Fractured Facade


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Monday, April 28, 2014

A Day in Buchanan

For years we've passed the "Visit Buchanan" sign when we drive home along I-81. For some reason, probably the beautiful weather and the urge to get the heck out of Roanoke, we decided Saturday was the day we would "visit Buchanan."

We drove along I-81 until exit 162 when we saw the sign for the city. We figured it would be like most of the cities down here, have a Main Street, and we would have no trouble finding it. It was a nice jaunt with beautiful mountain and valley scenery, cow pastures being the main view, and as I suspected, we soon found ourselves driving down Main Street.


 
It just so happened that the city was having some sort of Civil War day as evident by the folks lining the sidewalks dressed in Confederate and old-timey clothing.


I thought it was strange that Main Street was not closed to traffic, as most other cities I've been to during their Civil War type days always close the artery where the "events" are taking place. Since that wasn't the case here, we found a spot easily.

The first thing I noticed was there seemed to be more re-enactors than viewers, and I even joked to my husband, "Maybe nothing is going on here and this is just how the people dress."


When I saw this sign in one of the stores, I seriously began to wonder.


Well, it turns out it was some sort of Civil War re-enactment weekend, but nobody could tell us exactly what was happening, and when I asked a shopkeeper if there was a map or something, they said no but directed us towards the Civil War encampment down near the river.



Most of the tents were closed and I guess that was because the re-enactors were traipsing all around the town. The horses had no choice but to stay where they were, but they jumped every time a loud gunshot exploded.






Now, I've been to other Civil War themed city days and have found them interesting enough. Those events seemed more organized. and showed how the folks lived during that period, gave pertinent history, etc., and had tables where you could buy local goods, and not just confederate flag crap. That's primarily what they were selling here. Not interested in that one bit.


So I thought it would be nice to visit all the antique stores that Buchanan is "noted" for. Unfortunately, most of them were closed. Huh? You're having a Civil War type thing that I'm sure the town is holding to attract visitors, and you would think shops would want to welcome browsers and sell their wares. Even the couple of places that were open closed at noon. We walked into three different stores, and even the library that was having a book sale, and were told, "Sorry, we're closing." Crazy!

What was even crazier was what seemed to be the "theme" of this Civil War event...kill the Yankees.


As we were walking along the main drag the costumed folks were firing their guns shouting, "I got me a Yankee!" and then even paraded said dead Yankee in a coffin.



Another Yankee was accused of robbing a ham and all the women in town shouted to "Hang him!" They were dragging him to the bridge and I almost expected to see a lynching, but the fellow broke loose. When he escaped, they shot him in the back instead, and the crowd whooped and hollered. Maybe someone should have told the thief he was wearing a Confederate hat!


After we had enough of the Rebel Yells we took a walk to the swinging bridge that was also one of their landmarks.


 I took a couple of steps on it, but I guess the folks couldn't read the sign that said only 3 people at a time were allowed on it as they marched across it and it began to shake violently, so I took a page out the Confederate army's playbook and quickly retreated. I got a couple of nice shots at least.


We sought out a place to have lunch and passed up the BBQ joint after seeing the bare chested "cook" with a cigarette dangling out of his mouth work the outdoor bbq. Not a fan of ash-flavored pig. There was a joint next to it, and as we pondered if we should give it a shot or not, two Confederate ladies stepped in front of us and went in. We followed, and it was like the scene from that PeeWee Herman movie when he steps into that biker bar and everyone stops what they're doing and turns to look at him. Same thing, but this was a divier bar and the place was filled with cigarette smoke to boot. I thought it was illegal to smoke indoors in "restaurants" in Virginia. Since I had no intention of jumping on the bar and dancing to Tequila, I did an about-face just as the owner? was coming through the door. When I said it was too smoky in there she said we could eat outdoors. Umm, yeah, no, but thanks anyway.

I couldn't wait to get the heck out of this town. Pretty scenery, don't get me wrong, but it was creepy, and not creepy in a haunted way like I've found Fincastle to be. This was creepy in like a you're not from here, not welcome here, and make sure you don't stay until dark kind of way. I did find some humor in the bikers that took it upon themselves to disrupt this ridiculous "celebration" by riding up and down Main Street every once in a while, 30 strong. These were older fellows with Marines on their cuts and American flags flying proudly on their bikes. They were the only American flags (besides the one Union one near the horse's ass) I saw that day. When we got back to the car we found a flat tire. If I didn't know any better I'd say the town itself did it to fuck with the Yankees. My husband paid $1 for air and filled the tire and off we drove until we hit a restaurant along Route 11, well out of city bounds. When we finished a decent lunch we found the air had come out again so we put the donut tire on and drove home.

When I told my daughter about our day she said, "You should have told me before you went. I've been to Buchanan once, and will never go again." I told her about the slave sign I saw in the window and how I thought it was in poor taste, how offended I would be if I was a black person visiting their town, and remarked that come to think of it, I didn't see one black person there. She said, "I'm not surprised." You know what? Neither am I.

Y'all damn Yankees might have won the war, but we'll just keep re-enacting it the way we think it should have gone, and one day y'all see the south is gonna rise again.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Sweet Springs




We arrived at our destination, Sweet Springs, after a pleasant drive along the West Virginia Roads. Sweet Springs originally opened as a health resort in 1833. It has an interesting history prior to that date that you can read more on by clicking on this link. The Sweet Springs Resort was later known as a sanatorium, hospital, and towards the end of its active life, a nursing home and drug treatment center.


When we arrived at the complex the first thing we noticed were No Trespassing signs everywhere. Luckily for us there was a fellow on the grounds loading fallen tree branches onto his pick-up truck. We thought we would go over to him and ask if it would be all right if we walked around to take a couple of photos. I suggested my friends do all the talking so my Yankee accent wouldn't get in our way. He was quite a nice guy and said sure, but warned us not to go into any of the buildings as they were in disrepair and dangerous.


After he gave us the okay I was able to open my mouth so I asked what had happened to the property. In a nutshell...it's in foreclosure. I asked how much was owed on it and he said millions of tax dollars, was it 20? I don't remember exactly, but it was out of our league. He said the current property owner had big plans to restore the deteriorated resort, but had made a major mistake of having the property re-zoned from agriculture, which had little taxes associated with it, to commercial which increased the tax burden enormously. Apparently the new owner, who did not come from these parts also did not realize that in West Virginia the two zoning tax rates were miles apart. In fact, he said most folks want their property designated agriculture, and all it takes is one chicken on the property to decrease the tax burden.

The fellow said he lived in the area and felt a bond to the property and that's why he takes it upon himself to keep the grounds as clean as possible, without getting paid. We thanked him and bade him farewell and set off to explore. After a couple of shots my camera battery died, as did my digital recorder. Well, the digital recorder was dead when I turned it on, yet when I was home it informed me "battery is high." One of my friends had a digital recorder going as we walked around, just in case.

Sweet Springs must have been quite remarkable at one time...such a shame it's gotten to this point.










Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Day Trip -- Paint Bank, VA & Gap Mills, WV

Today's not so nice, but yesterday was the perfect day for a mini road trip through the mountains of Virginia and around the mountains of West Virginia. Although our main "goal" was to see if we could get onto Sweet Springs, an abandoned property in West Virginia, we planned a couple of detours along the way.

After zig-zagging up 311, up and down, round and round the mountains, I started to feel nauseous so was glad our first stop was a country store/restaurant in Paint Bank, VA.



The grounds were lovely...



The restaurant's claim to fame is a hanging bridge across the top of it that you can walk across.


They have a year-round Christmas gift shop and other country style crap. I didn't like the feel of the bridge...sorta made me feel like I was walking on a dock floating on the water.

While we waited for our lunch -- I highly recommend the lemonade -- I noticed a place mat in front of me that had "mountain expressions" and their meanings.


 I whipped out my notebook and copied them all thinking I will be able to use some of them sprinkled into dialogue from my characters. Once again, I found myself in a place I "needed to be" without even knowing it.

Which came first...the cow, or the egg?

After lunch we got back on the one-lane highway to hell where we immediately was behind a huge construction truck which was driving in reverse on the curvy road. Since our next stop was to be in Gap Mills, VA this could take hours! Luckily my friend does not fear driving mountainous roads so when the driver of the truck waved us to pass him, she did. I could barely look out my window as guard rails were few and far between even though there was a drop to the right of us of about 3,000 feet. I couldn't imagine living in these dar hills, or having to drive them at night, in the rain, in the winter, anytime!

We finally hit the bottom and proceeded into West Virginia to a place called Gap Mills. I had read some posts on-line how a visit to that town was a must-do and what a great trip from Roanoke it was. The poster pointed to the Cheese N More Shop and said there were a few other places nearby to visit. Hey, I love cheese and it got rave reviews so I was happy to check it out.

We found it pretty easily as it was on Route 3. Run by Amish or Mennonites, it was like going to Jamison's Orchards which is right down the block from me. It was larger than Jamison's and had a couple more varieties of products. When I had read it had a wide selection of meats and cheeses I don't know why I would assume they were talking about Italian cheeses and meats. A picture of provolone wheels hanging alongside hard salamis from the ceiling had popped into my head. What we found was a case that had cold cuts and a couple of Amish cheeses. Actually there was one triangled slab of hard Parmesan cheese in the fridge so I did buy that.

There were shelves of candies, jams, jellies, spices, flour, etc. Besides the cheese I bought a bag of chocolate covered almonds, maple walnut fudge, sesame crunch candies, hot pepper jelly and fresh dill weed. The fudge was amazing and I wish I had tried it before leaving as I would have bought other flavors. So creamy and fresh, it was almost worth the drive...almost.

Next we went across the road to a furniture store. They had the same religious music station playing, and it gave me the creeps. They were pretty expensive and there was nothing in there that I really liked, although they did have an antique Singer sewing machine like I have that they made into a lamp. Odd. I asked the person who also was Amish or Mennonite where Main Street was and she looked at me perplexed. So I elaborated and asked where the shopping was in Gap Mills and she said this was it. She pointed to a block building outside and said there was a bakery but it's closed on Mondays. That was disappointing news, so we headed back from whence we came and sought out Sweet Springs, WV.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Shirley Plantation


I'm a last minute kinda gal. I like to make plans ahead of time, but I don't believe in firming anything up because at the last minute plans most likely will change. Instead I spread my options out, knowing if plan A fails, there's still plan B & C left. In this case Plan A involved using a coupon for a hotel in Hopewell. Even though my first choice, Comfort Inn Plus, which was determined after reading reviews on-line, said they had no rooms available when I checked on-line, I thought we should still give it a shot as a walk-in. My senses proved correct and we had a really nice King room for two nights. My only complaint were the wee little pillows on the bed. Shouldn't a king sized bed have king sized pillows? These were softer than marshmallows and about the same size. I don't think I got two straight hours sleep, so I wasn't in the best physical and mental frame before heading out to the plantations.

We figured we'd go to the furthest ones first so opted to leave Weston Plantation in Hopewell for the end of the day. First up was Shirley. Ms. Garmin took us on a pebbled dirt road up to the Great House.




It was a perfect spring day and the crowd was very light so that was cool. Our tour began as soon as we got our tickets. No photos were allowed in the inside of the home. Our guide was knowledgeable, but based most of her tour on the portraits on all of the walls. I couldn't keep up with the names. I was more interested in their daily way of life, but that wasn't in the script. No mention of what was grown on the plantation, or what a typical day entailed. Neither was the mention of any slaves. I remembered what Bulletproof had said about the surrounding plantations and how hundreds of them fled to the Union Army to escape to freedom, but if I didn't know any better, and just based my knowledge on the scripted tour, it was like this plantation never had slaves.

The Great House is a lovely home, and the family still lives on the top floor, but my goal was to learn a slave's daily routine, what they wore, what they ate, or, at the very least, see slave quarters. I asked the guide if there were any on the plantation and she said no. There was one building off to the right of the Great House which had a replica kitchen on one side...


 and had information about the slaves on the other.


There were binders of photos and info that I so wanted to read thoroughly, however it was impossible. There must have been a wasp nest in that room because it was crawling and buzzing with nose-diving wasps, yellowjacks & bees. I was waiting for scorpions or snakes to join the fray! My husband offered to run in and grab the book but I could only see him getting stung and told him to forget it. It wasn't worth it.

We were able to take pics of the grounds, where there wasn't a rope cordoning off an area. I would have liked to get closer to the James River but access is denied. Here are some shots...

Trellis of grapes to be

A dovecote. Never heard of one before.

Here's the inside. Are those dove wings from the sun's rays?

Why are bricks in this tree? It was hit by lightning in the 1960's and it was thought tree wouldn't die if bricks were put inside. According to the lady in the gift shop it still produces walnuts.

 

Next up...Berkely Plantation.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Bulletproof at Appomatox Manor

Since we were heading to Richmond to drop my daughter at a friend's house my husband and I decided we could use a couple of days to ourselves. Unfortunately for him I saw the long weekend as an opportunity to conduct some more research for my upcoming book which would entail visiting plantations. I was able to convince him this was a good idea by promising him if I "learned" enough from Virginia plantations we could forgo the plan to head to South Carolina, and instead take a mini vacation later on someplace that had casinos and room service. He was all for that so off we went.

After careful research I narrowed down the plantation visits to four which were all along the James River about a half hour away from Richmond. Since there were no rooms in Charles Ciy, I thought we would stay in Hopewell which seemed to be a good location for our journey. Here's a shot of the James River in Hopewell.


The lady at the visitor center was very helpful and she handed us a map of local historical sites. General Grant's Headquarters at City Point sounded interesting, and since it was open until 5 we figured we could do that one before dinner. I had never heard of City Point and it wasn't on my original agenda, but I am so glad we sought it out.

Appomatox Manor at City Point

It was the least fanciest of all the sites we visited that weekend, but it was the cheapest, free, and most informative. Robert, a park employee was our guide and he ruined it for all the other guides we came in contact with.


After showing a brief film which explained the significance of City Point...the Union army captured it, and pretty much strangled the Confederate's supplies and reinforced the Union's when they took control of the James River.


Robert then proceeded to speak with the six of us present starting by saying "If you're looking for someone who is reading from a script, I'm not it. I'm going to tell it like it really is." And he did. He didn't sugar coat anything, and it was clear he was not a fan of the south seceding using a "patriot" banner. He told us for too long people have been taught about the Civil War by people using blinders, and we all should take our blinders off. He also said he wasn't afraid of speaking out as he was "Bulletproof." He had done his 30 years at Phillip Morris and for the last decade has been doing what he loves, talking history.

Apparently in the past he wound up on the front cover of a magazine after giving a tour of the house we were in, Appomatox Manor, and the powers that be didn't appreciate it, especially taking folks to the second floor. But he said he didn't care because we the people, we the taxpayers, "owned" this house and were entitled to visit the second floor, and anywhere else in the national park. After speaking with us a good half hour, well after the 5:00pm "closing time," he invited us upstairs to see "our" house. Here's a couple of shots...




 
I think Bulletproof's talk might have made one of the couples uncomfortable as they didn't wait around to see the house and grounds, but I really enjoyed his spiel. He was so real, and I think he knew I was interested in what he was saying as he seemed to be talking directly to me the entire time. Maybe it was because I was the only one who answered his questions. Afterwards he asked what part of New York I came from, and then told me he had relatives in Harlem and how he enjoyed his visits there, even riding the subway after midnight. Brave man!

For dinner we went to a place that was on the James River and specialized in seafood. After we had passed a couple of chemical plans lined along the James River whose smokestacks could be seen spewing clouds of whatever, I told my husband not to order the raw oysters, and boy was glad he listened to me. We both had stuffed flounder and it was too fishy, and just didn't taste fresh. The rest of the meal was terrible too, and I could only imagine what could have happened had we eaten raw oysters. The best part of the restaurant was the parking lot view...


Ms. Garmin brought us back to the hotel room, taking the ghetto route as she usually does. I couldn't explain why, but I felt such a heaviness to Hopewell that it made me sad when I was lying in bed. For a town with such a positive name, the vibe it emitted was anything but hope.


The next day I got into a conversation with someone at the hotel and they told me that Hopewell was wiped out by Indians back in the day. I wondered if that was the heaviness I felt. When we got home I Googled Hopewell, and between bus tragedies, chemical explosions and spills, and the highest rate of crime per capita in the state, plus a couple of other not so nice events, it's no wonder I felt the way I did about the town.