Thursday, October 18, 2018

So Why Stafford, Virginia?

October 2-9, 2018
Stafford, Virginia

Some places are obvious like Bar Harbor, Maine, and Savannah, Georgia. Places lots of people visit. But what's in Stafford, Virginia?

Actually, nothing.

But it's a good stop for places and people I want to see in the area. 

Getting there is a crazy ride as the "shortest" route takes us close to Washington DC. I don't mind skirting big cities, but the Beltway is not a fun area to drive. 

Because we're low on DEF I make the mistake of passing a couple places with easy access for fuel which we also need. Way too quickly I've got the low fuel alarm, and no truck stops anywhere close. I swear I can see the gauge sinking into the big E at the bottom as I navigate congestion for a gazillion miles (maybe 35) before Bill finds us an Exxon station where we can fit to fuel up. Whew!

Never again!!
For the first time in months this will be a week-long stop. Unfortunately it's not a great park. And the weather is brutal.

Aquia Pines Family Campground is behind a hotel and beside I-95. They squeezed in as many sites as possible in a small urban property with tight interior roads and weird angles. We get level with 50 amp FHUs (which we need for running two ACs every day), but the park WiFi never connects and it's pretty noisy. 

I don't know what it is about coming east, but like two years ago I develop a worrisome health issue. Unlike last time, I figure out where the Kaiser medical center is in Fredricksburg so we don't have to use the ones in the chaos of bigger cities (they are only available in a few states). 

Wednesday I know what to do and am able to get an appointment with a physician in two hours rather than having to wait until 5PM for urgent care. Sweet!

I do a little shopping then return to see the youngest doctor I've ever had. I'm very happy with the care I get from both him and the radiology department. Also unlike last time, I don't have to fly back to California to see my regular doctor. The next day I learn that it's nothing serious. Such a relief :-)

Dealing with health issues is probably the biggest challenge on the road, but so far we've been able to figure it out.

Something else I wasn't able to do last time we were "over here" was to meet up with a dear friend who I've gotten to know from our mutual blogs. We've been following and commenting and emailing for five years, and I am determined that we will meet in person this time!!

Sherry and husband David (In the Direction of Our Dreams) are nearly two hours south of us, and we make plans to meet half-way. I'm so excited!!

We're meeting near James Madison's Montpelier, and Sherry recommends we make the stop on our way.

Glad she did, it's a wonderful place of history and education. Real effort is being made to un-bury and present the whole history. Long overdue, and encouraging for our grandchildren. 

Montpelier, home of James and Dolley Madison.

Mr Madison's Temple, built over a 24' deep ice well. Constructed in the early 1800's, it is now the symbol of Montpelier.

Archaeological digs begun in 1987, and continuing today, have discovered artifacts that are helping to tell the story of the 100+ enslaved people who lived at Montpelier.
Reassembled from materials found on the grounds.

View of the "big house" from the single room dwelling.

Descendants of the enslaved who lived here tell the stories of their family members in each room.
Fourteen months ago Montpelier opened The Mere Distinction of Colour exhibit in the mansion cellars. The combination of photos, silhouettes, quotes and journal entries tells a story of families torn apart, of promises broken, of fear and oppression. It further explores how "the legacy of slavery impacts today's conversations about race, identity, and human rights".

I spent most of my time here, learned a lot. Felt a lot.

Bubbles of life move and change throughout the rooms.

Although James' Will specified that none of the slaves at Montpelier were to be sold unless they wanted to be, Dolley sold many in an effort to save the mansion.

Small profiles paint a big picture.
Based on old letters and diaries, Ellen tells her story.
Despite James' wishes, Ellen's mother, brother and sister were all sold. Her sister was forced to leave her husband and baby daughter. Ellen and a dozen others were caught when they ran away, and she too was sold. Eventually she was freed, married, and had a family. 

I love this old barn at the back of the property.
In addition to the mansion and cabins, the park includes both a Freedman Cabin and a Jim Crow era train depot.  

While visiting the cabin we meet an older couple on their honeymoon. 20 minutes later we've heard their entire history leading up to the wedding - boy that woman could talk! But they're very happy, and even with sweat running down my back, it took nothing to wait and listen to her story. 

One of the first properties in the area owned by a former slave. The Gilmores built the cabin on 16 acres they mortgaged in 1869. Paid off in 1901, the cabin stayed in the family until 1920.

Waiting rooms segregated by race from the 1890's to the 1960's, the depot is preserved to "foster the discussion of citizenship and equal justice in America".

Although the "White" waiting room is larger, they are otherwise the same. Both have these wonderful old stoves.

The depot's communication center - pretty sparse. 
We leave behind the history lessons and head for a long-overdue meeting with Sherry and David at The Vintage Restaurant. Inside the Inn at Willow Grove, it is a stunning place. Only the pub is open until they serve dinner at 6 - and they're completely booked - but we're here for a late lunch and a long visit. We end up having the place to ourselves and it's perfect. The food, drink and especially the company are all great, and as is often the case, our time together passes too quickly. Hugs and hand shakes, and we're on our way.

The Inn at Willow Grove

One of the beautiful dining rooms.

Love these two! So happy to finally spend some time with them.
It's a pretty country drive home.
The heat and humidity really zap my energy and I spend most of Friday napping in the air conditioning.

Although we usually avoid popular places on Saturday, we decide to check out Mt Vernon in the afternoon. The tickets include a mansion tour time, but the number of people they take at each time is daunting and we opt to look at the grounds instead. Crowding into an un-air-conditioned building on a 90 degree, 95% humidity day isn't appealing to either of us. 

The Washingtons greet us.

While it is very large, Mt Vernon is much less opulent than I thought.

Several gardens, including this formal English square.

The spinning room has wonderful pieces.

Lady Washington answers questions about life at Mt Vernon. She's quite wonderful!

Stables and carriage house together.

Named just what it is - The Riding Chair. It doesn't look very presidential :-))

Beautiful views from the back of the house - along the Potomac River.

Some of the grounds feel very grand,

while some feel like any other country farm.

The museum includes exhibits on Washington's early years,  education, military service, family and presidency.

Take a seat in the pew and learn about Washington's religious beliefs, and how important he felt it was to keep religion separate from government.
I'm glad we didn't miss it while we were here, but the weather really makes it difficult to enjoy these outdoor spaces.

Sunday we're glad to have football as an excuse to stay inside again!

Our last day we head to Fredericksburg for a little different look at history. Last time we were here we took the trolley tour and learned a lot about the revolutionary war and civil war history of the town. There's a lot! Monday we walk the historic downtown, and end up at Hugh Mercer's Apothecary


A sparkly window reflecting the street behind me.

Dr Mercer's medical, pharmacy, political and military collection is displayed in a restored 18th century home. For just $7 you can step back to a time when pharmaceuticals were all natural (and probably safer than many more modern options), but surgeries and treatments were primitive and often terrifying! Costumed and in full character, the doctor's assistants explain what "Doctor" would use to treat any of your maladies. They are both excellent.

All of the contents are identified as well as how they were combined and what they treated. The square with the round wooden disc is a pill cutter - powders were blended with hog grease and resin.

The doctor's assistant is very proud of his use of leeches for curing many ills. The two jars hold very large leeches. Bone saws, metal spikes and hooks, vices and pliers - this is the place of horrors. 

A blurry shot of the chart used for where to place leeches. Six to eight were used for most treatments.

Upstairs is the Powder Room. Not what it is today, the originals had doors with a large hole at chest height. Gentlemen put their head through the hole where a servant would powder their wig. No powder got on their clothes, and after their visit to the doctor they would depart looking refreshed. I had no idea!

Well known as a hero and patriot of the Revolutionary War, Mercer left his medical practice to fight for independence. He was a brigadier general when he died at the battle of Princeton. In the musical Hamilton, is the line "the Mercer legacy is secure".
The little apothecary is my favorite historic site of our week here. Simple, informative and very well done, I highly recommend making the stop.

We aren't big New Orleans' Saints fans, but it's fun to see Drew Brees break Painton Manning's total passing yards record on Monday Night Football. What a career!

Tuesday we head for Williamsburg where we'll see some more history, enjoy getting back in nature, and ride out another tropical storm.


  1. Glad you were able to visit both Montpelier and Mt. Vernon. Sorry you were there during the heat and humidity. By the end of Sept, beginning of Oct the weather should have been cooler. The apothecary sounds awesome! I would have LOVED this stop. Glad you were able to meet Sherry and David. What fun!

    1. Everything I read assured me we'd have nice weather this time of year, but that sure hasn't been the case. The couple days of cool we're enjoying inland look to be short lived as we move on to Charleston and Savannah :-((

  2. Stafford is where Pocahontas was there was at least that bit of history there. Same name as my team’s QB also. :)

    The powder room door is classic...great find, Jodee! Who knew?

    1. Both of those highlights should have been enough to make the stop! There are a lot of references to Pocahontas here so I should have looked into that. Even looking at the hole in the door, I don't think I ever would have guessed its purpose. Fun stuff!

  3. So much great history on the East Coast. The big names are easy to find and must be done, but the apothecary shop is a great find! Who knew?

  4. Such awesome history sorry the weather was not cooperating. Hot and humid are two of the reasons we don’t plan on returning there to live...mosquitoes being the third! We would have loved browsing thru the Apothecary too. The powder room door is cool!

    1. There are so many beautiful places, but we could never do the humidity. Fortunately we've had few mosquitoes in our travels!

  5. SO great to see you two and Tessa the true wonder dog. Glad you liked Montpelier. Finally Virginia's presidential homes are opening up and presenting the truth about all sides of life there. Come back again and visit the other two you missed on this trip but only if we're in Virginia too. And only when the weather is as wonderfully cool as it is "normally" in September and October. Great name for a tattoo parlor.

    1. I'd love to come back and see more of Virginia when the weather is more comfortable and see more of your favorite places. We have to come back and see the Shenandoah Mountains!! Loved our visit :-)))

  6. First of all, let me say how jealous I am that you met Sherry and David. Does look like a lot of history to explore and I'm glad multiple sides of the story are being told.

    1. So wonderful to finally have that meet up! Definitely the highlight of Virginia and can't wait to do it again.

  7. Heat and humidity in October in Virginia?? That's not okay!! So glad you got to meet up with Sherry and David, though. Good people, indeed.
    Montpelier looks so interesting, and I would love to visit that apothecary. Best name ever for that tattoo shop, haha! I'm so sorry to hear that you had a health scare. :-( But very relieved to know that you're fine.

    1. Of course your name came up at our get together :-)

      I'm definitely fine!

  8. I too would have enjoyed visiting the apothecary. There is definitely a lot of history in the area. A week just doesn't seem to be enough time.

    1. Definitely not enough time to truly experience the area. We've moved a lot faster than usual this route. Weather has been a big factor, and now we're moving toward a flight that Bill needs to take next month. Hoping we can come back in the Spring!