It's been about two months now since I arrived here, so about time for my first travel report. Lots to report about this time.
18th March, '98.
Left Sydney around 1pm, local time. No hassles on that end and everything went smoothly. Didn't get any sleep on the flight over - but that's "normal" for me - but the plane was almost empty. Had a whole row to myself to spread out, which naturally I did. Got some neat views .. saw some coral atolls. Very picturesque. Not much cloud tho', so the sunset was a non-event.
Got to LA and passed straight thru' immigrations with no hassles. Thanks to a blizzard in northern USA and heavy fog in Chicago, the next leg of my flight was delayed several hours. On top of that, my flight from Sydney arrived in LA an hour early, so I ended up spending almost seven hours stuck at LA airport. I've seen enuf of that place, thankyouverymuch! Thankfully the flight to Lexington wasn't delayed, so I ended up arriving there on time.
Last time I visited the US, the climate difference wasn't all that much, mid spring and autumn at either end. This time, however, there was a pretty big jump. When I left Sydney it was in the middle of the hottest march on record, which had just followed the hottest February (and summer) on record - and one of the driest. Temperatures back home were averaging around 36C (97F). In Frankfort, Kentucky, it was quite cold, daily temps reaching between 5-9C (and it did snow, briefly, twice). Mind you, after the Sydney summer, that was a most pleasant change. Of course, it was still winter here. That lasted a week or so and then spring arrived. LOT's of rain and I mean lots! Thunderstorms and daily temps ranging from 10-30C.
After that we visited "Farmington House", one of the oldest (1808) and grandest houses in Louisville. An old slave-plantation mansion where they once grew hemp (yep, the "evil weed", no less). Pretty lavish inside - had a guided tour of the house and then wandered around outside. The family there knew both Thomas Jefferson (who designed the mansion) and Abraham Lincoln - who stayed there while recovering from the double blow of a misadventure with a dentist (who pulled a tooth AND tore out part of his jaw) and a broken heart. They even had a crystal ball in the kitchen, which was actually used for fortune telling. Some of the unusual features of the house included one of the first inside toilets in the USA and narrow, hidden and quite torturous stairways.
3rd April, '98: Edmonton, Kentucky
My girlfriend's brother is in the car business and he got a "new" car for her. Small problem - he lives in Florida. Solution - he had it shipped up to Kentucky. Small problem - the guy bringing it up does deliveries in the south of the state. Solution - drive down and pick it up. Simple eh? Hardly. The car was at Edmonson, a small town near the Tennessee border. Was told it was a 3 hour round trip, turned out to be six. Whoever worked out estimate certainly doesn't know the meaning of "speed limit". As for the drive down itself, the distance wasn't the problem - it was the weather. Two hours after we headed off, just as we reached the southern mountains, a huge storm showed up. Heavy rain, strong wind and lots of thunder and lightning. Not the kind of thing you want for mountain driving. We ended up waiting out the worst part of the storm. Shortly before Edmonson, at a point where the road cut thru' a mountainside, we went past the remains of a semi trailer. The driver had evidently decided not to wait out the storm and in the almost zero visibility missed the corner and found the rock face. The trailer jack-knifed and the cabin .. well, it was scattered in pieces along the road side. Rest of the trip was uneventful. There were even lots of little waterfalls all along the road, falling down the rock face. Heading back, the only hurdles to face was fog, rain and the lack of a heater in the old car (which I drove) in near-freezing conditions. Brrr! Afterwards we found out that the storm had given birth to several tornadoes in Tennessee and southern Kentucky - only a few dozen miles from where we were - so I guess it could've been heaps worse than it was.
Easter, '98: Frankfort, Kentucky
A very big contrast between Australia and the US. The US is a very religious ("Christian") country while Australia is, for the most part, non-religious (unless you count football and the Melbourne Cup). Yet it's in Australia that Easter Friday's a public holiday; here in the US it's work as usual. Here few churches even have Easter Friday services. On the other hand, my girlfriend's church had a "Holy Thursday" service, an Easter Vigil service on sat'dy and services on Sunday. During the sat'dy service they had a bunch of people who were "converting" to the RC church. T'was interesting, tho' after hearing some of the vows, there's no way I could, in conscience, do the same thing. Not that it was ever something I was going to do. I wanted to go to a church at Easter where I could take communion (the Catholic Church only allows catholics), so Sunday we went to the Episcopalian church in Frankfort, the closest here to what I go to back home. Was a real fancy place - old and "cathedralisque". The service was just as old - full of thee's, thou's and thy's, not to mention lots of words I could only guess at. Still, it was somewhat similar to what I'd grown up with and I did get to take communion, which was the important thing.
25th April, '98: Shelby County,
Visited "Grove Hill Cemetery", with a pretty cool looking chapel. The local tombstone manufacturer was conveniently located on the cemetery grounds - not sure whether that was a sign of enterprise or ghoulism. Spent a few of hours doing the downtown Shelbyville walking tour. Some pretty impressive buildings, but also a lot of run-down ones. Some of the notables were "Cardwell House" (1811), once owned by a black woman - in the days when women were second class citizens and blacks were slaves. The episcopal church (1868), built in a Gothic style and looking very much a rural english parish church. Had a nice walled in garden at the side which looked like a cool, shadowy glade. The county gaol was built out of stone and with not a single window. Quite forbidding looking. The brochure said there had not been many gaolbreaks, but on several occasions the gaol was broken into by lynch mobs and inmates lynched. "Science Hill" (1825), across the road from the gaol, was a finishing school for young ladies - quite a contrast. While one looked like it had been roughly carved from a block of stone, the other was elaborate, airy and refined. Was once considered the most prestigious institution of its type in the South and it certainly looked it. Quite impressive was a huge sprawling tree at the front, as wide as it was tall. Rather than chopping off the branches when they could no longer hold their own weight, metal posts were used as supports.
Further on was the Presbyterian church. The church wasn't of great note, many like it can be found all over the USA. But it's history symbolised that of the US Civil War - the priest decided to support the north while most of the congregation preferred a confederate allegiance, so the church split into two. It wasn't until the 1900's that the two rejoined. Then back up through the downtown shopping district, replete with 19th and early 20th century architecture of many styles. The tour ended at the courthouse and the "Four Square Area" opposite it. The courthouse was only built in 1913 but it is *very* grandiose. Huge columns at the front and done out like a Greek temple, complete with that triangle at the top full of carvings (the "pediment"). Americans certainly do go in for building elaborate public buildings. The Four Square area was originally the four corners made up by the main intersection of the town, three of which are now filled with parks, a fountain, memorials and statues. After lunch we visited the "Claudia Sanders Dinner House" and "Blackwood Hall" (early 1800's). After Colonel Sanders had only moderate success with his first fried chicken restaurant, he moved to Shelbyville, had more success and KFC was born. After selling KFC in the 1960's, the Sanders started up the dinner house, which is still in operation. The restaurant is nothing like your average KFC - inside it's very fancy and expensive looking, and a glance at the menu showed the food prices were just as expensive.
Then further west to Simpsonville - famous, apart from a road called "Itty Bitty Road", for the "Old Stone Inn" and the "Whitney Young Institute". The inn was built in the early 1800's as a stagecoach stop and tavern and was (still is) the oldest stone structure in the county (excluding natural rock formations, I guess). A very photogenic place, the smallish limestone building nestled amongst lots of leafy green trees. Hard to imagine, facing the inn, that if you take too many steps backwards, you'd be standing in the middle of a busy highway. We chatted a bit with a guy who turned out to be the owner and he filled us in on some of the history of the place. Much like the "Royal Cricketers Arms" back home which a great-great aunt of mine operated with her husband, which also started off it's life as a tavern/wayside inn and is now a restaurant. Went to visit the "Whitney Young Institute", an early blacks-only college, only to be told by a security guard that tourists were not allowed - even tho' it was listed as a "must see" in the tourist brochure.
9th May, '98: "The Boondocks",
Today was Kentucky State's graduation day - that means the last day of the academic year. After the ceremonies my girlfriend and I headed off to the country "cabin" of a colleague of her's to celebrate the end of the year. It's waaaaay out in the boondocks, the "wilds" of Kentucky. Nestled in the hills and forests to the south of Frankfort. No towns nearby and the nearest village is 10 minutes drive away on narrow country roads - one lane much of the way. They have 80 acres of forest with several creeks, the remains of a pioneer family's homestead (just the chimney remaining) and graveyard. Our host took us on an hour tour of the property, filling us in on the history of the place, the flora and fauna (both natural and introduced) - from a pioneer's perspective. Fascinating. Wonderful place, so peaceful and quiet, just the sounds of nature. A great cabin there too.
11th May, '98: Lost World Cavern
& The Greenbriar, WV; Lexington & Natural Bridge, VA
"Lost World Caverns" was really just the one long cavern, but it was huge. The largest cavern in the US, it didn't feel like a cave - with the lights it was hard to believe one was underground and not in a cathedral. There's even a formation called the "Chapel" where they occasionally perform weddings. The floor was covered with "hex rocks", hexagonal-shaped blocks of limestone, but there were lots of beautiful formations scattered throughout the cavern. A self-guided tour, so we could go at our own pace. Discovered in 1942, some of the features include the "Ice-Cream Wall", complete with different flavours (different impurities in the limestone), the "Castle" - a complex of stalagmites that kinda looks like a castle from some directions. "Bridal Veil", one of the few white formations, "Goliath", named for obvious reasons and the "Crystal Waterfall", a small and delicate waterfall, accompanied by the tinkling sounds of the water trickling down. The signs leading to the caves were a tad misleading - "almost there" and so forth. We were "almost there" for quite a while.
Before crossing into Virginia we detoured to White Sulphur Springs to check out "The Greenbriar", a very up-market 19th century health resort with hot water springs. Very ritzy looking place, complete with bell-boys out front. Across from the resort was a cute and colourful railway station. Crossed into Virginia - the Alleghenies are very lush and green, full of rolling mountains, reminiscent of Sydney's Blue Mountains, but greener. Quite striking with all the clouds. Only an occasional shower tho'. Still, the rain does add extra life and "oomph" to the creeks and waterfalls.
Lexington, Virginia. An old and historic city, home of the Washington & Lee University, as in George Washington and Robert Lee. Also an old military institute there. Did a walking tour of some of the downtown district - when the Yankee's came thru' during the civil war they didn't burn the town down because of the statue of Washington on the campus. Saw the "Stonewall Jackson House" (1801). The "Robert Lee Memorial Church", built in 1883 - very European looking, guess that's not uncommon with Episcopalian churches. Visited the "Lee Chapel" (1867) on the university campus where Robert Lee was buried. Went thru' the museum and display there. And to think he was a very distant relative of mine. With the emphasis on very.
South of Lexington is "Natural Bridge", home to the bridge itself and also "Natural bridge Caverns". Was discovered before 1788, but wasn't opened to the public until 1978 when a new entrance was dug - one that didn't involve three hours of crawling on hands and knees! Had a 30 minute tour of the caves. Lots of beautiful formations, interesting history, even a ghost story. Several pools as well - no fish tho', they were killed off by people tossing coins in which corroded in the acidic water, poisoning the fish. One of the pools was fed by a spring - looked and sounded neat. A lot of colour in the formations from mineral impurities. As on many tours, the guide turned off the lights .. just after telling the ghost story. The most imposing formation was in the "Colossal Dome Room".
After the caves was the "Natural Bridge" itself. Looks like it's been a tourist mecca for quite a while - the "Natural Bridge Resort" looks to date from the 19th century. The rain eventually dwindled to a slight drizzle, so we headed off on the trail to the Bridge. The trail follows a creek down into the valley, lots of rapids and small falls. Quite pretty. The bridge was an impressive sight. I've seen pictures of larger spans, but none anywhere near as massive. A river runs beneath it, the bridge is 215 feet up, 40 foot thick and there's even a highway on top of the bridge! Past the bridge is a trail that follows the river up for about half an hour to an impressive 3-tier waterfall. A nice gentle walk thru' lush green scenery. Mid-way to the falls was a small cave formed from a civil war saltpetre mine and "Hemlock Island". After dark, weather permitting, they do a light show at the Bridge. And to think, back in the 1700's Thomas Jefferson bought the bridge for just $2.50 from King George III.
This was the southernmost part of the trip; the next several days were spend slowly driving up the Shenandoah Valley to Winchester, where we then headed back west thru' West Virginia. It's a river valley that runs thru' the Appalachian Mountains, from Winchester in the north and stretching about 160 miles south and averaging 20- 25 miles across. Bordered on the west by the Allegheny Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains on the East, the northern half split into two by the Massanutten Mountains. It is in these three mountain ranges that all the Virginian caves are located. It's a very fertile area and its loss, near the end of the civil war, was the "beginning of the end" for the South according to local historians.
12th May, '98: Staunton, Grand
Cavers, Natural Bridge & Endless Caverns, Virginia
Spent the night at Staunton (Stanton to the locals). First thing of the day was the Woodrow Wilson home and museum. He was a US president around 1910-1920 and was born in Saunton. Toured the museum, which covered his life and then had a guided tour of the 3-storey house where he was born (a presbyterian manse), furnished with many items belonging to the Wilson family. Despite his father being a priest, the family still had three slaves - then again, many priests back then preached that the "black's" natural place was as a slave. hard to imagine such people could claim to be Christian, let alone priests. Not much else to see in Staunton .. in the 1960's the "enlightened" town leaders demolished virtually everything that had survived the civil war. All that's left were a few old homes on the town's outskirts.
Next stop was "Grand Caverns", the best caves we saw on the trip. In a word, amazing! In terms of numbers of formations and their variety, it left the others for dead. Lots of colours from mineral impurities, red (iron), black (manganese), green (algae) and the natural white. The tour took an hour. One unusual feature I'd not seen before were "shields", found in only a few places around the world and this was the only place they were common. One cavern has 200 of them, including one monster weighing as much as a car. They looked like, well, shields, attached to the rock by just one edge. They don't know how they form or how they stay up. That kinda mystery is better than the "old" ghost story, methinks. Another unusual feature: the caves are in vertical limestone strata - usually they are horizontal. Makes for some unusual features on the ceilings. Many of the caves were huge - one was even used as a ballroom - and full of formations. Discovered in 1804 and opened to the public in 1806, but despite the almost 200 years of "use", there's very little pollution in the cave that many old developed caves have - specifically soot from candle flames. One sour sign - until about 1970 visitors could take home samples, so many brought hammers and there's a fair amount of damage (tho' to the less spectacular parts). They even threw their hammers at the ceilings to break off stuff there. At one spot you could look up thru' a gap and see the next level up and beyond that a hole into yet another cave level, still in a virgin condition. The top of the third level was 100 foot up. There's the "Chapel Grotto", where weddings are performed, complete with a formation known as the "Mother in Law" and a pattern on the wall made of calcite that looks like Bugs Bunny. Other formations included Liberty Bell, Upside-down Pizza, Desert Horizon, Cathedral Hall (280 foot long) and George Washington.
"Natural Chimney's" is another limestone rock formation like "Natural Bridge", tho' as the name suggests, this one consists of seven columns, stretching up to 120 feet in height. Looked a lot like the Three Sisters at Katoomba, actually. Several of them had natural tunnels thru' their bases. The nearby cliff-face was honeycombed with caves and crevices. Each year since 1821 the place has hosted a jousting tournament. According to the brochure, if you get the right angle, the columns look like the turrets of a castle. Alas, the vegetation has grown somewhat since then and I couldn't find that view.
Final attraction for the day was another cave, "Endless Caverns". Rather obvious you were heading to the right place, from miles away you could see a huge sign marked into the mountainside. Discovered in 1879 and opened soon after. Made it just in time for the last tour - just the two of us, which was fortunate since my camera batteries went flat at the first stop. Luckily I had spares. A lot less formations than Grand cavern's, but it was a different kind of cave and younger. While some caves are created by water seepage along cracks and geologically formed chasms, this one was formed by underground rivers. So there were lots of weird shapes carved into the smooth limestone walls. And plenty of bats, tiny things, only a few inches long. Saw the Crossroads, Vista Room, Grand Canyon (a long, but winding and narrow cave full of formations and weirdly eroded shapes), Alexander's Ballroom - which was first used as a ballroom and then for booze parties during prohibition years. The Weeping Willow Falls was one of the few near pristine white formations - most were gray, black or shades of red. At one spot you could see several levels down to a river rushing past - and hear it. Plenty of shields here too, tho' not as many as at Grand Caverns. The Snow Drift, Frozen Cascade and at the deepest part of the caves (145 feet) was the Fairyland. In a crevice no more than 1-2 foot high, stretching about 300 degree's around the end of the trail, was a mass of small, delicate formations. Very pretty, very much a fairyland. Then back up to the Palace Room and the Cathedral Room. We entered that room in darkness and there was a light and music show that slowly revealed the room in all it's magnificence. Masses and masses of formations. Final stop was the Blue Room, so named for the blue rock making up the walls, showing between the formations.
13th May, '98: New Market, Luray
Caverns, Belle Grove, Skyline Caverns, Virginia
. Spent the night at New Market. Stopped at the New Market Battlefield Site, location of a civil war battle. It's a bit hard to tell a battlefield from a field 140 years on ... a few canons scattered about, a memorial. They occasionally do re-enactments (as on the day before we arrived). One bonus was a recreated farm, "Bushong Farm". Well the farmhouse was original. I imagine the battle was fought in its field.
Luray Caverns are said to be the best in the state. Having seen several, I'd have to say I was more impressed with Grand Caverns which had more formations, in variety and number. But Luray did have one cavern full of huge columns. The longest tour - 1.25 miles. The cave system is claimed to be the largest in the state (64 acres) and was discovered in 1878. The tour itself was the most developed of those we went on - developed in the sense that the entire route was over rock, brick or concrete paths, no dirt or mud like the other caves. Actually, there was hardly any mud at all compared to the other caves, tho' whether that absence was natural or not I don't know. Another difference is that it wasn't in an area of limestone but one of dolomite (an altered form of limestone). Just under half the system is active, less than Endless Caverns or Natural Bridge. The start of the tour was in the younger section, with smaller formations and lots of "soda straws" (small, hollow stalactites, up to several inches long) and very active. Dream Lake covers 2500 sq. feet, but is no more than 18" deep, averaging around 6". Lots of formations above the lake and with the light and angle right, you see a perfect reflection. Quite beautiful. The tour then heads to the older section of the caves, where the more massive and spectacular formations are. Pluto's Chasm runs the length of the caverns and is the crevice around which the caves were formed. Ten stories high, according to the brochure. And packed full of beautifully formed columns of many colours, but especially white - stalagmites and stalactites that have joined up and stretch from floor to ceiling. Looks like a Greek temple. Even a "fountain" at the bottom, complete with a pool of water and "statues" at the side. The chasm is named after a pure-white formation known as "Pluto", a large stalagmite that kinda looks like a person and which really does stand out and dominates the cave. On the other side of the path was Skeleton Gorge, where a 2600 year old skeleton of a girl was found - thought to have been washed in from the outside. Several pools and lots of large formations including Giant Redwood (7 million years old), the Wishing Pool, tinted blue from the coins tossed in, and the Organ Room, where they have an organ! As in the musical variety. Instead of organ pipes it uses rubber hammers and stalagmites and tites (does no damage, the guide said). Took several years and many 1000's of tuning tests to find just 47 "ites" that are used by the organ. Heard a short performance on it.
The Luray Singing Tower is across the road from the caves. A 150 foot high bell tower made of stone and with 47 bells. With the park around it, it makes a nice photo.
Mt Jackson, to the north, was pretty typical of a small Shenandoah town. Union Church (1825) is a small red brick building surrounded by leafy trees and a quiet cemetery. Inside there's a slave gallery, pews but no pulpit . Was originally built to serve all the town's denominations. Lots of buildings dating from the 19th century. A few miles south is Meems Bottom Covered Bridge (1892); it has a 200ft span and is the only covered bridge in Virginia still open to traffic - probably because it's now supported by a huge steel beam underneath. Mt Jackson is also home to a small Confederate cemetery with a statue in the centre and a stack of unmarked graves.
Stopped at Woodstock (founded 1752) - no, not *that* one, it's a common name in the US. Home to the Massanutten Military Academy (1899) and the Shenandoah County Courthouse (1792) - the oldest still in use in the US west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Also a quaint little museum on local history (closed the day we were there).
Belle Grove, just to the north of Strasburg (Virginia, that is) is an old (1794) plantation manor built of stone. There was an even older house on the site, but it's since been demolished. Also a crucial civil war battle fought there (the Cedar Creek battle). Built by the Hite family, it still has several of the original out-buildings and a slave cemetery. Thomas Jefferson helped with the design, which means tiny, hidden stairways and a symmetric house - back and front are virtually the same apart from small details. The original building (a wing was added in 1845) was based around a cross-shaped hallway, with a basement for storage and the kitchens. The ceilings are high (over 13 foot); to impress visitors and also to keep cool in summer. It was occupied by the Union army in the civil war as a general's quarters - which is probably why it was spared the fate of much of the Shenandoah Valley and not burnt down. The house is fully furnished, mostly with period stuff, but there is some stuff from the Hite family. Was bought by a rich botanist in the 1920's who restored and furnished it to it's original condition, or near to as was possible, tho' not out of any sense of conserving history.
Skyline Caverns. Given their write-up they were something of a let-down. Similar to Endless Caverns in the shape and origin of the caves - created and eroded into weird shapes by underground rivers - most of the caves were bare, only a handful of formations and those much less impressive than elsewhere. A pretty heavy use of coloured lights, which isn't usually a good sign, even a rather corny audio-visual display at one formation, "The Eagle". Still, was some good stuff. The Capitol Dome, which rested on a natural bridge. There were five streams (more than any of the other caves), a mirror lake and the Rainbow Falls with a 37 foot drop which was the best cave waterfall we saw. One unique feature, kept in a sealed section which was originally filled to within inches of the ceiling with mud, was masses of small, delicate formations - like sea urchins, but white (apart from where they were coloured red by the mud and black by the pollution of the tourists). Alas, it seems the removal of the mud has killed them (in cave terminology "live" means a cave or formation that is still growing). Called "anthodites", some had grown to almost a foot in length, but only mm's thick. The bottom cave was 180 foot below the surface, had a water pump to keep it dry and acted as an echo chamber. Skyline is a lot younger than the other caves, the oldest formation there is less than 100,000 years old.
14th May, '98: Winchester, Virginia;
Blackwater Falls, West Virginia
Winchester and the last day in the Shenandoah Valley. Abrahm's Delight is the oldest house in the city, built in 1754 by Abraham Hollinsworth on a lard grant from Lord Fairfax, back in the days when it was an english colony. A four-story limestone house - quite impressive for that time in this area where most homes and even public buildings were one or two room log cabins. Had a wonderful guide, full of fascinating history of the house, Winchester and life in those times. A few 100 metres from the house is a spring, which was bought from the family in 1790 for the town's water supply, now it feeds a pleasant looking lake full of fish, waterbirds and fishermen. The house stayed in the family until 1917 when the last occupant died, an eccentric old spinster. The town bought it and promptly auctioned off all the contents. They are now trying to track down the stuff and much of what the house is now furnished with is just "period". Quite a large house, with eight bedrooms (one of the generations to live there had 15 kids). They were also a fairly well off family - they could afford a small schoolroom upstairs and a school teacher for the kids. The guide inserted a ghost story at that point of the tour. If I had a dollar for every ghost story a tourist guide has told me, I'd be, well, very rich and the world full to the brim with ghosts. Outside was a log cabin, dating to the mid 1700's, sited where the original summer kitchen used to be.
Next was the George Washington Office. In 1775 and 1776 Washington worked out of the office - a log cabin built in 1748 for "transient workers", surveyors and the like. He was in his early 20's and was there to build Fort Loudoun. The guide then gave us an interesting and very informative lecture on Washington, his time in the area and afterwards. Some interesting facts are that he was quite tall, 6'3" (a foot taller than the average) and that he was a red- head. He was also born of an aristocratic english family. The place is done out as a museum on early Winchester and Washington's life.
Had lunch at a little cafe on the "Old Town Mall" before continuing with the sightseeing. Hebron Cemetery dates back to 1741 and has several notable features including separate sections for confederate and union soldiers (separated by a wall; symbolic I guess - for some, the civil war never ended); the ruins of an old Lutherian church, built in 1764 and burnt down in 1854 (all that remains is a single wall); a rather elaborate crypt for the Rouss family - a replica of the Parthenon - and a large obelisk; and finally a castle-like entrance gate-house.
The Old Stone Church was originally presbyterian (built in 1788), but since then has been used by the baptists, a "coloured" church, a horse stable for the Unionists, a school for negroes and finally an armoury before it was restored. A lot of interesting tales to be told there, I'm sure.
Walked along the Town Mall. Old historic buildings line it on both sides, crowding onto the street. The Masonic Lodge had an interesting facade. The county courthouse (1840) had columns at the front, but no windows or entrance. The episcopal church (1828) was the third built in Winchester and is an impressive Gothic structure, built by Robert Mills who also built the Washington Monument. Quite a few lovely stained glass windows. A quiet retreat from the noise and heat outside. In the church grounds is the tomb of Lord Fairfax, who had "dominion" over NW Virginia prior to the revolutionary war. Walked around several streets full of historic buildings and stately homes for the next hour or so. The Hanley Library is comparatively new (1912), but it's a very magnificent edifice of sandstone with a huge copper dome (now green) that stands out on the city skyline.
Saw the HQ of General Sheridan (now an art gallery) and that of "Stonewall" Jackson (now a museum). Winchester may be only a few miles from the north-south "border", it's soul was most definitely (and still is) southern. The house was built in 1854 and belonged to a friend of Jackson, who lived there in 1861 and '62. The museum is full of civil war artifacts (both sides) as well as material and exhibits on Jackson. The elderly guide regaled us with tales of Winchester during the civil war - of how it changed hands 72 times during the war. Tales likely passed onto him by his grandfather who probably fought in the war. The owner of the house was the great-grandfather of Mary-Tyler Moore. Lots of interesting bits of history - things like confederate bullets having two rings, union ones having three; that Jackson failed his entrance exam to Westpoint and only got in 'cuz his connected family pulled favours (he had had no formal education), but by the time he graduated, he was near the top; he taught psychology at the Virginia Military Institute, was highly decorated in the US army and was devoutly religious.
That was Winchester and, sadly, Virginia too. Headed back into West Virginia on a back road. Lovely green mountain scenery. Driving thru' northern West Virginia we passed thru' a series of "unincorporated" communities - small towns - tho' what that means I have no idea. Stopped late in the arvo at a lookout near Mt Storm, overlooking Saddle Mountain where Abraham Lincoln's mother was born. Not far from there is Blackwater Falls. A nice walk down from the carpark thru' pleasant forest - also one of the few places I've seen ferns growing here in the US. Thanks to the past week of rain the falls were even more impressive than usual, it was literally thundering with a fair volume of water. Named after the rover, which in turn is named after the colour of the water (actually it's a brownish colour, like tea and for the same reasons - tannic acids). There's also an 8 mile gorge past the falls which drop 5 story's.
15th May, '98: Charleston, West
Spent the night at Thomas in a very seedy place in the middle of nowhere, but the restaurant next door served a wonderful Italian meal. Heading to Charleston (the capital of West Virginia) we passed thru' sparsely inhabited, mountainous country - which is fairly typical of the state. Most people there live in river valleys. Very green and heaps more "unincorporated" towns. Last stop on the trip was Charleston. Up until now the weather had mostly been cloudy, around 20-25C and almost every day some rain. Arriving in Charleston it was 35C and not a cloud to be seen.
Charleston was the capital of West Virginia from 1870-1875 and then again from 1885. It's the largest city in the state, which isn't saying much since it's less than 100,000 - it's a very rural state. Charleston is sited on the confluence of two rivers. There's a lot of bridges and several paddle steamers (none cruising the day we were there). The city isn't that old - according to the lady at the tourist centre, the oldest buildings only date to the 1850's. Then again, the state was only a sparsely populated, backwater district of Virginia until 1863 when President Lincoln decreed it's birth. A birth that was questionable since Lincoln acted in contravention of the US Constitution and Virginia at the time wasn't even part of the US - it was in the "Confederated States of America". Since the "unionists" won the war, I guess they could afford to shuffle a few illegalities under the carpet.
Charleston has one great scenic feature that makes a visit there worthwhile - apart from the scenery, that is (the city is nestled in a mountain valley) - and that's the State Capitol building. For the most part it's similar to others across the country - a mix of classical Greek and Roman architecture along with a huge dome, all constructed in marble. The striking part is that the dome is covered in gold. Well gold leaf. Still, its sheer size means that there's an appreciable amount of gold up there. With the Sun shining, the dome is simply unmissable. Approaching the city on almost any road, it stands out quite clearly. The dome is 293ft high - higher even than the US Capitol. Catch the Sun reflecting at the right angle and it glows like, well, the gold it is. Extravagant and most impressive. Inside, the area under the dome is hollow and if one is lucky, you can catch sunbeams streaming thru' the windows near the top of the dome. And hanging from the top of the dome is a two ton chandelier made of "Czechoslovakian Crystal" (ie: quartz), 180ft up. Spectacular. Smaller examples hang in the senate and representative's chambers. If you catch it at the right time of the day, when the water is still, from the other side of the river (try the river bank at the University of Charleston), you can see the Capitol building and its golden dome gleaming in the Sun and reflected on the river's surface.
And that brings the trip to an end, six days of travelling and just over 1225 miles (almost 2000 km's). And with the end of the trip, that brings things up to date.
17th May, 1998.
Some web links of interest: The following is a list of web pages that have some connection with the above sites and activities. I've not checked most of them, so I can't guarantee that they'll all work or be current. For the most part they have been taken from tourist brochures etc connected with the above sites I've visited. Links are listed in the order that the attractions appear above.
Shelby County, Kentucky, Tourism
Louisville, Kentucky Visitor's Centre http://www.louisville-visitors.com
Lost World Caverns, Lewisburg, West Virginia http://vwweb.com/www/LOST_WORLD_CAVERNS
Lewisburg, West Virginia http://wvweb.com/www/LEWISBURG
The Greenbriar, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia http://www.GREENBRIER.com
Shenandoah Valley, Virginia http://www.svta.org/
Harrisonburg, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia http://www.harrisonburgrockingham.com
New Market (Endless Caverns & Battlefield site), Shenandoah Valley, Virginia http://www.svta.org/New-Market/
Natural Bridge Arch & Caves, Lexington, Virginia http://www.naturalbridgeva.com
Historic Lexington, Virginia: email :- firstname.lastname@example.org
Blackwater Falls, West Virginia http://wvweb.com/www/BLACKWATER_FALLS.html
Charleston, West Virginia http://www.charlestonwv.com
West Virginia State Capitol http://www.state.wv.us
Kentucky Tourism Comission http://www.kentuckytourism.com
Kentucky Travel Guide http://www.kytravel.com
Frankfort, Kentucky Visitors Centre http://www.frankfortky.org
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