Oct 30

St. Louis Blues!

The ArchLeaving Illinois on the next phase of our Route 66 Journey, we decided to head straight to St. Louis and include a visit to the top of the Gateway Arch  in our sightseeing. We had ‘done’ The London Eye a few years ago and were fortunate to have great weather – which, according to Priscilla, is a rare occurrence in England! The view was fantastic. We were also looking forward to spending time at the Museum of Westward Expansion.  It was to be a very full day and we were excited to learn more about the role the city played as the Gateway to the West.

We booked into the city RV Park for two nights to be close to our sightseeing and realized once we arrived that it was actually in a part of town that at one time had been pretty unsavory!  The owner told us that when he bought the land some 20 + years ago, the city had just demolished a dodgy housing complex close by!  Our first impressions of the park were not favorable!  A bare, fenced parking lot, no trees, no grass!  However, the staff was friendly and helpful and we found the restrooms to be the best we’d encountered so far!  Spotlessly clean, with private showers, i.e. you locked the door to the shower instead of having privacy curtains only, which is the norm in most RV Parks.  We settled in and looked forward to the next day which, incidentally, was our 25th wedding anniversary!

Parks closedIt was not until that evening we learned our plans would be foiled by the Government shutdown!  The St. Louis Arch and the Museum are National Monuments and therefore subject to closure.  Suffice it to say we had a few choice words for the members of Congress who were acting more like kindergartners than adult elected officials. In order to push their own agendas they were willing to put the country and the people in jeopardy, not to mention making the United States the laughing stock of the world.    However, this is not the time or place to tell how we really feel so if you’re interested in the details, check it out at Wikipedia

25th

We went to bed a little disillusioned, to say the least, thankfully not aware of how the next day would turn out!  Bill had been working on fixing a leak in the washbasin and planned to finish it up the next day.  At 2:00am we were woken by the sound of water gushing from the faucet, hitting the ceiling and flooding the bathroom!  Priscilla was sent outside – barefoot but at least somewhat clothed – to turn off the water!  After mopping up the mess we went back to bed. This was not a good start to our 25th Wedding Anniversary!

As it turned out, we were quite busy the next day visiting Home Depot and an RV parts store and replacing the faucet and the blown electrical outlet.  By the time the evening came we were too tired to go out and celebrate!  That will have to wait for another day.

Even though we didn’t get a chance to go to the top of Gateway Arch, we learned that it was built between 1963 and October 1965.  It is 630 feet (192 m) tall and, on a clear day, you can see for 30 miles (48 km).  If you look eastward you can see the Mississippi River and the State of Illinois.  A short tram ride takes you to the top but, if you suffer from Acrophobia it would probably be best to avoid this!  Reading online reviews, it seems that security is taken very seriously at the Arch, resulting in long lines and delays even worse than at airports which somewhat spoils the experience!

St. Louis stands at an interesting point both geographically and historically.  It was founded by Traders using the Mississippi River to travel north and south, and also by Explorers – most notable being Meriwether Lewis and  William Clark –   followed by ordinary people seeking a better life out “West”.  It truly is the crossroads of America!

Busch StadiumOne attraction that was not affected by the Government shutdown was the world’s largest brewer, Anheuser-Busch!  Unfortunately, we ran out of time so missed out on this! According to Explore St. Louis   As large numbers of immigrants from Germany and Bohemia found their way to St. Louis beginning around 1830, a substantial portion of these newly-minted Americans settled in Soulard, the city’s oldest neighborhood. This area was home to a number of breweries over the years, and it eventually became the home of the world’s largest brewer, Anheuser-Busch. The immigrants’ principal skills included making bricks and making beer, so a number of breweries began to open in the city. And it helps explain the number of red brick buildings throughout the area. In addition to Eberhard Anheuser’s Bavarian Brewery and Adam Lemp’s Western Brewery, others like the Arsenal Brewery, Anthony and Kuhn’s, Excelsior, Green Tree and English breweries established themselves in St. Louis.

What a pity we couldn’t explore the history of the city and walk in the footsteps of the original Native American inhabitants, the French traders, the immigrants from Europe, the American explorers and others heading west.  We’ve learned to be flexible when traveling so we hooked up our RV trailer and left St. Louis listening to Louis Armstrong playing St. Louis Blues on our iPod!

Pictures:  http://goo.gl/6eX0bB

Oct 25

The Land of Lincoln

Car FestivalOur last stop before crossing into the State of Missouri, was in Springfield, Illinois and we were looking forward to exploring a few of the many Lincoln sites in and around the city.  Little did we know that our visit was timed to coincide with the 12th Annual Route 66 Mother Road Festival and Car Show!

According to the Festival website: Each September, during the International Route 66 Mother Road Festival, the streets of Springfield come alive with the rumble of engines from hot cars, cool trucks, vintage motorcycles, street rods, customs and everything in between. Hundreds of vehicles line the streets of Springfield’s historic downtown in a display that is guaranteed to wow even the most-seasoned car enthusiast.Springfield Car

This 3-day, free car show & street festival, celebrating the past, present & future of Route 66, also offers outdoor stages with live music, commercial vendors, kids’ activities and entertainment, Route 66 celebrities and events, plus much more.

Food Stall

Well — there was no way we could pass this one up, so on Saturday morning we drove into downtown Springfield, found parking within walking distance of the event and followed the crowds and the music to where it was all happening!  Apart from the amazing display of vehicles, there were food stalls selling everything from hot dogs to pizzas to Greek salad and gyros.  There were also vendors selling every type of Route 66 merchandise you can imagine!

With Lincoln

 It was in this area that we bumped into — can you believe it? — Abraham Lincoln!  Of course, we had our photograph taken with him.  Such a nice man, too!

We walked several blocks enjoying the cars, chatting with people and taking photos.  We stopped for a Gyro lunch and then enjoyed a beer at an outdoor restaurant on the square.  Now it was time for a little sightseeing.  We learned that there are more Lincoln sites in Springfield than in any other city and, with limited time, we had to choose carefully.

We started off walking through the ground floor of the Lincoln-Herndon Law Office, just a few feet from where we had enjoyed our lunch.  There are guided tours of the upper floors but the timing didn’t work for us so we moved on to the Old State Capital Historic Site.

DividedHere we were fortunate to find a guide who gave us a private tour!  We stood in the Chamber where Abraham Lincoln argued cases before the Illinois Supreme Court, where he debated Stephen A. Douglas, where he gave his famous House Divided speech in 1858 and where he lay in State before his burial.

According to the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency   The Greek Revival-style building was completely reconstructed in the 1960s. The first floor is composed of a central hall flanked by rooms interpreting government offices, two libraries, and the supreme courtroom. A complex of first-floor rooms also provides an audiovisual theatre and staff offices. Recreated second floor spaces include a magnificent rotunda, legislative chambers, and smaller offices and meeting rooms. The building is located in the center of a large landscaped yard surrounded by a replica of the original 1850s ornamental iron fence. 

With the help of the very knowledgeable guide who showed us around, we felt as if Abraham Lincoln would be walking in at any moment!   What a great history lesson!Lincoln Statue

A fitting end to our day was a visit to Lincoln’s burial place  in Oakridge Cemetery, a short distance from downtown Springfield.  It was Mrs. Lincoln’s wish that her husband be buried there, and the setting is quite spectacular.  Set in twelve and a half acres and rising to a height of 117 feet, the exterior of the monument truly reflects the importance of the man.  The tomb was designed by Larkin Meade and today contains the remains of not only President Lincoln but his wife, Mary and three of their four sons, Eddie, Willy and Thomas.  Their fourth son, Robert, is buried at Arlington Cemetery.

We parked and approached from the south side of the tomb where we came face to face with a reproduction of Borglum’s bronze head of Lincoln (the original is in the Capital Building in Washington DC).  Tradition dictates that you rub Lincoln’s nose for good luck, so it’s nice and shiny!  We did the same, only to learn later that this action will erode the metal and eventually change the shape of his nose.  Oh dear!

Lincoln Tomb

Once inside the tomb, we immediately felt an atmosphere of somber reverence. Lighting is dimmed and a peaceful, serene feeling surrounded us.

Lincolntomb.org  gives the facts  “Interior rooms of the Tomb are finished in a highly polished marble trimmed with bronze. The south entrance opens into a rotunda, where hallways lead into the burial chamber. The rotunda and corridors contain reduced-scale reproductions of important Lincoln statues as well as plaques with excerpts from Lincoln’s Springfield farewell speech, the Gettysburg Address, and his Second Inaugural Address. Lincoln’s remains rest in a concrete vault ten feet below the marble floor of the burial chamber. A massive granite cenotaph marking the gravesite is flanked by the Presidential flag and flags of the states in which the Lincoln family resided. Crypts in the chamber’s south wall hold the remains of Lincoln’s wife and three of their sons.” 

For us it was more about feelings than facts. We walked slowly, reading the plaques, admiring the marble from several states as well as Europe. Standing in front of the cenotaph was a very moving experience and we left there with a reverence for the man who stuck to his principles, regardless of the consequences, and who played a huge role in the development of the United States, as we know it today.

lincolnWe still had two important Lincoln sites to explore – Lincoln’s Home and Presidential Museum –  but these would wait for another day.  We needed time to absorb what we had learned … it takes longer the older you get!   Back to our house on wheels and our next exploration.

Photos:

Springfield Route 66 Car Festival

Lincoln in Springfield

Oct 20

Historic Route 66 Small Towns … and more!

Leaving the Trailer behind at the RV Park, we spent a day driving through several small towns west of Joliet, traveling on Route 66 whenever possible and stopping at the sites that interested us. We were headed to Pontiac, Illinois (we didn’t realize there was another Pontiac other than in Michigan!) and the Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum but there were several places to see along the way. Launching Pad

In the 1950’s and 60’s giant Muffler Man figures were used to advertise muffler shops and were a common sight on American Highways.  The town of Wilmington is known for the Gemini Giant. This particular figure has been personalized as an astronaut and is standing in front of the Launching Pad Drive-in Restaurant!  Great Photo Op and, since Priscilla had no idea who/what the Muffler Man was, we had to check it out!  (Remember, she came to the States in 1973!) Ambler Texaco

Our next stop was the small town of Dwight where we spent time browsing through the Ambler-Becker Texaco Station,  a 1930’s era gas station that also acts as the visitor center. This station is the longest operating gas station along Route 66, pumping gas for 66 continuous years until 1999, and is definitely worth a visit.  Bill was fascinated with the old tools — some of which he recognized as ones his Dad had used years ago!  True to the 1940’s, the inside has a potbelly stove, crates of tiny bottles of Coca-Cola, old 7 Up bottles and other nostalgic items.  He also found a Chilton manual opened to the repair page of a 1963 Plymouth – a car Bill had once owned!  What a coincidence!

While we were there we signed the Visitors Book and saw that the Australian family we had met outside the Prison in Joliet had been there a few hours before us.  We also learned that a Chinese couple were bicycling the entire Route 66, biking 70 miles a day!  Wow!  What a story they’ll have to tell when they get home!  This is definitely something to be done when you’re young … definitely not at our age!

The small town of Dwight has a charming downtown area, including a bank designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and a striking Romanesque railroad depot.  Thankfully, these buildings are being preserved for us to enjoy today.

Farm EquipmentThere is so much to learn about this country when you travel the back roads and can take in the landscape.  Neither one of us was aware that Illinois was such a huge producer of corn.  The farmland we saw as we drove across the state was more like what we had expected in Kansas. Mile after mile we passed by fields growing corn for cattle feed, stretching as far as the eye could see!  We passed one field where a giant green combine harvester was at work and, since Bill is fascinated with how things work, we turned around, drove down a side road and watched as this huge machine systematically harvested row after row of corn.  We wondered how it works.   For those with an inquisitive mind like Bill check out the link  – it’s fascinating!  Simply put, the machine is programmed (emphasis on programmed!) to cut the rows of corn, remove the kernels from the stalks and cobs, automatically place them in a large container, grind up the rest of the plant to a fine pulp and shoot it out the back!  In no time at all row after row of corn disappeared – with one man, a big machine with a fancy computer (picture a 747 cockpit!) and a built in GPS navigator doing the work!  Think back to the days before combine harvesters when corn was hand-picked and taken from the field to the barn to be shucked and stored!  The combine harvester is definitely a “modern marvel”!   We learned later that the state of Illinois grows 12 million acres of corn a year.

By the time we got to the outskirts of Pontiac we were ready for some lunch and made a point to stop at the Old Log Cabin Restaurant.  where we received a friendly welcome and a simple but good meal.  The restaurant has been in business since 1926 and had been built to attract Route 66 travelers.  According to the website,In later years, Route 66 was made four lanes and relocated to the west side of the Log Cabin.  The building was lifted up and turned around literally by horse power to face the new road.  It was such an extraordinary event that hundreds from town came to watch.”  No way were the owners going to lose their business due to the change of Route 66, a fate suffered by so many other business owners!

P1080061 Pontiac, Illinois,

Pontiac claims to be “A Small Town with Something for Everyone!” and we agree that they fulfill this promise! We arrived with the intention of touring the Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum and the Pontiac-Oakland Automobile Museum then take a walk around the downtown and see what else came along.  We never plan too much ahead of time because usually something totally unexpected happens and we get sidetracked!  There was plenty of parking across from the Visitor Center located in the same building as the Hall of Fame Museum.  When we walked in, we were asked if we would mind having our photo taken for the newspaper, the Daily Leader!   We felt just like celebrities!!

The Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum was established in 2004 and is housed in a historic firehouse.  Frankly, we found it a little overpowering!  Every State along Route 66 is featured and the displays tell the story of people and places that have been inducted into the Hall of Fame.  Maybe it’s due to our age, but it all seemed to run together after a while! We did enjoy the excellent display of pictures by Michael Campanelli entitled “Route 66 – A photo Journal”.

As you know by now, if there is an automobile museum anywhere, Bill will find it!  Fortunately, the Pontiac-Oakland Automobile Museum (video) was on the main square and easy to find.  To make it simple for visitors to find their way to the various attractions, the city has painted footsteps on the sidewalks! P1080051

The museum was opened in 2011 and before the opening Old Cars Weekly website had this to say: The Pontiac museum is the brainchild of car collectors Tim and Penny Dye, who will be moving their 18 Pontiacs, a rare buggy and various memorabilia from Oklahoma to Pontiac. Dye has more than 10,000 Pontiac-related manuals, advertising items and magazines.Camping Pontiac Planned displays include a rare 1931 Oakland Sport Coupe, a Pontiac horse-drawn buggy and a 1964 Parisienne Safari, along with vintage oil cans and a related collection of antique printing presses and printing materials. These items primarily come from the Dyes’ collection.

Although the collection is small, it contains some beautifully restored antique cars, and the volunteers who manage the museum enjoy sharing their knowledge of the exhibit with visitors.   This exhibit is not just for Pontiac lovers … anyone who is looking for a little nostalgia and appreciates cars of days gone by will enjoy a visit.  Bill was particularly interested since he had worked for Pontiac for a short time after graduating from High School in Michigan. P1080032

Pontiac, Illinois is a friendly, scenic small town that encourages visitors to walk around and enjoy the collection of 20 outdoor murals and attractive architecture.  At center stage is the Livingston County Courthouse built in 1875, featuring a statue of Abraham Lincoln who visited Pontiac many times between 1810 and 1860.  By no means did we see everything Pontiac has to offer but that is not what our journey is about.  We are not crossing things off a list!   We are looking to savor the diversity of the country by pacing ourselves as we explore the small towns along the way and, at the end of the day, returning to our cozy home on wheels for a relaxing evening.  So far we seem to be accomplishing that!

We couldn’t leave Illinois without a stop in Springfield … the Land of Lincoln … and we are looking forward to another inspiring history lesson! Click for

Photos:

Joliet to Pontiac

Pontiac City

Oct 14

“Gateway to Route 66”; Joliet, Illinois; Blues Brothers

Joliet MuseumAlthough Joliet’s claim as the “Gateway to Route 66” may be stretching the point, the town does, indeed, offer a lot more of a feel for the Mother Road than Chicago.  We had a busy day planned here and our first stop was the Visitor Center which shares a building with the Joliet Historical Museum.  The building was crowded with people attending a luncheon prepared by the Culinary Institute and it was obvious that this was a very popular event!

There was also a lot happening in the town as we made our way to the Visitor Center.  It seemed they were repairing all the major streets.  Sidewalks were blocked off and huge equipment was scraping and paving.  Tucks were everywhere, beeping as they backed up  … it was quite chaotic!   As we neared the Visitor Center small white flakes drifted on us from above like snowflakes.  No one seemed to know what it was but it looked like small pieces of Styrofoam!

A member of the Visitors Center supplied us with maps and brochures and gave us a briefing on what to expect along Route 66 in Illinois.

He was a fund of information including advising us which sections of the Historic Route 66 we should avoid when pulling the RV Trailer.  He also told us about a Route 66 Diner just around the corner that served “comfort food” and we decided to eat there, despite the fact that the meal served by the Culinary Institute looked delicious!  We wanted to get “in the mood” and this sounded like a good place to start.

Blues Brothers

Before we left we couldn’t resist having our photo taken with the Blues Brothers in the lobby!

As we were heading out to lunch we met a young couple from Denmark getting ready to spend three weeks exploring Route 66 in a rent car.  We were looking forward to meeting people from all over the world on our journey!

Highlights of Joliet, Illinois

We walked a few blocks to Route 66 Diner  and shared home-made meatloaf and gravy, and Greek chicken breast with rice. Then we strolled around the block to the Rialto Square Theatre , a beautifully restored 1926 vaudeville theatre which reportedly has the largest hand-cut chandelier in the US.   We’ve mentioned time and again how nice it is to sightsee without huge crowds but there are also disadvantages.  In the off-season, tours of the theatre are only held on Tuesdays at 1:30pm and we were there on a Wednesday! All we could do was peer through the glass doors to get a glimpse of the chandelier and also admire the inner lobby which was fashioned after the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles.  This is definitely worth a guided tour but we couldn’t wait a week before moving on.

Original Dair Queen StoreNeeding to walk off our lunch we decided to find the first Dairy Queen store which was opened in 1940 and served customers until the 1950’s.  We figured it would be a photo op and kept looking for a renovated building with a big DQ sign!  Despite having the address, we were unsuccessful until a resident from a furniture store pointed it out to us.   The run-down building was quite a disappointment and it was only when we got right up to it that we saw a plaque on the front wall and another on the sidewalk.  At least it will avoid demolition due to the City Council granting it historic status but it is a pity that nothing has been done to preserve the building.  As we stood on the sidewalk looking at the building we met a gentleman from Scotland – a retired math teacher – who was traveling Route 66 from Santa Rosa to Chicago.  He was flying home the next day but would be back next year to complete the Route!

Jake and ElwoodTo assuage our DQ disappointment, we followed our guide book’s advice and drove to an ice cream stand called Rich & Creamy for a delicious ice cream cone.  It’s not just the ice cream that draws people to the site.  In particular, Route 66’ers come to photograph the life size figures of the Blues Brothers on the roof!

We had one more stop before heading home and little did we realize this would be the highlight of the day!  The infamous Collins Street Prison  or, as it was called “The Castle”, was built in 1858 using prison labor.  It ceased to operate as a prison in 2002 and since then has been sitting vacant. Although the city is well aware that the Prison is a tourist attraction as well as a sought after venue for filmmakers and photographers, renovation of the inside of the building would cost millions of dollars and the funds are simply not available.

It may seem strange that a prison would be a highlight but there were several things that contributed to this.

Old Joliet PrisonFirst of all, the architecture.  This is a beautiful building – from the outside, anyway!  The 25ft walls are made from locally quarried limestone. In fact, it really does look more like a castle than a correctional institution.  Inside was another matter.  Conditions were grim and there was no running water or toilets in the cells as late as 1910. The prison population consisted of hardened criminals and murderers.

The second attraction is that the prison is famous as well as infamous!  If you saw the movie The Blues Brothers you may know that Joliet Jake’s release was filmed at this prison at the beginning of the movie. It is also the location for another movie Let’s Go to Prison as well as the first season of the TV series Prison Break.

Finally, it was the people we met there!  An Australian family of six in a rented RV traveling the length of Route 66 in eleven days!  Australia is an expensive country to live in so they were delighted to be able to travel cheaply here (except for all the tolls!).  RV rental cost $1800, they bought linens and other utensils as they needed them and even after paying for gas, food and sightseeing, they figured they got a great deal!  Gotta love those Aussies!

The other couple we met there (about the same age as us) had a fascinating story to tell us.  “Mike” was taking a trip down Memory Lane. He told us that he grew up right next door to the prison and, during his time here, the large parking area next to the prison had been filled with houses. In fact, he had parked his car in the exact spot where his house once stood.  We had wondered why someone chose to park in the middle of this huge vacant lot … and now we knew!

His grandparents had come to this area from Eastern Europe and in the early days they grew their own vegetables, kept animals, did not have running water, etc.  The house remained in the family through three generations, obviously being updated through the years.  We learned that prisoners were allowed to perform work outside the prison and his grandparents used this source of labor to cultivate their garden.  His grandmother would cook a delicious meal for the prisoners and there was always a waiting list to work at their house!  The other set of grandparents lived in a house – on the exact same street but on the other side of the prison!

We were fascinated to hear about his family and his young life spent living in the shadow of the prison.  We talked about how important it is to record our life, in some form or another, so that our children, grandchildren and future generations will have an understanding of their heritage.

trailer life 66By the end of the day we felt that we had truly experienced “The Gateway to Route 66”.  We looked forward to visiting other small towns along the way to learn more about America’s past.  But what made it even more special was that we had an opportunity to connect with people from around the world as well as here in this small town.  It seemed that all of us were searching to touch the past and use our experience to make a difference to the future.

See Photos at:  http://goo.gl/nyV3Ig

Oct 09

Traveling Route 66 – Getting Started

When we left Florida in late June we were headed to Michigan to see family and friends and, in particular, to celebrate Bill’s Mother’s 90th birthday.  We took our time getting there (remember, we were newbie RV trailer people and had a lot to learn – and explore – along the way!)  The six weeks we spent around Detroit and Green Bay flew by and, before we knew it, it was time to start on the next phase of our journey.

ROUTE_66_Logo__03_Black or Florida?

We knew we wanted to be in a warm place for the winter and the question was: Where in the South should we spend it?  Going back to Florida was one option but why not explore more of the country and spend the winter months somewhere else?  With family in Utah and friends in Arizona, we decided to head west … and what better way to get there but on Route 66!  This would take some research on our part since our knowledge of the Mother Road was limited to a TV program about two guys driving a 58 Corvette that Bill remembers seeing years ago, and the song “Get Your Kicks on Route 66!”

So, the obvious thing was to find a good guide book and we finally decided on “Route 66 Adventure Handbook” by Drew Knowles who has driven, studied and written about Route 66 since 1992.  With this downloaded on our iPad we were ready to go!

There is plenty of information online regarding the origins of Route 66 so we’ll leave all that to the experts.  A few points to set the stage:

  1. Mass production of the automobile in the 1910s created a demand for a better road system in America.

  2. In 1926 the federal highway system was launched and highways across state boundaries were improved and numbered.  At this time the highway between Chicago and Los Angeles was designated Route 66.

  3. Two things propelled Route 66 into popularity – John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath; and Bobby Troup’s song “Get Your Kicks on Route 66” which he wrote on his way to California to break into show business.

Route 66 played a major role in countless lives over the next 30 years.  During the Great Depression in the 1930’s Route 66 became the road to a new life in California for those fleeing poverty and, in particular, the Dust Bowl.    As we had learned at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, country music was introduced to the west by those traveling the Mother Road.  Thousands of restaurants, motels, gas stations and tourist attractions sprang up to cater to the increasing number of vacationers and business travelers during the late 40’s, 50’s and into the 60’s.  Unfortunately, the good times would not last forever and those who had prospered soon found themselves abandoned by the building of the US Interstate system which bypassed much of Route 66.

Today travelers on Route 66 are looking to step back in time, travel at a leisurely pace, enjoy the varied scenery along the way, stop by small towns – some of which seem frozen in time – talk to the people and, above all, appreciate once again the simple way of life.

We don’t think for a moment that we’ll be able to “do” Route 66 from start to finish in one trip! That would mean traveling from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California – some 2,400 miles through eight states and three time zones!  Besides, pulling a 25 foot trailer will prevent us from traveling on the Historic Route 66 in many areas, where the road deteriorates into gravel or even dead-ends!  We also have a time limit if we want to avoid being caught by an early fall snowstorm as we travel westward.  But with our guidebook at our side and the internet available in most of the RV Parks we’ll be staying in, we think we’ll be able to find some real gems along the way!

And so our Route 66 journey begins!

Kicks MapOf course, you can start your Route 66 journey at either terminus but if you start in Chicago and head to California you actually experience how this country grew from East to West, by river, rail and wagon.  Unfortunately, we were not able to give the Chicago terminus of Route 66 the time it deserves.  We drove into downtown Chicago on a glorious warm, sunny Sunday fall afternoon, cruised along the river, the sidewalks crowded with walkers, joggers and cyclists. A Festival at the Navy Yard had drawn hundreds of people – tourists and locals – and Lake Michigan was afloat with boats and yachts of every shape and size. Field We drove by the Field Museum of Natural History  whose collection contains over 24 million specimens, only a few of which are on display at any one time. Nearby is Soldier Field, an American Football stadium and home to the Chicago Bears.  According to Wikipedia    The field serves as a memorial to American soldiers who have died in wars. It was designed in 1919 and opened on October 9, 1924 as Municipal Grant Park Stadium, changing its name to Soldier Field on November 11, 1925. Its formal dedication as Soldier Field was on Saturday, November 27, 1926, during the 29th annual playing of the Army vs Navy game.Soldier Field

We got lost and, thanks to our GPS, got found again!  We admired the buildings, drove by outdoor cafés where people were sipping wine in the sunshine.  We enjoyed every bit of it but we knew in a few weeks the streets could be covered in snow with a bitter wind whipping off Lake Michigan and agreed it was time to move on!

So, did we actually stop and see the terminus of Route 66 at the corner of Lake Shore Drive and Jackson Blvd?  No … but we did drive by which will have to suffice for now.   In reality, the Route has been all but obliterated in big cities like Chicago and St. Louis, and we figured that we would get more of a feel for it in the smaller towns along the way.  The next stop on our journey is Joliet, Illinois.

 

View Photos at:  http://goo.gl/Kk3TOV

Sep 29

Auto Works of Art

In the “good old days automobiles were works of art, lovingly handcrafted from start to finish. Beautiful enough to win awards around the world.

What happened? Technology dictated that all cars should be aerodynamic.

Result: According to Priscilla, today every car looks alike!

Auburn PlaqueAuburn Building

Art Deco Auburn ShowroomAuburn Showroom The place to see original auto works of art is hidden away in north Indiana, with only a sign on the road to indicate its existence!  We were headed to the border of Indiana and Michigan when Bill (who was supposed to be keeping his eyes on the road!) spotted a sign advertising an Automobile Museum a few miles ahead.  Priscilla checked it out on the iPad, read about the museum, and before she knew it, they were headed to the original Auburn Automobile Plant and Show Room.  This was not exactly what Priscilla had in mind, as the overnight stop was about 40 minutes away.  She envisioned enjoying a glass of wine, watching the sun going down and relaxing!  Oh well … not everything turns out exactly the way you plan it!   Little did she know she was in for the surprise of her life!

We found RV parking opposite the Museum and walked across the street to the entrance to the Auburn, Cord, Duesenberg Automobile Museum.

The registration area looked pretty much like most Museum registration desks and the ladies were very accommodating, but neither one of us was prepared for what we saw as we entered the exhibit space.  We found ourselves in another era!  We had come to see the cars but were immediately struck by the building itself!  It had been the National Headquarters of the Auburn Automobile Company from 1930 – 1937, designed in art deco style by architect A.M. Strauss of Fort Wayne, Indiana.  You enter the original showroom on the ground floor, decorated with mosaic floors, ornate ceilings and beautiful candelabra.  What a background for these amazing machines!    The site is designated a National Historic Landmark – and with good reason. The exhibit covers three floors and holds over 120 cars ranging from 1894 to 1999.

Cord

Everywhere we turned, we saw another masterpiece!  A museum volunteer shared his knowledge of the history of many of the cars and we took advantage of his suggestion to have our photo taken in a Model A Touring car!  Hokey?  Yes!  But this was the only car we were allowed to touch!

We learned that the Museum’s mission is to primarily focus on collecting and exhibiting Auburns, Cords and Duesenberg cars from the classic era (1925 – 1937).  They also collect other cars produced by the Auburn Company as well as other Full Classics and cars built in Indiana.  Their collection contains automobiles owned by the Museum as well as those on loan from private collectors and other museums, and they continue to aggressively seek out and purchase automobiles that fit their mission.

 

According to the museum website, The museum has the greatest and most extensive collection of Auburn, Cord, and Duesenberg automobiles in the world, and features the largest exhibit of Duesenberg automobiles on public display in the world!”

Design Studio at Auburn AutoAnd it’s not just about the cars.  In 1930 the building housed the design studios, engineering and sales departments as well as executive offices. This is where it all happened – where each car was envisioned, designed, created … and sold! In 1937 the Auburn Automobile Company filed bankruptcy and was bought by a Dallas businessman who used the facility to rebuild engines and later do restorations of the Auburn, Cord and Duesenberg cars. After his death in 1960 the building was leased out to various businesses including a garment warehouse, motorcycle repair shop and fiberglass camper factory.

Falling into disrepair, the building was saved in 1974 by local citizens who formed the Non-Profit Auburn Automotive Heritage Inc.  Due to hard physical work and some major fundraising, the building was restored to its original glory and opened to the public within six months.  As a testament to their efforts, the museum was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, and designated a National Historic Landmark in 2005.  Nothing has been overlooked! Check out the photos of the restroom facilities which reflect the style of the day!  Further renovation took place in 2000 to provide improved banquet and meeting facilities, an educational center and new gallery space.  Today plans are in place to restore the building next door to display more of the vintage car collection.

Taking a Ride

We hope the pictures will do the building justice but the website says it best.  The original two-story U-shaped building is glazed art brick and tinted limestone on the outside and art deco grandeur on the inside, which included 66,000 square feet of floor space. Fourteen large plate glass windows with two-foot high gold letters elegantly proclaiming “Auburn,” “Cord,” and “Duesenberg” enclose the display room of over 12,000 square feet. Twenty-two light fixtures and 72 sconces flood the display room at night with light.

It’s breathtaking … and a fitting venue for these amazing auto works of art!

Click Here for Photos of the Auburn Detour from the interstate

Enjoy my car Blog at:  www.GoToCarGuy.com

Sep 19

Planes, Trains and Street Rods!

street RodFirst the Street Rods! Car Aficionados don’t need any explanation … but for those of you who are not “into” cars, here’s a definition: an automobile specially built or altered for fast acceleration and increased speed.

According to Wikipedia Hot_Rod “The term seems first to have appeared in the late 1930s in southern California where people would race their modified cars on the vast, empty dry lake beds northeast of Los Angeles …”

According to Bill Parke: Street machines were at their height in the mid 60’s to mid 70’s on Woodward Avenue in Northwest Detroit. Since there were no dry lake beds in the area, he and his car buddies used white paint on the little used streets to mark off a quarter mile. They would go to a drive-in restaurant with exhaust pipes open, call out the hottest looking car to race on the marked out street.

According to one of Bill’s friends, Fast Eddie, whose Plymouth was named “Runaway”, this was called “Two by Two and the Loser sits out”! Flagmen were positioned to monitor the race and alert the presence of cops!

chrysler logo

Other friends, John and Hank, also Chrysler product fans, competed in the events. Those were the days, my friend!

We reserved a site at “Grandma’s Campground” about 16 miles south of the Convention Center where the event was being held. Most campgrounds want your credit card information before you arrive and have penalties for any changes you make. But Grandma (or maybe it was Grandpa who answered the phone!) didn’t seem to mind at all. We delayed a day and when we arrived we found a family member sitting in a rocking chair on the office porch! He told us to find a spot and come back and pay him!The Street Rod Nationals held in Louisville attracted around 12,000 – 15,000 cars and we had to be there!

DonkeyThe campground filled up quickly after we arrived and they were, for the most part, large, fancy 5th Wheels and Motorhomes, making us look like a midget tucked in between them! The majority of the people were here for the Car show, as Vendors or showing their cars.

Our new friend in Franklin had told us we should get to the Convention Center early in the morning and set up chairs on the side of the road to see the street rods arriving in the only entrance to the Show. When the flow of cars subsided we should go inside (Senior Citizen rate $12 each) take a trolley ride around the extensive grounds and then explore on foot. We decided to drive to the Convention Center after we set up in the campground in order to figure out how to get there, check on parking, etc. It was good that we did this. We found an excellent parking lot close to the entrance and learned they opened at 8:00am.

Taking pictures of Hot RodsThe next day we were there at 8:00am, parked in our chosen lot, walked across the road, set up our chairs and there we stayed – with several other people – for over 2 hours until the stream of cars subsided.

Click here to see

Street Rod Video

Bill could hardly contain himself! Almost every car that drove in merited an “Oh – look at that!” or “What a beauty!”… it was either the make, the year, the color, the sound, the engine! He absorbed it all and kept saying he’d never seen anything like this in his life before! In fact, at times he became quite emotional … tears in his eyes. Only a car nut would understand. He took videos, stills and at times just stood there (with his mouth open) and took it all in! His heart was beating fast and the adrenal flowing as he remembered the days when he and his friends tuned up their cars and raced Woodward Avenue in Detroit.

From Priscilla’s perspective, it was an amazing sight – beautiful works of art, lovingly restored to bring back memories of the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. Every shape and size imaginable. And the noise … you just had to experience it!Street Rod on Display

About 10:30am most of the cars had arrived and were parked inside the gates. We walked the grounds, the swap meet and the Vendor area; had lunch in the air-conditioned Convention Center, walked some more until, around 3:30pm we realized we needed to go back to the campground and try to absorb the scene that we had witnessed. Words cannot describe the cars that we saw, nor the love, time, effort and money that the owners had lavished on their prize possessions. You have to be a “car nut” to appreciate it all! We hope the photos will do it justice.

ups PlaneNow for the planes! Our campground was situated a few miles south of the Louisville Airport. At around 4.00am Priscilla (who doesn’t sleep well most nights) heard planes taking off. Turns out, Louisville is a UPS Hub and the sound she heard was UPS planes bringing packages to our doors! What we take for granted!! It was interesting – and saddening – to see in the press a short while later, that a UPS plane had crashed in Florida, resulting in the death of the crew. That plane probably lifted off from Louisville Airport. From this crash so many people’s lives are changed forever and we send them our love and prayers.

thomas Thomas the Tank TrainOh … and the Trains! Well, they were just a background noise in the night … nothing to keep you awake but we found it soothing and it reminded us of the times we’ve traveled on trains across America on The American Orient Express, and the high speed trains of Europe. Our plan was for Bill to return to the event the next day on his own but he got a little side-tracked by a huge … and we mean HUGE … flea market just a few yards from the campground. We started out going for a walk and that was a BIG mistake! Bill spent the entire morning browsing the outdoor and indoor vendor stalls. Of course he returned with several “must have” items … along with stories about the people he spoke with and the other items he would have liked to buy, had we not been traveling in an RV Trailer!

Flea Market

Back at the campground in the afternoon, he was soon ensconced in a chair under a nearby awning, beer in hand, learning about the lives and travels of our neighbors! That’s what RVing is all about!

Next morning it was on to our next Auto destination … Indianapolis, just a few hours up the road.

 

Photos:  http://goo.gl/cjZ3M1

 

Sep 12

The Bourbon State … And we Blew it!

where_is_kentucky_locatedYou’d think that a couple of “old” travel people like us would have their act together before arriving at a destination. But we’re sorry to tell you that we pretty much blew our stay in Kentucky. One of the State’s most important sites (also a World Heritage Site) is Mammoth Caves and that was our destination before heading to a National Street Rod event in Louisville. We decided to spend just two nights at a campground in Cave City, spend a day at Mammoth Caves and leave. Perfect – or so we thought!

We picked up some brochures at the campground office and also spoke to someone who had visited the Caves. Unfortunately, this individual painted a pretty poor picture of it … lots of stairs, lots of walking, lots of standing and “boring”. So we decided to do the Introductory Tour, figuring that Priscilla would have a problem on the other tours with stairs and standing. The tour was scheduled either at 8:45am -way too early when we’re on vacation – or 3:30pm! We chose the afternoon tour and decided to take a morning drive on a country road to the Birthplace of Abraham Lincoln.  So far, so good.

Dennisons MarketOn our way we suddenly passed a Farmer’s Market with a large sign advertising “Home grown Tomatoes and Corn”! Well, we couldn’t resist so turned around!

Lots of Tomatoes

We spent a good half hour there – learning about all the different types of tomatoes that were grown on the farm … red, yellow, black, green (for eating, not frying), also green for frying!
We bought a variety of tomatoes, some corn, home grown peaches, beans, two types of squash … and more. The cost: $26.56! If only we had a bigger fridge we would have bought even more!

FarmOn we went to Abraham Lincoln’s birth place. What amazing scenery we passed through. Kentucky is a very beautiful state. Along the way we saw miles and miles of corn (grown for cattle feed), soy beans and even some tobacco fields, horse farms, cows grazing in the fields and, of course, lots of barns – old and new. We both wondered what treasures were stored in these barns. Bill imagined priceless old cars and Priscilla imagined Van Gogh paintings! Unfortunately, neither of us was able to prove our speculations!

Lincoln BirthplaceNot being very good history buffs, we were not sure why Kentucky had a memorial to Abraham Lincoln  when Illinois claims the kudos but we learned that Abraham was, indeed, born in 1802 in a log cabin near where the town of Hodgkinville exists today. A log cabin, similar to the one the Lincoln family lived in, has been placed in a Memorial Building with 56 steps leading up to it (indicating the 56 years that Lincoln lived). When Lincoln was eight years old, the family moved from Kentucky to Indiana and eventually settled in Illinois.

Post OfficeOn our way from the Farmer’s Market to Lincoln’s birthplace we passed through a small town with a Post Office. We needed to buy some stamps so stopped off there at around 11:30am, only to find a sign on the door that said the Post Office was “closed for Lunch from 10:30am until 1:30pm”. Wow! We figured it was a pretty cushy job! We stopped on our way back after 1:30pm and spoke to the Postmaster (a very nice lady). She told us that, due to the cutbacks at the Post Office, the staff were required to be at work only in the morning and afternoon and were not paid for the long “lunch hour”! We tried to figure out what someone could do for 3 hours in the middle of the day … and get paid for it! After buying our stamps we were on our way.

Coffee CupsWe also had another stop to make … Mama Lou’s BBQ! By then it was 2:30pm and our stomachs were telling us they needed food. What better place than a small family owned café serving BBQ?! Judging by the cars parked outside – and the tables filled inside – we had made the right choice! The interesting décor caught our attention and we had to ask why! The walls were filled with shelves displaying coffee mugs! We found out that the owner had been a truck driver and had bought a mug from every place he went. When he opened up the restaurant, his diners started bringing in their mugs as well. Today there are over 700 mugs – not one of them the same – and people are still bringing in more! This is what happens in a small community in America! Don’t you just love stories like that? We had a very tasty late lunch and went back to the campground, postponing our visit to Mammoth Cave until the next day.

MammothWe arrived at the Mammoth National Park  just after 3:00pm for a 3:30pm tour, only to find that it was fully booked and we would have to wait until 4:30pm. Of course we were disappointed but one of the rangers suggested we take time to walk through the Exhibit which, frankly, turned out to be the most interesting part of our experience. Excellent displays and diorama explain the formation of this, the longest known cave system in the world, designated a World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve.

Simply put, it took eons for water to create sink holes in sandstone and shale which eroded the limestone layer beneath. According to National Geographic’s Guide to National Parks of the United States “The surface of Mammoth Cave National Park encompasses about 80 square miles. No one knows how big the underside is. More than 365 miles of the five-level cave system have been mapped, and new caves are continually being discovered.”

4:30pm arrived and we assembled at Station A (just like we were instructed!) where a Ranger gave us a little preview as to what to expect. The tour is advertised as 1-1/2 hours so we expected to explore quite a large area of the caves. The Ranger cautioned the group that if you were afraid of the dark, didn’t like being enclosed in small places, couldn’t walk up steps, etc. it would be a good idea to not do the tour. At no time did he indicate that the temperature in the cave would be 55 degrees so it would be a good idea to have a jacket! Of course, if we’d done our homework we would have known this! Also, we saw families with young children – 4 and 5 years old – and we wondered if they should be on the tour.

MapWe won’t bore you with details but … the tour went basically nowhere, we saw no water, no stalactites, stalagmites or bats; we never crawled through narrow passageways. We walked a little way, stood as the Ranger explained everything we had seen and read about in the Exhibit. Meanwhile, young children from two families on the tour ran around, screaming, banging into their parents and other people and generally being a nuisance. Frankly, the whole experience was spoiled as we tried to listen to the Ranger with this circus going on around us. Had we had another day, we would have paid for a more extensive tour (that would not attract families with young children) and we’re sure we would have enjoyed a better experience. We could only blame ourselves for not doing our homework before we went and in no way are we discouraging anyone from visiting Mammoth Caves.

trail

The next day we headed to Louisville for the National Street Rod Show and on our way we saw signs to the Makers Mark and Jim Beam Distilleries – part of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail . Oh No! What were we thinking? How come we missed this important aspect of Kentucky’s history? You can be sure we’ll have our act together the next time we visit Kentucky! In the meantime, we have the Street Rod Nationals in Louisville to look forward to!

Photos:

Mammoth:  http://goo.gl/6K4ldR

Lincoln Birthplace:  http://goo.gl/kNIdaq

Cave City:  http://goo.gl/7eOCTm

 

 

Sep 08

Peace & War in Franklin, TN

Franklin DowntownA short side-trip from Nashville gave us an unforgettable day. The charming town of Franklin, 14 miles south of Nashville, lays claim to many “Best Of” awards including “Great American Main Street”, thanks to the efforts of the Downtown Franklin Association.

Their website states: “Working in partnership with property owners, preservationists, city and county government, local businesses and merchants in our historic retail district, the Downtown Franklin Association has helped create one of the nation’s Main Street success stories. We’ve earned national recognition as an authentic, eclectic place that offers something for everyone in an atmosphere that reminds locals and visitors alike of a simpler time in our history – a place where community matters.”

HincheyvilleWe spent a leisurely morning walking around the historic downtown area, admiring the brick sidewalks on Main Street, the impeccable Victorian buildings housing boutiques, art galleries, antique shops and coffee shops. We paused to read some of the many historical markers along the way. We then walked a couple of blocks off Main Street to the Hincheyville neighborhood of Historic Homes. Most of these homes were built between 1828 and 1935 and the styles run the gamut … Federal, Victorian, Queen Anne, Tudor Revival and Bungalow, to name a few. Many of the homes have plaques indicating when they were built. The sidewalks are lined with beautiful old trees (what would they tell us if they could talk?) the gardens are a blaze of color … these residents take real pride in their properties.

One house, built in a grand Italian style with Corinthian columned porches, caught our attention and we stood across the street to photograph it. As we admired the house and the grounds, a gentleman walked down the sidewalk next to the house and called us over. He introduced himself as the owner of the home and we stood talking to him for at least 15 minutes as he shared a little of the history of the home.

John McEwan

 We had read in our guidebook that it was “built around 1832 by John McEwan who was Franklin’s Mayor during the Civil War and surrendered the town to the Union forces as the Occupation period began. The family huddled in the cellar during the Battle of Franklin and opened the house to both Union and Confederate soldiers afterwards”)

Our new found friend told us that the house had sat empty and decaying for many years until he and his wife purchased it a few years ago. The major restoration project is still in progress. In fact, the reason he was out on the street was to see if the UPS truck was bringing some window parts he was waiting for! Thank goodness for people like this, willing to spend the time – and the money – to preserve beautiful historic homes for us to enjoy.

In the course of our conversation we learned that he, like Bill, was car crazy and he told us about an upcoming National Street Rod Association event in Louisville, Kentucky. As you can imagine, our intended itinerary changed immediately to incorporate this in our travels!

PuckettsWe stopped for lunch at the popular “meat & three” Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant which had a lively, noisy atmosphere! As we waited for a table, a friendly waitress brought us ice cold glasses of water “because you look hot”! According to Wikipedia, a meat & three restaurant  is popular in the South, particularly Tennessee, and one in which a customer chooses one meat and three sides from the “daily specials” usually written on a chalk board. The meal is often served with corn bread and sweet tea. Our meal was delicious … and the BBQ sauce was so good we bought a bottle to take with us!

It’s difficult to imagine that Franklin was once the location of what has been called “the Five Bloodiest Hours” of the Civil War. To learn more, we drove a short distance to the Carter House, site of fierce fighting as the Confederate forces attempted to prevent Union forces from advancing to Nashville. The battle of Franklin took place on November 30, 1864, with a horrendous loss of life on both sides.

Carter HouseOur excellent guide was able to combine the complicated battle tactics with the personal story of the Carter family and make us feel we were right there! Fountain Branch Carter built the farmhouse in 1830 and expanded it over the years to accommodate a growing family – eight boys and four girls! He was a very successful farmer and according to an 1860 census was worth $62,000 and owned 28 slaves. At the outbreak of the war, his three surviving sons enlisted in the Confederate Army and one of them was mortally wounded in the battle of Franklin, just a few yards away from his home.

During the battle, which started late in the afternoon, the family and some neighbors sought safety in the cellar and were unharmed as the bloody battle raged around them. Much of the fighting was “hand-to-hand” and, according to the official Battle of Franklin Trust brochure 

Carter House Battle

“The darkness and close nature of the combat only helped to intensify the horrors. The fighting lasted just 5 hours and resulted in some 9,500 casualties – 2,000 dead, 6,500 wounded and about 1,000 missing. The ground around the Carter house and stretching for hundreds of yards both east and west was a horrible spectacle. In places the bodies of the dead and dying were heaped in literal piles.”

As we listened to our guide and looked at the many bullet holes in the farmhouse and smokehouse, we were shocked into silence.

After his death, Carter willed plots to his family and slaves. The house and 19 acres was given to his son, Moscow, who sold it in 1896. Since that time it has changed hands many times, always remaining a residence and, fortunately, was saved by the State of Tennessee in 1951.

Retreat from GettsburgA few years ago we had followed Lee’s Retreat from Petersburg to Appomattox and found the experience very moving, however, at Carter House we were intimately involved with the family – felt their fear, saw the devastation and death … and understood, just a little, what a devastating blow the war was to ordinary people who lost fathers, sons, grandsons … some of them never knowing where or how they died. What a tragedy.

And the sad thing is we don’t seem to have learned our lesson yet. Wars continue to be fought around the world – brother against brother, religion against religion…

Brings to mind the song by Peter, Paul & Mary “Where have all the flowers gone?” 

Photos:  http://goo.gl/XnaVfn

 

 

Aug 31

A Presidential Plantation and a Steel Magnolia

andrew jacksonFirst our American History lesson!  If you were not educated in the US we don’t expect you to know who Andrew Jackson was or when he was President!  In fact, we figure a lot of people born and educated in the US probably don’t know either … even though he is on the $20 bill, known as the Double Sawbuck, because it was twice the value of a $10 bill!

We visited Andrew Jackson’s home, The Hermitage, which has been a museum since 1889 and receives a quarter of a million visitors a year.  This makes it one of the oldest and largest historic site museums in the United States and the fourth most visited Presidential Residence in the Country. 

Which are the other three?  Sorry, no prizes for the right answer!

Our visit didn’t start off well because the address printed on the Total Access brochure (which we put into our GPS) was incorrect and we found ourselves driving around in a residential area instead!    We think our GPS lady was as frustrated as we were until we checked another brochure and found the right address!

HermitageOur experience at The Hermitage was excellent! The tour started with a very informative video that took us through Andrew Jackson’s life including highlighting his success against the British at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, his election to the House of Representatives and then, by popular vote, as the 7th President of the United States in 1829.  His two-term Presidency was not without controversy.  We learned that in 1830 he signed the Indian Removal Act that resulted in the removal to Oklahoma of Native Americans on lands east of the Mississippi.  This forced journey became known as The Trail of Tears where thousands of Native Americans died along the way.  The land they vacated was good cotton growing land coveted by white settlers. This is a sad saga in America’s history.

Andrew Jackson governed in a time of upheaval and change and he was able to attract the support of the common man with his unconventional ideas.  He and his Cabinet helped shape the democratic form of government, yet on the flip side he was a slave-owning cotton farmer!  Over a period of 41 years, his plantation grew from a 425 acre farm to a 1,000 acre cotton plantation with the help of his slaves.

Question:  Do you know how/why the Democratic Party adopted the Jackass as the Party symbol?

The free audio tour was superb, leading us through the museum area, the plantation, gardens and the House, where we were greeted by people in period costumes.   Much of the furnishings of the home are original and here we learned more about Andrew Jackson’s personal life.  He and his wife, Rachel, married when he believed she was divorced from her first husband, only to find out later that this was not the case!  They remarried a few years later and Rachel remained the love of his life until her death just two months before he took office as President.  They were unable to have children and adopted a son from Rachel’s brother as well as two other children, one of them a Native American.

Do you know that:

Andrew Jackson was the target of the first Presidential assassination attempt?

He was the first President to be given a nickname-“Old Hickory”- due to his toughness and aggressive personality.

Loved or hated, Andrew Jackson made a lasting impact on the United States of America. His home is well worth a visit.


acklen-adelicia2Now for the
Steel Magnolia! Our last stop in Nashville was at Belmont Mansion, a fine example of an Italian villa, completed in 1853.  It was, however, the fascinating character of Belmont’s owner that made our tour so memorable!

Three-times married, Adelicia Hayes Franklin Acklen Cheatham, was born in 1817 to a prominent Nashville family.  Her first husband, whom she married at age 22, was a wealthy businessman and plantation owner (and, we understand, slave trader) 28 years her senior.  After seven years of marriage (and four children, all of whom died before age 11) her husband died and left Adelicia a very rich woman, owning cotton plantations in Louisiana, undeveloped land in Texas, stocks, bonds and 750 slaves.

Adelicia and her second husband built Belmont as their summer home to escape the heat at her Louisiana plantations.  No expense was spared to create one of the most elaborate homes in the south, surrounded by beautiful gardens, conservatories, a lake and even a zoo which was opened to the public since no zoos existed at that time!  Her second husband died during the civil war leaving Adelicia to find a way to ship her cotton crop from Louisiana to England.  On the brink of bankruptcy, she showed her strength of character by negotiating with both the Union and Confederate authorities and her cotton crop was soon on its way to England!

At war’s end, Adelicia traveled to Europe, taking with her the four surviving children from her second marriage.  Retrieving the funds from the sale of her cotton, she continued to acquire a large art and sculpture collection, some of which can be seen today at Belmont. 

In 1867, Adelicia married her third husband and their wedding reception took place at Belmont, with about 2,000 guests in attendance!  This lady knew how to entertain!

Belmont

Belmont was sold a few months before Adelecia’s death and since then the building has been used for a women’s academy and other educational purposes.  Today the Mansion, situated on the grounds of Belmont College, is owned by the Belmont Mansion Association and the College. Restoration is ongoing and is funded from admission fees, membership and fundraising events.

As with most colleges, parking is limited, however, we were fortunate to find a spot right at the entrance to the Mansion.  The front door was locked but we rang the bell as instructed and were ushered in by a volunteer who gave the two of us a brief history of the mansion and a tour of the entry hall.  We then joined a tour in progress and visited the other parts of the Mansion. The group was small; the guides were well informed and obviously enjoyed sharing the history of the home as well as the life of Adelicia who was the epitome of a Steel Magnolia!

Despite the changes that have taken place at Belmont, much of the original Venetian glass decorates the windows, doors and transoms.  Mirrors, replacing original paintings, hang above marble mantels reflecting elaborate “gasoliers”. Rooms are decorated in the style of the day, and contain some original art and family possessions.

Our visits to both properties helped us better understand the life of the rich and famous at this period of America’s history, as well as the life of those who served them.

Pictures:

Hermitage  http://goo.gl/wBim5e

Belmont Mansion http://goo.gl/84Q0hp

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