Friday, October 28, 2016

Photos on Friday: Fall foliage on Skyline Drive

For today's Photos on Friday, I'm going to post pics from our annual ride down Skyline Drive to see the beautiful fall foliage. We usually start off at Front Royal and see where the day takes us. This year we drove down to Swift Run Gap and exited on Route 33 which is a couple of miles past the 65-mile marker. 

The foliage was gorgeous! Temps were in the mid to upper 40s but the wind was mild, so it wasn't super cold. These are some photos I'd taken along the way. 

I took this one through the windshield. The early morning light was shining right on the dazzling colors of the leaves and I liked the way it looked so I snapped a pic.

Pulled over at an overlook to gaze upon the mountain ranges and the variety of color. Those shadows are from the clouds.

My eyes were drawn to the reds and yellows along the side of the road.

After entering at Front Royal, this spot is not too far down the drive. Usually, this section of the woods is all ablaze in yellow but I guess it was too early in the season for these this year.

Monday, October 24, 2016

10 fun facts about Morven Park

Morven Park is a place I'd heard of, but wasn't sure what type of historic site it was. On Labor Day weekend, we made a trip out to Leesburg. First we visited the beautiful Oatlands and next decided to stop by to learn more about Morven Park. And we learned a lot.

The home has deep roots to early American history, having been established in 1780 as a simple farmhouse built by Dr. Wilson Cary Seldon. Since that time the home and property has seen many changes and people.

The property possesses an interesting and remarkable history. A pamphlet picked up during our visit states Morven Park is a home that, "captures the essence of Virginia's rural heritage". That it does and so much more. Want to know more about Morven Park? 

10 fun facts about Morven Park

1. Morven Park was home to two governors - Thomas Swann Jr. (served as mayor of Baltimore before being elected as Maryland's governor) and Westmoreland Davis (Virginia).
2. Thomas Swann Sr. bought the land from Dr. Seldon in September 1800.  (I'm not clear on the spelling, I've also seen the surname spelled as "Selden". However, I'm going with the spelling Morven Park uses in its .pdf titled, "Summary of Morven Park Ownership"). Over time Swann would add numerous tracts of land to built up the estate. In 1837 Swann sells the property to his children and Thomas Swann Jr. buys his siblings out in 1842. Swann Sr. passed away in 1840. Swann, Jr. would spent time renovating the mansion between 1858 and 1861.

3.  The property changed hands a few times after Thomas Swann Jr.'s death in 1883. Several members of the Swann family would live in and/or own the estate.

4. Westmoreland and Marguerite Davis bought estate in 1903. They would be the final owners who used the home as a residence.

5. Over the years the simple farmhouse evolved into an amazing 22-room Greek Revival estate - this is what visitors see today. Between the Swann and Davis years improvements had been made by several owners, but the Davis' really left their mark on the property.

6. Westmoreland would go on to be a gentleman's farmer and built the estate and, as he learned, he shared his knowledge with the farming community in order to move the industry into a more modern age. 

7. There is a section at the entrance of the visitor's area of the mansion where the original stone exterior and later layers of stucco can be seen (I always find this type of thing fascinating). 

8. The mansion had Italianate towers for a time and were visible during the Civil War. These were removed on or around 1880. You can see images of this during a Morven Park tour.  

9. The interior of the mansion is wonderfully decorated and reflects the life of Westmoreland and Marguerite. The furniture and d├ęcor is amazing and highlights 16th century Flemish tapestries, European furniture, Asian art and gorgeous china, to name a few. There has been incredible preservation of the possessions and placement of the items.  

10. During the Westmoreland years, the estate was a full-time business and this is reflected in the tour. Perhaps especially when you get to see the kitchen area. With the antique furnishings, while I knew the house was modernized, it was still surprising to see such a massive and "modern" kitchen in a historic property since other properties are typically interpreted in earlier centuries.  

This was a fantastic tour and a gorgeous home, and it was interesting to learn about Westmoreland and Marguerite Davis. Visiting Morven Park again is something I hope to do again sometime in the not so distant future.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Photos on Friday: Riding historic White's Ferry

Over the years I have heard of White's Ferry, but really didn't know anything about it. On Labor Day weekend we decided, on a whim, to follow the signs to the ferry to see what it was about. The line was long on the Virginia side, but we knew we'd be back up that way over the weekend to go to Harper's Ferry and thought we might take a detour to the ferry and cross the Potomac over there instead of our usual bridge. 

We did go back and the line was much shorter. Of course, this made the ride to Harper's Ferry longer, but it was a nice ride through Maryland.

It cost $5 to take the ferry one way (I believe it was $8 for both ways) and only took a few minutes to cross. Here are some photos.

We were the second car in line for the ferry. Here we go!

Cars entering the row next to us

Welcome to Maryland!

Line of cars on the Maryland side looking to ferry over to Virginia

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Real life ghost stories in Northern Virginia? You be the judge

Virginia is known for ghost stories. This is partially due to the region's strong connection to colonial times, Revolutionary War era and the Civil War years. There are countless ghost stories which relate to many famous and “regular” folks in the area.

In Old Town Alexandria there are a couple of different ghost tours which offer fascinating tales of ghostly apparitions, strange events, sensed spirits and tantalizing legends. There are stories of deadly fires, mysterious illnesses and much more.

To be honest, I am not usually inclined to really believe in ghosts, although I guess these days I do believe in presences. That being said, I have been witness to a couple of interesting events that did leave me with a weird vibe. What's interesting to me is all the places where these things happened are rumored to have experienced paranormal activity.

I am naturally drawn to “old” items and love architectural history so it is not uncommon for me to drag my family to go visit historical homes on a whim. Several years back we'd dropped by to take a tour of Woodlawn Plantation when family from out of town was visiting. First, our tour guide led us through an interesting visit of the first floor, and then we were invited to continue the tour on the second floor where the bedrooms were located.

Photo of Woodlawn
As were going up to the second floor on the stairway, the 9-month-old baby of the family suddenly started laughing with a tremendous belly giggle. This laughter came out of the blue, but what was bizarre was the fact it was a laugh we'd never heard, and sounded as if she was being tickled – a lot. The laughter immediately ceased as soon as we reached the top of the stairs and no sound was uttered by her as we continued the tour.

After this portion of the tour concluded we all headed on back down the elaborate curved staircase. About halfway down, in almost the precise spot as going up, the baby starts the same uncontrollable laughter all over again. At this point we still weren't thinking ghosts, our thoughts were along the lines of how funny and cute it all was. The older kids choose their souvenirs and we left.

A few days later my daughter pulls out her souvenir, a volume of the "Ghosts of Virginia" series and she points out an entry about Woodlawn. There was a paragraph that discussed this same stairway - and that it's been said an impish girl around the age of 6 or 7 is said to haunt the stairway (this story was not part of the tour, although some other spooky occurrences were mentioned). At this point my mind wandered back to the baby's sudden outbursts of laughter on that stairway. It is said younger children and pets all have a keen sense that we adults don't have.

Is it possible this "ghost" was tickling or playing with the baby? I don't know, but she never did laugh like that again until she was a bit older. Really odd.

The second instance was at Gadsby's Tavern, which has also been purported to have paranormal activity, but I'd never heard any stories about the rooms we were in. As we viewed one of the upstairs bedrooms, a closet/storage area door opened. Now, there is nothing unusual about this, but what was weird was the door opened just a few inches, as if someone was peeking in or out. Then there was a long pause. Suddenly, the entire door swung open in full. I made a comment about it and the tour guide simply answered matter of factly, "must be a ghost". And then the focus immediately went back to the tour. Again, this door opening in such strange fashion could be likely explained, however, it was definitely one of those moments that make you go "hmmmm"…

The third instance was in Fredericksburg as we were across the river and toured Chatham Manor. While in one of the rooms, I had this distinct feeling of blood. It was to the point I started staring at the floor.  I couldn’t explain it and then after we left the room I didn’t feel it anywhere else in the house (the home was used as a Civil War Hospital – so I chalked it up to that knowledge being fresh in my mind). So later in the weekend we went on the ghost tour in Fredericksburg (btw, fab tour!) and during our time walking around the city, our guide pointed across the water to Chatham and told us that some people get a sense of blood while in the house. Turns out the room I felt it in is said to be the room was where the doctor did his work - and the amputations were disposed of outside the window, pretty much behind where I was sitting, being I was in the back row and all. When I told our guide my story, we both got chills and goosebumps. She had no knowledge of my story and I had no knowledge of anything about Chatham except what I learned while touring the house. It was an interesting moment.

Did we experience ghostly presences or not? You be the judge.

Do ghosts exist? Have you ever felt a ghost, presence or other kind of paranormal activity here in the D.C. area or in Virginia? Or wherever you live? If so, share your story in the comments below!

Friday, October 7, 2016

Photos on Friday: Terrapin Nature Park in Maryland

In August we took a trip up to Long Beach Island in New Jersey. A wonderful and beautiful place. Instead of taking I-95 north, we decided to go the long way by driving east through Maryland. Our original intention was to take the Cape May-Lewes Ferry into New Jersey, but that didn't work out due to timing. You see, we drove straight through the heart of Washington D.C. into Maryland with the intentions of crossing through Kent Island to continue east. I've always wanted to visit Kent Island...

Once we crossed the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, we decided to stop for a bit. We discovered the wonderful Terrapin Nature Park in Stevensville (right off the bridge) and decided this is where we'd spend our time. Needless to say, by the time we were ready to buy our ferry tickets, many of the times were sold out. Next time!

Here are some photos I'd taken while at Terrapin Nature Park.
Had a grand time watching these lovelies off in the distance

Spotted this guy, which I believe is a type of blue heron, hanging out off to the side and tried to zoom in

A rare type of photo for me. Dragonflies are always so elusive for me to catch (but does happen on occasion!) Not to mention I don't see red ones often

Bay Bridge in Maryland
Views of the bridge from the Terrapin beach were stunning

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Fall harvest festivals at historic properties in Northern Virginia

There is always so much to do in the D.C. area during the fall months. The weather is beautiful and the opportunities for weekend (or weekday) outings are many. We tend to focus most of our time in Virginia during the fall because there are so many terrific events going on at the farms, parks and historic properties. Today I want to highlight some of the things taking place at the local historic areas.

Fall harvests have played an important role in Virginia’s history and many of the historic properties in the region celebrate this tradition. If you are looking for an outing that blends history and fun, these might be exactly what you are looking for:

Fall Harvest Family Days at Mount Vernon

Every year Mount Vernon hosts its Fall Harvest Family Days. In addition to admission to the property and mansion for regular tours, 18th-century dancing, a straw bale maze, apple roasting and corn husk doll making are also offered. There are also historical presentations (when we went, General Washington himself was floating about talking to his guests, along with giving a more formal talk to the crowd at scheduled times) and lots of other hands-on activities. It’s a fun family day out. This event typically takes place in the second half of October, approximately a week before Halloween from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

[Want to know more about Mount Vernon? See my post on visiting this historic site]

Oatlands Harvest Festival

This is a harvest festival I haven’t been to yet but picked up a flyer during a September visit to Oatlands. The property is hosting hayrides, music, entertainment, games, Oatlands wine and more. 

Also, there will be u-pick pumpkins in the Oatlands Pumpkin Patch (by Wegmeyer Farms). This one usually is scheduled to take place on either the second or third weekend in October from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (in 2017 it's on Sunday, Oct. 22). The admission price also includes a tour of the house ($20 per family or $10 per person). I’m not sure what would be blooming in the gardens this time of year, but the expansive gardens are beautiful in any event. If you haven’t toured Oatlands yet, I do recommend it, even if not during this event. It has deep ties to early American history, so if this is your interest, I think you'd enjoy this tour.

Sully Historic Site

Not exactly a harvest festival, I wanted to include this event because based on my experience, Sully
Historic Site offers some interesting one-day events, especially around the holidays. A perennial event, “Historic All Hallows Eve” is hosted where there is storytelling, fortune telling, fall foods and family gatherings. House and grounds tours are offered by lantern. Visit the Parktakes website to register (advanced registration is recommended).

Gunston Hall

Gunston Hall has been adding many events to its calendar in recent years. During a 2014 visit to the home, I noticed they were planning a fall harvest event. We attended and had a great time, it was open from 4 to 7 p.m. and had lots of kid-friendly fun and admission included a tour of the house. When checking their website’s 2017 calendar, I don’t see this event listed this year. Hopefully, this one will make a return, I do believe one was held in 2015 but not in 2016. 

[ Want to learn more about one of the lesser known Founding Fathers and his home? Check out my detailed post about Gunston Hall ]

Harvest festivals are a great way to spend a day! Looking for additional types of fall family fun, check out the events local farms are hosting.