And the road goes on forever...

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Lure of Times Past, part 2

Touring works up a thirst and hunger so we go a-hunting for Charles City and a place to have lunch. There isn’t much to the tiny burg of Charles City but the Courthouse Grill is well worth the stop. With icy cold Yuengling draft on tap (an excellent ordinary beer at non-microbrew pricing made in Pottsville, PA), southern influenced simple fare and friendly people, we enjoy the ambiance and convivial atmosphere and original architecture dating from 1872, including wide plank pine flooring with a decided slope to starboard. What a lucky find! A group of bikers talk about their ride on the “Five and Dime”: Charles City is on Highway 5 and next up after lunch they plan to catch the free car ferry over the James River to Suffolk and continue on Highway 10. We wistfully tell them we marvel at the good riding here with all the roads and highways. This area has even more roads than Wisconsin and that was the most we had seen previously. Of course, it’s now been years since we’ve straddled our bike and our time as bikers seems a far distant past but the lure is still there as we hear them roar off.

From there we walk across the street to the historic buildings of Charles City and find America’s third oldest courthouse still in operation. They’ve done a marvelous job with an unmanned visitor center which I didn’t catch what life it lead previously, but it featured the most fascinating heavy metal door and casement, almost like a bank vault door. All this area played a major part in the Civil War as we find evidence farther along our travels.

We meander past other plantations; some wanting too much money to tour so we just shoot a few photos of some exteriors and move along. Berkeley Plantation had a large crowd gathered to tour as it is available to see inside and boasts having been the birthplace of William Henry Harrison (Tippecanoe) who became America’s ninth President in 1841. His father, the second owner and son of the original builder, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and three times Governor of Virginia. At one point on the grounds in 1862, President Lincoln reviewed Gen. George McClellan’s Army of 140,000 Union soldiers. Word has it that there were more people living in this area during the Civil War than there are today. Popular place.

At Kittiewan, proving that not all southern plantations are built of acres of brick, we note that some landed gentry were of more modest means; including Doctor William Rickman, who served as the head surgeon to the Continental Army in Virginia. By chance spotting a cemetery sign, we hike a hillock through the forest and stumble upon his gravesite and a smattering of small red flags, more than likely denoting archeological significant finds since this plantation is owned by the Archeological Society of VA. We entertain and quickly dismiss the thought of all the goodies we might find with our metal detectors around here!

We hope to add another significant plantation to our touring but are unsure at this point if we will be able to blog about it with pictures. Fortune smiled upon Marc last week as he made his rounds checking gas lines and after walking up a long graveled driveway he arrived at the magnificent Carter’s Grove Plantation, built in the 1750’s. The very nice caretakers who live full-time on site (I want their job!) allowed him to wander and take some exterior photos and we now possess a private invitation to return for a tour of the unfurnished interior. Carter’s Grove used to be open to the public before its purchase by a private individual from CA for $17 million dollars in 2007. He plans to refurbish it and turn it into a Thoroughbred horse racing farm. Marc said the style is the same as Westover and the grounds are not as extensive but we are more interested in the interior anyway. This photo shows what it used to appear like when furnished; it should be magnificent.