Lecture Notes: Canals

Quite often throughout the day I find myself thrilled by a new bit of information that I am learning in class, whether facts in American history, lessons in architectural conservation, or understanding more of how the law operates. One professor always names places that he recommends as a must see: historic sites, engineering feats, villages, factories – he never stops exploring. Sometimes I want to share my notes with anyone who does not have the opportunity to sit in on my classes and hear the lectures that my classmates and I hear. Since I cannot send around my notebooks or recite the lectures, I’ll just share bits here and there. For today: canals.

One of the most fascinating lectures recently was about the canal system in the United States. Did you know that canals preceded railroads as the major successful transportation? Cities were built facing the canals (which sometimes makes the buildings appear backwards to those of us on the road). People lived on canal boats. People traveled on canal boats as a way to experience the scenery at a serene pace. Beginning around the 1820s, the canals opened the United States to western settlement. Canal locks were major engineering innovations. Around the canal locks, towns developed in a linear form. The canal era began to decline around 1860 because they were expensive to build and maintain and the routes were slow, and the railroads were lurking in the background. But canal evidence is still visible on the land today, particularly in our street patterns. Cities filled in the canals to create streets.

Maybe I’m one of the few who has never heard about the extent of and the influence of canals, but I am intrigued by this mode of transportation and the evidence remaining on the land. Looks like I’ve got to go exploring. Here are few links to historic sites about canals:

Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park

History of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal

The Erie Canal (see traces of the Erie Canal)

Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor

Does anyone else love (or have a newfound love for) canals?

Lake Champlain Bridge Demolition

For those who haven’t heard, the Lake Champlain Bridge is scheduled to be demolished on Wednesday December 23, 2009 at 10am. (Talk about a terrible Christmas present for preservationists, huh?)

See this NYSDOT Press Release. The public may view the demolition at specific areas, such as on Vermont 125 (read this release from VTrans). If you are unable to attend the demolition, it will also be available online via live streaming – see the NYSDOT website on Wednesday morning.

How do preservationists feel about watching the demolition of a bridge they fought to save? Is it a once-in-a-lifetime type of situation or more of an I-can’t-bear-to-watch issue or more like I-will-not-dignify-this-decision-by-watching-it? What lessons could preservationists learn from watching it? Please share your thoughts.

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UPDATE: NYSDOT has issued a press release stating that the bridge demolition will be on December 28, not December 23. Read it here.

1929: Lake Champlain Bridge

Since we are so far removed from the past, often it is hard to imagine why something was so significant at a certain time, e.g. just how much of an impact the Lake Champlain Bridge had on the lives of citizens, the economy of New England and New York, and technology.  And even if you are a history buff or a preservationist, stepping into history can help to understand the significance of a structure, building, or event.

Watch the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum’s short film titled, The Champlain Bridge. There is a short introduction and then wonderful footage from opening day on August 26, 1929. It is only about 7 minutes in length and worth your time.

The Lost Resort

So far, one of my favorite parts of living in a city (however small Burlington may be, it’s still a city) is that there is always something interesting to explore or observe, no matter if it’s Saturday at the farmers’ market, strolling around town, or running through parks and along the bike path. Burlington has many, many parks so it will take me a while to get to all of them, but I have already been drawn to the historic Oakledge Park.

I slowed to a stop one day as I passed an informational plaque on the side the of the trail that read “The Lost Resort.”  Within a few words I learned that the park was previously a manor, a farm, and a resort (1929-1961). Aside from the manor house and recreational facilities, there were six small cabins that overlooked Lake Champlain. All are long gone, but the six chimneys are still in the woods, free for the public to explore, discover, and ponder. I quickly veered off the paved trail to the small winding wooded trails and found a few chimneys. The hearths sit high above the ground, indicating that the cabins were built on a foundation.

A search on Google led me to the Oakledge Park History website, organized by the University of Vermont Geology Department and the Governor’s Institute of Vermont. The website has historic photographs, resort brochures, histories, and news articles, as well as now and then views of the park. Sadly, the news articles reveal that the main manor house was burned by the city fire department in a training exercise in the 1970s. People who remember Oakledge from their childhood express their sadness in the history and the articles.

Today the park seems very popular (at least in good weather) and it is a beautiful spot on Lake Champlain. The chimneys and the informational signs provide a quick, appreciative glimpse of the area throughout history. I hope everyone is intrigued by at least one of the signs. I’ll probably be pausing on my runs until I’ve read every sign along my way.

Preservacation: Beaufort, NC

Preservacation is a series of essays by Brad Hatch about the preservation related adventures, issues, and sites that he and Lauren have encountered on their travels.  This is #5 in the series.

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By Brad Hatch

Bahamian architecture, Blackbeard, a maritime museum, and a painting of Doug Sanford. When Lauren and I went to Beaufort, NC a few months ago we definitely weren’t expecting to find all of these things. The main reason we were drawn to this little seaside town was Blackbeard. Yes, Blackbeard the pirate. Now, I know there are people out there who think pirates are awesome, but I’ve never really given them a second thought. Actually, I think the revived interest in pirates has come from the fact that Johnny Depp played one, and, after all, he is a beautiful man. Back to my story. Blackbeard drew us to Beaufort not only because he had a house there, but because many of the artifacts from his ship reside in the North Carolina Maritime Museum in town.

Lauren was very excited about her trip to Beaufort. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Lauren was very excited about her trip to Beaufort. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

For the past two semesters Lauren has been working with the Queen Anne’s Revenge Shipwreck Project, which excavates and conserves the artifacts from Blackbeard’s flagship, which sunk right off the coast at Beaufort Inlet. Needless to say, they have some cool stuff in the museum. In addition to some of the cannon from the ship, there are pewter plates, a brass bell, and a urethral syringe (which was used to administer mercury to the men aboard the ship in order to treat venereal diseases). The Blackbeard exhibit is only a small part of the museum, however. It covers most of North Carolina’s maritime heritage from Native American dugout canoes to modern vessels. The exhibits pay close attention to the economic impact that the sea and its resources have had on the state, including whaling, oystering, fishing, and waterfowling. One of the most interesting parts of the museum is actually in another building. Across the street from the main museum building is the watercraft center which is staffed by volunteers that demonstrate model ship building and boatbuilding. They even offer classes on boatbuilding to the public that range from constructing sailing vessels to maintaining diesel boat engines.

Carteret Academy, ca. 1842. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Carteret Academy, ca. 1842. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Beaufort isn’t just a museum though. It’s an interesting little historic town. The town was founded in 1709 and quickly became an important port for ships due to its protected inlet, making it a hub of international trade. This international influence is reflected in the architecture of the town, particularly the eighteenth century buildings. The majority of the early structures along the waterfront are built in the Bahamian style. This is what the brochures from Beaufort call it, but I couldn’t find Bahamian architecture in the little bit of research I did, so if no such style exists feel free to let me know. Anyway, the main feature that sets these houses apart from others of the same time period is the porch on the first and second story of the houses. They are pretty unusual features and seem particularly suited to hot climates such as the Caribbean or North Carolina in August. This style likely found its way to Beaufort as a result of the trading vessels and sailors that passed through the town. Building in this fashion allowed the more cosmopolitan residents of the small port of Beaufort to adopt and modify the fashions that their counterparts in the big port cities of the islands indulged in. This style actually became a part of Beaufort and continued for years as houses dating from the eighteenth through late nineteenth centuries have porches on both stories, in the Bahamian fashion.

Masonic Lodge. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Masonic Lodge. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Old Fellows Hall, ca. 1831. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Old Fellows Hall, ca. 1831. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Vaulted burial in the Old Burying Ground. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Vaulted burial in the Old Burying Ground. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

There are several things that you don’t want to miss in Beaufort, including a really cool cemetery with lots of vaulted burials and interesting stories (this will be addressed in an upcoming post). The one thing that really made an impression on me though was in the maritime museum. They have an entire exhibit devoted to piracy, because of Blackbeard’s tie to the area, located in a little room off of the main hall. The exhibit includes pirate smells, clothing, typical meals, and paintings. One of these paintings stands out above the rest because it features Doug Sanford, our beloved professor from UMW.

"Forty Thieves" in the NC Maritime Museum. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

"Forty Thieves" in the NC Maritime Museum. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Close up of painting showing Doug's doppelganger. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Close up of painting showing Doug's doppelganger. Courtesy of Brad Hatch.

The painting is titled “Forty Thieves” and shows a pirate ship with all sorts of riff raff aboard and Doug (actually his doppelganger) in the center of it all sporting a pair of yellow and purple tights. As of right now, you can see this painting and other portions of the same exhibit at the NC Museum of History in Raleigh. It is on loan for an exhibit on piracy. However, this shouldn’t deter you from taking a trip to Beaufort, there’s still a ton of cool stuff to see and do. Just make sure to stop by that pirate exhibit in Raleigh on the way back.

Preservacation: Religious and Secular Symbols in Early Colonial Churches

Preservacation is a series of essays by Brad Hatch about the preservation related adventures, issues, and sites that he and Lauren have encountered on their travels.  This is #4 in the series.

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By Brad Hatch

I have a fascination with early colonial architecture. This likely stems from my work in archaeology since so much of the earliest colonial architecture only exists in archaeological contexts. In Virginia, there are only a handful of standing structures that date before 1700, however I can think of numerous archaeological sites pre-dating the eighteenth century. This lack of seventeenth century buildings can be explained by the fact that most structures of that period were somewhat impermanent, i.e. they were wood and often of post-in-ground construction.

This should not be taken to mean that most Virginians were unable to afford masonry buildings, actually many planters were quite wealthy through the 1600s. Brick or stone construction simply was not in vogue at the time. There could have been several reasons for this, often the most cited is that Virginia planters wanted a quickly and cheaply constructed house so that they could get right to growing tobacco, and thus, making more money. These post-in-ground buildings, dubbed Virginia houses, remained popular up until the nineteenth century. However, by the mid eighteenth century, many large plantation holders began moving toward masonry construction for their houses in keeping with the new Georgian movement. Examples of these buildings include Stratford Hall, Kenmore, Salubria, and Mt. Airy.

If you want to see buildings earlier than these you have to look at places other than private residences. Government buildings fit this bill, but there are few of those that are original. Churches are what I am talking about. These were often the first and only buildings in a given area that were made of either stone or brick, mainly because the church was the only entity with enough money (that they didn’t want to invest in agriculture) and time to build in these materials.  Churches in colonial America not only fulfilled the spiritual needs of their parishioners, but acted as places for important business dealings, political meetings, and social interactions. They are deeply symbolic structures that carried many meanings for the people who used them in the colonial period. Over the past year I have had the opportunity to visit a few of these early colonial churches in Virginia and North Carolina and have been impressed by their degree of preservation and assorted layers of meaning.

Yeocomico Church in Westmoreland County, VA. Photograph courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Yeocomico Church in Westmoreland County, VA. Photograph courtesy of Brad Hatch.

While Lauren and I were at Stratford Hall a few weeks ago I suggested we go see Yeocomico Church, the oldest in Westmoreland County. Yeocomico is located near Hague, which is actually quite a haul from Stratford through acres of farmland. The brick building that stands now was constructed in 1706, but it took the place of a wooden structure that, according to folklore, stood on the same spot and was built in 1655. Interestingly, a piece of this original church survives in the wicket door (a door within a door) at the entrance of the church, which is the only functioning original wicket door in North America.

Lauren in front of the wicket door at Yeocomico Church. Photograph courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Lauren in front of the wicket door at Yeocomico Church. Photograph courtesy of Brad Hatch.

There are several interesting architectural details on this church, but to address them all would take up way more space than anybody is willing to read. (You should definitely visit if you get the chance. Oh, and did I mention that Mary Ball, the mother of George Washington, attended this church in her youth?) The thing that struck me about this church, however, was the design on the brick porch above the entrance. The shape of a diamond, set off by glazed headers, stands out as you approach the entrance. I had seen this a few months before at St. Thomas Church in Bath, NC, built in 1734, and began to wonder about what it meant since it was seemingly not coincidental.

Yeocomico Church showing the boundary wall for the original churchyard.  Photograph courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Yeocomico Church showing the boundary wall for the original churchyard. Photograph courtesy of Brad Hatch.

The entrance to Yeocomico Church showing the diamond design over the porch and a triple arch in the bricks, possibly representative of the Holy Trinity.  Photograph courtesy of Brad Hatch.

The entrance to Yeocomico Church showing the diamond design over the porch and a triple arch in the bricks, possibly representative of the Holy Trinity. Photograph courtesy of Brad Hatch.

St. Thomas Church in Bath, NC. Photograph courtesy of Brad Hatch.

St. Thomas Church in Bath, NC. Photograph courtesy of Brad Hatch.

The entrance of St. Thomas Church showing the diamond design over the door, which bears a strong resemblance to a crucifix.  Photograph courtesy of Brad Hatch.

The entrance of St. Thomas Church showing the diamond design over the door, which bears a strong resemblance to a crucifix. Photograph courtesy of Brad Hatch.

I did a little research into Anglican and Episcopal symbols and came up with a few ideas. The first thing that came to me without even researching was the symbol of a cross; even though it’s a diamond it bears a resemblance. With a little research I then came to the possibility of it representing the star of Bethlehem, which is similar in shape to the diamond and sits above the entry as the star shone above the manger, calling the faithful. The final meaning I could pull out of this symbol was its similarity to a vesica piscis, or fish bladder. This is a common symbol in the Episcopal faith and represents a fish, which is associated with Jesus. This one design that confronts you as you enter the church has many layered meanings and as I thought about it I tried to find meaning in the rest of the architecture and was astounded by what I saw (which is too much to list here), illustrating the thought that went in to constructing a church in the colonial period and the nuances of early American architecture.

As I mentioned above, churches also served as important places for social interaction. Part of this interaction comes from displaying power amongst peer groups. This was done in many ways, including wearing certain clothes to display wealth as well as having assigned seating. Often the more powerful members of the community had reserved pews that were closer to the pulpit, and symbolically closer to God, than the poorer members. Even though the Anglican Church did not participate in the practice of granting or selling indulgences many of the planter elite still sought to buy their way into heaven. Perhaps the best example of this is Christ Church Lancaster County, VA, which I had the opportunity to visit last summer.

Robert “King” Carter financed and oversaw the construction of this Georgian brick church in 1730. The symbolism in this building is very clear. While it does have a good deal of religious meaning, the aspects that display the power and wealth of Carter are overwhelming. First of all, it took an insane amount of money to build a brick structure in 1730. The fact that Carter built a church for the community showed that he had money to burn. The interior arrangement also speaks to his power and quest for control. His family’s personal pew is the closest to the pulpit and has a raised back. Not only does this represent his attempt to be closer to God (and possibly on a similar plane of power), but also shows how he wished to separate himself from people below his status. The history of this building and its design stands as a perfect example of how the social behaviors and relationships of colonial parishioners can be expressed in religious architecture and displayed by the people who use the buildings.

These are but two brief examples of the importance of churches in colonial Virginia. They interest me so much because they are such public places, and as such carry so many symbols and meanings, both religious and secular, that can still be interpreted by paying close attention. It is especially fun for me as an archaeologist to look at these structures because I am able to view large symbols on the landscape rather than small symbols in the earth like bits of broken pots. The age and unique architecture at these sites draws me in with promises of a glimpse at rare North American architectural styles, but the rich meaning behind all of the brick, glass, and wood keeps me coming back for more.

Post Script:

If anybody has any ideas or input on Anglican symbolism, particularly the meaning of the diamond design, please feel free to let me know. Especially if you have a different perspective on the meaning of the symbol I’m interested, since this has fascinated me for the past couple weeks.

Adventures in the Field: Archaeology at Historic Bath, NC

Adventures in the Field: Archaeology at Historic Bath, NC is a series of posts about Lauren’s experiences as a TA at East Carolina University’s summer 2009 archaeology field school in Bath, NC.  This is post #1.

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By Lauren McMillan

Week One: 5/20 – 5/22/2009

So, I was asked by Kaitlin, and bugged by Brad, to write a weekly entry on my experiences while excavating this summer, and just FYI, this will be a pretty long first post.  For those of you who don’t know, I’m a 2008  UMW Historic Preservation alumni and am currently working on my Masters in Anthropology with a concentration on Historical Archaeology at East Carolina University.  For the next five weeks I will be working as one of the two Teaching Assistants at ECU’s historical archaeology field school in Bath, NC under the direction of Dr. Charles Ewen.  I’d like to first give you a brief background on the town and the site before getting into the field work.

Bath Town, as it was once known, was settled by Europeans in the 1690s and later became North Carolina’s first town in 1705.  Bath was home to many important men and events in NC’s colonial history.  John Lawson, Bath’s founder and author of A New Voyage to Carolina (which is still in print), made his home in town.  Lawson became the first casualty in the Tuscarora Indian War (1711-1715), while on an exploration trip.  North Carolina’s most infamous figure, the pirate Blackbeard, made his home and married his fourteenth wife in Bath,  right before Virginia’s Spotswood chased him down and had him beheaded (one of many reasons NC still hates us – did you all know that North Carolina feels this great rivalry with Virginia?)  It is even said that Edward Teach (Blackbeard’s “real” name) was actually from Bath.  Bath was also home to the first port, shipyard and library in North Carolina, and can still claim the oldest church in the state, St. Thomas, built in 1734.

St. Thomas Church, the oldest church in North Carolina, constructed 1734. Photograph by Brad Hatch.

St. Thomas Church, the oldest church in North Carolina, constructed 1734. Photograph courtesy of Brad Hatch.

Overall, Bath is an interesting place for all you history buffs and pres dorks like myself; there are a few state owned historic houses to tour, in addition to a beautiful view of the water.  To me, the most exciting things about Bath is that all of the streets and most of the lots are almost exactly the same as they were in the 18th century, as seen on the 1769 Sauthier map.  The town literally has no stop lights, just two corner flashing lights.  And for you archaeology nerds out there, Stan South dug a cellar the size of the one we are currently excavating in just three short days in 1960.  This is one of the sites that helped him create his mean ceramic dating formula and his site pattern types.

1769 Sauthier Map - Beaufort Community College

1769 Sauthier Map – Beaufort Community College

As one of the few ports in North Carolina, Bath became an important site of commercial activity in the 18th century.  We are lucky that many of the town records have survived, and we knew before we started digging two years ago that a communal merchant warehouse was located on the lot we are currently investigating; in fact, there are court records showing that two merchants were constantly fighting one another over space and merchandise.  I can easily imagine arguments breaking out over space in this building, since we just found a third corner this week, and now know that the building was 15’x15’; not a very big space for all the merchants in one of the few ports of entry in the state to share.

Site with happy field school students and intern house in the background. Photograph courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Site with happy field school students and intern house in the background. Photograph courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

While ECU and Dr. Ewen have had a long and happy relationship with Bath, this is only the third year at this particular site, which is currently called the Intern House, because of the building standing right on part of our cellar.  The past two years, the ’07 field season with ECU students and the ’08 season with Summer Ventures (a high school governor school program which lasts for about two weeks), have revealed a good portion of the mid 18th century cellar.  The ceramics are dating the site from about the 1720s (white salt-glazed stoneware) to the 1770s (pearlware), which corresponds to the historical documentation.  Of course, the majority of what has been found are boring ol’ bricks and mortar, but as Noel Hume says, “While bricks are not the most collectible of artifacts, they are among the most common relics of early American domesticity.”

Now onto the ’09 season; we have a total of 14 people out on the site this summer, six Anthropology undergraduates, two recent anthro graduates, one Public History graduate student, two anthro grad students, two grad teaching assistants and the professor. Our first week out in the field was a short one, just three days, but we were able to accomplish quite a bit.  We got all the backfill from last summer out, which was a lot! The cellar goes down about six feet from the top surface, and there was a lot of dirt down there.  When we were finally able to pull all the tarp off the site and see it in its full glory; I was very joyous.

We uncovered most of the north cellar wall and some of the east wall (isn’t it nice when buildings line up with the cardinal directions?)  Halfway through Friday we were finally able to open up two units from last year.  It was in one of these units (60N40E) that we found one of the most important pieces of this puzzle we call archaeology; the southwest corner!  This is the third corner uncovered, telling us that the building was 15’x15’.  This is interesting, because there was a law in place in the 18th century that within one year of purchasing land in Bath, a building of at least 15’x15’ had to be built; this was to prevent land speculation and to encourage immigration.  This corner was found at the very end of the day, right as we were about to pack up, as is always the case, so I know all the students are excited about starting up next week to see what else the dirt will reveal.

Well, that was about it for this week.  We should get a lot more done next week, even though it too is a short one.  Stay tuned to find out more about Bath, NC!

Preservacation: Stratford Hall and the Various Meanings of Historic Sites

Preservacation is a series of essays by Brad Hatch about the preservation related adventures, issues, and sites that he and Lauren have encountered on their travels.  This is #3 in the series.

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By Brad Hatch

This posting has taken me a little longer to write than usual because I’ve been busy the past week. In addition to going to Williamsburg for commencement on the 17th, Lauren and I stayed at Stratford Hall that weekend for our anniversary. We met at Stratford 3 years ago and have gone there for every anniversary since. This annual ritual has inspired me to write about this place that has played such a large role in my life. Rather than giving you a review of what to do and critiquing the site, however, I wanted to reflect on what this one place means to me, and by doing so, hopefully get at the deeper and more nuanced meanings of this and other historic sites.

For those of you who don’t know, Stratford Hall is the birthplace of Robert E. Lee as well as the home of brotherly signers of the Declaration of Independence. It is a beautiful H-plan Georgian brick house built in 1738 along the cliffs of the Potomac near Montross, Virginia. At its height the plantation boasted 7,000 acres of land, a landing for ships, a grist mill, and numerous slaves. Like many plantations it was a small, self-contained town of sorts. The Lees lost the home after 1810 and it went through the hands of private owners until 1929. It was in this year that May Lanier created a ladies’ association that raised enough money, $240,000, to purchase the house and 1,100 acres as a memorial to Robert E. Lee. The Robert E. Lee Memorial Association still owns Stratford and it, like many historic houses, stands as an example of the late 19th and early 20th century preservation movement among wealthy women.

That’s enough of facts though. Facts are handy to a point, but we supply the meaning (to paraphrase Second Mate Stubb in Moby Dick). It’s meaning that interests me, though I will only give one of the countless meanings for this place. Stratford has been like a mother to me through these past several years. To start with, it has played a pivotal role in shaping my career as an archaeologist. It was here in the summer of 2005 that I took my first supervisory role in archaeology as the UMW field school assistant. I have worked on this site (the Oval Site) longer than any other, three years. It has become a part of me. I know the site backward and forward, the feel of the soil, the way the breeze cooled us off on hot June days, the sounds of the countryside.  It was as if the place and I could converse, we knew one another so well. Things seemed clearer on that site than any other. It almost had a youthful innocence about it.

In constructing my own meaning of Stratford Hall, however, it is the people that are most important. In the years that I worked there I met several important people in my life. Not least among these was Lauren, whom I found my second summer there. Up until this meeting Stratford was already tied to some important friendships. Actually, most of the people I really continue to keep up with from Mary Washington were at the first field school in 2005, including Andrew, who will be going to the University of Tennessee’s Ph.D. program with me, Irene, and Erin. The four of us continue to keep in touch and it seems that we formed a bond that summer that won’t soon be broken. With the exception of my childhood friend, Patrick, and Lauren, I would say that those three know me the best. We shared so many things on the plantation from evenings spent on the pond fishing, to afternoons spent wandering the beach looking for sharks’ teeth, to nights spent watching fireflies dance on fields beneath a starlit sky. These images are burned into my memory, but not because of their own beauty. It is the people that I spent these times with that made them special. Without the people there is no meaning for me.

Coming back to Stratford now is bittersweet in a way. It’s like going back to a point in my life that I want to capture and put away. Visiting this place allows me to do that. I can savor all of those memories as they come rushing back to me with the taste of a Northern Neck Ginger Ale, the tug of a Bass on my fishing line, or the sight of the mansion with a full field of hay in the foreground. To me Stratford represents a simpler time, a more innocent time (if there ever was such a time). It reminds me to live and to enjoy all things beautiful, for they are fleeting. I know that I can never go back to the same plantation that lives in my mind, but I don’t need to. My experience on my mother’s sandy shores and fertile fields has provided me with more than I could ever repay to her in a thousand lifetimes. This is what Stratford Hall means to me. This is only my interpretation though. As we go to sites like this we should be mindful of the people who have lived and toiled on these places. The entirety of the human experience exists on such small pieces of the planet. Historic sites are places where people have been born and died, thousands of loves have been won and lost, people have literally given their whole beings to these places. And, they’ve lived, oh, how we have lived. Think on this the next time you visit another site and it will change how you experience it.

It's the people, not the place. Photo courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

It's the people, not the place. Photo courtesy of Lauren McMillan.

Alabama #5: Linn Park

A series of Wednesday (Thursday this week) posts about Birmingham, Alabama and the surrounding area.  See Post #1,  Post #2, Post #3, and Post #4. This is Post #5.

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Linn Park in Birmingham, Alabama is located in the center of the government buildings and civic and commercial buildings – it is the heart of the Birmingham – Jefferson (County) Civic Center. On a beautiful spring day, it was the perfect place for strolling and looking at the Alabama blue sky.
Linn Park

Linn Park

Linn Park History, as seen on plaque in park

Linn Park History, as seen on plaque in park

Linn Park map, close up

Linn Park map, close up

[Summarized from the plaque, seen above]. The park has a long and interesting history. In 1871 the city plat map identified the space as “Park” but was then called “Central Park” before being named “Capitol Park” in 1881. At that time, it was the center of residential neighborhood.  In 1918 the park was renamed “Woodrow Wilson Park” and a master plan in 1919 proposed that this site be the civic center of the city.  Soon after the plan, an auditorium, a library, and the Jefferson County Courthouse were built. They still surround the park today.  Over the next few decades, the remaining houses were demolished to create lots for City Hall and the Birmingham Museum of Art. The park was renamed Linn Park in 1980 to honor Charles Linn, the city’s first banker and industrialist.

Jefferson County Court House, Linn Park

Jefferson County Court House, Linn Park

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Spanish American War Memorial, Linn Park

World War I Memorial, Linn Park

World War I Memorial, Linn Park

Today, one entrance to the park greets visitors with statues honoring the Spanish-American War and World War I.  Beautiful reflecting pools and a waterfall welcome people to sit and linger and enjoy the warm weather.  A flower garden in the shape of the state of Alabama is obviously more visible to workers in the skyscrapers rather than those of us on the ground, especially when attempting to read “Reach for the Stars” in the design.  While it is almost impossible to read from the ground, it is nice to know the businessmen can be connected to park dwellers. Spring and summer seasons bring concerts and other events to Linn Park, and the gazebo provides a perfect stage.  

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Reach for the Stars, in the shape of AL

On this beautiful spring weekend, walking in the water felt perfect. It was a shame that it wasn’t concert season. If you are visiting, definitely take a walk through Linn Park.

The reflecting pool and court house, Linn Park

The reflecting pool and court house, Linn Park

The perfect place on warm spring day, Linn Park