Exploring the Thousand Islands, June 2017

The fastest route from Vermont to Michigan is through Canada. We had an option to travel straight north through Montreal or to go west through New York and cross farther down the St. Lawrence River. We chose to do the later and cross the border into Ontario at Ogdensburg. It’s usually easier to cross at a smaller crossing, away from a major urban area, and our crossing was uneventful.

We decided to camp at the Ivy Lea Campground, an Ontario Provincial Park. Ivy Lea is a good location to use as a base to explore the region. We had been rained on rather continuously since we left Virginia and it was apparent the rain had been in this region as well. The grassy areas were very wet and signs warned us not to drive in the grass. We awoke to heavy rain the next day and we decided it was a good day to sleep in, catch up on our reading, make some plans, and just “chill out.”

I had been in touch with the Brockville Adventure Centre, a SCUBA dive center on the St. Lawrence River, and was able to join a pair of divers who booked a charter to dive on a couple of wrecks in the St. Lawrence River.

Wednesday afternoon our dive boat took us upriver to our first site, the Henry C. Daryaw. This steel freighter had struck a rock, penetrating the hull. After multiple salvage attempts the Daryaw rolled upside down and sank into an underwater ravine.  The water level of the St. Lawrence was five feet above its normal level as a result of all of the rain in the region. Consequently, the current was running faster than normal. The three of us descended along the mooring line to the stern of the wreck. I could feel the current pulling on us as we descended. The water was very clear with visibility of 20 – 30 feet. Unfortunately there were a lot of micro particles in the water that made it a bad day for underwater photography. When we swam under the wreck we were sheltered from the strong current and we could explore the ship’s holds. You really don’t know what black is until you are 95 feet underwater and underneath a wreck. If it wasn’t for our underwater lights we wouldn’t have seen a thing. We swam out at the bow and ascended to the keel. There we were literally blown towards the stern. We skidded along the surface of the ship, dragging our hands and feet on the surface to try to slow down. When we reached the stern, we dropped out of the current, checked each other out and made our ascent up the mooring line. A unique feature of our dive boat was a platform that is lowered into the water where we could stand to remove our fins, then walk up a set of stairs onto the deck, much better than climbing a ladder!

Our second dive was on the Lillie Parsons, a sailing schooner that ran aground and capsized in 60 feet of water. Unlike many sailing vessels, her masts had not been removed and her masts were visible on the dive. She is lying on a slope with her stern at 60 feet and her bow at 30 feet. When we jumped into the water the current was flowing so fast it pulled the mooring buoy underwater.  As we descended we could feel the current pulling on us even harder than on the Henry Daryaw. We had been briefed to follow a guide line on the river bottom, but soon discovered it was no longer attached to the wreck. The current was so strong that we had to hold on to rocks on the river bottom and sort of crawl along the rocks until we reached the wreck.  As we worked our way along the ships gunwale, we had to hold onto the exposed ribs to keep from being swept away. We were able to look at some of her cargo of coal that was spilled on the bottom and some other artifacts from the ship. After exploring the Lillie Parsons we were to follow the rock wall of the island to the ascent line. We controlled our drift by holding onto cracks in the wall. At the ascent line, when we held onto the line at our safety stop, the current stretched us out like flags in a strong wind. Both of these dives seemed like I was swimming in a hurricane. Without a doubt, the most challenging dives I have ever made and I hope to return to Brockville to do more dives in the future.

Thursday, we launched our kayaks from the campground and paddled upriver. By staying close to the shore we were able to avoid the worst of the current. You could easily tell that the river was high. We saw one cabin after another where the water was above the level of the dock. There were many nice homes and cabins built on the shore and on the islands. We were able to paddle out into the channel, using the islands to shield us from the current as we explored them. It was a beautiful day for paddling and the current was not as much of a problem as we thought it might have been.

That afternoon we drove over to Rockport where we had our lunch in a park overlooking the St. Lawrence. After lunch we boarded a sightseeing tour boat for a tour of the Thousand Islands. As we cruised through the islands we saw all kinds of cabins, cottages, homes, and mansions. Some of the islands were so small there was hardly enough room for the building. In fact, in one case, a cabin was built on nothing but a rock. They built the cabin so big that you can’t even see the rock it was built on.

This island is international. The house is in Canada and the small island, across the bridge, is in the USA.

We saw many mansions of all sizes and shapes on the river. However, the most talked about mansion is Boldt Castle on Heart Island. George C. Boldt, proprietor of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City,  built this massive structure on the heart shaped island for his wife. He employed 300 artisans and craftsmen to create this 120 room castle. In 1904 a telegram from Boldt announced the death of his wife and commanded, “stop all construction.” Broken hearted, Boldt abandoned the project and never returned to Heart Island. For 73 years, the castle and various stone structures were left to the mercy of the wind, rain, ice, snow and vandals. When the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority acquired the property in 1977, it was decided the castle would be preserved for the enjoyment of future generations, funded through the use of all net revenues from the castle operation. Since 1977, several million dollars have been applied to rehabilitating, restoring and improving the Heart Island structures. Today it is an impressive structure and hosts daily tours.

One of the benefits of camping at the Ivy Lea Campground is that you get a free pass to tour Fort Henry or Upper Canada Village. We opted to visit Fort Henry. The original fort was constructed during the War of 1812 to protect the Kingston Royal Naval Dockyard on Point Frederick from a possible American attack during the war and to monitor maritime traffic on the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario. Fort Henry was used for several different purposes, including a compound for enemy Prisoners of War. In the early 1900s it began to fall into disrepair, but in the 1930s, under the leadership of Ronald L. Way, restorations took place as part of a government work program during the Great Depression. “Old Fort Henry” was opened on August 1, 1938. What sets Fort Henry apart from many other restored forts that I have visited is the pageantry. When Ronald Way began the restoration he knew that the physical restoration was only part of the effort. He wanted the fort to come alive and tell a story. Today Fort Henry is administered by Parks Canada, operated by the St. Lawrence Parks Commission, and is a living museum with the introduction of uniformed military interpreters known as the Fort Henry Guard. These interpreters staff the fort, conduct demonstrations of British military life, and lead tours for visitors. Our tour guide played the role of a Canadian soldier in the fort and the Afternoon Parade by the Fort Henry Guard was impressive.

The next morning, Sunday, June 11th, we  began a two-day drive to Lansing, crossing the US/Canadian Border, the longest undefended border in the world.

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Burlington, VT – Where Ethan Allen is More Than a Furniture Store, June 2017

Hurray! Vermont was state #50, Fifty states in six years. This didn’t start as a goal but it does feel good to have filled in the map.

As we planned our route into Vermont we discovered that we would be driving right by the Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory. With a little research we learned that they give tours every hour and have parking for RVs. Having decided that this was too good to pass up, we made it a planned stop.

Ben and Jerry’s is a unique operation. They buy their milk and other ingredients from select, local farmers who meet their standards for raising their herds and growing their crops naturally. They use Fair Trade growers, support non-GMO agriculture practices, and educate their employees in environmental awareness. They are active in the community, supporting local food banks, rebuilding houses in New Orleans, and donating ice cream to local organizations to celebrate events or fund-raising.

I may not agree with all of Ben and Jerry’s political positions, but I have to respect a company that operates with a set a values that supersede profit, puts its financial capital behind what it deems to be important, and doesn’t denigrate others in the process.The tour was great, very informative, and fun. We finished the tour with sample of ice cream. After that we had lunch – more ice cream!

We thought it would be nice to stay on Grand Isle, unfortunately we were not able to find any campgrounds on Grand Isle with vacancies for a trailer of our size. We did find a site in the North Beach Campground, just north of Burlington. This park, operated by the City of Burlington, is a nice location. There is a row of sites that are “big rig friendly,” a short walk to the beach, and right on the Burlington Recreation Path. This path is another “rails to trails” path and made it possible to ride our bikes into downtown Burlington.

We decided to take a cruise on Lake Champlain. We found a website called “JumpOnItDeals.com” that let us get two tickets for the price of one. This looked like a good deal and we went with it.

The next morning we rode our bikes to the City Hall Park for the Burlington City Market. Our first pleasant surprise was free, secured parking for our bikes. As we wandered by the vendors stalls I was impressed by the number of local food vendors. There was everything from cheese and organic vegetables to wine and distilled spirits. It was the first time that I felt the food vendors outnumbered the craft vendors.

After the City Market, we rode to the docks and boarded the “Spirit of Ethan Allen” for the cruise. As we traveled around the southern portion of the lake we discovered that Lake Champlain was named after Samuel Champlain who discovered it in 1609. Lake Champlain is also believed to have the best collection of historic shipwrecks in North America. Shipbuilding was big business in Lake Champlain’s history and at least one shipyard is still going strong. I found it interesting to see the “ways” where the ships are constructed and then launched. Locke Ness in Scotland has its monster and Lake Champlain has its own, called “Champ.” As with the Locke Ness monster, there is evidence that Champ exists, but also plenty of doubt. The largest mass sighting of Champ was aboard the “Spirit of Ethan Allen” in 1984.

After the cruise we were more than ready for lunch and rode to the Shanty on the Water. Fish is definitely popular on the menu and the maritime decor was right up my alley. We had great seats overlooking the harbor, but it was too bad the weather was so poor.

The next day we drove to Grand Isle to see whatever there was to see. Our first stop was the Snow Farm Vineyard. This is a great place to visit. When we got there we asked if they did any tours. They told us we could look around, and suggested a trail that led to a hill behind the vineyard that was the highest point in Grand Isle County. We took that advice and hiked to the hilltop and enjoyed our picnic lunch from some benches with a magnificent view of Lake Champlain. The winery has a patio and picnic tables outside so you can enjoy your wine and the view at the same time. Inside we did a wine tasting, discovering some wines we liked. Unfortunately we were going to cross into Canada the next day and we already had more wine than we would be allowed to take into Canada, so we didn’t want to buy a bottle, and maybe have to dump in out. We’ll just have to come back again!

The State of Vermont operates the Ed Weed Fish Culture Station to do research and breed fish to feed into the lake. The displays were educational and enlightening and we could see the fish raceways where the fish are bred.

Burlington is the home of Ethan Allen. Ethan Allen was the leader of the local militia, known as the Green Mountain Boys, in the Revolutionary War. Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys were instrumental in winning the battle of Fort Ticonderoga. The artillery cannon that were captured in that battle were sent to General Washington and helped him defeat the British in Boston. At the Ethan Allen Homestead Museum you can learn about this history and tour his former home.

We enjoyed our brief stays in New Hampshire and Vermont, but the biggest thing we learned was there is a lot more to see in these states. We are looking forward to returning to spend more time exploring them in the future.

The next morning we had some more rain, but not very heavy as we hooked up the trailer and headed northwest to cross into Ontario.

 

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Have You Ever Seen the Old Man of the Mountain? – Franconia Notch State Park, NH, May 2017

This spring our plan was to complete our goal to camp in all 50 states. That is what brought us to New Hampshire and Franconia Notch State Park. Franconia Notch is a scenic mountain pass, traversed by a parkway winding between the high peaks of the Kinsman and Franconia mountain ranges. As a teenager I camped in Franconia Notch State Park with my family. At that time we were able to see a geological feature known as the Old Man of the Mountain. This granite formation has been here for centuries, and is featured on the New Hampshire quarter. Over the decades, there was increasing erosion and decay of the formation and in the summer of 1958 the state emplaced four steel rods with huge turnbuckles, weighing up to 700 pounds, to hold the forehead in place. They sealed cracks with fiberglass to keep water from seeping into the granite and prevent further erosion. Unfortunately on May 3, 2003, it all failed. Apparently the granite that supported the chin had been weakened by decades of water reacting with the feldspar potash and the chin fell from the mountain. Once the chin fell away, the remainder of the face was unsupported and it collapsed within seconds – The Old Man of the Mountain was gone.

Since my trip as a teenager, the park opened up an RV park near Cannon Mountain. The sites are at the end of the parking lot for the Echo Lake beach. This may not sound pleasant, but it made them real easy to back into. There are pine trees between every site, and the sites back up to a grassy slope with Cannon Mountain in the background, a great view. I don’t know what it is like in the summer, but this early in the year, there was hardly anyone in the lot.

As soon as we were set up we drove to the Visitor Center to get general information on the park and information on hiking in the area. We only had part of the afternoon left and we decided to take a short hike at a site called the Basin. Here a mountain brook had eroded the rock face and formed a rock bowl, or basin. It is amazing to see what water can do to solid rock, over the centuries it continually and relentlessly wore away at the rock, the power is irresistible.

The weather was clear the next morning and we hiked up to the Artist’s Bluff where we had a spectacular view of the Franconia Notch, Echo Lake, and our campground. From there we continued to the higher peak of Bald Mountain. The trail was well marked, but not for the faint-hearted. At times it was more like rock climbing than hiking, but that only added a bit of spice to the experience.

After we cleaned up we decided to give ourselves a special treat and drove to Patty’s Pancake Parlor for lunch. Obviously their specialty is pancakes. They offer different flour and add-ins, such as chocolate chips and blueberries. Because each guest can order multiple combinations, the servers prepare the pancakes themselves. In short, the food was good, the prices reasonable, and the service was great. I recommend Patty’s Pancake Parlor to anyone visiting Franconia Notch.

It looked like that day was going to have the best weather so we decided to hike the Flume gorge that afternoon. Other than the Old Man of the Mountain, the most significant geologic feature is the Flume. The Flume is a natural gorge with spectacular waterfalls, vistas, and covered bridges. The trail is paved for the first part, but then you go uphill along a walkway/stairs that allows you to look down into the flume. The way the water has cut into the mountain in such a sharp gorge is impressive. At spots you can see where dark volcanic lava has filled in the cracks formed in the lighter shade of granite. The covered bridges added something special to the hike.

The next morning we awoke to somewhat clear skies. Partly cloudy is turning into the new clear. Is this rain ever going to stop? We took advantage of the good weather, packed a lunch and drove to the trailhead for the Falling Waters Trail. This trail goes to the top of the ridge where it  meets the Appalachian Trail at a spot called the Haystack. We set out, planning to make it to the Haystack. The trail started our easy enough, but soon we were climbing. On our way to the top, we had to traverse four “wet” crossings. This is where the Walker Brook and Dry Brook crossed the trail and there was no bridge on the trail. These crossings definitely added some excitement to the hike, and we had a few challenges on a couple of them.

As we climbed the scenery of the brooks tumbling down the mountain was magnificent. As opposed to the Flume where we were restricted to walkways and trails, here we could go wherever we wanted. We thought some of the parts of the trail to Artist’s Bluff were tough, but climbing over the rocks and boulders on the Fallen Waters Trail made those look mild. After the fourth water crossing we took a break and chatted with other hikers as they passed us. Finally we decided that it was time to turn around. I checked my GPS and determined that we had climbed 1130 feet since we left the trailhead, no wonder we were feeling it! You would think it would be easier going back down, but that was not the case. As we descended we had to traverse the climbs we had made over those rocks and boulders. We had to be careful as more climbers get hurt going down than going up.

Earlier, at the visitor center, we had seen information on a program where you could purchase a card for $25 that would cover the cost of your rescue if you got into trouble. As we started out on the Fallen Waters Trail we saw a sign that clearly stated if you are not properly prepared or act recklessly and had to be rescued, you would pay the cost of that rescue. I joked about paying $25 in case you are stupid, but as we discussed it we changed our minds. If you’re a local and are on the trails a lot it would be fairly easy to make a mistake and get hurt to the extent that you had to be rescued, and $25 wasn’t a bad insurance policy.

We made a couple more stops on our way back to the trailer and one was Boise Rock. In the 1800s a teamster named Thomas Boise was caught in a blizzard and took shelter under this rock. To survive he had to kill and skin his horse, and wrap himself in the hide. When his rescuers found him the next day, the horse’s hide was frozen around his body and they had to cut it off of him with axes, but he survived the blizzard because of it.

Our final stop was at the Old Man of the Mountain Profile Plaza. Here we were able to see in detail how people had attempted to preserve the Old Man’s face on the mountain and how nature took her course in spite of their efforts. One of the best features of the Plaza are the metal stands they have built to replicate the profile that used to be the Old Man of the Mountain. When you stand on the designated footprints for your height, you can look at this metal arm and see this replica of what used to be the profile of the Old Man of the Mountain. How special to allow people who have heard of this to still be able to see what is no longer there!

Next to the Old Man of the Mountain Profiler Plaza is the New England Ski Museum. Downhill skiing got its start in the United States in this area. In fact, the first Ski School in the USA is in a small village nearby. This museum is dedicated to that history of skiing. The museum is small, well done, and free to all. When we visited it, they had a special exhibit on the 10th Mountain Division that was formed in World War II at the urging of skiers and mountaineers from this area.

The next morning we had the “enjoyment” of packing and hooking up in the rain. Next stop, Burlington, VT.

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Pleasant Memories of Boston, May 2017

In my last post I described the Revolutionary War history that can be seen in almost every nook and cranny of the Boston area, but there is more to see than the Freedom Trail and the Battle Road.

We stayed at the FAMCAMP (Air Force Campground) at Hanscom Air Force Base near Bedford, MA. This is a nice campground, just across the airfield from the base. There are full hook ups available with 30 and 50 amp electrical service. One of the nice aspects about the campground is the community fire circle with firewood stocked for anyone to use. However the best thing about this campground is that it is a short ride to the Minuteman Bicycle Trail.  This is a Rails to Trails bike/pedestrian path that puts you at a ten minute bike ride to the North Bridge in Concord or a fifteen minute ride to Lexington Green. To go into the City of Boston, it is a short twelve mile drive to the Alewife T-Station to take the train into the city. Talk about convenience!

After touring the historical sites in the area we took our kayaks to the Concord River and paddled under the North Bridge. The Concord River is a nice river for paddling as the current is mild enough that you can paddle up and down stream with little effort. Because there has been so much rain in the area, the river was well above its normal level.  It’s always fun to paddle back in the trees.

We stopped by the North Bridge for lunch and found out there was a small concert scheduled nearby that afternoon.  We finished our paddling and drove back to the bridge. We were entertained by two local musicians that played the violin and banjo, but also played a wide variety of unique instruments that I had never seen before. It was a free concert, sponsored by a local group and a great way to spend an afternoon.

On our last day we observed Memorial Day by attending the ceremony in Bedford. While the parade and outdoor events were cancelled due to the poor weather, the ceremony was held in the high school auditorium. I was most impressed by the speaker from Hanscom AFB, a Lieutenant Colonel, who reflected on meeting a veteran while shopping one day. He said the man seemed to need to tell the stories of his fellow vets that had passed away. In closing his presentation the Lieutenant Colonel said that he had once been told that you are only really dead when people don’t say your name anymore. That is why we observe Memorial Day, to speak the names of those who made, in Abraham Lincoln’s words, “that last great act of devotion.”

That evening we had a potluck dinner with our fellow veterans at the campground and Tuesday, May 30th we left for Franconia Notch State Park in New Hampshire.

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The Freedom Trail and the Battle Road, Boston, MA – May 2017

This was our third trip to the Boston area. The last time we were here for three weeks and did a thorough job of exploring the sights.  We had explored Boston, but we had not walked the Freedom Trail. The Freedom Trail is Boston’s 2.5 mile historic walking tour of 16 nationally significant original sites related to the American Revolution. We also saw a number of historical sites not related to the Revolutionary period. The Trail is marked by a red brick path and tells the tales of brave men and women who dared to challenge the mightiest country on earth to win their freedom.

There are guided tours, but we chose to download an audio tour from the Freedom Trail Foundation for only $15 that we could use on both of our MP3 players, and a tour map that I put on my smart phone. We thought this worked best because we could move at our own pace, stay as long as we wanted at any spot, and stop for lunch along the way.

The tour started at the Boston Common where cattle were grazed and British soldiers camped.  In 1634 Puritan settlers established the Commons, making it the oldest public park in the country.

The Massachusetts State House is a formidable structure with a rich history as well as being the seat of state government. Paul Revere laid the cornerstone for it in 1795. There are daily tours on the second floor.

Across the street from the State House is the Shaw Memorial that commemorates the Massachusetts 54th Regiment. Colonel Robert Shaw and his family were staunch abolitionists and he raised a regiment of African-American soldiers. He and the regiment fought with distinction at the battle of Fort Wagner during the Civil War, proving that African-Americans could fight alongside white regiments as equals. The movie, “Glory” with Matthew Broderick and Morgan Freeman does a good job of telling this story.

The Granary Burying Ground is next to the Park Street Church and holds the remains of many Revolutionary heroes such as Paul Revere, John Hancock, Samuel Adams, James Otis, and the victims of the Boston Massacre.

The Old State House was the primary governmental building in colonial Boston.  It was from here that the Declaration of Independence was read to the citizens of Boston. Only a few steps from the Old State House is the site of the Boston Massacre. This was one of the key acts that set in motion the series of events that would lead to the Declaration of Independence and the Revolution.

Faneuil Hall was another major meeting place for the city of Boston. Attendees (at town meetings that were held here) heard Samuel Adams and others lead the cries of protest against the British taxes. The ground floor is currently used by vendors to market their wares much as it was during colonial days.  Quincy Market was built directly behind Faneuil Hall to expand the market and is still used for this purpose. We had lunch in the Quincy Market and, while the place was packed with shoppers, we had no problem finding a place to sit. Don’t let the crowd scare you off.

Boston’s North End is the oldest residential neighborhood and includes Paul Revere’s house, built in 1680. The Revere family occupied the house from 1770 to 1800. The house was used as a cigar factory and a bank before it was purchased and restored by the Paul Revere Memorial Foundation. Revere was quite the businessman and had several successful business endeavors, he even gave dentistry a try.

Probably the most famous church in Boston is the Old North Church, although it is actually Christ Church. It is Boston’s oldest church building and remains an active Episcopal Church. Inside you can see the pews that were owned by the various families. A new exhibit next door is the Captain Jackson’s Historic Chocolate Shop. Here we saw how chocolate was made in colonial times and had a free sample. It was good, but certainly not the milk chocolate we are used to today.

The Battle of Bunker Hill was actually fought on Breed’s Hill. Approximately two months after the British troops fired on the local militia at Lexington Common and Concord Bridge, the Massachusetts Militia built an earthwork redoubt to defend the Charlestown Peninsula. The British troops moved by boat across the Charles River and assaulted the Militia’s left flank. The Militia beat off two British attacks and, only because they ran out of ammunition, they were defeated in the third assault. The British may have won the battle, but the cost was huge, they lost more troops than they could afford and they realized that the Colonists were a force to be reckoned with.

The Charlestown Navy Yard was an active naval yard from 1800 until 1974. It is home to the USS Constitution, known as “Old Ironsides.” The Constitution is the oldest serving warship in the world still afloat and is still on the Navy’s rolls as an active warship. Also on display is the USS Cassin Young, a destroyer representing the type of ship built here during WW II.

Exploring the “Battle Road.”

Before the famous Battle of Bunker Hill, Colonial spies discovered that the British were going to march to Lexington and Concord to capture stocks of hidden arms and ammunition and arrest Samuel Adams and John Hancock. This set in motion the events that led to the “shot heard round the world.”

Paul Revere and William Dawes set out on horseback to warn Adams and Hancock and to alert the Minute Companies of the Militia. The Minute Companies, or Minute Men, were volunteers from within the local militia who were the most motivated and best trained citizen soldiers, and the forerunners of today’s National Guard.

I suggest that you start your tour of the Battle Road at Lexington. It was here that the British were first met by the militia, then go to the North Bridge in Concord where the British were forced to retreat back to Boston after being repulsed by militia at the North Bridge. The retreat to Boston is the Battle Road where the British were continuously attacked by ambushes and sniping by militia for more than ten miles. Let me lead you through the events of that fateful day.

On the night of April 18, 1775 Revere and Dawes were dispatched. At 1:00 AM on April 19th Dawes and Revere met Samuel Prescott, who joined them on their mission. They were stopped by a British patrol and Revere was captured.

At 5:00 AM, 77 members of the Lexington Militia, under the command of Captain Parker, formed on Lexington Commons to face the British. The British fired a volley, eight militia were killed, and the remainder retreated.

As I looked at the Lexington Commons, I could imagine the thoughts going through the minds of these 77 militia men as they faced several hundred well-trained British Redcoats and understood why they fled after the first volley.

By 7:00, the British column had arrived in Concord and began searching the houses for the hidden munitions. At 9:00 the British marched to the North Bridge in Concord where they were confronted by militia from several towns. Militia Major John Buttrick ordered his men to march to the bridge but not to fire unless ordered to do so. British soldiers fired, killing two militia and Buttrick ordered his men to fire.  This order was an act of treason against the Crown and the “shot heard round the world” was the first true shot of the American Revolution.

The British withdrew from Concord, regrouped, and began their march back to Boston.

At 12:30, the British reached Meriam’s Corner and were ambushed by militia Minute Companies. This was the beginning of the running battle back to Boston.

Along the route you can see the stone fences lining the Battle Road. At the time of the battle there were more open fields than we see today. There are restored buildings along the route, such as the Wittemore House, the Hartwell Tavern, and the home of Captain William Smith who commanded one of the militia companies in the battle. As you look down the route, picture the British column, marching four abreast, getting ambushed from a nearby woodlot or stone fence line. British soldiers described it as “an incessant fire like a circle that followed us as we marched.”

Throughout the day 4,000 reinforcements from neighboring militia joined the fight along the Battle Road. They continued to snipe and ambush the British column.  British flankers from their “light” companies tried to force the militia away from the column. The militia fought from abandoned homes along the route and from behind stone fences along the fields, leapfrogging to keep ahead of the British column. At 2:00, Captain Parker and his Lexington militia got their revenge by attacking the British column near the site of Paul Revere’s capture.

At 3:00 the British column was at the end of their resolve and feeling defeated, they staggered into Lexington and were joined by reinforcements from Boston who fired their cannons into the colonial militia.

Although reinforced, the British column continued to retreat toward Boston. At 4:30 newly arrived militia units fought from within homes in the town of Menotomy and inflicted the greatest number of casualties of the day.

By 7:00 the British finally reached the safety of Boston. The militia encircled the British garrison in a siege that would last for eleven months.  Two months later the British attacked the colonial fortifications in the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Writers of the history of the Revolutionary War often discuss the militia as an undisciplined and unreliable force, compared to the better trained and equipped Continental Army. However, in April and June of 1775, along the Battle Road and at Bunker Hill they fought, and fought hard, with bravery and skill, in these opening days of our war for freedom.

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The Mystic Seaport of Connecticut and the Mansions of Newport, RI, May 2017

Our next goal was to camp in Connecticut and Rhode Island  to check them off our list of states in which we hadn’t camped yet. We chose to stay at the Seaport RV Park in Connecticut without really knowing what there was to do in the area. 

The RV park is named after the biggest attraction in the area – Mystic Seaport. This is like the Greenfield Village of New England! They have recreated the historic seaport town of Mystic. Some of the buildings are original buildings, restored on site, others have been moved from other locations and restored, while others have been rebuilt from the ground up.

One of the first ships I spotted when we walked in was a Viking long ship. This was the same kind of ship that my Norwegian Viking ancestors used when they landed on the Western hemisphere, long before Christopher Columbus.

Staff, volunteer docents, and role-players described and demonstrated the maritime skills of the sailors that manned the whaling ships that called this port home.  It was enlightening to see how they manned and used the whale boats. I never knew that they literally rode right up onto the backs of the whales to harpoon them. I was in awe of the bravery of these men as I pictured them hunting the whale. On the restored whaler, the Charles W. Morgan, we watched Mystic Seaport staff aloft in the rigging setting the sails, and we had the opportunity to help to raise the sail yards.

The only difference between the original whalers and these re-enactors was the safety harnesses worn today. In the village green, another docent entertained the children with the “Music of the Sea and Shore.”

As we toured the various buildings and shops we saw how the people of Mystic worked and lived. We saw the bank, the chandlery where they sold new and used supplies for the ships, and the cooperage where they made rope from strands of hemp.

In the print shop, the guide showed us how they laid out the letters backwards and then upside down to make the printing plate. Can you imagine how long it would take to lay out and print 100 copies of a two page newspaper, printed back to back?

Not only does the Mystic Seaport display ships and artifacts of the past, but they rebuild them.  They have a complete shipyard where they refurbish and rebuild ships, using the shipwright skills of the 1800s. We saw how they rebuilt the Charles W. Morgan and prepared her for her 38th voyage. I was again amazed at the technology that went into each ship.  For example to get added strength, they would use the part of the tree where branches joined the main trunk to create “knees.” These knees would join vertical and horizontal pieces together. They cut the planks for the ships from trees brought into the shipyard.  We watched as the trees were cut into dimension lumber. While the shipyard uses a modern band saw, when the 19th century shipyard was in operation they used two-handed crosscut saws, a truly backbreaking task. What an amazing place!

The next day, we saw a more modern nautical theme when we visited the Museum of Submarine Warfare in Groton. Just up the river from the Submarine Base is the Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics.  The Electric Boat Company was the major builder of submarines since their conception. The fleet submarines of WW II were almost all made here. Consequently submarine warfare has long been a part of Connecticut history. As you enter the Museum you will see two large circles, the smaller is the circumference of the USS Holland, the first submarine in the U.S. Navy.  The second is the circumference of the Ohio-class nuclear submarine, easily ten times larger than the Holland.

The primary exhibit is the USS Nautilus, the first nuclear powered submarine. The Nautilus was the first submarine to transit the polar icecap and surface at the North Pole. As we toured the Nautilus I couldn’t help but compare it to the WW II fleet submarines that I had seen in the past. The conning tower and control room were certainly more sophisticated, and the wardroom and crew dining areas more roomy, but the berths weren’t much better and there is still only one bunk for every three sailors on board.

I had a special treat when I walked down the pier to the stern and discovered an open gangway to the after deck. So rather than ask permission and risk being told “No” I walked on board and Pat got a picture of me at the base of the sail. As I returned, walking off the gangway, a Petty Officer ran up saying that should have been closed and put the chain across the gangway. As the saying goes, “Luck favors the bold!”

The rest of the museum was very informative as we learned about the development of submarines over the years, and the challenges and accomplishments of the “Silent Service” from WW I to the present.

Right across the Thames River is New London, CT, the home of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. When I was in high school I gave serious consideration to joining the Coast Guard, but became an officer through Army ROTC instead. However, I never lost my interest in the Coast Guard.

As the nation’s oldest continuous maritime service (the Navy wasn’t founded until 1797), the U.S. Coast Guard has a long and complex history. It evolved from a merger of five different organizations. The original Coast Guard, the Revenue Service (1790), combined with the Life-Saving Service (1878) in 1915 to form the early Coast Guard. The Lighthouse Service (1789) merged with the Coast Guard in 1939. Finally the Steamboat Inspection Service (1838) and the Bureau of Navigation (1884) which had combined in 1932, were incorporated into the Coast Guard in 1946. Today the modern Coast Guard is a maritime “Jack of All Trades.”

The Coast Guard is now in a cooperative agreement with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) partnering to promote a safe and sustainable marine environment, enhance collaboration in the Arctic and Gulf Coast regions, and foster innovation in science and technology. The two agencies share vessels, crews, and training to accomplish these shared goals.

What makes the Coast Guard unique is that is serves under a civilian agency, first the Department of Treasury, then Transportation, and now Homeland Security in peacetime, and under the navy in time of war. In addition to the displays of uniforms and equipment that you see in many museums, I was most impressed with the murals showing the Coast Guard in action. For 227 years, the Coast Guard has saved lives at sea, enforced the law, and made our waterways safer. Semper Paratus – Always Ready!

From Mystic, CT we made a short drive to Newport, RI (We are now down to two more states to go!) and set up at Carr Point, the RV park for Naval Station Newport.  It’s a small park with only six sites and no dump station, but the view of Narragansett Bay was perfect! Our RV may be smaller than a house but we have some of the biggest yards!

The next morning we boarded our tour bus and learned that Newport was another whaling center but when Newport was occupied by the British Army during the revolution, much of the population fled and the local economy was decimated. It was only after the Civil War that rich families discovered Newport as the perfect summer vacation destination. More and more families came to Newport and the mansions were being built. Mansions are a big deal in Newport and the Breakers is the biggest. After the tour we drove over to check it out and discovered that the Cliff Walk went past several of these impressive buildings. Looking at these huge buildings I had to wonder what is was like to live there? As big as they were, some of them were still only “summer homes.” As impressive as the mansions were, some of them were left vacant for years and new owners had to invest huge amounts of money to bring them back to their former splendor. Today many of them have been converted to condominiums.

Historically Newport was where the French fleet joined with the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. Here French General Rochambeau worked with General Washington to plan the campaign that ended with the siege of Yorktown.

Because Newport essentially came to a halt during the post-Revolution period it now has the largest number of 18th century buildings in the country. Due to the efforts of long-time resident, Dixie Duke and others, many of these buildings have been restored and preserved.

We decided to have an early dinner and go with a recommendation from our tour bus driver and went to Flo’s Clam Shack. What a classic New England local dining spot!  The food was great and the atmosphere was classic for the area.  Flo’s back story of recovering from one hurricane after another was the icing on the cake.

On Tuesday, May 23rd, we headed for Hanscom Air Force Base near Boston.

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Exploring the Birthplace of the United States – Philadelphia – May 2017

There is SO much to see in Philadelphia, where do I start?

Our daughter, Elisabeth, drove up from Raleigh to join us.  We had done some research while we were still in Raleigh so we were pretty prepared.  We had made a short visit to Philadelphia back in 1996, but so much had changed!  One of our early decisions was to purchase the Philadelphia Pass.  This gave us free admission to many sites around town for three days and two days on the Big Bus jump on and off tour bus.

Our first stop was the National Park Service Visitor Center.  This was new for us and is a great facility.  We picked up free passes for Independence Hall.  These timed passes are handed out on the day you want to visit the Hall and we got passes for the 9:15 tour.  What a feeling to walk into the room where the delegates to the Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution!  We could see where they sat and debated. What went through their minds when they signed the Declaration?  They were committing treason against the British Crown and could be hung for this crime. Independence Hall was originally Pennsylvania State House, but was used as the meeting place for the Continental Congress and later the U.S. Congress from 1775 until the government moved to Washington DC.

From Independence Hall we went next door to Congress Hall and saw where the House of Representatives and the Senate met before the move to Washington.

Just a few blocks up the street from Independence Hall is the Christ Church burial ground. Here are the graves of Benjamin Franklin and several other signers of the Declaration of Independence. While checking out all of the markers we discovered that there were other graves not quite as distinguished as the signers.

The newest addition to historical sites is the Museum of the American Revolution.  We purchased our tickets online and had no problem getting the time slot we wanted.  There were several school groups touring at the same time and I would suggest trying to do this museum as early as possible in the day to avoid them.  The kids were all well behaved, but the increased volume of people going through the displays did make the experience less enjoyable. The displays are very well done and often highlighted events that we were not aware of.

You can’t go to Philadelphia without having a Philly Cheesesteak.  We had ours at Sonny’s and I recommend it to anyone who wants plenty of food.  The place is small, but they managed the crowd well and have outdoor seating on the sidewalk.

Betsy Ross is a famous figure in Revolutionary War History and her house is available for tours.  In addition to making the first Stars and Stripes American Flag, Betsy Ross was a self-employed business woman, was married and widowed three times.  During the tour we met Betsy Ross (role player) who told us about her business, her expulsion from the Quakers when she married her first husband, and how she showed George Washington that it was more practical to have a five-pointed star on the flag instead of a six-pointed one.

From there we toured the Philadelphia Mint which produces coins, but also Congressional Gold Medals.  Here we learned about the history of money over the ages, and were able to see the actual production of coins.

We had not stopped to see the Liberty Bell earlier in the day because the lines were so long.  When we walked back from the Mint we saw the lines were a lot shorter and went for it.  We thought we had plenty of time because, according to Google, the exhibit closed at 7:00.  However, we were only partly through when the Rangers started encouraging visitors to go straight to the Bell as they were closing shortly.  I guess you can’t trust everything you see online!  But we had enough time and were able to see the Liberty Bell up close as well as being able to see the rest of the exhibit.

We were still pretty full from lunch, but opted to have desert for dinner.  We went to eat at the Happily Ever After Dessert Cafe, right next to Sonny’s.  We all chose the Belgian Waffles and they were delicious – another great place to eat in the “City of Brotherly Love.”

That evening we took advantage of our Philadelphia Pass and booked a Ghost Tour of Philadelphia.  We met our guide at Signers Park and she led us around to several locations that had ghost sightings. Yeah, I thought her tales were sort of “hokey,” but the tour gave us a chance to see parts of Philadelphia that we might not have seen and learned some additional history.

The next morning found us at the National Constitution Center. We started with an interesting presentation on the development of the Constitution in the Sidney Kimmel Theater. It reinforced what we had learned in Independence Hall.  As we wandered through the Exhibition Gallery we saw many examples of the application of the Constitution in action.  I was struck by how the Constitution is so specific in some areas and vague in others. The special exhibit on Prohibition, the 18th Amendment, and its repeal was excellent. It’s too bad I was picked up in a raid!

With our Philadelphia Pass we had a two-day pass for the Big Bus jump on and off tour bus.  Our tour guide had plenty of information about the city as we drove through the streets (I was glad I wasn’t the one driving!). Our first stop was the Eastern State Penitentiary. Eastern State was originally a true penitentiary, in that it was designed to encourage penitence, true regret, in the hearts of prisoners. Every prisoner was in a solitary cell and by themselves for 23 hours a day.  The goal was to cause the prisoner to reflect of their crimes and repent. The prison is now operated as a museum and, while it is in very poor physical shape, we were able to get a true sense of what a prisoner’s life was like.

We took the Big Bus to the Reading Terminal Market.  It’s like a farmers market only indoors.  We wandered through the stalls and shops and decided to stay for dinner at the Chinatown Diner.  As we were eating we discovered that President Obama had chatted with the owner during the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia.

On our last day in town I visited Carpenters Hall where the First Continental Congress met to begin the process of winning our freedom from England. The first meeting to coordinate the first Congress was in secret with the delegates all arriving at different times, using different routes.  It was during one of these initial meetings that a French emissary met with them and reported back to France to recommend support for the Colonials in their revolution.

We also visited the One Liberty Observation Deck. From here we were able to see all across the City of Philadelphia.  It was an amazing sight!  We could literally see for miles and miles with unobstructed views on all points of the compass.

Our last stop was Franklin Court.  This is the site of the house that Ben Franklin had built while he was in France.  While the original building has been destroyed, the outline of the building is shown and you can see where the foundation still exists.

On Wednesday, May 17th, we left for Seaport RV Park in Mystic, CT.

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