Give Me A Moment, Please

I’m home now and will be back to work again this morning after four days of adventuring with a friend. There’s much to say about this trip because we packed as much as possible into every day. The good news is that there are stories to share. The bad news is that there’s so much to share that I need a moment to unpack it all in my head and get started.

So, for now, here’s a favorite picture that was captured while walking around Mount Airy, North Carolina. It exemplifies how full this trip was of memories made by simply being in the right place at the right time.

My friend and I were both of the mindset that we wanted to see and do as much as possibl while we were there. The hotel was basically a place for a good night’s sleep and a shower so we would be prepared for another fun day. We had some specific destinations in mind but were open to unplanned fun and wandering off the beaten path because there was a sign that pointed somewhere that sounded interesting.

Honestly? My best memories from these last four days are a product of saying YES when opportunity arose. We just kept looking around that next bend and kept seeking whatever came next.

That’s one of the keys to happiness, if you ask me. Life is big and interesting. Maintain a sense of curiosity, go looking for the unusual and the mundane and seek out the beauty in the smallest things. Stop and admire that great vehicle, notice the tiniest wildflower at the side of the road, be present and look for reasons to be happy. It’s there if you look for it!

Stick around. There’s a lot to come from this North Carolina whirlwind trip!

Blennerhassett Island

Blennerhassett Island is one of my favorite places on earth. Blennerhassett is a small island in the Ohio River and the way there is via a stern wheeler riverboat from Parkersburg, West Virginia.

The island is operated as a state park for recreation and tours of a reconstructed mansion but what makes it truly special is the history of this place

You see, the island was settled in 1789 by Harman and Margaret Blennerhassett. As wealthy Irish aristocrats, they built what became known as the most beautiful home in the West. Remember, back then this area was vast wilderness.

The island gained national attention in 1806 when the Blennerhassetts allowed Aaron Burr to make it headquarters for his military expedition into the southwest. This decision was the beginning of the end of the idyllic life they had built for themselves.

That’s because this is where the Burr conspiracy was born. They are suspected to be involved in a treasonous plot to create a new country. There has been a fair amount of academic research and writing about this footnote in American history. If you’re a musical fan, you might know about Burr from the Broadway musical Hamilton.

Things came to a head for the Blennerhassetts when the Ohio governor became suspicious of the stockpile of weapons and growing numbers of men on the island. The state militia raided the island and the Blennerhassetts were forced to flee. They never returned to their home which was burned in 1811.

This is the 30,000 foot view of this historic series of events but there is so much more to know. You can learn these stories and more if you visit.

As I mentioned, the house was burned but not before the Ohio Militia and lots of souvenir seekers took what they wanted of the beautiful possessions the family had accumulated here.

Archeologists discovered the original foundation and the State of West Virginia began reconstructing the home in 1984. It was finished in 1991.

My earliest memories of visiting here as a kid involve a tour of the outside of the house. The interior wasn’t finished but someone would walk you around the exterior and tell the story.

Today the inside tours offer a glimpse of how these aristocrats lived. You can also see some artifacts that actually came from the home, salvaged by lookie loos all those years ago.

You can take a wagon ride tour, rent bicycles or just go for a walk. There’s a snack stand with simple foods like sandwiches, drinks and ice cream but you’re welcome to pack a picnic and take advantage of the outdoor picnic areas.

I have toured the home plenty over the years but my favorite thing here is to take the wagon ride. Don’t miss out on that.

Back on the mainland, where you buy your tickets and catch the ferry, the Blennerhassett Museum gives you more about the family and the island as well many more artifacts, artwork and technology that tell important stories.

Want to learn more about this place? Click here for more!

Gardens And Grounds At Adena

Earlier this week we visited historic Adena Mansion and Gardens where I told you about the home and the people who lived there. The house tour is interesting but I also thoroughly enjoy simply walking the grounds.

Mrs Worthington’s flower garden was beginning to show signs of life with tulips, bluebells and other spring beauties.

I spent a fair amount of time standing amongst the lilacs, simply absorbing the aroma of spring.

There are trails as well as a couple of important buildings to explore. My favorite of these has always been the barn and I typically dwell here.

There are a handful of artifacts kept here.

The actual barn is the showstopper though.

Here’s a view from the door onto the property.

If you’re in the area and enjoy history, this place is well worth the price of admission. They tell important stories here, stories that we would lose if not for historic sites like Adena. Read more about this place by clicking here.

Adena Mansion and Gardens

As part of Saturday’s Tourist In My Own Backyard adventure, I revisited Adena Mansion and Gardens. This historic site in Chillicothe, Ohio was the home of one of Ohio’s founding fathers.

Thomas Worthington came from a background of neglect before becoming a politician, a surveyor and a businessman. He is most famous as Ohio’s sixth governor. He also platted the nearby town of Logan, Ohio. He advocated for public education, opposed the War of 1812, opposed slavery and established the State Library of Ohio.

His legacy is vast and impressive.

Completed in 1807, Adena was designed by famed architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe. Our tour guide said it is one of just three Latrobe houses left standing in the country.

The sandstone was quarried on the property and I imagine that the wood for the house and furniture was cut there as well.

I was lucky to catch a tour with just two other people. To provide some perspective, the tour after mine was so big they had to split it up into two groups.

After a lifetime of periodically taking this tour, it still surprises me that I learn something new every visit. Our tour guide this time is a high school French teacher and she did a great job of telling the story, weaving together the human stories with the historic events.

I learned that Thomas Worthington was a notorious cheapskate. I knew that there were many instances in this house where faux techniques were used to fake mahogany and marble. This was done partly out of practicality because shipping in marble across the wilderness was expensive. It was also done partly because Thomas Worthington simply didn’t like to spend money. You aren’t allowed to take pictures inside so you’ll have to take my word for it that the marble faked with a turkey feather is pretty convincing.

There are also many interesting tidbits about the Worthington family that you’ll learn along the way. For example, Thomas and Eleanor Worthington had ten children and all lived to adulthood, an impressive feat for that time. One daughter, Sarah, opened Philadelphia’s School of Design For Women in 1848. That school still exists today as Moore College of Art and Design.

If you pay attention on the tour, you will find it thought provoking. It always makes me shudder to think what it was like for Mrs Worthington to leave civilization to come to the Ohio Territory and set up housekeeping. Their first home on this property was a log cabin and was about an hour walk from town.

Here’s a fun fact. From the hilltop where Worthington built his home, inspiration was found to create the Ohio State Seal. They have a pull off where you can stop and enjoy the view. It looks a lot different today but it’s still an important piece of Ohio history.

Some significant events and conversations took place here. Henry Clay was such a frequent guest there’s a bedroom named in his honor. Shawnee Chief Tecumseh visited here along with Blue Jacket, Roundhead and Panther. Tecumseh presented Thomas Worthington a tomahawk with the promise that he would never lift his tomahawk to him in battle. This meaningful artifact can be viewed in the museum on site.

Sadly, some members of the Worthington family fell on hard times and the home was in bad shape by the time it was sold to another family. You see, it had been left vacant for several years and local farmers used the home to store hay and to keep their chickens. It was sold at the turn of the 20th century to another family that adapted the house into a summer home. It began operating as a tourist attraction in the fifties. Restoration projects over the years have revived the home to reflect how it would have appeared when the Worthingtons lived there.

In addition to the house tour, there’s a museum, some outbuildings and trails to walk. My favorite spot is a toss up between the old barn and the garden. Admission is just $10 for an adult. Watch their online calendar or follow them on Facebook for special events. You can even host your own event or wedding here.

Ready to visit or learn more? There’s a ton of history available on the Adena Mansion and Gardens website. Tomorrow I will show you some pictures from the grounds.

Adventure Day Close To Home

Yesterday was epic. I didn’t travel far or do anything expensive. Instead, I spent the day being a tourist in my own backyard in nearby Chillicothe, Ohio.

The truth is, I didn’t actually do anything I had planned. The original plan was to go for a walk, hit a car show and eat Donato’s plant based pizza at the park.

None of this actually happened.

The lovely thing about solo adventures is there’s no one to complain when you go off script. What’s even better is that off script is often where the magic happens.

I started my day at Adena Mansion and Gardens, the historic home of Thomas Worthington. He was Ohio’s sixth governor, a founding father of Ohio who did so many things in his lifetime that he and his home will require their own story this week.

Ten dollars buys you a guided tour of the home, admission to a museum and access to explore the grounds. Here you’ll learn about life in Ohio when the state was young, about the life and career of this important figure in our history, and about others like Tecumseh and Henry Clay who visited here.

After that I hit up downtown Chillicothe which has experienced a rebirth in recent years. There are several nice specialty shops and restaurants here and the business community has done a great job of advocating for themselves. They have made improvements in the historic downtown and worked hard to draw in visitors who have money.

Downtown was busy as there were a couple of events in town and some stores were taking advantage of the extra foot traffic with sales. I don’t enjoy crowds so I didn’t dwell here but having live music was pretty cool

I had lunch at Carl’s Townhouse which is a 1939 era dinner that began life at the New York World’s Fair. A quick grilled cheese and fries were just the ticket to provide sustenance for the rest of my day.

Then it was a stroll down the street to Apollo Records where I chatted with the owner about the Flying Burrito Brothers and an amazing up and coming artist named Charlie Crockett. I found a great vintage Aretha Franklin album and a Roseanne Cash that I didn’t know but literally purchased for the cool cover art.

Then it was up the street to Grandpa Joe’s Candy Store for a cold drink and dessert before heading to Wheatberry Books for a new title and a chat with the clerk. She was excited about the Wendell Berry book I had chosen. Wheatberry is a small independent bookstore but their shelves are lined with all the books I either own or want to own. They even have a robust section for kids. Here’s something I once wrote on Wheatberry.

After that, it was a stroll through Yoctangee Park to see the swans, geese and ducks. I followed the sound of music to the ice cream truck because it was hot and humid and everyone’s a kid when the ice cream truck is nearby!

Afterward, it was a quick browse through Chillicothe Antique Emporium where I located a bargain and chatted with the owner about the old time soda fountain he assembled and added to his store. He collected the various pieces over time and from places as far away as Georgia. It is well done and you can sit for a cold drink, some ice cream or fresh popcorn! Click here for something I once wrote about that place.

Chillicothe has a lot of history and there’s much more than you can accomplish in a day. Hopewell Culture National Historical Park is an interesting stop to learn about the mound builders of this region. It has become internationally renowned and we are lucky to have it. In the summer, the outdoor drama Tecumseh tells the story of the Shawnee Chief who promoted intertribal unity to push back against the US Expansion into tribal lands.

Chillicothe has carved out a place for itself for specialty interests. The bookstore and record shop are practically unicorns in this day and age but there are other specialties. There’s an old school bike shop, a music store, a stained glass shop, a dojo and a place that specializes in aromatherapy. Plus antiques, clothing boutiques and a place where you can buy specialty toy soldiers designed for the serious collector. There is literally something for everyone in a tidy space along downtown streets lined with some very cool architecture. There’s even a great bike path and tons more to see and do than you can fit into a day.

Along the way yesterday, I had meaningful conversations with people who I never imagined I needed to meet. My Adena docent was fantastic and I met two retirees on my tour who I could have chatted with for hours. They didn’t bat an eyelash when I struck up a conversation and, as it turns out, they were open to talk about topics that I’ve never quite been comfortable discussing with my own friends.

It was an enriching and rewarding day, not necessarily for what I did so much as who I met along the way. More on that soon. For now, know this: the price of admission will get you into a place. The act of learning comes from talking to people about things that are new to you, talking to people about things that are important to them, talking to people about things that enlighten you.

Always, always, always be open to hearing someone else’s perspective.

Check back this week for stories about yesterday including more on Thomas Worthington and his Adena.

Here’s one more picture from the park.

Isn’t it peaceful?

Art In Life: Seiler’s Studio And Gallery

When my pal Jerry and I planned to visit Alan Cottrill’s studio, Jerry arranged for us to also meet artist Mike Seiler in his downtown Zanesville studio. Little did we know that we would also meet Mike’s wife Kathy and that the studio is also their home.

I will be very honest with you. Jerry arranged the visit but I had little understanding of where we were going or why. Nor did I care. I was simply delighted for the adventure.

So imagine my surprise when Mike opened the door and welcomed us into their kitchen! Kathy, who was sitting at their dining table potting seeds, welcomed me with a smile. “You must be Brandi” she exclaimed.

We chatted about the Four O’Clocks she was planting and about the therapeutical qualities of having hands in soil. Then she asked if I was interested in architecture and she whisked me away on a tour of their home.

It is an old Christian Science Church that they have thoughtfully transformed into a studio/home that feels both spacious and intimate. Their home is filled with color, life and creativity. It’s positively inspiring.

And then there’s the art. Oh my goodness. Mike’s paintings are astounding. You won’t believe the medium he is working with. It’s liquid asphalt and alkyd. The asphalt is shiny and smooth and it reflects the colors around it.

The results are extraordinary. I especially appreciate the way it changes and seems to be alive in the light. It looks different when you stand close than it does when you view it from across the room.

He can skillfully explain the science behind the art and even makes the science sound like an art form. I absorbed none of that but did absorb the beauty of it all.

Kathy is a prolific poet who gifted me a volume of her work. She writes independently and he paints independently but they pair their works, finding poems and paintings with similar emotional tone. It’s a lovely collaboration too.

Another meaningful collaboration is their marriage as they clearly are partners in every way. They held court on the sofa while Jerry and I sat on the edge of our seats. They finished each other’s sentence as they shared their life stories. And what a fascinating life it has been!

He recalled a conservative religious upbringing where he knew from the age of two he would be an artist. A home next door was inhabited by a series of artists who exposed him to an intriguing new world. From a scantily clad bohemian woman who kept a skull as part of a still life on her kitchen table to a man who introduced him to clay, these years were clearly formative in more ways than one.

Kathy has a gentleness about her and a sense of faith that clearly defines her actions and thoughts. She said that they met in college and decided to marry when they realized they would be better together than apart.

There is evidence this is true. They have devoted themselves to making the world a better place. Their current project is in their own neighborhood where they are rehabbing their community one structure at a time. They have actively pushed out drug dealers and prostitutes, replacing them with families and artists. They foster a sense of community among their neighbors where they look out for each other and where art and beauty are central to the community’s health.

They have worked hard and it shows. They are near what many would call retirement age but don’t appear to be slowing down at all. I believe they said they are now rehabbing their sixth structure and when I asked why they are still at it, their answer was simultaneous and heartwarming. They do it because they can and because it matters.

Every town should have people like Mike and Kathy who take it on themselves to serve others and to build rather than tear down.

Friends, Jerry and I went to see art but what we found was so much more than paintings. The life they have built together is beautiful. The conversation we had seemed like something from a grand design, a conversation we were meant to have. I’m grateful to them for so generously opening their home to us.

Want to know more? Click here to visit their website. There’s a really nice video where Mike explains why art matters. You really should watch it so click here and do that now.