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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Biltmore Estate

Finally, we got to the Biltmore Estate. This was the real reason for coming to the Asheville, NC area. We have heard from several people how impressive this tour is, so we had to see it for ourselves. Well, I gotta tell you, we sure weren't disappointed!!

When you first pull into the driveway of the estate, you are still about 3 miles from
the house! Your first stop is the Welcome Center, of course, where you get your tickets (if you haven't bought them online) and a map of the estate which includes info on all the various venues there are to tour as well as any activities that may be going on. The estate includes the home; a winery & vineyard, vast gardens, a working farm, and an inn. It can be difficult to decide what you want to tour.

We didn't have any trouble knowing what we wanted to see - the house, the gardens, and the farm. The winery didn't interest us at all. But, for some of you, it would be fun. There's definitely something for everyone on this estate. In addition to the venues already mention, there are several restaurants, cafes, and shops.

The Biltmore House construction begun in 1889 as a result of the vision of a 27 year old bachelor, George W. Vanderbilt. He was the grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt who built the family fortune in shipping and railroads. Because of George's interest in the arts of languages, architecture and history, he wanted a home that reflected those interests. It took 6 years for the construction to be completed and George officially opened his home on Christmas Eve of 1895 with his family there to celebrate.

It wasn't until 3 years later that George married and brought his bride, Edith, to live at the estate. Their only child, Cornelia, was born in 1900 in the home.
Unfortunately, George didn't live a long time to enjoy his home. He died unexpectedly in 1914. But, Cornelia kept up the estate and it saw Cornelia's wedding in 1924 to the Honorable John Francis Amherst Cecil and the birth of her two sons in later years.

The estate was opened to the public in 1930 in response to the leaders of Asheville who hoped it would help tourism in the area during the Depression years. Today the estate is still owned by the Cecil family and George's great grandson, William A.V. Cecil, Jr., is the CEO of the estate.

The house itself contains 250 rooms, masterpieces by Renoir and Whistler, tapestries dating from the 16th century, 20,000 books (some of which are first editions), and most of the furnishings are original to George's era. It is an amazing four stories, plus the basement, of awesomeness. Randy & I just walked through the
home with our mouths open, we were so overwhelmed by the beauty of the rooms. The craftsmanship of the woodwork in the furniture, the doors, and the walls was amazing. Finely detailed carvings as well as ostentatious beauty. It was 2.4 million cubic square feet of "Oh, my gosh!"

In other historic homes we've visited, the tour only
goes through a portion of the home. Not at the Biltmore House - we walked through all four floors plus the basement. And I was impressed with the generosity of George Vanderbilt. The servants quarters were so comfortable - the bedrooms are as big as the typical bedroom in most of our homes today. That is most unusual, as least as far as I've seen in the other homes we've visited. Unfortunately, no photography was allowed inside the house. I was very, very disappointed in that rule. But, we bought a few postcards and have scanned them into the computer so I could share some of the rooms with you.

The grounds are 8,000 acres of formal gardens and natural growth. I figured we wouldn't see much color because it was the end of October. Boy, was I wrong. I
have never seen so many different colors of chrysanthemums! Just beautiful.

Driving from the house to the farm was a 4 mile journey. Along the way we passed fields, bike and horse trails and followed the outline of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Yes, in addition to the rest of the beauty of the estate, it sits against the mountains. I can't begin to describe to you how gorgeous it is.

Well, I've gone on long enough. Sorry, this posting turned out longer than I intended. But, you can see how impressed I was with this estate. It is worth touring. Hope you enjoy the pictures. Be sure to check out the website, there are more posted there.

We are relaxing these next couple of days - nothing on the agenda. Thursday we head to Pigeon Forge, TN for about 12 days.

Take care of one another. Keep in touch; let us know what you think of the blog. Until the next time . . .

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Tractor Pull?!?!!

Okay, a short note. We did go to the Fall Harvest Days Celebration at the Western North Carolina Agriculture Center today. We were going to see the tractor pull, right? Well, as I had mentioned in a previous post, I have never been to a tractor pull. And I'm not going to another one, either!!

I thought a tractor pull was a competition. And, it is. But, not the way I had anticipated it.
I thought the competition would be against others in a race of sorts. Boy, was I wrong. The tractors just pull this weighted "sled" as far as they can and then it's done. Yes, that's it. One at a time, each tractor pulls this sled and then it's over. Big deal. Sorry, I'm sure for those tractor enthusiasts out there, this is big. It was obvious because folks were lined up alone the fence and had their chairs and they were there for the duration. These people take their tractors very seriously!

Needless to say, we didn't stay long. One cool thing - there was a woman competing in the tractor pull on a pink Allis-Chalmers tractor. It was great. Here's a picture.

Now I can say I've been to a tractor pull. BOOOOOOOOORRRRRRING!!!

Great Smoky Mountain Railroad

The Great Smoky Mountain Railroad offers many different excursions. Being the cheap retirees that we are, we chose one of the least expensive trips. :) Yesterday we spent the afternoon on the October Leaf Train. Now, you would think we'd gotten enough of the changing colors by now, but there is always more to see. I think I have more pictures of trees and scenery than any one person should ever have! It sure is pretty, though.

We boarded the train in Bryson City, NC. Our trip was to be a 4.5 hour round trip that included a one hour layover in Dillsboro, NC. Well, most of that happened - our
layover turned out to be at the Nantahala Outdoor Center. The center is actually a utopia for kayakers and whitewater enthusiasts, with camping facilities. Not what I would have chosen for a layover, but obviously we didn't have much of a choice. That's where the train stopped, so that's where we got off to stretch our legs. But, enough complaining.

The train traveled through a portion of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and
paralleled the Nantahala River and the Trail of Tears. "Nantahala" is an Indian word that means "land of the noonday sun." Supposedly the Indians called this area Nantahala because the river runs through a gorge so deep that it took most of the day for the sun to reach its depths.

We saw caves dug in the side of the mountain along the Trail of Tears where some of the Cherokee people would hide during their forced removal in 1838. About 17,000 people were forced to leave their homes and move to the "Indian Territory," which is now Oklahoma. Because of disease and the harsh journey, scholars estimate between 4,000 and 6,000 lives were lost during the trip. However, about 1,000 Cherokee rebelled against the move and evaded U.S. soldiers and remained by living off the land. Descendants of those Cherokee still live in this area.

I didn't know that the government had forced the removal of these people because of a gold rush in this area! But, the kicker is that the Cherokee people took their case to the Supreme Court of the United States to oppose this forced move and won! Yes, Chief Justice John Marshall ruled in the Cherokee Nation's favor, but President Andrew Jackson overtly ignored the Court's decision and ordered the
move of the tribe. How sad is that?

We also saw, firsthand, the results of the drought that has hit the eastern United States. Fontana Lake, which is one of the recreation areas in this part of North Carolina, was so very low. There are many folks who own houseboats on the lake and some of those houseboats weren't even on water anymore. That's how low the lake was. Still, the lake is set against the mountains and is a beautiful sight to see.

The train ride was fun. We had a beautiful day and were able to see some historical areas. Couldn't ask for more than that.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Home of Carl Sandburg

It finally stopped raining! Although the air was cool, the sun was out and the sky was a gorgeous blue. Here is the view from our campsite. We took off to have a look around the area.

One of the events scheduled for this weekend is the Fall Harvest Days at the Agriculture Center just south of Asheville. It was to start today, so that was our first stop. One of the activities on the schedule is a tractor pull, something I've never seen and Randy thinks is fun. But, we found out that wasn't happening until Saturday, so we decided to wait and go then. I know, I know, you all are jealous of the wild life we lead! :)

Also in the area, in Flat Rock, is the home of Carl Sandburg, one of America's wonderful writers. I was excited to find that out because I remember reading his stories when I was a kid. I didn't realize he was a Pulitzer Prize winning author as well. Mr. Sandburg also was a poet, minstrel, biographer and lecturer. As a biographer, he wrote many books on Abraham Lincoln.

Sandburg bought the home in Flat Rock in 1945. Its name is Connemara, which was given to it by the previous owner to honor his Irish ancestry. The estate consists of more than 245 acres and is also home to a goat farm. Mr. Sandburg moved there from Michigan with his wife, Lillian and their three daughters and two grandchildren. The desire to move came from Mrs. Sandburg's need for a better climate for her growing goat herd. The location was also wonderful for Sandburg to pursue his writing. He would ultimately write more than a third of his work here.

Mrs. Sandburg was a prize winner in her own right because of her goat herd. She bred them and also ran a dairy which provided goat milk and cheese to the region. At one point, in 1952, the herd numbered more than 200 and more than 50 goats were milked daily. The goats found on the farm today are descendants of Mrs. Sandburg's herd.

The Sandburg family lived at Connemara for 22 years. After Mr. Sandburg's death in
July of 1967, Mrs. Sandburg sold the property, with most of the house's furnishings intact, to the National Park Service. It became a National Historic Site in 1968. Mrs. Sandburg moved to Asheville with her two older daughters, Margaret and Janet, to live. Her youngest daughter and the mother of her only grandchildren, Helga, remarried and moved to Cleveland, Ohio. While Margaret and Janet have died, Helga still lives in Cleveland today. Her children, John Carl and Paula, enjoyed living at Connemara during their childhood. John Carl now lives in Philadelphia while Paula still lives just a few minutes away from her grandfather's home.

The home was fun to tour. One of the brochure describes the house as feeling as though the family is about to come back at any moment - and that is so true. The furnishings, books (of which Mr. Sandburg had about 14,000 at one time), magazines, personal items, etc., are all scattered about. It is a home and not just a museum. Most of us could easily envision ourselves living in this home.

The grounds have several buildings still standing and in good shape. A few of them are tenant homes for those who worked for the farm. And there is a small goat herd. We were able to go into the field and play with them. They are cute.

This visit was such a nice surprise. It's tucked away in the town and if it weren't for the National Park signs, you probably would never know it was there. It is very unassuming.

On our way home, we traveled through Pisgah National Forest. This was the first national forest to be established in the United States. It is also home to the first school of forestry - the Biltmore Forest School. On this site now is the Cradle of
Forestry, a 6500 acre historic site that commemorates the beginning of forestry conservation in the United States. It was lovely to drive through this area.

Tomorrow we are taking a ride on the Great Smokey Mountains Railroad. We're going on the October Leaf Train. The colors have finally burst here and they are just beautiful. I'm sure there will be lots of pictures taken!

Hope all is well in your world. Randy & I are enjoying every day and wish the same for each of you. So, until the next time . . .

Monday, October 22, 2007

We've Made it to North Carolina!

I don't have much to share with you, but figured you probably missed my scintillating posts, so here you go! After a very relaxing week Lake Ridge RV Resort in Hillsville, VA, we left this morning around 8:40 and headed to Canton, NC.

Lake Ridge was a very nice park - we highly recommend it for anyone who wants to
get away and play for a few days. They have several great cabins that border the lake as well as campsites. During the summer, it's got to be a hoppin' place, 'cause it has a pool, two water slides, a large snack bar (really, a mini-restaurant), and a game room that was amazing! Four pool tables, air hockey and lots of very cool video games. You can rent paddle boats for the lake, too. They also have a craft room where you can do all kinds of activities; ceramics, t-shirt painting; wood crafts. And the lake is beautiful.

We had a four hour drive ahead of us, but it was all interstate, so it was easy. We even stopped at a Cracker Barrel! We got to our next campground, Riverhouse Acres, a little past 2:00 this afternoon. We love getting to our stops in the early afternoon so we have plenty of set-up time.

We have lots ahead of us over the next week and a half. Unfortunately, the weather isn't looking so good over the next couple of days, so the Biltmore will have to wait until early next week. But, I'm sure we'll find other stuff to do!

Until then . . .

Friday, October 12, 2007


One very fun exhibit here in Natural Bridge is FOAMHENGE. That's right, not Stonehenge, Foamhenge. A local artist constructed a replica of Stonehenge in styrofoam! From the road you'd never know it was styrofoam. It is so neat. Thought you'd like to see it, too.

Historic Lexington, Virginia

We ended our week on a great note. Today was a typical fall day; crisp air, alternately sunny & cloudy with a little breeze. It was perfect for taking a walking tour in Lexington, VA. Randy & I weren't sure what to expect in this town. We figured we'd stroll along its main street, maybe see a few historic places and that would be it. Suffice it to say, we were pleasantly surprised.

Lexington is just filled with history. It's home to Washington & Lee University and
Virginia Military Institute (VMI) as well as some beautiful, two and three hundred year old homes. It's also the birthplace of Sam Houston. That was a surprise, 'cause you always think of him as a Texan, not a Virginian.

Washington & Lee University began in 1749 as a private school, Liberty Hall Academy and later became Washington College because of a generous bequest from George Washington that kept the school from closing. Its name changed once more sometime after 1865 when General Robert E. Lee assumed the presidency and
brought the school national recognition.

On the grounds of the university, there is R.E. Lee Memorial Episcopal Church that was built in 1883. This church was founded in 1840 as Grace Episcopal Church by a friend and colleague of General Lee's, General Francis Smith. The current building's plans had been approved by General Lee in 1870, just a few days before his death.

Lee House sits just up the hill from the church and was built in 1869 for General Lee while he was president of the college. It has served as home for the college's presidents ever since. The beautiful porch on the house was made for Mrs. Lee who was wheelchair bound. General Lee actually died in this house.

In addition to the Episcopal Church that was named for General Lee, there is Lee Chapel on the grounds of the university. The chapel was built in 1867 at the general's request and under his supervision. Several famous portraits are housed here as is a statue of General Lee. His office has been preserved as he left it. The entire Lee family is buried in the chapel and just outside is the burial site of the general's famous horse, Traveller.

VMI was founded in 1839 at the behest of Lexington citizens who wanted to convert the local arsenal. Apparently, the
arsenal was home to some rowdy soldiers who caused more problems than they resolved. It is the nation's oldest state-supported military college. Stonewall Jackson taught physics and artillery tactics here for ten years prior to the Civil War.

Stonewall Jackson lived in town at the only home he ever owned. He lived there with his second wife, Mary Anna, from 1859 until 1861 when he left to fight in the
Civil War. The house remained in Jackson's family until 1906 when it was purchased and developed by the United Daughters of the Confederacy as the Jackson Memorial Hospital. This hospital was the only one in Rockbridge County for 47 years. It changed hands again in 1954 when it was purchased by Stonewall Jackson Memorial, Inc., and opened as a public museum. In 1979 the Historic Lexington Foundation acquired the property and completed an extensive restoration of the building. You can take a tour of the house and grounds.

On Main Street, you'll find all kinds of boutiques, shops, restaurants, churches, anything you can imagine. Also found are Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery and Lexington Presbyterian Church. The cemetery was built in 1789. Obviously, General Jackson's burial site is central to the cemetery, but there are also more than one hundred Revolutionary War and Confederate veterans and two Virginia governors buried there.

Lexington Presbyterian Church was founded in 1789 and its present home in the middle of town was built in 1845. General Jackson was an active member of this church, as was evident in his becoming a deacon there.

On the southwest end of town are some beautiful homes built as early as 1819. These were the first homes to built "away from town." A couple blocks over from these homes is the first housing development, built in 1884. It is a block of six homes that comprise various Victorian architectural details. We were amazed at how many of these homes are for sale. At least one home per block and,
in some cases, as many as three or four are for sale. I guess it's tough to keep these homes in good condition, especially if they are on an historic register. Several pictures of these homes are on our website. The names given indicate the most influential or famous owners.

We really enjoyed our day in Lexington. It's a town where you could spend a couple of days and not be bored at all. If you're in the area, be
sure to take time to stroll through it.

We have had a great couple of weeks exploring this area of Virginia. We've seen so much history and learned more than we thought we could. It's a gorgeous part of the state. We're looking forward to our next stop - it's going to be much more low key. Not a lot in the area so we'll be taking it easy next week. That will give you time to catch up on all the blog postings! :)

Take care of one another. Drop us a line once in awhile and let us know how you're doing. We love to hear from you. Until the next time . . .

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Poplar Forest, Thomas Jefferson's Retreat

Just a short drive from Bedford, is Forest, Virginia. Here you'll find a favorite retreat of Thomas Jefferson. This is where he would come, after his Presidency, when he wanted quiet and solitude.

Jefferson and his wife, Martha, inherited Poplar Forest from Martha's father in
1773. It was a 4819 acre successful plantation that gave Jefferson a good income. It also provided him with a great place to pursue his love for reading, writing, and gardening after his retirement from public service in 1809. He would come here three to four times a year, staying for as long as two months at a time.

In 1823, Jefferson made his last trip to Poplar Forest. It was during this trip that he settled his grandson, Francis Eppes, in residence on the property. Jefferson had taken over raising Francis upon the death of his parents and saw that Francis was educated properly right in the area at the New London Academy. Francis ultimately
inherited Poplar Forest upon his grandfather's death in 1826. Two years later Francis sold the property to a neighbor and moved to Tallahassee, Florida. He followed in his grandfather's footsteps by founding a school that would become today's Florida State University.

Poplar Forest was privately owned until 1984 when a nonprofit organization purchased the property and opened it to the public in 1986. Because of previous sales, the property is no longer comprised of the original 4819 acres, but several hundred acres have been preserved for restoration. The home is now being restored to the way it was during Jefferson's ownership. It is interesting to walk
through the home and see the progress of the restoration. Likewise, the grounds will be restored to the plantings and landscaping of Jefferson's time. It is a work in progress.

National D-Day Memorial

While reading a brochure on the town of Bedford as well as Bedford county, I found that this is an area ripe with history. Along with the D-Day Memorial, it is the birthplace of Booker T. Washington and at the eastern end of the county, Thomas Jefferson had a retreat built. Yes, Jefferson was here, too. And they say that Washington got around! :)

My folks had told us about the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia and how impressed they were by it. We are camping only about 25 miles from Bedford, so we decided to go see it. I have to admit, and am a little ashamed to do so, I wasn't sure that I would be all that impacted by it. After all, I never studied World War II, or any of the wars in the 20th century, and I don't know anyone who served in that war. But, I figured it's an historical monument and worth touring. So, off we went.

Randy & I drove up to the D-Day Memorial and found it to be beautifully landscaped and well laid-out. And as I figured, there was no rush of emotion for me. I felt kind of bad about that, but there was nothing I could do. After consulting the map, we started our walk through the memorial. As we did, we kept hearing this noise: pffft, pffft, pffft. We couldn't figure out what the heck it was - until we walked around a corner and saw the landing on the beach of Normandy depicted, complete with bullets hitting the water as the troops came ashore. I can tell you - the rush of emotion came at me like a freight train then! The troops might be statues and the bullets just sprays of water, but you find yourself just rooted there waiting for more. Once I gathered myself together, I couldn't wait to walk through the rest of the memorial.

The foundation who oversees the memorial did a wonderful job of sharing their vision to honor those who fought during that battle.
There are two walls memorializing the dead; one for our troops and one for our allies. There is a statue of General Eisenhower that is very imposing and a plaque which gives the speech he gave to the troops before they went into battle. All through the memorial are plaques that give the history of certain officers, divisions of various troops (United States & Allies) and the flags of our allies fly alongside the United States flag.

This memorial came about because the town of Bedford, Virginia lost more than 20 young men in the Normandy campaign. Because of the size of Bedford, just 3200 in 1944, their losses in this battle were the most severe per capita in the United States. Recognizing this and seeing Bedford as symbolic of all towns whose soldiers served on D-Day, Congress approved the building of the National D-Day Memorial there.

If you are in the area of Bedford, Virginia, I urge you to stop and take an hour to tour the memorial. Even if you are like I
was and unmoved by this war before you see the memorial, I promise you won't walk away from it the same way you came to it.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Natural Bridge, Virginia

Natural Bridge is found near the Blue Ridge Parkway and is a natural wonder. Cedar Creek runs under the bridge and was the the water which caused the erosion that brought about the collapse of a cavern that made the bridge. Long before white men discovered the bridge, it was considered a sacred site by the Monacan Indians. They called it "The Bridge of God."

Around 1750, eighteen year old George Washington surveyed
the bridge and the surrounding 157 acres for Lord Fairfax, He "signed" his worked by carving his initials in the wall of the bridge.

On July 5, 1754 Thomas Jefferson purchased the Natural Bridge and surrounding acreage from King George III for 20 shillings. The site has been privately owned ever since.

There is a mile long trail along Cedar Creek which is a beautiful walk on a sunny day like we had today. Unfortunately, because of the lack of rain, the creek isn't very full, but it was still pretty. There is a Monacan Indian village along the creek and there are village "residents" there to demonstrate life as it was when the tribe lived in the area.

A little further on the trail is Saltpetre Cave. During the War of 1812 and the Civil War, earth from this cave was mined for its bat and bird droppings in order to make gunpowder. My question is: who the heck first thought to use bat and bird poop to make gunpowder??!?!!! While working in the cave in 1812, the miners heard water coming from somewhere and blasted through the rock to find it. However, as legend has it, no one has ever been able to find the source of this mysterious river.

The final stop on the trail is the Lace Waterfalls from which Cedar Creek plunges 50 feet into the creek bed below. The creek then flows on to the James River, approximately one mile away. It is peaceful there at the waterfall and we could
have sat there for the rest of the day.

The last event of each day at the Bridge is the Drama of Creation. Each evening, as soon as it becomes dark, there is a light show accompanied by music and narration of the seven days of Creation as written in the Bible. Let me tell you, it was very moving. We were fortunate that it was a clear night tonight and the stars were out in abundance! This is something everyone should experience. At the end, the silence was deafening as all who were in attendance soaked in the reverence of the moment. It was a privilege to experience.

Tomorrow we will be touring Bedford, VA. There is a D-Day Memorial there that my folks say is awesome. Thomas Jefferson had a retreat there and it is the birthplace of Booker T. Washington. So, we'll have lots to see and share.

Until the next time . . .

Monday, October 08, 2007

Further South on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Are we SURE it's the second week of October??? As we broke camp this morning, it was forecast to be 90 degrees today! I was grateful we'd be driving in the mountains along the parkway so at least it would be cooler there. But, I really shouldn't complain, this weather meant that we would have beautiful skies to view.

We got back on Skyline Drive near the 65 mile marker. We had just 40 miles left to travel of the drive, then we'd hit the Blue Ridge Parkway. (Although Skyline Drive is part of the Blue Ridge Parkway, they are separately named. Skyline Drive runs through the Shenandoah National Park and has an entry fee, while the Blue Ridge Parkway has no fee.)

One of the first stops we made was at Swift Run Overlook. This particular area was first traversed by the Knights of the Golden Horseshoe Expedition in 1716 and was led by Royal Governor Alexander Spotswood. This expedition consisted of 62 men and was made as a real estate speculation. The name "Knights of the Golden Horseshoe" came from the gift of a golden stick pin in the shape of a horseshoe that Spotswood gave each man on the expedition.

We were very happy to see what a difference a week has made in the colors along the drive! Beautiful golds, oranges, and reds. I love the reds!! Of course, every time I saw a really vibrant tree of red, I couldn't get the picture. Doesn't it figure? Anyway, it was much more colorful drive than we had last week.

Have you ever noticed those rocky, bare spots on some of the mountains? We learned they are called "talus slopes." They are the remains of rock masses that froze, cracked, and shattered.

As we came to end of Skyline Drive, we saw more gorgeous views and among all the green on one mountain, one lone red tree. Of course, I took a picture of that tree. It doesn't show up as well in the picture, but it will be a great memory for me.

We drove 45 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway today. Again, we found some neat history along the parkway. At one stop, there was two bits of history. It's called
Yankee Horse Ridge because, as the story goes, a Union soldier's horse went down there and had to be shot. Can you imagine naming a place because of such a seemingly innocuous incident? At this same site is a reconstructed portion of an old logging railroad. The original railroad here was 50 miles long and was constructed in 1919-20. Logging and fire destroyed much of the forest of the Blue Ridge and what we see now is second growth.

Another great day of travel. It was a mellow drive today, very little traffic along the way - just as Randy likes it. We got to our campground in Natural Bridge, VA around 3pm. It's a very nice park and we are looking forward to exploring the area, much of which is steeped in history.

Lots of pictures on the website: so be sure to
take a look.

Take care. Keep in touch. Until the next time . . .