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Tracking Tom

Celebrating my Mother-in-law’s birthday last weekend, we met them at our favorite spot on earth: Cades Cove.  Smoky Mountain National Park is a very large park and we do sometimes frequent other spots.  However, because of our love of photography, well…Cades Cove calls us more often!

After days and weeks of unseasonably cold weather, Tennessee Spring is finally here.  No really, it is!  Even though it’s been weeks since the official first day of Spring, the warmth did not arrive until recent days.  The animals were out last weekend enjoying the sun about as much as we were.  Although the big bear we saw was from a good distance. 

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Continuing along the Loop Road, we see a whole flock of turkey hens and two males fighting over them!  Excited for this rare opportunity, I grabbed the camera and my Dad-in-law and I were out of the car, shooting as we went!  Tom 1 would flare out his tail feathers and chase Tom 2 down the slope.

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Not to be outdone, Tom 2 tried his best, but not once did I see his tail feathers bloom!

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This is where having a little patience finally paid off!  After years of waiting for the right moment, Tom 1 turned to look at me while I was shooting him!

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Just getting that last shot in really made my day and made the trip over a complete success!  Spending the afternoon with my in-laws, sharing a picnic lunch before heading around the Loop Road made for a wonderful day for us.  I can’t wait for the next visit!  Who knows what I’ll be able to shoot then!

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These were taken on our recent visit over to the Cove just after our area had all that extra snow!  Most of the snow was gone and the roads were re-opened so we could get into the park.  It was cold but it was so beautiful.  I am always refreshed mentally and spiritually when we go to this little corner of Heaven on Earth.

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In a little while, Spring will be here and there will be many more reasons to return.  Until then…

Spring Peaks Through Winter

For the first time in many years, we experienced a little of that Artic Blast last week and I have to say, I have not been that COLD in years!  We saw temperatures below zero and with wind chill, it just cut through my bones like a knife.  Granted, we did not suffer as badly as some of our neighbors to the north of us, but it was still cold! Our ground was covered in snow and ice for a couple of days until the sun finally melted it all.

While I enjoyed it a tiny bit, a part of me was excited to see the birds arrive this weekend.  It only means that Spring is on its way and warmer temperatures will be here once again.  I will then be able to get outside and play in the dirt!  This year, I need to revamp my garden layout and make some big changes with what I want to do.  So I am looking forward to warmer weather!

My yard was just alive with birds yesterday…Robins, Blue Jays, Wrens, Sparrows, and Cardinals.  Following the snow we had earlier this week, it was a rainy, dreary day brightened only by the choir of birds that came by.  Since they all know I keep bird seed available for them, they always stop by for a visit.  I grabbed the camera and camped out waiting for them.  After refilling the dish with some bird seed, it didn’t take long before I was rewarded with a visit from my little feathered friends! 

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One that I haven’t seen in a very long time is the Blue Jay.  While they are quite annoying as birds go, I think they are beautiful and have some gorgeous markings.  And yes, he did chase off the other birds, but once he had his fill of the food, everything was fine and everybody came back.

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He was a little showman for me and in my excitement I nearly scared him off myself!

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Papa Cardinal arrived for his share of the feast.

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Not to be outdone, Mama wanted a bite, too.

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One last friend, the Mockingbird arrived and our visits were done for the day.

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Soon I’ll be out shopping for a new feeder as mine has seen better days and this year, I hope to capture a hummingbird on film!  Until then, stay warm and count the days until Spring!

Start Spreading the News…

We finally made it to the Big Apple! Having never actually been there myself, it was exciting planning our road trip.  We made many stops a long the way, but the big feature was a couple days in the big city. 

New York City is probably one of the most well known cities in the world and is one of the largest cities I have ever personally seen!  When you look out over the city, it is endless!  The activity never stops.  Every street corner has something going on!

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Getting off the train and walking into the main terminal of Grand Central Station is truly an impressive thing.  For years, I have seen Grand Central featured in movies, on television and in magazines.  But walking into the main area of the terminal is an unforgettable experience! 

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We bought “off-peak” tickets and even during those “off-peak” times, the crowds were so big compared to what we normally see in our little mountain town.  People rushing from one track to another with bags, briefcases, luggage and what not.  Others running an Olympic sprint and still others were like us, tourists, perhaps there for the very first time who couldn’t help but look up at the beauty of this building.

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In 1831 the first rail line into the City was formed.  It was called the New York and Harlem Railroad.  But it wasn’t until the following year when service began at the terminal located at 4th Avenue and 23rd Street.  And in 1869 when Vanderbilt purchased land between 42nd and 48th Streets and Madison Avenue and Lexington construction of a depot building began of what would become Grand Central Station.

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Years of development and growth followed and in 1903 the winning design submitted by the firm of Reed and Stern became the blueprint for the Grand Central Terminal that we know today.  As with many large projects, nepotism sometimes takes precedence and this was no different.  Reed’s sister was married to New York Central’s vice president of construction, William Wilgua.  After the competition an appeal was filed by New York architects Warren and Westmore, of which Warren was none other than the cousin of New York Central’s chairman, William Vanderbilt.  Needless to say, after winning his “appeal” the firm of Warren and Westmore teamed up with Reed and Stern to become co-architects of the construction of Grand Central Station.

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Ten years of construction and Grand Central Station officially opened in February 1913.  Despite the fact that construction was not completely finished, the terminal still functioned without missing a beat.  It wasn’t until years later after decades of ill repair and neglect that the terminal got a restoration.  In 1998 a complete overhaul began and in 2012, the terminal had finally been restored to the original splendor that it had once been.  This year the Terminal celebrates 100 years and if you ask me, I think it is still a grand place!  And despite whatever challenges it went through at the initial stages, I enjoyed my time visiting it!

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We walked around a little before heading over to the big double decker buses.  The sites and sounds were constant and the characters that we saw was sometimes quite hilarious! From Elvis to the young man dancing in his heels and underwear, there is always something going on.

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We loved the street markets and it suddenly hit me that New York City is made up mostly of small business.  Everyone you look, is small business.  Sure, the big stores and big corporations have their space, but when you go into the different neighborhoods, there is no Wal-Mart or big grocery store chain.  It’s small business running the neighborhoods.  That’s what America is all about!

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There was even a little corner “flea market” and everywhere we looked were the street food vendors.  There was everything from hot dogs, sweets, Asian foods to Middle Eastern foods.

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Of course, we had to stop at the Empire State Building.  This is one of the most famous buildings in the world and is featured in so many movies such as Sleepless in Seattle with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan and one of my all time favorites, An Affair to Remember with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. 

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Did you know that the Empire State Building sits on about 2 acres?  No wonder I was so tired after walking completely around the building trying to find the special entrance we were supposed to use with our VIP passes!  Hot city sidewalks that just seemed to be never-ending.  If it weren’t for the scaffolding providing some shade, I think I would’ve just died! 

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Sitting 1,250 feet above street level, the 102nd floor Observatory offers some spectacular views of the City! There are 6,514 windows in this building and they estimate that about ten million bricks were used in the construction of this building.  After walking all over the place, elevator after elevator, we finally made it to the top!  With our tickets, we were allowed VIP access and could bypass the long lines, so we didn’t have to wait the 2-3 hours it normally takes.  So, I knew it would be crowded and it was.  Rows two and three-deep lined the deck, but with a little patience and keeping the camera ready at all times, we were able to snap a few great shots.

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From the top of the world, the views just take my breath away!  I can only look in silence and in awe.  And if I speak, it only comes out in a whisper!

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And the the new Freedom Tower at the World Trade Center site is high in the sky!  Not quite completed, it stands taller than any building in the skyline.

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Feeling exhilarated after our sky-high adventure, we jumped back on the open top busses and went looking for more sites of what the City could offer us.  One stop was to see the Cast Iron Buildings.  The City is currently cleaning the buildings which accounts for so much of the scaffolding.  This is the E. V. Haughwout Building at the corner of Broome Street and Broadway.  It originally was a fashionable emporium selling imported cut glass, silverware, fine china and chandeliers.  And this was the place that the new official White House china was ordered by and made for Mary Todd Lincoln.

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And it was in this building that the world’s first successful passenger elevator was installed on March 23, 1857.  It was a hydraulic lift designed for the building by Elisha Graves Otis and was powered by a steam-engine installed in the basement.  It wasn’t until 1965 when the building was designated a New York City landmark that it was protected from being torn down.

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I loved all the little parks scattered through out the City.  Makes the concrete jungle seem less…concrete.  It seemed like every neighborhood had one squeezed in between two busy streets somewhere!  Needless to say we did not have enough time to see everything and want to go back someday.  Stay tuned for more photos from our trip…

All The Presidents’ Homes–Part 3

This morning is pretty much like the morning that Jeff and I visited Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson.  It was grey, it was cold and it was rainy.  The sun wasn’t out making it feel colder than it was. But even in the grey, gloomy mist, Monticello shone brightly, surrounded by the beauty of the blooming flowers around her.

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Best known as the author of the Declaration of Independence, our third President was also a historian, philosopher, and plantation owner who served his country as a public official for more than five decades.  Thomas Jefferson was also the author of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom and founder of the University of Virginia.

Son of Peter Jefferson and Jane Randolph, he inherited a sizeable estate from his father and at the age of 26, began building Monticello.  Just three years later he married Martha Wayles Skelton.  They had six children with only two surviving to adulthood.  Sadly they only had 10 years together when she died.  Jefferson never remarried and continued to maintain Monticello as his home for the rest of his life.  He was always expanding and changing it.  He also inherited slaves from his father and father-in-law and owned about 200 slaves, about half of whom were under the age of 16.

Jefferson spent his adult life in public service whether as a lawyer, Governor of Virginia from 1779 go 1781, Trade Commissioner in France (1784) and then as Benjamin Franklin’s successor as minister, and Secretary of State under George Washington in 1790 and after a loss in the presidential race against John Adams, becomes Vice President in 1796. A two-term President, Jefferson defeated John Adams just four years later to become President of the United States in 1780. After his friend, James Madison, succeeds him as President in 1809, Jefferson lives the remaining 17 years of his life at Monticello.  It was during this time he sold his books to begin the Library of Congress collection and founded the University of Virginia at the age of 76.  He led the legislative campaign for its charter, secured the location, designed the buildings and planned the curriculum and also served as the first rector.

Jefferson dies at the age of 83 on July 4, 1826, just hours before his friend, John Adams and also on the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.

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Jefferson’s beloved Monticello sits nestled in the mountaintop hills southeast of Charlottesville, Virginia, just down the road from the home of his friend, President James Madison. Open every day of the year except Christmas Day, Monticello’s hours gives you a choice of when you want to visit her.  We chose to visit in the early Spring month of April and while on our honeymoon several years ago.

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Construction of Monticello began in 1769 and the original design had fourteen rooms in the home which included the six in the cellar, five on the first floor and three on the second.  In 1796, Jefferson began work on a new design for remodeling and enlarging the house and was completed by 1809.  There are not a total of 43 rooms in the entire structure which includes 33 in the house itself and 4 in the Pavilions and 6 under the South Terrace.

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The ride on the bus from the Visitor’s Center to the house atop the hill is impressive, even in the rain! Of course, the excitement was building for me as I’d never been to Monticello.  No photography is allowed inside the house, so we decided to walk the grounds first before going on the tour.  All the photography and video you want to take is allowed on the grounds as long as it’s for personal use. 

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Tulips, pansies and bluebells line the walkways in the West Lawn garden. I saw varieties there that, for me, had only existed in books prior to our visit.  Needless to say, I wanted pictures of them all!

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Deep oranges, yellows, reds and whites and many more colors as well as other flowers can be found all over the grounds.  Lilac bushes, pansies…this is a flower gardener’s dream!

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We loved the rain drops on the flowers and tired to capture them on camera as beautiful as they were in person.

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Pansies are another one of my favorite flowers.

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Jefferson used the grounds of Monticello as a botanical laboratory utilizing not only the ornamental but also useful plants from all over the world. These flower gardens were not cared for by professionals but by his daughters and granddaughters and sometimes an elderly slave.

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I have always loved the reds and yellows of tulips, but the bi-colored ones hold a really special place for me.

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This is the fish pond where Jefferson’s cook would “catch” the fish for dinner.  Thus allowing them to have fresh fish at their meals.

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About one-third of the windows are original to the house.  They are nice, big and allow a lot of sunlight into the rooms.  And they are absolutely beautiful from the outside!

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From it’s beginning in 1770, the vegetable garden evolved over many years.  This 1,000-foot-long terrace was literally cut from the side of the mountain by slave labor and is supported by a massive rock wall.  At the half-way point is the infamous garden pavilion with its double sash windows.  This was used by Jefferson as a quiet retreat in the evenings.  Reportedly blown down in a violent storm in the late 1820s, the pavilion was reconstructed in 1984 through the use of Jefferson’s notes and archeological excavations.

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Jefferson was quite observant of the natural world.  He was always studying and recording, with remarkable detail, the events of the gardens.  In 1812, the twenty-four “squares” that divided the garden were arranged in part as to which part of the plant was being harvested: fruits, roots or leaves, etc.  And although the garden was a functional part of the plantation, Jefferson experimented with imported squashes and other vegetables and fruits from various parts of Europe.

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It was interesting to learn that Jefferson ate very little meat and used it as a compliment to the vegetables and legumes from his own gardens.  I loved the fact that salads were an important part of his diet as they are for me as well!

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Exiting from the house, you will step onto a beautiful walkway that leads into the garden.

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We loved our visit at Monticello and learned so much about Jefferson’s life here.  If you ever get the chance to visit Monticello, you should.  It’s well worth the afternoon.

All the Presidents’ Homes–Part 2

 

Mount Vernon – Alexandria, Virginia

Next stop of our Presidential Homes Tour is that of General George Washington, who many feel is one of the greatest men in our nation’s history.  Known as the Father of our Country, George Washington can trace his roots back to his great-grandfather who immigrated to Virginia from England.  Although we don’t know much about his ancestors, we do know a little about his father Augustine.  George’s father was ambitious and owned land and slaves, grew tobacco and built mills. George is the eldest of his father and 2nd wife Mary’s six children.  In 1735 they moved up the Potomac River to Little HunGeorge Washingtonting Creek plantation, later renamed Mount Vernon.  But for most of his youth, George lived opposite Fredericksburg at Ferry Farm. We don’t know much about his childhood and there are many stories out there, but what is known is that his father died when he was just 11 years old and he became the ward of his older half-brother, Lawrence.  Lawrence and his wife, Anne Fairfax had inherited Little Hunting Creek plantation. George was tutored under her direction and was taught the finer aspects of colonial life.  By the time he was 16, he has mastered the skills of surveying and spent time with a surveyor’s team plotting land in Virginia’s west territory.  The following year, Lord Fairfax helped George with an appointment as an official surveyor of Culpepper County.

After the death of his beloved brother, Lawrence in 1752 and subsequent death of Sara, Lawrence’s only heir two months later, George became the heir of one of the Virginia’s largest and well-known estates, Mount Vernon.   He was only 20 years old.  His love of farming would carry on throughout his life and he would gradually increase the size of Mount Vernon to 8,000 acres. Today his Estate and Gardens has been restored and now there is a wonderful educational center and museum.  Take the time to really visit Mount Vernon.  It is well worth a full day or even a 2-day visit if you want to see everything.

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As with many of our great nation’s historical sites, come prepared to walk a lot. There is much to see and bring a camera with a large memory card!  The entrance and admission gate is beautiful and is only the walkway into a gorgeous estate that will warrant a lot of picture taking!

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You’ll first walk come up on the Educational Center.  This is a new complex that has been built in recent years.  When I was last there with my dad about 15 years ago, it was not there.  Needless to say, it’s impressive!  And for you shoppers, there is a fabulous gift shop as well.

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If you’ve never toured the General’s home, it’s a must-see.  There are times when the lines are just absolutely long, but walking the grounds first may help and then tour the mansion after your walk.  We loved taking a moment on the porch facing the Potomac River. 

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Sitting there in the rocking chairs and taking in the views and the sun is just absolutely relaxing!  I sat there thinking about what the Washington’s did while they lived here.  Imagining all the people milling around, the sounds and smells from the kitchen…..

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General Washington was quite the farmer as it was his passion and he possessed a talent not seen in many.  He stunned everyone in the 1760s by trading out his cash crop of tobacco for wheat.  He experimented with livestock and breeding, crop rotations and invented the 16-sided treading barn.  Just down the road from the plantation, he also opened a grist mill and distillery. (Which we did visit as well – pictures will be at the end!)

In 1775, when war broke out between the American Colonies and Britain, Washington was unanimously elected as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army.  This was during a time when the British occupied Boston, the battles at Lexington and Concord were already fought and the Americans were outnumbered 10 to 1.  The lack of funding, supplies, arms and training was nearly overwhelming.  It was in 1776 when he had his infamous Christmas night Delaware Crossing and his men won the Battle of Trenton, New Jersey.  After the end of the Revolutionary War in 1781, it was in 1783 that Washington resigned his commission at a time when many thought that instead is letting go of his power he should have used it in his favor.  Washington, instead, chose to go home to his farm, Mount Vernon thinking that his days of public service were over.

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There’s an upper garden that was first a fruit and nut garden, but a couple of years after Washington came home from the War, it was transformed into a pleasure garden in 1785. This garden sits nearby the the old Slave Quarters.

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As you can see, the Lower Garden is still kept neatly manicured….The “Lower” garden across from the Upper Garden is known as the kitchen garden. This is the garden that is behind the stables where there is plenty of sun and ample supply of manure!

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This walled-in garden is a good example of a formal English garden which apparently pleased Martha Washington.

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Some of the furry friends in residence here at the Estate:

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Nearby the gardens, you’ll find the stables. Here you’ll see the Washington’s carriage.  It is impressive, to say the least!

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Isn’t this impressive? We felt it was the Cadillac of carriages!

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We walked around the grounds some more and then walked down to see the tomb of President and Mrs. Washington.  I was impressed with how respectful most people were here, unlike some of the other places we have been to in our Nation’s Capital.

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George Washington was elected in 1789 as our first President. And subsequently served two terms.  His first term was dominated in shaping the role of the president and appointed the first presidential cabinet and designated the new site for our Nation’s capital. 

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He also oversaw the processes that Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton was putting into place for solid financial grounding of our country.

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In 1797, Washington retired and returned home to his beloved Mount Vernon.  No amount of persuading could convince him to accept a third term as president.  He wanted to be home on his farm.  Two years later, after being caught in a snow and sleet storm while riding across the farm, he became very ill and later died on December 14th.

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While Washington did own slaves, he inherited the first of them at the age of 11 following the death of his father.  After he married Martha, the number of slaves more than doubled and when he later was preparing his will, the census showed that more than 316 slaves lived on the grounds and were employed in various areas.  Washington made provisions in his will to free all of his slaves, however, because the “dower” slaves that Martha brought into the marriage belonged to the Curtis estate, he could not legally free them.  This was bittersweet for them as many of them had intermarried.  However, George Washington tried to set an example for others by setting them free.  He was the only Founding Father to free his slaves.

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Moving down the road 3 miles from the estate, you’ll find the Grist Mill and Distillery that the entrepreneur Washington built.  It is still in operation today.  Enjoy the photos!

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On to our next stop! See you again, soon!

All the Presidents’ Homes–Part 1

With only days until the Big Day, otherwise known as Election Day here in the United States, I thought it would be fun to show you the homes of former Presidents that my husband and I have visited together.  We’ve started with ones that are closest to us and when travelling, have sometimes discovered by accident that another President’s home was nearby.  We are working our way through our great country’s historical spots and hope you enjoy it nearly as much as we have.

The Hermitage – Nashville, Tennessee

This was the home and plantation of our 7th President, Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson.  Born into poverty of Irish immigrants in 1767, Andrew Jackson is originally from the Waxhaw region which sits on the border of North and South Carolina.  Jackson always claimed to be from South Carolina even though both states claim him as their native son.

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At the age of 13, he joins the fight against Britain in the Revolutionary War. It was during the 1780-1781 British invasion of the Carolinas that his mother and brothers died, leaving Jackson with a lifelong hatred towards Great Britain.  Jackson was actually taken prisoner and the story goes that upon refusal to shine a British officer’s boots, he was struck across the face with a saber leaving permanent scarring.

Without much formal education, Jackson taught himself law and was admitted to the Bar in North Carolina in 1787.  He later moved west of the Appalachian mountains to an area that would later become the State of Tennessee.  It was in this region where the city of Nashville was born.  Jackson became a successful prosecuting attorney and later married the love of his love, Rachel Donelson, daughter of a local colonel. Scandal wrapped this courtship because Rachel was still married to her former husband when she and Andrew Jackson became a couple in 1791. It wasn’t until 1794 at the finalization of her divorce that she and Jackson are legally married.  Theirs is a lifelong love story of a love that endures scandal, never faltering and holding them through the years.  Andrew was completely devoted to Rachel and even in death, rest side-by-side together in the garden tomb that he had built for her in 1831 and where he later joined her in 1845.  The prosperity enjoyed by the Jacksons enabled him to build this beautiful mansion shortly after Tennessee became the 16th State of the Union.  Andrew Jackson was an unconventional man and often times very controversial.  But he had fiercely held principles and a vision that rocked our young Nation politically, culturally and on the battlefield.  He was the first man elected to the US House of Representatives from Tennessee and was part of the convention that drafted the new State Constitution for Tennessee in 1796.

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Jackson first ran for President in 1824-1825 and receives the popular vote, but no candidate receives the majority electoral vote.  The House of Representatives had to choose between the 3 top candidates and ended up naming Adams as President after the Speaker of the House Henry Clay threw his support behind Adams.  Disgusted with the “corrupt bargain” between Clay and Adams, Jackson resigned from the Senate.  Jackson later served two terms as President from 1829 – 1837.  You’ll find the story behind our 7th President to be one of intrigue, color and riddled with a bold fierceness that many abhorred and many more admired.

The Hermitage is an impressive farm. Beautiful tree-lined roads where carriages were once driven are now pedestrian only.  Come prepared to walk quite a bit and wear comfortable shoes!  Along with the Visitor’s Center, there is a Café and museum store as well as a picnic area. There is a self-guided audio tour available in three versions – adult, family and Spanish – that is included in the regular admission.  You may also choose the personal interpreter-led tours, or hike the walking trail or stroll through the historic shrubs, trees, plants and flowers in the Gardens.

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Photography in encouraged all over the grounds, but inside the Mansion, it is not allowed.  There are period dressed tour guides that give you an overall historical view of each section you visit. Parts of the Plantation can be reached by car, then a short walk to the actual site. From the Visitor’s Center there is a beautiful pedestrian pathway leading up to the impressive, tree-lined entrance of The Hermitage. 

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These friendly staffers will also answer any questions you may have about General Jackson and his home.

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A wonderful close up view of the gutter near the top of the back side of the Mansion.  We were amazed at the detail, the date and even the President’s initials were there!

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Many of the buildings and cabins are no longer standing. Adjacent to the mansion is the beautiful flower garden and tomb of General and Mrs. Jackson as well as a small family cemetery.

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You’ll enjoy the peacefulness as well as the beauty of the surrounding flower garden.

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Another beautiful view of the expansive 1,120-acre National Historic Landmark property that started out as a 425-acre frontier farm.

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The wedding attire of the General and his wife, Rachel.  For me, it is always surprising to see just how tiny historical figures can be as compared to the height and stature of people today.

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One could easily spend all day here.  Bring a picnic or pick up lunch in the Café and spend the day learning about the first frontier President and the controversial role he played during a time when the biggest and most volatile political issues were Indian removal and slavery.

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This is the end of our first stop.  Join us again when we continue with All the Presidents’ Homes.