Visiting Manassas

Sunday Fun at Mannasses and Flying Circus (11)

The decision to visit the Flying Circus at Bealeton, Va. during this road trip adventure came with another decision. How to spend Sunday morning prior to the air show?

A quick glance at the map easily answered this question. The Manassas National Battlefield Park was just a little bit out of the way en route from Winchester to the airfield at Bealeton. The park is open dusk to dawn and the visitors’ center opens at 8:30 a.m., timed perfectly for a walk around the battlefield before heading south to see all the cool planes. 

If you’re a Yankee like me, you likely remember this battle from history class as the Battle of Bull Run. And technically, two battles were fought here – the first in July 1861 and the second the following year in August. The 1861 battle was the first major battle of the Civil War and a Confederate victory.

Today, the park encompasses over 5,000 acres just outside of town. There are bridal trails, hiking trails, ranger led programs, a walking tour and driving tour. The visitors’ center has an orientation film, bookstore and rangers who can help you use your time here wisely.

On the battlefield, you’ll see a home – destroyed by the battle and reconstructed to help tell the story. A small family cemetery holds the remains of the elderly woman who was bedridden inside that house. By the end of that first battle, she was dead, her home destroyed and her farmland ravaged by war.

Cannons dot the landscape along with small markers that honor the fallen and interpretive signage that outlines what went on here. A statue of Stonewall Jackson surveys the battlefield from atop his horse.

I walked the battlefield, admired the farmhouse and stood inside the footprint of the tiny home of James Robinson, a free African American man who lived here with his family. The home escaped major damage although Mr. Robinson suffered significant financial losses because of the battles fought here. He claimed more than $2,600 in property either destroyed or taken by Union soldiers. He received less than half his claim. All that’s left of the home today are the foundation stones.

Sunday Mannassess and the road there (83)

This place is mostly peaceful, making it hard to believe these gently rolling hills were once soaked with blood. Both sides suffered significant casualties here – hundreds  died in the first battle alone.

From the area around the farmhouse and cemetery, you can look out over a valley, now cut through by a highway. Sounds of traffic waft up the hill and an occasional siren in the distance reminds you that time marches on and that life continues to move forward even as the past hangs heavy over this land.

I also stood in the shadow of Stonewall Jackson, contemplating the role of Confederate monuments in this country. I had toured his Winchester headquarters just the day before during a visit to Old Town. 

As I walked the empty battlefield, my mind’s eye was incapable of picturing the horrors that went on here and I am grateful that I couldn’t imagine it.

This is the kind of place where you can spend as much or as little time as you like. I was perfectly happy to just walk around a bit and study the visitors’ center materials. There were other places to go that day and I lacked the mental energy to delve deeper into the tragedy this land has seen.

I’m glad that I went but was even happier to have something more carefree to enjoy later in the day. You can read all about that fun afternoon here.

Tomorrow we’ll continue our journey down the road and I promise it will be a happier  story.

 

 

 

The Road To Mannasses

Sunday Mannassess and the road there (10)

On Sunday morning of this road trip adventure, the road took me south to visit the battlefield at Mannassess, Virginia and to watch in wonder the fun, acrobatic flying at a 49 year old flying circus. These are things we will talk about soon.

I headed out early, catching the end of the sunrise from the road and got to really soak in the beauty of this countryside. It was delightful how the terrain opened up to reveal this farm which looked quite small against the mountains and sky. A nearby lane offered a closer look so I turned down that road for a different view then ventured another mile or two in search of what was attached to a bell tower that I saw from afar.

This is what I found.

Sunday Mannassess and the road there (14)

It was worth the drive around the next bend.

I do that a lot, driving just a little further to see what’s around the next curve and often regret if I don’t go chasing the next bend in the road. In fact, when I think back on my road trips, the best memories are rarely the organized stuff I do – the tours and nice meals out. The best memories are always things like finding a pretty barn, a lovely sunrise or a field full of cows. It seems that a full tank of gas is really all I need for a good time.

Although, I did have a fantastic time at the flying circus so that’s where we’ll go tomorrow. Check back to hear all about it!

Stonewall Jackson’s Headquarters

Saturday around Winchester (127)

Winchester, Virginia is a thriving city today but it was once ravaged by war as control over the town was hotly contested between the North and South. There are a lot of reasons why everyone wanted control of this city and region around it. I won’t bore you with all those details but will mention this – the railroad and the surrounding farmland made Winchester important to both sides.

While southern states farmed, they focused on cotton and tobacco – crops that you cannot eat. But the rich, fertile lands of the Shenandoah Valley were ripe for growing crops, making Winchester the bread basket of the Confederacy.

Historians say that control over Winchester changed at least 72 times, possibly 73. Thirteen times in a single day. When residents woke up each morning, they had to look outside to see which flag was flying to know who was running the show that day.

This makes the area an excellent source for learning about the Civil War, the War Between the States, the War of Northern Aggression or whatever you like to call it. There are historic markers all over the region and lots of museums.

If you choose to visit, there is no shortage of places to help sharpen your understanding of the war. This is such an important topic these days as we continue to grapple with vital issues like racism and the controversy over celebrating Confederate leaders in communities across our nation.

It’s hard to believe that 154 years after the Civil War ended we haven’t advanced a little further than we have today.

But I digress.

Old Town Winchester is home to the Shenandoah Valley Civil War Museum and there are many more important sites across the region. 

I most appreciated my visit to Stonewall Jackson’s Headquarters, high atop a hill overlooking the city. Here, my tour guide (I think her name was Reva) was a retired history teacher who spoke of Stonewall Jackson as an old friend and of the history of Winchester as though she lived it.

If only we all could be so lucky to have a history teacher like this woman. 

She told us about the house, constructed in 1854 and occupied by Jackson during the winter of 1861-62. At the time, it was owned by Lewis T. Moore who had previously served in the military with Jackson. He was in the process of boarding up his gorgeous home to seek medical treatment out of town when he learned that Jackson needed a quiet place to set up his office. He had been working out of a hotel in what is now Old Town Winchester (it’s now a restaurant) and faced constant interruptions in this high traffic area.

So Moore offered the use of his home, believing it better occupied by Jackson than left empty and vulnerable. Jackson sent for his wife who joined him for the remainder of his stay in town and who remembered that winter as being one of the most romantic times of their marriage.

You can tour the home. It’s furnished with antiques – some original to the region but not to the house. However, there are a number of pieces original to the home and to Jackson himself. They have his desk and his personal prayer book which Jackson carried everywhere. Sometimes he rode with it in his hands, not to read, but simply for comfort. You can almost imagine him sitting in his office, wrestling with decisions that might cost lives if he chose wrong.

You cannot take pictures inside the house but they do sell postcards featuring some of the more important rooms.

Reva did a commendable job telling the human side of the house and the people who occupied it. She spoke of Jackson as a very humble, pious man. She talked about the difficulties of cooking over fire and how skilled a cook must be to prepare a large meal using cast iron and wood heat. She pointed out that this house was warmed by forced air heat and explained how such as system worked in 1861. We learned about the personal heartache and loss that endured by Jackson during his brief 39 years on this earth.

We also learned that Mr. Moore had a descendant, an elderly woman who used her wealth to help the museum during her later years. That woman was the actress Mary Tyler Moore, a fact I found terribly cool having grown up watching reruns of her shows on television.

I often think that people don’t like history because there’s too much focus on memorizing facts and dates and not enough emphasis on the people and their stories.

Reva’s tour beautifully illustrated how to relate history to a modern audience and how to give new life to the past.

Stonewall Jackson’s Headquarters is available for tours April through October and they would welcome you as a guest. It’s a bargain at just $5 for a guided tour and a must-see if you’re in town. 

Check back tomorrow for more from my road trip adventure!

Patsy Cline Historic House

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The point of making the five hour trek to Winchester, Virginia was to pay my respects to Patsy Cline. She is buried there and you can visit her home for a modest $8 admission.

People today know her as Patsy Cline, that woman with the smooth voice who is most famous for singing “Crazy.” But she was actually born Virginia “Ginny” Patterson Hensley in Winchester in 1932. Her family moved around a lot throughout her childhood but they lived in this home the longest – for about five years when she was an adolescent and young adult.

They have some items that belonged to Patsy and her family but most things here are simply period appropriate furnishings. They’ve done a fine job creating an atmosphere that feels authentic. In some ways, it feels like you’ve really walked into someone’s home.

I was there for the first tour of the day and that tour consisted of me and two other people so it was an intimate experience. The house was originally a two story log cabin that has been added onto over time. The downstairs tour guide was a delightful British retiree who came to the States as a nanny years ago. She gives off a hippy Mary Poppins vibe and is such a fan of Patsy’s that her enthusiasm is contagious.

The upstairs tour guide is equally delightful and previously ran the local Civil War museum. She is informative, not just about Patsy but about the area as well.

There’s something timeless and sophisticated about Patsy Cline but there’s also something innately vintage and simplistic about her. I think this may be part of the reason she appeals to me so much. That and her silky smooth singing voice that just makes me want to close my eyes and absorb the music.

What I didn’t know was that Patsy really wanted to sing honky tonk music and to yodel. It was Owen Bradley, an architect of the mid-century Nashville sound, who convinced her to embrace the style we know today.

I was also surprised to learn that she played piano by ear. The family owned a piano while they lived in this house and she took some lessons. Her instructor refused to teach her to read music because she didn’t want to ruin the gift that young Ginny so clearly had.

Patsy’s mother was a skilled seamstress who made all of her daughter’s stage costumes. You can see replicas of some costumes and one original on display in the house. Since the house doesn’t have space for proper UV protected display cases, much of the collection is kept in storage while other pieces are displayed at the museum in Nashville.

Truth be told, if you’re interested in the artifacts – the clothes, the handbags, boots and home furnishings – the Nashville museum is the place to be.  If you want to go back to the beginning and to see where her story started to become interesting – in a modest home, square in a middle class neighborhood of a historic town – this place is pretty special.

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One of my favorite moments of this tour took place in the living room. They played a recording of Patsy singing “Walking After Midnight” on Arthur Godfrey’s tv show. You get to hear Patsy’s speaking voice as well as a chilling version of this song that I hadn’t heard before.

Patsy’s family sat in this very room and watched her performance on television.  This isn’t an experience you’ll find in a museum.

Following the plane crash that cut short her young life, Patsy was brought home to Winchester for burial in a local cemetery. You can visit her grave if you wish. Sadly, her children were quite young when she passed away. Her son, just two at the time of her death, doesn’t remember her at all and the staff at the house said that he doesn’t understand what the fuss is about. Her daughter, though, has maintained an active role in the telling of her mother’s story, making sure the gifted singer and the music she made are not forgotten.

I’m so glad there are places like this home and the museum in Nashville to keep the music going.

FB6The Winchester-Frederick County Convention and Visitors’ Bureau operates a visitors’ center where they offer a small display about Patsy. The most outstanding piece in this collection is a piano, once owned by the local radio station. Patsy played this piano and posed with it for publicity shots. Someone acquired the piano and donated it to the visitors’ center where you are invited to sit and even play a tune. Had I known, I might have brushed up on a little Patsy tune to play there!

Want to visit the Patsy Cline Historic House? Click here for info!

Check back tomorrow as we continue our road trip through Virginia and Maryland!

 

The Perfect Long Weekend (And Some Free Advice)

Nothing says freedom like a solo road trip. I hit the road Friday afternoon for a trek down to Winchester, Virginia where I made my home until starting the leisurely trip north Monday.

When planning this trip, more than a dozen scenarios were on the table but nothing really excited me. I was studying a map of Virginia when Winchester caught my eye and a vague recollection that Patsy Cline was from here made me pause.

A visit to her museum was one of the highlights of my trip to Nashville this spring and I had to wonder if there were other things to do around Winchester. Turns out this was a silly question. The area is rich in history and natural beauty and there is no shortage of things to do.

In fact, I packed a lot into my long weekend but needed far more time to do everything that looked interesting. I did hit the highlights and saw a lot in places along the way as well.

Sometimes I wish that I had a specific interest- a certain period of time or a field like aviation or rock collecting. It would be nice to be an expert in something.

But that’s not how I’m wired and trips like this make that especially clear.

My activities ranged from Civil War era attractions like Stonewall Jackson’s Headquarters and the battlefield at Mannasess to a flying circus, an awesome cavern and the childhood home of Patsy Cline.

The good news about having such a broad range of interests is that there’s always something to learn and a lot of surprises to enjoy.

The highways were useful when I just needed to make time but secondary routes were more fun when the goal was to sit back and enjoy the view. It was about 50/50, a ratio that worked well given the mountainous terrain of West Virginia, Maryland and Virginia.

This trip was memorable despite the fact I’ve been battling a sinus infection for weeks and still wasn’t feeling my best. For this reason, I took it easier and rested more than normal but still finished each day satisfied with all I had done.

This also helped some with the mental fatigue that’s been dogging me for a few months. I didn’t know what time it was most of the weekend and did not care.

Regardless of how fast or slow I move, I have a knack for attracting people who want to talk.

At the flying circus, I was befriended by a 74 year old gent with a soft Virginia drawl and a curiosity about the sign he saw me taking a picture with. He listened with interest as I told him why solo travel is fun. I also explained that it’s a necessity as I’m not prepared to stop going places simply because I don’t have a mate or someone to go along for the ride.

He gave me two pieces of advice:

1. If you want to retire early, live well below your means and lower your expectations. He should know – he retired at age 54.

2. To never lose my sense of adventure and bravery.

I liked him and appreciated the advice.

On the other hand, a younger man in the same conversation said that no wife of his would be out running around by herself like I do.

I smiled and told him it’s a good thing I’m no one’s wife. Jerk.

I’ll stick with the wisdom of the older man, thank you.

Sunday Mannassess and the road there (95)

After leaving Winchester Monday morning, I followed the recommendation of a friend and took a detour to Lurray Caverns about an hour south of Winchester. Then it was a meandering journey to Clarksburg, West Virginia by way of Oakland, Maryland. My use of Hotels.com finally paid off and I cashed in a free night’s stay at Clarksburg before heading home the next day.

This was a perfect long weekend. With no real schedule and no one to please but myself, it was easy to just enjoy the adventure without pressure or worry. There are several stories to share including some unexpected things from along the way. Those usually make for the  best stories, those things you don’t plan.

We’ll get started tomorrow with a visit to the Patsy Cline House!

Some Advice

September 2018 (7)

Look around. You never know where you’ll find some good advice and great pizza. The above sign hangs on the wall at C&J’s Pizza in Wytheville, Virginia. It’s a little off the beaten path and populated mainly with locals so you know it has to be good. The walls are lined with great memorabilia including this cool vintage sign from the New Orleans Police Department.

“Beware Pickpockets and Loose Women.”

Sounds like timeless advice to me!

The food here was fantastic. I had a delicious side salad and the veggie pizza was amazing. The service here was good too despite the fact the place was packed the entire time we were there. My only regret is that there’s no photographic evidence of this tasty meal.

I try to avoid chain restaurants when traveling. I didn’t drive all the way to Wytheville to eat at Applebees and was thrilled to find this local joint was as good as internet reviewers and  locals claimed. I don’t eat meat but I hear their hamburger pizza is a local favorite and something you don’t find on a menu at a chain restaurant.

Whether it’s your own town or a vacation destination, my best advice is to head off the beaten path and pay no mind to how ugly the front door is. If the parking lot is full and it is clean inside, you’re probably in the right place.

Wherever you go – just beware those pickpockets and loose women!