Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

The brink before Brandywine Falls plummets 63 feet.

Lying between Cleveland and Akron, Ohio, is the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Lock 32 of the Ohio & Erie Canal

A major feature of the park is the Ohio & Erie Canal that was dug in the 1820s to connect the two cities, a distance of 37 miles.

The star marks the location of Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

A few years later the canal was extended all the way to the Ohio River, establishing a transportation system that stimulated the movement of goods and the industrialization of Ohio.

Tim's goal to drive the Dawntreader, our RV, no more than four hours a day meant we needed to plan three days of travel to get from Connecticut to Chicago for a visit with his sisters.  

Luckily for us, the trip took us right by Cuyohoga Valley National Park, allowing us to add it as number 11 to the list of national parks we've visited since our journey began in January 2016.

The Cuyahoga River

The American Indians called the river that runs through the valley "Ka-ih-ogh-ha" which means crooked.  And crooked the Cuyahoga River is as it twists and turns from its source to empty into Lake Erie near Cleveland.  What the Indians might have thought about the river's pollution after decades of industrial use is open for conjecture, but when the river burst into flames in June 1969, a fire sparked by an oil slick upon the river, it also ignited the environmental movement and the passage of the Clean Water Act.  Today the river has been restored to its beauty.

Interstate bridge crossing over the park

The park is an urban oasis, most evident by the suburban residences within the park's boundaries, homes that existed there before the park was set aside as the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area in 1974 and later officially established as a national park in the year 2000.  Still, unless one knew it was there, travelers along Interstate 80 (above) would never notice the park.

Breckville Depot

There's also a scenic railroad operating between the two cities, an amphitheater where summer productions play and even a ski resort. 

Brandywine Falls

Bridal Veil Falls

Blue Hen Falls

Yet it was the beautiful waterfalls we enjoyed.  That, plus the trails we hiked during the three days of our visit.

Chief of those trails is the Canal Towpath that runs along the now overgrown Ohio & Erie Canal.  Tim and I rode our bikes along this towpath where boys--a young James A. Garfield (20th President of the United States) among them--once prodded mules to pull the canalboats. 

When a puncture deflated Tim's rear tire, he skillfully changed its inner tube.  Later we rode through Peninsula, a quaint village within the park where a bicycle repair shop undoubtedly receives a lot of business, including ours.  We bought a spare tube there just in case one of us experienced another flat tire.

A misty rain moved into the area on our final day at the park, but we didn't mind.  That just made it seem more like a fairyland. 

The 308-mile Ohio & Erie Canal was the brainchild of George Washington who owned land in the Western Reserve territory (now the state of Ohio) and envisioned the building of a system of canals that would transport goods from the wilderness to the Potomac River.

When funding was finally obtained from Congress in 1822, local workers and Irish immigrants hand-dug the canal.  (The Irish had already trenched their way across New York State to build the Erie Canal.)  Every mile of the Ohio & Erie cost $15,000 to add.  All risked their health, and many their lives, for hard-won cash.  But within one year of its opening, the amount of wheat (among other goods) shipped through Cleveland increased from 1,000 to 250,000 bushels.

By the 1850s, railroads began to supplant the canal.  The 1913 flood was the final blow to its operation.   Nowadays, it has another purpose--to restore the spirits of those who visit here.

Everett Covered Bridge is also within the park.

John Charles Olmsted and Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., sons of the eminent landscape artist, Frederick Law Olmsted, received a commission to landscape the Cleveland Metropolitan Park System, much of which lies along the borders of Cuyahoga Valley National Park.  I like this quote.

"It is in the valley that one can realize most effectively a sense of isolation and freedom from the sights and sounds...which go to make the modern city..."~ Olmsted Brothers, 1925

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Tick Marks

The Blackberry River Dam which powered the Beckley Furnace

In Salisbury, Connecticut, Tim and I participated in building a home for Habitat for Humanity, our eleventh Care-A-Vanners build.  Although we were concerned that the prevalent lyme disease might be passed to us by ticks, we avoided any marks by spraying ourselves liberally with insect repellant each morning.  So this post is not about ticks.  Rather, while we were there, we explored the surrounding area of the Berkshires and made tick marks against a few items on our bucket list.

The Appalachian Trail

When we first arrived at Lone Oak Campground, we were handed a map of the local area.  As I studied it, I noticed the faint dash marks tracing the portion of the Appalachian Trail that crosses the northwest corner of Connecticut.

Hiking the entire length of the trail from Georgia to Maine is a challenge I always thought I'd like to try one day, but now that my hair is gray, I fear my opportunity has flown.  Yet, here was a chance to hike a few miles of its length.  I grabbed it and convinced Tim to come along.

Great Falls of the Housatonic River

We weren't disappointed, especially since we were able to view the Great Falls along the way.

The Norman Rockwell Museum

When we planned this trip to Connecticut, I plotted to squeeze in a visit to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA, another item on my bucket list.  I can remember as a child skipping down the driveway to grab the mail out of our farm's mailbox.  If I was lucky, an edition of the Saturday Evening Post awaited me.  Spread on its cover would be an illustration by Norman Rockwell, a drawing that in itself told a story.  I'd dawdle back to the house as I absorbed its meaning.

Freedom of Speech

We arrived at the museum in time for a gallery tour with a docent who pointed out details that enriched our visit.  Perhaps the best-known illustrations Rockwell drew were his Four Freedoms first articulated by President Franklin Roosevelt in his 1941 State of the Union speech.  In Freedom of Speech, the resemblance of the blue-collar man to Abraham Lincoln, so admired by Rockwell, would have escaped me without the docent's mention.

Freedom of Worship

Similarly, I would not have noticed the tightness of the wedding ring on the hand of the elderly woman depicted in Freedom of Worship and yet that symbol of faithfulness adds another depth of meaning to this illustration.

Freedom From Want

Rockwell's illustrations are populated with the faces of his neighbors, friends and family members.  For Freedom From Want, Rockwell photographed his family's cook, Mrs. Thaddeus Wheaton, as she served the turkey on Thanksgiving Day 1942; then, used that photo to paint this picture.  Rockwell's mother Nancy and his wife Mary are seated at the table as well.

Freedom From Fear

In Freedom From Fear, the father looking on as the mother tucks the children into bed holds a newspaper.  Its heading is incomplete,;only the letters "Bombings Ki...Horror Hit" appear, a reference to the Blitz of London that began in September 1940.  Because of this bombardment, British children were massively evacuated from their homes in London, a crisis that Americans did not face.

Rockwell called his Stockbridge studio his "best studio yet."  Originally, it stood in the backyard of his home on South Street, but was moved to the museum grounds in 1985.  It was interesting to see where he worked.

Rockwell's Studio

One funny anecdote concerns his acquisition of his "gladiator" helmut, one of the numerous props and costumes used by Rockwell in his illustrations.  He purchased it from an antique shop in Paris during one of his visits there.  Soon after, he was standing on a Parisian street when a fire engine sped by.  The firemen were all wearing the same helmut.  Rockwell called it his "humility helmut."

The Old Covered Bridge

As we drove back from Stockbridge, we just happened to see a sign post along route 7 in time to make the turn onto Bridge Road.  There we found a covered bridge that spans the Housatonic River near Sheffield, MA.  I'd hoped we'd see one of these while we were in New England.  Although this is a replica of the 1832 truss bridge that was destroyed by fire in 1994, its postcard-perfect look still had plenty of charm.

Only pedestrians may use the bridge these days which was fine with us.  We enjoyed its 93-foot length as a chance to stretch our legs.

The Beckley Furnace

Last of all was a new item added to our bucket list, the Beckley Iron Furnace.  Daily as we drove to the Habitat build site, we passed a sign that said, "Beckley Furnace."  So, one day after work, we stopped to investigate this sight next to the Blackberry River.  Drawing on the high quality ore from the Salisbury area, limestone from local quarries and charcoal from the surrounding hardwood forest, this furnace forged iron used primarily to make railroad car wheels.  Built in 1847, the Beckley Furnace operated until 1919, making it one of the last of its kind to operate in the United States.                             

The Housatonic River

Tick, tick, tick, tick!  Marking these four items off our bucket list made memories we'll enjoy for a long time.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Carpenters Needed In Connecticut

Mike, Nate, Vic, Susan, Eddie, Cindy, Tim, Marguerite and Roger

The title of this post reads like a job listing.  In a way, I guess one could say that Tim and I were successful job applicants for carpentry positions during our latest Habitat for Humanity build in Salisbury, CT.

There we worked on a three-story home that will one day house a seven-member family.  

Mike, Marguerite and Tim

Our tasks were to frame walls in the basement, 

secure cleats on the tresses upstairs, 

Susan and Mike
nail up siding, 

Vic, Mike, Cindy, Tim and local volunteer Eddie

and build a deck off the back of the house that overlooks the prettiest Habitat vista we've seen.

Salisbury homes, churches and city hall

In fact, all of Salisbury is beautiful, nestled as it is in the Berkshires region of northwestern Connecticut.  This is a community that's been invaded by wealthy New Yorkers who want to own a piece of the picturesque so they've snapped up real estate and renovated existing Colonial homes.  The result is a town that's deprived of young families.  Its schools are starved for children, the local fire department needs volunteer firemen and there's little police protection to guard these second homes.  Young families have been all but priced out of the community.

In this setting, Habitat seeks to make a difference, however slight that might be.  The small Habitat affiliate here has only one house in progress.  

Marguerite and Bob

The executive director, Bob, is a part-time volunteer as is John, the site manager.  

Local volunteer Nate, Bob, Susan and Mike

Working Monday through Friday at his own job as a general contractor, John can only volunteer his services on Saturdays.  That's why this house has assumed shape slowly over the course of two years.   For the past week, John took a break from his real job to oversee us Care-A-Vanners.

Clockwise from upper left: Susan, Mike, Vic, Tim, Marguerite and Mike

Our team of seven could have worked several more days, but the owners at Lone Oak Campground had already donated our campsites for our week's stay.  Campgrounds in New England have a very short operating season; they open mid-May and close in September.  We hated to take spots up that could be bought by paying customers.

Farewell Dinner

But hopefully we'll return next year and maybe by then this house will be finished and another begun.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Grand Estates Along the Hudson River

A view of the Hudson River from the Clermont Estate
On our way to another Habitat for Humanity build in Salisbury, CT, Tim and I planned to camp near Hyde Park, NY where the home of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt is found.  But first, we had to get there.

We left Washington, D.C. on Interstate 95, bound for upstate New York.  I knew we were in trouble before we even reached Baltimore.  My plan was to make a wide sweep on the interstates around Baltimore through Pennsylvania and further north in order to bypass New York City.  But Tim--and the GPS--had another route in mind.

So that's how we found ourselves on the George Washington Bridge leading across the Hudson River into Manhattan.  But all was not lost.  If we could endure the one-hour backed-up wait before the bridge, we could make it to Interstate 87 just beyond and all would be well.  We successfully steered across four lanes of almost stalled vehicles to turn onto the entrance ramp of I-87.  Whew!  I thought we were safe.

But the GPS led Tim to turn off the interstate in favor of the Taconic State Parkway.  We should have known this was a bad move when the school bus driver ahead of us noticed our left turn signal and waved us off the approach to the parkway.  Little did we realize that New England parkways are meant for passenger cars only, studded as they are with low overpass bridges.

We navigated the city streets, trying to find our way back to I-87.  However, with the obnoxious female voice on the GPS telling us "route re-calculated" as it tried to put us back on the parkway and with my perusal of the trucker's Rand-McNally maze of possibilities, we soon found ourselves hopelessly lost.

Then I saw what looked like the freeway and told Tim to take that entrance road.  Oops!  We were on the parkway with seemingly no way to get off.  The first stone bridge underpass noted a height of 10'10" in the right lane.  Yikes!  The Dawntreader measures 13'2" so Tim moved into the left lane and we ducked underneath.  We approached another bridge with similar heights and fortunately made our way beneath it.  Salvation, in the form of an exit ramp, laid just ahead.  We took it!

Once again we were swallowed up by city streets, but somehow, by the grace of God, we turned north on the King's Highway, later called the Albany Post Road and today designated as Route 9, a lucky choice that led us out of the city and through the agglomeration of small towns beyond.

And thus, we made it safely to the Interlake RV campground near Rhinebeck, NY, a quaint weekend get-away-from-the-city village that was established in 1788.  Tim and I wandered through its antique stores and other shops before we lunched at the Tavern of Beekman Arms, a tavern that first opened its doors in 1766.

Beekman Arms Tavern
After a good night's sleep, we were ready to explore the great estates of the Hudson Valley.  Perched atop the prettiest bluffs above the Hudson River are the homes of the nouveau riche titans of industry from the Gilded Age as well as the old money families like the Roosevelts and the Livingstons.

Vanderbilt Mansion

Despite our initial disappointment at learning it's in the midst of a six-million renovation by the National Park Service, we gapped at the gilt and marble of the Vanderbilt Mansion, an estate purchased in May 1895 by Frederick W. Vanderbilt, grandson of the railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt who once owned all the rails from New York City to Chicago.  

The extravagant 54-room home was used by the Vanderbilts for only two months out of the year, September and October.  A staff of 60 was left to care for the house and gardens for the rest of the year.  Our NPS ranger tour guide said this edifice was one of 43 estates owned by the Vanderbilt family, many located on Long Island and Bar Harbor, in Newport and of course, the Biltmore in Asheville, NC.  According to the NPS ranger, even the servants had servants here.  Over the top extravagance!

Springwood, FDR's Hyde Park home

By contrast, Springwood was the comfy, well-loved permanent residence of Franklin D. Roosevelt where his controlling mother Sara Delano Roosevelt reigned supreme.

Upper right: FDR's wheelchair
Lower left: Springwood's elevator

Owner of the home, Sara bequeathed it to her only son upon her death in 1941; thus, the only home FDR ever personally owned was his for just five years until he died in 1945.  Springwood, equipped with an elevator, enabled Franklin to live a full life despite his paralyzed legs, a result of his bout with polio.  Fearing a house fire in a home with few servants at his call, Franklin routinely practiced hauling himself by means of his powerful shoulders and arms down the length of the upstairs corridor from his bedroom to the lift. 

The social consciousness of his wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, led her to establish Val-Kill Industries, a cottage industry that revived handcrafts such as weaving and furniture-making to sustain the area's economically disadvantaged through hard times.  Later, the cottage became Eleanor's home away from home, a refuge from her mother-in-law.

Top Cottage

Another refuge, Top Cottage, high on a hill on the east edge of the estate was Franklin's retreat from what he called "the mob at Springwood."  Although the cottage was built with a small bedroom, Franklin used it for occasional naps; he never spent a night away from Springwood, except during his public life as President.


Completing our tour of great estates was the Clermont, another old money home and now a New York State park.  This estate's prominence stemmed from Robert Livingston, the Lord of Livingston Manor, who accumulated 160,000 acres, a vast area that stretched from the Hudson River all the way to what is now the borders of Massachusetts and Connecticut.  His son, also named Robert, began construction of the Georgian-style home around 1740.

Margaret Beekman Livingston

Though the home was burned by the British during the Revolutionary War, Margaret Beekman Livingston, the stalwart mistress of the house, oversaw its rebuilding, petitioning prominent people in nearby Albany for the funds to do so.  

Chancellor Robert Livingston

Her son, Chancellor Robert Livingston, a title he earned as the highest judge in the state, was one of the Committee of Five who drafted the Declaration of Independence.  He had the honor of administering the oath of office to President George Washington and later served as President Thomas Jefferson's Minister to France where he negotiated the Louisiana Purchase from Napoleon.  He invested money in Robert Fulton's invention of the steamboat; thus, cutting a trip from New York City to the capitol of the state in Albany from two weeks of travel to a two-day trip.

I wish we'd had additional days to explore more estates; still, the three we saw gave us a good glimpse into the wealth and prominence of these families from three different centuries.  It was well worth the debacle of our trip to reach the Hudson River Valley.