Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Are you ready to ‘Celebrate Fairfax’?

 Each year Fairfax County puts on several great events, a popular one is “Celebrate Fairfax”. Fun for all ages, Celebrate Fairfax has the typical “carnival” attractions, such as rides and food, but it also offers several performances and special presentations. And a whole lot more. It runs for 3 days, Friday to Sunday.

The 34th annual Celebrate Fairfax event starts on June 5 and concludes on June 7. As I noted last year, it’s been a few years since I’ve been able to go (June is such a busy month isn’t it?), but am aiming to go one of these years. In earlier years there has been dog shows, bands, arts and crafts, dancing, light shows, tech and lots of hands-on fun for the kids.

Every year the festival draws in some big names for performances. This year’s headliners scheduled to be on the Bud Light Main Stage are: 

  • KONGOS (Fri. 8 p.m.)
  • 3 Doors Down  (Sat. 8 p.m.)
  • The Amish Outlaws (Sun. 4:30 p.m.)

There are also several other stages. Check out the official web page to see the various stages and schedules. There will be fireworks on Friday night at 9:30 p.m.

Tickets are currently on sale. The "earliest" bird specials have passed, however, there is still an early bird special running through May 30. Fees vary depending on how and where you buy the tickets, so check the pricing page of the festival for more details.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Photos on Friday: A piece of Plymouth Rock (Smithsonian)

About two weeks ago we took a trip downtown to see the cherry blossoms. While in DC we decided to pop into the National Museum of American History since we hadn't been there for about a year.

There is a lot of renovation going on at the moment, so things were set up differently. For instance, the pop culture exhibit has been undergoing extensive renovation for a while now and many of the artifacts are housed in various parts of the museum. So while on a hunt to find Oscar the Grouch, we were guided to a section dedicated to American history 17th century to 1940s.

In this exhibit was a piece of Plymouth Rock. This was one link to the past I've never seen in the museum. Oscar was not currently on display, however, this was very cool to see!! We were not disappointed.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Celebrate ‘green living’ at SpringFest in Fairfax County

If you have kids, this is a fun event. Held every April, Fairfax County’s SpringFest highlights green living, celebrating Earth Day, Arbor Day, and a cleaner environment. Kids and adults alike can learn more about recycling, sustainability, wildlife, farming and community-based planting, to name a few.

With entertainment, games, educational stations and hands-on learning activities, it’s a great day out. The last time I went, there was an inflatable obstacle course with a slide, a rock climbing wall, pony rides, petting zoo, games, mascots, a reptile show and music, along with other performances. It drew a pretty big crowd that year. According to the event's website, last year drew 5,000 area residents and the event gets bigger every year.

In 2013, SpringFest featured a reptile show which was a big hit with the kids

This exhibit included a game where participants could guess to see how many cans are in this block

At this exhibit, kids listened to an explanation of what bees do for the environment. In the background wooden display were lots of live bees.

Making birdhouses out of recycled bottles.

Many hands-on activities for the kids. Kids can learn about planting and how to plant. 

SpringFest used to be held at the Lorton at the Workhouse Arts Center but in 2017 was held at Sully Historic Site and it appears this is the festival's new permanent home. This event is free to the public (although some of the attractions like pony rides, the bounce house and rock climbing require a $5 all-access wristband). There are food vendors and a farmer’s market as well.

The Lorton Community Action Center will also be running a breakfast food drive. For more information about SpringFest you can visit the official website.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Great day trips from DC: Harpers Ferry, W.V.

Every so often I like to do a post about day trips from Washington. Sometimes it’s fun to just get out of town and see something different, but maybe don’t want to do an overnight trip. If you’re like me and enjoy a step back in history, you’ll probably find Harpers Ferry, West Virginia is a terrific day trip to make.

And, even if you don’t want to take a step into the past, you can simply enjoy the outdoors and take a hike or go tubing down the Shenandoah and/or Potomac rivers.

This post is going to look more at the history aspect since I’ve only done the tubing once or twice and still have the hiking on my “to do” list.

Over the centuries Harpers Ferry has played a pivotal role in history. It was once a booming industrial community, but was one also destroyed by war. With a lot in between. Today the historic section of town is run by the National Park Service (NPS) and visitors can step back in time and experience life somewhat like it would have been many, many decades ago.

End of the street in Lower Town - you can see the old hotel. Daily ranger tours are given by NPS

Harpers Ferry’s beginnings

The town is located along the rivers where the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers meet. Over the centuries the town has gone through many transformations, but even in the 21st century, you get a distinct feel of how life once was in this once bustling town.

A man named Robert Harper first settled the location in 1751 after obtaining a patent for 125 acres. His attraction to this particular parcel of land was its strategic location due to the presence of the two rivers. These rivers eventually would serve as a pivotal point for travel and industry.

Aside from the history, the views are stunning. You can see where West Virginia, Virginia and Maryland intersect. Beautiful scenery. 

You can see Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia from this view.


Leaving a permanent mark in history

Not long after Harper settled, this location grew to become a town, experiencing ongoing growth. This is where the history begins to come into play. During the 1700 and 1800s, industry would boom. Subsequently, events, such as John Brown’s Raid and the Civil War, would forever mark this location with historical meaning. As NPS puts it:  

“It is more than one event, one date, or one individual. It is multi-layered - involving a diverse number of people and events that influenced the course of our nation's history. Harpers Ferry witnessed the first successful application of interchangeable manufacture, the arrival of the first successful American railroad, John Brown's attack on slavery, the largest surrender of Federal troops during the Civil War, and the education of former slaves in one of the earliest integrated schools in the United States.”

There are two sections to the town. “Lower Town” is where industry exploded. The rivers allowed easy transport. Today you can see the remains of the former canal system, an abandoned pulp mill, several old buildings where the townspeople lived, dined and worked. Many of these buildings have gone under restoration and are open to the public. 

Inside of the old General Store

Additionally, U.S. government also left its mark on the town. While no longer in existence, the federal armory and arsenal were also located on the riverside. However, the exception is the Armory’s fire engine and guard house that served as John Brown's headquarters in 1859. Years ago it was taken apart and moved, but eventually was brought back to Harper’s Ferry. There are two bricks inside the building that mark the 1895 recovery and the 1910 rebuild of this historical structure.

This was the only building of the federal armory that survived the Civil War.
It is a rebuild of the original Armory’s fire engine and guard house, which John Brown used as his fort during his 1859 raid. After the war, it was sold, dismantled and moved to Chicago. In 1895, it was moved back to Harper's Ferry and in 1910 reassembled about 150 feet away from its original location.

Upper Town has churches, cemeteries and several other structures, along with “Jefferson’s Rock”. Many of the homes are private homes. (You can read more about them here in a document by a local historical society: [PDF]).  I’ve been to the first part you reach in Upper Town a few times and have seen the highlights, but have generally spent most of my time in Lower Town when I've visited.

Historical figures

Many well-known people in American history passed through Harpers Ferry at some point in time. Over the centuries the location became acquainted with George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Meriwether Lewis and Frederick Douglass, to name a few. 

This shale, collectively called "Jefferson Rock" is the location where Thomas Jefferson stood on Oct. 25, 1783 when traveling through Harpers Ferry with his daughter Patsy. He wrote about the experience and it was published in Notes on the State of Virginia in 1785.

Connecting the past with the present

Once a huge railroad town, it is not as active as it used to be as modern technology has changed life as people once knew it. The town no longer rustles with industry but does give a fabulous glimpse into how life was during earlier centuries. And while some of the rails no longer run, there are still a few trains rumbling through town. You do get a sense of “old meets new” when walking through both Lower and Upper Town. 

Harpers Ferry Rail

Harpers Ferry is about 90 minutes from the District (depending on traffic of course!). It is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., but is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. There is a bus that runs from the visitor’s center to Lower Town, but if you’re up for a walk it’s about 1 to 1.5 miles (coming back up the hill is steep in one section though). I’ve done it both ways, each was a good experience.

If you did want to stay overnight, I noticed there were a few hotels/motels in the area. We’ve only done a few day trips though so can’t share much info about accommodations.

When visiting Harpers Ferry it is not too hard to envision the past as the town has been so well-preserved.