Monday, August 4, 2008

Newport News, Virginia

On the Road Again!

With the high cost of gas/diesel motor home sales have slowed making fewer available for delivery and more competition for the drivers! We had a choice of 3 units the day we called. Our choice was an Itasca Navion that was sold to a dealer in
Newport News, Virginia.

The afternoon before we left another thunderstorm went through our area. The clouds and sun created this contrasting view of the Prairie.
The next afternoon in the Indianapolis area we drove through another thunderstorm or the same one??

Speaking of weather it was encouraging to see all the rebuilding being done in the Parkersburg, IA area after the tornado that hit early this spring. Most all of the debris has been removed and it resembles a housing development. It was more difficult to see the flood damage in Cedar Rapids from the Interstate.

Driving along the Interstate in Iowa/Illinois & Indiana we felt like we were traveling through a sea of various shades of green highlighted with the gold tassels just coming out in the fields of corn and a contrasting golden wheat/oats field. The ditches are filled with yellow blossoms of black-eyed susan, blue of chicory, delicate white of queen Anne's lace, pink of the crown vetch and the purple of clover. The sky overhead is a brilliant blue with a line of cottony thunderheads to the south. We listen to the song, "How Great Thou Art" and Thank the Lord, for giving us this colorful Cathedral of Creation!

Across Ohio and into the Appalachian Mtns of West Virginia and Virginia. It is dry out here and a contrast to the green in the plains. In Dayton, Ohio we took Highway # 35 which goes Southeast into Charleston, WV. It is a good road. A pretty drive!

Along the Interstate we noticed new semi tractors being transported "piggy-back" with 2 or 3 to a "load". One day we counted up to 50 loads headed west!

It seemed that the traffic was not nearly as heavy as on our past trips even though it was summer vacation.

Found the dealer, unhooked and washed unit. For those who are interested: This was a diesel unit which averaged 13-14 mpg. The average price for diesel was $4.70/gal. Our Saturn averaged 30-36 mpg while sightseeing and driving back. Gas was under $3.80 to $3.97/gal.

So many choices of interesting places to visit!!

We had made reservations at a motel in Williamsburg, VA for the night knowing that we would spend time someplace near there the afternoon after our delivery. We choose to go to Yorktown and stopped at the Watermen's Museum on Water Street. A trolley goes by every 20 minutes on its circuit of the city stopping at stores and museums. It sits on the shore of the York River and there is a public beach on either side.

The museum is in a four-room building that was the J.W. Hornsby Co office, but originally was brought by barge across the York river to this site in 1987. One of the rooms is paneled in burled long leaf pine. The grain of the wood has an interesting pattern. The long leaf pine tree grows along the Atlantic coastal plain from Virginia to Texas. The trees with the burled grain were over 400 years old when cut for lumber. Only about 1% of the trees were burled and they were all harvested years ago. Today the burled wood comes from old buildings and warehouses that were built during the Industrial Revolution.

The fishermen who worked along England's Thames River called themselves, Watermen. This title was retained by the Virginia colonists who worked the water and continues to today. During the Revolutionary War, the Watermen were used as pilots of ships.

The Watermen had the Chesapeake Bay to work. The Algonquian Indians, who lived along the bay called it the "great shellfish bay". It is 2500 sq miles, largest bay in the US. Today it produces 200 million pounds of seafood. It's distinctive geological features include a gently a sloping shoreline believed to have been shaped by glaciers as they receded. It is relatively shallow, averaging 21 feet, which allows sunlight to nurture sea plants and other organisms that form the basis of the Bay's all important food chain.

The first items exported from the colonies was the meat and the roe of the sturgeon from Chesapeake Bay. The museum displays tell the story of fin fishing for croaker, spot, flounder, menhaden and shell fishing for crabs, clams, scallops and oysters. Today, with aquaculture, the Watermen are growing clams and oysters in beds in the river & bay. It is the 3rd largest industry in Virginia. You can even grow clams and oysters off your own dock!

A table had shells from snails, scallops, oysters, snails, a string of whelk egg cases (the long round items) and the black item in the back is a skate egg case. The whelk is a large snail. Their shells are the large spiral ones. It is sometimes mistakenly called a conch. In the summer there will be stings of pale, disc-shaped egg cases on the shore. The skate fish or ray is a flat kite-shaped fish.

Clams are important food for waterfowl, especially gulls. Gulls collect clams at low tide. By dropping them while flying over hard surfaces such as docks, highways and even roofs of houses and cars these clever birds break open the shells so they can eat the meat!

Yorktown Victory Center

We missed the trolley so drove along the river to the Yorktown Victory Center. This is a living-history museum that brings the American Revolution to life. Along the walk-way to the museum is a fence that traces the timeline and world events that led to the American Revolution. Following are some interesting tidbits of history we discovered:

Taxation was the final straw! England was needing money to pay for its Seven-year war with France so taxed everything that came into the colonists. The York River was deep making Yorktown a good site for wharves, warehouses and commerce in the 18th century. In sympathy with other colonies York County had a Virginia version of the Boston "Tea Party" in November of 1774!

Macaronies were a group of fashionable young Englishmen who adapted the latest European foods and clothing. In the song, Yankee Doodle Dandy, the verse about putting a feather in your hat and calling it macaroni refers to these men. The colonists could stick a feather in their hat and be "fashionable"!

Many of the colonists feared declaring independence, since it guaranteed open war and the Americans had no foreign allies. Even France, though a enemy of the British, might try to recapture her lost American colonies rather than support a new republic. (The British had just defeated the French.)

After the Declaration of Independence was signed people celebrated with displays of bonfires, bell-ringing and the destruction of the British Royal Symbols that were standing in the towns. A group of soldiers & tradesmen vented their pent-up anger at the King by pulling down a 2000# statue of him on a horse and cutting it up. It was melted and made into ammunition to use in the war. ("The British troops had melted majesty fired at them!")

The French did help Americans at the Battle of Yorktown against Cornwallis. This was the last major battle of the Revolution. After a week of sending over 6,000 rounds of artillery Cornwallis tried to transfer troops from Yorktown across the river to Gloucester. He failed because of violent storms. Washington and Rochambeau set out with 12,000 American & French soldiers from the New York on a 400 mile march to Yorktown to fight Cornwallis. Meanwhile the French Navy turned back a British fleet & seized control of Chesapeake Bay.

A large percentage of the British Army fighting in the Revolutionary War were Scots, Irish & Germans, called Hessions. As the war proceeded many deserted and chose to stay in America. The Continental Forces were from many ethnic backgrounds drawn from all 13 states, Canada and the French Army. One gallery in the museum gives the stories of 10 individuals whose lives were affected by the war.

The British scuttled or sank some of their ships when they first arrived to make a barrier to protect them from assault from the River while in Yorktown. After their defeat they scuttled the rest of the ships to prevent their capture and use by the Americans. 200 years later underwater archaeologists excavated one of the ships, the brig Betsy. There is an exhibit showing all they found in the ship. To scuttle the ship a rectangular opening is chiseled through the hull below the waterline allowing the ship to fill with water and sink. Did you know that shipwrights, a person that builds a ship, often placed a coin at the base of the mast to ensure good winds?

Part of the Yorktown Victory Center is a recreated Continental Army Encampment showing a soldier's life during the siege of Yorktown. We watched as soldiers directed children from the crowd load and fire a cannon.

The Encampment had rows of small white tents. Each was to hold 6 soldiers. There was a tent for the Army doctor, larger tents for the General and other officers. Also an area for doing laundry. Some wives traveled with their husbands and did laundry and cooked for the soldiers.

The kitchen/cooking area was interesting. A trench was dug heaping the dirt to make a dome. Holes or caves were dug in the side of the trench under the dome. Here the fire was built. A small hole was dug from the top down to the fire hole to let the heat come up to the pans/pails sat on top. If they would have fresh meat they would bend the metal rings from an empty barrel to form a grate to "grill" the meat. Mostly their diet was salted fish and hard tack ( a hard biscuit made with flour, baking soda, salt & water) The fish and hard tack were boiled in water to get salt from the fish and to soften the hard tack. The pails were taken to their tents to be eaten. Building the fire inside of the little caves behind a trench prevented fire from escaping into the camp and burning the tents.

We finished our day by driving the Colonial National Historical Parkway, a 30 mile road which connects Yorktown and Jamestown. The York River is deep and used by today's Navy as well as commercial ships. As you drive the Parkway there are areas marked for their history. We passed the site of a farm where the colonists tried to raise silkworms. It was particularly interesting to me because I'd just finished reading The Silk House Series by Linda Chaikin. She writes about the silk growers in southern France and in the book indicates that they wanted to start a farm in Virginia. She also gives a vivid history of the Huguenots and the oppression they experienced during that time.

A good night's sleep in Williamsburg and ready to continue South.

Willamsburg is a whole day or two of sights to see, but we chose to save that for another time!

Back to the Colonial National Historical Parkway which is a quiet, scenic drive across this portion of Virginia connecting the York River and the James River. Creeks and small rivers have channels with tide markings. We stopped ad walked a beach along the James River where the first settlers stopped, but voted to go on to what became Jamestown.

Again, there are historical areas marked with signs and places to drive-out and park. One of the areas was a 100 acre tract of land that was set aside for the benefit of the Jamestown Parish Church and Minister. It is called Glebe Land.

Historic Jamestown is an archaeological site on the original location of the settlement which includes a museum facility featuring the artifacts excavated and a place where you can stand exactly where America began. Again we had to make a choice and chose to go to the living history museum of 17th century Virginia called Jamestown Settlement which brings history to life. Many new features have been added because it is the 400th Anniversary of Jamestown!

A film is shown that chronicles the convergence of cultures in Virginia. The Galleries have artifacts, dioramas and full-scale structures based on historical documents and archeology of the 3 cultures, English, Indian & African, that met here! There are hands-on exhibits and demonstrations everywhere!

On the James River are the 3 recreated ships, The Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery, that carried the settlers to the settlement. You can climb aboard and below deck and see the accommodations experienced on their four-and-a-half month journey from England. The crews lived and worked on the main deck while the passengers remained below deck with the cargo. These ships were the life-line to the settlers after they arrived. 104 English men and boys sponsored by the Virginia Company of London came in search of profits and resources 13 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth.

When they arrived in 1607 they found the Powhatan Indians. It is believed that they are from Asian descent having walked across the bridge formed between the continents during the Ice Age. These people had a political system, religion and a complex society of tribes. It was interesting to note that the Indians valued copper and traded for that valuable metal with the tribes that mined it. The Powhatan Indians had 5 seasons. There 5th season was eating of green corn! In other words they ate some of their corn crop before it was fully mature. It would have been similar to our sweet corn. They also discovered that the stalk had a sweet juice. (and we thought we discovered corn sweetener!) You can explore a recreated Powhatan Indian Village.

A triangular-shaped fort was built for defense in 1610 and was home to the earliest colonists. It included wattle-and-daub houses with thatched roofs, a store house, a court of guard and a church.
A wattle-and-daub house was made by using a framework of poles intertwined with branches and vines, wattle, and covered with daub, or a sticky substance like mud & clay.

They used a clay oven to bake bread. The rounded object is the oven made of clay. A fire is built inside and when the oven is hot enough the ashes are scraped out. The loaf of bread is put on a wooden board and slid into the oven. A lid is used to close the front of the oven and the bread bakes!

This is the inside of their church. Note the thatched roof--made of long pieces of dried straw or reeds. It is formed with a peak so that the water will run off.
Also note the pews. They are a board to sit on and a board across your shoulder blade with a decorative post to hold them together. See how the pulpit is raised and to the right of the center aisle. Candle holders are mounted above on the beam for light.
The ammunition was kept in a separate stone building. It was reinforced with thicker wall at the bottom so in case of fire all of the force of the explosion would be channeled up and not out to cause damage. Their guns were fired with powder that was set off by a small charge of powder and a piece of burning hemp. They would wear small wooden tubes connected to a leather strap each holding just enough powder for one shot to insure that the right amount was used.

Throughout the area are people dressed in 17th century clothes. Long skirts, head covered with scarves, long sleeves, etc. When asked if they were hot (it was 90 degrees!) they said the long skirt was loose so when walking it made a breeze. Clothes were made of linen and loose fitting to allow air circulation. They would cover their skin to protect from the sun while we uncover and expose!

The third culture that was introduced to this area was African. The English brought in Africans to work as slaves for them as they cleared land and started producing crops, making ships and other products to trade with the British. The gallery exhibits show what and how this culture changed and added to the beginnings of this country.

We rode the free ferry across the James River to Surry County, Virginia. This quiet agriculture area is interspersed with forests and historical plantations that can be visited. Some areas of road are lined with trees. We saw fields of soybeans, wheat, corn and peanuts. The area appeared to be very dry. Interesting signs set along residences like political signs stated NO OLF. The citizens are protesting against the Navy building an Outlying Landing Field in the area. On Highway #60 we found a locally owned Star Motel at Dillwyn, VA. Quaint, clean and quiet. Supper at a local Italian Restaurant which served excellent pizza.

Driving to Appomattox via Farnville took us through low mountains watching the fog lift and past fruit & vegetable stands selling tree ripened peaches. Also saw a sign at a local drug store that advertised Poison Ivy Pills for $11.98!

The Appomattox Court House National Historical Park has a mile of trails. One is a History Trail following the areas that General Grant traveled to bypass Confederate troops as he rode to met General Lee and discuss surrender terms. One is a forestry trail with markers to identify trees. Heavy rain can cause floods on one and the other had sections that are uneven and rocky. We bypassed walking because of the extreme heat. We did stop at a small confederate cemetery that contained one Northern soldier, all were killed on the day before the surrender. The union soldier had enlisted and fought over 1400 days before he was killed 24 hours before the surrender. There was a huge Oak tree that stood on this site!

At the Visitor Center we were given a guide who took us out and pointed out the areas around the town and how the surrender played out in the lives of the people involved. The village was chosen as the county seat and a courthouse was built, thus it is called Appomattox Court House.
Some of the interesting facts we learned:

The Confederate troops were starving as they camped near Appomattox. The Union had captured all of the Railroads and food supplies. The James River was flooded so they could not escape to the East.

General Lee & General Grant met in the parlor of the McLean House to discuss and sign the surrender papers. Their signatures are not on any one document. The terms of surrender were written in pencil by Grant, agreed to by Lee and then written in ink by an aide to Grant. Lee wrote his letter of surrender and signed it. Grant signed the terms of surrender.

There were no grandstands or theatrics. Just 2 commanders agreeing to quit fighting. They discussed there experiences fighting together in the Mexican War while they were meeting.

General Lee was impeccable in clean uniform and gloves because he had his camp set up and knew when and where they were to meet. General Grant had been busy setting up his headquarters and getting ready to fight when he got word from the Confederate messenger when and where to meet. The area was muddy from all the rains because the hilly land had been cleared for planting crops and was eroded.

One of the terms was that the Confederate army would surrender all guns, ammunition, and insignia flags because they were used against the Union. This symbolized the end of the battle. These items were stacked along the street that ran thru the town.

Most of the Confederate Calvary owned their horses. Feed was scarce. General Grant had the Calvary surrender first so that they could get feed for the horses. Then the artillery and last the infantry marched thru the town and stacked their weapons. Because the Union had the extra food that they had captured Grant agreed to feed the Confederate Soldiers before they left for home.

Printing presses were carried with the armies for printing out orders. Between the 2 armies the presses were set up in the tavern and 28,000 parole slips were printed during the night. The names were filled in by the regiment leaders. The Parole pass stated the date and name of the bearer and his company. It stated that he was a paroled prisoner of the Army of Northern Virginia and has permission to go to his home and there remain undisturbed. This pass would enable him to get free food and safe transportation through the country. He was also allowed to take his own horse.

Because it took awhile to get the news out of the surrender there were still battles after the
April 9, 1865 surrender. Todd Lincoln was with Gen. Grant at Appomattox and rode with him to Washington DC arriving the day his Father was shot.

Mr. McLean had fought in the first battle in the Civil War and moved his family and his business so he would not have to fight again! No one else was in town because all had fled to friends or relatives when news of the soldiers arriving in the area. The house is set up with kitchen/dining room in the walk-out(back of the house) basement. The parlor on the main floor and the bedrooms upstairs. The Court House was only open one day a month and the tavern did not have large enough private room.


We stopped at the National D-Day Memorial at Bedford, VA. It is an impressive outdoor facility open year around and established as a memorial to the valor, fidelity and sacrifice of the Allied Forces that took part in the landing at Normandy, France on June 6, 1944. There are Bronze tablets with names of all who took part, flags of the 12 nations of the Allied Expeditionary Force, and a beach tableau with sculptures showing a landing craft with troops moving off the tidal flat. This was accented with alternating water spouts sounding like shells landing in the water!

This Piper Cub was called a grasshopper. It was easy to maneuver and covered with a cloth that let the bullets go right through and kept flying.

Whenever you take out your roll of Reynolds Wrap you can remember that Mr. Reynolds had a big role in the war. When he was in Europe at the start of the war he noticed that Germany was buying large amounts of aluminum from France. Mr. Reynolds tried to persuade France to quit selling it, but they would not listen. He knew it was going to make airplanes for the Luftwafte.
Back in America he tried to persuade the government to stockpile aluminum knowing that eventually they would need it for equipment for the war. The government refused so he used his own money and invested in stockpiling it. When America entered the war he had the aluminum necessary to make the planes needed.

We have experienced the first colony in America, the Birth of the Nation, the rebirth at the end of the Civil War and a huge battle in the last World War!

Back to the Interstate and headed west through the mountains of West Virginia, rolling hills of Ohio, into Indiania and back into the corn country of Illinois and Iowa! Ragbrai was just finishing at the Mississippi River and traffic was lined up for 5 miles on the other side of the Interstate and on the side roads leading in and out of LeClaire to pick-up the cyclists.

See you along the way,
Prairie Schooners

1 comment:

Dagmar said...

Wow! Sounds like you had a very interesting trip! I really enjoyed all the Revolutionary war stuff you wrote about.