Back to Michigan, 2018 – The Fun Part

We like to return to Michigan for the summer. Our first stop after leaving the Chicago area was one our favorite stops, Woodchip Campground in Byron Center, just south of Grand Rapids. Woodchip is like an oasis in the city. It is surrounded by sub-divisions, but you get a feeling of living in the woods while you are there.

Our reason for staying there was to break up the trip and visit some friends in the area. However, our first errand was to drive to Canadian Lakes, near Big Rapids, to visit my sister and drop off our family pictures. These had been stored at our daughter’s house in North Carolina before she moved to Washington and downsized to an apartment. My sister, Susan, was kind enough to give us a spot in her basement. We enjoyed spending the time visiting and helping with moving some stuff around her house.

We met one of Pat’s high school classmates, Kay and her husband, Lynn. We have been friends for years and Lynn and I are two paratroopers that enjoy sharing “Jump Lies” with each other. Later in the week, two retired comrades from the Michigan Army National Guard, Ray and Rhea, joined us for lunch and the afternoon. It was fun catching up with them on what they have been up to. They have custody of the daughter of Ray’s deceased brother and now face the challenges of parenting that most of us faced at a younger age. However, they are enjoying having Becky in their life. As the saying goes, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him you have a plan.”

In early June we drove from Grand Rapids to Bad Axe to camp in the back yard of Pat’s brother’s house. Geri and Marcia are great hosts and staying with them is always an enjoyable time. On our way there we stopped at Marlette RV to have our wheel bearings checked and repacked. This is when we discovered that our axles were wearing out (losing the bow they are supposed to have) and we decided to have Marlette RV upgrade them in the fall.

While in Bad Axe we visited with family, shared meals with Geri and Marcia and their kids. We drove to Freeland to watch our niece, Adi, play T-Ball – Great fun!

We all went to the local winery for a tasting, and enjoyed sampling some local wine.

One afternoon their sons, Matt and Adam, treated us to a wonderful meal of fish and smoked brisket – those boys can really put on a great spread!

I took care of some repairs and maintenance, such as giving the trailer a good wash and wax, and helped Marcia with some work she wanted to have done. I also indulged in some of my hobbies while there. I started a batch of homemade Green Apple Riesling wine in Geri’s basement. My big surprise was discovering a new coffee shop in downtown Bad Axe that offered an open mic experience. I was able to play there several times and I’m looking forward to playing that venue again.

On June 24th we drove to Lansing to stay at the Cottonwood Campground. This has got to be the most convenient campground for anyone visiting the Lansing area. Almost any place in the area is a short drive and it is a short walk to the Lansing River Trail for walking and biking. This week was about the reason we came to Michigan this summer, I will have partial knee replacement surgery on both knees in July. This week we saw our dentist (can’t have dental work done during joint replacement), and had pre-op checks and tests. We did more medical stuff than camping stuff this week! I plan to detail the whole joint replacement in another post.

At the end of the week we drove north to a cottage that Pat’s brothers own on Rifle Lake, near Rose City, MI. Most of the family gathers here for the week of Independence Day. It is a fun week of swimming, kayaking, and for me, sailing. We don’t have the room to carry my small sailboat with us and the brothers-in-law have been kind enough to let me store it at the cottage.

Most of the entertainment is provided by the sons, daughters, nieces, and nephews of the family. Everyone enjoys watching them enjoy themselves. The most popular activity is tubing behind the pontoon boat, with boat rides on the lake a close second. The most popular non-aquatic activity is eating and drinking more than we should. Both men and women take their turns impressing the family by preparing their favorite dishes and specialty drinks. Adi especially enjoyed the Independence Day Bike parade. All in all it is a busy, but relaxing, fun time for all and we look forward to it every year.

On Friday we drove back to the Lansing Cottonwood Campground where we will spend the rest of the summer. I enjoyed my last bit of freedom of movement before my first surgery on July 10th. The remainder of July and August were taken up with the second surgery on July 24th and rehabilitation.

The highlight of the summer happened on August 2nd when two of our granddaughters, the twins Sierra and Clarissa, arrived from Tacoma, WA. They stayed with us for two wonderful weeks. They enjoyed using the pool at the campground, but they really liked it when we took them to Lake Michigan to play in the big waves. The lake cooperated with 17 mph winds and really good waves. All of the granddaughters are great swimmers and the twins loved diving into the waves, getting knocked over by them, and body surfing. It was a perfect day for such a treat.

I think the highlight of the trip was a trip to the Rifle Lake cottage over the second weekend they were with us. Our son, Dave, joined us for the trip and, once again, tubing was the special activity. The weather was perfect for a great weekend.

On our way home, we stopped in Mt. Pleasant so we could see my sister, Susan, and she could spend some time with the girls.

We took them to explore the Potter Park Zoo and the Impression Five Science Center and they loved both of them.

Our last big deal was a visit to the MSU Dairy Store. Even though Michigan State University has a wide curriculum, it started as an agricultural college and maintains those roots. The MSU Dairy Store is a way to taste the work of these students – and the best ice cream in town!

All good things must come to an end and on August 16th we drove Sierra and Clarissa (with their new shirts) to Detroit Metropolitan Airport for the flight to Seattle. It was a wonderful two weeks and we’re looking forward to spending next summer with them in Washington!

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Memorial Day in Chicago, IL – May 2018

The Great Lakes Naval Station, north of Chicago, IL is the only place the Navy trains its recruits. I always thought this might be a good place to stay and we were fortunate enough to get a reservation over Memorial Day weekend. In addition to training new recruits the Navy also offers training in specific skills, such as electronics, naval gunnery, communications, gas turbine systems, and damage control, to name a few. The RV park is small, but is a great location for families to stay while visiting their sailors. The park only offers electric hook ups, campers have to fill their fresh water tanks and dump their waste at the marina, about a mile away. The sites are pretty tight, but the view of Lake Michigan makes up for all of these shortfalls.

The Naval Recruit Training Center conducts a graduation every Friday. The area by the visitor center and the Museum of the American Sailor was full of newly graduated recruits and their families. At the Museum we attended a presentation on the USS Cole, its history and the attack by terrorists in the Gulf of Aden. It was especially interesting because the presenter had been an Electronics Warrant Officer on the Cole when the ship was attacked and was able to share her personal story.

The Museum of the American Sailor focused primarily on the Recruit school and, while limited, was quite interesting.

On Saturday we rode the train into downtown Chicago. We took our bikes on the train (you are allowed two bikes in each car) and they made getting around town much easier than walking or taking public transportation. Our first stop was the Shedd Aquarium but we found it to be too expensive and just wandered around the outside. While doing this we saw several art pieces made from plastic that had been salvaged from the ocean. Discarded water bottles, coolers, various plastic containers and more had been used to make these plastic sea creatures. When you see these pictures you will understand why I really, really don’t like it when people use disposable water bottles. I encourage everyone to buy a good water bottle and refill it from the tap.

I took advantage of the mobility of our bikes to pick up several geocaches in the area. it’s a great way to learn some unique things about an area.

We rode back to State Street for the Chicago Memorial Day Parade. We didn’t plan for it, but we ended up right across the street from the Reviewing Stand with all the dignitaries, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel. I was amazed how many Chicago Schools offer Junior ROTC, there was one school after another in the parade!

After the parade we rode to Navy Pier for lunch. We ate at Giordano’s and had authentic Chicago deep dish pizza, a real treat! While we were waiting to be seated and after lunch we explored Navy Pier and took a ride on the Centennial Wheel, which opened in 2016. What a great view! Daniel Burnham, famous architect of the World’s Fair, originally envisioned five piers in his “Master Plan of Chicago,” but Navy Pier was the only one built. The pier was originally built in 1909 and opened for use in 1916 as the Municipal Pier. It was renamed the Navy Pier in 1927 to honor those who served in the Navy in WWI. During WWII Navy Pier was used to train pilots for service on aircraft carriers. In fact, former President George H.W. Bush trained at the Navy Pier before deploying to the South Pacific.

On base at Great Lakes Naval Station they raise the flag every morning at 8:00. At that time we would hear the bugle call “Attention,” followed by the National Anthem. Tradition is that if you are outside when this happens you face the direction of the base headquarters, stand at the position of Attention and salute during the Anthem. Pat and I were often interrupted in our morning walks by this, but what a way to start your day!

On the morning of Memorial Day we rode our bikes on the Robert McClory Bike Path to the small town of Lake Forest for their Memorial Day Ceremony. It reminded us of when we lived in the small town of DeWitt back in Michigan – small town Americana! The short parade was led by the American Legion Honor Guard, followed by the high school marching band, and Scout troops. The ceremony was begun with the Star Spangled Banner, sung by a delightful young singer who did a marvelous job. One of the senior navy officers from Great Lakes told of a WWII veteran that he had gotten to know well and his stories. The Scouts completed the ceremony be raising the Flag from half-mast to full. It was a simple, but moving ceremony and we were happy that we were able to share in it.

On Tuesday we departed to return to Michigan for the summer.

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Submarines in Lake Michigan, May 2018

From St. Louis we journeyed north, stopping to see our nephew, Steve Smith and his wife, Brooke, in Champaign, IL. Brooke is working on her PhD in Veterinary Medicine and Steve is in sales in the plastics industry. Steve has also become an accomplished woodworker and we saw several examples of his work – very impressive!

Our destination was Plymouth Rock RV Park in Wisconsin. Pat’s sister, Mary Lee and her husband, Welton, have a seasonal site there. This park has everything from manufactured homes and park model trailers, to travel trailers and tent sites.

Our real purpose for going to Wisconsin was to see Mary Lee and Welton’s remodeled kitchen. After a couple of days at Plymouth Rock, we drove down to Milwaukee to check it out. While we were there we spent some time with their daughter, Ashley, and had dinner at a popular pizza place. Good times and good company, how could we go wrong? Well, I never got any pictures, that’s what could go wrong.

When returned to Plymouth Rock, we made plans to drive to nearby Manitowoc to see the Wisconsin Maritime Museum. When we arrived we were surprised to see so much of the exhibit devoted to submarines. That was when we discovered that the Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company had built 28 fleet submarines during WWII. The first of these 28 submarines, the USS Peto was launched into Lake Michigan in 1942. The submarines completed their sea trials in Lake Michigan, then were floated in a special dry dock via the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans. Four Manitowoc submarines, the Golet, Kete, Lagarto, and Robalo are still on “eternal patrol,” having been lost with all hands in the Pacific while on combat patrol.

The Museum displays the USS Cobia, which wasn’t built in Manitowoc, but is of the same class as the Manitowoc boats. The Cobia was used by the Milwaukee Naval Reserve as a training vessel, and is now moored in the Manitowoc River. It has been maintained in excellent condition. We were guided through the Cobia by a former submariner. He gave us the best tour I have ever taken of a submarine.

Pat, her sister, Mary Lee, and I started our tour in the forward torpedo room and moved aft (towards the rear). The Captain’s cabin was the roomiest berth in the submarine – I wouldn’t call this roomy.

If you were a fan of WWII submarine movies the control room is a familiar site. This is the nerve center of the combat operations and is directly below the conning tower that housed the periscopes.

Farther aft was the crew galley where the ship’s company was fed. This space was also used for card games and movies. This picture shows almost the entire seating space.

Beyond the galley was the main berthing area for the crew – certainly a lot less space than the commanding officer! Sailors couldn’t hang their clothes, but were creative in keeping their best uniforms pressed.

We finished our tour in the Aft Torpedo Room. There are six torpedo tubes in the bow and four in the stern. Note that there are bunks directly above the stored torpedoes.

In addition to the USS Cobia, there were numerous exhibits on equipment used in discovering and salvaging wrecks, and shipbuilding in the past. The display of ship models showed the variety of ships that sailed the Great Lakes.

One model I found particularly interesting  was the Rouse Simmons, better known as the “Christmas Tree Ship.”

The Schuenemann brothers, Herman and August, had been trading Christmas trees in Chicago since around the start of the 20th century. While many rival traders sold to wholesalers and local grocers, Schuenemann sold directly to Chicago residents at dockside by Clark Street Bridge. By cutting out the middleman in this way the trees could be sold cheaply while still making a profit. The venture used the slogan “Christmas Tree Ship: My Prices are the Lowest”, with electric Christmas lights and a tree atop the main mast. The trees were sold for between 50 cents and $1. Schuenemann’s profits from selling Christmas trees never made the family wealthy, but his reputation for generosity was well established, and he delighted in presenting free trees to many of the city’s needy residents.

In November of 1912, Schuenemann loaded the schooner with 5,500 trees from Thompson Harbor near Manistique, Michigan and planned to make the week-long journey to Chicago.  With trees crammed into every possible corner of the ship. The weight of the trees was far above recommendations. When the Kewaunee Life Saving Station spotted the Rouse Simmons on November 23rd, it was low in the water with tattered sails, flying its flag at half mast to signal that it was in distress. George E. Sogge of the Two Rivers Lifesaving Station, located just south of Kewaunee, sent out the power boat Tuscarora on a rescue mission, but the Simmons was never seen again.

One of the displays gave us the opportunity to dress up in period clothing for a picture on the deck of a Great Lakes steamer. Unfortunately the exhibit was intended for children, while Pat was able to find clothes that fit, the only thing that would fit me was a hat.

On Thursday, May 24th, we headed south to the Great Lakes Naval Station, just north of Chicago.

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White Water Rafting

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St. Louis – Gateway to the West – May 2018

We arrived at the Family Camp (FAMCAMP) at Scott Air Force Base on Thursday, May 10th. The FAMCAMP is a small set up, but very pleasant. It’s right on the edge of a grassy field with a couple of nearby ponds and lakes. There aren’t fire pits at individual sites, but there is a common one near the bath house and laundry room. There is a shredded rubber track that goes all the way around the airfield for our morning walks. The total length is approximately 6 1/2 miles and on our last morning on base I walked the full circle.

Scott AFB is across the Mississippi River from St. Louis in Illinois, but is very convenient to visiting the city. The eastern end of the Metro Link route terminates right next to the Air Force base and there is a security gate that lets you park your vehicle on base and walk to the station to board the train.

On this trip we wanted to visit some new sites and explore some we had seen on our previous trip. The “Western Expansion” exhibit at the Gateway Arch Visitor Center was being reconstructed and was not available to tour. The Old Courthouse, across the street, was open and some of the Western Expansion exhibit had been moved there. The biggest historical significance of the Old Courthouse is that this was where the Dred Scott took place.

One of our new stops was the City Garden. This is a collection of what I would call impressionistic art.  I found it interesting, but not necessarily what I like in art. I don’t think art should have to be explained to you and these took a lot of explaining. The one I like the best was the “Big Suit,” but I thought it should have been called the “Empty Suit.” The part of the park both of us liked was the splash pad and especially enjoyed watching  a couple of young girls playing there.

From the City Garden we walked past the St. Louis City Hall to take a bus to the Anheuser Busch Brewery. The City Hall stood out to me because it seemed much older than the surrounding government buildings and, as a result, had more character.

The Busch Brewery is always an interesting place to visit. While we had toured it in the past, the tour changes periodically and we saw different parts of the brewery on this tour. Of course the highlight of the tour is tasting the beer! During the tour we had the opportunity to taste the difference between Bud and Bud Light and got a voucher for a full beer in the Biergarten at the end of the tour. Since our last visit they added the Biergarten, a full service restaurant. Here we tasted samples of as many beers and ciders as we wanted before we got our full glass. We decided to have lunch here and it was a “win-win.” We got a free drink with our lunch and they got someone to buy lunch in their restaurant.

The next day we planned to visit the St. Louis Zoo and the Science Museum. The St. Louis Zoo has been voted to be the best free zoo in the U.S. and it lived up to its hype. Pat is a much bigger zoo fan than I am, but I was impressed here. The exhibits were diverse and reflected the natural habitat of the animals. The animals were well cared for. My only complaint is that their map could have been more detailed. I guess when that is all you can complain about, it’s a good place to visit!

The Butterfly House was amazing! I have not seen as many butterflies in any other zoo. They were not too skittish so you could get real close to observe them.

There were plenty of big animals. We saw several elephants, rhinos, hippos, bears, Takin bulls, camels, and even giraffes.

There were some real strange animals, like the Gueraza Colobus, Ring-tailed Lemur, Coqueral’s Sifaka, Addax, and Okapi.

The primate exhibit was very extensive with dozens of monkeys, apes, orangutans, and chimpanzees.

The last exhibit we visited was the Penguin and Puffin Coast. You really have to love penguins and puffins, cuz they are just so cute (Did I really say cute?).

Part of the way through the zoo we realized that we either had to cut our visit short and leave for the Science Center or blow off the Science Center. We opted to stay at the zoo. I guess the Science Center will have to wait for our next visit to St. Louis.

The last event in St. Louis was a special treat for me. Fellow author, Bob Rothermich, and I had helped each other with our last books and he lives in the St. Louis area. We were able to make contact and we had dinner together, spending time talking about books and solving all of the world’s problems. What a great ending to this stop on our journey!

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Nashville and the Grand Ole Opry – May 2018

When you are visiting Nashville it is almost a responsibility to visit the Grand Ole Opry. The Grand Ole Opry is a weekly country-music stage concert which was founded on November 28, 1925, by George D. Hay as a one-hour radio “barn dance” on WSM. It is the longest-running radio broadcast in U.S. history. Dedicated to honoring country music and its history, the Opry showcases a mix of famous singers and contemporary chart-topping performing country, bluegrass, Americana, folk, gospel, and comedic performances and skits. The Opry’s primary slogan is “The Show that Made Country Music Famous”. Membership in the Opry remains one of country music’s crowning achievements.

We took the daytime Backstage Tour of the Grand Ole Opry. Our virtual tour guide and host was Blake Shelton. At the beginning of the tour and at stops along the tour we heard Blake tell us about the Opry and its membership. Our actual guide shared stories about the Opry and country music greats, past and present — from Minnie Pearl to Carrie Underwood, from the Opry’s biggest moments in history. We went in through the artist entrance where legends, new artists, and superstars alike walk into the Opry House on the night of an Opry show. It’s possible to have the chance to step on stage and into the famed wooden circle (saved from the original stage) as generations of artists have done, but unfortunately they were setting up for a show and we could not get onstage.

As we walked through backstage, we were able to look into the stars’ dressing rooms. I thought it was neat that they were numbered with a guitar pick symbol. Each dressing room is decorated around a unique theme. The “Cousin Minnie,” “Wagonmaster,” “Little Jimmy,” and “Mr. Roy” dressing rooms honor music greats Minnie Pearl, Porter Wagoner, Jimmy Dickens, and Roy Acuff, respectively. It’s definitely a tour highlight!

After we left the Grand Ole Opry, we took a bus to downtown to visit the Bicentennial Capitol Mall.  The bus dropped us off right by the Capitol Building and we went in to explore. At the security entrance we were shown where we could pick up a self-guided tour. As we strode through the building we saw busts of famous dignitaries. It was interesting to note that, in addition to Andrew Jackson, two other Presidents were from Tennessee – Andrew Johnson and James Polk. Other dignitaries included David Crockett who, in addition to defending the Alamo, served in the Tennessee and the U.S. House of Representatives. The other was Admiral David Farragut, famous for his quote, “Damn the torpedoes, Full speed ahead!” during the Battle of Mobile Bay in the Civil War.

Our intended destination was Bicentennial Park. Located in the shadow of the Capitol in downtown Nashville, the Bicentennial Capitol Mall gives visitors a taste of Tennessee’s history, natural wonders and serves as a lasting monument to Tennessee’s Bicentennial Celebration, which was June 1, 1996. The Bicentennial Capitol Mall is Nashville’s Central Park. Because of its natural attributes, the historic French Lick that attracted wildlife, Native Americans, trappers and settlers to what would become Nashville.

As an outdoor museum, the mall features a series of design elements that highlight the natural and cultural history of Tennessee.

  • Tennessee Map Plaza is a 200-foot-wide granite map of the Volunteer State. One of the largest and most accurate depictions of a geographical region, it includes every city, county, river, highway and railroad in the state.

  • Rivers of Tennessee Fountains is a collection of 31 geyser-like spray fountains commemorating the state’s major lakes, rivers and tributaries. Inscriptions provide details about these waterways. A large trough represents the Mississippi River. On hot days, visitors cool off by splashing in the water jets.

  • Located in the middle of the park is the 2,000-seat Tennessee Amphitheater, which features terraced lawns and a dramatic view of the State Capitol. It is patterned after the Greek amphitheater at Epidaurus. It is the setting for outdoor concerts and other theatrical productions.

Next to the park is the Nashville Farmers’ Market. Dating from the 1800s, and covering 16 acres, the Market House has a variety of vendor stalls, eateries and other merchants along with a weekend flea market and various special events. We took advantage of the Market to take a break for lunch from a couple of the vendors.

We spent the rest of our time wandering in the downtown area, going past the Musician’s Hall of Fame and Museum. It was featuring a Rolling Stones exhibit. While we didn’t have the time to explore it, we did get a picture of the signature Rolling Stones “Tongue and Lips” logo.

There are many campgrounds in the area to stay while visiting Nashville, but we chose one a little ways out of town that was more pleasant than some of the ones closer to Nashville. It is a Corps of Engineers campground called Seven Points. With our Interagency Senior Pass we were able to stay for half price in a nice, wooded setting. It is on the shore of the J Percy Priest Reservoir and it was a great place for our morning walks.

On Thursday, May 10th we pulled out of our site and headed north to St. Louis, IL.


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The Hermitage – The Home of Andrew Jackson – May 2018

Many of us know of Andrew Jackson as a hero of the War of 1812 with his heroic defense of New Orleans. Some of us know him as the seventh President of the United States.  Fewer of us know of him as a change agent. He was the “People’s President,” campaigning on a platform of removing career politicians and reducing bureaucracy. To say he was interesting is an extreme understatement.

Jackson faced challenges his entire life. His father died the same month he was born in 1767. He joined the militia at age thirteen during the Revolutionary War and was captured by the British. He was orphaned in 1781 at age fourteen. From then on he was passed from family member to family member until he was old enough to go out on his own. He became an attorney at the age of twenty. In Jackson’s words, “I was born for a storm and a calm does not suit me.”

After failing to win the Presidential Election in 1824, he was elected in a landslide in 1828.  Jackson saw this as a mandate to cleanse Washington of corruption. The way he looked at it was that power in Washington rested in the hands of fewer and fewer men. A government run by insiders served the privileged few and ignored everyone else. Men schemed for offices and officials lined their pockets at the public’s expense. He felt that the government had abandoned the principles of the Revolution and feared rise of an aristocratic class that served its own needs over the needs of the people. He believed that a permanent set of employees too often became entrenched and no longer responded to the needs of the people. He believed that any man with suitable skills should have a chance at such an office.

In another example, the Second Bank of the United States had been run by a board of directors with ties to industry and manufacturing, and therefore was biased toward the urban and industrial northern states. Jackson objected to the bank’s unusual political and economic power and to the lack of congressional oversight over its business dealings. To Jackson, the bank symbolized how a privileged class of businessmen oppressed the will of the common people of America. The battle to eliminate the Second Bank of the United States went on for the next three years. Finally Jackson felt he had received a mandate from the public to close the bank once and for all, despite Congress’ objections. On September 10, 1833, Jackson removed all federal funds from the Second Bank of the U.S., redistributing them to various state banks. In addition, he announced that deposits to the bank would not be accepted after October 1. Finally, Jackson had succeeded in destroying the bank; its charter officially expiring in 1836.

He greatly reduced patronage in federal agencies, He was a supporter of the common man, his approach upset the status quo, brought common voices into Washington, and outraged the elite establishment.

Jackson’s heritage is like a double-edged sword – he was a slave owner and supported slavery and was instrumental in the removal of Indian tribes from the East in the “Trail of Tears.” On the other hand, he maintained the union by fighting an early attempt by South Carolina to secede from the Union. He destroyed the hold “elites” had on the power in Washington. He balanced the U.S. budget and eliminated the national debt.

The Hermitage was the home to Jackson and his wife, Rachel. It began with a small two-story log cabin and evolved into the building it is today.

Jackson was not adverse to hard work and living within his means. He was a very hands-on manager of the Hermitage. Unfortunately, after his death, his son inherited the estate but was not a good manager and it was lost in bankruptcy. The Hermitage had lapsed into decay when a group of ladies in Nashville, Ladies’ Hermitage Association, took action to purchase the estate, restore it, and eventually turn it over to the State of Tennessee.

Today, the Hermitage is an excellent example of period architecture with much of the wall paper and furnishings being original. There are guided tours of the mansion and self-guided tours of the grounds. Volunteer docents in period attire are available in the mansion and on the grounds to add to the learning as you tour the estate.

Jackson’s Tomb. It is covered because it was recently vandalized and it being repaired.

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