Happy Valentine’s Day!
If you remember, I discovered the Commonwealth of Virginia’s famous LOVE signs project during a stop at the historic Humpback Bridge, one Hump Day. Promoting the 50th Anniversary of the iconic “Virginia is for Lovers” slogan, LOVEworks spell out L-O-V-E and have resulted in over 200 LOVE signs. I promptly set out on a quest to find as many as I could. Today, in honor of upcoming Valentine’s Day, I am sharing my assemblage of LoveWork signs, to send you all some LOVE. I love the LOVE art, and hope you do too. At the end of the day I was only able to visit a small number but hope/plan to see more on future trips to Virginia.
My favorites to date are pictured from top left:
Despite its incorrectly spelled name, Culpeper has a fascinating history. Originally it was a crossroads for armies marching through Virginia during the Civil War; and is home to The State Theater, an art deco theater opened in 1938. The theater has had several lives, including playing a part during segregation and being reborn and partnering with The Library of Congress. It is currently closed but shines a light on the fact that movies and the arts have always been a major part of the city’s history. This history is reflected in the Culpeper Loveworks sign called “Reel LOVE” which is made of movie reels.
The beautiful LOVE sign in Lovettsville VA was installed on Loving Day. By a town proclamation, that day honors the date the United States Supreme Court in 1967 officially legalized interracial marriage—a decision sparked by the case of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple from Virginia who were arrested and banished from the commonwealth after returning home from their wedding in 1958. Designed by artist Jill Evans-Kavladjian, is one of the most beautiful in graphic design, bringing to mind a LOVE stamp.
The Washington & Old Dominion (W&OD) Railroad Trail runs 45 miles along a former rail roadbed through urban heartland and into the Virginia countryside. The Leesburg community wanted their sculpture to reflect their love of the W&OD. To honor this wish, artist and metal fabricator, Mike Clay designed this unique metal work, titled ‘Velo Love’ comprised of bicycle parts set in a steel channel as a tribute to the flock of bike riders ever present on the trail. Local businesses and bicycle shops donated the hundreds of gears and other pieces he needed.
At its heart Roanoke is a rail town. As such, the LOVEwork sign ties into Roanoke’s rail heritage, incorporating the word “LOVE” into a playful depiction of a train engine and engineer anchored in a wooden railroad tie. This whimsical sculpture was designed by well known Roanoke artist Erik Fitzpatrick and celebrates the iconic locomotives created by the tradesmen of Southwest Virginia.
The LOVE sign in Wytheville, (pronounced with-ville) honors aspects of Wythevilles’s history that have made an impact on the community.
L represents the influence of the railroad
O showcases a hot air balloon in honor of the annual Chautauqua Festival
V depicts the crossroads of two interstates, I-77 and I-81
E made of baseball bats is an homage to the town’s baseball history; a series of Minor League Baseball teams, dating back to 1948.
Wytheville is home to First Lady Edith Bowling Wilson birthplace museum. Her story embodies Heritage – a proud, prominent Virginia family, direct descendants of Pocahontas; History – that of the 35th First Lady of the United States; and Romance – between a “lovesick” President and a forward-thinking widow.
There are as many ways to illustrate LOVE as there are things to love, and Virginia has given us a treasure trove. I love Art. I love Travel. I love hitting the open road and finding new places and things to love. And I LOVE sharing it all with all of you.
To quote John Lennon, “All You Need Is Love!”, and it’s a great message to share, so I hope you’ll pass it on. LOVE is everything, and these days the world needs love more than it has in generations.
Love, and Be Well,
The story of one of Virginia’s great but largely forgotten artists!
February and the countdown to Valentine Day begins so I thought I would do something different and share my visit to the 18th- century Belmont estate, country home and studio of prominent American Impressionist painter Gari Melchers. Although the museum is only a faint sign on Interstate 95, I was intrigued. Who was Melchers, and why hadn’t I heard of him?
What I found was a stately manor, welcoming, unpretentious inside with a feeling that happy people lived happy lives here, art that lifted my spirits and a great love story… Corrine Lawton Mackall and Gari Melchers.
He was one of the most successful painters of his time, sought out by the rich and famous. She was a beautiful, young art student, and his biggest fan.
Gari Melchers was one of America’s greatest early twentieth century painters on par with John Singer Sargent. At the young age of 29, he and Sargent became the first two American painters to receive a Grand Prize at the Paris Exposition. Bucking the starving-artist stereotype, Melchers enjoyed great financial success; he painted Vanderbilt’s, Roosevelts and Mellon as well as important murals such of “Peace and War” in the Library of Congress.
By the time Corrine would meet him he was already established as renowned artist. While sailing to Italy on the S.S. Aller in April 1902 with her mother, Corrine learned one of her fellow passengers was Melchers. “I am prostrate and overjoyed,” wrote 21-year-old Corinne Mackall in her diary, “at finding Gari Melchers’ name on the passenger list and keep all eyes open to see him.” She found him. Despite a 20-year age difference, the young art student and the famous artist married a year later, and they shared a wonderful love story, a life devoted to art and to each other.
When World War I broke out, Melcher grew uncomfortable living in Germany. He and Corinne returned to American in 1915 and purchased Belmont which was home for the remainder of their lives.
“There’s a story told about his early days in Falmouth. Dressed in overalls, he headed down the dirt road toward Nelson Berry’s Store. Inside the store, two local residents gave him a friendly greeting and inquired about his occupation. ‘I paint,’ replied the artist. Exchanging amused glances, they shook their heads, and one broke the news to their new neighbor, saying, ‘Well, mister, you won’t get much work ‘round here, ’cause we jist whitewash.’”
Melchers’ years in Virginia were prolific, in volume and in diversity. He painted landscapes, still life’s and religious subjects, but portraits were his mainstay. When he was at Belmont, he painted prominent Virginians such as Douglas Southall Freeman and Governor John Garland Pollard. But his favorite subjects were the everyday people and scenes of rural life he encountered in and around Fredericksburg.
Corrine, for her part, filled her days as lady of the manor, as a member of the Daughters of the Confederacy, as founder of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, which still owns one of her oil paintings, helping to ensure the restoration of the nearby Kenmore estate of George Washington’s sister, founder of the local garden club, and when she had time painting.
Melchers died at Belmont in 1932. Corinne remained there another 23 years – until her own death in 1955, promoting her husband’s work and cultivating his reputation along with her roses and tulips. Her last act of devotion to her husband’s memory was to turn the Belmont estate which together they had enhanced with gardens, nature trails to the state of Virginia. The home is filled with an eclectic mix of antiques and decorative items they collected. Though Melchers didn’t allow his own art to hang in the house during his lifetime, several of his works are now on display. Because Corinne meticulously kept everything as it was when they both lived together you can see the life that she and the man she called ‘my artist’ lived.
Melchers was not only a gifted painter whose works appear in many of the finest museums in the United States, he gave his time to the development of the National Gallery of Art in DC. In recognition of his services to the larger art community, the Gari Melchers Memorial Medal was named in his honor. I leave wondering if he’d be dismayed at his position in the history of art. Surely, he died thinking his art would have a lasting impact, that his would be a household name. But, the museum says they are seeing a resurgence of interest… so maybe his time is yet to come? Maybe all our better days are still ahead. When I think that way, I can’t wait for the next bend in the road. Especially if it brings us together again.
Birthplace of Country Music
On a whim, I detoured to Bristol VA/TN, where two states face each other across a yellow line down the middle of State Street – which means in the downtown area you can be standing in two states at once. The Bristol’s look like one city. But drive around town and Google Maps will suddenly say, “Welcome to Tennessee,” and a turn later “Welcome to Virginia” and a few turns later – well, you get the idea. Small brass plaques embedded down the center line of State Street say “Tennessee” on one side and “Virginia” on the other. Though the twin-cities operate as two separate towns, they converge in one colorful downtown. Crowning the main “drag” is an electric sign pointing in one direction to VA and the other to Tenn – and declaring the single town a “good place to live”.
I came here because I heard Bristol is a sort of Appalachian Broadway as well as home to the Birthplace of Country Music. A record executive, Ralph Peer, came to the area to record the fiddle and banjo sounds in the surrounding mountains. “The Victor Co. will have a recording machine in Bristol for 10 days beginning Monday to record records — inquire at our store.” That was the text in a small box that appeared in the Bristol News-Bulletin on July 24, 1927. This is how ‘hillbilly’ music began its journey into the mainstream and the first country music recordings were made for national distribution. A.P. Carter, his wife Sara and Sara’s teenage sister Maybelle Addington were from the surrounding countryside, and Peer knew he’d struck gold — especially when Maybelle and Sara came back the next morning and cut two duets. The Carter Family, as they called themselves, became one of the biggest acts in America, continuing on in this original form until 1942.
At the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, a Smithsonian affiliate, I discover the musical heritage of Appalachia and literally learned everything I didn’t know I wanted to know about the origins of country music. The museum is not large, but from the introductory video to the final song, it is perfectly done. On display are relevant instruments, fiddle, banjo, harp guitar, kazoo and jaw harp played by some the best musicians ever. A great display on the famous Bristol native, Tennessee Ernie Ford – his most famous song is the coal miner ballad “16 Tons”. In 1984, President Reagan awarded Tennessee Ernie Ford the Presidential Metal of Freedom. Hearing old time country music by musicians who have gone on was priceless. I especially enjoyed an exhibit of Marty Stuart’s photography. Sixty black & white images of quiet moments with legends like Loretta Lynn, Willie Nelson and Earl Scruggs and everyday folks Stuart encountered on the road. Besides being talented you can tell he had a great fondness for his subjects. On top of all that – there is a booth where I was able to record myself singing along with country favorites and – be really glad I don’t know how to add sound to this message because – I was able to tape my own yodeling session! If only I had discovered this talent earlier I feel certain my life would have taken a far different path.
Before leaving Bristol, I can’t resist a take out burger from the a cherished hole-in-the-wall Burger Bar, where burgers are named for Hank Williams – the last place he was last seen alive. I had ‘Can’t Get You Off My Mind’ cheese burger.
While it is still light, I decide to drive to the Carter Family Fold Music Center in Hiltons, VA at the foot of Clinch Mountain, memorialized in song by the Carters. The original Carter Family lived where the Fold is today and the “barn” is where Johnny Cash performed his final concert a few months before his death. The Carter Fold is on Virginia’s “The Crooked Road”, a more than 300 mile musical heritage trail connecting museums that tell the narrative of this quintessentially American musical form and musical venues that are its soundtrack.
A Place of Beauty – A Place of Song. The age old tapestry of this place is woven as much by music, faith and family as it is by county and state line. I felt fortunate to be in this place, at this time. “Music heals what medicine cannot touch”.
As you read this it is Inauguration Day – I had high hopes of attending the Inauguration in person this year. Something I have dreamed of doing – to witness history in the making.
On a bitter cold morning last January as I departed the American Bus Association Convention in Omaha, Nebraska I saw that dream coming together. The previous evening, I had attended a party promoting the attractions of next year’s convention city – Baltimore, MD – scheduled to begin just a few days after the January 20, 2021 Presidential Inauguration. I immediately saw this a custom-made opportunity to attend a Presidential Inauguration and set my plans in motion. But we are in a much different place this January…
When I set out on this journey and despite all the predictions of the winter bringing a resurgence of Covid cases, worse than ever, I remained hopeful that by Inauguration Day, I would be in DC. Hopeful, I continued on my path – even when I learned there would be no parade down Pennsylvania Ave, no standing in the crowds on the mall. I would just get as close as I could and see what I could see. Then January 6 and the horrific take-over of the Capitol, I finally had to face facts, I would not be in DC on Inauguration Day.
Still, here I am a few days before the Inauguration a few miles away in Alexandria – so why not just take a drive through. I entered DC crossing the Potomac River over a bridge considered the “ceremonial entrance to our Nation’s Capital” – the Arlington Memorial Bridge. The Memorial Bridge connects in a direct line the Lincoln Memorial and the Civil War General Robert E Lee’s home, Arlington House, on the hill overlooking Arlington National Cemetery. A deliberate connection designed to symbolize the re-joining of the north and south after the Civil War. Just down the hill from Arlington House on that same direct line, is JFK’s gravesite.
It is a clear day, the most beautiful I have ever seen in DC. As always I am surprised at just how huge every monument is, just how close together everything is and how stunningly beautiful. My eyes follow the line of the reflecting pool from the Lincoln Memorial to the towering Washington Monument and then in the distance across the Tidal Basin – the Jefferson Memorial. The last time I was here the Cherry trees circling the Basin were in full bloom, the crowds were massive, and the traffic was gridlock – I spent more time swearing than appreciating the majesty of my surroundings. I slow as I pass the Martin Luther King Memorial and see the likeness of MLK standing just ahead of two huge slabs of granite signifying the Stone of Hope emerging from the mountain of despair. And for a minute – I forget that this isn’t just another day in DC. Driving along Independence Avenue at first I think what I am seeing are preparations for the Inauguration but as I attempt to turn onto the National Mall I come upon police barricades at every intersection preventing access to the Mall. The Mall has been called “America’s Front Yard” – home to monuments, memorials and marches – our public space – where we tell the story of America and reaffirm our ideals of democracy and today it is off limits. Within two blocks of the Capitol, the Nation’s Capital is quickly looking much more like Fort Knox. Metal barricades are being erected, members of the National Guard are mingling with local law enforcement and it feels time for me to turn back. A last minute decision, I take Massachusetts Avenue towards Dupont Circle and the National Cathedral. This route takes me past the embassies of Luxembourg, Ireland, Japan, and the United Kingdom with it’s massive Sir Winston Churchill statue – Churchill, who’s mother was American, was given honorary American citizenship in 1963. To my right, across the street from the Vatican and Norwegian Embassies is the US Naval Observatory Gate – the gate has a screen broadcasting the “official US time” based on the master atomic clock at the Observatory – then just visible through the fence is the distinctive ‘Victorian looking’ rooftop of the stately 128-year old Vice-Presidential residence. A quick right turn and I am in the Cathedral Close, the 59 acre sanctuary surrounding the National Cathedral and designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. All is quiet here and I am almost alone. With the Cathedral temporarily closed, no tour docent to tell me what to admire I take time to appreciate the architectural masterpiece. I remember being told it was “designed to point eyes and hearts to things above” and it does. I try to remember bits and pieces from past tours; did you know the “Creation” Rose window celebrates when God declared, “Let there be light”, the Cathedral houses a tiny piece of the moon – delivered personally by the men who brought it back down to earth. The moon rock is encased in an air-tight, nitrogen-filled capsule in one of the stained glass windows. Among the whimsical and fearsome gargoyles which act as waterspouts are rattlesnakes, raccoons, Darth Vadar, an elephant balancing a book on it’s head, a birdwatcher and that the Cathedral is the spiritual home for the Nation – I come away inspired.
A short drive through historic Georgetown with it’s beautiful old buildings, cobblestone streets and my day is over – I am sad that I didn’t have a drink at the Willard Hotel, dinner at Old Ebbitt Grill and it would be another four years before I could attend an Inauguration but I feel my day in DC gave me a glimpse of the good that endures and in some small way a sense of history in the making…
Hump Day at the Humpback Bridge
When I started this weekly letter to you that old ‘Wednesday is Hump Day’ / “Happier than a camel on Wednesday” commercial came to mind. Remember, the camel – did you know his name is Caleb – he is one cool camel – anyway, I was pretty impressed by Caleb’s swaggering around asking “Guess What Day It Is” and thought it would be a good heading. With that in mind, you can imagine how elated I was when spotting a road sign for “Humpback Bridge”. Humpback Bridge for Hump Day – fortuitous! A narrow tree sheltered road winds a mile off the highway to a wayside park where I discovered a “love -ly” deposit to my memory bank and a story I hope you will enjoy. Here I found what is said to be the last remaining covered humpback bridge in the United States – and it is a site to behold! This much-loved landmark spans Dunlap Creek, a tributary of the Jackson River in Alleghany County Virginia a few miles outside Covington and has truly stood the test of time. Walking across the historic bridge I feel the vibrations of history beneath my feet. The first arched bridge was built on this site sometime in the 1820’s and the humpback bridge of today was built in 1857. The 100-foot-long, single-span structure is four feet higher at its center than it is at either end, thus the name, “Humpback”.
In 1929 the bridge was closed to traffic and left to decay – it was even used by a local farmer to store hay. Fortunately for us, in 1950 the Covington Women’s Business Association convinced the Chamber of Commerce to raise funds to preserve and restore the old bridge. Most covered bridges were made of the strongest readily available wood. In the case of the Humpback Covered Bridge, this meant white oak and hickory so the bridge, as it stands today, has most of the original hand-hewn support timbers and decking that was laid down in 1857. The supports utilized hand made honey locust wood pins to fasten it together and incorporate a unique curved multiple kingpost-trust system not found in any other surviving in wooden bridge in the U.S. This venerable bridge is an original and completely unique design not duplicated anywhere else. And it is beautiful – photographers and artists come from all around the world to try to capture it’s beauty. It re-opened to the public in 1954 as the centerpiece of a wayside park. On October 1, 1969, the bridge was listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and in 2012 it was designated a National Historic Landmark.
Most of us have heard the well-known slogan “Virginia Is For Lovers.” That message is reinforced at the bridge where the word LOVE is spelled out – the L is created using historic bricks from the local area, a metal gear from a retired paper machine for the O, a natural feature created by a tree in the creek bank shaped in the letter V, and an E made from railroad ties representing the history of the railroad in the community. The “LOVE” sign seems fitting in this location as during their heyday covered bridges were called “kissing bridges” as the privacy when passing through a covered bridge would give passengers in horse and buggy a place to kiss without being seen.
Turns out this sign is one of many LOVEwork structures popping up in every corner of the state as the focal point of a campaign to share the message that love is at the heart of every Virginia vacation. There are approximately 200 “LOVEworks scattered across the Commonwealth, each meant to celebrate the unique character of the individual area. As I am always looking for hidden gems and places to inspire and delight – small towns with history and charm – nature and jaw dropping views and because I am an incurable romantic this project captured my heart. Now, I am on a quest to “add a little LOVE to our lives” by visiting as many as I get to in my time here and sharing them with you. Even if I don’t capture them all, I am looking forward to my search for “LOVE” and hope you will be as well.
Directly between Washington D.C. and Richmond, lies Fredericksburg VA – on a very well-worn track I have traveled many times – I can’t think why I have not taken the exit before.
Fredericksburg’s motto is “America’s Most Historic City.” While I’m sure there are a few other cities who might debate that claim it is definitely a mecca for history buffs. “Fred” as the locals call it, was called “home” by George Washington.
Born at Pope’s Creek Farm in Westmorland, VA in 1732, George Washington and his family moved to this plantation – Ferry Farm – when he was 6 years old. This is where George spent most of his childhood and is the setting for most of the stories we know and love. These stories are derived from Parson Mason Locke Weems book “Life of Washington”, first published in 1800. Ferry Farm is where the popular fable claims he cut down the cherry tree and uttered the immortal words “I cannot tell a lie”.
Today, the site is closed but the gate was open and I was able to walk freely about the grounds. Turns out, it is an active archaeological site. Although historians have known for a long time that this was the Washington home, it wasn’t until as recently as 2008 that they found the original site of the actual building itself.
Good man that he was, in 1772, George purchased a tiny but adorable home in downtown Fredericksburg for his mother, Mary Ball Washington, and this is where she lived the last 17 years of her life. Here, his younger brother, Charles built a home in 1760, which was turned into the Rising Sun Tavern in 1792 and is now a museum. His sister, Betty, moved to Fredericksburg’s Kenmore Plantation when she married Fielding Lewis, in the 1770s. The beautiful brick mansion and immaculate gardens are a reminder of how the wealthy lived in Virginia before the Revolutionary War. A short walk down Washington Avenue from Betty’s home is the tomb and gravesite of Mary – Mother of Washington. The Mary Washington Monument is the only monument in the United States erected to a woman by women. In 1789, shortly after Mary’s death, the US Congress passed a resolution to erect a monument in her honor. President Andrew Jackson laid the cornerstone in May 1833. In 1889 an ad in the Washington Post announced, “The Grave of Mary, mother of General George Washington to be sold at public auction.” Outraged, a group of local women formed an association to save the site and encouraged “every patriot to send in a contribution large or small” for this purpose. With the help of the newly formed Daughters of the American Revolution the fundraising became a national effort. The Monument, which echoes the design of the Washington Monument in DC, was dedicated May 10, 1894. “Thus the resolution adopted at the first meeting of the Daughters of the American Revolution, was faithfully fulfilled by the women of America … “all joined in placing the monument to Mary the mother of Washington, erected by her countrywomen.”
The streets are quiet now. No meetings, no crowds around the monuments – in fact a poster of a horizontal President Washington reminds us to stay “at least one George apart”. But in the streets of “Fred” on this chilly day I get a real sense of how we started to come together as a new country. On September 19, 1796 in Washington’s Farewell to the People of the United States – he urged citizens to feel as though they were part of something larger than themselves and that the country was united as one nation. “The name of American, which belongs to you, in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of Patriotism”. George Washington
Wish you were here – just “one George apart”.
When I first set eyes on Colonial Williamsburg I was fourteen years old. I visited with my family during the 1976 Bicentennial Celebration. I have a faded picture of myself sitting on a cannon in front of the Governor’s Palace. I spent every possible minute soaking in the history of Colonial Virginia’s capital city. Virginia was the largest, wealthiest, and most populous of the 13 colonies – here since 1699. Williamsburg has been continuously lived and worked in for 321 years! I am a certifiable history hound but if you have even the tiniest bit of interest in early American history, you cannot fail to fall in love with Colonial Williamsburg.
Today I am following the Colonial Parkway, a scenic drive unlike any other in the country, and I don’t say that lightly. The National Park Service really works to make it feel like a trail from centuries ago. It sets the scene and puts you in a frame of mind to fully appreciate the history here. The parkway connects three sites crucial to early American history called the Historic Triangle. Beginning with Jamestown, the first permanent settlement of English colonists in American that dates back to 1606. The second is Colonial Williamsburg and third is Yorktown, where George Washington with the help of the French defeated British General Charles Cornwallis and his redcoat army.
I had not previously visited Historic Jamestowne, the actual location of the fort and settlement from 1607. Perhaps the most famous stories from this period are that of Pocahontas, John Smith and John Rolfe – here you can walk in their footsteps and the remains of the original site, all of which have been painstakingly unearthed by archaeologists. What is here today are the remains of the church where Pocahontas married and the Historic Jamestowne’s Glasshouse. America’s first industrial manufacturing business was making and exporting glass to England. Ultimately, glassmaking wasn’t a successful endeavor. It was John Rolfe who discovered that Virginia was ideal for growing tobacco to export. Slaves were then brought to grow and harvest the tobacco, and our country’s fate began. Just down the road is Jamestown Settlement. A massive living history museum that examines the lives of the Colonial settlers while they were still in England, tracing the stories that led them on their journeys to the New World and recreations of the original three ships that brought the Colonists over, the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery.
In my opinion, Colonial Williamsburg is the crown jewel of the Colonial Parkway. Horse-drawn carriages clip-clop down cobbled streets lined with gabled houses and stately brick buildings. A broad throughfare – the Duke of Gloucester Street – called the “most historic street in America” by FDR – leads to the Governor’s Palace. Fife and Drummers march and everyone in period dress and the enchantment of Williamburg’s glorious past transport you back two centuries in time. The one time capital of colonial Virginia, then a quiet college town, now the world’s largest living history museum. It has survived wars, economic downturns, and yes, disease. In 1927 the Reverend Goodwin, rector of the Bruton Parish Church invited John D. Rockefeller, Jr and his wife Abby to visit Williamsburg and convinced them to put their money behind the monumental historic recreation of Colonial Williamsburg. Today, Colonial Williamsburg includes almost all of the area of the capital as it was in the 18th Century, including Bruton Parish Church. This is the place where young Thomas Jefferson was educated at the College of William and Mary, listened at the door of the House of Burgesses while Patrick Henry denounced the Stamp Act and was the last Virginia governor to occupy Williamsburg Governor’s Palace before the capital moved to Richmond in 1780.
The third and final stop on the Parkway is Yorktown. I have been looking forward to touring the newly opened American Revolution Museum at Yorktown and am thrilled to find that it is extraordinary. “The Siege at Yorktown” film is honestly the best and most captivating “museum film” I have ever seen with an enthralling story line, shown on a 180-degree big screen with superb sound effects. Fog filling the theater while we watched transported me right onto the battlefield. The exhibits span the period of time between the Boston massacre and the Treaty of Paris – signed on September 3, 1783, ending the War of the American Revolution. Outside the museum is a living-history area where reenactors tell the stories of the soldiers, doctors, and Colonists that lived during the American Revolution. A soldier demonstrates how to fire the muskets. Next, I follow the Yorktown Battlefield trail to check out the fortifications still left there and to stand where the soldiers faced off – there is just something about standing in the spot where the war was fought that makes you thankful for your freedom. Surrender Field is the most famous stop on the trail and as the name implies – this is where on October 19, 1781, Cornwallis’ army marched onto the field and surrendered thousands of men and artillery. My previous trips of the Historic Triangle had not included downtown Historic Yorktown. As I walked Main Street, located on a bluff above the floodplain, what struck me first was the sheer loveliness of this waterside town. An English visitor to the town in 1736 wrote: “You perceive a great Air of Opulence amongst the Inhabitants, who have some of them built themselves Houses, equal in Magnificence to many of our superb ones at St. Jame’s … Almost every considerable Man keeps an Equipage … The Taverns are many here and much frequented … The Courthouse is the only considerable public Building, and is no unhandsome structure … The most considerable Houses are of Brick; some handsome ones of Wood, all built in the modern Taste; and the lesser Sort, of Plaister. There are some very pretty Garden spots in the Town.” I think that says it all. My final stop is the beautiful Yorktown Victory Monument – commissioned by the Continental Congress in 1781 to commemorate the great victory at Yorktown. Finally constructed between 1881 and 1884 this majestic monument is an 84ft marble column topped with a statue of “Lady Liberty” overlooking the York River.
The Historic Triangle shares American’s enduring story and feeds my spirit. Each time I visit it opens my eyes and broaden my horizons in unexpected ways. It not only holds a special place in history, it holds a special place in my heart.
Missing you, stay safe
Not far from Walt Disney World, Epcot and all the razzle/dazzle tourism of Orlando is a very different look at life in Central Florida … Winter Park. I stumbled on this oasis a few years ago and this is my first opportunity to see if it lives up to my first impression. Originally envisioned as a New England-themed resort town, WP began its life as a rarified tourist attraction. I think it is the best of many of my favorite American cities mixed together, complete with a sense of history and spectacular homes built when wealthy industrialists moved to Florida in search of sunshine in the late 1800’s. In addition to jaw-dropping “cottages” they left behind a legacy of arts and culture. Now, Winter Park is one of America’s trendiest towns with walkable brick streets, old oaks dripping in Spanish Moss with an active Craftsman-style train depot, topped with a peacock weather vane which fronts gracious Central Park in the middle of downtown.
Home to America’s most beautiful college campus, Rollins College. This picturesque lakeside liberal arts college, founded in 1885, looks like it is straight out of a movie. Rollins also boasts America’s favorite neighbor and the host of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” Fred Rogers, among its alumni.
Winter Parks scenic boat tours is a favorite attraction since 1938. The pontoon boat tour wends its way along three of the city’s six canal-connected lakes (Osceola, Virginia and Maitland) offering breathtaking views of opulent private homes lining the lakes and canals. Floating through tranquil lakes and beautiful narrow canals under a canopy of towering Cyprus and banana trees and riots of flourishing flowers , you’ll feel you are in another world. Along the way you will hear stories of history, culture, gossip and tall tales that you really should fact check before repeating.
I have saved my favorite thing for last -the Tiffany Chapel. A hidden gem in the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art on Park Avenue. I sit on a wooden bench in this sacred space I am comforted by it’s stillness, it’s magnificent mosaics and luminous windows. Louis Comfort Tiffany created this Byzantine-inspired chapel in 1893 for the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago to exhibit his glass and decorating company. The chapel won numerous awards and brought him international acclaim few American artists enjoyed at the time. Since then, and before being rescued by Hugh and Jeannette McKean following a fire that ravaged Laurelton Hall, Tiffany’s 20th century Long Island country estate, the chapel has fallen into ruin several times. Dismantled following the Worlds Fair and purchased for the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine which was under construction in New York City. Here, it was never placed as intended and spent 10 years serving as a chapel in a basement crypt before being severely damaged by unchecked water leaks. Concerned that “the mosaic was suffering” Tiffany removed the chapel at his expense and took it home to Laurelton Hall. There the chapel remained as a monument to his art until 1949, 16 years following his death when the Tiffany Foundation dismantled and sold off portions. Then in 1957 the final blow came when a fire damaged what was left of the estate, its priceless stained glass windows and the chapel. But somehow the chapel survived it all. And after sitting in crates for decades the McKean’s dream of reassembling the chapel was fulfilled when the chapel opened to the public at the Morse Museum in April 1999. What surrounds me today is what spectators to the World’s Fair saw in 1893. Following Covid19 restrictions the Morse currently allows only 5 persons in the museum per hour and only one “bubble” in the chapel at a time. So, I have private time in this quiet sanctuary. It is just a few days before Christmas, I am admiring the massive cross shaped chandelier and find myself reflecting on this past year – cogitating as my Dad would say – and think that if a million little pieces of glass survived such a tumultuous history we too can survive this pandemic and be better for it. I wish you a very Merry Christmas.
Missing you, Stay safe
The RV is repaired and I am finally in Fort Myers. On all my trips to Florida I had never yet visited one of Florida’s most noteworthy historical landmarks: the Edison & Ford Winter Estates.
The winter homes of the two titans of American industry sit side-by-side in a tropical paradise of lush botanical gardens. At it’s edge the Calooshatchee River and along the frontage road, Edison planted more than 2,000 Royal Palm trees. Today, Fort Myers is known as the “City of Palms”.
As with the bus, RV’s are required to park in the outermost remote parking area. But, I was glad for the hike as along the way a massive Banyan tree attracted my attention and awe. A gift in 1925 from his friend Harvey Firestone who obtained this tree in Calcutta. At the time, it was four feet high and two inches in diameter. Nearly a century later, it covers almost an acre of grounds and is thought to be the largest banyan in the United States.
It all began in 1885 when Thomas Edison, at 38 years old, purchased the land for $2,750 and began sketching the layout of his home. When Edison married Mina in 1886, Fort Myers became their honeymoon haven and winter home. “This house is a dream . . . and we are living in Fairyland,” Edison’s wife Mina wrote of the Florida retreat, which was named “Seminole Lodge.”
Ford bought property next door to his mentor in 1916, naming it “The Mangoes”. As a youth, the motor company founder worked at Edison company in Detroit. The budding auto magnate used his spare time tinkering with gas-powered engines. The two entrepreneurs met at a convention in 1896, and Edison encouraged the younger man. The two proved to be kindred spirits. The men spent hours sitting on their porches, discussing projects, planning trips, listening to Mina play the piano, and perhaps playing Parcheesi, Edison’s favorite game. I have toured, studied and read much about these trailblazers but this is the first time I had a sense of what good friends the two men actually were.
Thomas Alva Edison is considered one of America’s greatest inventors. He developed many devices that became part of everyday life. A motion picture camera, the phonograph and of course, the electric light bulb. When asked which of his inventions he liked best, Mr. Edison replied: “I like the phonograph best. Doubtless that is because I love music”.
Dubbed “The Wizard of Menlo Park,” Edison holds 1,084 US patents including a stock ticker, a mechanical vote counter, a battery for an electric car. He developed a system of electric-power generation and distribution allowing homes, businesses, and factories to enter the age of industrialization. Edison was “green” before “green” was fashionable. His words on the subject are posted in the museum: “I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.” Edison wrote that in 1931.
During WWI, Edison, Ford and another entrepreneur, Harvey Firestone, built a Botanical Research Lab on the property. They hoped to find a cheap method to obtain rubber. As a result, Edison and his researchers established many of today’s estate plantings. I was fascinated by the laboratory and had the feeling that Edison might walk in the door at any moment and it would all come alive.
If gardening is your interest, the botanical gardens contain more than 1,700 plants with over 400 species from six continents. A butterfly garden, unique species of heritage plants, orchids and tropical fruit… it’s not every day you can see an African sausage tree with hot-dog shaped fruit. The largest formal garden on the property, a Moonlight Garden. Designed in 1929 by Ellen Biddle Shipman, filled with all white, fragrant night blooming plants, flowers and a reflection pool to capture the moonlight.
Edison died in 1931, shortly after cutting the ribbon to dedicate the new Edison Bridge over the Caloosahatchee River.
In 1947, Mina deeded the Estate to the City of Fort Myers. The Ford’s sold The Mangoes in 1945 to a private family who then sold the estate to the City of Fort Myers in the late 1980s. The Edison & Ford Winter Estate was opened to the public in 1990.
On my long walk back to the Bus/RV parking lot I had time to wonder if Thomas Edison still held the record for US patents and decided to ask Mr. Google. Turns out that it took 88 years for his record to broken. On July 7, 2015, at the age of 74, Lowell Wood surpassed Edison’s record with the granting of Wood’s 1,085th patent by the US Patent and Trademark Office. As if this outstanding feat isn’t impressive enough, Wood has over 3,000 more patents currently under or awaiting review. I know your jaw just dropped, mine did too! Wood has invented hundreds of products, medical systems and methodologies ranging from an anti-concussion helmet and a mosquito laser, to energy efficient dryer systems and temperature re-stabilized storage systems with regulated cooling.
When I sat down to write this I was sure I would find a way to slip in “it was a light bulb moment” or “the light bulb went off”. Even though I never could work it in wanted to impress you by letting you know that I had thought of it.
If you sign up for Daytripping’s 2022 Mermaids & Manatees tour – currently being sketched out in my mind you will see this magnificent estate. I can’t wait to be touring with you again.
How many Daytripping stories over the years have begun with “the bus broke down” and ended with unexpected treasure? This is one of those. I am at Huntington Beach State Park in South Carolina on a beeline for Fort Myers, FL but planned a quick overnight stop – you know my MO – arrive just in time for a quick dinner and an evening event then back on the road first thing in the morning. Entering the park I am immediately surprised by my surroundings. I am driving a causeway through a freshwater marsh to my right and tidal salt marshes to my left past a boardwalk with observation towers. It is almost sunset and photographers are waiting for sandhill cranes, egrets, osprey and herons to fly in. Later I discover that a pair of bald eagles are currently nesting here and this park is one of the East Coasts’ premiere birding destinations, particularly during the winter migration period. Setting up the RV I hear waves crashing on the shore but the can’t see the ocean. I have been looking forward to wading in the Atlantic so decide to take a quick jog to the beach. The trail is a boardwalk which passes over spartina grass and what they call black pluffmud, through a coastal forest of oaks, red cedars and lots of creeping wines. I see a sign “Alligator’s Live Here” followed by “It is Illegal to Feed the Alligators” and remember an alligator tour in New Orleans where the guide told us they love marshmallows. Next, I see a notice to respect dark time for sea turtles and I am already loving this place. It is now twilight. Silvery sandpipers are feeding at the waters edge, the water is perfectly smooth and they appear to be standing on nothing.
My stop here was planned to visit Brookgreen Gardens annual event “Nights of a 1000 Candles” which this year coincides with the East Coast’s instillation of Bruce Munro’s amazing “Field of Lights” – here it is called “Southern Light”. Having toured “Field of Lights” in Paso Robles last year I was eager to see it once more.
Brookgreen Gardens, founded 1931 by Archer Huntington, heir to a railroad fortune and well-known philanthropist and his wife, Anna, a noted 20th-century sculptor, is the first every outdoor public sculpture garden and was built to showcase Anna’a work. Called the “floral jewel” of South Carolina, Brookgreen’s 9,000 acres preserve the 250 year old Live Oak trees planted in the early 1700’s when today’s garden was a thriving rice plantation. Brookgreen contains the largest collection of American figurative sculpture in the country, displayed in a stunning garden setting. Tonight, those oaks, the sculptures and already majestic gardens come to life amid more than 4,500 candles – hand-lit each night – countless sparking lights and bagpipers piping carols. I walk under ancient live oaks dripping in Spanish moss and dazzling white lights, admire the sculptures surrounded by fountains illuminated by floating candles and into “The Field of Lights” where 12,000 stems of light slowly change colors, creating a shimmering, mesmerizing effect. It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
Next morning, preparing to head out bright and early, the side outs on the RV will not operate and I cannot operate the RV with side outs out! Turns out it will be two days before a mobile RV repair service can come to my rescue. So, the unplanned adventure begins. Two days to explore the beach, hike the nature trails, birdwatch and hope to see alligators – sadly I am too late for the sea turtles.
Remember Anna and Archer Huntington? This state park is 2,500 acres of their 9000 acre estate. The couple left both the park and the gardens as their legacy. Ayalaya Castle, Archer and Anna’s striking, Moorish-style winter home is a short walk from my campsite. The home was built during the Great Depression using local workers to help boost the economy. The castle has thirty rooms laid out around three sides of a courtyard. In the center of the courtyard is a water tower after which the house was named. ‘Atalaya’ means ‘Watchtower’ in Spanish. In addition to the house and studios for Anna to work on her art are animal enclosures where the couple kept horses, bears, monkeys and a leopard. The rambling fortress is separated from the ocean only by dunes and low thickets so was designed to withstand hurricanes. Many of Anna’s significant works were sculpted here. Several of those pieces are now at Brookgreen Gardens. During World War II, the Huntington’s let the United States Air Corps use Atalaya as a barracks and a radar unit. After the war they returned only briefly and then following Archer’s death in 1955 Anna only visited twice before her death in 1973. In 1984 Atalaya was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and stands as a monument to the creativity and generosity of the Huntington’s.
After touring Atalaya I went in search of a park ranger to piece together the family connection to our beloved California Huntington Library and Gardens in San Marino founded by Henry Edward Huntington and his wife Arabella Huntington. I was given an abbreviated history of this family beginning with their emigration from Great Britain in 1633, prominence in the Revolutionary war, important role in the early Latter Day Saint movement and involvement in American railroads, art patronage and philanthropy. Did you know Arabella Huntington was the widow of Henry’s uncle Collis Huntington – one of the Big Four? And finally the connection – Henry and Archer were cousins… fascinating I know, but enough for today.
Back at my campsite sitting by the fire I think again how much I wish you were all here with me. I look forward to sharing my new discoveries on future tours.
Missing you, stay safe