and there are incredible views out the back. Besides the tour through the actual home, there are many outbuildings, an interesting talk and tour about the slaves, several nearby farms which they owned, and an incredible new museum full of information, videos, and displays about Washington’s life, the Revolutionary War, his Presidency, and his life afterwards, and also the effect on the nation. I would have enjoyed spending more time there but 3 miles away was the gristmill and the distillery and time was running out. So we hurried over there and caught the last tour. Here is a picture of the gristmill where they ground corn into extra fine flour and used the rough stuff left over for chicken feed. He ground grain for his neighbors and took a percentage of the flour for payment.

This mill had to be located so far from the estate because this was where there was enough water and enough vertical drop for the water to run forcefully enough to push a water wheel. There was also enough water for the nearby distillery:

The distillery was constructed during the last years of Washington’s life and turned out to be one of his biggest money makers. In 1799, the last year of his life, he made 11,000 gallons of whisky in this distillery! Here is a picture of the inside with the guide, and also 2 of the stills:

Since I started writing this, we have left Front Royal and are now parked in Staunton, VA. One of the things we are here to do is drive to Charlottesville to see Monticello, the estate of Thomas Jefferson. Now that we are here we have seen signs that the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library is here, as well as something called the Frontier Culture Museum so we might take time to see these too.


TravelingGrammy said...

This sure brings back memories...Ray & I sat on the porch @ mt. Vernon on those bog rocking chairs, watching the Potomac roll by...

jeanne said...

I agree with you about unruly kids. I find it's better to wait to go to places where school trips might be until after school is out. Kids behave better with their parents than they do with teachers.
Grumpy ol Jeanne