April 2004               

            April was cold and rainy for most of the month in Virginia.  Dick observed that the May flowers surely must be water lilies. 

            Easter Sunday was cold and rainy; we attended worship service at the Fredericksburg Presbyterian Church.  This beautiful church was constructed in 1833 and was used as a hospital during the Civil War.  The service was beautiful and the congregation was very friendly.

            During the month we made several forays into Washington DC for sightseeing.  We rapidly came to the conclusion that spring is not the time to visit this area if you don’t like long lines and crowds.  This is the time of year for spring breaks and class trips.

            Our first visit to the Washington Monument was fruitless.  Tickets are distributed on a first come basis starting at 8:00 and are gone very fast.  We went online and ordered tickets for a small service charge.  We arrived an hour before our appointed time and stood in line. 

            After going through security, we were given a short presentation on the monument.  The monument is 555 feet 5-1/2 inches high (Official Park Brochure). It was begun in 1848.  Construction stopped in 1854 with a height of 152 feet due to a lack of funds. 25 years later President Grant approved an act authorizing the completion by the Federal Government.  The marble capstone was placed in December 1884.  The monument has 897 steps and 192 memorial stones presented by individuals.  Park rangers conduct tours that go down the steps if they have personnel available. 

            We were whisked to the top in an elevator.  The view from the top is spectacular.  The area for viewing at the top is very small and can hold only a small number of people at one time.  The elevator takes about 25 to the top per trip. On our way back down in the elevator, our ranger stopped several times showing us some of the memorial stones.

            After our first try at the monument, we walked down the street t o the Bureau of Printing and Engraving.  All the tickets for this tour had also been distributed.  We then walked to the Tidal Basin to view the cherry blossoms and the monuments there.

            The Cherry trees were beautiful.  We walked along the Tidal Basin to the Jefferson Monument.  This beautiful monument honors the writer of our Declaration of Independence and President of our country.

            We next walked through the 4 “rooms” of the Franklin Roosevelt Memorial.  Further around the basin we crossed over to the Lincoln Memorial and the Reflecting Pool.  The Lincoln Memorial anchors one end of the Reflecting Pool and the Washington Monument anchors the other end.  The Lincoln Monument is very inspiring

            In the same area is the new Korean War Memorial.  This memorial depicts troupes of all the branches of service and is a tribute to all who served in this conflict.

            Our next stop was the Vietnam War Memorial.  This memorial is engraved with the names of servicemen who died in this conflict.  It was very touching to see the many items left there by people in memory of these individuals. 

            We had decided that we would have lunch at the Museum of American History.  We stood in line for over 20 minutes just to get in the door of the museum.  Due to security reasons everyone has to have their bags searched and go through metal detectors, and we found that most places seem to be understaffed in that area. 

            After going through the security, we went to the café on the lower floor and had to stand in line for 15 minutes to get inside.  Boy were we hungry by then!

            The Museum of American History has so many displays it is hard to take it all in.  We saw Julia Child’s complete kitchen, Archie and Edith Bunkers chairs, displays on the evolution of the computer (which Dick enjoyed) and many other items.  We never did get to see this entire museum. 

            The transportation portion of the museum was of great interest.  The first steam locomotive to operate in this country is on display.  Also one of the great freight engines of the steam era.   An early RV is on display. 

            We were luck enough to be able to obtain passes to tour our nation’s Capitol.  Our first stop was the Rotunda.  This is the area of the building where state funerals have been held, including Abraham Lincoln and John Kennedy.  The canopy above the Rotunda contains a beautiful painting by Constantino Brumidi titled “The Apotheosis of Washington.  George Washington is surrounded by symbols of the original 13 states.  The Rotunda is also decorated by a frieze that depicts major events in our nation’s history.  Each state contributes 2 statues to the capitol of its notable citizens.  These are displayed on a rotating basis in the Rotunda as well as in the Old Hall of the House. 

            An interesting feature of the Old Hall of the House is the acoustics.  Our guide placed our group on one side of the hall and she went to the other side.  Speaking in a very low voice, we could hear her as if she were standing right by us.  This room was nicknamed the “Hall of Whispers”. 

            Our last stop in the Capitol was on the lower level where we viewed a beautiful marble bust of Abraham Lincoln. As Congress was in session, we were not able to view these areas.

            We were unable to obtain tickets to tour the White House, but we walked down to the Ellipse to at least view the outside.  Apparently something was taking place at the White House when we arrived and we were not permitted to view the house from the vantage point we wanted.  We had to walk another block away and view it from quite a distance. 

            We toured the Postal Museum which is located in the Old Post Office building.  This is a small but very informative museum and not crowded at all. 

            We visited the Air and Space Museum.  This building outlines the history of flight and space exploration in our country.  A large number of planes and spacecraft are on display.  The Smithsonian has recently opened another museum near Dulles Airport where they are able to display many more of the collection of aircraft.  We did not make it to this museum but will be back someday to see this collection.

            Ford’s Theater was on our list of must see places.  This is the place where President Lincoln was shot.  President Lincoln was carried across the street to a house where he eventually died the following morning. We had to stand in line for nearly an hour to get into the theater.  We were given a presentation lasting about 30 minutes by a park ranger detailing the events of that evening.  We could only view the Presidential box from the floor below.  Over 30 years ago, we were in the area and Millie visited the theater.  At that time you were able to view the box through the door in the rear of the box. 

            After the presentation, we were invited to visit the museum in the basement, but with near 600 people in the building, we elected not to try to fight the crowd. 

            Appomattox Court House, the location of the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia, that ended the Civil War, was our destination on a sunny day.  This little village is the site of a National Park.  General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General U. S. Grant here on April 9, 1865. 

            The McLean house was the site of the meeting between Grant and Lee.  The interesting thing about this is that the McLean family had moved to Appomattox Court House to escape the war.  They had originally lived at Manassas, where the first battle of the war took place, so they saw the beginning and the end of the war. This house had been dismantled in 1893 in anticipation of taking it to Washington, D.C. as a museum.  The pile of bricks and lumber, however, was never moved.

            The entire village began to crumble and was restored by the National Park Service beginning in 1935. The original courthouse was destroyed by fire and has been reconstructed.  There are a number of original buildings in the park and some reconstructions.

            Appomattox Court House has been restored to the appearance that it had in 1865 and we enjoyed strolling the streets and viewing the buildings.  The jail was very interesting, with iron bars on the doors and windows and rings anchored in the floor for irons to be attached. 

            On the lane leading into town, the Union troops lined both sides of the road as the Confederate army walked into town and surrendered their arms.  It was very moving to walk this lane and recall what took place here. 

            The Clover Hill Tavern is the oldest building in the village, built in 1819.  This was a stage stop for travelers.

            George Washington was born at Popes Creek Plantation.  This is another of our National Parks.  An obelisk of marble, 1/10 the size of the Washington monument stands at the entrance to the park. 

            None of the original structures remain, however the outline of the original house can be seen.  The house burned on Christmas Day, 1779 the house burned and was never rebuilt.  A memorial house was erected on the site in 1930.  This house is not a replica of the home, but was probably typical of upper class houses of the time.  It is probably finer than the Washington home.

            The kitchen house was also built in 1930 on the foundations of the original.  We were greeted there by a park ranger who was our guide.  He gave us an informative talk as to what life would have been like on the plantation in Washington’s time. 

            The farm area at Popes Creek is reconstructed to show life in that time.  The livestock, poultry and crops are of old varieties and breed and are raised by farming methods common during Washington’s time.

            We drove to the section of the park containing the cemetery of Washington’s ancestors.  On the way back to the main road, Dick saw something run across the road.  When we got to the spot, we saw some wild turkeys run under the fence and then observed a large flock in the adjoining field.  Apparently they were in mating and it was fascinating to see them fan their tails and fly at each other. 

            Stratford Hall, just a few miles north of Popes Creek is the birthplace of Robert E. Lee.  The plantation, like most in the area, is built of bricks made on site and timber from the forests in the area. 

            The house is built in the Georgian Style.  It contains two large H shaped chimneys.  Our guide took us through the house and explained the use of each room.  It is a large house and was very grand in its day.  After our tour of the house, we enjoyed a walk through the gardens and grounds.  Of interest is a small cabin on the property.  It is a memorial to a slave who spent the majority of his life on the plantation.  He was given a choice of a monument or a cabin as a tribute to his service at Stratford Hall and he chose the cabin.

            We devoted 2 days to Colonial Williamsburg.  This historic park recreates life in our country on the eve of the American Revolution.  The park is contained in 301 acres.  John D. Rockefeller was instrumental in restoring this area and had a home here.

            The Governors Palace was the home of 7 Royal Governors and two elected Governors of Virginia.   It is a grand home for that time, now decorated as the home of the last British Governor, Lord Dunmore.

 Of particular interest is the reception hall that is decorated with firearms.  The large ballroom was used for parties and balls.  After the war, the palace was allowed to fall to ruin, before being rebuilt.

            The Capitol building was the home of the House of Burgesses.  George Washington was a member of this body.  Many of the liberties we have today were debated in this building.

            The Courthouse was the seat of local government.  We attended a mock court session there as it would have been in the 1700’s.

            We walked the streets, enjoying the history around us.  On our first evening, we attended a 17th century comedy “The Guardian” presented in the manner of the times.  It was very funny and we enjoyed it.  The audience was invited to participate in the program and to heckle the actors.  The first theatre in British North America was located in Williamsburg in 1716.  Thomas Jefferson was a big fan of theater.

            The second evening, we attended a presentation of “Remember Me When Freedom Comes”, which brought to life the memories of an enslaved African named Paris.  This presentation was very good with a terrific cast.  The theater for this program was located in the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum.  The Public Hospital is part of this museum. 

            This hospital was not for treatment of the sick but for the mentally ill.  It contains exhibits of the treatments and living conditions of the times. 

            We were given a tour of Bassett Hall, which was the seasonal home of the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. family during the 1930’s and 1940’s.   This house is small and was decorated by Mrs. Rockefeller.  One interesting thing about the house is that the art in the rooms dictated the color of the rooms.  Mrs. Rockefeller was a collector of folk art and her husband liked classical art.  She did a wonderful job of blending both. 

            The house was the home of the Rockefellers during the spring and fall of the year.  It is a very comfortable home. 

            Mt. Vernon is the home of George Washington.  The house is on a rise facing the Potomac River.  It was very interesting that while standing in line to tour the house, a bald eagle soared overhead.  Both great symbols of the birth of our country.

            Washington inherited Mt. Vernon in 1754 and it was his home for 45 years.  He greatly expanded the house to reflect his status.  14 rooms are open to the public, including the room where Washington died.  The house contains 9 guest rooms, necessary due to the large number of people who wanted to visit the Washingtons.  It is said that in one year alone they entertained over 600 visitors!  We were somewhat surprised that the house was smaller than we had envisioned. 

            The grounds also contain a slave cemetery.  A memorial there honors those who worked at Mt. Vernon.  The graves are unmarked and the number is unknown.  It is known that at the time of his death, Washington owned over 300 slaves, which were given their freedom in his will.

            The tombs containing the bodies of George and Martha are located on the property along with other members of the family.

            Washington always considered himself a farmer and worked on improving farming techniques of the time.  One of his innovations was a threshing barn.  Wheat was taken into the 16 sided barn on the upper level. .  Horses walked around the floor, treading on the wheat and breaking the grains from the straw.  The floor of this level had spaces between the floor boards that allowed the grain to fall to the lower level, while not the straw.  This design greatly improved the process, however, it required two years to build such a barn and the cost was high.  At about the same time the McCormick reaper was invented, making the barn design obsolete.

Yorktown is the site of the surrender of the army of British General Cornwallis to General Washington, ending the American Revolution.  We viewed the film in the Visitor’s Center, toured the museum and walked to the site of the Victory Monument overlooking the town of York. The monument was authorized by congress in 1781; however construction did not begin until 1881.  The reason:  congress authorized the monument, but no money to build it.

The state of Virginia operates a museum, recreated 1780’s farm and Continental Army Encampment at Yorktown.  On display in the museum is part of the actual field tent used by General George Washington at Yorktown. 

The Army encampment was interesting to visit.  Costumed interpreters told of life in the Army during the Revolution.  It was a hard life.  Each of the smaller tents was sleeping quarters for 6 men.  These tents were about the size of a 2 man tent used today.

Many of the families followed the soldiers in the military camp as they had no way of providing for themselves.  The wives earned their keep by doing laundry and mending for the soldiers.

The museum also contained a typical 1780 farm of Virginia.  Most planters made their living by planting tobacco.  Even small planters owned a few slaves who worked along with the family in the gardens and fields.  We were really amused by a turkey at the farm that was busy strutting his stuff.  He stayed fanned out the whole time we were at the farm area.  Such a show off!

Jamestown was the site of the first permanent English settlement in America.  It was established in 1607.  We visited the National Park and viewed the remains of the original fort and area where the village expanded when it outgrew the fort.  There are not buildings remaining of the original site, but a church tower built later is still standing.  It is one of the oldest English built structures in the U. S.  This area was a marshy area and the settlement was plagued with diseases.  

Hurricane Isabel hit this area last year and although it did not damage to the historical site, the National Park visitor’s center was damaged and is closed.  The park offices and center are being housed in temporary buildings. 

We visited Jamestown Settlement, a living-history museum of 17th century Virginia operated by the state of Virginia.

            This museum has costumed interpreters who show life as it was in early Jamestown.  The Powhatan Indian Village depicts the life of the Indians in the area.  These Indians were farmers and hunters.  They taught the settlers their farming methods and traded with them.  Without them the settlers would not have survived as most of them were “gentlemen” who had not survival skills.

            There is also a recreated James Fort.  The fort was triangular.  The houses were made of mud and had thatched roofs.  There was a church inside the fort, as most were members of the Church of England and required to attend church.

            Various methods of business were tried in Jamestown, but tobacco farming was the only thing that resulted in profit.

            The ships that brought the settlers to Jamestown are recreated and on display.  The Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery left England in December of 1606 and arrived in Virginia after 4-1/2 months at sea.  It is amazing to see these tiny vessels and imagine the hardships required to make this voyage. 

            Manassas was the location of two battles of the Civil War.  These are also known as the battles of Bull Run. 

            The first battle of Manassas took place on July 21, 1861 at Henry Hill.  The two armies clashed for the first time and as it was only 25 miles from Washington, DC, many citizens drove out in their carriages to watch the battle.  Union soldiers were sure they would win the battle and that the war would be over quickly.  The battle only lasted one day, with both armies fighting for control of the hill.  In the end, the Union army was defeated and retreated back towards Washington. 

            There was only one civilian death in the battle, an aged widow, Mrs. Judith Henry who was confined to her bed and refused to leave her home even though the battle was raging around it.

            General Thomas J. Jackson was given the nickname “Stonewall” during this battle.

            The second battle of Manassas occurred on the days of August 28-30, 1862.  Over 3300 soldiers were killed and again the Confederate Army prevailed.  This battle was the height of the power of the Confederacy.  We drove the battlefield tour.  Of interest was the stone house, which was used as headquarters for General Pope of the Union and also as a field hospital during both battles of Manassas.  Various types of cannon shot can still be seen in the exterior of the house. 

            (Visit our Photo Album for additional pictures of our Virginia and D.C. travels.)

April 30 was the last day of our stay in Virginia.  It also marked the end of our first years as Full-timers.  What a year it has been.  We have traveled in 23 states and 3 Canadian Provinces.  We have driven over 30,580 miles.  It isn’t a life for everyone, but we are enjoying it and happy that we chose this path.   Although we miss our family, we talk to them often and spend the holidays with them.  We are looking forward to the next year of adventures.