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A Weekend with Washington

I would like to thank Holiday Inn for partnering with me to make this post possible. As always, all opinions are my own!  Kris Williams

 

For some time now, Alexandria, Virginia has been one of my favorite destinations in the United States. Located on the western bank of the Potomac River, the city is just a short drive or train ride to the hustle and bustle of Washington, D.C.

From the art galleries, boutiques, restaurants and antique shops of it’s historic center, “Old Town” to the cobblestone streets lined with 18th and 19th century architecture – complete with gas lanterns and American flags – Alexandria is one of those special places that will steal your heart.

Unlike all my previous stays in Alexandria (which revolved around work in D.C.) this trip with Holiday Inn put Alexandria front and center as I set out to get better acquainted with the man we refer to as the father of our country.

With the Fourth of July just around the corner, I would like to share with you my favorite stops in Alexandria that were once a part of George Washington’s stomping grounds.

 

The George Washington Masonic National Memorial

Built to honor the memory of George Washington, his role as a free mason and as a way to preserve the heritage of American Freemasonry – The George Washington Masonic National Memorial left me feeling as though I had entered a Greek or Roman temple.

The Memorial Hall was striking with its eight large granite columns leading you down to an enormous statue of George Washington. There he stood presiding over the hall – gavel in hand while wearing his Masonic apron and jewel. I cannot stress how small I felt in this room or how drawn I was to the statue and colorful murals that lined the walls.

  Not far from Memorial Hall was the Replica Lodge Room – a room designed to look like Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22 which was once located on the 2nd floor of City Hall. This room mimics the lodge Washington used to attend and displays furniture from the original location along with artifacts that once belonged to Washington himself.

From the Replica Lodge Room we made our way up to The George Washington Museum. Besides the fact the room was another jaw dropper – some of the artifacts in this room that belonged to Washington were pretty impressive.

From his family bible (complete with signature) and items that traveled with him during the Revolutionary War – right down to a strand of his hair… I was wishing I had more time to look around.

I would say my one and only complaint with the tour is how quickly they would move you through each area.

Last stop at The George Washington Masonic National Memorial was the Observation Deck.

The view from the top was absolutely beautiful – I could not have asked for better weather. Not only could I see all of Alexandria, it was easy to spot the Capital Building and the Washington Monument in nearby D.C.!

 

George Washington’s Townhouse Replica

Located at 508 Cameron Street, wedged between two larger buildings, stands a replica of George Washington’s modest home away from home.

The original townhouse – designed, built and completed by Washington in 1796 – was used by George and Martha as an office and as a place to stay when visiting Alexandria for both business and social events.

After falling into disrepair in 1855, the residence was demolished and the lot was turned into a garden.

Later in 1960, lot owners Gov. and Mrs. Richard Lowe built a replica of Washington’s former townhouse based on rough sketches drawn by a neighbor. The structure was built on the original foundation using bricks and stones evacuated from the site.

Over the years, the property has had several owners but remains a private home and is known as Alexandria’s only replica of a historic building.

Although it’s only a replica, I enjoyed this stop quite a bit.

The first thing that struck me was how small the home was – it wasn’t the grand property you’d expect to be associated with a president.

To me, George Washington has always been this larger than life character – the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, a Revolutionary War hero, the first United States president and the father of our country.

While I knew he had Mount Vernon as his main home, the idea of such a successful historical figure staying in this humble little home put a smile on my face. For some reason, I found it easier to connect to him.

Beyond its size, it was fun to watch as many others stopped to have a look. Like me, they commented on the structures size and laughed when they spotted the plaster bust of George Washington peaking from the first floor window.

 

Christ Church

Located at the corner of N. Washington Street and Cameron Street, its hard to believe this little church was once referred to as, “The Church in the Woods”.

While the town of Alexandria has changed significantly since Washington’s time – Christ Church has not.

That’s not to say there hasn’t been additions, modifications or restoration efforts since it was completed in 1773 – they have just been minimal enough that you’re still able to see what Washington saw when he attended.

The biggest changes made over the years have been the addition of balcony seating with support columns, the replica wine glass podium, the silver candelabras and two memorial plaques – one for George Washington and the other for another famous attendee, Robert E. Lee.

Whenever Washington stayed at his Cameron Street townhouse for business or social events, he would attend Christ Church with his family.

Funny enough (in those times) it was common for attendees to buy or rent box pews. When I heard this, I immediately thought of someone buying box seats at a baseball stadium.

…Entertainment has certainly changed over the years.

As much as I loved this stop as a whole, I think the highlight of my visit was getting to sit in the pew that was once owned by Washington himself.

Yes, it is still there!

Getting to sit where he sat, where he worshiped and where he socialized… looking up at the podium – imagining the balconies and support columns, silver candelabras and plaques removed… looking around imagining people trying to read from their bibles using the sunlight that poured through wavy glass windows…

What a wild experience.

I will never get over opportunities like this and am so grateful historical structures like Christ Church are still standing.

 

Gadsby’s Tavern Restaurant

Built in the late 1700’s the Gadsby’s Tavern consisted of two buildings – a tavern and hotel. Operated by John Gadsby from 1796 – 1808, Gadsby’s Tavern was the place to go in Alexandria for fine dinning, drinks (including the tavern’s famous – rum punch), social events and meetings, as well as a place to crash for the night.

George Washington was not only known for eating here – he and Martha Washington also attended two birthday celebrations that were held in his honor.

Today the two buildings function as a museum and a restaurant, serving lunch and dinner daily, along with Sunday brunch.

On one of my nights in town, I stopped into Gadsby’s for dinner and absolutely loved it. The first room I walked into had more of the tavern feel – a lot of worn woodwork, a fireplace and a full bar.

Just off this first room were two other dinning spaces with a completely different feel – more formal. The chairs and tables were a little more decorative (but still worn) and the walls were an off white with a light blue trim and crown molding. The room was decorated with curtains, a painting and other framed drawings.

One of the best parts were the server’s uniforms – they looked like they jumped right out of the late 1700’s with their high stockings, cropped pants, vests, shirts and aprons.

Talk about a time warp!

I spent most of my meal admiring my surroundings while grinning like a total nerd.

 

For dinner, I started with a French Onion Soup with bread and a glass of the tavern’s specialty – rum punch.

After all – how could I say no to a drink they’ve been serving since the late 1700’s?

I blame George Washington.

Following the soup, I went for the Gentleman’s Pye… described by the tavern as, “a colonial favorite – tender cuts of lamb and beef in a savory red wine stew topped with mashed red potatoes and a puff pastry crust”.

The entire experience was fantastic in both food and atmosphere.

 

Mount Vernon

The last stop on my trip brought me to Mount Vernon – Washington’s plantation home just south of Alexandria.

The estate, which sits on the banks of the Potomac River, originally belonged to George’s father, Augustine. Following Augustine’s death, the home was left to George’s half-brother Lawrence Washington. Lawrence renamed the property Mount Vernon and following his death – the property eventually made it’s way into George’s ownership.

Today, the property is operated as a museum by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association – who rely entirely on private donations and admission sales to keep Mount Vernon running.

With admission you are free to explore the grounds, which include: the mansion, blacksmith shop, slave quarters, pioneer farm, gardens, wharf, slave memorial and burial ground, Washington’s tomb, museum and education center.

Of all the stops, my favorite was the guided tour through the mansion, which was decorated to look as it did in 1799 (the year of Washington’s death). It was amazing to be able to walk through a property that old, to see it so well preserved and to get a feel for how Washington lived.

The rooms in the house were beautiful – some were very ornate with high ceilings, green walls, marble fireplaces and large crown molding, while others fell more on the simple side for daily or private use.

Of all the items in the home, I really enjoyed one of Washington’s prized possessions.

Hung on the wall of the first floor landing or entry is a case made by Washington that displays a one pound, three ounce, wrought iron key. The key – which belonged to the Bastille – was sent to Washington by Marquis de Lafayette as a gift.

On December 14, 1799 George Washington passed away at the age of 67 in his home from a short illness that started with a sore throat. His funeral was held on December 18th where he was interred in a family crypt at Mount Vernon.

As the crypt began to fall into disrepair and an unsuccessful attempt was made to steal Washington’s skull – plans were made to move his remains.

While attempts were made by some to move Washington’s body to the Capitol, Southerns fought hard to keep him where they felt he belonged – in the south.

Eventually – on October 7, 1837 – both Washington and his wife Martha were moved to the new tomb on the grounds of Mount Vernon.

After spending the weekend in Alexandria walking in George Washington’s footsteps, I was surprised by many things.

It blew my mind that so many buildings from his time are still standing. Being able to walk down the same streets and see some of the same sights Washington would have was such a surreal experience.

Also, to learn that he prided himself as a farmer first and foremost and questioned his own capabilities as a leader in the Revolutionary War went against every heroic, patriotic image I grew up with. To know a man who is still so loved and admired had his own self-doubts helped me see past the legend and straight to the man himself.

I want to thank Holiday Inn for giving me the opportunity to get better acquainted with the first president and father of our country, George Washington.

HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY!!!

(Photo of Painting hanging in The George Washington Masonic National Memorial)

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Holiday Inn. The opinions and text are all mine.

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Gold, Gunslingers and Presidential Profiles

I would like to thank Holiday Inn for partnering with me to make this post possible. As always, all opinions are my own!  Kris Williams

My trip to Deadwood was spurred by a desire to see Mount Rushmore. When Holiday Inn told me they had two locations perfect for such a trip – one in Rapid City and one in Deadwood – I jumped at the chance to visit the old, rough and tumble, gold mining town.

Named for dead trees found scattered throughout its gulch, the legend of Deadwood has far outgrown its 3.83 square mile border. From the discovery of gold in 1874, the town’s colorful history and Gold Rush Era architecture to its notorious residents and visitors, it’s not surprising the entire town of Deadwood is listed as a National Historic Landmark District.

As with all of my trips, I looked for a starting point – a place to get my feet wet with the local history and it’s prominent players.

The Adams Museum was not like other small town museums I have encountered in my travels. Unlike others who fill their walls with junk they’ve tried to sell as some historically significant treasure – the Adams Museum was bubbling over with some of the most interesting artifacts I have ever laid eyes on.

 

From a two-headed calf and odd artifacts connected to U.S. Presidents to exhibits covering Deadwood’s history of gambling, mining, transportation, clothing, brothels, gunslingers and Native American tribes – there was no shortage of things to look at!

Of all the bits and pieces they had, my favorite corner of the Adams Museum revolved around, James Butler Hickok – better known as “Wild Bill” Hickok. This American, Old West lawman and gunslinger met his demise in a Deadwood saloon shortly after his arrival.

Photographs of Wild Bill and his personal effects covered the walls. Some of the items in the collection included a handwritten letter to his wife, his 1860 Army Colt revolver, straight razor, a “good luck” stone found in his boot and cards from the deck he was using when he was shot.

There were even two detailed, hand drawn portraits of Wild Bill – one of which – left me feeling like I had come face to face with the handsome legend himself.

Beginning as an illegal settlement on land that was granted to the Lakota people, I decided to have a better look at what put Deadwood on the map for thousands of fortune seekers, gunslingers, painted ladies and lawmen.

Broken Boot Mine was a fun family friendly stop that gives visitors an opportunity to tour what was once a working mine and gives them a chance to try their hand at panning.

The tour wasn’t very long but it was fun to walk through the chiseled out pathways, learning about living conditions for the miners, tools they used, lighting they worked by and the minerals that could be found. I also really enjoyed having a look at the wooden structures and supports built to help reinforce the pathways.

I honestly couldn’t imagine living or working in those conditions!

Following the tour, I paid a little extra to give panning a go. Lead to a covered outdoor area that had large basins filled with water – I was given a bag of pebbles and a plastic bowl known as a “pan”. Dumping the pebbles into the pan, I was given a lesson on panning techniques. With a lot of patience, persistence and soaked clothes – I got pretty excited when sparkling little gold flakes started to surface!

With every bag of pebbles visitors are guaranteed to find something – nothing you could retire on but a cool experience nonetheless.

If you are a fan of the Old West and its larger than life characters and events, you really can’t pass through Deadwood without making a stop at Saloon No. 10. While it is best known as the saloon Wild Bill Hickok was shot down in by Jack McCall – this is not the original location of the saloon.

After the original location burnt to the ground, Saloon No. 10 was moved to Main Street – where the front section was built to replicate the original saloon. From the worn woodwork, saw dust covered floors and thousands of photographs, animal heads, artifacts and antiques that cover the walls to the slot machines, live music, drinks, food and historical reenactments (where you can regularly watch Wild Bill meet his demise) – there is no shortage of entertainment.

  

One of the weirdest artifacts can be found on display above the saloon’s entrance – Wild Bill’s “Death Chair”. Supposedly, this was the chair Wild Bill sat in while playing a game of poker when he was shot from behind.

While Saloon No. 10 is a fun mix of past meets present and museum meets bar, the thing I enjoyed most about it was…

I walked in feeling like a tourist but left feeling like a local.

Over looking the little mountain town of Deadwood sits Mount Moriah Cemetery – burial place of Wild Bill, Calamity Jane and many other notable residents.

For a small entrance fee, I was given a map of the cemetery (highlighting points of interest) along with access to the restrooms. It has always struck me as funny paying to get into a cemetery – especially when paired with a gift shop on site.

We are weirdly morbid creatures, if you think about it!

 

For the most part, I really enjoyed this stop. It could get a little busy at times since tours would come through with bus loads of people but there was enough time between each tour to have some quiet time to yourself.

The graves of Wild Bill and Calamity Jane were littered with offerings from visitors – everything from bottles of alcohol to silk flowers, stacked rocks, coins and bullets.

Beyond visiting the graves – the view of the town from the cemetery is well worth the trip. You get a birds eye view of everything from the Holiday Inn Deadwood Mountain Grand Resort (large building on far left) to the main street of Deadwood (center to far right).

Speaking of which, I have always wondered… why do the deceased have some of the best views?!

For my final stop – the one that inspired the entire trip – I spent the afternoon exploring Mount Rushmore. After years of hearing people say, “Mount Rushmore was a lot smaller than I expected” … I was finally getting the chance to experience it for myself!

I cannot tell you how excited I was when I turned a corner and spotted Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln perched on the mountaintop for the first time.

I was still driving and there they were watching over South Dakota!

Standing at the main viewing platform, I could understand why people might walk away feeling like it looked small. However, they seem to be forgetting these faces are sitting at the top of a rather large mountain.

Up close – they would be enormous!

One thing that I almost missed out on – that I highly recommend doing – is the Presidential Trail. Its about a half mile trail and isn’t hugely strenuous. There are some twists, turns and stairs but the views cannot be beat. The trail gives you the opportunity the view Mount Rushmore from many different angles.

I cannot tell you how many times I put my camera away thinking, “Ok, I have enough photos” only to pull the darn thing out again because a new angle left me awestruck.

From the allure of old stories surrounding fortunes built on gold and the infamous gunslingers it attracted, to the profiles of some of our countries most beloved presidents – my trip to Deadwood did not disappoint.

I want to thank Holiday Inn for providing me a place to hide away from the world while I escaped to the past. I will never forget the opportunity I had to walk in the footsteps of legends – who lived in a time when the world danced on the line of lawlessness and law & order.

 

 

 

Wondering why Saloon No. 10’s floor is covered in sawdust? Or why I almost missed out on the Presidential Trail? Looking for tips on visiting or places to eat? Join me on Instagram or Facebook where I will be posting more photos, tips and stories from my trip – Hope to see you there!

Kris Williams

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Holiday Inn. The opinions and text are all mine.

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My Michigan Road Trip: Detroit to Traverse City

I would like to thank Holiday Inn for partnering with me to make this post possible. As always, all opinions are my own!  Kris Williams

Summer – the season of cookouts, camping, lazy beach days, and road trips!

Kicking off the summer of 2016, I teamed up with Holiday Inn for a chance to explore Michigan with a road trip from Detroit to Traverse City!

Over the years, I have worked in Michigan several times but have had little time to actually look around. The little I did see, I loved but the part that stood out most on each trip were the locals – so down to earth and friendly!

Between their welcoming nature and sincere display of local and state pride, I thought – why not road trip through Michigan to experience what the state has to offer, further connect with the locals and get a little time to reconnect with myself?

A Day in Detroit

Although I only had a short time to spend in Detroit, I enjoyed my time viewing street art and relaxing in my room at Holiday Inn Detroit Metro.

The Heidelberg Project, located on Heidelberg St. in Detroit’s east side, was a fantastically weird mix of cool urban art meets odd junk heap. From polka dotted streets and houses to side walks that smiled back at you, it looked like kids were given a box of chalk and let loose on a two block stretch of street!

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The art displays or structures were made from discarded objects found from in and around Detroit. Some of it looked well thought out, some made political statements, some were just funny and playful… others were just piles of junk.

It was a mixed bag but I found myself smiling like an idiot.

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I enjoyed watching the reactions of other tourists and I loved interacting with the locals who were out in the street joking around with tourists. From the bright and colorful displays that overran yards and homes, to Motown blaring in the street and getting a chance to interact with the locals… it all felt like a bright spot in an otherwise rough neighborhood.

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Following a long day of travel and exploring what felt like a scene out of Alice in Wonderland, I checked into Holiday Inn Detroit Metro Airport.

As a solo traveler, I appreciated the huge, well-lit parking lot and (what appeared to be) safe neighborhood.

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Checking in, the lady at the front desk was extra helpful – going as far as making suggestions on places to visit as well as printing me out directions for the next day’s drive.

Although I was surprised to find that my room was enormous, it was everything else I expected – bright, clean and comfortable. When it comes to the unpredictability of a road trip, it’s nice to know something will be reliable and consistent!

One of the many reasons I love Holiday Inn.

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Hopping Around Holland

After driving three hours west of Detroit, I was starving. Talk about a lucky find with Crane’s in the City at 11 East 8th St. in Holland, Michigan!

Best. Sandwich. On. The. Planet.

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The City Cristo (marked as their most popular sandwich) was made with “turkey, provolone cheese, apple slices, honey mustard, grilled on apple-butter bread & sprinkled with powdered sugar”.

When I first read the description I was like, “I don’t know about this…” but when I started throwing it into my head, I didn’t know if I was having lunch or dessert!

The bread was warm and had gooey apples baked in – tasting like the center of an apple pie. Then I tasted the warm turkey and melted provolone… then the powdered sugar… I have never had anything like it but I cannot say enough just how much I loved it.

It was weirdly delicious!

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Following my pig out at Crane’s, I headed over to Windmill Island Gardens.

Also located in the town of Holland, it consisted of a replica Dutch village, an old working street organ (gifted to Holland from the city of Amsterdam), an antique Dutch carousel (with hand carved and painted horses), a replica Dutch drawbridge and acres of manicured gardens but the real show stopper was an authentic, working Dutch windmill named “De Zwaan”.

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I really enjoyed wandering the grounds hearing the street organ playing the same songs it would have played in the 1940’s on the streets of Amsterdam and loved having the opportunity to tour the only working Dutch windmill in the USA.

The background of the windmill was interesting, hearing stories about owners decorating the blades for holidays and how the structures were used as lookouts during WWII was fascinating.

How and why did a Dutch windmill end up in Michigan?

The answer to that question lead to a fun and unexpected lesson in ancestry!

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Turns out Holland was settled and founded by Dutch Americans in 1847. Since then, the town has continued to embrace its Dutch heritage. For that reason, a deal was struck with the Netherlands in order to have the windmill shipped to Michigan by boat.

The town had to promise that they’d not only allow public entrance but they also had to keep the windmill working – to further teach those visiting about the structure and Dutch way of life.

Having been to the Netherlands several times, I fell in love with Holland, Michigan. Had I not known any better, I would have thought I was overseas!

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Tripping Through Traverse City

Driving three hours north of Holland, I finally made it to my final destination – Traverse City, Michigan.

As much as I was exhausted from the road, I cannot tell you how excited I was over Holiday Inn West Bay Beach Resort.

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I was so excited by my room and it’s gorgeous view of West Bay Beach, it gave me a new burst of energy, which left me wanting to explore the resort.

At first, I wanted to make use of the waterfront patio and bar but it was a little too windy and cold for that time of night. Instead, I hit the bar for a caprese salad, drinks & live jazz!

I may have been tired but I was in heaven.

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Over the next couple of days at Holiday Inn West Bay Beach Resort, I took my time getting out of my comfy bed, spent plenty of time being lazy with fruit drinks on the waterfront patio, made use of the private pool and enjoyed breakfast – through room service or in the restaurant over looking the pool.

I have to add – my breakfast server PJ, was a total sweetheart. It’s always nice to be looked after by someone who enjoys his or her job and is great at it!

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While in Traverse City I signed up for two tours, one with Traverse City Wine & Beer Tours and a second with Traverse Tall Ships Company.

Both were excellent.

I loved that Traverse City Wine and Beer Tours picked me up from my hotel – completely killed the worry of driving while winery hopping. Plus, it was nice to go with a company that knows the area and wineries well.

Our driver Luke was fantastic and patient with the group of five ladies he was subjected to for the afternoon. We were all a little nutty – in a good way (I like to think)!

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Luke brought us to four different locations that all offered free tastings. There were three wineries and one stop that served spirits (the drinking variety).

My absolute favorite stop was Chateau Fontaine. The location was pretty, the gift shop had some fun and kooky things to look through, the wine was fantastic and the guy who helped us was hilarious and helpful. He took the time to explain the history of the wine, the flavors to look for and answered our questions – no matter how ridiculous they were.

As someone who normally doesn’t like white wine – I was a little worried when I saw just about everything thing we were sampling was white… then pleasantly surprised when I liked most of what I tried.

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Traverse Tall Ships Company was a completely new and different experience for me. I had wanted to do a tall ship cruise for years and never got around to it.

So, I thought – why not cruise Lake Michigan?

The Manitou was beautiful. Watching the sails be hoisted into place was quite the sight… and a laugh since they took volunteers who wanted to help.

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The crew was great with answering questions and provided everyone with a picnic-like meal (turkey club wrap, pasta salad and cookie). They also had drinks (beer wine and soft drinks) and snacks available for purchase.

For 2 hours we sailed around Lake Michigan, watching the sunset and chatting with each other… only thing it could have used was a little music!

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The next two stops I spotted while driving around on the winery tour – Country Christmas and the Irish Farm.

I am notorious for collecting Christmas ornaments from where ever I travel… So, there was no skipping Country Christmas.

I loved this little rustic, Christmas wonderland for so many reasons. One of the main reasons, were the owners Lee Ann and Bill Smith.

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Residents of Traverse City for 50 years, owning a Christmas shop was a life long dream of Lee Ann’s. In 1982, they opened their shop and they have remained at the same location ever since!

The thing I loved most – Lee Ann designs and creates many of the ornaments herself and it was very obvious her husband was proud of her talents as he showed me around the store.

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They also promote many other local artists, half the inventory was handmade, they look to repurpose old materials to make new decorations and they mark all their made in the USA merchandise with red tags.

There were so many cute ornaments to choose from but one of my favorite pieces were Santas made from driftwood found along Lake Michigan.

Such a cute way to remember your trip, support local artists, a local business and bring a piece of Michigan home with you!

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Located just up the street from Country Christmas was the Iris Farm – it was too beautiful from the street not to stop!

One of my favorite things about road trips are the unexpected GOOD surprises. This stop was definitely a good one.

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The whole field was spotted with purples, yellows, reds, oranges, and shades of white. I fell in love instantly with the old barn with ivy growing up its sides. It was fun wandering the grounds, watching parents picking flowers with their children.

There was even a painter setup on the hill near the entrance under a tree – easel, oils and canvas… I wished I had the time to join her!

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Before heading out of town, I decided to see what all the fuss was about over Traverse City cherries.

Let me start by saying, a friend suggested I try cherry pie while I was there… my response was, “I don’t like cherries…”. I have never been a fan of cherries so I expected my visit to Cherry Republic to be a major fail.

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One Hummus & Pita Salad (Spring mix & crisp romaine lettuce, homemade cherry hummus and toasted pita, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, kalamata olives, and feta cheese, dressed with Sweet Cherry Balsamic Vinegar and olive oil) and a slice of Cherry Crumble Pie with a scoop of Midnight in the Orchard (Chocolate ice cream with flecks of tart cherries) later, I had to let that friend know I was a liar.

Delicious.

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My trip through Michigan with Holiday Inn reinforced what I had learned in previous trips – the locals are welcoming, friendly, funny and sincere. At each and every stop I had encounters with locals that were positive, memorable experiences.

What new things did I learn and appreciate about Michigan?

From the wineries, Crane’s in the City and Cherry Republic to De Zwaan grinding grain grown from local farmers – There was a strong sense of pride in Michigan made or homegrown products and in supporting those business.

From The Heidelberg Project to Country Christmas, they looked for creative ways to repurpose and reuse – making old things new while promoting, bringing attention to and adding to their local community.

Finally, I would say, the Pure Michigan experience includes a strong appreciation of their natural surroundings, local culture and heritage.

 

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Discovering New Orleans Through Its Civil War History

I would like to thank Holiday Inn for partnering with me to make this post possible. As always, all opinions are my own!  Kris Williams

It has been a few years now since I learned about my ancestor William Z. Morey, who served on the side of the Union during the Civil War. At the age of 44, William enlisted as a private in the 26th Regiment, Massachusetts infantry, company H.

In November of 1861, the 26th regiment was ordered to report to General Butler. Sailing from Boston on the Constitution, they arrived on Ship Island off the coast of Mississippi on December 3, 1861.

It was here that William worked chopping wood, while Butler’s forces were readying themselves for their big move on New Orleans.

In April of 1862, the mouth of the Mississippi River was opened to the Union army by the success of Farragut’s fleet, which led to the occupation of forts St. Phillip and Jackson by the 26th Regiment.

In July of the same year, the 26th regiment moved on to occupy the city of New Orleans. This is where my 4th great grandfather’s regiment stayed until the summer of 1863.

However, the journey ended for William on January 12, 1863 when he died in a New Orleans Hospital.

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Up until I learned of William, New Orleans is where I had my first drink. It was a place that revolved around food, music, old cemeteries, mysterious swamp stories, voodoo and of course, Mardi Gras.

New Orleans was never a stop I associated with the Civil War.

With the generous help of Holiday Inn and inspired by my family’s personal connection to the city and time period, I decided to revisit New Orleans in hopes of getting a unique view of the city through it’s Civil War history.

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Civil War Tours of New Orleans:

My first introduction to the city’s Civil War history was through a Civil War French Quarter tour with Civil War Tours of New Orleans. Owned, operated and created by Nic Clark, the walking tour lasted about three hours and covered everything from secession to Union occupation.

With a love for Civil War study that spans over 20 years, over a decade of experience as a tour guide and a degree in History from Centenary College of Louisiana, Nic was like a walking encyclopedia.

There wasn’t one question he didn’t have an answer for – his knowledge on the topic was pretty impressive!

Although there were many points of interest covered on the tour, I wanted to share with you the ones I enjoyed most… the most surprising, lost little details (unknown to many visitors) on how the Civil War has played a part in shaping New Orleans culture.

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Tujagues:

Located a short 10-15 minute walk from Holiday Inn Chateau Lemoyne, Tujagues was not only the first stop on the tour – it was one of my favorites.

Nick explained that much of the bar remained the same as it had back when it was a popular hangout for Union soldiers. The soldiers would have walked through the same door, would have belly upped to the same bar and looked into the same mirror that you do today.

What put this stop on my list though… were the coffee cups.

Nick made a point of ordering a coffee so I could see what it was served in – a plain old glass tumbler.

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This is when I got a lesson on the Confiscation Acts of 1861 and 1862, which allowed Union forces to confiscate Confederate property. From weapons to slaves, right down to silverware and fine china – whatever wasn’t nailed down and held value could be confiscated.

The decision to continue using cheap, glass tumblers are a defiant, daily reminder of when the city was ransacked by the Union army.

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Café Du Monde:

Popular with both locals and tourists, Café Du Monde has become a New Orleans landmark and tradition since opening in 1862. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – you will find patrons covered in powdered sugar, while enjoying their beignets, and chatting over cups of chicory coffee.

While beignets are delicious and understandingly popular, have you ever wondered how chicory coffee became a New Orleans’ staple?

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During the Civil War, the port of New Orleans was slapped with a blockade that was put in place by the Union Army. While the act crippled the local economy, New Orleanians were forced to find creative ways of making due with supplies they had on hand.

Being the second largest importer of coffee in the United States, the people of New Orleans decided to cut their coffee with another ingredient to stretch their remaining supply.

Enter chicory.

Although New Orleans was not the first to use chicory as a coffee substitute, I was surprised to learn that the use of chicory in New Orleans is a direct result of the blockade that was placed on New Orleans during the Civil War.

As to why New Orleanians still drink chicory today, Nic speculated it could be attributed to combination of tradition, an acquired taste or again, a defiant reminder of the city’s past.

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Jackson Square and “Beastly” Butler

While touring the French Quarter with Nic, the last thing I expected to hear was that Butler was from Lowell, Massachusetts – the town of my birth.

On this third stop, I learned several things of interest about the disliked Union General Benjamin Butler, the treatment of Union soldiers in New Orleans, confiscated goods that made their way to Boston, as well as a mark Butler left on Jackson Square.

Benjamin Butler was known in the North as a successful lawyer, a controversial Major General in the Civil War and politician, who served as a Massachusetts congressman and as the 33rd Governor of Massachusetts.

Known as “Beastly” Butler in the South, he was strongly despised and is still disliked today.

One of Butler’s most notorious and widely disliked orders was Butler’s General Order No. 28, which was put in place on May 15, 1862.

During the occupation of New Orleans, the women of New Orleans would publicly disrespect, insult, even physically abuse the Union Soldiers in protest of their presence in the city. From swearing and spitting at soldiers to ignoring their presence and dumping the contents of their chamber pots on soldiers heads from upper floor windows…

Butler looked to put an end to the unlady-like behavior.

The act basically stated, if a woman were to openly mistreat any United States soldier or officer… it was then acceptable to treat her like a common prostitute.

Although the purpose of Butler’s act was to tell the women of New Orleans – if you weren’t going to behave like a lady, you wouldn’t be treated like one – it opened the door to women of the city being assaulted by less than respectable men who perversely twisted the intention of the act.

I can see why Butler would have been hated.

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In addition to acts like the one above, Butler was known for his questionable behavior when it came to the Confiscation Acts.

Butler was known for seizing everything from property, to cotton and other personal belongings of value from New Orleanians he deemed disloyal to the United States. Adding salt to the already festering wound, Nic said Bulter would then sell these goods at rigged auctions – making a personal profit off of the confiscated property.

During this part of the tour I was surprised to learn, one of the many things looted… errr confiscated… from New Orleans by Butler were five bronze-colored bells that were sold to a church in Boston.

Another unexpected connection to home!

After all these years, there is still at least one physical mark left on New Orleans from Butler. To check it out, Nic brought me to Jackson Square to have a look at the statue of General Andrew Jackson.

The statue, which was erected before Butler’s arrival, sits on a large stone base in the center of the square. Just beneath the statue, “Beastly” Butler had the words “The Union Must and Shall Be Preserved” engraved …serving as a final reminder (or dig) of the city’s fall, which goes unnoticed by most today.

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St. James General Hospital

For as long as I have known about my Civil War ancestor William Z. Morey, I have struggled to locate the hospital he passed away in. Every document I have lists his place of death as St. James General Hospital in New Orleans, LA… cause of death consumption.

With every new search on its location, I hit a new dead end – until I met Nic.

Although St. James was not on his Civil War French Quarter Tour, I have to credit Nic for helping me break through this brick wall.

When Union forces occupied New Orleans, it wasn’t uncommon for them to use local hotels as makeshift hospitals. So, the hospital William died in was actually St. James Hotel – used and referred to as St. James General Hospital during the war.

Once Nic filled me in on this little secret, I was bummed to learn the hotel had moved a couple of doors down and it’s original location was torn down in the late 1800’s to make way for the Board of Trade Plaza.

Being the persistent (annoying) person that I am… I decided to reach out to several local historical societies as well as The Board of Trade Plaza, in hopes they might have more information on the original St. James… or with any luck – a photo of the old building.

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I have had no luck finding a photo, however chairmen from the Board of Trade Plaza were kind enough to leave me a book titled, 316 Magazine Street March 16, 1968 Plaza Dedication – The New Orleans Board of Trade, Ltd written by Edward J. Cocke. The book dives into the history of New Orleans and The Board of Trade Plaza… which included a couple of blurbs on the St. James Hotel.

Located on Magazine St., the St. James Hotel was built in 1856 and was considered a fine hotel for its time. Just five years later, the hotel began to serve as a Union hospital until 1865.

My ancestor William, was admitted into St. James Hospital on January 1, 1863… dying 11 days later on January 12th of consumption.

According to the book, the entrance to the Board of Trade Plaza was hidden by a five story structure that stood in front of it, the St. James Hotel. In 1889, the hotel was bought by the Board of Trade to serve as an annex and the lobby was renovated into an elaborate, open air entrance way from Magazine St. Once the building was bought, St. James hotel moved to another location just a few doors down from the original structure.

While I was upset to learn the original hotel was gone, I was happy to learn elements from the old building were salvaged to decorate the open air entrance way into the Board of Trade and it’s courtyard.

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According to the book, the “square Corinthian cast iron columns and arches” from the first floor of the St. James were reused in the entrance of the Board of Trade (pictured above on the right). In addition to the columns and arches, they also utilized “the cast iron arched lintels of the fifth story windows to form a blind arcade of five arches, corresponding in detail and spacing to the original windows of the old hotel…” to decorate the opposite side of the plaza (pictured above on the left behind the trees).

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They also reconstructed three of the six original window openings with the “cast iron cornices and consoles” from the third floor of the old hotel to decorate the inside of the open air entrance. Looking past the main gate in the photo above, you can see these details decorating the inside wall on the right.

Even though the actual building is long gone… the character of the original St. James has been carried over into the open air entrance and courtyard of the Board of Trade Plaza.

As I stood peering through the main gate, I couldn’t help but wonder if any of these elements decorated the window my ancestor may have gazed out of during his stay…

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Oak Alley Plantation

While Oak Alley Plantation is not located in New Orleans, I felt that it was important to visit a plantation since they played a huge part in the Civil War and would have been directly affected by the war and  blockade in New Orleans.

Located an hour west of Holiday Inn Chateau Lemoyne in New Orleans, I was excited to revisit Oak Alley Plantation. Known for it’s beautiful oak lined entrance and appearances in popular TV shows and movies like Interview with a Vampire – I have always appreciated Oak Alley’s straight forward approach in teaching the history of plantation life.

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The Plantation House:

Situated on the west bank of the Mississippi River in Vacherie, Louisiana, Oak Alley Plantation was built in the late 1830’s by Jacques Roman. Nine years later in 1848, Jacques died of tuberculosis leaving his wife Marie Therese Josephine Celina Pilié Roman (aka Celina) in charge of the estate.

Besides the fact Celina was incapable of running a sugar plantation, she had an extreme problem with spending which nearly bankrupted the business. This lead to her son, Henri taking control of the property in 1859 in hopes of getting things back on track.

Although Oak Alley didn’t suffer from any physical damage from the Civil War, like all plantations, it did suffer economically. Between the family’s debt and the end of slavery, Henri’s efforts to save the estate were failing.

The family was forced to sell the plantation at auction, where it sold to John Armstrong for a $32,800 ($480,000 in today’s money).

From there, the property changed hands several times and began to fall into disrepair. For a while it was even inhabited by a herd of cows… Not kidding. During a bad thunderstorm, the cows managed to break into the abandoned plantation house and there they lived for 12 years – destroying the Italian marble that once covered the entire first floor.

It wasn’t until 1925 that the mansion and it’s 1,200 acers were bought by Andrew Stewart for $50,000. Andrew and his wife Josephine renovated and modernized the house running it as a cattle ranch and later reintroduced the growing of sugar cane.

Following Andrew’s death and shortly before her own on October 3, 1972, Josephine decided to create a non-profit foundation known as the Oak Alley Foundation. Donating the home and 25 acres of land, the purpose of Oak Alley Foundation has been to keep the historic home and grounds open to the public.

(An interesting side note… one of the co-owners of Cafe Du Monde is a descendant of the original owners of Oak Alley Plantation!)

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Slavery at Oak Alley Exhibit:

What I love about Oak Alley is that it does not hide it’s history. It is dedicated to teaching visitor’s of the Plantation about life on the plantation in full – from the grandiose life of the plantation owners to the daily life of Oak Alley’s enslaved community.

Wandering this section of the grounds visitors are able to check out a house slave’s cabin, a field slave’s cabin, a post-emancipation residence and a sick house.

It was interesting to learn about the difference in work, treatment and clothing between the house slaves in comparison to the field slaves. The work was not as physically demanding, however their work did not end until the plantation owners went to bed. They were responsible for watching the children, cooking dinner and running errands for the family. For this reason – house slaves were dressed well to reflect the plantation owners social status.

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Field slaves faced grueling 12-14 hour work days… which I would imagine was unbearable in the hot and humid Louisiana summer. One plaque even discussed the inadequate food rations provided by the Roman family, which resulted in slaves growing their own gardens and raising their own animals to make up for the stingy rations.  Add the efforts in tending to their own gardens and raising their own animals after a 12-14 hour day in the fields… sleep doesn’t sound like something they got much of.

I was surprised to learn some slaves sold what they grew back to the Roman family. The small source of income helped them buy young livestock and other necessities to further provide for their own families.

Although slavery is no doubt one of the darkest periods in our history as a nation – the stories from this time period are important ones to tell. Oak Alley does a fantastic job of covering the history of the plantation as honestly, accurately and tastefully as possible, which I believe is an important element in making sure we never repeat the failings of our past.

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Civil War Encampment: 

On the grounds of Oak Alley plantation you will find a Civil War encampment, which consists of a commanding officer’s tent. I was told all the artifacts in the tent belonged to Confederate General Richard Taylor.

The encampment was one of the many reasons I wanted to return to Oak Alley. I hoped that visiting this section would give me a better idea of what life might have been like for my ancestors who served.

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Stationed at the camp was a man dressed in Confederate uniform, who was able to give me some background on the tent and all the artifacts inside. I was surprised to learn the tent would have taken a total of two hours to put up and take down.

While the tent was an example of a Confederate General’s tent, I was told a Union General’s tent would have looked similar. For my ancestor William and my other ancestors who served as privates, the best they would have had was a pop tent or a blanket and tree for cover.

Between the unfamiliar climate and lack of cover – no wonder so many soldiers died of disease!

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Chalmette National Cemetery:

Driving 20 minutes east from Holiday Inn Chateau Lemoyne, I finally arrived at the last stop of my journey, Chalmette National Cemetery.

Originally established in May 1862 as Monument Cemetery, Chalmette National Cemetery has become the final resting place for nearly 16,000 soldiers and some civilians. Out of the 16,000, about 200 of those are unknown – no names mark their stones,  just numbers.

Luckily, William Z. Morey was not one of those 200.

In fact, like many others, William had been laid to rest at another location before being moved to Chalmette National Cemetery.

The cemetery was long and narrow – I couldn’t get over how many headstones there were. There was only one road in and out making it easy to navigate but I still had no idea where to begin.

Grabbing a printed self guided tour, I noticed there were only five highlighted graves… one of which was only 5 plot numbers off from William.

Talk about luck!

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After a few minutes of searching section 62 and 13 fire ant bites later (a story for another day), I finally found my 4th great grandfather, William Z. Morey!

For awhile I stood in silence, wondering what it was like to be his wife Elizabeth… learning that her husband had passed and that her eight kids were then fatherless.

I wondered what it would have been like for her, knowing that his body wouldn’t be coming home. Instead, he’d be laid to rest in some far off state. What kind of ceremony did they have for soldiers like, William – if anything?

Having seen photos of his grave online, I knew other descendants had visited his grave… but did his wife or kids ever get the chance?

Finally, how would he have have reacted to being known by and having his gravesite visited by a 4th great grandchild?

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Did William belly up to the bar at Tujagues? Did he care for the chicory or spend time in Jackson Square? Would he have had stories to tell about “Beastly” Butler or experienced poor treatment from locals for being apart of the occupation?

It is all very likely…

Its clear to see the Civil War left it’s mark on New Orleans, which leads me to believe the War and New Orleans would have left a mark on my ancestor, William Z. Morey.

I would like to thank Holiday Inn for helping me connect with my ancestor. Being given the opportunity to revisit New Orleans in this unique way, I can honesty say the city’s past and what I have learned about my ancestor’s time there has forever left a mark on me.

 

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On a Lark with Captain Fairfield

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There are times when all I want is a getaway with my guy or have a weekend away with the girls… then there are moments where I am badly in need of a little “me” time. When I find myself in such a place, I like to look for somewhere new to explore, refresh, unplug and hide.

There is nothing more liberating than ditching your daily routine to do what you want, when you want-without having to worry about boring anyone else or playing by their rules.

Being the history nerd that I am, I tend to find sanctuary in older locations that embrace their roots and a simpler lifestyle. On a recent solo trip, I was able to find all of the above and more at the Captain Fairfield Inn in Kennebunkport, Maine.

The Captain Fairfield Inn, one of many boutique style locations owned by Lark Hotels, has so many amazing things to offer its guests.

Here are five things that left a lasting impression on me during my stay…

 A Story to Tell…

Those who know me, know I love a good story rich in history and intrigue – Captain Fairfield didn’t disappoint!

Following their marriage, newlyweds Captain James Fairfield and Lois Walker were given a plot of land in Kennebunkport as a wedding gift. It was on this land in 1813, that they built a Federal-style mansion, known today as the Captain Fairfield Inn.

Shortly after its completion, Captain Fairfield invited his sister Polly and her husband Joseph Lord to live with him and Lois. Since James and Joseph were both sea captains, they hoped their wives could keep each other company while they were away at sea for long periods of time.

The time apart between the women and their husbands was one I could relate to personally. Although I am not married, I have dated a man who lives in Australia for the last five years and it’s hard to not find the distance unbearable at times.

Even still, I could not fully imagine what life was like for these ladies… having lived in a time without phones, video chat, text and email, all they could do is wait for a letter to arrive and pray for their husbands’ safe return.

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A Mix of Old & New…

The Captain Fairfield Inn has a mix of new and old elements that really give it its own unique vibe. The rooms, decorated in both new and old furniture, were covered in pops of bold, modern colors and eye-catching patterns.

What really made me fall in love with the inn though, were the unexpected surprises.

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On a tour of the property, the original pine floors and decorative trim caught my attention immediately. I don’t think I could have smiled any wider when the floorboards began to creak beneath my feet!

The second nerdy smile involved the music playing throughout the first floor. Sinatra, Dean Martin, Ella Fitzgerald, Jimmy Durante, Louis Armstrong… all musicians I love listening to when I’m badly in need of a chill out.

The final goofy grin came just as I was getting ready for bed… while lowering the blinds in my room, I noticed the windows were the old weight and pulley system style. Mentally, they brought me right back to one of my best childhood memories- living in my great grandmother’s old house.

Although I do enjoy inns that are furnished with antique and vintage pieces, I sometimes find them hard to fully relax in out of fear of breaking something. With Captain Fairfield’s mix of old and new, you trade the stuffy museum feel for a location that feels more like a cozy home away from home.

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A Few of My Favorite Things…

Adding to the home away from home feel were the amenities.

How many locations hand you an ipad on arrival to use for the duration of your stay? The Captain Fairfield Inn was a first for me. The ipad was loaded with apps that helped familiarize me with Kennebunkport, the inn and gave me the opportunity to browse other Lark Hotels’ locations.

Breakfast was fantastic and consisted of freshly made, small plates that you could mix and match. This was no “one boring plate serves all” scenario. From lemon-ginger scones, sea salt & cracked pepper biscuits and sweet breads to coconut and currant oatmeal, caprese baked eggs with basil and tomato, and a berry granola salad… breakfast was worth getting up for.

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Then there was the coffee station and wine nook located just off the dinning room.

After 3pm, all I could smell throughout the first floor were the freshly baked cookies waiting to be devoured in the coffee station… and devour, I did.

In the adjacent wine nook, there was a fridge full of complimentary sodas and a counter full of freshly made pastries.

Wine and beer were available for purchase, but the thing I loved most about it was that it was all accounted for by honor system. Grab your beverage(s) of choice, then write your name, room number, date and quantity on a sheet fixed to the refrigerator door.

Trust & honesty… Two things there aren’t enough of these days.

Helping myself to a couple of cookies and a glass of red, I ended each night at the Captain Fairfield in front of a fireplace in the privacy of my own room.

I couldn’t think of a better way to end a long day!

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Out and About…

Location. Location. Location.

Tucked away on a quiet street, the inn was barely a five-minute walk from the center of town. I literally parked my car at the inn and there it sat for my entire stay.

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I spent my days bouncing from art gallery to art gallery and popping into just about every boutique Kennebunkport had to offer. When it came to great food, there was no shortage.

While Maine is known worldwide for its lobst-ah… I am known locally for my sweet tooth. So, of course two stops were of the sugary variety. From pigging out on dark chocolate and salted caramel ice cream at Rococo’s to watching the world go by with a hot chocolate and pastry at Mornings in Paris… my cavities were in heaven.

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Morning in Paris

Since leaving Maine without having some form of seafood would be the sin of all sins, I decided to splurge on a dinner at Hurricane.

Table for one please!

A candle lit table over looking the water as the sun set… bread paired with a seasoned oil, a wedge salad and a glass of red to start. The main, baked haddock paired with mushroom risotto… What more could a girl ask for?

Besides the company of her handsome Aussie… of course!

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Breaking Misconceptions…

As a New Englander (born and raised), the area has played a big part in making me who I am.

It is my heart.

Having said that, it is funny how you can live in an area your whole life and not really know it. To me, and many others, Kennebunkport is the Bush family compound-a presidential hideaway. It is a well-known, picturesque town with old money.

With money, comes the expectation of snootiness.

…How wrong was I.

I cannot tell you how many genuine conversations I got into with locals, especially shopkeepers or fellow restaurant patrons a table over. And it wasn’t the forced conversation for the sake of conversation either, which is my least favorite thing in the world.

People actually acknowledged each other.

They stopped what they were doing to say hello, to ask how you’re doing or to crack a joke. People’s faces weren’t buried in a phone or avoiding eye contact… they were relaxed and welcomed interaction. Taking in the beachy, seaside setting, their laid back nature was contagious.

I honestly felt like I was on another planet, one much friendlier than I am used to.

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When it comes to escaping your normal day to day for a little time away… there are times when you just need a place to drop your bags and then there are times you want a place that will enhance your overall experience.

The Captain Fairfield Inn is a special place where history meets the modern world, allowing guests to step back into simpler times while giving them the ability to stay connected.

I couldn’t have found a better place to hide while not really hiding at all. Hidden-in-plain-sight, The Captain Fairfield Inn gave me a chance to get away from the day-to-day stress and minutia to explore the history and culture of a unique seaside town.

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The South Shire Inn in Bennington, Vermont

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South Shire Inn: Photo by Kris Williams

Recently, I was fortunate enough to be booked at the South Shire Inn following an event in Bennington, Vermont. Having checked out the inn’s website weeks before my stay, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to take my grandmother along for a bit of a girl’s weekend.

Designed by William C. Bull, this beautiful 1887 Victorian inn was originally owned by Louis A. Graves. Located at 124 Elm St. in Bennington, Vermont, the home was beautifully renovated and lovingly looked after by it’s current owners and caretakers.

3a. Lobby

Entryway at the South Shire Inn: Photo by Kris Williams

Walking through the front door into the lobby, I honestly fell in love. From the wooden dutch door, oval windows, wall paper, window seats, antique furniture and reception desk my grandmother and I felt like we stepped back in time.

While we stood in the lobby admiring the over all charm of the place we were greeted by the owner.

As she introduced herself, I could tell she was a bit thrown off by the fact there were two of us checking into the Peach Room. She was only expecting me…

3. Lobby

South Shire Inn Reception Desk: Photo by Kris Williams

This was my mistake.

When the event manager put me up in this location, I never told him I was bringing my grandmother. However, when I was sent the booking confirmation it stated it was booked for two guests-which is pretty standard in most accommodations even if there is only one guest checking in.

Having stayed in so many hotels, I hadn’t thought much of letting the inn or the event manager know I would be bringing a guest with me. I just figured it would be fine, forgetting the fact inn’s are a bit different than an impersonal hotel with 50 rooms.

Inns tend to be more one on one with their guests, more personable and tend to include breakfast.

Rather than get cranky about the fact I slipped up, the owner was very sweet. She simply stated, “Oh, there are two of you! …the bed is kind of small…” and then went on to apologize about the stairs.

While the staircase is absolutely beautiful, I will say if you have a hard time climbing stairs it would be smart to book a room on the first floor. While grandma did get up and down them OK… being 91, a room on the first floor would have been a smarter option.

Again-mistake on my part!

Now for the room…

1. Bedroom

The Peach Room at South Shire Inn: Photo by Kris Williams

Excuse our bags and random soda bottle… eventually I will learn to take photos of a location BEFORE we get settled…such a newbie…

Regardless… as you can see, the room was warm, comfortable and decorated for the time period. My grandmother and I spent a good amount of time admiring the ornate details in the wood and metal work on both the bed and bedside tables.

Once you have a look at the wall paper in the room, it’s pretty obvious why the room is called the Peach Room. The color wasn’t overwhelming at all though… the light carpet, white curtains, ceiling and trim balanced the color well giving the room a clean, crisp, bright and cozy feel.

1a. Bedroom

The Peach Room at South Shire Inn: Photo by Kris Williams

The bed… while it was small in size (full), my grandmother and I fit on it just fine. The mattress wasn’t bad, firm but comfortable. I tend to like mattresses that are like pillows (even though my back hates them) but it really is a matter of preference.

Overall, neither of us had any complaints.

Besides… the antique bed came with a pretty cool roommate…

1c. Bedroom

Phooooone Hoooommme at South Shire Inn: Photo by Kris Williams

While I laid in bed resting from our 2.5 hour drive to Vermont, Grandma setup in a comfy upholstered armchair reading the guestbook to me. I was just about to doze off when I heard her say…

“Hey! …It’s that go home alien!!”

That’s right-stay in the Peach Room at the South Shire Inn and you too can bunk with E.T.!

2. Bathroom

Peach Room Bathroom at South Shire Inn: Photo by Kris Williams

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Peach Room Bathroom at South Shire Inn: Photo by Kris Williams

The bathroom was large, bright and clean with plenty of storage and closet space. Looking at the bathroom’s layout, it was obvious that it was once a small bedroom converted into a bathroom.

There was one detail in the bathroom that had my grandmother and I laughing… check out the window near the toilet and the white wicker bench. Notice it is literally floor level?

From what the Inn owner told me, this was a typical feature of Queen Anne style homes. Windows were placed where they looked good on the outside of the home… but that didn’t always mean their placement in the house made sense.

It definitely added a bit of character to the room… however, keep in mind-this room is on the second floor. If the window shade is up, you have an amazing view down of the parking lot… from the toilet.

Which also means… for any unlucky guest who just happens to look up from the parking lot-there you are in all your glory sitting on your peach room throne!

While slightly hilarious, closing the shade is a good idea.

4. Dinningroom

Breakfast Room at South Shire Inn: Photo by Kris Williams

One of the things that was repeated over and over again in the guestbook was the “delicious” breakfast, so of course grandma and I couldn’t leave without giving it a go!

We made our way down for breakfast about a half hour before it ended which was nice because the room wasn’t loud or crowded. In fact, we were just getting seated as everyone else was leaving.

Looking around the room we were again in awe of the old workmanship… you just don’t see detail like it anymore. The decorative, cream colored walls, 10 foot ceilings, wooden floor, colorful carpet and linens… and again the antique furniture…

“This definitely wasn’t a Williams’ house…” Grandma said joking, noting that not everyone lived in homes like this in the 1880’s.

That’s when the owner mentioned the home was owned by a family of bankers. While the main part of the house was built in 1887, an addition was added in the early 1900’s by the same family which included the breakfast room and the equally impressive library.

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Library at South Shire Inn: Photo by Kris Williams

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Sherry and a good book by the fire at South Shire Inn: Photo by Kris Williams

The breakfast you ask?

It was as delicious as all the previous guests had stated in the guestbook.

Breakfast started with a fruit plate of melon and strawberries along with buttermilk poppy seed coffee cake and your choice of coffee or juice. The poppy coffee cake was ridiculously good… and luckily it didn’t keep me from passing my work related drug test three days later.

Next up was a broccoli, cheddar quiche with sausage and a choice of toast.

We had zero complaints with breakfast-left full and happy!

1b. Bedroom

Peach Room Guest Book at South Shire Inn: Photo by Kris Williams

Overall, the owners of the South Shire Inn were helpful, friendly and accommodating. The Peach Room was spacious, beautifully decorated, comfortable and included a large bathroom. The guestbook didn’t lie-breakfast was delicious and the inn’s location was central to a lot of Bennington’s attractions and sites (many of which were in walking distance).

In my opinion, the South Shire Inn provides an enjoyable step back into the past with all the modern conveniences. It’s a great place to book if you are looking for a romantic getaway or a girls weekend in southern Vermont!

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Night In The Berkshires: The Porches Inn at MASS MoCa

After a big lunch at the Freight Yard Pub, my grandmother and I waddled into The Porches Inn at MASS MoCa to check into our room.

This was the second time I was booked at Porches for work and the main reason I asked my grandmother to join me on the trip. I knew she would love and enjoy the inn as much as I had.

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Photo Courtesy of The Porches Inn at MASS MoCa

Located in North Adams, Massachusetts, The Porches Inn was once a dilapidated block of Victorian row houses used by local mill workers.

Inspired by MASS MoCa (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art), each building was beautifully renovated; structurally keeping its Victorian charm while gaining an updated and edgy twist through the use of color and decor.

Connected by long verandas, each building was assigned it’s own exterior color. These colors give the inn a playful look from the street while giving you small taste of what’s in store just inside it’s doors.

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Photo Courtesy of The Porches Inn at MASS MoCa

Walking up to the front desk, I pointed a table out to my grandmother that held a plate of fresh baked cookies. As I was busy checking us in, I looked over to have a peek at my grandmother, who grabbed two cookies… then after a look around, grabbed two more.

Note to Porches: When the Williams’ are in town, hide your baked goods.

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Photo Courtesy of The Porches Inn at MASS MoCa

Grabbing our bags we made our way down to the gray colored building and entered using our security key.

One of the many fun features of the inn are the hallways.

Even though you are inside the building you get the feeling you are still outside on a porch. Looking up from the first floor you will find porches that run along the second floor rooms, which can be accessed by a staircase in the hall. Along the walls of the hallway you will find windows. These windows give guests the ability to look out from their rooms into the hall.

For those worried about hallway peeking toms, all the rooms have blinds so there’s no need to worry!

the porches inn at mass moca

Photo Courtesy of The Porches Inn at MASS MoCa

Using our key (real, metal key-not a cheap plastic card) we entered our “Deluxe Standard” room.

It was beautiful.

Grandma and I wheeled our bags in and tucked them away in the closet. She had a seat in a chair by the window with a magazine while I sank into the giant king sized bed. We both sat chatting, poking fresh baked cookies into our faces while groaning over our full burger bellies from lunch.

It was pretty funny.

Starting with the key, our room had a few details that we really got a kick out of… a second was this giant window in the wall that separated the bathroom and the bedroom. Lucky the glass was frosted so there were no scary views but it didn’t keep us from being silly about it.

The third detail my grandmother noticed. While hanging out in the room, she spotted a painting on the wall that had hinges on one side of the frame. Having a look, she pulled at the opposite side of the frame to find a safe hidden behind it.

What can I say, they were cute features and we are easily amused.

the porches inn at mass moca

Photo Courtesy of The Porches Inn at MASS MoCa

the porches inn at mass moca

Photo Courtesy of The Porches Inn at MASS MoCa

The first time I stayed at Porches, I was placed in a one bedroom suite that looked a lot like the photos above… it was awesome.

There was a sitting room that included a sofa, chair, television and desk to work at. The bedroom was huge and the bed was beyond comfortable… to the point work was lucky I remembered to show up!

As an added surprise, the bathroom was a lot larger than I expected. Being a female with all the extra crap I drag around, it was nice to have a decent amount of counter space and… a large tub.

Heaven.

the porches inn at mass moca

Photo Courtesy of The Porches Inn at MASS MoCa

Getting all nerdy on you for a second… While working away at the desk, I really enjoyed looking out at the old mill.

It made me wonder, what was day to day life like working in the mill? And what about the workers that lived in these buildings? Especially in the room I was occupying…

There is something to be said about older buildings… so much more interesting to stay in an inn over some chain, lackluster hotel.

the porches inn at mass moca

Photo Courtesy of The Porches Inn at MASS MoCa

For breakfast, Porches provides it’s guests with two choices.

You can either get your lazy butt out of bed to enjoy a buffet in their cozy breakfast area OR you can have breakfast delivered to your room in retro, metal lunchboxes.

Super cute…

the porches inn at mass moca

Photo Courtesy of The Porches Inn at MASS MoCa

the porches inn at mass moca

Photo Courtesy of The Porches Inn at MASS MoCa

Before heading out to the Norman Rockwell Museum, my grandmother and I choose to start our day in the breakfast area. Breakfast consisted of a variety of juices, coffee, breads for toast, cheese, fruits, cereals and hard-boiled eggs.

Overall, I love The Porches Inn at MASS MoCa for it’s artsy feel without the artsy attitude. The rooms were clean, comfortable, cozy and full of character. The staff was helpful and friendly.

My one and only complaint?

Having to check out.

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The Antietam National Battlefield Memorial Illumination

I would like to thank Holiday Inn for partnering with me to make this post possible. As always, all opinions are my own!

– Kris Williams

Have you ever learned of a location that left you with an extreme desire to go? For me, that was the Antietam National Battlefield. Not only did I have to get there someday, I needed to get there for a specific day.

That one special day, everything in me insisted on experiencing, was The Antietam National Battlefield Memorial Illumination.

I am willing to bet many of my readers will be left wondering the same things I did when I first heard of this location and event… What is Antietam all about? And what is an Illumination Memorial?

It is amazing how much we don’t know about our own history. While I am sure every American has heard of the Civil War, I think Gettysburg will be the one and only battle they are familiar with.

Although Gettysburg is definitely one of many battles that shouldn’t be forgotten, the devastation at Antietam is one most Americans have never heard of… Unless, of course, you live local to the battlefield or you’re a Civil War buff.

So, what was Antietam?

On September 17, 1862, about 100,000 soldiers engaged in battle in the small town of Sharpsburg, Maryland. Antietam, referred to as Sharpsburg by Southerners, was a 12-hour battle that left a total of 23,000 men dead, wounded or missing. Known as “The Bloodiest One Day Battle in American History”, it was a narrow victory for the Union Army.

At the cost of 23,000 men dead, wounded or missing, what did the Union gain?

There were a few things the Union gained from the victory at Antietam.

  • Due to other losses, the Union’s morale among soldiers and citizens was shaken. The North needed a victory more than ever in hopes of turning things around. The win at Antietam not only give the North a badly needed morale boost, it put a stop to the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia’s first invasion into Union territory.
  • It also enabled Lincoln to release The Emancipation Proclamation. With its release, the North not only fought to preserve the Union, it looked to bring an end to slavery.
  • Finally, the victory squashed all threat of British intervention on the side of the Confederacy.

What is the Illumination Memorial all about?

The Antietam National Battlefield Memorial Illumination is an annual event that honors the memory of each soldier who was killed, wounded or went missing during the Battle of Antietam.

On December 5, 2015, I was fortunate enough to experience their 27th Memorial Illumination, which was hosted by the Antietam National Battlefield, the American Business Women’s Association and the Washington County Convention and Visitors’ Bureau.

In memory of each solider, a candle is carefully placed on the battlefield. In total, 23,000 candles line a five-mile route that is included in a driving tour.

During this driving tour, visitors are instructed to only use their parking lights and are expected to drive through without stopping or getting out of their vehicles.

Due to the popularity of the Antietam National Battlefield Memorial Illumination, lines to get into the event can be a two-hour wait.

I promise you; it is well worth it.

My Visit to Antietam National Battlefield Memorial Illumination…

Starting my day at Visitor’s Center, I had a chat with the staff before grabbing some pamphlets and a self-guided Battlefield tour.

Jumping back into my rental, I started to make my way around Antietam’s 11 points of interest. However, before I could even focus on Antietam’s history something else caught my eye.

The first thing I noticed, which was hard to miss, were the volunteers. I had gotten to the battlefield around 10am but you could tell they had started their day hours earlier.

They were everywhere.

Young and old… Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, veterans, local organizations and residents. Working in large groups, they carefully placed each luminary. Using rope, they worked tirelessly to be sure each was placed with the others in straight lines.

Watching the process and the number of people involved was pretty impressive.

Battlefield Highlights…

While there are several points of interest at Antietam, I have decided to highlight the ones that affected me the most during my visit since It would be impossible to cover each location and monument properly in this short article.

Dunker Church

Built in 1852, this little church became the center of several attacks made by the Union Army against the Confederates. As if a battle breaking out around a church wasn’t odd enough – the use for it following the battle would put a chill up most spines.

Like most homes and buildings at the time, the church was used as a makeshift hospital looking after some of the 17,000 wounded soldiers. Some even believe the church was used as an embalming station by the Union Army following the battle of Antietam.

Bloody Lane

The three-hour battle, which took place on The Sunken Road is an unimaginable one. In that short period of time, 5,500 men were killed or wounded… earning the otherwise quaint, country road the name, Bloody Lane.

It was on this 1.5-mile trail that 2,200 Confederates did all they could to hold off 10,000 Union soldiers.

The survivor’s stories of the battle are horrific to say the least. Then there are the photographs that show the old farm road over flowing with the dead…

For a place that would otherwise be viewed as peaceful countryside – this location was once someone’s worst nightmare and final resting spot.

As I stood where 5,500 men once fell… I couldn’t help but get upset.

Antietam National Cemetery

Antietam National Cemetery was created to solve problems the large number of dead created for the living. Originally, soldiers were buried where they fell in shallow graves. Before long, the bodies started resurfacing.

Besides the fact this would be a horrific sight, this problem would lead to disease and death for those living in Sharpsburg. In order to solve the problem, money was raised to build a cemetery to bury the dead.

At first, the plan was to bury both Union and Confederate soldiers in the new cemetery. However, tensions between the North and South were still too fresh. To deal with the problem, Confederates were moved to three local cemeteries while 4,776 Union soldiers were moved to the newly created, Antietam National Cemetery.

Before it became a cemetery, this plot of land was used by Confederate artillery. Today, you can visit and pay respects to the Union soldiers who were buried here, as well as dead from four other wars.

There were a few things that hit me emotionally at this location…

  • One was knowing those buried here were just fraction of those who died during the Battle of Antietam…
  • Second, For every stone that bared the name of the dead… there were several markers that just displayed a number. The number of bodies that weren’t identified are heart breaking. Imagine how many families saw their loved ones off only to hear nothing in the end. I’m sure in their hearts they knew their loved one’s fate… but not knowing the how, when or where they were laid to rest must have been hard to deal with.
  • Finally, the statue of a Union private, which stood in the middle of the cemetery, was hard to miss. Encircling this statue were lines to a poem, followed by headstones… his comrades, that all seemed to be standing at attention.

The Antietam National Battlefield Illumination

Headed back to the Visitor’s Center with a new appreciation of Antietam, I was lucky enough to attend the Illumination Ceremony.

During the Illumination Ceremony, many people involved in the memorial including organizers, volunteers and state representatives spoke on the importance of the Memorial Illumination and what it has meant to them personally. There was prayer and song for those who died during battle. At one point TAPS could be heard from Dunker Church followed by Amazing Grace on bagpipes from the Visitor’s Center.

It was during this ceremony that I learned the Antietam National Battlefield Illumination was in its 27th year and 1,500 people volunteer annually to help setup the candles.

The fact that that many still people care today, about an event that happened so long ago, left me speechless.

There were several points during the ceremony that touched me, but the moment that stuck with me most of all came when a musician approached the microphone.

Taking to his guitar he began to play as he sang the words to Hallelujah. His voice and the words to the song eerily drifted over the battlefield and with it my heart sank.

The reality of my trip, of the whole experience had finally hit. With a fresh pair of eyes and a sun that was quickly setting, I stood surrounded by thousands of flickering little bags of light.

These flickering little bags of light stood in formation, stretching for as far as I could see in all directions.

23,000 luminaires.

23,000… each representing a husband, father, brother, son, uncle and friend who had died, had been wounded or had gone missing where I stood in a 12-hour battle.

23,000 men.

I stood imagining the shadows of these men standing beside me. I imagined the sounds and smell of the gun and cannon fire. I imagined the chaos, horror and fear that would come with battle. I imagined the dead, the dying and the wounded crying out for help.

To say I was overwhelmed with emotion would be an understatement. I wondered if it were strange to be so emotional over an event that took place long before I was born?

As the ceremony came to an end and the crowd began to disperse, I found myself left behind in the silence with a handful of others who had permits to photograph the memorial.

As I sat, surrounded by candlelight, I realized two things.

  • One was that numbers are cold and are incapable of telling the full story. Simply hearing or reading the number 23,000 does not make the same impression as seeing that number physically represented. I found the candles made it easier to grasp just how devastating Antietam was.
  • The second thing I realized, no distinction was made when it came to who was Confederate and who was Union. No one cared. The purpose of the memorial wasn’t to remember one side or the other. Who won or who lost. The point was… They were all American.

The Civil War wasn’t some far off battle fought between two foreign lands. It was fought in our own backyards and pitted our ancestors against each other. It tore families apart, leaving in its wake hundreds of thousands of dead and left a generation of Americans in shambles.

At a time when our country couldn’t be more divided, there are many lessons to be learned at Antietam that couldn’t be more important.

I would encourage everyone reading this article to visit.

From the history of the Antietam Battlefield itself, as well as the buildings and memorials that stand as reminders of the past, to the 1,500 volunteers that give up countless hours to thoughtfully place each candle and the hundreds if not thousands who wait to enter the memorial each year…

The Antietam National Battlefield Memorial Illumination is an experience I will never forget.

I will be forever grateful to the Holiday Inn for helping me check this must see destination off my list and – I look forward to returning one day.