Friday, June 22, 2012

Southern New England

Mystic Seaport village
Joseph Contrad - 1882
We pulled out of our soggy campground in southeastern New York hoping for dryer weather as we headed east into Connecticut.  Thankfully we got it. Our next campground was near Mystic CT. I took a week off from work and had plenty of sightseeing to distract me from thinking about work. Our first foray was to Mystic Seaport, America's leading maritime museum housing the world's largest collection of historic boats and ships, along with a re-created coastal village.  Many of the buildings were moved there from various port towns, were restored and function as they did in the 1870's. Other buildings hold excellent exhibits telling about life at sea and life in seaport villages. There are several old fishing ships that you can board including the Charles W Morgan, built in 1841, which is the last existing wooden whaling ship (they are restoring it but allow you to board).  Mystic Seaport was a great place to visit to learn about the sea. Follow this link for information:

Rhode Island State House
Our next day was a trip up to Boston, about an 85 mile drive. Since we were driving through Providence RI we stopped to see the Capitol State House (something we like to do). It is a very nice building with lots of marble. We found it interesting that the smallest state has such a large building for its Capitol. The most captivating feature was the original Royal Charter from 1663 on display. 

Massachusetts State House
Moving on to Boston we drove to the T (train/subway) station closest to I-95 (furthest from the city) and took the T into the city.  This saved us money and frustration and worked out great. We got off the T that was right by the Massachusetts State House so the first thing we did was check that out. It is another great showcase of marble. It has been expanded many times over the years so without taking a guided tour we couldn't really tell what was newer and what was oldest. 
Boston Common
We did enjoy walking around and going in all the rooms and chambers since they were not in session. From the Statehouse we walked through Boston Common to the beginning of the Freedom Trail.  The trail is painted on, or bricked into, the sidewalk and is very easy to follow. We had our handy guide from our AAA Tour Book (or you can buy one at the visitor center for $7) and headed out. The trail has 23 points of interest.  I'm only going to mention the points that we liked the most and include a link to a website so you can read about all of the points if you want.  We had a fantastic time both because the weather was perfect and the history is just so amazing.

Old South Meeting House - 1729
The Granary Burying Ground is a cemetery dating back to 1660 and is where Paul Revere, Sam Adams, John Hancock and many other famous people are buried.

The Old South Meeting House was the largest building in Colonial Boston and thus was the location used for many gatherings of political protesters in the years prior to the Revolution. It was also the meeting place where Bostonians met just prior to the Boston Tea Party.
Old State House - 1713
The Old State House once was the town's grandest building. It was the center of Colonial government and also functioned as a busy merchant's exchange.  It gained real importance as the setting for stirring speeches and debates.  In 1770 the Boston Massacre took place outside under the balcony. The same balcony where, in 1776, the Declaration of Independence was read.

Faneuil Hall - 1742
Faneuil Hall, like the Old South Meeting House, was the scene of  gatherings held to protest England's tightening control over the colonies.  Atop the hall, the gilt grasshopper weather vane is a Boston landmark.  In place since 1742, it was a symbol used to screen out spies for every true Bostonian could surely identify the figure.

Near Faneuil Hall are the Quincy Market, and old pub, and the Union Oyster House built in 1713 is one of the oldest restaurants in the country.

Old North Church - 1723
Paul Revere House - 1680

Moving into north Boston, the Italian area, you come to the Paul Revere House.  The home, a two-story clapboard built in 1680, is said to be Boston's oldest building. Not too far away is the famous Old North Church.

The last two points of interest are the USS Constitution (1797) and Bunker Hill Monument.  We were getting tired and these last two stops were a pretty significant additional hike so we didn't continue on to them on this trip.

Let me summarize the Freedom Trail. If you like history you are guaranteed to get goose bumps and spend a day in awe while in and around these places. Use this link for more information on the Freedom Trail: Be sure to click on Explore the Trail and then Official Sites on the Trail.

Narragansett Bay

View along the Cliff Walk
After a day of rest we took a day trip to Newport RI. We drove the Ocean Drive and walked a few miles on the Cliff Walk. As exclaimed by all that told us we must go here, the mansions are something to see. Two thoughts kept going through my head.  First, it is sickening that people have so much money that they can afford these places, but second, it is nice that someone actually made sure that us common folk could still drive or walk along the ocean.  Typically the rich buy up the great scenic ocean front land and the common folk can't get near it.  At least here the road or cliff walk are between the mansions and the ocean.

CT Old State House - 1796
Connecticut State Capitol - 1878
The next day we debated whether we wanted to drive to Hartford (65 miles) or did we have enough driving this week. Should we just relax? We decided to go for it and did not regret the decision. We first went to the Old State House which was the original state Capitol until 1878. This was pretty neat but was a classic case of the building being used for so many things and remodeled so many times since 1878 the restored building didn't have the same old charm as a building with more original character.
State Capitol

State Capitol
Next we drove over to the current Capitol building. This building is amazing. At the time this building was built, Hartford was the most affluent city, per capita, in the country. I assume that wealth made it into this building. It reminds one of a mansion of the wealthy or a palace in Europe. The polished marble everywhere, grand halls and rooms, where there isn't marble the paint work is very artistic, and a nice amount of great woodwork and stained glass. In a word, beautiful. For a bonus they had some really cool artifacts as well. This includes things such as Marquis De Lafayett's camp bed from the Revolutionary War, Civil War flags, a section of tree with a Civil War cannonball stuck in it and more.
Marqios De Lafayette's camp bed
State Capitol

Mark Twain House - 1874
And then we moved on a few miles away to the Mark Twain House. I don't know why they don't call it the Samuel Clemens house, I guess his persona is more well known. They have a great 20 minute film done by Ken Burns on the life of Sam Clemens and you get a great tour of the house.  There is also a museum. Sometimes you feel gypped by these tours, not this one.  The house is as it was when he and his family lived there for 17 years from 1874 to 1891. Hundreds of his actual possessions are in the home. You actually go in the room and see the desk where he wrote his most famous works.  More goose bumps.  Here is a link to their website:

Monday, June 11, 2012

Hudson River Valley

Before I get started I want to remind readers that you can click on pictures to see a much larger image.  Then, use your browser's Back button to return here.

We made an early dash (hit the road at 6:30 AM) past Dover and Philadelphia to avoid the intense traffic that often cripples traffic in the area.  We made it through and were well north on I476 toward Allentown PA before 9 am. We swung around Allentown and headed northeast to the Catskill Mountains and our campground near Wurtsboro, NY.  We hadn't seen a decent hill since November because we've been hanging around the coast and Florida since then.  We found some in the Catskills.  They are nothing but hills compared to the standards out west but it does add a little character to the landscape. Not that you can really appreciate it much because trees are almost always blocking your view.
Hasbrouck House - Washington HQ

Our quest for historic sites continued along the Hudson River valley.  The first stop was to the Hasbrouck House in Newburgh.  This home was rented for use as a military headquarters for George Washington at the end of the Revolutionary War.  He (and Martha actually stayed there, too) was there for 16 months, longer than any other HQ he had during the war. This was the HQ after the British had surrendered but before a peace treaty had been signed. The location was strategic to keep an eye on the British who still occupied New York City.
Beacon Hill across the Hudson

It is on the Hudson River and across the river on Beacon Hill was the last of a series of warning fire posts. The fire posts were positioned all along the river from NYC to here as a form of fast communication.  If the British were to make a move the first fire would be lit and then lookouts at each fire post would see the other fire and light theirs, thus quickly sending a signal up the river to Washington.  The Continental Army was ready nearby in case the British decided to try something.

Washington did many important things affecting history while at this location. One of the them was his vehement rejection of the suggestions that the nation become a Monarchy with him as the leader. Please use the following link for more information on all the fascinating things that Washington did while here. It was incredible to be in the building where so much history was made. Note - unfortunately they did not allow pictures inside.

FDR home - Springwood
The next day we took a drive to Hyde Park. There is one of many Vanderbilt mansions there but we chose not to tour it.  Instead, we focused on Roosevelt history.  We went to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Museum and Library only to find it closed (mostly) for restoration.  They had a small pictorial history display that was nice but much less than we were hoping to see. We were able to take a tour of the home of FDR. The home is where he was born, raised and lived his entire life when not living where work took him. The home was his mother's and upon her death the home was donated to the Department of the Interior to become a historic landmark under the condition that her family could stay there until relinquished.  Upon FDRs death in 1945 Eleanor moved to Val-Kill and relinquished the property in tact, with furnishings. FDR came back as often as he could during his presidencies as an escape from hectic Washington.

Library - office
This was another special time while walking around in the home, especially the library/office, where one of our greatest presidents lived, had important visitors like Winston Churchill and made some of the most critical decisions in our nation's history during both the Great Depression and WWII.  Goose bump time. Here are a couple of links to more information.

Stone Cottage
After leaving Springwood, the FDR home, we went over to Val-Kill.  The Stone Cottage was built by Franklin as a retreat that could be used year round even while Springwood was closed down for the winter.  The Stone Cottage became a favorite place for Eleanor to get away from Franklin's domineering mother and political scene. In 1926 Eleanor built Val-Kill on the site as a place to teach manufacturing skills to underemployed farmworkers. When the venture folded in 1936 she converted the building into apartments. Upon Franklin's death Eleanor moved to Val-Kill permanently.
If you google Val-Kill and Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site there is a lot of information.
(Note:  the term "kill" is Dutch for stream or small river, ie Val-Kill, Catskill, etc)