Tuesday, October 14, 2008

MA to Florida 10.08

We said goodbye to Amherst and our friends for 7 months and headed south.

Wednesday, Oct. 8, Middlebush, NJ; Philadelphia, PA. Middlebush is a village now part of Somerset near New Brunswick in central New Jersey. I have fond memories of growing up here. It's a little village where I walked a half block to elementary school and had lots of other girls to play with.

We parked at the old Colonial Farms restaurant now O'Connors Beef & Chowder House. I wanted to walk around a bit before lunch with some childhood friends. My first impression was that it was much smaller than I remembered. Of course, the trees had grown a lot in 40 years! I also thought it was a lot farther from my house to the school. I stopped to take some pictures of the house where I lived from birth until 19. What a surprise to see a man come out of the house. It turned out that he and his wife were the people (from Chicopee, MA) that bought our house in 1967 when my parents moved to Brazil for 5 years. What a wonderful surprise! John and Mary Vaughan were so nice to spend time talking with us and walking us around the property. Everything in our yard was smaller than I remembered.

Lunch with Betty Cunningham Lewis, Jackie Sander Griffiths and Lorie Weidner Carkhuff was great. We had been friends since we were little! During our 2 hour lunch we reminisced and just caught up with each other. We'll definitely keep getting together.
In Philadelphia we met our old neighbor and Julie's friend, Kate Gagnon, at Rosie's Yarn Shop, the yarn store where she works. We had a great visit over dinner before we headed off to a play, "Rock 'N Roll," by Tom Stoppard. Another person from our old Amherst neighborhood, Libby Woodbridge, was in it. She just graduated from Boston University as a theater major and this was her first professional role. It was an interesting play and Libby was great in her supporting role! We got to congratulate her after the play and visit a bit. We hadn't seen her for at least 4 years.

Oct. 9. Hawk Mt. This morning we met Peg and Mike Ross, friends from Shutesbury, MA at Hawk Mountain in Kempton, PA. The mountain is a fly through for birds because of the thermals caused by the warm air next to the mountain. We went to North Lookout where there was a guide with a powerful scope ready to help all of us spot and identify the many hawks. (He even had a stuffed owl as a lure for birds to come closer to us.) There were school groups coming and going all morning. It was a beautiful day with the morning fog being burnt off as the sun warmed the air. The valley on both sides was lovely despite the continued haze. About 10% of the trees had changed colors. We saw about 35 sharp-shinned hawks and a number of other birds of prey. The visitor center was excellent. One short video showed the sky (at the end of September) when the hawks were flying in full force, hundreds at a time. (We saw maybe 2 or 3 at a time.)

Oct. 10. Gettysburg, PA, the location of the turning point in the Civil War with the north winning. We had a bit of a drive so didn't arrive at Gettysburg National Military Park until 11 AM. We were really surprised to see so many people! But then I remembered that they just opened up their new Visitor Center last month. It was really well done! First there was background info on the Civil War. Info on the battle (July 1, 2, and 3, 1863) was organized into Day 1, 2, and 3 with a short movie as well as artifacts. All the battles left over 51,000 soldiers dead, wounded or missing. What a horrible battle! And, of course, this is where President Lincoln delivered his famous Gettysburg address at the dedication of the cemetery in November 1863. There are a number of tours and we took advantage of one about the battle on Day 3. We could have done a self-guided car tour of the battlefields but that will have to wait for another visit.

We spent the night at Sandy's sister's house in Stanardsville, VA.
Oct. 11-12. Fredericksburg, VA. We visited with Gail and Dale Ganott and arrived in Fredericksburg by mid afternoon. We visited a friend of mine from Middlebush. Kathy Sellers Wilson and her husband, Rob, took us on a little tour of the town. After dinner we went to a concert at their church. (It was Julie's birthday and she's in Vancouver, BC filming 2 episodes of "Supernatural" on the CW network. We called her but had to leave "Happy Birthday to you" in a message.)

Our first stop on this gorgeous fall day was the Fredericksburg National Military Park Battlefield Visitor Center. They had a small museum with a movie. The major battles here were in December 1862 and May 1863, so before the Gettysburg battles. We took a guided tour as well which was very helpful. He helped us visualize the soldiers and the actual battle at that site. The Confederates won this battle mainly because of geography. They were hidden from view in a sunken road behind a stone wall. We walked around the battlefield and found a small cemetery which was from before the Civil War. The gate showed the impact of cannon fire.

Before we left there Julie called to say she and Michael were engaged!!! We're so happy for them!

We walked down to the Kenmore House which was built in 1775 by Fielding, a wealthy merchant, and his wife, Betty Washington Lewis, George Washington's sister. The interior had colorful paint and wallpaper and beautiful decorative plaster ceilings. No one knows who did the gorgeous plaster work.

We walked downtown which has been renovated and filled with shops. The last stop was really fun. The Hugh Mercer Apothecary was a museum of 2 role players from 1784. One explained all the liquids and herbs that Dr. Mercer used to heal people. The other showed the other tools of his trade, including live leeches! (We had hoped to visit the Rising Sun Tavern which has a tour but we ran out of time.)

Thanks to Kathy and Rob for their hospitality! Kathy's mother lives nearby and we all had dinner together on Sunday. I think it was especially fun for her seeing me "all grown up." As we drove south from Fredericksburg we saw a number of fields of cotton on the side of the road. Wow! My first thought was seeing pictures of slaves picking cotton in fields like this.

Oct. 13-14. St. Augustine, FL. This city has really pretty Spanish architecture. There are lots of things to see in America's oldest city but we only had one day. (I had read that parking was scarce so we parked in a lot behind the Visitor Center.) We started with a tour of Flagler College, the former Ponce de Leon Hotel built in 1888. There was a short movie followed by a student-led tour. What an amazingly beautiful woman's dorm! It's one of the finest examples of Spanish Renaissance Architecture in the US. Henry Flagler made his money in real estate, railroads, and as a partner with Rockefeller in Standard Oil. He wanted to build a place for rich northerners to come down by train for January through March. There are Tiffany stained glass windows , murals, and gorgeous architecture. Even the dining room chairs were amazing.

The fountain in the front courtyard was a creative sun dial. It was surrounded by 12 frogs spouting water. The frog in the right picture is saluting. He represents 12 o'clock. It really was accurate but off by an hour because it was daylight savings time.

The Lightner Museum (old Alcazar Hotel) across the street was the playground, and also a small hotel, also built by Flagler. It was built in 1887 and is one of the earliest poured concrete building. It has a beautiful courtyard with a stone arched bridge over a pond. It housed the gym, sauna, and the largest indoor pool where swimming competitions were held. It closed in 1932 and was purchased by Chicogoan Otto Lightner in 1946 to house his collections of antiquities from all over the world. Two years later it became a museum. The three floors had a little bit of everything including a mummy and a shrunken head. We saw a demonstration of mechanized musical instruments, the precursors to the juke box and player piano. And I really loved this cradle! The museum definitely has something for everyone!

The St. Augustine Visitor Center had an interesting video about the struggle of the early peoples of St. Augustine focusing on one family.

The Old St. Augustine Village Museum and the Fort will have to wait until the next visit.

Wednesday morning we had a great visit with friends from Amherst, Patrick and Dianne Smith. Patrick was the middle school orchestra leader and string teacher. Dianne taught voice and was Julie's voice teacher at Holyoke Community College. They also lived below us in Greenleaves for a year. They retired to Jacksonville but continue to teach in the area.

It was a great week reconnecting with friends and family and seeing historical areas of our great country.

Next stop: our home in Fort Myers, Florida!

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