Tag Archives: Monticello

In praise of history and historians

Duke of Gloucester Street, Colonial Williamsburg VA

Living history, Colonial Williamsburg, VA.

By Bruce Stambaugh

History is important. I’m forever grateful for folks who emblazoned that maxim upon me way back when. Parents, teachers, professors all collaborated to ensure that I appreciated the value of knowing times past.

My father was instrumental in getting his children involved in amateur archeology. That was in part thanks to my younger brother, who found an arrowhead on the school playground.

As teens, my brother and I assisted Dad and others at various digs like Ohio’s only Revolutionary War site, Fort Laurens in Bolivar. Dad also helped retrace Colonel Bouquet’s Trail into Ohio, which included Holmes Co. Hands-on learning was Dad’s tool of choice when it came to our indigenous tribes and the pioneers who interacted with them in the settling of Ohio.

Gnadenhutten Museum

Worth the visit.

In college, passionate geography and geology instructors explained how various topographic features came to be. In a college Ohio History lecture hall with hundred of other students, I think I got a passing grade because I was the only one who could correctly pronounce Gnadenhutten in neighboring Tuscarawas Co. Again, I have Dad to thank for that as one. We often explored the areas around the tiny historical town.

It was also helpful to live my entire life in geographic regions that played important roles in the development of Ohio. From Flint Ridge to Schoenbrunn to Fort Fizzle, Native Americans, pioneers, soldiers, rebels all forged their presence upon the land on which I lived. That love of what once was still drives me today.

I’m also fortunate to have a wife who appreciates the place history plays in our life today and the future. In other words, Neva enjoys an excellent museum as much as me.

It’s even nicer when you can weave family, vacation, and history into one outing. It helps to have family members who happen to live in prime historical places. We get to visit and explore together.

Williamsburg, Virginia, where my older brother and his wife live, is such a place. We never tire of living history locales like Williamsburg, Yorktown, and Jamestown.

That’s the thing about history. As discoveries continue and new information compiled, history is always changing. I’m not talking about those who would deny the facts and try to twist them to suit their personal beliefs.

History becomes clearer, more defined, better understood the more we explore, the more we learn, the more we know, the more we want to know. Thanks to ongoing research and continued exploration we form new understandings based on new evidence.

At both Colonial Williamsburg and Monticello, for example, tour guides now state clearly the plight of slaves, something conspicuously omitted on previous visits. At Jamestown, archeologists have proved that the original settlement wasn’t washed away after all.

Given the history that is right around us, one doesn’t have to travel far to dig up the past. Novels have been written, movies made, history books published about the history that is all around us. Likely that applies to most anywhere you live. Only the facts, circumstances, and characters change.

Despite what many good books and movies have shown, we really can’t travel back in time. Scientists know that is physically impossible. There is only the present to study history and plan for the future.

We have valued alternatives, however. We can read, explore, study, and visit museums, parks, and historical monuments that help us understand our personal and collective history.

Now that is the way to time travel!

Monticello by Bruce Stambaugh

Pastel blooms accented Monticello’s architectural beauty.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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Traveling the Constitution Route, then and now

Montpelier by Bruce Stambaugh

Montpelier, home of James and Dolly Madison.

By Bruce Stambaugh

White, pink and yellow floral displays, both wild and domesticated, brightened the cold, steely overcast morning, invigorating our drive along Virginia’s historic Constitution Route.

Pastels predominated in the form of flashy forsythia bushes and clusters of buttery daffodils, showy pink magnolia petals, peach, cherry and redbud blossoms. Serviceberry bushes and flowering ornamentals showed their whites against winter’s dormant and dull remnants.

Familial signs at the gates of long lanes announced the names of many old money mansions of the sprawling plantations that now operate as horse and cattle farms all along the serpentine trail, officially known as Virginia Route 20. Mint Meadow, Gaston Hall, Hershey Hill, and Somerset were only a few of the rolling farms’ monikers.

Blooms at UVA by Bruce Stambaugh

Ornamental trees were in full bloom in Virginia.

Miles of fences, some white as the tree blossoms that kept them company, others stained soot black, still others meshed wire, lined the curvy route between Montpelier, James Madison’s home, and Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s architectural wonder.

Most of the meandering highway on the 40-minute drive closely followed the very route that these two founding fathers and United States presidents had traveled by horseback or carriage more than two centuries earlier.

At one of the lazy s-curves, with a greening meadow on the east side and a dense deciduous woodlot on the other, a Bald Eagle flew across in front of us. Its talons clutched a trailing tangle of leafy vines, likely the softer lining for its bulky stick nest.

Though we were traveling at a much faster pace in a much faster world, I couldn’t help but sense the history that had happened along this path and at the dignified homes we passed. Only now farmhands groomed the horses and fed the cattle instead of slaves.

Madison statue by Bruce Stambaugh

A lifesize statue of James and Dolly Madison accentuates the beautiful backyard at their historic homestead, Montpelier in Virginia.

At Montpelier, a spreading magnolia in full-bloom served as the backdrop for a life-sized bronze statue of James and Dolly Madison. Though slight in stature, both were giants in establishing the democratic and social courses for our fledgling republic.

The ingenious Jefferson, author of our Declaration of Independence, and the meticulous Madison, the father of the Constitution, regularly rode the Constitution Route to each other’s homes to both socialize and pontificate.

To walk in their footsteps and see first hand their magnificent homes, slave quarters included, and to learn more about their magnificent minds and accomplishments was beyond inspirational. It was humbling and moving.

Exploring there was a refreshing retreat from the current turbulent and often selfish political times in which we find ourselves. Silently I wondered what these two great men would say about today’s state of affairs. At each location, the informative visitor centers helped answer that pondering.

Montpelier slave quarters by Bruce Stambaugh

Excavating the living and working areas of Madison's slaves at Montpelier is underway.

Jefferson and Madison, both learned visionaries who lived at opposite ends of the Constitution Route, were united in determining the direction the Constitution should take, that all people are created equal and endowed with specific freedoms.

Virginians will quickly point out that both men played prominent rolls in developing the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom. Their joint influence is revealed in the law: “The religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man.” That concept was the first point Madison made in the Bill of Rights.

The two homesteads were fascinating to tour. The dedicated commitment of Jefferson and Madison to form, frame and cement certain rights, including the choice of religion sans government endorsement or coercion, made the Constitution the jewel in the crown neither president ever wanted to wear.

Monticello by Bruce Stambaugh

Thomas Jefferson's masterpiece, Monticello.

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Things don’t always go as planned

Monticello by Bruce Stambaugh

Pastel blooms accented Monticello's architectural beauty.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I’m a planner. So is my wife.

When we arrange a trip, like we did for our 40th anniversary that we recently celebrated, we share completing the travel details. We also recognize that not everything can be foreseen.

We have come to expect the unexpected, especially in our travels. The motel room doesn’t look half as good in person as it did on the website. Highway construction forces us to take an alternate route. A storm cancels our scheduled flight.

Those examples of inconveniences can be amended. Add in the human factor, however, and unanticipated events can throw a real curveball into the most detailed itinerary.

Robert Burns immortalized this phenomenon in his poem, “To a Mouse,” when he wrote, “The best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray.” That’s what happened on our anniversary trip.

Our 11-day Virginia vacation seemed simple enough. The first couple of days we would watch our grandchildren while our daughter was away and her husband had several business meetings. We would then escape a few days for our anniversary, and finish up the trip back at our daughter’s place.

We devised all sorts of ideas to occupy the trio of grandchildren, ages six, four and one and a half. Before we left Ohio, we knew the oldest one was ill. By the time we arrived, the youngest had a double ear infection.

Obviously our activity scheme had to be altered. Baby-sitting now included health care. I did squeeze in some individual playtime with the middle child. But even that was limited due to the raw, dank weather. The south had had a harsh winter, too, and although spring had officially arrived, winter still held its heavy hand on the Virginia landscape.
Virginia snow by Bruce Stambaugh
On our anniversary morning, we awoke to four inches of fluffy white snow and the third grandchild also sick. Things weren’t going the way we had hoped.

With reservations made in the historic Charlottesville area, we reluctantly headed out, but only after the temperature warmed enough to slowly melt the snow. Knowing our son-in-law would be home to help a couple of days lessened any grandparent guilt for leaving.

We enjoyed our time away, visiting just some of the several significant places in the history of our country. The weather cleared for our visits to the architecturally amazing University of Virginia campus, picturesque Montpelier, Thomas Jefferson’s masterpiece, Monticello, and James Monroe’s estate.

Montpelier by Bruce Stambaugh

James and Dolly Madison's Montpelier.

Then it was off to quaint, revitalized Staunton for a night before returning to our daughter’s place further up the beautiful Shenandoah Valley. At Staunton, our plans were again derailed. The flu bug caught up to my wife, and when we awoke the next morning snow was again flying. On top of that, I wasn’t feeling the best myself.

Fortunately, the snow didn’t reach the forecasted amount. Unfortunately, our daughter let us know that she was on the way to the doctor with the four-year-old.

By the time we arrived back at our daughter’s, the kids were playing and glad to see us. Our granddaughter kept calling my name, Poppy. Poppy just wished he had felt well enough to answer her call.

Instead, after a bowl of chicken noodle soup, it was off to bed. Like much of our time away, that’s not what I had wanted or planned, an all too personal example of what poet Burns had penned.

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