Saturday, May 31, 2014

Visiting the historical and resilient Chapman's Mill (Beverley Mill)

Chapman's Mill, located in Northern Virginia, is a structure that dates back to the 18th century. Once a mill that was operational for over 200 years, today only the remnants of this former bustling business remain. 

While much of the property lays in ruins today, visitors can come see the remainder of the building and surrounding property and learn about the history associated with the mill. The mill is believed to be the tallest stone structure in the United States; a remarkable sight.

Chapman's Mill exterior

Origins of Chapman's Mill

This historic and resilient structure was built in 1742 by the father and son team of Jonathan and Nathaniel Chapman. In the 1850s, the family expanded Chapman's Mill after the Manassas Gap Railroad was completed. The business prospered and by 1858, the mill grew to seven stories, "making it a model of agricultural technology", according to  

Civil War arrives

Chapman's Mill was taken over by the Confederate Army in the time frame leading up to the First Battle of Manassas. The army used it as a meat curing warehouse and distribution center. After the battle was over, the Confederate Army burned the mill, not wanting to leave behind anything the Union Army could use. Later on, the Battle of Thoroughfare Gap would take place in the vicinity of the Mill, which is not too far from the Manassas Battlefield.

According to accounts, owner John Chapman sued the U.S. government for damages done to his property during the Civil War but lost the case and his business was unable to sustain. A plaque on site states:
"Ruined economically, physically and emotionally by the mill's wartime destruction, Chapman suffered a mental breakdown in 1862."  
The marker said Chapman's family ended up committing him to an asylum and he died four years later.

The mill is revived and burned down again

By 1876, a family named Beverley had restored the mill and the business took on that family's name. Operations continued for many more decades into the mid-20th century.

The mill ceased doing business in 1951.

Earlier image of Chapman/Beverley Mill listed as 1937 (Credit: National Park Service)

Throughout the span of its 250-year history the mill saw seven wars: The French and Indian, the Revolutionary, the War of 1812, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and World War I and World War II, according to Chapman's The business had ground cornmeal and flour during all of them.

Since the business shuttered its doors for the last time, it had been preserved, but in 1998 a tragic fire once again destroyed the mill; the fire was said to be arson. The interior was destroyed, and today the structure stands, for the most part, hollow.
Fire at Chapman's Mill occurred in 1998
This historic mill fell victim to fire in 1998, here a charred beam rests on a wheel.

Visiting the Chapman/Beverley Mill

The mill is located off I-66 in Northern Virginia and is currently zoned as being on the border between Fauquier and Prince William Counties, not unlike it was in the 18th century. Today, efforts continue to maintain the once former prosperous mill as a "ruin site" that highlights the architecture and history behind this landmark. This website further explains the restoration/stabilization efforts in detail that have been taking place since the devastating 1998 fire.

Visitors can see the restoration/stabilization in progress as parts of the property are blocked off, however, during my visit we were able to enter the interior of the mill. The former Beverley Store that is adjacent to the mill is also open, along with other remnants left from buildings of a time gone by.
The Beverley Store
The Beverley Store

A sign on the property indicates the area is only open on weekends. There is a gate opened during this time, allowing visitors to drive right in and park next to the store and mill.

Drivers traveling on I-66, vehicles passing by can easily see the remains of the mill, however, despite its closeness in proximity to the interstate, there is no direct exit off to access the mill, visitors will have to take a number of other back roads to reach it. GPS may or may not easily locate it through search (I had some trouble), so if you want to see the mill close up, you can find its location at 17504 Beverley Mill Rd., Broad Run, Va.

This mill and store once prospered, but today remain as historic landmarks.
This mill and store once prospered, but today remain as historic landmarks.

Chapman's Mill (Beverley Mill) exterior
Chapman's Mill - a restoration in progress

Friday, May 30, 2014

Calling train enthusiasts - 20th Annual Manassas Heritage Railway Festival

[This page is outdated, however, current information for 2015 can be found on my updated post about this event]

Every year the Manassas pays tribute to its rich railroad history with its Annual Manassas Heritage Railway Festival. This year's event takes place on June 7, and as customary, will be located in the Historic Downtown Manassas. The celebration includes train memorabilia, model trains, live entertainment, train rides and more. 

"Watch miniature trains come to life," says Visit Visitors to the festival can see "elaborate" model trains created by local groups set to Country and Blue Grass music. 

Train Depot in Historic Downtown Manassas
Train Depot in Historic Downtown Manassas
Marking its 20th year, the 2014 celebration also features VRE train rides with a Frozen Princess. Families can take a 40-minute ride from Manassas to Clifton and back. Tickets ($5) can be pre-purchased at the Manassas Train Station located at 9431 West Street between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. There are four scheduled rides at 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. Tickets can also be purchased on the day of the event.

Other fun includes rides for the kids and entertainment. Shows this year include a magician, martial arts, clogging, belly dancers and musical performances. Vendors will also have booths with train-themed books, photography, toys and other related items for sale.

The train depot is also celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. The James & Marion Payne Railroad Heritage Gallery (located inside the converted old depot) is undergoing a renovation and will also be a part of the commemoration. A special rededication is scheduled to take place on June 6.

The festival will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and, except special attractions such as the train ride, this event is free.

The railway festival kicks off a series of events that will occur throughout the summer. One of my favorites is the annual Fourth of July celebration. Celebrate America will take place on July 4 from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. (kiddie rides open at 3 p.m.) culminating in a beautiful fireworks show.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Get ready to 'Celebrate Fairfax' in June

Every year Fairfax County throws its annual "Celebrate Fairfax" event. Fun for all ages, Celebrate Fairfax has the typical carnival type attractions such as rides and food, but also has various types of performances along with other special presentations and a whole lot more. The festival runs for 3 days, it begins on Friday and concludes on Sunday.

Now in its 33rd year, this year's event starts on June 6 and runs through June 8.

It's been a few years since I've attended due to other commitments in early June, but am considering going again this year. In previous years we've seen light shows, dog shows, bands, dance, arts and crafts, technology and many other of types of fun. The kids love it! If you've got children, there has never been a shortage of children's programs to explore. From the looks of the county's website, it appears there is still all this happening  and more. There's even a "Silent Disco".

One of the major attractions is the music. In previous years some well-known names have played at the festival. This year's headliners scheduled to be on the Bud Light Main Stage are:
  • The All-American Rejects Fri 8 p.m.  
  • Cheap Trick Sat 8 p.m.  
  • The Hunts Sun 4 p.m.  

Check this link to see the schedules for the Shock Top Rock and Cox Rocks stages to see what other musical talent is featured over the weekend. After the headliners on Friday and Saturday night, the festival will present fireworks at 9:30 p.m.

Image credit: Public Domain (Wikimedia)
Other highlights this year include contests. Scheduled competitions include a cornhole tournament, amateur photography (these entries were due in last week), an art contest, karaoke and a QR hunt. 

The latter is a first time event for Celebrate Fairfax and participants need to have a smartphone. The festival's website recommends what apps to download based on which mobile OS will be used in order to compete in the QR hunt. Participants look for clues and use the QR app to solve the puzzle. (Check the link for a description of what the contest involves).

Those planning to attend can buy tickets in advance (advance purchases are a few dollars cheaper) or on the day of the event. Advance tickets can also be purchased at Wegmans through June 5 for a discount while supplies last. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Museums in Washington, D.C. to put on your 'must see' list

Washington is one of the most popular tourist destinations people come to visit in the United States. Every year, visitors from all over the globe come to see the history, landmarks, and culture that the nation's capital city has to offer.

Usually, museums are on many visitor itineraries, and Washington, D.C. has a number of top-rated ones throughout the city. Many of these museums are free, however, there are a few that have pricier admission fees. Depending on your budget and what you want to see, you might want to plan your visit with a mix of both.


The Smithsonian is comprised of 19 museums and galleries, most of which are located on or near the National Mall. All offer free admission. Depending on your time factor, it may be difficult to see all of them during a trip, but here are some of the top attractions:

The National Museum of American History highlights various aspects of American life. There are seriously some incredible exhibits in this museum that showcase history, science, technology, pop culture, music and the arts, U.S. military and more. There is also the popular First Ladies' exhibit; this exhibit opened in the fall of 2011 and is currently scheduled to be displayed "indefinitely". You can also see the original American flag that inspired "The Star-Spangled Banner", and the red slippers Judy Garland wore in "The Wizard of Oz". One of my most recent discoveries is the Gunboat Philadelphia, sailed by Benedict Arnold and sunk in 1776; it was brought to the surface in the 1930s and is now housed downtown.
Ruby red slippers from "The Wizard of Oz"
Dorothy's ruby red slippers

A visit to the Air & Space Museum is usually on the top of the list for visitors coming to D.C., especially those intrigued by aviation and space history. You can see everything from the Wright Brothers first airplane to a moon rock and much in between. There is also an Imax Theatre in this museum. 

The National Museum of Natural History focuses on nature. Explore the various animals, reptiles, insects, mammals that roam, or have roamed, the Earth. Journey through the land, sky, and sea. See the different plant species that grow around the world. Of course, a visit to the geology wing to see the Hope Diamond is a must. My personal fave is the Butterfly Pavilion.

I'd normally say the dinosaur exhibit should also be at the top of the list as well, however, this exhibit is currently closed as the museum renovates and prepares to open with a fully intact T-Rex on loan from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Found in Montana back in the late 1980s, the museum will house the dino fossils for 50 years. The newly revamped dino hall is scheduled to open in 2019.
Hope Diamond
Hope Diamond

These are perhaps the most popular Smithsonian museums and most crowded, however, the others [see full list] are definitely worth exploring if your time is not limited. 

Ford's Theatre

This historic theatre, which is actually still a working theatre, is where President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865. Run by the National Park Service, the landmark theatre is open to visitors and park rangers are present to answer questions; there is also an interesting presentation. Pictures and detailed information about the museum and its history can be found in this earlier blog post I wrote. Tickets are free, however, are subject to availability, first come, first served. You can also reserve a time frame for a nominal fee on Ticketmaster. The free tickets are limited to 6 per person for same-day visits.


The Newseum is a museum that is dedicated to "five centuries of news history with up-to-the-second technology and hands-on exhibits."
Newseum decked out for the 2013 inauguration

Compared to the others, it is a relatively new museum to the city, it is a popular attraction. This is one on my "to do" list as I haven't gotten a chance to go visit just yet (just too much to see around here!) This museum does have an admission fee. See the Newseum website for current fees and hours.

International Spy Museum

A very popular tourist attraction, the International Spy Museum is said to be the only public one in the United States solely dedicated to espionage. Visitors can see artifacts used in missions and learn more about this secretive field. This museum also charges a fee and it is recommended that visitors reserve tickets in advance as they can sell out quickly during busy seasonal times. (Another one I can't believe I haven't visited yet! But it's on my list...)

National Archives

Want to see an original copy of the Declaration of Independence? Or the U.S. Constitution? How about one of the four copies of the Magna Carta? All this and more can be seen at the National Archives.  Entry is free, but wait times can be long, so you want to plan ahead of time for this one. It's definitely worth the visit. I've been there two or three times and definitely plan to go back.

These are a handful of the many museums located in Washington, D.C. This list highlights the popular museums, but there are literally dozens of other smaller ones. I haven't noted these as I haven't been to most of them yet, but as I do visit them will be sure to review and share more information. 

While the museums are enough to keep you busy during your trip, be sure and take the time to see the memorials and monuments on the National Mall
Butterfly Pavilion at the National Museum of Natural History
The Butterfly Pavilion located at the National Museum of Natural History is excellent