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Posts Tagged ‘New World’

James City, Va.
Visited: October 12, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 258 of 353
and is also an:
NPS Affiliate Site Visited: 13 of 26
NPS Website; Local Website; NPS Colonial NHP Website; Local Colonial NHP Website

Jamestown MonumentWHAT IS IT?
Location of the first successful English colony in the New World, led in 1607 by Capt. John Smith.

BEAUTY (3/10)
Historic Jamestown is a visual mess. Haphazardly placed monuments and statues take their place among town ruins in various stages of excavation.

Hurricane Isabel destroyed the Park’s old VC and other permanent structures in 2003. A new Visitor Center is under construction and should open in time for the Site’s 400-year anniversary in 2007. As a result, orange plastic fences and yellow police tape cordon off Historic Jamestown sites, port-o-potties stand next to the Pocahontas statue and no photograph can avoid a 21st-century mechanized construction intrusion.

Cranes, workers, dump trucks and assorted decibel-soaring equipment successfully stake their claim as your visit’s most indelible memory. The only respite from the mechanistic madness is the five-mile Island Drive Loop that travels through the quiet, shimmery mosquito-laden marshlands of Jamestown Island.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (9/10)
During a visit to the Independence NHP in Philadelphia, a docent at the American Philosophical Society averred to Michael that everything wrong in this country is traceable to our English roots. She clearly has not studied Colonial Spanish history. The two grandest historic revelations to sprout at Jamestown, tobacco farming and its conjoined twin slavery, were nourished by the English but learned from the Spanish.

In 1617, John Rolfe experimented with new strains of tobacco, imported from the Spanish West Indies. The resulting leaf proved tastier than the native species and much more profitable. The peninsula soon moved towards mass tobacco production, a society flourished and, as the Park brochures state, “America began”.

Indeed, without tobacco farming and slavery, America would have ceased to exist. The democratic ideals of the founding fathers, our economic power, the notion of religious freedom and tolerance, and the ideas of the Age of Enlightenment put into practice; poof, gone with the wind. We are tobacco; it has always spurred our nation’s blood.

The first 10 years of British life at Jamestown are notable because of the colonists’ sheer incompetence and absolute failure to survive. These settlers starved to death instead of growing crops and turned to cannibalism rather than kill the innumerable rabbits, deer, squirrel and other small game that teemed around them. It was not until 1617 that the colony became a moneymaking success.

In 1619, African slaves were brought to Jamestown to work the tobacco crop, the first instance of slavery in the English New World. Slavery was not new to the Americas, the Spanish were using it to fuel an empire, but was new to English outposts. Virginia did not become inundated with African slave labor until after the 1676 Bacon’s Rebellion but the seeds were sown at Jamestown.

New Visitor CenterCROWDS (2/10)
The Jamestown site was stuffed to the gills, even on a mid-week, late-October morning. The Park’s space-to-tourist ratio is exacerbated by the ongoing construction.

Visitors, most of them in the septuagenarian set, walk around like guillotined chickens. No one knows where to go because the makeshift VC and signage are inadequate. The Park shows the 40+ year-old intro video in an educational mobile facility with no air conditioning and no ventilation.

Confusion reigns at the current incarnation of Jamestown NHS because just around the corner, less than a mile away, is the Jamestown Settlement, a living history Virginia State Park attraction. The State Park has reënactors and replicas of the 1607 ships. The Settlement also has a separate entrance fee. We heard dozens of guests wonder aloud, “where are the ships?” and “why did we have to pay twice”.

EASE OF USE/ACCESS (4/5)
Jamestown NHS is located a few miles southwest of the tourist beehive of Colonial Williamsburg. Numerous signs from I-64, Exit 234 point you towards the Jamestown Settlement. You can follow these signs to the NPS site because the two Museums are right next to each other. Handily, we saw a sign at nearly every intersection. You should too.

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.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (4/5)
Jamestown NHS’s top attraction is the Glasshouse and its adjoining store. Here you can purchase stunning and affordably priced glass blown on-site, replicating the output of early 17th-century Polish and German artisans.

The Park’s book selection was good but hardly definitive. Do your shopping for read-ables at Colonial Williamsburg’s jumbo-sized bookstore.

In Stemware HeavenCOSTS (2/5)
Collectively, Jamestown NHS and Yorktown Battlefield 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, Jamestown NHS charges $8 per adult. Yorktown Battlefield charges $5 per adult. A combo pass is $10 per adult.

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

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (1/5)
If there were Rangers at Jamestown NHS, they eluded our probing eyes.

TOURS/CLASSES (4/10)
The current educational situation at Jamestown NHS is revoltingly bad. The mentions of Bacon’s Rebellion, tobacco, slavery, English common law, cannibalism, etc… are fleeting at best. The Site does not even tell the Pocahontas story. We trust that this will change once the new Visitor Center opens. Do not expect to learn anything until that date.

Our generous score comes from our pleasant experience at the Jamestown Glasshouse. Costumed artisans blow glass while a staff member explains the mesmerizing art. The finished products (assorted stemware, ewers and lamps) are sold both under the Glasshouse canopy and at NPS Visitor Centers throughout the United States.

Colin Farrell?FUN (4/10)
Gab had tons of fun at the Glasshouse. Michael was thoroughly bored. Neither of us enjoyed our time at the Historic Jamestowne site. It is difficult to transport your imagination back to 1607 while bulldozers drown out your every thought. Even though we are not intrigued by the Pocahontas story, we did want to hear it. Instead, we were met with signs beckoning us to return in 2007. All of our learning came through self-induced historical speculation based on our own readings. If you come to learn about Jamestown you will leave with the same desire.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (4/10)
Yes, just not until 2007 when the new VC and Museum open. Maybe then we can come back and adjust our score upward.

TOTAL 37/80

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near Gould, Ark.
Visited: August 29, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 240 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

They’re EverywhereWHAT IS IT?
Site of one of France’s earliest permanent New World settlements. For almost 200 years, from 1686 to 1863, the Arkansas Post was an important city but now nothing remains.

BEAUTY (5/10)
The Park is a murky peninsula, surrounded on its wide sides by the bayou, its tip pointing towards the Arkansas River. The sky shines a hazy grayish blue, reflecting the waters’ dark dingy tint. Trees grow in the water. Fields of lily pads float everywhere amidst lime green algae and yellow lotus flowers add an unseen color and a delicate beauty. Snowy Egrets fly above skulking alligators, multiple dragonfly species hover incessantly, mosquitoes swarm and yearling deer race through the ruins of an early Arkansas town.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (5/10)
It is hard to believe this abandoned bayou backwater could ever have been an important place, but for nearly two centuries, it was the center of European life in the Arkansas region. In 1686, the French built a fort, establishing a trading post and solidifying control of the Arkansas River. The River’s flooding, Chickasaw war parties and British raiders continually forced the fort to be moved.

In 1763, France cedes the region to the Spanish, who soon after establish a presence at Arkansas Post. British soldiers attack the Fort in 1783, during the American Revolution, because Spain has sided with the colonists. France regains the territory in 1800 and sells it to Thomas Jefferson as a part of the Louisiana Purchase. Arkansas Post becomes capital of the Arkansas Territory in 1819 and the Arkansas Gazette (still the State’s major newspaper) begins publication.

Six Flags Over ArkansasIn 1821, Little Rock becomes the capital, the paper moves and the population shrinks from 1830 to only 114. The town is all but dead. The penultimate nail comes in January 1863, during the Civil War, when Union gunboats destroy the Site’s newly built Fort and mercilessly shell the town. Nothing remains. Nature deals the final blow through erosion and the changing course of the Arkansas River. All that remains are alligators, deer, dragonflies, wild turkeys and lotus flowers.

CROWDS (6/10)
Just us. We wish we could have spotted some alligators. Maybe if the sky had not been overcast.

EASE OF USE/ACCESS (1/5)
The N MEM is located in the bayou country of southeastern Arkansas, about 60 miles from Pine Bluff and 100 miles from Little Rock.

From Pine Bluff, take U.S. Route 65 southeast until the town of Gould. Wind your way through the back streets of this tiny town along Arkansas Route 212. Once you hit U.S. Rte. 165, turn north (left). In about 5 miles, turn east (right) onto Arkansas Rte. 169. Rte. 169 will lead you through the bayou and to the Park.

If you would prefer to stay on larger roads, continue on 65, past Gould, and to Dumas. From Dumas, take U.S. Rte. 165 for 15 miles until Ark. Rte. 169. Turn right and you will soon be there.

Bayou Country

CONCESSIONS/ BOOKSTORE (4/5)
The bookstore has a sparse, but well thought out and interesting selection of merchandise for sale. Jaw Harps, reprints of the two Harper’s Weekly’s that mention the Arkansas Post Civil War battle, reprints of the first issue of the Arkansas Gazette, a cute canned Alligator (stuffed animal in a can, not a meal) and ceramic mugs stamped with the fleur de lis. Cool books include an Arkansas traveler’s 1819 journal, a book on the Indian gun trade, Alan Taylor’s American Colonies and a history of the Arkansas Post written by a Park Service employee.

COSTS (4/5)
The Site is free.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (4/5)
One kind Ranger looked happy to see us; it was a dreary, rainy midweek day and few people were venturing to this bayou ghost town.

TOURS/CLASSES (5/10)
There are a few neat displays in the Museum and the film, while superficial and hokey, is watch-able. The Park holds no interesting secrets and no spellbinding historical revelations. The Site does an able job with its limited material. The Site provides a terrific bird checklist that even lists the specific areas of the Park to look for each bird.

FUN (3/10)
We would have had more fun of there were alligators. We cut our pleasant, but humid, walk around the Post Bayou Nature Trail short because the rain started to come down in droves. The thick trees were not going to provide a sturdy canopy for long. The old townsite was anticlimactic, consisting of only one or two ruins. The climate, ruins, scenery and colonial history reminded us of Georgia’s Fort Frederica NM. We did not have much fun there, either.

Photogenic ThreeWOULD WE RECOMMEND? (3/10)
Only if you have a thing for French colonial history. We have heard good things about the newly opened White River National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center located about 30 miles to the north in St. Charles. The White River NWR is close to the Cache River, the place where some ornithologists believe they found the ivory-billed woodpecker, an elusive bird species thought to have gone extinct. We had our binoculars on and ears open at Arkansas Post but saw and heard nothing.

TOTAL 40/80

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Part of Timucuan Ecological and Historical PreserveJacksonville, Fla.
Visited: February 2, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 139 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Welcome to JacksonvilleWHAT IS IT?
Reconstructed 16th-century fort that marks the brief Protestant French (Huguenot) presence along the southern Atlantic coast.

BEAUTY (2/10)
We asked the Ranger at Castillo de San Marcos NM why did the French sail to St. Augustine instead of waiting for the Spanish from their reinforced fortress. His response, “Have you been to Fort Caroline yet? Then you’ll know” And we did. Even though Fort Caroline N MEM is a 1/3-sized reconstruction, its historical smallness and flimsy walls were apparent. It is not much of a fort, more like a triangular shaped enclosure with thin walls overlooking the wide, deep St. Johns River.

We arrived in Jacksonville on a dreary, cold, rainy day. Massive barges floated down the river while steam and smoke bellowed from the many factories. Had it not been for the million dollar houses on the River’s far side, the vista might have been mistaken for Industrial Revolution-era London. Who would build a house overlooking this disgusting river span? Maybe Charles Dickens.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (4/10)
In 1562, French explorer Jean Ribault sailed to the mouth of the St. Johns River hoping to find a suitable area to be a refuge for the persecuted Protestant French. Two years later the fort was built and a 200-person colony was established. The colony would double its size in under a year but saw its end by 1565 at the hands of the Spanish. See our Fort Matanzas review for more background.

In September of 1565 after receiving military reinforcements, the Huguenots launched a preemptive attack on the new Spanish colony of St. Augustine located 20 miles to the south. They picked the wrong month. Once out on the water, the weather changed rapidly and the French found themselves sailing into a hurricane. The violent winds tossed and wrecked their ships far to the south of St. Augustine.

The Spanish learned of the Huguenots terrible luck and sent soldiers to take the sparsely protected Fort Caroline. After swiftly reappropriating the fort and massacring some 250 settlers, the Spanish went looking for the accursed French. They found the exhausted Huguenots south of St. Augustine and slaughtered all but 16 of the 350. The French presence in the region was officially over.

Coastal ViewCROWDS (4/10)
This Site cannot handle crowds well. Not really a problem in our case because there was only one other couple there. Unbelievable since it was Super Bowl week, the biggest thing that has happened to Jacksonville since the Huguenots. Still, the museums ceilings are low and loudly echoed the couple’s conversation with the only person on duty, a talkative and opinionated volunteer. We could not concentrate enough to read the exhibits’ small print text.

EASE OF USE/ACCESS (3/5)
Fort Caroline is 13 miles east of downtown Jacksonville. The road that hugs the St. Johns River from Florida 9A (Jacksonville’s beltway) to the Site is fittingly named Fort Caroline Road.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (3/5)
At least it’s unique. We haven’t seen a pine needle basket craft kit or a fluffy hand puppet in the shape of a clam at other Sites. If only you didn’t have to face the very chatty volunteer to get to the books, several of which are specific to Fort Caroline. Did we mention the clam puppet makes noises?

COSTS (4/5)
The Site is free.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (1/5)
No Rangers, just one volunteer. She shocked us when she explained that the Park’s Ranger generally does not do a good job.

New FranceTOURS/CLASSES (4/10)
There are no Ranger programs. We heard rumors that there are monthly living history reenactments. Hopefully they are not battle reenactments because they would not take long to finish. The newly refurbished Visitor Center museum is nice and provides a good introduction to the Timucuan Indians who inhabited the area for thousands of years before the Frenchmen’s fleeting inhabitation.

FUN (3/10)
The most fun the Site offered was a close-up view of a Carnival Cruise Line ship making its way into Jacksonville to provide much needed Super Bowl hotel rooms.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (2/10)
We cannot see much reason to travel to Fort Caroline N MEM. The fort’s story is told in depth elsewhere – by Rangers at Fort Matanzas NM – and the industrial scenery is dismal at best. The reconstructed fort offers no exploration possibilities. It is just an enclosed yard.

TOTAL 30/80

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St. Augustine, Fla.
Visited: February 1, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 138 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Protecting New SpainWHAT IS IT?
A massive stone masonry 17th-century Spanish fort built to protect the city of St. Augustine from British colonial invasion. The Castillo de San Marcos (St. Mark’s Castle) marked the northern-most settlement in Spain’s vast New World Empire.

BEAUTY (7/10)
We were immediately struck by the Castillo de San Marcos’ tremendous size. Four diamond-shaped bastions jut out from the corners of a square interior. A dry moat surrounds the light grey walls that were built with the fragile rock, coquina. In small quantities, coquina crumbles when handled, but when packed together, the rock withstands cannonballs by sucking them in upon impact.

From atop the Fort you can see the beautiful blue waters of Matanzas Bay, the subtle curves of the Three Lions Bridge and the Old City Gates of St. Augustine, the oldest continually inhabited city in the United States.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (8/10)
Few American cities have as rich a history as St. Augustine, Florida. The Spanish founded the city in 1565 and it served as the capital of the Province of Florida for over 200 years. St. Augustine protected the Spanish trade routes and the flow of goods along the Gulf Stream and back to Spain. The city was Spain’s northernmost outpost in the New World.

Its frontier location necessitated the building of a great fort. Castillo de San Marcos began construction in 1672. In its lifetime, the Fort faced numerous attacks and sieges from the English. St. Augustine was burned a dozen times but the Spanish never lost the city due to the strength of the Castillo de San Marcos.

The Fort plays the starring role in stories told at other nearby National Park Sites: Fort Matanzas NM, Fort Caroline N MEM and to some extent Fort Frederica NM. St. Augustine was the center of life in the part of the world for nearly two centuries, Castillo de San Marcos was its protector.

CROWDS (7/10)
There were gobs and gobs of people at the Site even though, later that day, the narrow streets of St. Augustine did not seem crowded. Our guided tour included over 40 people who gravitated pre-tour to the Ranger while he answered one of our many questions. The large crowds did not hinder our visit; there are so many things to see.

On the RoofEASE OF USE/ACCESS (4/5)
The Site is located along the coast in the middle of old St. Augustine. It is one of the city’s most prominent landmarks. You can’t miss it. There are approximately 30 free parking spaces on Site but they fill up quickly. You can also park across the street in the St. Augustine Visitor Center lot. We stayed downtown at a nearby hotel and walked everywhere.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (4/5)
Miniature metal soldiers guard the door. Reproductions of colonial and old world maps line the walls. If you are looking for tiny replicas of cannons or ammunition, you can find them here too. The bookstore and Castillo de San Marcos had plenty of books arranged by topic and souvenirs with a Spanish colonial bent. There was no need to supplement the offerings with Jamestown glassware and pottery. Pretty, but why not let the beauty of St. Augustine shine? In general, a great store.

COSTS (3/5)
Entry is $6 per person or free with a National Parks Pass. Your ticket is good for an entire week, which is helpful given the Fort’s many nooks and crevices that beg for exploration.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (4/5)
Jacksonville could learn from its southern neighbor. St. Augustine was well prepared and doubly staffed for any Super Bowl crowd that might find its way here. Castillo de San Marcos NM had volunteers around every corner, as well as regular Ranger talks. We accidentally began the 3 p.m. talk early when a crowd gathered to hear one Ranger answer our barrage of questions we had been collecting since Fort Matanzas. The Ranger happily obliged.

TOURS/CLASSES (8/10)
The Park Service provides a 26-station self-guided walking trail through the fort’s extensive rooms and roofs. Many of these rooms also include exhibits that further detail their role. The amount of information is overwhelming.

Ranger-led talks are given hourly in the fort’s inner courtyard. The Ranger was near obsessive in his knowledge of Napoleonic warfare, the U.S. coastal defense system and colonial firearms. He was a welcome help in our attempt to understand and interrelate the five National Park Service forts along the Atlantic coast from Savannah, Georgia to St. Augustine. He helped cut through much of the confusion in ways that exhibit panels and timelines just do not.

On the weekends, the Rangers dress up in period costume and shoot cannons into the water four times a day. The Park Service offers many other interactive tours on site including a monthly torchlight tour, bird walks and reenactments.

FUN (8/10)
We arrived in St. Augustine late afternoon and were immediately drawn to the Castillo. Its size and elevation gave us a perfect vantage point to scope out the city and decide where we wanted to go next. Positioned on the waterfront at the end of a river walk, the Castillo caught the final rays of the sun that had finally decided to come out. We warmed ourselves on the bastions before ducking into the chilly hallways to check out the numerous displays.

The Ranger that led our talk kindly kept us in the sunny corner or the courtyard. Our knowledgeable guide spent equal time explaining the whys and whens of the French and Spanish incursions and dismissing the Hollywood versions of coastal battles. He conceded that Master and Commander was historically accurate with regards to warfare and it was one of the few movies to get it right.

He went on to explain that in the past, the Park Service caved in to the historical inaccuracies of Hollywood. An Errol Flynn movie featured a fort that looked just like Castillo de San Marcos except that its moat was filled with water. 600 pounds (yes pounds!) of mail found its way to the Park Service, demanding that the San Marcos moat be hydrated.

Historians knew that the St. Augustine fort had a dry moat, but did not have the final say. Their word was heeded in the early 90’s when the moat was finally drained. The requested water had led to serious structural damage. The fort had weathered 500 years, twelve British sieges and millions of tourists but was most damaged by an Errol Flynn movie.

We’re suckers for trivia.

Beautiful St. AugustineWOULD WE RECOMMEND? (8/10)
The town of St. Augustine still seems more like a Spanish colonial outpost than an American town. Both the Park Service Rangers and the period costumed employees of the Colonial Spanish Quarter Museum do a terrific job at perpetuating this feel. We loved the town’s Avenida de San Marcos, a pedestrian-only promenade, and its eclectic array of good restaurants. Comparable only to Williamsburg, Virginia, St. Augustine is a wonderful historical vacation spot. The stellar Castillo de San Marcos NM is large part of the town’s attractiveness.

TOTAL 61/80

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