Further Exploration in Philadelphia

One of the highlights exploring the city was touring the Philadelphia Mint.   There are primarily two mints in the United States that make coins, the other is in Denver.  This was our first look at a mint and it was a very interesting visit.  Mark was especially interested because he is a coin collector and continues to collect on our trip, visiting coin shops when available in the various towns and cities we come across.   The self-guided Mint tour took us past windows that looked down on the many machines.  We were provided information on the history of the Mint which began in 1792 and produces circulating coins, commemorative coins and medals.  Designs are created and engraved here and we learned about the process from the beginning to the striking of the design, washing, packaging and storing of the coins before they are taken to a Federal Reserve.   After reaching a Reserve, coins become actual money but until then they are essentially worthless.  It was fun to look down and see stacks and mounds of penny blanks and nickels.  It was thought provoking how much money in coin passes through here.   No pictures are allowed inside, so can’t share anything of the process we viewed.

One day we visited the National Constitution Center, which is a very large museum focusing on all aspects of the U.S. Constitution and how our country has put into place various laws and policies throughout the years.  There are fun photo spots for the kids and in the picture above, Luke participates in a swearing in ceremony as the next president of the U.S.  As Mark and I have been traveling we have encountered numerous school groups on field trips.  We have sat with them during films at visitor centers; joined tours with them at state capitol buildings and followed throngs of energetic kids navigating the halls and rooms of museums and historic sites.  But the Constitution Center was the most intense yet.  Have you ever visited a place that was so chaotic and loud that you wanted to escape and find some quiet before you lose your mind?   Even though the building here is huge, the noise was deafening and the number of young people milling around unreal.  It seemed like many schools were coming at the same time to get in their obligatory visit before the school year ended.  It became impossible to concentrate on the exhibits so we cut our visit short.

A high point of the museum is Signer’s Hall which features 42 life size bronze statues of the Founding Fathers.  They are displayed as if they are at the final day of the Constitutional Convention in 1787 in Independence Hall.  In the room you can find famous faces such as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison.  Some of the signers stand in groups or pairs conversing, creating an interesting and creative exhibit.  Above, Jonathan and Levi stand with good old George.  And below, Luke enjoys a moment with Benjamin Franklin.

My favorite building in Philadelphia was the City Hall.  The first time I saw it I was like, wow, this is magnificent!    Reported to be the largest municipal building in the United States, it was begun in 1871 and took 30 years to complete.  The 548 foot tower is the tallest masonry structure in the world without a steel frame – it is just brick and stone on top of each other.  A 37 foot high statue of the founder of Pennsylvania, William Penn stands on top of the tower.  The building is very ornamental with at least 250 statues on it.  Although we did not take a tour inside, the rooms are supposed to be very lavish as well.  In front of the Hall, we met a friendly officer who told us the building was almost torn down.  I did some research and found out that 20 years after the building was finished, there was talk of dismantling it because it was in the way of traffic and considered a monstrosity.  The building was saved because it would have been such an enormous expense to tear it down.  Because of the size of the building, it is hard to capture it all in a photo, so this is just a part of it.

In front of the building is the neatest fountain system.  Jets of water spurt up from the concrete and since there are many crisscrossing paths, it is a great place for the young (or young at heart) to run around!

The huge decorative gates at the entrance are more than 25 feet tall and very cool.  They were installed in 2015 at immense cost and lead into an interior courtyard that gives an opportunity to admire more of the building’s magnificence.   Below, our family heads outside past the gates.

We were fortunate to find two fun museums for the kids in Philadelphia.  The first was the Franklin Institute which I wrote about in an earlier blog.  The second is the “Please Touch” museum which has been serving children here since 2008.  When we got to the outside of the museum I was surprised to find this grand building that was not what I expected for a children’s museum.  We found the inside to be a remarkable work of architecture as well.  It was built for the 1876 Centennial Exposition which was the first World’s Fair in the U.S.  Below is a look at the main entrance area with a Statue of Liberty torch made completely of toys sitting under a glass dome.

The museum has two floors of interactive exhibits that encourage children to play, learn and build.  Some of the activities are a supermarket, restaurant, pizza shop, ice cream store, doctor’s office and shoe store.  Children can be construction workers, drive a city bus, take a ride on the metro or launch rockets.

The favorite with many kids including Luke and Levi was the fancy carousel.  With an all day pass they enjoyed many rides before wearing out.

One of the most interesting places to eat in Philadelphia is Reading Terminal Market.  This place is a feast for the senses.  One of America’s largest and oldest public markets since 1893, it offers an incredible selection of almost any kind of food you might want.  Although you can buy produce, meats, breads, cheeses, etc., we came here twice to eat dinner.  The market has more than 75 small businesses and there is something to tempt anyone with an array of ethnic and specialty foods.  From the central seating area, we fanned out to choose our meal and gathered back to see what everyone came up with.  In the picture below, Luke eats lobster macaroni and cheese.

Both times Mark could not resist his perennial favorite, a fresh carved turkey dinner with all the fixings.  Levi selected the orange chicken which reminded him of the Panda Express version he enjoys so much.  I can’t resist a grilled cheese sandwich and tried an unusual offering featuring sharp cheddar, macaroni and cheese with brisket.   On our second visit Jonathan and I were curious to try DiNic’s, voted best sandwich in the U.S. by Travel Channel some years ago.  It consists of roast pork, sharp provolone and broccoli rabe in a French roll.  I thought it was really quite good.   Shannon brought back donuts for dessert that are very popular, hence a long line.  When Mark and I spotted someone eating great looking cannolis, we tracked down the bakery making them.  The shells are filled with the ricotta cheese mixture in front of you when you order.  They were good, but I have decided after eating cannolis a few times lately that they are not a favorite of mine.  In the picture below, the pastry bag hangs above the shells.

It was a great week in Philadelphia creating fun memories.  There is more I could share, but it is time to move on to our next spot, the Amish country in Lancaster County.

Thanks for reading!

Philadelphia’s Chinese Lantern Festival

One of my favorite activities during our Philadelphia exploration was the evening we spent at the Chinese Lantern Festival held at Franklin Park.  This is the 3rd year for this event and how glad I am that we were there.   This is an opportunity to see 29 colorful sculptures made from 1,500 individual lanterns and lit with more than 15,000 LED lights!  The number of sculptures along with the size, creativity and lighting is truly amazing.  Since we arrived before it got dark, we were able to see them during dusk and how they changed when it got dark and the lanterns were lit.  Some of the sculptures changed color with the lighting.   Above is a picture of the koi fish that beautifully lined the entrance into the park.

Chinese lanterns were originally made from bamboo, wood, wheat straw and stretched silk or paper.  In today’s modern world, metal frames, LED lighting and mechanics bring the sculptures to life.  In one of the sculptures, the elephant’s ears move back and forth.  We were intrigued by a bicycle placed next to the elephant that when pedaled caused the surrounding orbs to change colors.  In the picture above, Jonathan gives it a whirl.

The lanterns are constructed by Chinese artisans in the City of Zigong, Sichuan Province which is reported to have been the traditional Chinese lantern making area for thousands of years.  The handcrafted lanterns were brought to Philadelphia to be assembled.   The sculptures represent a number of animals, plants and mythological figures from Chinese culture.  Above is a picture of Luke and Levi in front of one that pays tribute to the Chinese Year of the Dog.

Almost all of the pieces are new to the festival this year.  Only two of them, including the 200 foot long Chinese Dragon weighing 3,000 pounds are favorites that returned from last year.  The dragon is quite impressive to see and fun to photograph due to its length!

The other returning favorite is the panda collection.  These Chinese Lantern Pandas are adorable, just like pandas in real life.   This was also Mark’s favorite and one of my favorites too.

The boys enjoyed the Great White Shark tunnel which was fun to walk through with its changing lighting and shades of blues to purples.

Each of the sculptures has a sign describing the animal or object like the Poison Dart Frog above.  This description mentioned that the poison dart frog is native to tropical Central and South America and brightly colored.   “Their vibrant hues reflect their toxicity and levels of alkaloids and serve as a warning to potential predators.”  This lantern frog changed into a variety of colors too!

The Fairy Tree sign said that this display was making its world premiere at this year’s festival.  “The Fairy Tree has been depicted in many ancient Chinese stories and it represents vitality and life.  With its delicate design, this lantern transports the audience into fairyland.”  The orbs on and around the tree changed into a variety of colors.  I liked the purple orbs (above) the best.

The Rose Date was a beautiful and fun sculpture.   The centerpiece is a giant rose that changed colors from shades of light blue to violet.  It is surrounded by colorful red hearts and smaller roses.  A place to take photos of loved ones.

Other lanterns were dolphins leaping in the waves (below), giant daisies, a huge menacing spider, a caterpillar with toadstools and sea turtles swimming in a reef, to name a few.  I wish I could have shared pictures of all of them but of course my post would have been much too long!  As you can imagine, there was a great variety and something that could appeal to everyone.

Besides the lanterns the festival featured stage entertainment of acrobatic feats, music and dancing as well as food.  We were so captivated with the lanterns though we spent most of our time admiring them.  Our grandsons Luke and Levi wanted to take a few rides on the carousel that is a regular fixture at the park.

I hope you enjoyed reading about our fun and unusual experience in Philadelphia!

Learning is Fun at Franklin Institute, Philadelphia

While traveling it is wonderful to find a museum like the Franklin Institute, a place where kids and adults can share a day of playing and learning.   This science museum was started in 1824 and is housed in a huge and impressive building with three floors.  It was named in honor of Benjamin Franklin who was quite a scientist in his day.  Pictured above is a memorial to Franklin located in the rotunda, a 20 foot high, 30 ton marble statue.   There is so much to do and see at the Institute that it can easily take most of the day to do the majority of it.  We spent hours here and still did not experience all the museum offered.  I would rate this as one of the best museums I have visited in my travels due to the high quality and number of exhibits.

The beauty of this place is that most of the exhibits are hands on and our family which includes three generations all had a great time trying things out.  It was especially fun doing these with our grandsons Luke and Levi and they never tired throughout the day.  I don’t think we ever took a real break, it was go, go the whole time.  Later in the afternoon, we found it amusing that Levi had only eaten half a bagel for breakfast and a small snack for lunch but was still full of energy as the place is so captivating.  We had initially planned to visit this museum for a few hours and then head to the Natural Science Museum a few blocks away.   Later in the afternoon when we were still trying to to finish seeing all the exhibits at Franklin, we decided we would rather spend the rest of the day here.  Pictured above is perhaps the most adventurous activity at the Institute, the Sky Bike which is like riding a bicycle on a tight rope across the room with a safety net underneath.  No one in our family got to attempt it, while Jonathan was on his way a large group got there just ahead of him.

We started off watching an interesting planetarium show then headed to the Train Factory with its full size steam train.  Next came the Franklin Air Show room with a jet cockpit to climb into and fun activities related to air and space travel.   The grandkids had arrived to the museum before us and even though they had already visited the Giant Heart room, they were eager to show it to us.   There is lots of things to do here including walking through a two-story high model of a heart.  This was created more than half a century ago and designed for learning how the heart works.   In the picture above, Luke and I are walking through lots of narrow passage ways to see the different parts of the circulatory system.   Besides the giant heart, kids can also crawl through tubes designed as giant arteries.

Levi’s favorite part of the heart area was the exhibit (above) showing how the size of a human heart compares to that of other animals.  The different heart models are on a turning spiral.   When you push a button for that animal you can hear how fast the heart beats.  Kids and adults can learn how the smaller the animal the faster the heart beat.

The kids got a kick out of the electricity area where they tried different experiments in conducting electricity using their bodies.  In the picture above, Luke ponders static electricity where the kids got to feel a little “shock.”

My favorite activity was in the “Changing Earth” section.  It was here that the kids and I were able to practice and record our own TV weather forecast and then watch the video of our accomplishment.   Luke did a great job giving the report as the anchor.   You can probably tell from the video that rain was likely in Philadelphia since I am carrying my umbrella, hee, hee.

We learned about earthquakes and the kids tried to build the best earthquake proof structure.  After building they pushed a button, selecting the intensity of the quake from mild to severe to see if their building could withstand the impact.   This was harder than it appeared and often the buildings collapsed.  In the picture above, Levi devises a strategy for making a strong building while grandpa looks on.

In Sir Issac’s Loft (named for Isaac Newton), there are a number of neat activities revolving around physics such as a domino chain reaction, swinging pendulums, optical illusions and pulleys.  In the picture above, Luke assists Levi in lifting himself in a chair with the help of pulleys.  It took a lot of strength for these little guys!

We knew Levi would love the centerpiece of Isaac’s Loft, “Newton’s Dream.”  This is a large system of tracks that carries small balls through a series of twists and turns.  Levi was enthralled because he loves building and operating his marble run set at home and has spent lots of time putting tracks together for his hot wheel cars.  I think he might be a budding engineer.  This creation entertained him for quite some time and you can see the joy on his face.  Actually we all thought it was pretty mesmerizing.

The Sports Zone on the third floor was a favorite with the family.  Everyone enjoyed trying out the “Bike Race” and competing with each other by quickly turning the wheel of a bike while watching the screen to see who would win.  In the picture above, Luke and Levi race to the finish.

Luke reported that his favorite activity at the museum was the racing.  A museum employee set the start time and video so the kids could race down their lane competing against an athlete running on the screen.  Luke enjoyed doing this more than a few times.  Other activities in the Sports Zone included jumping to touch the highest hanging basketball, balancing on a surfboard, learning with a model how to ski downhill and practicing a pitching stance that was recorded then displayed on a video screen with a real athlete for comparison.

When the museum was nearing closing time we walked several blocks to Pizzeria Vetri for dinner.  The pizza baked in a wood fired brick oven is some of the best I have ever had with an amazing crust and a variety of intriguing toppings.   We ordered several different kinds, above is a picture of the largest one we got.  We even ordered a dessert pizza made with Nutella and marshmallow, yum, yum!

It was another great day in Philadelphia!  Thanks for joining us – in the next blog we find more memorable things to do here!

Family Reunion in Old Philadelphia

After leaving our camp site in Delaware, we had the shortest drive of our trip (39 miles) to a KOA campground in New Jersey.  This was the closest full service campground I could find to Philadelphia.  Last fall, our daughter Shannon had a great idea – she, Jonathan, Luke and Levi would fly out to Philadelphia during the spring time for a visit.  We decided on May as a good month for exploring the city.  They planned to stay in a hotel for a week near the historic district.  This was exciting for us as we would be together again for the first time since leaving California last September.  Rather than driving into Philadelphia and dealing with traffic and parking, we decided to take the metro train in each day – a 20 minute drive from our RV park to the closest station in New Jersey and then another 20 minute relaxing ride across the Delaware River to Philadelphia.  Once we got out of the station it was a few minutes walk to the National Park Welcome Center, a great meeting place for the day.

It was fun to be able to explore Philly with our family and we started our first day of exploring on Mother’s Day.  We all enjoyed the history, even our grandkids, Luke and Levi.  In this post, I wanted to talk about some of the places we visited.    We started out with a visit to the Liberty Bell with its message, “Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants Thereof.”  One of “Philly’s” most popular attractions, there is usually a line to get in, although the wait wasn’t too bad.   Once inside, we could spend as much time as we wanted to view the exhibits, learn about the Bell and see it.   This bell once rang in the tower of the Pennsylvania State House, now known as Independence Hall.  In the photo below, you can see Independence Hall behind the bell as Shannon and Luke check it out.

We learned that this is not the original bell.   The first was from a London foundry in 1751 and during the first test ring it cracked.  It was then melted down and a new one cast here in Philadelphia.  The bell is made mostly of bronze and weighs 2,080 pounds.  It would ring to call lawmakers to their meetings and the townspeople together to hear the news. The bell developed a thin crack again in the early 1840’s after nearly 90 years of hard use.   The wide crack is actually the repair job when the crack was widened to prevent further spread and restore the tone of the bell.  The repair was not successful as another fissure developed and the bell was silenced forever.

In order to see Independence Hall (pictured above), we had to get timed tickets for a free tour by a park ranger.  This keeps the crowds in the Hall to a minimum.  We got to see the room where the founding fathers gathered to sign the Declaration of Independence and Constitution – the birth place of America.   The room is furnished with reproductions of furniture from the time.  The original furniture was burned by the British during the 1777-78 occupation of Philadelphia.  There is one original piece left, the armchair sat in by George Washington while presiding over the 1787 Constitutional Convention.  You can see it in the photo below to the left of our family at the back center of the room.

Independence Hall is a stunning building both inside and out.  The inside has a grand stairway that Benjamin Franklin frequently used to get to his office on the second floor when he served as Governor of Pennsylvania.  We spent some time admiring all the gorgeous architectural details.

The National Park Service has a fun program for kids.  They can collect cards of well known people from history like George Washington and Benjamin Franklin.  Since history is big here and there is lots to see, rangers with cards can be found all over.   The kids had to approach them and after answering a historical question got a card.  Sometimes the rangers were out of cards or only had cards the kids already had, but most of the time they got a new one to add to their ever growing collection.

We visited the Betsy Ross house, the 300 year old two story home that she lived and worked in.  Betsy is famous for having sewn the first American flag.   The story is that General George Washington visited her regarding a design for a flag for the new nation.  We were able to do an audio tour and our grandsons even had their own special kid tour as they made their way around the two story house seeing a number of rooms.  They were able to learn about Betsy, the flag and life in the 18th century while they solved history mysteries.  Betsy worked as a seamstress in an upholstery shop and in the picture below, Luke learns about Betsy’s work from a reenactor.

After our inside tour we learned about the drinking of hot chocolate during colonial times.  Demonstrators showed with a mortar and pestle how colonists ground cacao beans that could be mixed with spices and hot water.  We were able to taste the finished product, a very good hot chocolate.  Below, the boys check out the cacao pods and beans.

Speaking of tasty things, you can’t come to Philadelphia without having a cheesesteak, the iconic food of the city.  While walking around, we stopped in at Campo’s,  known for good cheesesteaks.

After cheesesteaks we stopped in at Christ Episcopal Church, constructed between 1727 and 1744, perhaps the most historic in Philadelphia.  When the steeple was added in 1754, it was the tallest building in North America.  The church was attended by 15 signers of the Declaration of Independence, Betsy Ross also attended here.  The pews are those neat old fashioned box kind and the ones used by Washington and Franklin are marked with brass plaques.   In the picture below, Luke and Levi occupy Washington’s pew.

One of the best things about Philadelphia is just walking around the city looking at all the buildings and monuments and just enjoying the vibe.   We walked down Elfreth’s Alley which is said by some to be the oldest residential street in the United States.   People still live on this very narrow cobblestoned alley with houses built between the 1720’s and 1830’s.  These narrow rowhouses are pretty cool to check out.  In the picture below, Luke photobombs his parents.

Thanks for coming along while we sightsee in Philadelphia.  In the next blog, I will write about our further exploration of this great city!

Camping at Lum’s Pond State Park in Delaware

While staying in the Charleston, South Carolina area we got a great tip from another RVer.  Camping next to us was a couple from Delaware, probably the only time we have met someone from that state.  When I asked them if they had any recommendations for RV parks in their state, they mentioned Lum’s Pond State Park and said that it now has full hook ups.   We have never stayed at a state park on this trip because they usually do not have full hook ups (water, electric and sewer).  Sometimes they will have water and electric, but often it is just dry camping.  We like the full hookups so I concentrate on researching RV parks that are privately owned.  After checking more into it, I decided to book four nights at Lum’s Pond.  I was looking forward to camping near a lake and the hiking/walking trail that goes all around the water.

Camping at Lum’s Pond in the northern part of Delaware did not disappoint.  The camp sites are spread far apart from each other and it was peaceful, quiet and very pretty.  Checking in was easy too.  Since I booked and paid online, we just showed up in the early evening and went to our spot.  We didn’t have to go to the park office the next day or deal with any other arrangements.  During the time that we stayed there, we didn’t see anyone that worked there.

Lum’s Pond is the largest body of fresh water in Delaware.  I think of a pond as being really small and Lum’s seems more like a small to medium-sized lake.  It was created in the early 19th century by damming St. George’s Creek to supply water to fill the locks of the nearby Chesapeake and Delaware Canal and power a mill.   In the 1960’s, the state park opened.   One of the fun things about traveling is finding places I would not have expected, including camping in a state park near a lake in Delaware.

My favorite part of the park was the woods that surrounded the pond.  A trail winds all around  for over 6 miles, so there is ample area for exploring.  I spent several hours on two afternoons walking the “Swamp Trail,” exploring a different side each day.  The trail was well done and included boardwalks through the wettest parts and bridges over various creeks.   At times the trail was close by the water and other times it stayed in the woods.

I was amazed at how beautiful and lush the forest was.  It was so green everywhere, that fresh light green of spring.   I really have enjoyed the hardwood forests in the eastern part of the United States.  We don’t have these where we come from in California so I am seeing lots of green in our travels!

One of my favorite things about exploring in the woods is discovering unfamiliar plants or flowers as well as those I am familiar with.  The Star of Bethlehem (above) I don’t recall ever seeing before.  I have seen the beautiful Wild Azalea (below) in other places including California.

It was fun to find the Jack in the Pulpit, a unique hooded flower with brown stripes.

The cinnamon fern was new to me.   It has cinnamon brown colored fronds shaped like spikes that come up from the middle of the plant.  There were a variety of ferns carpeting the damp forest ground.

I also saw a few critters including a snake swimming across the pond, turtles, rabbits and evidence of beaver activity.  I came across gnawed stumps in several places and even this well chewed tree.

My favorite animal find of the day flew through the trees and landed near enough that I got a good look.  I was excited, especially since it hung around for awhile.   I was able to get a close up photo and realized that this was probably an owl I had not seen before.  Taking photos of birds is always a challenge for me, most of them don’t turn out well at all.  At least with this photo, you can tell it is an owl.  When I went back to our trailer after my walk, I did some research and found out it was a Barred Owl.   Another bird to add to my life list (#343) – a very happy birder I was.

About a week ago, while researching a botanical garden online, I came upon a class being offered called “Shinrin-yoku” which is Japanese for the “Art of Forest Bathing.”  I was really intrigued by this title and did some further research.   It involves walking slowly through the forest and experiencing nature with all the senses – sights, sounds, aromas and letting this wash over you.  The Japanese have a history of connection to nature and believe in the improved health benefits of Shinrin-yoku.  The benefits include a drop in blood pressure, stress reduction, improvement in mental clarity and focus as well as increased energy levels.   I also read about certified forest therapy guides that assist people in learning how to be cleansed by the forest.  One video I watched talked about going into the forest ”untethered” without phones or cameras and just wander, breathing deeply and pausing to see if pulled in any direction.  There should be a refrain from conversation to be able to listen to the sounds of nature, smell the aromas and notice the lasting effects of being quiet in the forest.

Although I haven’t consciously practiced Shinrin-yoku, I love to wander at an unhurried pace and soak in the beauty of nature.  I have never liked rushing on a walking or hiking trip because I feel like I miss being present in the moment and seeing what is around me.   When I used to hike in the Sierra Mountains in California, I would often see people hurry past on the trails trying to get to the next destination, their heads down following the path.  That was never my favorite way of hitting the trail, although I realize sometimes you have an objective to meet for the day and time is of the essence.  Although when I was hiking I wanted to get to my destination too, I tried to make time to soak up the atmosphere around me and enjoy nature.  I hated passing up the views, the wildflowers and rushing streams.

In the future when I go into a forest or natural place, I will try to think about Shinrin-yoku and ask myself if I am slowing down and using all my senses to connect with the natural world.  I will try to imagine the health benefits that come with this connection to nature.   I will try to let the forest bathe and cleanse me of the stresses of everyday life, even in retirement, :).

I think Lum’s Pond State Park is a perfect place to practice this, a lovely forest and lake setting that is a treat for the senses.  I could have wandered there for more days, but other places were beckoning us and so we moved on.

Thanks for spending time with us at Lum’s Pond State Park.  In my next post we head for Philadelphia, a wonderful city and the best part is we got to explore it with family!

A Visit to Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia

Harper’s Ferry is such a beautiful place with lots of atmosphere that it captured my heart.   Located in West Virginia but bordered by Virginia and Maryland, it is defined by two rivers, the Potomac and Shenandoah that meet here in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.   The town is also very historic with the National Park Service (NPS) managing a number of sites including some museums.  In the picture below, Mark stands looking out where the two rivers meet.  The views are really neat here.   An old railroad bridge across the Potomac to the left, can be walked on and connected to the Appalachian trail.

In 1747, John Harper, a builder of mills settled here.  He started a ferry service across the rivers, hence the town’s name.   This was once a thriving factory town powered by the rivers with a number of mills built beginning in the early 1800’s.  Walking along the Shenandoah River, you can see the ruins of cotton and flour mills like the flour mill ruin pictured below.   Floods, the Civil War and other factors took their toll on manufacturing here.  Besides the mills, there was also an important armory and arsenal established by George Washington.  It was here that  muskets, rifles and pistols were manufactured between 1800 – 1861.  Meriwether Lewis of the Lewis and Clark expedition obtained many of his supplies here including ammunition and guns.

Harpers Ferry is a hilly town with narrow streets and buildings clinging to the hillside.   This makes it even more interesting to explore.

My favorite exploration was the walk up the hill to Jefferson’s Rock.  It involves lots of steep old stone steps to the top.  Along the way is St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, built in 1833 for Irish laborers that came to build the railroad.  During the Civil War, the priest flew the British Union Jack flag as a symbol of the church’s neutral status, sparing it from destruction.  Services are still held here each Sunday.  The view of the church with the steps reminded me of a scene from a European village.

Here is another view looking down at the side of the church as I made my way along the road.

Jefferson’s Rock was named for Thomas Jefferson who loved the view up here so much that in 1783 he was quoted as saying:  “This scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic.”   Around 1860, the armory superintendent ordered supports be placed under the rock because it was endangering the lives and properties of the villagers below.   Today, the rock is off limits to sit or stand on.

The view is really special here.  I couldn’t help thinking though, what a difference from when Jefferson was here.  He would have had lots of peace and quiet as he stared at these hills and the rivers.  Today instead there is lots of road noise from busy Highway 340 far below which travels by the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers.   Here is the view from near the rock looking left toward the Potomac.

Before walking back down the hill, I walked on a little bit of the Appalachian Trail which passes right near to Jefferson’s Rock.  I also explored an old cemetery on the hillside and checked out the Lockwood House, which served as headquarters for Union Generals and after the War as one of America’s first schools for freed slaves.  On my way back down I took this picture of the town with another old railroad bridge and tunnel through the mountain in the distance.

Harper’s Ferry is perhaps best known for John Brown, an abolitionist who in 1859 along with his army of 21 men, seized the armory with the intent to arm enslaved people and start a rebellion.    Thirty-six hours later, the raid was over when Brown and his followers were captured by the U.S. Marines.   Fifteen people died before the raiders were taken.  His raid stirred up the passions of the people on both sides of the slavery issue.  Below is a picture of his “fort “ where he and his followers barricaded themselves during their final hours of the raid and capture.    When Brown took it over, it was the Armory’s fire engine and guard house.  It is located near where the armory once stood.  The building has a rather unique history and became a building on the move.   It survived the Civil War and in 1891 was sold, dismantled and transported to Chicago for the World’s Columbian Exposition, (the World’s Fair).  In 1894 it was returned to Harpers Ferry and placed on a farm.  It was moved to another location again before the National Park Service acquired the building in 1960 and moved it back near the original location.

John Brown was taken to the county seat of Charles Town, where he was tried and found guilty of treason, murder and inciting slaves to rebel.  He was sentenced to death by hanging.  His trial and death became big news all over the country.   After our visit to Harpers Ferry, we drove over to Charles Town and saw the stately court house where Brown was tried.   This town was founded by George Washington’s youngest brother, Charles.  He donated four plots of land for town and county buildings including the land where the court house sits.

I will close this post with a picture from the RV park we stayed at in Maryland called Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park.  I had heard of these Yogi Bear parks which are in various locations throughout the country but never thought we would stay in one.   When researching parks in the area, this seemed to be the best so booked us a stay.  After arriving here and seeing the large water park tube slides, pools and many kid related activities such as go karts, miniature golf, paint ball range and crafts, I thought we were in for a noisy and busy weekend.  But it was quieter here than we expected, (it did rain some) and the park was really quite lovely, set off a ways from the road with woods surrounding the camp sites.  I even went one night to the outdoor theater where they were showing a silly Yogi Bear movie that came out a few years ago.   Hey, why not, I was in Yogi country!

Thanks for reading and keep following us as we travel on to Delaware and great camping at a state park!

A Day in Two States

After a month in Virginia we left for Maryland and our campsite for a week outside Hagerstown.   Hagerstown is located in the northwest corner of Maryland, close to West Virginia.  This area is known for two main attractions, the C & O Canal Historic National Park and Antietam Battlefield.  We visited both of those places, the old C & O Canal was just a few miles from us.  On this post I wanted to talk about Antietam, the bloodiest single day of battle during the Civil War.

Antietam Battlefield is located near the small town of Sharpsburg and is managed by the National Park Service.  There is a visitor center with a film and exhibits.  In the picture above, I am standing outside the visitor center with the field of battle behind me.  Today, much of the area retains the look as during the Civil War as the battlefield has been preserved.  A driving tour winds throughout the area with many monuments and plaques honoring the different regiments that fought on these fields.  Mark and I did not stop to read all these monuments as it is just too much to absorb and remember.   In this blog I wanted to note some of the interesting places that we did stop and explore along the route.

The Dunker Church pictured above, was built in 1852 and used by German Baptist Brethren.  A half dozen farm families worshipped here in the early years.   It became the focal point for Union attacks the morning of the battle.  It is noteworthy that one of the most important structures left from Antietam is a place of worship associated with peace and love.   When the fighting was over, the church was used as a medical aid station as well as a place to exchange the dead and wounded after a truce was made.   The church building was damaged by bullets and artillery shells, suffering hits to both walls and roof.   In 1864 it was repaired and continued to be used for worship.  The congregation eventually moved to a new church and the building was subsequently destroyed by a storm in 1921.  The building was restored in 1962 on the same foundation with as many original materials as possible.  Today you can view the inside of the church.  The Dunkers believed in simplicity which can be seen in their plain wooden benches.  Men sat on one side and women on the other.

The Joseph Poffenberger Farm was one of my favorite stops with an original farm house, barn and outbuildings.  Union troops occupied the farmstead and also used stored goods, wood and farm animals to keep troops fed and supplied.  This was a common occurrence not only at Antietam but also at other Civil War battlefields when farms were taken over by armies and families were left with depleted or ruined homes, lands, crops and livestock.  Today it is beautifully maintained by the National Park Service.

Known as the “Angel of the Battlefield,” Clara Barton is one of the heroes of Antietam and honored with a monument and plaque at the tour stop above.   It was on this field that Clara and her volunteers first ministered to the troops bringing bandages for the wounded and providing food to wounded and dying men.  She also provided aid on later battlefields.  Clara is perhaps best known for founding the Red Cross in 1881.

In the picture above, I am standing on Sunken Road, also known as “Bloody Lane,” one of the sites with numerous casualties.   For three hours, 2,200 Confederates, later reinforced by additional troops, held off the attacks of a combined Union force of almost 10,000.  An observer to the battle noted:  “They were lying in rows like the ties of a railroad, in heaps like cordwood mingled with the splintered and shattered fence rails.  Words are inadequate to portray the scene.”

Burnside Bridge which spans Antietam Creek is one of the most scenic areas of the Battlefield.  It was here that approximately 500 Confederate soldiers held the area for three hours until the Union finally captured the bridge, forcing the Confederates back towards Sharpsburg.  The “Burnside Sycamore” tree you can see by the bridge in the photo, would have been a witness to the fighting.  It still stands more than 150 years later.

This farm pictured above was quietly owned by the Pry family for twenty years before a knock on the door changed all that.  General George McClellan, in charge of Union forces decided to make this home his headquarters.  Thousands of soldiers and horses took over the farm, knocking down fences, trampling crops and taking livestock to feed the army.  The house and barn were used as field hospitals and the Union Army remained here for two months.  After the battle, Mr. Pry filed numerous claims with the War Department for damages to his farm.  Some of the claims were paid but not all, causing financial hardship for the family.  In 1874, the Prys sold the home and moved to Tennessee.

The youngest person to die at Antietam was a 13 year old drummer named Charley King who served with the Pennsylvania Infantry.   Musicians were important with buglers and drummers leading armies into battle.   Charley was wounded by an artillery shell and died three days later.  The drum, pictured above was found in a field and belonged to another drummer from New Jersey whose name is inscribed on the drum head.

The cost in human life was high at Antietam – of nearly 100,000 soldiers engaged in fighting, about 23,000 were killed, wounded or missing.   Although the Union Army fared better, there seemed to be no clear winner in this contest.

After Antietam we headed to Shepherdstown, West Virginia.  A few days earlier we found out that a general store there has a music jam session each Thursday night which we wanted to check out.  We had an early dinner in Shepherdstown and then walked around this cute historic town, considered the oldest in West Virginia.   O’Hurley’s General Store has been around a long time, more than 100 years and has old, creaky wooden floors and an ancient cash register.  The store has several rooms filled with all manner of things including hardware, cookware, housewares, toys, and gift items.  The music jam takes place in the large back room which also has items for sale.

A good size group showed up to play at the jam bringing an array of instruments including a harp, autoharp, guitars, mandolin, hammered dulcimers and fiddles.   The store owner cracked us up when he walked around showing everyone a sign about no talking while the group was playing.  Below, a picture of the jam in progress with Mark sitting in one of the rockers on the side of the room.  There were a number of rockers for sale that visitors could sit in while listening to the music.

We stayed for a few hours and it was an enjoyable evening of folk and Celtic music.  The funniest part was when the store clerk came in and interrupted the group saying that someone wanted to buy two red Tiffany style lamps.  The lamps were on a table against the wall and she couldn’t get to them unless a few of the musicians moved out of the way.  The musician/owner laughingly stated, “first things first.”

It was a great day in Maryland and West Virginia, with history and music!

Thanks for checking in with us.  In the next post I will write about our day at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.