From Generals to Pirates

Today we went back into Virginia to visit Mount Vernon the family home of George and Martha Washington. Well I learned something new right away, we walked into the visitor center and there were a set of life size bronze statues of George, Martha, and their grandson and granddaughter. I had never heard of children of George Washington – I would have thought that I would have heard about them somewhere in the history. Well it turns out that George did not have any children, however Martha had some from a previous marriage, hence the grandchildren.

Mount Vernon

Mount Vernon

In 1787 Mount Vernon encompassed just over 8,200 acres housed an active farm that included a large garden, fruit trees, and about 3,000 cattle. Evidence that George Washington considered himself a farmer is well documented in the history and the in the mansion at Mount Vernon.  The historic site is now only a little over 500 acres but has a wide variety of sights to see.  In addition to the mansion and tomb of George and Martha there are a number of out buildings, ice house, gardens, fruit tree groves, and trails that can be explored. We took two tours during our time on the grounds, the standard mansion tour which takes you through a number of the rooms including the large dining room which was larger than most houses of the day, and bedroom George Washington passed away in 1799.

Mount Vernon Dining Room

Mount Vernon Dining Room

We also took an hour long ‘National Treasures’ tour. The movie ‘National Treasures 2’ had a number of scenes filmed on the grounds and in the basement of the mansion. It was very interesting to see and learn how some of the scenes from the movie were shot. In addition we learned other interesting tidbits about the Washington’s and life at Mount Vernon at the time they lived there.  For example in addition to being known as the father of our country, George Washington is also the father of American Foxhounds. Washington breed English Foxhounds with French Foxhounds he received from the Marquis de Lafayette starting the breed of American Foxhounds. Although it was a bit disappointing to learn there is no secret tunnel leads from the basement of Mount Vernon to the George Washington Parkway. Now I wonder if the cavern full of gold show in the first movie really existed.

Prior to leaving Mount Vernon we stopped at the Mount Vernon Food Court to get some personal pan pizzas from Pizza Hut. Perhaps Mount Vernon has stepped to far into the present times.

After we left Mount Vernon we went back across the Potomac into Maryland to visit Fort Washington.  In 1809 Fort Warburton was completed on the shores of the Potomac River downstream from Washington D.C. In 1814 the fort was destroyed by its own garrison to prevent the advancing British forces that marched overland to burn Washington D.C. from taking control of it. Twelve days later the Secretary of War ordered construction started on a new defensive post. In 1824 Fort Washington was completed.

Over the years the fort adapted to the changing times. In 1875 large guns were moved to the fort. Then in 1891 steel guns in concrete embankments were constructed. Prior to World War I the fort was downgraded to harbor defense and the large guns were removed. The fort was used as a staging area for troops being sent to France during World War I.  During the Second World War the fort served as the U.S. Army Adjutant General’s School. In 1946 the fort was turned over to the Department of the Interior and was made a park having never been shot at.

Fort Washington

Fort Washington

And now for the Pirates part of the day. While driving back to our RV in College Park, we decided to stop and watch the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Overall the movie was good, not as good as the first three, however it does end a way that there can be another follow on.

Smithsonian’s American History Museum

I don’t know who is in charge of estimating the amount of time needed to visit different sights in the Frommers guides to cities but whoever it is must also be a speed-reader and speed-walker. While we were riding the train into Washington D.C. I was reading the Frommers guide. It says it will take approximately an hour to do a tour of the National Museum of American History (part of the Smithsonian). I knew better from past experiences with these types of guides. I was feeling poorly this morning and so we waited until I was feeling better to head in. We were on the train by 1:00 pm and made it into the city by 1:30. We stood in line outside the museum waiting to go through bag check. We got into the museum shortly before 2 pm and started out. This is the museum that houses all types of things from American History. Not just things most people consider history (war artifacts and president’s under ware) it also houses things from what most people consider Pop Culture.

We started out walking through by seeing THE Stars and Stripes. This is the flag that was actually flying over Fort McHenry in the War of 1812 that inspired Frances Scott Key to write the National Anthem. It is falling apart but then again I would be too if I was 300+ years old. It was neat to see the flag. Next we headed toward the document room and on the way passed the Lunch Counter from Greensboro, North Carolina from the F.W. Woolworth where the African American teenagers held their sit-in to fight for their Civil Rights. Talk about taking a moment to reflect. We have spent the last few months learning all about the Civil War and knowing it still took another 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation for blacks and whites to be able to sit and have lunch together is often a staggering thing for me.

We spent time wandering the different halls. They have everything from the original Kermit the Frog to a collection of Edison’s light bulbs. They have Julia Child’s kitchen where I again needed to stop and reflect on how Food Television has changed my life and taught me to cook in ways nothing else could. Bill was particularly taken by some of the original computers.

I have taken on a quest to learn more about the past U.S. Presidents. It is something that was not truly covered when I was in High School or Middle School or well any school. We have been reading about different presidents and learning about them through the National Parks. I have discovered I have a few that have begun to really stand out in my mind. Lincoln is so far up on my list that none other can even begin to compare. Talk about a man with principals. Someone told me once that the presidents that die in office are only famous because of their deaths. In the case of Lincoln I have to call foul on that statement. Here we have a man that was voted into office without a single Electoral vote from the “South”. The only president to have an assassination attempt on his life before he could be inaugurated.  A man that was thrown head first into a war for the freedom of slaves. He was so noble. In a time where slavery was accepted he didn’t accept it for he believed no man should own another. This was not a common belief in his time. Okay this is not a post about Lincoln I need to move on. Anyway one of my favorite items we saw today was Lincoln’s hat. Very cool.

Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt is closing in on my top 5 favorites. He was a Rough Rider and fought to make sure that the West stayed Wild. He was a conservationist even if for odd reasons. He is the reason we have “Teddy” bears. I was also tickled to see his riding chaps on display.

There is nearly half a floor devoted to what they call, “Freedom isn’t Free” which covers all of the American Wars. It is sad and patriotic at the same time. It does rile up the pacifist in me. I come from a family of soldiers but at my core I wish the fighting could stop. I don’t agree with war but I do understand that at times it is necessary. If someone tries to kill me or mine I will defend them I just wish the bullies that instigated would disappear so we could all live in my peaceful harmonious world where cats and dogs love each other. So after visiting the “war” room I had to skip over and spend a little time in reflection of Julie Child’s kitchen. Ahh lots of butter and salt and tasty things. Too bad the cafeteria isn’t located next door so you could get some smells to go with the kitchen. Grin.

Over FIVE HOURS later we were finally content that we had completed our visit to the museum… Frommers I think you need to do some re-calculations you are a LITTLE off. LMAO

A Capital Idea

Today was our first full day in the Washington D.C area.  We got a slow start having to first get our Metro passes taken care of then took a detour to the train station to drop our bicycles off at local tune-ups. We got on the Metrorail and headed into the District without a plan in hand.

We arrived in D.C. on the Metrorail at the Archive-Navy Memorial stop. We spent a little time looking at the Memorial Plaza outside Naval Memorial. They have a number of detailed Bronze reliefs that depict various events in naval history. One of the reliefs depicted a Wright flyer taking off from an early aircraft carrier – very interesting in that we were at Kitty Hawk just a few weeks ago.  When we first came up from underground at the plaza I thought it had rained and the ground was drying strangely – it turns out I was walking on the granite sea. The floor of the plaza is a globe map showing how much of the planet is covered in water.

Naval Memorial Plaza - Granite Seas

Naval Memorial Plaza - Granite Seas

Not having a plan we decided to head down Pennsylvania Avenue towards the Capital Building admiring the various buildings, fountains and sights along the way. We got in line for the tour of the Capital Building and here is a hint for anyone taking the tour in the future. We were trying to be good and brought a few bottles of water and some snacks to have as we wondered the city today – you are not allowed to bring any liquid or food into the building, so we had our snack and had to get rid of the rest before being allowed access to the building. I know I am going to sound like I am repeating myself a lot over the next few days – but the tour was incredible. The building was beautiful and the art work was amazing. A number of years ago the federal government asked each state to supply two statutes to represent their state. The statutes are displayed throughout a lot of the public areas of the Capital building.  Last week we were in Williamsburg and listened to Thomas Jefferson (or an actor doing an excellent portrayal of Mr. Jefferson) describe a painting in which he is stepping on the foot of John Adams. Today we saw that painting hanging in the Rotunda of the Capital. It was really something to stand a few feet from where the likes of Lincoln and Kennedy were laid in state.

U.S. Capital Building

U.S. Capital Building

We then took the tunnel from the Capital Building over to the Library of Congress. I wonder how many know that the original Library of Congress was housed in the Capital building as totally lost when the British set fire to the building in 1814 and that what we know now as the Library of Congress was started when Thomas Jefferson sold 6487 books to the United States. I did not. We took a tour of the Library of Congress and were again amazed by the beauty of the building and the works it holds. Many of the works and rooms cannot be photographed, for example the Guttenberg Bible and the Main Reading Room. There was too much to see – we need to return to the Library another day and explore a bit more.

Library of Congress

Library of Congress

Living in the United States we have a tremendous amount of freedom. I think it is meaning more to me as I have been visiting the Revolutionary and Civil war sites over the last few months. And now in the city that freedom built I got to see a new side of Freedom. The 19 foot tall 15,000 pound statute that sits on top of the Capital Building.  The female figure of Liberty holds a sheathed sword in one hand and a laurel wreath and shield in the other. The original plaster model of the statue is in the Emancipation Hall of the Capital Visitors Center.

Statue of Freedom

Statue of Freedom

The Historic Triangle

We have spent the last few days in what is known as the Historic Triangle. The Historic Triangle which carries the subtitle of the Birthplace of American Democracy is made up of Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown. There is a ton of history in this little triangle of southeastern Virginia.  

In 1606 the Virginia Company of London was granted a charter by King James I of England to establish a colony in the new world. Three ships left England in December of 1606 and arrived at the coast of what would later become the state of Virginia in the spring of 1607. After searching for a suitable site for the small colony they found what they were looking for on the banks of a river. This site is Jamestown the site of the first permanent English colony in the new world. 

We went to Historic Jamestown and had the good fortune to arrive right as an archeologist was starting a walking tour of the area. In 1994 the Jamestown Rediscovery Project was started and is still going strong 17 years later. To date they have found much of the old fort and various structures within the fort. They are currently working on finding the footing of the original church that stood within the walls of the fort. The archeologist talk was fascinating and the excitement she had for it was infectious to those listening to her talk.  They have uncovered a vast array of materials and have learned a lot about life back in the 1600’s.  The Virginia Company was looking to make a profit with their settlement in the new world. One of the ventures they tried was glass making. Near the site of the old glass furnace there is an operational glass blowing shop.

Historic Jamestown

Historic Jamestown

We also visited the Jamestown Settlement which is located near Historic Jamestown. The Jamestown Settlement is a re-enactment of what life might have been like in Fort James and the nearby Indian villages. It also has replicas of the three ships that brought the original settlers to Jamestown.

Williamsburg was the capital of Virginia when the vision of American Independence was taking form. Williamsburg was the political, cultural, and educational hub of the largest and most populous of the American colonies. Colonial Williamsburg is private foundation which is a combination of historical landmark and living history museum that focuses on the late 1700’s. We spent time across a few days touring the buildings, watching the craftsmen, and observing historical re-enactments.  Of course independence from England was a key topic of discussion at the time in Williamsburg and we attended a reading of the Declaration of Independence in front of the Virginia Statehouse. Today we listened to a fascinating talk on the writing of the document given by none-other than Tomas Jefferson.

Colonial Williamsburg

Colonial Williamsburg

In 1871 General George Washington led the combined American and French forces in a battle against the British lead by General Lord Cornwallis. This decisive victory was the last major land battle of the Revolutionary War. We took a driving tour around the battlefields at Yorktown and many a place where Washington, ate, slept and traveled.

Yorktown

Yorktown

You said you want me to move a … Lighthouse?

Just off the coast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina the cold waters of the Labrador Current collides with the warm Golf Stream. The collision of the warm and cold waters create the ideal conditions for powerful ocean storms and sea swells which cause the sand bars in the area to shift. The combination of storms and shifting sand bars sunk a good number of ships including the Civil War ironclad USS Monitor and earned the nickname of the Graveyard of the Atlantic for the area.

In 1797 Congress appropriated funds for erecting a lighthouse at Cape Hatteras. This original lighthouse 112 feet tall and was completed in 1803. The light consisted of 18 lamps with reflectors and could be seen 18 miles away in clear weather. In 1851 Lt. David Porter, USN, reported that the “Hatteras light, the most important on our coast is, without doubt, the worst light in the world.” In response the tower was raised to 150 feet and the first-order Fresnel lens was installed in 1854.  Prior to the start of the Civil War the Lighthouse Board stated that the Cape Hatteras lighthouse needed protection. In 1962 the Lighthouse Board reported that lantern and lens in the Cape Hatteras lighthouse were destroyed.

After the Civil War, mariners and US Naval Officers convinced Congress to appropriate funds for a new light house for Cape Hatters. When construction was completed on the new lighthouse in 1871 it was the tallest brick lighthouse in the world. It stood 193 feet and housed a first-order Fresnel lens.  

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

 The site for the new lighthouse was selected by the Army Corp of Engineers was about 1500 feet from the ocean in 1870. However the turbulent waters in the area started to erode the beach by the lighthouse from the day it was completed.  In 1919 the high water line advanced to within 300 feet of the tower. In 1935 the surf reached up to the lighthouse and “light” was moved to a skeleton steel tower inland and the tower was turned over to the National Park Service.

After the National Park Service took ownership of the tower, a series of wooden revetments were constructed and in 1950 the “light” was moved back into the tower. The tower is still maintained by the NPS however the Coast Guard owns and operates the navigational equipment. By 1970 the war of the erosion was again being won by the sea which now was only 120 feet from the base of the lighthouse.  In 1980 the National Park Service began planning for the long-term protection of the historic lighthouse. Relocation of the lighthouse was proposed but quickly discounted as impractical. The NPS selected a concrete and steel seawall to protect the land around the lighthouse, although this solution would eventually create an island as the coastline would recede to the southwest.

As the decade progressed moving technology advanced and additional information regarding moving vs. the approved seawall became available. In 1987 the NPS requested the assistance of the National Academy of Sciences in evaluating the options again. The report which came out the next year stated that relocation would be the best and most cost effective method of saving the lighthouse. The moving of the lighthouse was debated for the next 10 years. In 1998 Congress appropriated funding to move the lighthouse.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and the Sea

As you can see the Ocean come right up to where the Lighthouse use to stand.

The contract to move the 4,400 ton lighthouse was awarded to International Chimney Corp. They were assisted by a number of other sub-contractors including Expert House Movers.  In simple terms the structure was lifted off its foundation, a transport system was built under the lighthouse, the lighthouse was moved along a prepared move route, and then positioned on top a new foundation.  Sounds simple – right? After all it only weights 4,400 tons is about 200 feet tall and made up of over 1 million bricks.

In January 1999 the preparations for the move were started. In June the foundation of the lighthouse was “mined” out from under the structure and steel rods were installed to serve as the temporary foundation for the move.  Then it was time for the actual move of 2900 feet. The lighthouse was moved 5 feet at a time over the course of just over 3 weeks and was positioned on top of its new foundation on July 9th. The “light” was re-lit in November of 1999.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse as Seen from Orginal Site

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse as Seen from Orginal Site

The lighthouse is now 1600 feet from the sea and hopefully safe for a long time to come.