Mackinac Island Is A Family Vacation Favorite

Seven million people descended on Cleveland during the summers of 1936 and 1937 to experience the Great Lakes Exposition, a mini-world’s fair that commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Ohio city’s incorporation. My grandparents were two of those fair-goers.momdad_port-stanley

They strolled down the new civic mall between St. Clair and Lakeside Avenues to a bridge that led to the 135-acre Exposition site. There, they walked along the “Streets of the World,” with its replicas of structures from more than 30 foreign countries. They saw a midway with rides and sideshows, a Court of Presidents dedicated to the 16 presidents from Great Lakes states, and a Hall of Progress. They could see horticultural exhibits and tabloid versions of William Shakespeare’s plays. A band shell housed nightly concerts given by Cleveland Symphony Orchestra musicians and performers like Bob Crosby and Xavier Cugat, and a floating stage for a swimming show starring Olympians Johnny Weissmuller and Eleanor Holm. At the Ohio Bell Telepdaddy-on-ferry-deck-2hone Company’s exhibit, they could hear what their voices sounded like over the telephone.The SS Moses Cleaveland, a 350-foot Great Lakes vessel, was transformed into a floating nightclub. Every evening, General Electric and Westinghouse engineers treated fair-goers to a spectacular light show.

My grandparents also opted to take two day cruises that left from the Exposition’s pier.

One steamer sailed across Lake Erie to Port Stanley, Canada.


The other went to Mackinac Island, Michigan, one of several islands in the Straits of Mackinac, where Lake Huron joins Lake Michigan.

In the island’s Marquette Park, my grandfather posed before the statue of Father Jacques Marquette, the French Jesuit missionary who introduced Christianity to Native Americans in present-day Michigan.

Mackinac Island, 1937

Ten years later, my grandparents returned to Mackinac Island with my mother and my aunt Sally.

They watched the ferries making the 16-minute journey between Mackinaw City and Mackinac Island.Mackinac Island, 1947

They posed in front of Father Marquette’s statue, having successfully completed their pre-vacation reading about the exploring missionary. Behind the statue, they saw Fort Mackinac, the military post built by the British during the Revolutionary War that is situated atop a limestone bluff overlooking the Straits of Mackinac.Mackinac Island, 1947

They visited the restored American Fur Company Store, the former general store and trading post for the famed fur company that John Jacob Astor established in 1808. Here, on June 6, 1822, Dr. William Beaumont, Fort Mackinac’s surgeon, operated on a French-Canadian named Alexis St. Martin after he was accidentally shot in the stomach at close range. St. Martin recovered, but the hole in his stomach never healed to closure, so Beaumont used it to study how the human digestive system works.

Mackinac Island, 1947

And they explored the forests, trails and unusual geologic formations of Mackinac Island State Park, the 1,800-acre area constituting over 80 percent of the entire island.

Mackinac Island, 1947

These are just some of the rituals tourists continue to enjoy doing during a visit to Mackinac Island. Join me in the next several posts to discover the island’s history, natural wonders, tourist attractions, and its literary and artistic heritage.

For more on Cleveland’s Great Lakes Exposition, see “Biggest Bash: Cleveland’s Great Lakes Exposition,” in the March-April 1996 issue of TIMELINE, and Meet Me On Lake Erie, Dearie!: Cleveland’s Great Lakes Exposition, 1936-1937, both by John Vacha.

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“To Betsy, Who Was There,” Chestnut Ridge Sparkles Like Cloisonné

“That’s where Rita and Tommy lived.”

That simple sentence turned the plans for my first visit to Chestnut Ridge Metro Park into an adventure of genealogical proportions.

Chestnut Ridge Metro ParkA picture-perfect Sunday-afternoon drive through historic Canal Winchester brought us to the 486-acre park in Carroll. At a two-acre pond near the park’s entrance, some people were fishing for bluegill, bass and catfish; others were standing on a wetland observation deck, hoping to catch a glimpse of waterfowl like the wood ducks, green herons and mallards known to frequent the pond. I spotted an umbrella of sleek white gourds on the shore that invited purple martins to nest.

The woods beckoned, so we took the Ridge Trail and began our hike through the park.

The park’s signature feature is a dramatically high ridge formed from an outcropping of Blackhand sandstone, similar to the sandstone cliffs in nearby Licking County upon which Native Americans made a hand-shaped carving that blackened with weathering or moss.

The sandstone at Chestnut Ridge was so plentiful that in 1835, canal-builders directed Irish laborers to hew hundreds of blocks from it to create the locks for the nearby Ohio and Erie and Hocking Canals. More recently, blocks of sandstone from the same source were quarried to create a semi-circular amphitheatre for park programs.

The trail gradually rises 150 feet to the ridge through a thick forest. Sycamore, sugar maple and beech trees abound on the lower slopes, while black oak, shagbark hickory, ash and oak trees grow along the upper slopes and ridge. Vast stands of American chestnut trees also covered the slopes of the ridge until a devastating blight arrived in the early 1900s, killing most of the chestnut trees in Ohio by the 1950s. Only a few blight-resistant hybrid chestnut trees grow at the park today.

Chestnut Ridge Metro ParkAn abundant shade-giving canopy protects wildflowers and wildlife alike. A furry white caterpillar destined to become a hickory tussock moth slowly made his way along the railing of the boardwalk that spans part of the Ridge Trail.

Reaching the top of the ridge, it wasn’t long before I realized why Chestnut Ridge is such a gem of a place. Considered to be the first ridge in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Chestnut Ridge divides two different regions of the country. We stood on the park’s two observation decks and beheld some beautiful scenery.

Chestnut Ridge Metro ParkOne provides a view of the Columbus skyline, about 19 miles away. The other is so picturesque that it moved David Rains Wallace, an author of several works on conservation and natural history, to capture it in writing. Wallace lived on the north slope of Chestnut Ridge from 1975 to 1977 while working as a public information specialist for Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks. His book, Idle Weeds: The Life of an Ohio Sandstone Ridge, is based on the journal he kept while walking the property and is dedicated “to Betsy, who was there.”

“The ridge might even be said to have a soul, at least a place that is always beautiful, from which beauty radiates,” Wallace wrote in Idle Weeds. “There is a little grove of sugar maples on the upper west slope just below the spring-wildflower-covered mound. The maples are young, no more than sixty years old, but something about the place makes them seem venerable….A quiet emerald light plays on the slope in summer, and in autumn the crisp sunbeams that stream through the golden canopy make the grove sparkle like cloisonné. In winter the trees stand as gracefully against the snow as in those leafless woods through which knights hunt wild boar in a medieval book of hours….Other tree species will move in as the maples grow older….The trees will die, the slope will be leveled by erosion, and the ridge will start all over again as a sandbank on some distant shore.”

We continued along Meadows Trail, a path following the edge of a high meadow that crosses over a stream, noticing wildflowers like Flowering Spurge, Great Blue Lobelia, Green-headed Coneflower and Tick Trefoil, so named for its furry pods that stick to cloth like ticks. Abundant patches of Snakeroot, the plant with the fluffy white flowers that caused the death of Abraham Lincoln’s mother, prompted a reader’s advisory for Amy Stewart’s Wicked Plants: A Book of Botanical Atrocities. We spotted Kentucky coffeetrees, sassafras and hawthorn trees, and stopped to watch a Nuthatch climb upside-down along tree trunks. More than 70 species of birds have been counted at Chestnut Ridge in one day.

Turning onto Homesite Trail, my anticipation mounted. Rita Born Quinn, my great-aunt, and her husband, Tom, lived on Chestnut Ridge, and the trail passes through their former property.

My great-grandparents, John and Julia Born, at Apple Hill

My great-grandparents, John and Julia Born, at Apple Hill

People began planting orchards at Chestnut Ridge between 1860 and 1880. One of them was John Wagner, a native of Payne, Ohio who served in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War and stayed there until 1918, when he returned to Ohio to start an apple orchard. He chose Chestnut Ridge because of the air that prevented damage from late frosts and its proximity to the Columbus market. After Wagner passed away in 1959, the Quinns bought over 39 acres of land on Chestnut Ridge, including Wagner’s orchard, and lived there in a home they called “Apple Hill.” My mother and her siblings sledded there during the winter and spent a week at a time there during the summer. They remember it as a very pretty property, with a stable and a large pond whose muddy banks provided an inviting home for muskrats.

Other city-dwellers like the Quinns bought parcels of land at Chestnut Ridge. Some used it as a weekend camping getaway; others built homes and moved there, utilizing the excellent growing conditions to plant pear and pine trees; grapevines and blueberry bushes; American holly, ginkgo and magnolia trees; perennials; flowering bulbs; daylilies; bamboo and ground covers. Chestnut Ridge Metro Park

Dr. Edward E. Campbell was one of those people. Around 1936, he built a home called Far View Farms. While the upper floor is gone today, the foundations still exist. Metro Parks is managing this and other old homesites at Chestnut Ridge to keep them from reverting to woodland.

The Quinns sold their property in 1962 to a buyer who subdivided the ridge into lots for houses in a subdivision called Chestnut Heights, advertised as “a delightful, unspoiled sylvan setting for quality homes,” Warren wrote. In 1963, Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks bought it and other parcels of land belonging to 18 other owners in order to return Chestnut Ridge to its natural state and preserve it as a park that would offer conservation and recreational programs.

Chestnut Ridge Metro ParkDescending down the ridge, our final stop was a patch of pawpaw trees. The “Ohio banana trees,” so named because the fruit they bear in the fall resembles short, fat bananas, are in such abundance at Chestnut Ridge that I wanted to chant, “Pickin’ up paw-paws, put ‘em in your pockets, Way down yonder in the paw-paw patch.”

For more on Chestnut Ridge Metro Park, read A Cultural History of Chestnut Ridge Metro Park, by Robert W. McCormick. It is also mentioned in 50 Hikes in Ohio: Day Hikes and Backpacking Trips in the Buckeye State, by Ralph Ramey.  While working as a visiting lecturer in the creative writing program at the Ohio State University during the spring of 1993, Wallace collaborated with the Logan Elm Press on designing and producing a collection of selections from Idle Weeds. The cover papers are made by hand from Abaca and local weed fibers including Goldenrod, Aster, Cattail, Milkweed, Ironweed and Broomshedge. Click here to see the cover and a few pages from this special edition.

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Spend a Sunday Afternoon At Oberlin’s Frank Lloyd Wright House

“Do I really want to live in a work of art?,” Ellen Johnson asked herself as she considered whether or not to buy the house at 534 Morgan Street in Oberlin, Ohio in 1968. “Won’t that be too demanding? Every little thing in the building is so determined and so perfect, how can I be myself in it? How can I live my own life, adding its normal traces to an absolutely complete and beautiful work of art?”

As she recalled in Fragments Recalled at Eighty: The Art Memoirs of Ellen H. Johnson, the Oberlin College art history instructor realized soon after she bought it that she was very lucky to live inWeltzheimer/Johnson house this house that was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1947 and completed in 1949. She discovered it was an easy, comfortable, even consoling house to live in. “It is the most serene of any Wright house I’ve been in,” Johnson said. “One feels rested just being in it.”

Visit this unique place and you’ll see what she meant.

Charles Weltzheimer, a Cleveland businessman who had acquired a business in Wellington and wanted to move his family to nearby Oberlin, commissioned Wright to build the home, but with some special requests. His wife wanted plenty of bookshelves; their 13-year-old daughter, Mary Ann, wrote Wright that her dream room was small and compact.

Wright got to work, designing his first Usonian home in Ohio without ever visiting the site. Using four basic elements –- concrete, brick, glass and wood — Wright sought to create a home that was affordable both to build and to maintain. He employed an L-shaped floor plan, with the public entrance, living and dining spaces in the short part of the L and four private bedrooms, two bathrooms and a long, narrow hallway lined with bookshelves and closets with wide bifold doors in the long part of the L. He also eliminated a basement and an attic, and replaced a garage with a cWeltzheimer/Johnson housearport.

He sited the house on a long, narrow lot, far back from the street. To ensure privacy, he called for a row of evergreen trees to be planted on each side of the house, as well as on the part of the lot nearest Morgan Street. He also planned to establish a small orchard with several varieties of fruit trees.

The exterior and interior of the house feature a continuous stretch of horizontal redwood boards topped by narrow clerestory windows with decorative curvilinear cutouts.

Weltzheimer/Johnson house

Hundreds of stained wooden spheres ornament the underhang of the roof.

Weltzheimer/Johnson house

All of the living and sleeping rooms on the side of the house facing the expansive front lawn have floor-to-ceiling, 108-inch-tall double French doors.Weltzheimer/Johnson house

The living room has four sets of them, alternating with plain windows of the same size.

Weltzheimer/Johnson house

Enter through the front door, which is really at the back of the house, and step inside.

Weltzheimer/Johnson house A spacious, light-filled living room awaits. The room features a brick fireplace, a piano placed in the exact spot Wright dictated, and a copy of a wooden chair that Wright designed,Weltzheimer/Johnson house

 as well as on Johnson’s original sofas and chairs, and survey the space.

Weltzheimer/Johnson house

Several open shelves in the living room present displays pieces of the china that Wright designed for the Imperial Hotel in Japan, as well as shells, coral, pebbles, and other artifacts that Johnson brought back from summer snorkeling trips to the Caribbean, Greece and the Great Barrier Reef.

A series of floor-to-ceiling brick pillars separates the kitchen from the living room, yet keeps the space open enough so that the hostess could still interact with her guests while in the kitchen. Many of Johnson’s appliances from the 1970s are still there.

Weltzheimer/Johnson house

Since Wright was experimenting with solar heat at the time he designed the house, he sited the building to take advantage of the sun’s position in different seasons. In the southwest-facing living room, the sun is kept at bay in the summer, keeping the room cool, but in the winter, it streams all the way across the room and into the kitchen, creating a naturally warm environment.  He called for the concrete floors to be painted dark red so they would absorb the sunlight, then installed hot water pipes in them for radiant heat.

Johnson described the home’s ceilings as “such a joy to look up at on waking: the boards and battens are unchanged in width throughout the building, but their length is varied so that there is a different ceiling design in each room.”

Weltzheimer/Johnson house

The master bath is still fitted with its original pink fixtures, now displayed with period advertisements for them. The uniquely shaped tub had been removed in 1968, but was found in a farmer’s field and returned. Johnson added Formica cabinets and brown tile.

Weltzheimer/Johnson house

The master bedroom features its original bed, designed to be moveable. The Weltzheimers selected and installed patterned hearth bricks, much to Wright’s dismay.

Weltzheimer/Johnson house

Sixteen-year-old Harry Weltzheimer’s bedroom originally had bunk beds, a built-in chest and closet, and an additional set of French doors. Johnson used the room as a study. Six-year-old Gretchen Weltzheimer’s bedroom remains largely as it was originally designed.

Weltzheimer/Johnson house

The bedrooms feature Wright-designed closets with unique drawers.Weltzheimer/Johnson house

The Long Gallery (Wright’s term for the home’s hall) features Mrs. Weltzheimer’s requested bookshelves. Johnson found that they were an ideal place to display her collection of small prints, drawings and paintings, as well as her books.

Weltzheimer/Johnson house

The 46’ long, 4’ wide gallery dead-ends at Mary Ann’s bedroom, an enchanting place with a unique mitered glass corner window and two sets of French doors, one looking across the lawn to the orchard and the other opening out and into a spruce tree. There are two other mitred glass corners in the house: one in the third bedroom and the other in the clerestory, just before entering the gallery.Weltzheimer/Johnson house

In 1963, the Weltzheimers sold the property to a real estate developer who sold off portions of the original three-acre lot and made substantial changes to the house’s structure and interior design to make it more attractive to potential buyers. After Johnson bought the property, she worked hard to restore the house to its original appearance, scrubbing off the whitewash on the brick fireplace and interior walls, refinishing the woodwork, and scraping off dirt and stains from the red-painted floors.

Johnson’s efforts paid off. Architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable remarked that it was one of the most beautiful spaces she had ever seen.

After the 81-year-old Johnson died in 1992, the property was given to Oberlin College to serve as a guest house and a location for musical recitals and other special events.

The Weltzheimer/Johnson House is managed by the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin University. Public open houses are held between 12:00 and 5:00 pm on the first Sunday of each month from April through November. Presentations on the architecture and history of the house begin on the hour. Admission is $5 for adults and free for college students and children under 18. Advance registration is not required, except for groups of 10 or more.Weltzheimer/Johnson house

For more on the Welzheimer-Johnson House, see Frank Lloyd Wright at Oberlin: The Story of the Welzheimer/Johnson House, Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin, volume 49, number 1 (1995) and

Frank Lloyd Wright Design in Oberlin Doubles As Showplace and Residence,” from the September 12, 2010 issue of The Columbus Dispatch.

To read Johnson’s work, check out Modern Art and the Object: A Century of Changing Attitudes and American Artists on Art from 1940 to 1980, as well as books she wrote about artists Paul Cezanne, Edvard Munch, and her friends, Claes Oldenburg, Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein.

Posted in Architecture, Art, History, Ohio, Travel | Leave a comment

Conjure Bishop Watterson During A Tour Of Columbus Cemeteries

When I’m grounded on weekdays, I call in my two retired correspondents to cover newsworthy events.  

Yesterday, they boarded a COTA bus to go to a lecture on climate change, biodiversity and access to clean water that H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco gave as part of his visit to The Ohio State University to learn more about its sustainability research and its Venturi Buckeye Bullet electric race car.

Earlier this summer, they boarded a charter bus for a day-long tour of St. Joseph, Greenlawn and Mt. Calvary cemeteries. The free pilot program was sponsored by the Jubilee Museum and funded by grants from the Catholic Foundation.

Bob Ryan, co-owner of Egan-Ryan Funeral Home, enlightened the group on the history of undertaking. Ryan’s ancestor, Irish emigrant Patrick Egan, purchased a livery business on Naghten Street in the Flytown neighborhood of Columbus in 1859. The livery’s hearse coach introduced Egan to the undertaking trade, which became the business’s primary emphasis after funeral services started being offered in a professional setting, rather than in private homes. Egan’s funeral home was the first of its kind in Columbus. Today, Egan-Ryan is a fifth-generation family business.

St. Joseph CemeterySt. Joseph Cemetery was the first stop on the tour. In 1907, Bishop James Hartley purchased 194 acres of land south of Columbus, on the east side of Chillicothe Pike, for a new Catholic cemetery. The Bishop consecrated the first three sections of the cemetery on November 2, 1913; the first internment was made later that month. Our Mother of Sorrows Chapel at the cemetery was completed in 1929 and served as a parish
church from 1947 until 1970. That’s where the group met Monsignor John Cody, who celebrated Mass to pray for all the souls buried in the places they would be visiting that day, including my Heinmiller grandparents  and several more ancestors and family friends buried at St. Joseph Cemetery.

Today, St. Joseph Cemetery spans about 755 acres, and the group explored it thoroughly after Mass. They saw the graves of Bishops Hartley (1858-1944; bishop from 1904), Michael Joseph Ready (1893-1957; bishop from 1945) and Clarence Edward Elwell (1904-1973; bishop from 1968), and other priests of the diocese, on the chapel lawn. They also visited the section of the cemetery where religious Sisters and other religious women who served the Diocese of Columbus are buried, including members of the Carmelite Sisters of the Aged and Infirmed and oGreen Lawn Cemeteryur cousin, Sister Lillian Bossman.

Next came Green Lawn Cemetery, its chapel and its abbey. Since its founding in 1848, the cemetery has provided a final resting place for many well-known figures in Columbus history, such as my ancestor, Columbus Fire Chief Henry Heinmiller; Lucas Sullivant, founder of Franklinton, the first American settlement in central Ohio; Orange Johnson, a comb-maker who was an early settler of Worthington; author James Thurber; Ohio Governor James Rhodes; and World War I aviator Eddie Rickenbacker.

Built in 1927, with room for 800 bodies, the Palladian-style Green Lawn Abbey mausoleum is perched on a hill just east of Green Lawn Cemetery at Greenlawn and Harmon Avenues.Green Lawn Abbey

Walk-in family crypts on the upper level are adorned with elaborate statues and stained-glass windows.Green Lawn Abbey

Remains interred in the mausoleum include those of Lewis Sells of the Sells Brothers Circus; Herbert Rice Penney, brother of J.C. Penney; I.J. Collins, founder of Anchor Hocking; and Howard Thurston, a magician who was born in Columbus in 1869. Thurston worked as a bellboy at the city’s American House HHoward Thurston grave, Green Lawn Abbeyotel, and discovered magic shows during his stint as a newsboy on the trains between Columbus, Akron and Pittsburgh. Thurston became a renowned Vaudeville performer for almost 30 years, rivaling Harry Houdini as he performed card tricks and the illusions of levitation and sawing people in half. Before he died in 1936, he promised to appear to his friends on the anniversary of his death, but it hasn’t happened yet. His tomb is decorated with a bronze palm frond and a tablet inscribed, “A loving tribute to our friend and fellow member, Howard Thurston. The Society of Osiris Magicians, Baltimore, Md., MCMXXXVIII.”

After lunch, the group made its way to Mt. Calvary Cemetery, a 27-acre tract of land on the south side of West Mound Street that the Diocese Msgr. Specht's grave, Mt. Calvary Cemeteryacquired in 1865. Holy Cross Parish paid for the northern half of the property in which German-speaking Catholics would be interred, while the St. Joseph Cathedral Parish paid for the southern half of the property, where English-speaking Catholics would be buried. Bishop Sylvester Rosecrans consecrated the ground of the new cemetery on All Souls’ Day in 1874.

Notable Catholics buried at Mt. Calvary include Monsignor Francis Xavier Specht (1840-1913) and Bishop John Ambrose Watterson (1844-1899; bishop from 1880). My Butler grandparents and several of my Irish ancestors are also buried there. 

The group conjured an appearance by Bishop Watterson, who saw it as his duty to preserve the faith of the children of the diocese and train them to be moral men and women. Afterwards, they were joined by Father Kevin Lutz, the priest who established the Jubilee Museum.

The tour’s last stop was Old FrankOld Franklinton Cemeterylinton Cemetery, located on the West Side of Columbus, near the Jubilee Museum. The cemetery was established in 1799 by the founders of Franklinton, the first settlement in Columbus.

The Jubilee Museum will be hosting another tour of Columbus Catholic cemeteries on Saturday, October 1, 2016 from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. A $40 registration fee includes bus transportation, lunch and all costs associated with the various locations. To save your place, e-mail Sheila Lutz at

For more on the history of the Diocese of Columbus and its cemeteries, see Illustrated History of the Diocese of Columbus, by Donald M. Schlegel. The Last Greatest Magician in the World: Howard Thurston Versus Houdini & the Battles of the American Wizards, by Jim Steinmeyer, offers more information on Thurston.

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Valley Forge Is Not A Dreary Kind of Place

Imagine part of the Continental Army arriving at this farmland after marching 300 to 500 miles through the Pennsylvania countryside. There’s snow on the ground, they’re half-naked, barefoot and starving, and they haven’t been paid in three months.”

That’s the way volunteer tour guide Randy Rice set the stage for my half-day tour of the Valley Forge National Historical Park.

Valley ForgeA sunny summer day is a difficult time to establish the somber mood necessary for modern-day visitors to picture just how bad things were at Valley Forge during the legendary Revolutionary War encampment during the winter of 1777 and 1778, but Mr. Rice played the perfect weather conditions to his favor. As we traversed the historic site, he provided fascinating insights while I took in bucolic, picturesque views from high atop hills, beside the train tracks of the Reading Railroad, and along neighboring streets with historically inspired names like “Red Coat Lane.”

In the third winter of the eight-year Revolutionary War, soldiers fought more than their foes. Hunger and sickness were commonplace hardships they had to overcome. With the British occupying Philadelphia, General George Washington decided in December 1777 that his troops would winter at Valley Forge, a site that was close enough to reach the city in a day’s march, but far enough away to keep a surprise attack at bay.

Valley ForgeIsaac Potts’ thriving industrial property known as Valley Forge consisted of farmland, forges, a grist mill, a sawmill, a blacksmith, a cooper and a general store. An abundant supply of oak, chestnut and hickory trees provided sources of fuel and charcoal. Valley Creek, a creek which runs into the Schuylkill River, provided not only fresh water to operate the forge, but its mountainous banks also offered protection for the encampment.

At Valley Forge, the weary, yet persevering men could try to recover during the respite from fighting which winter brought. “Naked and starving as they are, we cannot enough admire the incomparable patience and fidelity of the soldiery,” a memorial arch dedicated at Valley Forge in 1917 proclaims.

A life-sized wax figure in the park’s visitor center depicts Washington as he appeared when he arrived at Valley Forge astride his horse, Blueskin. A team of researchers, artists and forensic anthropologists digitally scanned the famous bust of Washington created by sculptor Jean Antoine Houdon and the life mask made of the president, studied his clothing and dentures, and created a computerized image of what the 45-year-old commander might have looked like.Valley Forge

When they arrived, the soldiers chopped down trees for timber to use in constructing cabins for shelter.Valley Forge

They fired a musket inside the cabins each day, since the sulphur released during firing would clear the air inside.Valley Forge

While the soldiers existed in their odoriferous huts, Washington and 15 to 25 of his officers, aides-de-camp and servants established their headquarters at a circa-1768 stone house that was being rented at the time of the encampment by Deborah Hewes, a relative of Mr. Potts. Mrs. Hewes rented the entire house and its furnishings to Washington, who paid her for his lodging and required his officers to do the same.

Valley Forge

Today, the home is 80 percent original, right down to the banister on the staircase.

Valley Forge

It includes several rooms furnished with reproductions, such as the office where Alexander Hamilton and other aides-de-camp copied documents and answered correspondence relating to the business of the war…Valley Forge

the office where Washington met with his generals to devise battle strategies and entertained visitors…Valley Forge

and the bedrooms used by both the aides-de-camp and the Washingtons; Martha joined her husband here in February 1778.

Valley Forge

The kitchen is stocked with redware, a sturdy pottery distinctive for its terracotta color that was popular in the rural German communities of Pennsylvania.

Valley Forge

Interpreters in period costume explained what life at Valley Forge would have been like for the soldiers. The camp was infamous for the misery and suffering that happened here during an especially severe winter; in fact, Washington himself called it “a dreary kind of place.” The soldiers persevered with races, card games, dice, music and wicket, an 18th-century equivalent of baseball. They also showed us a soldier’s typical possessions, from his sack for rations, mess kit and canteen to his regimental coat, hat, and hunting shirt, perfect for working in the fields.Valley Forge

When the British left Philadelphia for New York City in June 1778, Washington’s troops left Valley Forge in pursuit. The soldiers had been revived both in body and in spirit, illustrating how perseverance despite the hardships they endured at Valley Forge saw them through.

Months behind with planting their crops of wheat and corn because of the soldiers’ presence on the farmland, farmers tore down the soldiers’ cabins, eradicated the trenches the soldiers had dug in the spring, and tried to restore the land to its original purpose.

By the 19th century, Valley Forge had become a legendary tourist attraction, described romantically in early guidebooks as a beautiful place of hills, dales, woods, meadows and cultivated fields in the eastern Pennsylvania countryside. As cities grew into commercial centers of industry, nostalgia for Colonial domesticity prompted the Colonial Revival movement. Visitors to the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia took day trips to Valley Forge to soak up its important Revolutionary War associations. In 1913, a wealthy corporate lawyer named Philander Chase Knox, selected by President William McKinley to be his attorney general, hired R. Brognard Okie, a well-known Colonial Revival architect in Philadelphia, to give a Colonial Revival facelift to his historic home on the Valley Forge property.Valley Forge

Knox’s home was constructed by farmer John Brown circa 1774. It was enlarged several times by a succession of owners, including Charles Rogers, a local industrialist who owned a mill powered by Valley Creek, and California Gold Rush millionaires who turned it into a Queen Anne-style mansion in 1895.

Valley Forge

Knox purchased the estate in 1903 as a weekend retreat for himself and his family. Knox continued to serve as President Theodore Roosevelt’s attorney general, and served as a United States Senator until his death in 1921. Roosevelt stayed at the home twice, once for the wedding of Knox’s daughter and once for the dedication of the Washington Memorial Chapel at Valley Forge.

The grounds of the former Knox estate contain the chauffeur’s quarters, garage, a root cellar, a walled garden, a summer house, a house for use by a hired hand, and the ruins of a greenhouse, a bath house, a swimming pool, a tennis court, a race track and a boat house. Today, it is administered by the National Park Service as a revenue-generating special events venue.

The dining room is part of the home’s original footprint.

Valley Forge

Beautiful original architectural details remain, from decorative woodwork surrounding the home’s back door…Valley Forge

and on its staircases…Valley Forge

to pocket doors, hand-hewn ceiling beams, flagstone fireplaces and sunroom floors,

Valley Forge

and Mercer fireplace tiles handmade in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, which you can see in Knox’s former bedroom.

Valley Forge

Knox’s two-story law library at his home — resplendent with built-in bookcases, window seats and spiraling staircases — is now known as the Horace Willcox Library & Archive. The collection focuses on the Revolutionary War era, in particular, the Valley Forge encampment of 1777-1778. It also includes research materials on the political, social and industrial history of the Valley Forge area, as well as National Park Service reports on the administration and history of the site. Materials are available for research by appointment for National Park Service staff, volunteers and the general public.

Valley ForgeFor more on the restoration of Valley Forge, read Valley Forge: Making and Remaking a National Symbol, by Lorett Treese, and The Many Faces of George Washington: Remaking A Presidential Icon, by Carla Killough McClafferty. To read more about Valley Forge and the Revolutionary War, see 1776, by David McCullough; Valiant Ambition, by Nathaniel Philbrick; Valley Forge Winter – Civilians and Soldiers in War, by Wayne Bodle; Lafayette in the Somewhat United States, by Sarah Vowell; The First Salute, by Barbara W. Tuchman; Valley Forge: Traditional Land, Contemporary Vision, by Michael J Ticcino; Drillmaster of Valley Forge – The Baron de Steuben and Making of the American Army, by Paul Lockhart; Following the Drum: Women at the Valley Forge Encampment, by Nancy K. Loane; and Great & Capital Changes – An Account of the Valley Forge Encampment, by Barbara Pollarine. Click here to access a bibliography of National Park Service-curated resources about Valley Forge, and here for a list of books available for purchase through the Valley Forge Encampment Store.

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See The Faire Mount Where Rocky Ran, Eakins Painted And Bell’s Telephone Rang

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that they were dazzled, astounded and charmed by what they saw there. William Dean Howells pronounced that just one day spent there would provide a rich return. Herman Melville declared that it was immense – a tremendous Vanity Fair. Walt Whitman sat before the Corliss steam engine on display there for a half hour, marveling at its immensity. Candace Wheeler was so taken by the Royal School of Needlework’s exhibit there that she decided to start Associated Artists, a textile-producing business benefiting women that established her as an interior designer. And Genevieve Jones went there to see John James Audubon’s Birds of America, leaving determined to create Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of the Birds of Ohio.

These are just a few of the 10 million people who came to a 230-acre portion of Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park between May and November of 1876 to attend the Centennial Exhibition, a great event of the era that was held not only to celebrate America’s 100th birthday, but also to celebrate the progress of industry. Not much is left of what they would have seen there, but I wanted to see this special place, and the trusty PHLASH bus took me exactly where I wanted to go.

William Penn, founder of Philadelphia, called the original parkland where the exhibition took place “Faire Mount.” Four miles from the center of the city, Fairmount Park is a glorious example of the City Beautiful movement that was so popular during the 19th century. Well-to-do Philadelphia families established summer homes in the park with names like Lemon Hill, Strawberry Mansion and Sweetbrier. Lafcadio Hearn, a writer best known for his books about Japan, pronounced Fairmount Park as “the most beautiful place of the whole civilized world. [New York City’s] Central Park is a cabbage garden by comparison.”

A four-mile stretch of the Schuylkill River that runs beside Fairmount Park proved ideal for ice skating in winter and rowing in summer. By the 1850s, amateur rowing clubs, collectively known as the Schuylkill Navy, began forming, building a “Boathouse Row” of houses along the river where club members could store their boats and relax after races. Sculling along the Schuylkill inspired William Taylor Adams to write The Boat Club, a children’s book about a group of young rowers, in 1854, under the pseudonym Oliver Optic. Thomas Eakins painted his friend, Max Schmitt, in his scull on the Schuylkill River after winning a rowing race there in 1870. Click here to see the painting.

Fairmount Park was also home to a water works on the Schuylkill’s banks that provided pure drinking water to Philadelphians. You can still stand on the terrace, the former water level of the reservoir for water pumped up from the Schuylkill, and enjoy a view of the city and Boathouse Row.
Fairmount Water WorksThe park’s wooded slopes, rugged rock outcroppings and rolling meadows made it the perfect setting for the Centennial Exhibition of 1876. Richard Wagner was commissioned to write the Centennial Inauguration March, John Greenleaf Whittier penned the Centennial Hymn, and President Ulysses Grant opened the exhibition. Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone, Thomas Edison’s telegraph, the Statue of Liberty’s arm and torch, Heinz ketchup, Hires root beer, a Remington typewriter and Fleischmann’s yeast were some of the latest innovations on view.

A display of Japanese art was so popular that it started a craze for all things Japanese. Maria Longworth Nichols was so inspired by the Japanese ceramics that she saw on display that she established the Rookwood Pottery Company in Cincinnati. Shofuso Japanese House and Garden stands on the site of where several Japanese buildings from the exhibition stood.Shofuso Japanese House,

Horticultural Hall included garden displays, landscape designs, a botanical collection considered the finest in the country, and a long, sunken carpet bed filled with tropical plants that became the exhibition’s iconic feature. When the exhibition concluded, some of the plants exhibited were planted on the grounds. While the hall no longer stands, the 27-acre arboretum planned to complement it still exists. There, you can see the Castor-aralia tree with its showy clusters of white flowers and one of four original gingko trees that were displayed at the exhibition.

Hermann Schwarzmann, a young German immigrant, was the chief engineer and architect of the exhibition, designing 34 of the 249 buildings himself. Only two original buildings remain. One is the Ohio House, a Victorian Gothic cottage that the state of Ohio built for its display with stone from 30 different quarries in the state. The other is Memorial Hall, which was named in honor of the soldiers of the Revolutionary War and housed paintings and sculptures, including Eastman Johnson’s Old Kentucky Home; Albert Bierstadt’s Yosemite Valley; Winslow Homer’s Snapping the Whip; and Archibald Willard’s The Spirit of ’76Memorial Hall, Fairmount Park

Today, it is home to the Please Touch Museum, designed especially for children under the age of seven.Memorial Hall, Fairmount Park

The large figure on the dome rising from the center of the building represents Columbia bearing a laurel branch and a cornucopia. The figures at each corner represent the four quarters of the globe.Memorial Hall, Fairmount Park

Two circa-1863 bronze sculptures of Pegasus with the muses Erato and Calliope flank the stairs leading to the entrance of the building. Originally, they were designed for the façade of the Imperial Opera House in Vienna; they were bought by a travelling Philadelphian in 1870.Memorial Hall, Fairmount Park

After the Centennial Exhibition, Memorial Hall continued to serve as a museum until its growing collection and number of visitors outgrew it. In 1909, when the Fairmount Water Works was no longer needed as a reservoir for Philadelphia’s principal water supply, this prominent location was selected as the new site for the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

From 1919 to 1928, the golden-hued recreation of an ancient Greek temple was constructed. Corinthian columns with terra-cotta details on their capitals, bronze ornaments representing griffins and other mythological animals, and ornamental details painted a vibrant red, blue, green and gold are some of its striking exterior decorations. Its picturesque setting high on a hill, at the end of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway that connects Philadelphia’s city hall with Fairmount Park, makes it appear all the more majestic. Philadelphia Museum of ArtThe 72 steps leading to the museum’s east entrance have become an iconic Philadelphia landmark, thanks to their appearance in Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky.  The perseverance and determination symbolized by that trek up the steps will stand you in good stead as you wait to pose beside the Rocky statue, originally created for Rocky III and now a monument to the fictional Rocky Balboa.

 Philadelphia Museum of Art

Yes, I ran up the steps; then, I took in the breathtaking view of Center City Philadelphia down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

 Philadelphia Museum of Art

And then I paid a quick call on the Philadelphia Museum of Art. For its first 30 years, the museum was directed by the noted architectural historian Fiske Kimball, who made it one of the foremost art museums in the world. The museum’s collection focuses on American, European and Asian art; but to me, it’s best known for its collection of several hundred needlework samplers that were given to the museum by the parent company of Philadelphia-based confectionery Whitman’s, famous for its sampler boxes of assorted chocolates.

Stephen Whitman, a 19-year-old Quaker, opened a small confectionery in 1842 on Philadelphia’s Market Street, near the waterfront. In 1910, the company debuted its sampler box of chocolates, inspired by a cross-stitched sampler that hung in its leader’s home. By 1915, the Whitman’s Sampler, with its solid milk chocolate “Messenger Boy” at the center of each box, had become America’s best-selling box of assorted chocolates. Movie stars and presidents promoted the chocolates, giving them to White House visitors and World War II servicemen. While the Philadelphia plant closed in 1993, the candies continue to be made by the Russell Stover Candy Company at factories in Kansas, Colorado and Texas.

Over the years, Whitman’s introduced clever innovations, such as the “Pillow Puff” embossed paper liner, printing a map of the contents of the box on the bottom of the lid, and wrapping boxes in cellophane to keep the candy fresh and the box clean and colorful. But the collection of antique 18th– and 19th-century needlework samplers that Whitman’s executives and staff purchased between 1926 and 1964 may be its most unique legacy. The collection was exhibited across the country, and reproductions of some of the samplers were offered as kits sold through Woman’s Day magazine, until the company donated the collection to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. To browse images of the Whitman’s Sampler Collection, click here. 

To read more on the 1876 Centennial Exhibition, see All the World’s A Fair: Visions of Empire at American International Expositions, 1876-1916, by Robert W. Rydell; Designing the Centennial: A History of the 1876 International Exhibition in Philadelphia, by Bruno Giberti; World’s Fair Gardens: Shaping American Landscapes, by Cathy Jean Maloney; Images of America: Philadelphia’s 1876 Centennial Exhibition, by Linda P. Gross and Theresa R. Snyder; National Cookery Book Compiled from Original Receipts from the Women’s Centennial Committee; Candace Wheeler: The Art and Enterprise of American Design, 1875-1900, by Amelia Peck and Carol Irish; Guide to the Centennial Exposition and Fairmount Park, Presented by Strawbridge & Clothier; Illustrated Guide to Fairmount Park and the Centennial Exhibition Grounds and Buildings, presented by Strawbridge & Clothier; The Glorious Enterprise: The Centennial Exhibition of 1876 and H.J. Schwarzmann, Architect-in-Chief, by John Maass; and 1876: A Centennial Exhibition, edited by Robert C. Post. 

For more on Fairmount Park, read The Grid and the River: Philadelphia’s Green Places, 1682-1876, by Elizabeth Milroy; City in a Park: A History of Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park System, by James McClelland and Lynn Miller; Fairmount Park: A History and a Guidebook: World’s Largest Landscaped Municipal Park, by Esther M. Klein; Historic Houses of Philadelphia: A Tour of the Region’s Museum Homes, by Roger W. Moss; and The Rittenhouse Mill and the Beginnings of Papermaking in America, by James Green.

And for more on the Philadelphia Museum of Art, see the Philadelphia Museum of Art Handbook, edited by Sarah Noreika; Triumph on Fairmount: Fiske Kimball and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, by George and Mary Roberts; Building the City Beautiful: The Benjamin Franklin Parkway and the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Making a Modern Classic: The Architecture of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, both by David B. Brownlee; The Story of Samplers, a 1971 publication of the Philadelphia Museum of Art with an introduction by Marianna Merritt Hornor; and Samplers: Their Story as Told through the Whitman’s Collection, by Ralph Richmond.

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Behold The Artist In His Museum

Some people flock to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa; I made a beeline for the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts to behold The Artist in His Museum.

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine ArtsCharles Willson Peale’s 1822 self-portrait is considered to be his masterpiece, and I sat before it for a good long time, taking it in in all its glory. Peale lifts a curtain to reveal a glimpse of the Long Room of his museum of art and natural science in Philadelphia. A row of portraits border the walls, which are filled with four rows of cases containing mounted birds displayed before painted backgrounds. A portion of a skeleton is visible behind Peale’s right shoulder, while an artist’s palette and brushes rest on a table before it. Prehistoric bones are prominently placed in the right foreground. A wild turkey is at his feet, pecking at a box of taxidermy tools.

Peale’s gesture and stance are so graceful and elegant, the curve of his calf just like the S-curve that the painter William Hogarth referred to as his “line of beauty.” This balding man may not look like much, but to me, he’s a hero — an accomplished artist and naturalist and a clever entrepreneur who established one of the first museums.

William Bartram, with a specimen of Jasminium officinale tucked into his coat

Peale’s portrait of William Bartram, depicted with a specimen of Jasminium officinale

Born in Maryland in 1741, Peale discovered a talent for painting, made his way to Philadelphia in 1775 and started securing commissions to paint life-size, bust-length portraits of notable Revolutionary War-era figures like Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Paul Jones, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and William Bartram, a Philadelphia botanist who was a close friend of Peale’s. Peale first displayed the portraits in an addition to his home at Third and Lombard Streets, making the “Gallery of Great Men” the first public picture gallery in the country. By providing biographies of the subject of each portrait in an accompanying catalogue, Peale hoped that visitors to his museum would reflect upon their accomplishments and develop an appreciation for qualities like self-sacrifice and morality that would represent the new United States.

Another room in the gallery housed a show during which pictures of dawn, rainstorms and a Revolutionary War naval battle moved and changed color through lighting, music, dramatic readings and special effects, such as wooden waves that moved mechanically in the foreground, with small pipes inside them sending up sprays of water. To celebrate George Washington’s victory at Yorktown in October 1781, Peale replaced two of his home’s windows with transparent pictures of patriotic subjects that were painted on window-shade cloth been primed with wax and turpentine and lit from behind with candles for a striking effect.

As Peale’s portraits increased, so did his esteem. In 1783, he was hired by the Pennsylvania General Assembly to adorn an arch built on Market Street to commemorate the end of the war with paintings depicting George Washington, symbols of France, and tributes to the Pennsylvania militia. He also developed a way to illuminate the arch and to trigger a fireworks display.

In 1794, Peale moved his museum and his family to the American Philosophical Society’s hall at Fifth and Chestnut Streets, relying on neighborhood boys to carry the smaller items as in a parade.American Philosophical Society There, he worked on increasing his collection of natural history specimens, minerals, Native American Indian artifacts, fossils and other curiosities, arranging his collection according to the classification system developed by Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus. He also acquired a live menagerie that included grizzly bears, a monkey and an American bald eagle. A pair of golden pheasants came from George Washington, a French angora cat was donated by Benjamin Franklin, and specimens from the Lewis and Clark expedition were contributed by Thomas Jefferson. Peale’s museum hosted natural history lectures, organ recitals, silhouette-cutting and other special programs in the evenings, in keeping with his goal “to instruct the mind and sow the seeds of Virtue” in the new American republic through his “world in miniature.”

In 1802, Peale moved his portraits to a bigger space – the second floor of the Pennsylvania State House. There, he and his sons posed the specimens before painted backdrops that simulated the habitat of each specimen — a new technique that eventually would become known as the habitat diorama. By 1811, the museum included rooms specifically for quadrupeds, marine animals and the reassembled, almost complete skeleton of a mastodon excavated in the Hudson River valley of New York under Peale’s direction in 1801.

Charles Willson Peale

Charles Willson Peale’s self-portrait

Peale’s painting, The Exhumation of the Mastodon, portrays the archaeological site, complete with a contraption Peale had devised to drain water from the excavation pit, which used a rotating chain of buckets that hung over the pit from a wooden tripod, powered by men walking inside a millwheel. The painting also depicts nearly 20 of Peale’s family, including his sons Titian, Linnaeus and Franklin, and his friend, ornithologist Alexander Wilson. The bones collected from the site was shipped home and the remains were reconstructed, with Peale’s son Rembrandt carving wooden duplicates of missing bones. The Peales’ drawings and reconstruction of the mastodon skeleton had great scientific importance, leading the American mammoth to be formally declared as an extinct species.

The museum remained at the Pennsylvania State House until Peale’s death in 1827, and then was relocated a few more times until the Peale family sold the collection to Phineas T. Barnum, among others, in 1849. Peale’s famous portrait collection was auctioned in 1854 and was distributed to several different owners, including the City of Philadelphia, which purchased a group to display in Independence Hall. Today, over 150 of those portraits are on view at the Second Bank of United States.

Peale was also one of the founders of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, established in 1805 to promote the cultivation of the fine arts in the United States through educating artists using copies of masterworks in sculpture and painting…

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

as well as collecting and exhibiting art for the general public. Today, the oldest art museum and art school in America is known for its collections of 19th- and 20th-century American paintings, sculptures, and works on paper, including works by William Merritt Chase, Frank Duveneck, Winslow Homer, Childe Hassam and Edmund Tarbell.

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

Noted artists Thomas Eakins and Cecilia Beaux — both Philadelphia natives — taught at PAFA. Beaux introduced Impressionist painting techniques in her classes, while Eakins emphasized the study of human anatomy by working with live models. Its students include Mary Cassatt and Philadelphia native Maxfield Parrish.

The Dream Garden, a glass mosaic mural designed by Maxfield Parrish and executed by Louis Comfort Tiffany in 1916 for the lobby of the Curtis Publishing Company, publisher of the Saturday Evening Post and Ladies Home Journal, at Sixth and Walnut Streets in Philadelphia.

The Dream Garden, a glass mosaic mural designed by Maxfield Parrish and executed by Louis Comfort Tiffany in 1916 for the lobby of the Curtis Publishing Company, publisher of the Saturday Evening Post and Ladies Home Journal, at Sixth and Walnut Streets in Philadelphia.

PAFA’s current home is an 1876 Victorian Gothic building designed by the Philadelphia firm of Frank Furness and George Hewitt. Its red-and-black patterned brick exterior is adorned with floral motifs carved in stone and a bas-relief frieze depicting famous artists of the past.Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

Inside, a deep-blue vaulted ceiling patterned with silver stars, red-veined marble floors, Moorish arcades, gilded accents and purple walls with a gold floral pattern make the interior resemble brilliant jewels. William Wetmore Story’s Semiramis, a marble statue of the Babylonian queen that Story carved while living in Rome in 1873, presides at the top of the staircase, just as it did in its photograph on the cover of the American Automobile Association’s Pennsylvania tour book I took with me to Philadelphia.

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

For more on Charles Willson Peale, read The Ingenious Mr. Peale: Painter, Patriot, and Man of Science, by Janet Wilson; Mr. Peale’s Museum: Charles Willson Peale and the First Popular Museum of Natural Science and Art, by Charles Coleman Sellers; New Perspectives on Charles Willson Peale: A 250th Anniversary Celebration, edited by Lillian B. Miller and David C. Ward; Independence Hall in American Memory, by Charlene Mires; and History of the Portrait Collection, Independence National Historical Park, by Doris Devine Fanelli and a catalog of the collection edited by Karie Diethorn. For more on Peale’s exhumation of the mastodon at Barber Farm in New York, click here to see the National Register of Historic Places registration form the site.

For more on the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, click here for a list of PAFA-curated resources on the school, the museum, and its building.


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