Posts Tagged ‘Mansion’

Cambridge, Mass.
Visited: July 28, 2006
NPS Site Visited: 321 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

It Was All Yellow=WHAT IS IT?
The quintessential American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, lived in this yellow Georgian mansion from 1837 to 1882. The house also served as temporary headquarters for George Washington during the Revolutionary War.

BEAUTY (2/10)
In the 1800’s painting your house a blandish yellow equated to wealth and success. We are glad that went out of style.

The insides of Longfellow’s mansion represent the worst of Victorian-era excesses: unending clutter, elaborate showiness and more marble busts than we could keep track of. Each room we entered got progressively uglier. “It can’t get any worse than this one,” we kept thinking. Oh yes it can. Our tour guide’s insistence on the room’s absolute beauty only made the situation more comical.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Poet, teacher and creator of American legends through his grand epics Song of Hiawatha, Evangeline and The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.

Or Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Glorified limerick writer, nostalgic, sentimental hack whose ridiculously dumb-downed themes and simplistic rhyme schemes are appropriately read primarily by first graders. We know which judgment we tend towards.

CROWDS (3/10)
Bad news all around. We missed the 11:30 a.m. House tour by 3 minutes and were not allowed to catch up meaning the next tour was at 1:00 p.m. We tried to piggy back onto a special college tour after an invitation from two considerate undergrads. No dice. Their leader ratted us out, told us to leave and we were left to wander the sweltering streets of Cambridge. Oh, if eyes could shoot daggers.

Washington Slept Here...No, ReallyEASE OF USE/ACCESS (4/5)
The Site is about a half-mile from the Harvard Square Red Line T (Subway) Station. So that’s where we went. We enjoyed our unexpected lunchtime break on the Harvard University’s library steps and in a few Cambridge book stores. Time well spent.

Park literature recommends the T because street parking can very very difficult and time limited. From the Harvard Square Stop, travel west on either Church and then right onto Brattle. The House is located at 105 Brattle; the pleasant walk will pass Radcliffe College.

The Site is open only Wednesdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. through 4:30 p.m. Six tours leave daily: at 10:30; 11:30; 1; 2; 3; and 4. Harsh Boston weather shuts the Park down from October through the end of May; the Polar Bears and Sabre-toothed Tigers migrate back to Canada around Mother’s Day.

Its literary merits aside, the title of Harold Bloom’s anthology Stories and Poems for Extremely Intelligent Children of All Ages (for sale here) captures the mood of the Longfellow NHS perfectly. Unbearably pompous, condescending and superior despite the fact that its subject matter is meant for children.

The historical fiction novel, The Dante Club, in which Longfellow is a character is on sale here in its best-selling glory as is the more intriguingly-titled Longfellow’s Tattoo’s which examines the body art and physical art Longfellow’s son’s collected while living in Japan in 1871.

COSTS (3/5)
Tours of the house run $3 per person, free with the National Parks Pass.

Six Ranger-led tours a day with a max size of 15 is not bad. Unless you are the 16th and 17th persons that is. Walking around Cambridge at noon was nice, it really was.

We might have forgotten about our meandering time had the tour been worthwhile. But like the Victorian designs, our lessons got laughably worse as we moved from room to room. We were not the only disappointed ones; we think the husband who dragged his pregnant wife onto the tour is still repaying her for her visible anguish.

Did we learn nothing or was there just nothing to learn? The Site has no intro film and no museum to answer that question.

Side ViewFUN (1/10)
Longfellow NHS successfully completes the trifecta of un-fun Historic Sites: 1) Dubiously distinguished dude; 2) Dreadfully dull discourse; and 3) Disastrously disgusting decor.

The 1:00 p.m. tour was not the first time we had to return to the Longfellow NHS. We came here on a gorgeous April, 2004 afternoon only to find out the Site does not open until May. You, good tourist, don’t have to worry about when the Site is open or not open because there is no need to come here.

TOTAL 25/80


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Yorktown, Va.
Visited: October 12, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 258 of 353
NPS Yorktown Battlefield Website; Local Yorktown Website; NPS Colonial NHP Website; Local Colonial NHP Website

Carrot Tree RestaurantWHAT IS IT?
Site, in October of 1781, of the last major battle of the Revolutionary War and British General Cornwallis’ eventual surrender to George Washington’s Army.

BEAUTY (7/10)
Old Yorktown successfully combines a current residential area, complete with library and administrative buildings, with 18th-century homes and structures, all of which is an easy walk from the Site’s Visitor Center.

Old Yorktown overlooks its namesake, the York River. While new riverfront homes and businesses look to be popping up quicker than Cornwallis’ case of the sniffles, the community has done a decent job at maintaining a colonial look and feel of properties adjacent to the NPS Site. They blend and extend the view, rather than disrupt it.

The driving tour of Yorktown Battlefield offers ample opportunities to photograph mounds of earth, white columnar monuments and fields of combat and surrender.

Yes Virginia, this is the place where we won the Revolutionary War. Sure, the Treaty of Paris was not signed until September of 1783 but Yorktown marked the end of the American-British fight, ensured our independence and, as the Park brochure boldly states, “significantly changed the course of world history”. It does not get much bigger than that.

In March 1781 at Guilford Courthouse (near present-day Greensboro, N.C.), General Cornwallis suffered a crushing victory. His army won the battle but lost over half its soldiers. The General was forced to retreat to Yorktown where he planned to regroup and wait for supplies. The help never came.

Earthwork TourA fleet of French ships blockaded the entries into Yorktown, preventing any reinforcements. Meanwhile, George Washington’s Continental Army marched towards the entrenched Britons. The siege began on October 6. Around-the-clock bombardment continued until October 17, when Cornwallis had had enough.

Here comes the best part. Instead of admitting defeat and facing the triumphant rebels, the cowardly Cornwallis said he was sick and would be unable to surrender his army. In his stead, he sent his second in command. Haughty foolish Britons.

81 years later, Yorktown was the site of another military siege, this time during the American Civil War. Yorktown marked the landing site of Union General George McClellan’s mistake-riddled 1862 Peninsula campaign. Let us just say that it is a good thing McClellan was not in charge of the Continentals in 1781.

CROWDS (7/10)
The mild crowds at Yorktown paled in comparison to the pulsating masses found at Jamestown and Colonial Williamsburg. That is a good thing, but odd given Yorktown’s vital historic stature.

Captured BootyEASE OF USE/ACCESS (4/5)
Yorktown is easily accessible via I-64 Exit 247. Take Va. Route 238 the whole way to the Park Site. Signs will point you on your way. The 25-mile long Colonial Parkway connects Colonial NHP’s two major sections, Jamestown NHS and Yorktown Battlefield. The Parkway meanders amiably, allowing a stoplight and Interstate-free drive.

Independent concessionaires (antique shops and a restaurant) inhabit a few of the historic buildings that line Yorktown’s Main Street. The restaurant, Carrot Tree Kitchens, serves a terrific affordable lunch and boasts a hilarious menu. For example, the Admiral’s Crab Rarebit comes with this explanation: “The French Admiral only agreed to sail to Yorktown after he heard how good the crab was.”

COSTS (2/5)
Collectively, Yorktown Battlefield and Jamestown NHS are known as Colonial National Historical Park. The National Parks Pass (NPP) provides free entry into both Colonial NHP sites.

If you do not have the NPP, Yorktown Battlefield charges $5 per adult. Jamestown NHS charges $8 per adult. A combo pass is $10 per adult.

The Virginia State Park, Yorktown Victory Center, costs $8.25 per adult. The Commonwealth of Virginia also runs its own Park at Jamestown, called the Jamestown Settlement, which runs $11.75 per adult. Their combo pass is $17. The Yorktown Victory Center and Jamestown Settlement are not affiliated with the National Park Service; your NPP does not work there.

Fore the most part, Colonial NHP seasonal hires and volunteers have replaced Rangers at Jamestown and Yorktown. Throughout the country, Rangers have effusively answered our questions regardless of building access restrictions and closing hours. However, at Yorktown, a teenage Polish girl refused to let us into the Georgian-style Nelson House ten minutes before closing time.

This is not a complaint because we understand workers wanting to go home. But it is undeniable that hired help and volunteers have distinctly different teaching priorities and educational prowess than salaried federal employees.

We always see a consumer demand for Park Rangers. At Yorktown, the 3:30 p.m. Ranger-led tour of the siege ground left the VC with 45+ people. We travel to these great historical locations to learn from professional educators, who, unfortunately, are no longer being hired. Park Rangers at Park Sites is not a given.

A Pleasant StrollTOURS/CLASSES (6/10)
The learning at Yorktown is visual, from the flashy 15-minute into film, to the replica ship located INSIDE the VC to historical artifacts used during the Siege at Yorktown. The tent George Washington used at Yorktown is usually on display here, but is currently on loan. Sad Michael. Sad Gab.

The same 18th-century Georgian buildings still line the streets of Old Yorktown. People still live and work here, unlike the reconstructed pseudo-historical constructions of the nearby Colonial Williamsburg. Yorktown does not feel like Disneyworld, it feels like colonial Virginia. Er…except for the luxury foreign automobiles that line the old houses’ driveways.

The two concise automobile tours of the siege grounds continue the visceral smörgåsbord. Here you can see earthworks built by the British, the Continentals, the Union and the Confederacy. We took many pictures of the actual cannons surrendered by General Cornwallis that are perched adjacent to the field where the Redcoats laid down their arms.

FUN (8/10)
Our first visit to Yorktown was late in the afternoon with just enough time to squeeze into one of the last showings of the introductory film. The tale of the American Revolution always puts us in a good mood. That mood carried us through the Visitor Center and out to Yorktown’s Main Street, where bare sidewalks were a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of Colonial Williamsburg.

The catch: sidewalks were bare because most of the shops and concessions were closing. As you know, a resolute teen barred entrance to the Nelson House.

The next morning, we anchored our return visit with a wonderful brunch of Brunswick stew and Old Dominion biscuits at Yorktown’s Carrot Tree Kitchen. We hold fond memories of our time in Old Yorktown.

Out Ye BritonsWOULD WE RECOMMEND? (7/10)
Combine a trip to Yorktown Battlefield with a drive down the Colonial Parkway to Jamestown NHS; take a stroll through Colonial Williamsburg (free if you don’t enter any buildings!) and you have a near perfect low-cost weekend trip from just about anywhere in the mid-Atlantic region.

The area’s historical significance is easily digested through living history exhibits, Yorktown’s residential Main Street and eclectic Visitor Center. Visitors of any age can find something of interest along this colonial corridor.

TOTAL 56/80

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near Jacksonville, Fla.
Visited: February 2, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 140 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Kingsley PlantationWHAT IS IT?
46,000 acres existing mostly of salt marshes that border the slow urban sprawl of greater Jacksonville. The historical part of the preserve consists of a Sea Island cotton plantation and scattered Timucuan Indian ruins.

BEAUTY (3/10)
The Preserve is that garbled part of your northeastern Florida map where the Atlantic Ocean meets the fresh water of the St. John’s River. The terrain is mostly flat marshland, palms trees and many shades of green. The plantation home is stately, white and inaccessible to visitors because of structural damage. The slave quarter ruins reveal buildings constructed of tabby (oyster shells).

The Site’s historical presentation is a sprawling, jumbled confusing mess made even more vexing by its lack of Park Rangers, interpretive or otherwise. The Preserve covers at least four completely separate peoples and periods of history: pre-Columbian Timucuan Indians, 16th-century French Huguenots, 19th-century Sea Island slaves, and 1920’s socialites.

Many of the stories are fascinating but are told on neighboring exhibit panels and easy to mix up. The Preserve Museum and the Fort Caroline N MEM are one in the same. We found it difficult to get our heads around who, what, where and when. With Ranger assistance and clearer historical delineations, this site could be a trove of historical gems.

We believe we learned that the Timucuan were giant men averaging over 6’6” in height and that the Kingsley Plantation was run by a freed slave who was an African princess. She married Mr. Kingsley and they sold the Plantation after Florida became a part of the United States. The racial climate among slaves and owners in New Spain differed greatly than the “intolerant prejudice” found in the new American nation.

We wish it had been easier to learn more about this area’s intriguing past.

CROWDS (5/10)
Two vanloads of students proved more than the Plantation’s tiny Visitor Center/Bookstore could handle. Space restrictions have dictated the bookshelves’ place directly next to the entrance door. As a result, we struggled to get into the building and out of the rain; a dozen plus students were browsing the titles and blocked our way in. The volunteer on duty struggled to make sense of the chaotic scene around her while answering numerous questions. We came back later once the crowd had dispersed.

Without a sea kayak, 75% of the Park is inaccessible. The Timucuan Preserve Visitor Center is located at the Fort Caroline N MEM, which exists only as an adjunct to the Preserve. There are a few hiking trails scattered throughout the Park.

Welcome to Jacksonville
The Site’s historical centerpiece is the Kingsley Plantation, located on Fort George Island. A wide range of publications, including the USA Today, recommended the Plantation as a nice excursion during Jacksonville’s Super Bowl week festivities. The publicity has not warranted a paved road to the Plantation. It is a two-mile journey north from Route 105 down a single lane road reminiscent of a jeep trail seen in Jurassic Park.

Bookstores at Fort Caroline N MEM and Kingsley Plantation have little in common although they service the same Ecological and Historical Preserve. A few books on people known as the Timucua can be found among the Fort Caroline histories. Some Florida-specific titles are among ubiquitous bird and nature guides. Looking through the store, there is little to explain what is special about the area or why is celebrated with a unique NPS designation.

Kingsley Plantation offers familiar essays and books by African American authors and a few site-specific gems like the collection of Zephaniah Kingsley’s writings entitled, Balancing Evils Judiciously where he elaborates his pro-slavery, pro-black views. Slave narratives and modern accounts of African American life in Jacksonville give this bookstore more focus and substance than its counterpart a Fort Caroline.

COSTS (4/5)
The Site is free, but it does not really get you much. You cannot go into the Kingsley Plantation.

Three Florida State Parks border the Timucuan Preserve. They all charge admission fees.

No Rangers at the Timucuan Visitor Center (Fort Caroline N MEM) or the Plantation. And it was Super Bowl week.

The Fort Caroline N MEM volunteer did not place historical value in the Plantation as she curtly disparaged the freed African slave woman who ran the farm. At the Plantation, we found only a frazzled but helpful volunteer.

There is no video at either Visitor Center. No Ranger-led activities. A black and white pamphlet and a photocopied piece of paper were all we had to guide us around Kingsley Plantation. Even those were absent at Fort Caroline.

Exhibits in the Fort Caroline Visitor Center are pleasing to the eye, but difficult to follow. Low ceilings and bad acoustics don’t help.

RuinsFUN (3/10)
What little fun we derived from the day came at the expense of Jacksonville, which became the punch line for most of our jokes.

Not in its present state. The Kingsley Plantation was especially disappointing. Nothing about this sea island location was familiar to us. We drove down its dirt road and felt transported to another era, a place whose history we have never learned or properly understood. At Kingsley, we found the physical historical resources but none of the necessary interpretive help. We hope that this will change.

TOTAL 29/80

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