Saturday
Aug122017

Prospect Hill Plantation

Charlie and I enjoy exploring different restaurants when we travel. Most of the time, I will carefully research an area to find the highest rated restaurants since we like to have a good experience. For our Virginia trip, I discovered the Prospect Hill Plantation in Louisa County, Virginia. The Prospect Hill Plantation is a Bed and Breakfast that also serves dinner. The ratings were quite high so I made a reservation. We went on a Wednesday evening and there were no other diners in the intimate dining room. Uh oh, we wondered, did we make the wrong choice?

Not at all! We were treated to one of the best meals we have ever had, I would say, one of the top ten meals of our lives, ranking alongside Le Bec Fin. The opening salad was an extraordinary bundle of prepared vegetables, wrapped in romaine letteuce leaves and topped with artistic flair.

My entre was a carefully constructed tower of tender chicken medallions and butterfly shrimp topped with lime/tequilla sauce, which was quite delicious. But, the astonishing dessert was a beautiful baked meringue swan of strawberry mousse and a bit of candle concealed in a pastry sculpture. How did this chef know I was a musician or was it sheer coincidence, I am not sure, but I appreciated the treble clef signs on the plate. A masterful meal and all for us- no on else entered the restaurant. I should have found out the chef's name, they deserve recognition here.

Afterwards, we strolled the family owned grounds, caught another perfect sunset, and enjoyed the various millstones incorporated into the sidewalks. We were told that one of the buildings on the property dates to the late 1600's.

Our dinner at Prospect Hill Plantation was a gourmet dining experience. The room is quite small. I would not recommend taking young children although teenagers may be impressed by the creative displays.

Saturday
Aug122017

Bluebird Cottage at Oliver Creek Farm

From time to time, folks ask me where we like to stay while on the road. I highly recommend Bluebird Cottage at Oliver Creek Farm air bnb in Troy, Virginia. The 2 story house is located on Ghost Dance Road on a very private farm. The grounds are well kept and much nicer than I expected. Justine and her husband own the farm. Her restored  Victorian farmhouse is about 100 feet away so there is plenty of privacy. Justine is very interesting and the cottage is loaded with books, particularly on the topic of photography. I would definitely return to this lovely secluded location. I could spend time here just in the cottage itself, perusing the books or working on my own research. The farm is close to Monticello and Montpelier.

If you enjoy photographing sunsets, this meadow will give you ample opportunity.

Bluebird Cottage at Oliver Creek Farm

Where the afternoon sky meets the evening sky

I believe there was a Civil War battle near here. Gives me a bit of a shudder to think.

Friday
Jul212017

James Madison's Montpelier

James Madison's Montpelier

James Madison's view of the Blue Ridge Mountains

It is always exciting to sell an antique item. It is especially exciting to sell a piece to an institution because we know that many more people will have the opportunity to observe an important piece of history.

Noonmark Antiques had within its collection, a pair of matching fan back  brace back Windsor chairs by Philadelphia maker William Cox. The chairs were in superb condition and one was branded “Cox” underneath the seat. http://noonmarkantiques.com/furniture/pair-of-cox-philadelphia-windsor-chairs/

A few years ago, we received a call from Grant Quertermous, then Assistant Curator at Montpelier, James Madison’s home in Virginia. Grant  purchased the fan back Windsor chairs for Montpelier. Since that time, we have been curious to see the chairs in their new home. Our trip to Virginia provided us the opportunity to see the chairs. Charlie and I were very excited and could not wait to begin the tour. We went through the downstairs, room by room, no chairs. I began to steel myself for disappointment as I made my way to the second floor. Maybe the chairs were not part of the exhibition. But then, in “Mr. Madison’s Room,” right beside the bed where he uttered his last words, was one of the fan back chairs! What a special honor it was to see our chair here in James Madison’s room.

We continued on with the tour into Mr. Madison’s library and there was the other fan back Windsor, in front of the fireplace. I had the urge to rearrange it, after all I knew this chair so well and wanted to show off its lovely proportions. But, I resisted and finished the tour.

Our guide offered a very comprehensive explanation of Madison’s life, maybe because there were fewer people here than at the other two mansions we saw. Montpelier has only been open to the public since 2008.

Back porch

Dolley Madison was a larger than life figure in my young mind when I first read about her as a young child. It was certainly an honor to see her beautiful home.

Montpelier had several owners before it became open to the public. William DuPont purchased the home in 1901. Extensive renovations were made to the house only to be demolished when the home was purchased to be displayed in its original form.

 

Thursday
Jul202017

Thomas Jefferson's Monticello

When I was 8 years old, I read biographies that I found in the school library of famous Americans. Thomas Jefferson's story always resonated with me. I was intrigued by his inventions and the stone tunnel that ran underneath his home, Monticello. I finally fulfilled a bucket list dream and took a visit to Virginia and Monticello.

 A shuttle bus climbs the hill to bring us to our destination.  No photos permitted inside the house, I am sorry to say. I was hoping to hear in detail and to see the many inventions Jefferson created. On this particular day, our docent focused on the enslaved people who worked on the plantation. I will need to find a book on Jefferson's prolific genius to learn more.

This post card by photographer Charles Shoffner shows the entry hall to receive guests. The guests would have been startled, as I was, at the hanging dispaly of Natve American artifacts, maps, paintings, and tables with dinosaur bones for them to examine.

We toured the house and heard cursory explanations of some of the inventions. Once the upper house tour was complete we were urged to continue our visit on the grounds and photography was then permitted. This is the underground kitchen.

Thomas Jefferson's kitchen contained a stew stove. A brick counter with 8 openings over charcoal fires enabled the cooks to more carefully tend to the French delicacies they created here.

The celebrated dumb waiter. An invention I have waited a lifetime to see! It is a narrow wood lined opening that runs up the fireplace wall into the dining room from the wine cellar. It is just wide enough for a wine bottle. A trusted servant loaded the wine and the butler or family member retrieved the bottle.

The ice house is 16 feet deep. It enabled the Jefferson staff to preserve food or create ice cream, a French creation.

The underground tunnel/passage which runs directly beneath the house and out to the wings where the servants worked. It was quite cool in the tunnel and I found myself retreating there several times throughout our visit. It was a hive of activety at one time.

Window in the underground tunnel.

The vista from Monticello. The mansion is perched on a little hill and has stunning views of the valley below.

There were 2 other tours we could have joined. One was the garden tour and the other dealt with slavery issues. The day was very hot so we declined. If I return, I would visit in the Spring. There is a good bit of walking involved. I could spend an entire day here. I do not recommend bringing small children.Strollers are not permitted in the house. Children ages 8 and older would probably enjoy the tours and grounds.

Tuesday
Jul182017

George Washington's Mount Vernon

George Washington was a personal hero for me. I grew up not far from Valley Forge Park. My parents took my brother and I there when I was about five years old and we saw the log cabins, headquarters, and frothy white dogwood trees. When I was in High School, I performed the Ballad of Valley Forge in 1976 on a well maintained lawn within the Park with the Pottstown Symphony. As I looked out from my spot on stage while holding my viola, I wondered what it might have been like during Washington’s time.

Later, I learned, George Washington led a rag tag group of men on retreat from the Battle of Brandywine, right through the very neighborhood where I grew up and reconnoitered at the Antes Farm in New Hanover, Pennsylvania.

I was thrilled by Washington’s heroic crossing of the Delaware and his defeat of the British at Trenton. Later, as an antiques dealer, I was intrigued by his relationship with Richard Stockton and poet wife Annis Boudinot, the owners of Morven in Princeton, New Jersey. This was due to a painting of their son Richard Stockton which I had on consignment. I also bought and sold through Noonmark Antiques a painting of the Hasbrouck House, Washington’s headquarters at Newburgh, New York.

To me, George Washington belonged to our region – the Philadelphia, Valley Forge, Trenton areas. But, I knew, he had a home in Virginia and I decided it was time for me to see where his heart belonged.

Before we made the trip to Mount Vernon, I looked up the Mount Vernon website. Spoiler alert. You can see a virtual tour of the entire interior of the house. It really is quite helpful especially since I later learned, no photography permitted within the house and we spent less than five minutes in each room. MountVernon.org/virtualtour

The virtual tour helped prepare me for the bold colors in some of the rooms. Washington’s favorite color was green and the brilliant verdigris dining room took my breath away. Another room is painted bright robin’s egg blue. These colors were the actual original colors of the rooms. Bright colors were a sign of wealth. Since Washington was a wealthy farmer and he actually owned five farms, his color choices are understandable.

Photographs of post cards by Hal Conroy

The tours at Mount Vernon are well organized. Visitors are assigned a tour time. There are kind helpful guides with cheery attitudes in spite of the heat and humidity to direct you to your destination. Each room had its own docent and although brief, the presentations were succinct and knowledgeable. There is an opportunity mid tour to stand on the back porch and gaze at the mighty Potomac River. Mount Vernon is perfectly situated to gain the best vantage point. After the tour, there was a choice- wander the grounds or join more tours. We chose to wander separately. I walked down the terraced steps to the wharf and enjoyed the cool breeze off the Potomac.

Then, I made my way to the Washington burial site, the inspiration for many early needlework samplers.

If you go, wear comfortable shoes and bring drinking water. There is a lot of walking. I did 13,000 steps that day. Children ages 5 and over may enjoy this trip. Children under 5 may get tired of the walk and strollers are not permitted in the mansion tour. There were many visitors even on a very hot day in 90 + temperatures. I would return in the Spring and allow 2 days for my visit next time. There is a muesum, 6-8 theatres that show related films, a distillery and grist mill, and the grounds themselves which include gardens, beside the mansion tour.

Found this fellow as I descended the stairs to the wharf.

A painting of Mount Vernon at the Whitney Muesum in NYC, by Herman Trunk, Jr. 1932.