The Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail Officially Opens

Ft. McHenry along the Star Spangled Banner National Historic TrailThe Star Spangled Banner Historical Trail officially opened last week, marking the bicentennial of the War of 1812. The trail, which was established back in 2008, features 560 miles of land and water routes that trace the major events of the war as it played out across Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. Dozens of markers along the trail’s length help tell the story of the conflict, which included the Battle of Baltimore the inspiration for Francis Scott Key to write “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The song would later go on to be named America’s national anthem.

More information on the new trail can be found at its official website, which provides historical context for much of the route and a map of the trail itself. The site also provides suggestions for things to do while traveling along the trail such as visiting Fort McHenry National Monument, exploring a museum or paddling one of several water trails.


Grandma Moses’ Early Home Among Buildings Added To Virginia Landmarks Register

Grandma Moses
The Virginia Landmarks Register has just added 17 properties to its list of important sites. One of them is a home lived in by Grandma Moses and her family before she became famous as a folk artist.

The c. 1850 brick farmhouse in Mount Airy in the Shenandoah Valley was home to the painter in 1901 and 1902. While her stay was brief, it is the best preserved of any of the homes she lived in in the area. Grandma Moses only turned to painting when she was well into her 70s, yet she became world famous and her simple yet evocative folk paintings, such as the one pictured here, remain popular today.

Some of the other properties that have been added to the register include an African-American cemetery dating to the Civil War, the late 18th century Galemont farm in Fauquier County and a one-room schoolhouse in Springfield that operated right up until the 1930s.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]`

Civil War Ballooning Revived This Memorial Day Weekend

Civil War
During the Civil War, the clashing armies used many new technologies to try to gain an advantage.

One military innovation was the balloon. Although the first balloon ascent had taken place in France in 1783 and the French army had already used them in battle as early as 1794, military aviation was still in its infancy and the United States and Confederacy became the second and third countries to use it.

Balloons were handy for spying on enemy movements. Observers would send back information either with signal flags or via a telegraph wire leading to the ground. The more industrial North had an edge in ballooning, but the South used them effectively too. Despite their best efforts, neither side was able to shoot these daring aviators out of the sky.

Now these early experiments are being re-enacted in Virginia. On Saturday, May 26, there will be a Civil War Balloon Observation Exhibit at the Yorktown Battlefield. There will be presentations on how balloons were used by both sides. It’s part of a weekend of lectures and re-enactments.

On Memorial Day, Monday, May 28, at the Gloucester Main Street Center, there will be a Civil War re-enactment featuring a 45-foot diameter replica of the Union’s balloon Intrepid. Re-enactors will portray Union and Confederate balloonists. Those who prefer more recent military history can meet special guest Richard C. Kirkland, who flew 103 combat missions in World War II and whose 69 helicopter rescues in Korea inspired the movie and TV series “M*A*S*H.”

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Iconic Road Trips: Blue Ridge Parkway Paradise

The Blue Ridge Parkway is famous for a reason. It’s a 469-mile stretch along the Blue Ridge, which is a mountain chain within the Appalachian Mountains. The mountains out west might be more grandeur, but I grew up in the Appalachians, so this drive has a special place in my heart. Contrast to the jagged, towering, snow-capped mountains you’ll see in the western parts of the U.S., the Blue Ridge Mountains are subtler in their majesty. You’ll see rolling hills upon rolling hills all the way into the horizon while driving the Blue Ridge Parkway. The park connects the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with the Shenandoah National Park. When you feel moved to stop and take photos of the jaw-dropping landscape, you’ll find there are plenty of places to pull over and do just that. Buy some homemade jam, salsa or an assortment of other treats when you stop. These kinds of Blue Ridge specialties are widely available along the route and unlike so many gimmicky regional foods many of these offerings are worth the price.In addition to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Shenandoah National Park, you’ll pass through the Pisgah National Forest, Stone Mountain State Park and George Washington National Forest, among other destinations.

Slave Quarters Discovered at Monticello

Monticello
Archaeologists digging at Thomas Jefferson’s home at Monticello, Virginia, have discovered slave quarters used at the time he was living there.

The remains were found at Tufton, one of Jefferson’s farms a mile from the actual house. Jefferson owned several farms around Monticello that were worked by his many slaves. The artifacts dating to Jefferson’s time include everyday items such as a button and fragments of ceramic, as well as a slate pencil, which raises the question of whether one of the slaves was literate. A more sobering find was a padlock. The slaves appear to have lived in small, single-family homes.

Jefferson’s views on slavery were complex. He correctly predicted that it would divide the nation, but that didn’t stop him from owning slaves himself, and while Jefferson wrote against race mixing, DNA evidence indicates that Jefferson fathered several children with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings.

A second slave quarter site was also found, dating to the middle and end of the nineteenth century. Jefferson had died in 1826 and his family sold his 130 slaves to pay off his many debts. Monticello itself was sold in 1831. The family that bought the Tufton farm also worked it with slaves until the end of the Civil War.

Photo courtesy Stefan Volk.