Category Archives: Historic Interest
Sites, museums, UNESCO, & more
The South has some legendary grand hotels, and many Southerners would love to keep them all to themselves. These are five of my favorites, all elegant, renovated, and award-winning:
The Hermitage Hotel | Nashville
The Hermitage Hotel is really the grand dame of them all. The architecture and décor are the very best of Southern elegance. From the minute you step into the beautiful lobby staff is attentive and friendly. Our room was lovely, spacious and totally modern in every amenity and function. We started the evening with local friends in the hotel’s iconic Oak Bar (with a quick side visit to see the famous Men’s Room). Then out the door of this conveniently located hotel to hit some of the cities great nightspots and hear some excellent music. Read the rest of this entry
These days our country is divided politically, pretty much 50/50 and friends and family with opposing viewpoints cannot seem to have a civil discussion without breaking down into name-calling. I keep hearing people say “it’s never been this bad” and “I’ve never seen our country so divided”.
In the context of our short U.S. history, nothing could be more divergent than the War Between the States, fought from 1861 – 1865. Keeping it in perspective, the stunning loss of 622,000 lives was almost more than our losses in all other U.S. wars combined. Based on population percentages, that’s equivalent to 6 million today. It was a war in which family members were often on both sides of the battle and I can see that clearly reflected in my own ancestry research.
The battlefields are now national parks, under the management of the National Park Service and while Gettysburg may be the most famous there are many others. On this trip north, we stopped to visit Manassas National Battlefield Park. Up until this battle, the general population was treating the warlike performance art theater, riding in from cities with picnic baskets packed, to watch. The battle at Manassas ended that trend as the violent, bloody battle and death toll of young soldiers from both sides sent the observers into a fast retreat. The First Manassas Battle is more commonly known as the Battle of Bull Run and it is considered the first major battle of the war, fought in July 1861. A second battle was fought in the same area in August of 1862.
Today the pastoral setting has been beautifully maintained and buildings restored. There is a nice Visitor’s Center with interesting exhibits and a well-done movie explaining the battle. Rangers lead informative tours and hikes. Located near Gainesville, VA, the park is bisected by US Highway 29.
Some might wonder who won this battle, but from my point of view, no one wins a fight with his brother.
September is National Bourbon Heritage Month and so it is only fitting for this week’s post to celebrate that great Kentucky whiskey:
Our whirlwind Bourbon Tour involved 3 other couples, a rented van, and a lot of details, but it was worth every second of the planning. We had great weather and in just four summer days drove through beautiful horse country, ate incredible meals, and tasted some mighty fine bourbon. Our travels took us from Buffalo Trace (home of Blanton’s and the famous Papy Van Winkle), to Woodford Reserve (official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby), Makers Mark, Heaven Hill and Jim Beam (where my favorites Basil Hayden and Knob Creek are distilled), and last, but not least to the Craft Distillery, Willetts.
21c Museum Hotel | Lexington, Kentucky
The 21c Museum Hotel is a great hotel with a contemporary vibe and a focus on historic preservation and art; what a winning combo. And yes, there is an art museum. This is one of several art museum/hotels in renovated sites by this innovative company. I loved the rooms in this repurposed historic bank building. I particularly enjoyed the fun the designers had with color and art. Bright colors were used as accents in the rooms and public spaces, and photography by one of the owners was beautifully featured in the room.
The room was comfortable, bed great, shower excellent. We had no trouble getting feather pillows. Our corner room was on a high floor and the views of the city were terrific. I arranged the trip for a group of friends and we enjoyed the bourbon package. Breakfast was excellent and our bourbon flight was a lot of fun, with a super bourbon steward. Valet was efficient and the staff was very friendly. The only hitch was check-in which was very slow and disorganized, a contrast to everything else about the hotel and our stay.
The Brown Hotel | Louisville, Kentucky
The Brown Hotel was a real step back into another era. We loved the hotel’s colorful history. We were traveling with a group of friends and enjoyed the Club Level service – it proved very convenient, and was more than adequate for breakfast and afternoon wine, beer, (no hard liquor) soft drinks and snacks.
Our Chef’s Table dinner in the kitchen of the English Grill was a wonderful and memorable occasion. Under the direction of English Grill Manager (and Sommelier/Bourbon Steward extraordinaire) Troy Ritchie and Chef Dustin Willett, we enjoyed a first-class event. I had worked with Troy in advance to put together the details and he was delightful, creative, and very easy to work with. Read the rest of this entry
A few weeks ago, I wrote about buying a painting at a fundraiser for the Appalachian Barn Alliance, a group dedicated to documenting historic barns in this part of western North Carolina.
My husband and I decided to take one of their self-driving tours and visit the barns of Walnut Township in Madison County. Once in Madison County, we followed winding country roads for about two hours to nine different barns the preservation group researched, including the one featured in our painting. There were many other old barns and farm buildings along the route, turning our drive into a sort of barn-treasure-hunt.
A few of the barns were not exactly where we thought, but the directions got us close enough to figure it out. Most of the structures were eventually used for tobacco drying of some sort, and many were originally built to house livestock. The history of each barn was as interesting as its deteriorating appearance and we could soon spot the distinctive monitor roof and gambrel roof designs. Along the way, we learned about many used as flue-cured tobacco barns and converted in the 1920s to air-cure burley tobacco (used primarily for cigarette production). Many early barn-owners sold (or bartered) their barn roofs for advertising . . . maybe our first billboards? Does anyone else remember those “See Rock City” barn ads?
The group has several self-guided tours. guided van and private tours, and other special events you can read about on their appalachianbarns.org website.
It was a wonderful way to spend a beautiful day.
St. John’s Episcopal Church is a little gem tucked away in the woods down a gravel road in Sugar Grove, NC. Not far from its parent church The Church of the Holy Cross Episcopal* in Valle Crucis, St. John’s was built in 1862. It came about through the fortitude and aspirations of William West Skiles who gave his life to the church and was deaconate in Valle Crucis. He served the people of this mountain region from 1847, often on horseback, until his death in 1862, just after the new church opened. Read the rest of this entry
You can’t drive through the green, pastoral country roads of Western North Carolina without seeing barns. It’s always fun to see a barn. Barns of all types and styles. Barns mostly in a state of disrepair. Barns that aren’t going to be in existence for the next generation to enjoy. I can’t imagine these mountain landscapes without barns.
The Appalachian Barn Alliance was created to preserve the memories of these barns and document their significant role in the history and development of this rural region. Through architectural drawings, photographs, and data collection the group has documented about 90 historic barns in Madison County, North Carolina. Read the rest of this entry
Time magazine called it “the world’s biggest jigsaw puzzle.” A cloister and refectory built almost 1000 years ago as part of a monastery in Sacramenia, Spain was salvaged from a Brooklyn warehouse and the estate of William Randolph Hearst – and reconstructed in Miami. There were 35,000 pieces in 11,000 wooden crates, mixed-up and misnumbered.
In 1925, Hearst purchased the former Cloisters of St. Bernard de Clairvaux with the intention of using it to surround his pool at his California San Simeon estate. Completed in 1141, it was occupied by Cistercian monks for almost 700 years. Hearst’s plan was derailed by an outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease in Spain, causing concern by U.S. officials who quarantined the shipment, burning the hay protecting the carefully numbered and packed stones. Workers must not have been too concerned with any sort of system as they repacked the massive shipment. Read the rest of this entry
Just imagine. The year is 1780. The Revolutionary War is at a stalemate, no end is in sight and the fighting has moved south with the British conquest of Charleston. The King of England decreed no white men were allowed to claim land west of the Appalachian Mountains, but some had settled in the area.
This week marks the 238th anniversary of a sentinel battle of the Revolutionary War – many say the turning point. In school, we never learned about the rag-tag mountain militia who chased the British to Kings Mountain and fought for freedom. Dubbed the Overmountain Men, they also battled nature as they pursued British Major Patrick Ferguson and his well-armed forces. Ferguson had successfully recruited “loyalist” troops from colonists in the Carolinas to fight for the British crown. Read the rest of this entry
Just imagine a bear that stands 12-feet tall with claws big enough to toss a human like a basketball. Millions of years ago giant short-faced bears did roam eastern Tennessee. Evidence has been uncovered about this massive animal, a newly identified smaller species of bear, and many other Ice Age giants at the Gray Fossil Site in Johnson City Tennessee.
Discovered during road construction in the spring of 2000, the area was a former limestone cave that collapsed making a sinkhole and creating perfect conditions for fossilizing animals of the era. The state of Tennessee abandoned the road location, evaluated the site, and is now funding continuing research in the area estimated to be between 4.5-7 million years old. Read the rest of this entry