Southern Road Trip #5: Colonial Williamsburg

Well, Road Trip Enthusiasts, we have made it to our final (for now) December Girls’ Trip. The following details our trip to Williamsburg, VA in December of 2018. Enjoy!

    5. Colonial Williamsburg (December 2018)

After having to forego touring Colonial Williamsburg on our first trip to Virginia in 2013, we decided this state of affairs simply wouldn’t do and buckled up for a trip back across Virginia! In my post on our first trip to Virginia, I mentioned our love for Michie Tavern in Charlottesville near Monticello. Coming from Tennessee, there were two routes we could take to get to the coast, and knowing that Michie Tavern lay along the trail of one of them made that decision easy! We wheeled in there first and ate some delicious grub. It was this stop at Michie where we saw a beautiful French family with many children. (They were speaking French, so we assumed France, but they could have hailed from anywhere, of course.) We predicted they had come all of that way to tour Monticello, which was pretty cool!

But Monticello wasn’t on our agenda this time since we had already been. I made the last-minute suggestion, however, that we drop by the neighboring James Monroe’s Highland. In 2016, a huge discovery had been made at Highland. During an archaeological dig, the foundation for a much larger house was uncovered. The more modest house, which was thought for many years to be Monroe’s home, was actually just a guest house. You can find a fabulous article detailing this historic find here: https://www.history.com/news/major-discovery-at-james-monroes-historic-virginia-home.

I had been following this story fairly closely, as well as viewing pictures of their rare (and extremely cute) breed of sheep, so I thought it would be a good idea to swing by for a tour. There were good things about Highland: the staff was really laid-back and friendly, the grounds were pretty, and the story of James Monroe is not well-known but is certainly worth hearing. But there were some downsides, too: the archaeological find is amazing, but the sad fact is that the huge house Monroe had lived in isn’t there, so the tour is still limited to the guest house. There were Monroe family antiques in there, and it is a neat house in its own right, but it’s not a stimulating visual experience. In addition, Highland still gives the impression of being fairly new as a house museum. It’s not a well-oiled machine like Monticello, and, frankly, for a Presidential Home, I was a bit surprised at the lack of funds which had been allotted to it. As a personal grievance, the sheep were nowhere to be found (it was cold that day, so I assume they had retired to shelter, and this was no one’s fault). But still, I would recommend going to Highland to get a feel for the Monroe family and for the amazing discoveries being made there every day.

And then: on to Williamsburg! There is nowhere quite so cozy as Colonial Williamsburg at Christmastime. Colonial-style decorations fill every window and door. My mom actually bought a book which showed how to make the decorations, and we tried it this past Christmas with some success! We bought our tickets in advance, so we just drove to the parking lot of the visitor center, where they give you a bracelet and bus you into the park. It’s so cool, getting out and stepping right onto the grounds of the Governor’s Palace.

We toured the Palace first. I pointed at the rippled windows and said, “Those are really old.” The first thing the docent said when she began our tour was, “I’m sorry to tell you that the Governor’s Palace is entirely new construction.” And that’s the wonder of Colonial Williamsburg. They do good work. Everything there is built with 18th Century tools in 18th Century style (quite possibly while wearing 18th Century stockings). So it was a bit of a bummer to find out that the Palace had been reconstructed, but it is an excellent reconstruction. I particularly remember the ballroom and the stage the docent set for a Colonial ball while we were there. You can really imagine the hosting that would have taken place in the Royal Governor’s home.

Then we walked around the shops within the “park.” My sister bought an 18th Century-style straw hat, which is just as wearable on the beach as it would be for a costume. You get to see how all sorts of Colonial trades worked (blacksmithing, weaving, etc.). We visited the courthouse, which is an original building that has been used in several films.

The Capitol building was really fabulous (again, I’ve spotted it in several historical films). We got to watch the docent manufacture and carry through a trial with actors plucked from our tour group. The tour groups are huge, but this one was great because you got to fill up the parliamentary room. And of course, since most things are reconstructed, they are not persnickety about letting you sit on or touch things that look like historical gems. Except at the George Wythe House.

George Wythe was a philosopher and professor during the Colonial and Young Republic periods, and his original house stands within the “park” of Colonial Williamsburg. DO NOT EVEN TRY to chew gum in the George Wythe House. My mom got busted, to the amusement of her daughters. It was a bit like whip-lash to go from the “prop your feet up” mentality of all of the reconstructed buildings to the strict reverence for this historical house, but as long as you are forewarned, you will be alright.

There is a calendar of events for each day in the “park.” You can get a handheld copy at the visitor center, but I highly recommend downloading the app, which gives daily updates and neat tidbits you would otherwise miss. We saw on the app that there was a Fife and Drum assembly and presented ourselves at the proper time. And lo! Down the street come scores of irritated middle schoolers dressed in Colonial garb and marching to the beat of drums. They lined up and took off to the music of the flutes and drums they were playing, and it was neat to watch that visual history. I think there is another group you can see that consists of adults, but honestly, the kids were very talented.

One really great thing about Colonial Williamsburg is the food. The King’s Arms Tavern serves up Colonial fare and is quite tasty. There was a fantastic restaurant on Merchant’s Square, the street that kind of marks the end of the “park” area and the beginning of the regular town. (Don’t worry, everything is still very Colonial in Merchant’s Square. There was even ice skating.)

Speaking of Merchant’s Square, some of the shops were truly amazing. We finally got to go in Scotland House, and I bought a great necklace with the Colquhoun (pronounced Cuh-hoon or Calhoun, or, by my family wing, Cowan) crest. I also now have a scarf in the Colquhoun tartan, which my sister bought me there on a recent trip, so you can find great stuff if you have some Scottish or Scots-Irish family history and know your clan! We also bought some Christmas ornaments at some of the other shops. The quality is fantastic.

The one thing I will say is that Christmas seems to be a bit of a tricky time for Colonial Williamsburg. Summer is obviously their big season, but they expect (and have) many tourists at Christmas. However, I believe they are also preparing to go into maintenance mode in January. Therefore, some of the shops weren’t open, and not everything was quite fully staffed. For instance, we had been planning to go to a musical recital at Bruton Parish Episcopal Church (a fabulous building which is three centuries old and which hosted many historical figures), but we, and the others lining up, were told that they would only have the performance if they could get at least two volunteer interpreters to come into work. Why put it on the schedule if it’s not going to happen, we wondered?

I should also mention something that first-time visitors might not know: Not everything Williamsburg does is covered in your admission ticket. There are some things, such as dinner with Thomas Jefferson, certain theatricals, etc. which sound really great but that you have to book (and pay for) separately. And book in advance if you want to do them. All of the extras were entirely booked by the time we got there. Still, there is a lot to do under a general admission ticket.

One thing that was super convenient was that the bus picks you up at various stops throughout Colonial Williamsburg, so you don’t have to kill yourself to walk back to your original stop. Just keep up with your map to locate all of the stops, and you’ll be set.

Outside of the park, we took a drive out to Newport News, since we had never seen it. It totally wasn’t worth it because of a torrential downpour. We came back and decided to go to the movies because of said torrential downpour and ended up at Movie Tavern (everything is a “tavern” in Williamsburg!), where they bring you a menu, and you order your supper during the movie. Our movie happened to be Mary Poppins Returns. We really enjoyed that.

It’s also worth driving by the (quite expensive) Williamsburg Inn to see the gentleman in full Colonial garb waiting to assist the lodgers as they drive up.

Also, we drove out to Yorktown, which is just a gorgeous little town – so picturesque!  That ended up being one of our favorite parts of the trip.

On the way home, we decided to take the second of the two routes for a change of scenery. This involved going quite near to Appomattox Court House National Historic Park, a Civil War stop on a decidedly Colonial trip. We decided we would drive in, even though we knew the Park was closed due to the government shut down during that time. That sounds like a bummer, doesn’t it, not to be able to actually go in and see the buildings? And it was. But there was a silver lining: we got to see the cite of Lee’s surrender to Grant totally devoid of tourists from high on a field nearby. We could see the entire little town with houses and the courthouse, and there was just something special about the peace and tranquility of the scene that we wouldn’t have gotten if the Park had been open. (By the way, if you want the same experience, the Park is currently closed again due to the quarantine.)

As a side-note, we also passed quite near Jefferson’s second home, Poplar Forest. I was game but decided not to harass my fellow-travelers, who bear with my historical enthusiasm admirably, and who were at this point exhausted.

And then…the really long drive home!

I hope you have enjoyed this Southern Road Trips series! I’m sure there will be more in the future, but that winds up our series of 5 December girls’ trips. Thanks for following us on the ride!

Review: Emma (2020)

Last night, my mom, sister, and I had a movie night.  Since we are all huge Jane Austen fans, we decided on Emma, which, even though the movie wouldn’t normally be out of its theater run, has been made available for streaming from various sources since theater-gathering is currently discouraged.

Emma is one of my favorite Jane Austens, largely because of the extremely cozy village she was able to create in Highbury and because Mr. Knightley definitely rivals Mr. Darcy in swoon-worthy gentlemanliness.  I have read and enjoyed the book, and this is the fourth film adaptation of  Emma I have seen, so I was coming into this with some rather pre-conceived ideas about what a successful adaptation of the story should look like.  So there you go: I always try to let you know my biases up-front.

There were things the 2020 adaptation did better than any of its predecessors.  For one, the cinematography is excellent.  The vistas and ballrooms are stunning, and I have heard that a lot of work went into choosing an appropriate and eye-catching color palette, which was a creative idea.  You leave with an impression of color in your mind’s eye, and take away beautiful and cheery lighting.  My only reservation was that, just occasionally, the color could be slightly too much, and you felt like we had strayed into candy land.  But that was only very occasionally, such as when there was a big fluffy cake sitting on the table or when we’re shopping for ribbons in a lollipop of color.  The outdoor scenes are unrivalled in beauty, though.

The costumes are exquisite, and I noticed particular attention was paid to the shoes.  You could tell the designers really looked at fashion plates from the Regency Era, because there is nothing (except maybe one pair of earrings) that jerks you out of the time period.  In addition, there are special details on the dresses, etc. that are very Regency-appropriate that I’m not sure I have ever seen any other Regency film use.  In short, 10 out of 10 stars for the costuming department.  My one question was whether Mr. Knightley would have worn his shirt collars quite so high.  Georgette Heyer has led me to believe that only dandies wore their collars so high that they had difficulty turning their heads.  But in contrast to being a dandy, Mr. Knightley always struck me as a country gentleman, a man of sport and the land, preferring to ride a horse to fancy dinner parties than take his carriage.  However, I do not profess to be an expert on the subject of all of the subsets of Regency gentlemen (dandies, Corinthians, fops, etc.) and Georgette Heyer is admittedly my only source.  And maybe my vision was clouded by the fact that this particular Mr. Knightley was ten times as handsome when we could glimpse his neck. 🙂

The next thing that was well-done was attention to historical details.  We get to see a lot of antiques and how they were used.  We see (humorously) the function of fire screens, and we also get to watch a very fun parlor game in progress.  Also revealing was the intimacy that dancing induced (I had forgotten that one was supposed to stare into one’s partner’s eyes).  It was a little easier after watching a dance performed in that way to understand why there were so many rules of etiquette surrounding the art of dancing, and why so many feathers were ruffled when the rules were broken.  I love when visual history explains something we wouldn’t otherwise understand!

The characters were also jazzed-up a little.  At first, I was a little nervous about the changes that I knew were going to be made to Mr. Woodhouse (Emma’s father) and Miss Bates.  But I would go anywhere Bill Nighy and Miranda Hart want to take me.  I cannot think of better or more trust-worthy choices if you are going to change up well-known characters.  And, while I am a stickler for following a book exactly, I actually didn’t mind these changes.  They weren’t drastic, and both were in keeping with the spirit of the characters.  If I’m being honest, I actually enjoyed these characters more than ever before because, in the real story, while we love them and appreciate their absurdities, they can be a little tedious.  Here, they were delightfully quirky and provided excellent comedic relief.  I like the idea of Emma’s father having all of his hypochondria while still being spunky, and maybe even a little wired.  I think that was a reasonable interpretation of his character, even though most have interpreted him as a more feeble old gentleman.  And when Miss Bates screams suddenly, and out of nowhere, at her deaf mother, that “Miss Woodhouse has invited us to Hartfield!!!” we were all in giggles.

And what to say about Mr. Knightley?  We see a lot more of his personal life than we ever do on the book, and than we ever have in any other adaptations.  We get to see him dressing, which was certainly a gift. 🙂  We also get to see the moment his feelings started to change for Emma and the agony that leads him to suffer over the next few months.  I think I actually like that, and here’s why: I believe they simply showed the emotions Jane Austen knew he was having but we don’t know about until the end of the book.  The scene where Emma and Knightley dance at Christmas is shown as the moment they both start to shift their feelings for one another, and I think that is accurate, at least for Mr. Knightley, although it has been a while since I’ve read the book.  But every other adaptation has made this attraction quite subtle.  Here, though, we see Knightley throw himself on his drawing room floor in frustration.  It’s not in the book.  But it actually made me understand a little more why Knightley invited his Highbury acquaintances to pick strawberries at Donwell soon thereafter, and why he said something about only allowing Mrs. Knightley to manage his house, once she is in being: he wants Emma in his house, and he is contemplating, for the first time, there being a Mrs. Knightley.  I had never thought about that aspect of his psychology, so that was a great hidden nugget.  On the whole, I liked Johnny Flynn’s interpretation of Knightley, even if I was initially thrown off by his blonde hair.  He handled the role quite delicately.

And that brings us to what I didn’t like so much.  I’m usually not this direct, but I will just have to be honest: I did not like this interpretation of Emma’s character.  Anya Taylor-Joy is lovely, and I like that her acting reminded us that Emma is only 21 and also showed how her wealth has left her in a spoiled cocoon.  Further than that I cannot say, because this interpretation made Emma absolutely unlikeable.  Jane Austen’s Emma is a deeply flawed character, and I love that about her.  But Austen was careful to give Emma redeeming qualities and a certain maturity that balances her over-confidence, privilege, and snobbery.  Here, she was drawn as petulant, which I don’t remember that Emma ever was.  While there was a certain immaturity to Emma’s course of action in the real plotline, she never acted like a simpering, pouting child.  While she could be sharp-tongued, and while that trait often led her into scrapes, she was never crabby/irritable just because she seemed to be that way by nature.  I’m not sure if the goal was to make Emma more coy, or what, but she actually lost almost all of the nuances to her character and was kind of boiled down into a one-dimensional incarnation of the snotty rich girl archetype.  Not my cup of tea.  And the main reason is that we cannot for the life of us see what Mr. Knightley sees in her.

Another thing that I was not a fan of was the overall production.  You really need to go into this adaptation with a basic knowledge of the intricacies of the plotline, because you won’t get them from watching this film.  It felt, actually, more like watching a play or, more accurately, perhaps, an opera.  A great deal of attention was put into theatricals, such as ladies lining up with the flourish of the background music, and overly-loud music accentuating the feeling we were supposed to get from the dialogue.  The music playing during scenes really distracted and took away from the storyline.  I just kept wishing we could settle in on a scene, like a real movie, and enjoy acting and character nuances instead of flitting here and there.  With music playing overly loud, and some of the actors being forced to deliver their lines overly-dramatically, you’re sped through the scenes and don’t get the details of a very intricate plot.  But what was really odd was that somewhere in the middle of the movie, we did slow down and take a breather, almost as though we had switched directors.  The music stopped being as frenzied, and we enjoyed a couple of stable scenes.  Which I found…odd.  I like consistency, even if I don’t agree with the choice made.  Without it, the production doesn’t feel polished/tight.

Another oddity was the choice in music itself.  I’ve already mentioned that it was often too jaunty and loud.  But even more bizarre was the choice to put in chorals here and there.  Don’t get me wrong: I love anything sung by a choir, and these were really beautiful.  They were just totally out of place.  I’m sure the songs were time-period-appropriate (although I would have to look on a couple), but the presentation was not (by this, I mean that the arrangements reminded me a lot of O Brother, Where Art Thou?).  It’s weird to be travelling in a carriage and just randomly start hearing a hymn sung dramatically by a choir, no?  At least, it was in Emma.

But in the end, there were enough things that I did like that I will probably watch it again.  The over-all grandeur and urgency being slightly hyped-up was very well-done, and very compelling as a viewer.  I found myself wishing that I was a master movie-maker and could pluck parts from all of the adaptations of Emma and make the perfect movie.  Which leads me to a ranking of the Emma adaptations that I have seen, which might be useful if you are wondering where to start.  I’ll rank from least-favorite to most-favorite.

4. Emma (1996) with Gwyneth Paltrow.  I have heard many people say this is their favorite, so know I am in the minority here.  But there is just something annoying about this version to me.  There’s also no chemistry between Knightley and Emma or any of the characters, really.

3.  Emma (2020). [Discussed above.]

2.  Emma Mini-Series (2009).   This is a 4-part mini-series that goes into great detail and follows the storyline pretty closely.  This Emma still annoys me slightly, but she is the least-offensive of the three I have mentioned.

1.   Emma (1997) with Kate Beckinsale.  This adaptation is phenomenal.  It is the reason, probably, that I’m so hard on all of the other adaptations.  I have watched it over and over and never leave disappointed.  I love the nuance Kate Beckinsale brings to Emma’s character.  She fully explores her flaws but shows all of the redeeming qualities, too.  I love the passion Mark Strong brings to Knightley’s character.  No one tells Emma off quite the way Mark Strong does.  He makes all of the other Knightleys look weak, with the exception of the most recent 2020 Mr. Knightley.  He shows Knightley’s hot temper but also his great kindness and depth of feeling.  And as far as the village feeling – there could be nothing cozier.  It accomplishes in one movie all that the above-mentioned mini-series attempts to do in four episodes.  The cinematography is not beautiful or sweeping, so I think that might be the reason this one is often overlooked.  But I promise you won’t notice that once the actors take the story into their hands.

In the end, it doesn’t matter which Emma is technically more accurate or delicately-handled, I suppose: it is which one you enjoy watching that matters.  I do recommend that you watch the new Emma.  It’s a great way to pass the time, and if you have enough people in your home quarantine, it’s actually cheaper than going to the movies would have been.  I streamed it for $20.00 from Amazon Prime.

Enjoy!

(Note: if you have children in the room, there is one little nudey scene where Knightley is dressing, and another slight one when Emma is, just to give you forewarning.)

Photo Credit: screenrant.com

-Tara

 

 

 

Southern Road Trip #4: Charleston, SC

We’re continuing our road trip through the South! In December 2016, it was my sister’s turn to choose and plan our girls’ trip, and she put together an awesome itinerary for a trip to Charleston, South Carolina.

  1. Charleston, South Carolina (December 2016)

Starting with our trip to Natchez, we began making fairly elaborate itineraries for our December girls’ trips. I don’t recommend strict itineraries if you are going on a relaxing vacation or a rambling road trip, but I do highly recommend them when there are several things you want to see and limited time. You save the time you would spend searching for a restaurant or tourist attraction and are able to put that much time back into exploring and taking in the culture. My sister compiled a beautiful itinerary for Charleston that started with, “Please do not blame Hannah for any problems that may arise.” This was our fourth trip, and by now, we had a catalogue of funny stories from things that went wrong, and she isn’t the sister of two lawyers for nothing.

On Day 1, we departed and drove to the Hampton Inn in West Ashley, a suburb of Charleston. Hannah was careful to put even the address of the hotel on the itinerary, which is another time-saver. We went up the road for dinner at a barbecue place and then just drove around the city. That might seem like wasted time, but it is actually what I remember most, seeing the Battery at night. Charleston abounds with beautiful mansions, and they know how to show them off with lights and fountains, etc. at night. It was one of those situations where someone is yelling, “Look over there! Oh, my gosh, this one is so pretty!” so much that you get whiplash.

On Day 2, we had breakfast at the hotel and then drove to Middleton Place for a tour. I will just warn you: the price was a nosebleed that left us standing there stunned for a few minutes before finally deciding it was worth it. The gardens there are extensive, and you get to ramble through them before you tour the house. Middleton Place is rather famous for its grass stairs leading down to the Ashley River. It looks like something you would see at a European castle. When we were planning the itinerary and narrowing down the house museums that we would tour, the moment I saw a picture of those grass stairs, I knew we had to go. And then…we promptly forgot to look at the stairs. Yes, I’m not kidding. We were afterwards so mad at ourselves for this that we still talk about it (jokingly, of course, sort of) as one of our life’s greatest regrets. But anyway, we enjoyed the gardens. The house tour was actually just a tour of what they call a “flanker” in Charleston. Charlestonian architecture often consisted of a main house in the center flanked by two long, separate wings. The main house and flanker were burned during the Civil War when the Union broke through the Confederate lines in the Spring of 1865. Therefore, the house tour wasn’t the most awe-inspiring I have ever experienced, but there were some pretty neat things about it, such as, for instance, the family had converted the flanker into a house once their lands were returned to them by the federal government, and they produced a very talented female artist in the family. (Side-note: I half-fictionalize this family and house in the Torn Asunder Series.)

Next stop was Edmonston-Alston House on the Battery. (Another side-note: I used this house as partial inspiration for the Ravenel-Thompson House which Adeline is restoring in the Torn Asunder series.) Edmonston-Alston is, in contrast to Middleton Place, a town house overlooking the Charleston Battery, so it has a very different vibe. My favorite room was the very unusual library. In contrast to most libraries of its time, it has white bookshelves and a very sunny feel. The balconies which look out over the harbor are absolutely magnificent. The residents stood on them and watched the Battle of Fort Sumter. The house is actually connected by family to Middleton Place, so these tours are great to do back-to-back.

From there, we went to Poogan’s Porch, where we had lunch. The house special that day were sweet potato dumplings with collard greens. It was to-die-for. I should mention that Charleston cuisine is “fancy.” It is a mix of French, Gullah-Geechee, and Southern cooking. It takes you just a moment to get used to it, and then you’re ready to try all sorts of new things. They have many world-renowned chefs in Charleston, so you may try many creative and delicious dishes, or you can just stick with the city special: shrimp and grits.

The Charleston City Market was next on the itinerary. We had to mark it off the list because we ran out of time, but I went on a subsequent trip, so I can highly recommend it. You’ll find local crafts, including the famous seagrass baskets. When my sister and I went in 2019, we struck up a conversation with a brother-sister duo with a Gullah-Geechee family history of making baskets. We told them about our family history of making split oak baskets in Woodbury, Tennessee, and they were very interested and told us we should come sell them at the Market, since no one sells split oak there. Not a horrible idea, if only we knew how to make them!

Next stop: Drayton Hall! This house was THE inspiration for Santarella, so if you visit, you will pretty much know what Shannon’s country house looked like! (Note: Drayton is on the Ashley River, and I placed Santarella on the Sea Islands, so there is a slight difference there.) The house is still owned by descendants (as is Edmonston-Alston), and they still have get-togethers there. I can’t remember if this is the reason there is no furniture in the house or if it’s because they have placed a real emphasis on preserving the bones of the house. And they have done an exceptional job of that. There is a colonial vibe in the house, since it is that old, and the double staircase really made my sister freak out. There is even an emphasis on preserving the old trees and vegetation surrounding the house, so you really get the feeling that the property is in good hands. Like Middleton, there used to be two flankers surrounding Drayton, but now, only the main structure stands.

Finally for that day, we had dinner at the West Ashley Crab Shack, which was delicious. And that was the close of an extremely busy day!

We slept soundly that night and woke up the next morning and had breakfast at the hotel again. Then we drove out to Boone Hall. You may know it from its appearances on movies and shows, particularly from North and South, where it was used as Orry Main’s family plantation – help me here, Mont Royal? Anyway, for that reason, it is probably the most touristy of the house museums in Charleston, featuring wagon rides over the property and fun activities like that for families. We were given a house tour by an extremely charismatic gentleman in a period-appropriate costume. Our Tennessee accents came up again since he needed help conceptualizing the Southern accent for the rest of the large tour group, most of whom weren’t from the South.

After that, we had planned a carriage tour, but we were either exhausted or it rained, because we marked it off. We went instead to Jestine’s Kitchen, which featured excellent Southern cooking, Charleston-style.

Then we drove out to Sullivan’s Island, another memorable part of the trip. It was December, but warm enough we took a refreshing walk on the beach before going to a restaurant on the island called the Obstinate Daughter, a play on Charleston’s Revolutionary War roots. This was DELICIOUS. I had a cold shrimp sandwich and Geechee Frites, which were actually fries made of grits. The whole meal was a play on Charleston’s shrimp and grits theme. We also went to a gelato place called Beardcat’s next door, where I tried red velvet cookie dough gelato. Heavenly.

We drove around a neighboring island, Folly Beach, one of the days we were there. There was an excellent ice cream place there called Dolce Banana. Are you sensing a theme here? I blame my sister.

On Day 4, we woke up, had breakfast at the hotel again, and then drove out to James Island to tour McLeod Plantation. We argued the entire way there about how that would be pronounced. (It is pronounced Mick-Loud run together really fast so that you hear the word “cloud”. I think. My mom had guessed right, and I was wrong, for the record!) This was our first experience of a sea island plantation, so again, there was a very different feel from the others. The masters and their families spent very little time on their Sea Island plantations, so you can really feel the influences of the Gullah Geechee culture that were able to ripen on such plantations. This tour focused on the enslaved people who had once lived and worked on the island, and the curators had done a remarkable job finding names and stories of those people to share and bringing their experiences to life. There were descendants of those once enslaved living at McLeod all the way through the 1990’s. There is some fascinating history about the enslaved on the Sea Islands during the Civil War, but I won’t spoil it: you’ll have to go yourself to find out!

Go to this link to learn all about Edmonston-Alston and Middleton and to see those stairs at Middleton: https://www.edmondstonalston.org/about/

Alright, that’s a wrap! Next time: we’re going back to Virginia!

The Navy Before the Civil War

History Behind the Story #9: The Navy Before the Civil War

Spoiler alert! If you have read Southern Rain, you know that my historical male lead, John Thomas, attended the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland (which is how he met Shannon’s brother, and, ultimately, Shannon). From there, he goes on to enter the Navy and ultimately is a Captain before he heads off to war. Becoming a Captain seems like a bit of lightning-rise in rank, but considering the state of the Navy on the cusp of the Civil War, it wasn’t really. People with John Thomas’s education and a dab of experience were in high demand because if there was one word to describe the Navy when the Southern states began seceding, it was unprepared.

In 1843, the Navy was on the rise, technologically speaking. America rolled out the first propeller-driven steam warship in the world, the USS Princeton, but during a public relations cruise, one of its guns exploded, killing the Secretary of State and the Secretary of the Navy, and that successfully halted interest in Naval expansion.

Further jinxing the Navy, its officer rankings seemed almost designed to stunt its prestige. The highest rank one could obtain at the outbreak of war was that of Captain, meaning that in any dealings with the army,  Generals would always feel like they outranked Naval Captains and had the final say. It wasn’t until 1862 that the ranks of Admiral, Vice Admiral, Rear Admiral, and Commodore would exist in the U.S. Navy.

In addition, America’s geography did not seem to leave it much in need of a Navy. In consequence, there were fewer than 90 ships owned by the Navy at the start of the Civil War, and only 42 of those 90 were ready for action. Of those 42, most of them were overseas on a tour from Brazil to China. As a result, Lincoln had only 12 ships at his disposal at the outbreak of war.

Technology lagged, too. It wasn’t until 1854 that America built its last ship that would be propelled by wind (sailing) instead of steam – yikes! The government then started building steam frigates and naming them for American rivers. These new frigates still had sailing capabilities, meaning they weren’t exactly a giant leap towards modernity. They averaged only about 5 or 6 knots under steam. Also, they were huge, too big to pull into most American ports. This led to the production of “screw sloops,” which weren’t quite so deep (one would even be able to traverse the Mississippi River during the assault on Vicksburg). And finally, a new class of warships that was entirely steam-propelled would make up the third generation of steamers, and they would all be named after Indian tribes.

These new warships were revolutionary because they carried modern guns capable of immense damage. Explosive shells from ships were the Civil War’s equivalent of dropping bombs. The guns were also rifled, which meant the projectiles emanating from them had a spin, meaning in turn that they could hold their trajectory over longer distances. This made it possible during the Civil War for combat range to be 20 times what it had been in previous wars.

And so, while there had been some innovation, there was surprisingly little effort put into giving the U.S. a robust Navy.

Southerners were at the forefront of innovation. They hoped to extend American influence (and slavery) into the Caribbean and Central America and had been Naval-minded for longer than other regions. However, the Confederacy had absolutely no navy at all before the Civil War. They built their entire Navy from scratch with remarkable innovation and industry at the outbreak of war.

A few ships were seized by local authorities in the South as states seceded. While Confederate authorities urged Naval officers who were Southern-born to bring their supplies and ships with them when they returned home after secession, none of them did, handing their men and materiel over to federal authorities before going South (like John Thomas’s friend Shalto Hughes does in Southern Rain).

Lots of people know that in the first naval battle of the war, the South’s ironclad absolutely destroyed the North’s ships. If you’re like me, though, you never questioned how the South got its hands on an ironclad so early in the war. Ironclads were just being invented right at the outbreak of the war. These were the mother of all naval vessels and ultimately became the preferred vessel for almost every expedition. Picture the effect a spinning, flaming shell would have on a wooden ship (explosion) and then picture the same shell thunking off of iron into the water harmlessly, and you’ll get the idea. But how did the South get an ironclad into its possession?

I’m going to quote Craig Symonds from his book, The Civil War at Sea. “When Virginia seceded in April of 1861, the steam frigate Merrimack was in the Gosport Navy Yard near Norfolk for an overhaul of her weak and unreliable engines.” The Secretary of the Navy ordered the commander to get it out of the yard, but the Commander broke nervous at the sight of a mob and sank it to keep it from falling into Confederate hands. “[The men] set fire to the masts…, still visible above the water…”

Okay, so if you’re like me, you don’t see a future for the Merrimack here. However, Stephen Mallory, the Confederate Secretary of the Navy, ordered that, “The possession of an iron-armored ship…[was] a matter of the first necessity.” Now, Southerners, from my experience, don’t waste anything, and the Merrimack had already been hauled out of the river and salvaged. Mallory began to wonder if this new-fangled idea, an iron casemate, might not be possible to put on this conveniently left steam-powered ship the Confederacy had acquired. So they literally built armored casemate on top of the Merrimack.[1] The Virginia (the Merrimack’s new name) dealt a huge wound to the Union Navy and morale at Hampton Roads in March, 1862.  And that would alter naval warfare forever. “The London Times wrote: ‘Before the duel off Hampton Roads, the Royal Navy had 149 first-class warships.  After the battle, it has just two.’ Wooden ships were now obsolete.”[2] The Union got down to business, building 84 ironclads during the war, and, ultimately, it would be the more successful Naval force.

The Confederacy at first intended to rely on fortifications, but the new ship technology had made ships a winner against forts almost every time. Since the Confederacy didn’t have the resources to build a huge navy, it was always at a disadvantage, and (this is just me personally) I don’t think enough emphasis has been placed on the U.S. Navy’s ultimate contribution to victory. Historians are always careful to caveat those contributions with, “Of course, it was primarily a land war, so the Navy couldn’t really be the reason the Union won.” And that may be true, but I often wonder what the Civil War would have looked like had the Union not been able to bring its Navy up to speed. What would Vicksburg have looked like, or the ultimate fall of Charleston? What if the U.S. Navy hadn’t formed such a successful blockade of the Southern coasts, and the South had been able to resupply from Europe? I think the Navy played an exceptionally vital role in the Civil War and imagine that the war would have been prolonged for years without its ultimate successes.

If you would like to read more about the Naval War, there are several books out there. One which was surprisingly helpful was Grant, by Ron Chernow. I say “surprisingly” because Grant was an Army man, of course. But Chernow’s research shows how vital Grant felt the Navy to be in ultimately winning the war.

Sources:

Symonds, Craig L., The Civil War at Sea (Oxford University Press, 2009).

“The Naval War of the Civil War,” https://www.historyonthenet.com/civil-war-the-naval-war.

Image Credit: https://www.historyonthenet.com/civil-war-the-naval-war.

[1] They were literally ripping up rail roads to get enough iron for the Tredegar Iron Works to melt down.

[2] https://www.historyonthenet.com/civil-war-the-naval-war.

Charleston during the Civil War:

Charleston Navy
Charleston Naval War

Abolitionists in New England

History Behind the Story #8: Abolition in New England

A note to readers: I wasn’t quite thinking about how broad this topic was when I chose it, so this post is a little long – sorry! I would recommend reading History Behind the Story #7 on the Congregationalist Church in New England for a little backstory on the people of New England. In addition, I should mention that there were abolitionists outside of New England. They were all over – Quakers, Free Blacks, certain groups of other Christians, moral philosophers, etc. This post will focus mainly on the New England voices, since my historical male lead hails from New England.

I created my first abolitionist family in the Torn Asunder Series. This aspect of the slavery conversation was a little easier to write, since my historical male lead, John Thomas, has views that would actually be considered more modern than my average Civil War character.

Of course, there were varying degrees of abolitionist sentiment, from those who wanted to see slavery’s end for economic purposes but were willing to brush equality or voting issues aside, to those who wanted to reestablish the enslaved in Africa (The American Colonization Society), to those who envisioned fully enfranchised, equal freedmen America. The latter are the rarest to find in primary sources, but since I was dealing with New England, I decided to go full force and make the Haleys staunch moral abolitionists.

I hope I conveyed that this was a rather radical viewpoint at the time, even for the free states. Massachusetts was the only state to allow black men to serve on a jury, and there was a pretty staunch system of segregation in the free states. And the slave states, of course, even espoused slavery as a moral “good” that “civilized” an “inferior” race. I’m putting that in quotes in that sentence but not citing any sources for it because you can find all three of those statements in so very many speeches, letters, and statements of the Era. Shannon is not by any means an anomaly when she is appalled by John Thomas’s views regarding equality. I might have made Shannon a more popular character by making her see things his way immediately, but I wouldn’t have made her an accurate one.

So how did Shannon’s husband get so “radical?”

Obviously, the story of slavery and abolition go right back to the founding generation’s decisions and compromises. The founding generation thought that slavery would die out, but, of course, that was before the invention of the cotton gin. A particularly important decision that was made was the Northwest Ordinance, which decreed that slavery would be banned north of the Mason-Dixon Line. After the Louisiana Purchase, whether the new states would be admitted as slave or free was THE hot-button issue of its day. Of course, the Missouri Compromise temporarily solved that issue. However, it is important to remember that this particular slave/free state issue was largely about the balance of power in the Senate and House of Representatives. Slave states wanted there to be more slave states, complete with all of their common interests and needs, so that the South’s coalition of power in Congress would be greater, and vice-versa. You don’t hear a great deal of heart-warming equality sentiment in this argument, unfortunately.

However, there were voices proclaiming equality, and, of course, ultimately such voices would be on the same side as and could form partnerships with the Union cause during the Civil War. I should also mention that their numbers grew exponentially during the Civil War, and one wonders if, after arguing so long against slavery’s economic evils, a lot of people either finally saw the light or decided that a partnership with moral abolitionists was extremely advantageous.

But for New England, moral abolition had been a real thing for years before the Civil War, and I think the beliefs of the Congregationalist and Unitarian churches, which we discussed in the last post, had a lot to do with it. It was one of those pockets of society where you could find people saying very controversial and pointed things about slavery that not just your average citizen was willing to venture.

I should back up and say that early New England colonists embraced the slave trade for both African and Native American slaves, according to Wendy Warren, the author of New England Bound. In addition, New England was home to many large textile mills that needed cotton to prosper, if you know what I mean. So I cannot say that there was always something inherent in all New Englanders that made them opposed to human bondage.

I do, think, however, that a large part of New England never really lost the abolitionist sentiment that swept all of the colonies during the Revolutionary Era. It matched up well with their religious beliefs of self-determination and confrontation of sin. John Adams seems to have felt himself to be on pretty solid ground in his gentle rebukes to Thomas Jefferson for his ownership of slaves. Abigail Adams admits in a letter that, while she knew she should not, she inwardly shuddered at an interracial couple’s embrace during a performance of Othello. I think this letter is key for understanding the more enlightened attitudes towards race in Massachusetts during the Founding for two reasons: 1) Abigail Adams seems to be genuinely horrified at her reaction in subsequent sentences. She is not a child of the Enlightenment for nothing. She says that there is everything to admire in Othello’s character and yet is unswervingly honest about the fact that she could not separate the person from his race. We might be judgmental of her for her reaction today. But that she could recognize this prejudice in herself at all is very nearly astounding for her era, and that she further knew herself to be in the wrong indicates some rather more elevated understanding of racial matters than we commonly see in this era. 2) She was a Massachusetts woman writing to a Massachusetts man, William Smith, with seemingly no belief that he would find anything at which to cavil in her letter, even when she ended her moral struggle with, “There is something I dare say esteemable in all, and the liberal mind regards not what Nation or climate it spring up in, nor what coulour or complexion the Man is of.”[1] Just take a minute to think how revolutionary that thought was, that a person shouldn’t be judged by his or her nationality or race, that there is some “esteemable” quality in every human. Beyond that, she was speaking on the issue of interracial love, a particularly taboo subject in most circles eighty years later on the eve of the Civil War.

So I do think the New England founding mothers and fathers handed down a heritage of abolition to succeeding generations. New Englanders seemed to speak with a boldness on the topic only possible if they 1) felt themselves to be called by a higher power to speak out or 2) had been raised in an environment that took a more enlightened view of race for granted. New Englanders knew about slavery and its horrors to the extent they could, having not been truly exposed to it, but I do not think they could have known how vastly different their views were from a vast swath of the country. I don’t think they knew that they were “radical” because I don’t think they knew just how differently many people felt. Picture your most closely held political belief that no one has ever truly questioned. Then picture someone espousing the opposite thing in the most shocking way possible. Then picture a slaveowner who just sent his slave to the field, who would go to church the next day and be told that what they were doing for the “barbaric race” was a real mercy, and then picture the same slaveowner reading a newspaper in which a New Englander says that same slave should be able to run for Congress. I picture wine sputtering across a dining room. And that’s how New Englander abolitionists got the term “radical.”

The Fugitive Slave Laws, which required Northern cooperation in returning escaped slaves to their masters, sparked a lot of anger in the North, and, when combined with stories of enslaved families being separated, you have the makings of an abolitionist movement. Slave-hunting was despised and resisted in New England (again, I’m speaking in general terms). There was a unified effort of many Bostonians to protect slaves who had escaped or to prevent those who had been recaptured from being returned to their masters. Sometimes they were successful, sometimes they weren’t. There was a highly publicized trial which ultimately ended in a slave being returned to his master. One New Englander commented, “We went to bed old-fashioned conservatives and waked up stark, mad abolitionists.”[2]

So let’s talk about a few individuals from New England.

Charles Sumner

No conversation on abolition would be complete without a look at Charles Sumner, he of the caning, a staunch moral abolitionist, a brave and radical soul, apparently a real jerk to talk to. Sumner was unusually brave in calling out slaveholders and was a very real force to be reckoned with. I’m sure you all know about The Incident? After the violence of Bleeding Kansas, Sumner chose to call out Senator Andrew Butler publicly for being a slaveholder. Apparently, Butler was an older man who had recently been extremely ill, and Sumner’s comments sparked outrage, even in the North (doesn’t this sound like a modern political drama?). And Preston Brooks, seemingly otherwise a sane man, a loving husband and father and Butler’s cousin, beat the crap out of Sumner with a cane. I had always pictured it being a few strikes, but the caning was, in actuality, very horrifying. It was entirely premeditated (we’re talking Brooks specifically chose a cane to inflict the most damage), and Brooks beat the defenseless Sumner again and again and again in such a brutal fashion that it had Sumner out of commission in the Senate for four years. Massachusetts left his seat in the chamber vacant as a political statement. The Incident is one of those events that leave you just feeling horrified all around, but most especially for the violence, which was truly gruesome if you read accounts of it. It makes you wonder what the government had descended to, especially when you think of the delight the beating gave the slaveholding states. I will add – not in defense of Brooks, of course, but just as a side-note: apparently everyone found Sumner abrasive, insufferable, and arrogant. I remember reading in the biography of President Grant that Grant, who, with all he had been through in the war and during Reconstruction, never lost his temper, lost it on Sumner. Just an interesting dimension to the extremely horrible story that you don’t get from a history blurb.

William Lloyd Garrison

William Lloyd Garrison founded a newspaper in Boston called The Liberator, which was an abolitionist newspaper which espoused equality in strong moral language. He attacked proponents of slavery by calling them out as Christians, and he even publicly burned the Constitution for its toleration of slavery. Frederick Douglass described him thus, “unusually modest and retiring in his disposition; but his zeal was like fire, and his courage like steel… [He was] the man who was then and will ever be regarded as the chief apostle of the immediate and unconditional emancipation of all the slaves in America.”[3]

Frederick Douglass

After escaping slavery, Douglass lived in Massachusetts and became a leading abolitionist, forming a strong coalition with William Lloyd Garrison and accomplishing immeasurable strides for the enslaved and later for the freedmen. He was especially effective as an orator. In fact, he fictitiously appears in Southern Rain at an abolitionist rally!

Harriet Beecher Stowe

Harriet Beecher Stowe was from a prominent New England family. You probably know that she wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin in reaction to Fugitive Slave Laws and humanized individual slaves for the North in a way that likely would have been impossible otherwise. Literature is a remarkable, powerful thing. 300,000 copies were sold in the first year alone. There are rumors that Lincoln, who had been impacted by her book, called her “the little woman who made this great war.”[4]

The following is a block quote that summed up a few other aspects of abolition in New England that not many people know about, such as it being a rural movement and women being involved, and I thought it would be a good note on which to end. “By the 1830s, western Massachusetts was the epicenter of the state’s growing anti-slavery movement. Numerous towns in Franklin County founded anti-slavery societies, verifying the abolitionist Theodore Weld’s claim that ‘The springs [of the anti-slavery movement] lie in the country.’ Women, including those of color, proved particularly active, forming in Garrison’s words, a ‘great army of silent workers’ who wrote and shared anti-slavery literature, sponsored lecturers, circulated petitions, offered assistance to African Americans escaping slavery, and raised funds for the cause.”[5] That’s a wrap!

Hope you enjoyed this fascinating venture into New England anti-slavery history. I chose to craft characters who hailed from the Massachusetts and South Carolina. Massachusetts was the epicenter of abolition, just as South Carolina was that of pro-slavery sentiment. Both states were comprised of very passionate people with very firm beliefs. Since John Thomas and Shannon’s marriage represents the nation, those two states were the archetypes for their regions, and John Thomas and Shannon represent their states. Does that mean they are headed for their own Civil War? Guess you’ll have to read the Torn Asunder Series to see!

Sources:

Warren, Wendy, New England Bound (Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2016).

Abigail Adams to William Stephens Smith, September 18, 1785, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/04-06-02-011.

Slavery and Abolition in New England, https://dinotracksdiscovery.org/supporting/swapfull/context/abolition-new-england/.

The Civil War Podcast, Episode 10: Anti-Slavery Movement.

The Civil War Podcast, Episode 11: Fugitive Slave Law and Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

The Civil War Podcast, Episode 13: Caning of Sumner.

Image Credit: Feature Image: Boston Abolitionists Await Emancipation Proclamation, https://www.massmoments.org/moment-details/boston-abolitionists-await-emancipation-proclamation.html.

Image in Body of Post: Public Domain.  This is a poster for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, which appeals to emotions to encourage donations.  A very powerful poster!

[1] Abigail Adams letter to William Stephens Smith. Note: Obviously Liberal meant something different in the 1850’s from what it did today, so I in no way intend this as a political commentary on today’s politics or issues, since this website is strictly non-political.

[2] The Civil War Podcast, Episode 11: Fugitive Slave Law and Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

[3] Boston Abolitionists Await Emancipation Proclamation. Note: Obviously Conservative meant something different in the 1850’s from what it did today, so I in no way intend this as a political commentary on today’s politics or issues, since this website is strictly non-political.

[4] The Civil War Podcast, Episode 11: Fugitive Slave Law and Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

[5] Slavery and Abolition in New England.

Abolition Society Poster

Southern Road Trip #3: Natchez, Mississippi

This post continues my Southern Road Trip Series, which are blogs I am posting for #traveltuesdays. The story continues with a girls’ trip to Vicksburg and Natchez, Mississippi, in December, 2015.

  1. Natchez, Mississippi

This week’s stop…Mississippi! Every year, we take turns planning the trips, and this year was my sister-in-law’s turn. She took us first to Vicksburg, where we hoped to see some fabulous history. Since it is a bit of a drive to Vicksburg, we went first to eat at a restaurant downtown and then hopped back in the car to go to the battlefield in the last hour of daylight we had. Normally, there would have been a charge to drive through, but since we made it so late, they waved us on through the gate – bonus!

I cannot say enough about how beautiful the Vicksburg National Military Park is. The views are breath-taking. The Union monuments were beautiful. Vicksburg is unexpectedly very hilly right there on the banks of the Mississippi River. You really get a feel for the siege and battle which took place, and, being a dork, I find things like that rather moving.

That night, we stayed in a Hampton Inn which featured a cannon on the front lawn. Try to beat that, history lovers! Then we took a drive through Vicksburg, hoping to find some historic homes to tour. Sadly, there are plenty of historic homes, but they are falling into disrepair and dilapidation. Calling all preservationists! Seriously, Vicksburg is a gem waiting to be discovered. Unfortunately, the historic buildings will either disintegrate beyond repair or be torn down if no money or care is put into them.  A rather sad fate for such an important city during the Civil War.

Okay, that’s my historic preservation pitch! Moving on, I was agog to see one of the caves which the citizens of Vicksburg had dug in order to protect themselves from the Union’s 47-day siege. They had fitted such caves out like houses, with furniture and cooking equipment, etc. (Lest you think this is cute, things got pretty rough in there – we’re talking rat-eating.) But when I asked at the Military Park where I could find one, they told me that they were all privately owned. However, the Park Museum did have a very good replica inside, so I was satisfied.

Onward to Natchez! From there, we slid on down to Natchez, which is one of the most fabulous Southern cities I have ever visited. It is positively teeming with beautifully preserved antebellum homes, has great food, and boasts sweeping vistas of the Mississippi River. Just be forewarned that all of the restaurants are closed on Mondays.

We toured Rosalie Plantation first, which was absolutely stunning with Greek Revival columns, a view of the Mississippi, and a great story.  From there, we toured Stanton Hall, a mansion all in white, which was one of my favorites due to its architecture and clean look.

Then, it was on to Longwood, one of the creepiest (and most fabulous) places I have ever toured. It was built in an octagon shape and had sooo many levels of floors, but on the inside, only the first/basement floor was completed before the war… And that’s all that was ever completed. So you walk into this massive and exquisite house to find that it’s largely a shell. It is the oldest incomplete home in America. This tour was very moving due to the story of the people, owner and enslaved, who lived there. (It is this blog’s feature picture.)

My sister-in-law had arranged for us to spend the night at Historic Monmouth Inn. It is an antebellum plantation turned bed and breakfast, and it was an extremely cozy experience. A bellhop meets you to help with your baggage and takes you to your rooms. Yes, the room where you spend the night looks straight out of a Civil War film. There are free appetizers right before suppertime, as well as cocktails for those who imbibe made by a man named Roosevelt, who has worked at Monmouth for many years and is apparently a legend. You have free range of the house at night, which is both wonderful and eerie. Also, the gift shop stays open late, so my sister and I slipped down and bought my mom a Christmas ornament since she collects them from our December trips.

The next morning included breakfast at a venue across the lawn, and I specifically remember a British family being there and taking great interest in our accents. Also included was a tour of Monmouth, during which I got inspiration for one of my novels from a letter the docent read us. Hint: I’ll tell you about it when we get to Book 3 of the Torn Asunder Series.

We wanted to tour Melrose Plantation and went there and took some fabulous pictures of it, but tours didn’t start until an hour later, so we had to hit the road back home. And I will just say that, with all of those house museums I have mentioned, we barely scratched the surface of all of the houses in Natchez. In addition, there is something distinct and lovely about Natchez which sticks with you – it’s a little bit New Orleans, a little bit Memphis, and a little bit pinky in the air posh.

We were sad to leave, but we hopped on the Natchez Trail…and nearly ran out of gas miles from anywhere. But we survived!

See you next time!

Stop #4 is…Charleston! You heard me. 😊

Southern Road Trip #2: Asheville, NC

This post continues my Southern Road Trip Series, which are blogs I am posting for #traveltuesdays. The story continues with a girls’ trip to Asheville, North Carolina in December, 2014.

#2:  Asheville, North Carolina

Our next post-Christmas trip was a little shorter, this time just consisting of one city. I had been to Asheville before, but only to the outskirts where Biltmore was, and the awesomeness of the downtown really took me by surprise. It’s big and crowded and a great mix of old and new. Speaking of crowded… Apparently everyone goes to Asheville right after Christmas, so beware! We tried, if memory serves, four different hotels before we finally found a vacancy. The streets were teeming with pedestrians, and the streets packed with cars that honked at the most trivial things!

Our destination was, of course, Biltmore. We had pre-reserved tickets for the Christmas candlelight tour, which, I have to say, was pretty awesome. The lights were dimmed, the trees lit, the hot chocolate flowing (not inside the house, of course). There were some of the costumes from Downton Abbey on display at the time we went, and it was interesting to see them in their natural, time-period-appropriate habitat. Right now through April 7 at Biltmore is the full Downton Abbey exhibition, which I have heard is phenomenal.

Biltmore really is a revelation. The dining hall looks like something out of a medieval castle. The library, my favorite room, is reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast, with balconies and ladders and shelves reaching to the skies. The bedrooms are really amazing, and the servants’ quarters are straight out of Downton Abbey. The view is not to be missed either. There is something special about looking at the mountains from the balconies at Biltmore, something that caused George Vanderbilt to build his dream home there despite huge obstacles.

There is also a really awesome pizzeria and taproom in downtown Asheville that we went to for lunch. I cannot remember the name (can you tell that this was after my first semester of law school?), but it had Art Deco touches on the ceiling, and we speculated that the building was at one time perhaps a speak-easy. (If you’ve been there and know the name, give me a shout!)

Not to be forgotten is the Smith-McDowell House, which we also toured while we were in Asheville. This has a much different vibe from Biltmore, since it was built in 1840 and has much more of an antebellum estate feel, but we had a really good experience there. It claims the title of the oldest surviving house in Asheville, so it’s something that you want to at least see if you’re there and like history.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one last thing: Asheville is home to The Tobacco Barn, which is an antique store that features 77,000 square feet of antiques. Yes, you heard me. My mom, our resident antique afficionado, was absolutely not going to miss this. I have been wracking my brains as I prepared for this post to remember why I didn’t go in. I knew it was because I was too tired, but why? If you know me, you know I’d have to be pretty tired to miss this. And then, the answer came back: law school. But…my mom highly recommends it. At the time we stopped, they had lots of old supplies for restoring old homes: doorknobs, windows, doors, etc., which sounds pretty neat!

So, while my brain was fuzzy, and my body exhausted, I do have very pleasant memories of Asheville.

Have you ever been?

Stop #3 is…Natchez Mississippi – one of my favorites!

Photo Credit: Biltmore®