Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Snow in Springtime

After a lovely warm and sunny day on Saturday it felt really weird to wake up and see snow on the ground and still falling when I looked out of the window. I knew the day before that it was coming but still leaped out of bed to check as soon as I woke up. Barb and I were meeting up early to take advantage of the strange weather and the pretty photo opportunites that it would offer.
We drove along country roads looking for abandoned houses or spring flowers that had snow on them.
I'd though heading west would be pretty but after getting these photos we found that there was less snow out this way so we drove to old town Manassas. There are some beautiful old homes here and we got out and walked around the neighborhood enjoying the gardens.
There was still snow clinging to lots of colorful blooms and Barb was especially happy to find daffodils with snow weighting their heads down. But the snow was fast melting so once we'd finished walking we decided to head south on Rte 28 to see what we could find.
Barb had seen this old house from the road and we drove in to explore. There was a large colony of turkey vultures on the ground which scattered as we approached. Our noses told us that they had been brunching on a skunk carcase which we gave a wide berth. Inside the house was an old organ and upstairs I found an old bed. The stairs were solid but the floors were precarious. Outside was a shed which had been used as a target practice with everything inside punctured by bullet holes. The vultures still circling above were obviously disgruntled with us interrupting their meal and we were pretty sure we were now smelling fresh skunk so feeling we'd caused enough of a disruption we decided it was time to leave. 
We drove down to Catlett and left the main road to follow country roads that Barb had commented as being a great cycling route of about 30 miles. I was impressed she remembered the route and we found a few more old buildings. The snow had by now melted and feeling we'd got enough pictures and covered enough miles we turned towards home. It was a nice feeling knowing I had the rest of the afternoon to relax indoors and look forward to a lazy evening.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Kites at Gunston Hall

Saturday was a beautiful bright sunny day and a perfect day for flying kites. Gunston Hall was having a Kite Day so off I went.
I had never visited the home of George Mason before and felt a little guilty at not knowing who he was. He wrote the Virginia Declaration of Rights  which the Bill of Rights was based on. There are many places including George Mason University named after him, and of course now I know why after taking it for granted for so many years.
There were period displays around the grounds and these ladies were cooking up wonderful dishes from George's day. I tried some ham and a biscuit and also a cookie. The carrot cake had just been removed from the fireplace where it had been cooking but good manners stopped me from hanging around to sample that too otherwise I'd be walking out oinking.
I watched this gentleman for a long while as he prepared moistened oak strips to weave baskets. He was very skilled and carefully split one piece of wood, then split it again and again. Each time I held my breath praying he wouldn't break one and he never did. He then smoothed them down to remove splinters and passed them over for us to examine. I marveled at how thin he had got each strip.
There was also a little school house where children (and adults) were invited to sit and learn how to pen in cursive script using a feather and bottle of ink and then blot the writing with sawdust. I remember similar exercises from school. I'm sure they're not done now in an era where handwriting has all but disappeared. 
I took a tour inside the house and was immensely miffed to learn that I couldn't take photos. I considered taking some surreptitiously with my cell phone but decided against since the tour guides were so nice and polite. The architecture inside was breathtaking with beautifully carved handrails, pillars and ceilings. There was a wonderful pineapple hanging from the center of the entrance hall. You can see this top right of the Gunston Hall website.
After the tour, I walked over and chatted to some archeologists who had unearthed various treasures from the grounds. One, a fellow Brit, invited me to join the group, which I shall give some consideration. I then sauntered over to the grass where people were starting to fly kites bought from home, from the gift shop or made at the workshop.
There was a nice breeze and the kites were flying well. There is usually a Kite Day down on the Mall each year which I've always missed. I hope to make it this year as the pictures I've seen show a sky filled with bobbing and ducking colors and shapes. There were not many folks here but I did notice an immature flying among the few kites in the sky. Nobody here had noticed it which surprised me since this area is a refuge for the Bald Eagle. An immature's feathers bear little resemblance to an adult bird so they're not easy to identify.
The fire brigade were also here so the camera came out again. I then went back to the gift shop and bought some bits and pieces as well as grabbing ideas for things to make. It was one of the best gift shops I've visited in a museum/attraction and I could've spent a small fortune. One of the things I purchased was a Bayberry soap which I couldn't stop sniffing on the way home.
As I left I spotted a curly willow tree tucked behind the visitor center with catkins hanging down and gently swaying in the breeze. I left having loved this place immensely. I shall watch their calender of events and readily return before the year ends.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Tomes Revisited

On Sunday morning, I went with Steve, Emily & Jon back to Tomes Boys School in Fort Deposit, MD. None of the others had been there so it was a wonderful excuse to see that fabulous staircase again.
 We passed some very pretty countryside on the way up including Conowingo Dam which we'll go back and visit as it looked architecturally interesting and seems to be popular with Golden Eagles. We passed quite a few abandoned houses, a very cool barn and this 1966 MF 180 tricycle tractor. It was so hard not to keep stopping but we were on a mission and we intended to complete it. Before too long we were parked up and having climbed up a steep bank were walking towards the now familiar buildings.
The beautiful entrance hall which unfortunately had a door smashed in by previous less considerate explorers (or vandals). And Jon peering over the edge of the first floor.
We spent quite some time in the main building and eventually Emily and Jon wandered off to another house leaving Steve and I photographing the auditorium. We too left after a while and started walking to the other buildings.
Occasionally around the grounds I tried to be artistic and get low to the ground to take some photos with a different perspective but my large and somewhat heavy camera bag on my back would often unbalance me so I'd fall back and end up feeling like an upended beetle with my arms and legs waving in the air. I would need help righting myself so had to give up on being too creative.
We climbed through a window on one building but didn't stay long. Inside the rooms and corridors were bereft of any old characteristics and the crumbling asbestos concerned us a bit. We left that house and strode towards another which we were able to enter through a doorway and explore, finding an interesting layout of different levels and some pretty features, although the main staircase was precarious.
We wandered around inside inside Emily called from another building exclaiming that Jon was famished. Not wanting Jon to suffer any longer than was necessary Steve and I walked over to meet them. 
There were still a few buildings we hadn't ventured in but they would still be there another day. It saddened me to see how these regal structures were being left to crumbled and decay. They were built mainly of granite which would last forever but the interior decorations and moldings were gradually rotting away with no intention of them being preserved for historical reasons.
We went down into the town which is also built of granite and found a place which served up horrendous food but the beer was good so overall we were happy.And so with full tummies we drove back southwards to our homes and warm beds, glad to relax after a full and exciting weekend.
As I walked round the grounds of Tomes, I took a few short videos and threw them together here.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The District of Columbia's Workhouse at Lorton, VA

 Saving souls and soils, that is the work this remarkable prison is doing. The moral, mental and physical fiber of the prisoners are remade. They are men born anew. Similarly, souls which previously have been wasters and idlers are being reformed and converted into honest wage earners. (Excerpt from The Young Persons Weekly, 2/5/1927) 
 On Saturday, Emily and I took a trip down to Lorton, VA to explore an old prison. Many of the buildings, primarily the dormitories, have been converted to an Arts Center but a few are abandoned as well as the adjoining farm.
The workhouse was originally started in 1910 where prisoners were rehabilitated with fair treatment and no walls or fences. They started with tents by the river, then built wooden structures and became a self sufficient community. Men worked the farm raising cattle and growing crops while the women made clothing and worked in the kitchens and laundry.
The wooden structures of the farm had lost a lot of their roofs and the few corrugated metal panels left clattered in the wind.
The only solid building was the dairy and offices.
There was even a milking record left hanging. The last prisoner left in 2001 but the farm was still operational up 'til then.
We found a chalkboard in the empty office building so had to sign it. Afterwards we followed a track walking past a boarded up building labeled a slaughterhouse. There was a pulley and lift system there which needed no imagination as to how it was used and I had no urge to take photos. We came to the back part of the prison and found a small open building which we assumed had been a medical center.
A small power plant still stood and we also found a mechanical workshop, now empty. We climbed steps to find other empty buildings but also found some wonderful artwork on the walls created by the prisoners.
In 1966 the U.S. Court ruled that alcoholism was a health problem and not a crime so subsequently 60% of the inmates were released. In 1968 the workhouse was closed but later became a higher security prison before finally closing down for good. 
Walking back we met a gentleman who told us how convicts often escaped. One story was of how one had run to the neighboring rock quarry and demanded a ride to the local 7/11. The driver taking the long route managed to quietly call for help as he had only allowed the ride on condition the man travel in the back of the truck. Police cars were waiting once they arrived at their destination.
Further down by the river we found the old  bee hive brick kiln which the gentleman had told us about. 
The inmates had used this kiln to make the bricks which built the buildings at Lorton Workhouse and also other historical buildings throughout northern Virginia.
After quite a few hours of exploring it was finally time for beer so we drove down to Occoquan to quench our thirst and grab a late lunch.
We also had a quick stroll up the main street and a look round my favorite store in the town.
On our way out, another quick stop at Mom's Apple Pie shop where we slugged down some wine at a tasting and bought a cake. I had a house brick thing comprising of chocolate cake and thick chocolate and walnut fudge stuff on top. I only had a few bites and then put it in the freezer when I got home. And now being reminded of it, I shall take it out and microwave it, as advised by the girl in the shop, to make a warm chocolate fudge sauce dessert. That's it, I'm off....