Archive for the 'History' Category

A Game of Chess at James Madison’s Montpelier

I used to joust with my college room-mate over a game of chess.  We played for different reasons. For him, it was an intellectual challenge of strategy, an opportunity to demonstrate how victory (and bragging rights) could be secured through reason and endurance. For me, it was a chance to unwind and thwart the foundations of reason by asserting the supremancy of whimsy, blind luck, and psychology.  My opponent’s turns usually lasted 20 minutes or more.  Mine typically took about 2 minutes, and their completion usually invited a raised eyebrow of annoyance and disbelief from my compatriot.

More often than not, deliberation and reason prevailed, and I lost more than one pitcher of beer for my insolence. To the victor went the spoils

Holladay House Bed and Breakfast near James Madison's Montpelier

Antique ivory chess set is an exqact match to the one used by James Madison

.

I had forgotten about these semi-frequent sparring matches until recent events at James Madison’s Montpelier conjured them from my mind. You see, James Madison was an avid chess player, and he frequently sparred with his friend Thomas Jefferson.  Madison and Jefferson were both intellectual powerhouses–Madison was deeply learned and bookish, while Jefferson was more focused on breadth and application.  A chess match between these two was undoubtedly a serious affair.

Around 1853, Jefferson’s granddaughter, Ellen Wayles Coolidge, wrote the following about her grand father:  “So he was, in his youth, a very good chess-player. There were not among his associates, many who could get the better of him. I have heard him speak of ‘four hour games’ with Mr. Madison. Yet I have heard him say that when, on his arrival in Paris, he was introduced into a Chess Club, he was beaten at once, and that so rapidly and signally that he gave up all competition. He felt that there was no disputing such a palm with men who passed several hours of every evening in playing chess.”

Accommodations James Madison's Montpelier

The Founding Fathers at Play

What in the world does all of this have to do with Montpelier, and why am I writing about it here? Amazingly, archaeologists at Montpelier dug up fragments of chess pieces that once belonged to James Madison. The broken pieces were all that remained of his set, and they were discarded in a trash heap (archaeologists call them “middens”) on the Montpelier property. The chess set was a gift from Benjamin Franklin, also a brilliant chess player. Had Madison been alive when his estate left his family, he probably would have lamented the loss of his chess set.

But its loss was not permanent! The brilliant history detectives at Montpelier were able to use the recovered pieces to identify the chess set, and the Montpelier Foundation purchased an authentic match that dates to the same period.  This antique ivory chess set is now on display in the newly restored mansion where it belongs!

According to an article published on 4 February 2011 in the Daily Progress, “The period set was unveiled this week in the fourth president’s Drawing Room, sitting atop one of Madison’s original gaming tables, discovered in 2009.

The hand-turned pieces are in the Old English or Washington style, known as such because George Washington also owned such a set, said Lynne Dakin Hastings, Montpelier’s vice president for museum programs.

The pieces are white and red, rather than white and black, and, as such, may seem a bit unusual to modern eyes. Both black and red pieces were in use during the period.

‘This particular style of set, this Old English style, was very fashionable and very popular at the time,’ Hastings said.

Montpelier officials consulted with chess scholars to determine the style of set that produced the small fragments, which were found in a trash pit. The officials concluded that Madison’s set had red pieces based on three surviving pieces at Tudor Place, a historic home in Georgetown. The pieces purportedly belonged to Madison and are said to have been given to him by Benjamin Franklin, Hastings said. Those pieces are white and red.”

Dolley Madison, the famous First Lady, was also known to have played chess, and also had a love of loo, a popular eighteenth century card game similar to modern-day hearts. Thus, next to the chess display, visitors can see an in-progress game of loo.

Madison’s enthusiasm for chess brings his deeply intellectual personality to light in a profoundly visible way. In fact, he loved chess so much that he was even known to play on Sundays, which was a bit of a taboo in his day. According to Hastings, “gaming on Sundays really was not acceptable at all.” But perhaps, she speculated, Madison saw chess as something more. “Madison may have felt that chess was not so much a game, as an intellectual pursuit,” she said.

In that regard, James Madison and my former college roommate were kindred spirits. As such, I feel obligated to challenge him to a game of chess during his next visit to the Holladay House Bed and Breakfast in Orange, Virginia. Just for old times sake.  And maybe a few beers.

Holladay Memories

I have a lot to write about, so I don’t know where to begin!  As 2010 winds down, I’m looking back at some of the extraordinary things that have happened at the Holladay House– receptions, events, 1500 costumed kids filling Main Street for Halloween, the Christmas  parade, wine festivals….  What should I write about next?

With the Civil War Sesquicentennial (I’ll let you google that–it took me a little while to pronounce it correctly, too, and I was an English major!) kicking off in grand style next year, I’ll continue on an historic theme: our historic inn!

Many of you may recall that late last year we hosted a Memories Reception.  The idea was to invite as

Lodging in Orange, Virginia

Doctor Lewis Holladay's medical instruments on display at the Holladay House in 2009. Dr. Holladay practiced medicine from 1896 to 1946.

 many long-time local residents as we could to help us learn about and record the storied history of our historic bed and breakfast in Orange, VA. The food was fantastic (prepared by our friend and frequent chef, Paul Diegl), and the Virginia Wine  flowed like…well… like wine! But, the real joy was hearing local residents recount their tales of daring-do in the Town of Orange, and specifically the Holladay House. It was an historian’s delight. We even displayed much of Dr. Holladay’s antique medical and surgical equipment, some of which was over 100 years old! I’ll write more about the specific oral histories later, and will just say that our primary goal was to collect as much info as we could, and then invite everyone back a year later to hear about what we had collected.

Holladay House Bed and Breakfast in Orange, VA

One of the oldest known photographs (ca. 1895) of Orange, Virginia includes the Holladay House (then called the Chapman House)! Our historic inn is the first house on the left.

And, that’s what we did!  For the encore event, we unveiled an improvement we completed in the main hall. Largely due to our efforts the previous year, we were able to collect several Holladay Family photographs, an 1895 photo of the house, newspaper clippings, personal papers, World War II selective service awards signed by Franklin Roosevelt, and some other items, which we framed and hung in the main hall. During this project, we repaired a section of the old wall, and even uncovered historic wall paper that dates to sometime in the early 1900s.

In addition, noted architectural historian Ann Miller gave an enjoyable presentation on how to use architectural features to date an old house, specifically using elements of the Holladay House as her examples.

Lodging in Orange, Virginia

Louise Holladay, ca. 1905. We found this photo tucked in an antique chest here at the Holladay House.

We had such a great time with this project, that we have reserved another section of the Main Hall for a similar historical exhibit. This exhibt will present materials related to the 19th century owners of this house.  The Holladay family purchased the house in 1899, but the house was already 70 years old by then, and had seen quite a bit of important American History, particularly during the Civil War. So, I suppose this post is really just to whet your appetite for fun stuff to come!  You can expect to see more stuff about the Chapman family, the long-time residents of the house who hosted a wedding reception for one of Robert E. Lee’s officers during the winter of 1864, one of the Confederacy’s darkest hours. Several famous officers, including General J.E.B. Stuart, attended!

The history of our Virginia bed and breakfast predates even the Civil War, and is one of the earliest buildings constructed in the Town of Orange. So, expect to see some discussion of what Orange was like prior to the Civil War, and the significance of the Holladay House during our republic’s formative years.

I also plan to take some photographs of some of the more instructive architecural features of our historic inn. The historic architecture in Orange, VA really is an amazing collection of all of the classic styles of 19th century American architecture, and the Holladay House plays an important role in that collection.  As one of the only brick Federal-Style houses of that era in Orange,VA the Holladay House Bed and Breakfast  is as interesting to historians as it is to our guests!

Of course, there’s more to us than history. Orange County is one of the finest sources of Virginia products in the state, so one can expect to have plentiful opportunities for fine dining, local gourmet shops, farmer’s markets, wineries, etc.  And, let’s not forget Montpelier (an archaeology workshop on ceramics is coming up in January)!

So, I have a lot to write about and am beginning in earnest!  Come back soon and see what’s next!

Walking a Mile in Their (Civil War) Shoes: The Perils of Living History

Biblical parables and shop-worn cliches aside, my feet hurt. I simply cannot imagine marching hundreds of miles with these medieval torture devices on my feet, only to be thrown into some of the most brutal combat our country has ever seen.

Civil War shoes worn by the author

Shoes of a Confederate Infantryman Worn by the Author

Ok, so I’m overstating the case. But, these shoes are not Nike Air Jordans (Yes, I’m dating myself here).  They are authentic recreations of the typical nineteenth century footwear worn by Confederate soliders on Civil War Battlefields during one of America’s darkest times. The soles are thin but hard, and they are fastened together by iron nails, as you can see in the photo.  The nails create the contact point with the ground, which makes the shoes slippery on hard, smooth surfaces (such as the ubiquitous hardwood floors of that era), as well as hard and inflexible on the bottoms of one’s feet.

After about 30 minutes of wearing them, my feet felt like I had hiked on a concrete path for 10 miles. The souls of the men that wore these on long marches and into battle had to be harder than the soles on their feet.

This, of course, is the point of Living History Civil War Re-enactment is much more than playing dress-up and fantasizing about daring adventures in the days of yore. Re-enactment is about treading where the people of the past have tread and experiencing what they experienced as best as one can with our modern sensibilities. In its purest form, Living History is about empathy and education. To an observer it may seem silly. To a participant, it is often quite serious.

I wore these shoes during a happy and light-hearted affair, but when I sat down after the fanfare was over, rubbing my sore feet while relaxing in one of our whirlpool suites, I reflected on the people that have come before. Something as simple as a shoe, and the very real pain it caused, was enough to help me appreciate the hardened force of will that must have permeated the armies of the Civil War, both Federal and Confederate. Tough men in tough times doing tough things.

This is why the work of those who would educate us about the historical mileu is so important. Mort Kunstler, for example, is a renowned artist of Civil War scenes. His work is authentic, inspiring, and evocative. He brings out the human and emotional element of some of the quieter but more poignant moments of the American Civil War.  We were honored to host this eminent artist at a reception in our historic inn, especially since the scene Mort Kunstler depicted in Unconquered Spirit occurred just two blocks from our house, which was standing at that time. In fact, only a few months after Generals Lee, Hill, and Longstreet came together in front of the courthouse in the Town of Orange (the scene from Unconquered Spirit), a number of Lee’s officers, including the famous J.E.B Stuart, attended a wedding party right in our parlor! Thus, with several folks (including Sharon and I) dressed in period-appropriate clothes, the reception took on a meaning and a flair akin to that of the Civil War wedding reception that, according to one contemporary diarist,  continued until 4 o’clock in the morning!  Town and County officials, local residents, historians, and friends celebrated Mr. Kunstler’s work with food, wine, and good cheer. The following day, Mr. Kunstler signed his prints on the historic steps of the Orange County Courthouse, which was the backdrop for his recent painting.

We would like to extend a special “thank you” to Steve Silvia of J.S. Mosby’s Antiques and Bill and Nancy Graham for providing authentic period clothing, as well as Brian Pratlow for serving as part of our honor guard and as a greeter. Our favorite local caterer, Chef Paul Diegl from Real Food provided some of the food. Also, thank you to Frank Walker, emminent local historian and Civil War tour guide, for helping to organize the event!

For anyone who is interested, we served wine from Barboursville, a popular Virginia winery. The Cabernet Sauvignon was the clear favorite!

Upcoming Reception for Renowned Civil War Artist

The Civil War is brought to life at our Virginia Bed and Breakfast Inn

 Historical Artwork, portraying historical events, in an historic house–what a great opportunity to Experience Virginia!

Unconquered Spirit, Mort Kunstler

Unconquered Spirit, a Painting by Mort Kunstler

1859 Orange County Courthouse

The historic courthouse in Orange, Virginia as it looks today

We are excited to report a fantastic event next weekend, 17-18 September 2010.  A renowned artist of historical subjects, Mort Kunstler, will be visiting in Orange, Virginia  to unveil his latest work, Unconquered Spirit.  This poignant painting depicts a scene taking place in front of the historic 1859 Orange County Courthouse, just two blocks away from our Virginia bed and breakfast. This evocative painting depicts a scene from 1863, a few days after the Battle of Gettysburg, when General Robert E. Lee and his officers arrived in the Town of Orange to establish a defensive line and set up winter camps for his beleaguered men.

According to Mr. Kunstler, “En route to their destination near the Rapidan Line earthworks, the Confederate forces marched past the Orange County Courthouse over a period of several days. The surrounding streets were filled with the sights and sounds of thousands of men, horses, wagons and artillery pieces passing by. On the left of the picture, an artillery battery rides by with infantry troops behind them. They would eventually go into their winter camps strung out behind the Rapidan Line earthworks and prepare for what we know would be the upcoming, crucial spring campaign of 1864.” In the painting, General Lee appears composed and in command as he organizes the activities of General A.P. Hill and General James Longstreet, both of who seem to come alive off of the canvas.

Soldier of Faith by Mort Kunstler

Soldier of Faith by Mort Kunstler

Mr. Kunstler has painted other scenes in Orange, two of which took place within just a few hundred feet from our Virginia inn.  One, Solider of Faith, depicts General Lee less than one block to the south of the our historic home, riding in front of  St. Thomas Episcopal Church. The Confederates used this church as a hospital during the war, and Lee worshipped here during his winter stay in Orange. His pew is still extant.

At the time of both of these scenes, Orange residents referred to what is now the Holladay House Bed and Breakfast as the Chapman House, after the family of John Madison Chapman (great nephew of President James Madison). Historical documents confirm that Lee and his officers rode by the Chapman House (now the Holladay House)  numerous times during that winter, and a hospital steward, John Samuel Apperson, pitched his tent across the street.  In his diaries, Apperson related stories about the Chapman family. In February 1864, he described a wedding ceremony held here that J.E.B. Stuart, the famous Confederate General, attended. Apparently, a junior officer in Lee’s army had been courting Ms. Emma Chapman, John Madison Chapman’s daughter, and the couple wed a few months after the army’s arrival in Town. In fact, the scene depicted in Soldier of Faith, would have occurred around the same time as this wedding. According to Apperson, the wedding instigated a night of great merriment, for “the dance was kept up ’till about 4 o’clock in the morning.”

Saint Thomas Episcopal Church

St. Thomas Episcopal Church, depicted in Soldier of Faith, has been standing since about 1830

We are excited to host Mort Kunstler because the history of our house is so tightly connected to the scenes depicted in his artwork. Mr. Kunstler has been painting scenes from American history for almost 30 years, and his work has achieved numerous accolades.

Born in 1931, his earliest experiences were those of the closing years of the Great Depression followed by World War II. He soon exhibited an artistic talent that was subsequently developed and refined by studies at Brooklyn College, U.C.L.A., and the Pratt Institute. Over the years, Mr. Kunstler has produced book jackets, magazine covers, illustrations, posters and even the 29-cent Buffalo Soldiers postage stamp. He has become one of the most widely known and respected historical artists of our time. His interest in the Civil War, America’s defining moment, has led to the production of a series of paintings that have attracted collectors from all points of the globe.

On 17 September, we are hosting a welcoming reception for this renowed artist. We expect an excellent turnout, as Mr. Kunstler, his friends and associates, town and county leaders, and members of our community will all be in attendance! During this reception, the artist will discuss the historical context and artistic challenges of the scene that he has expertly depicted.

At 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, September 18, Mr. Kunstler will be in the foyer of the 1859 Orange County court house to meet the purchasers of prints of Unconquered Spirit and to sign those prints for them. Period music will be performed in the courtyard by the Virginia Serenaders. The Holladay House will be open to visitors. St. Thomas’ Church, with its Lee Pew, will also be open to visitors. There will be walking tours from the court house to the church from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Local shops and restaurants will be open.

Please join us for this grand event! Mort Kunstler captures the heart and soul of America in all his works, and we are thrilled to host him in our historic inn.

A Hot Air Balloon is the best way to see the Piedmont!

 What makes the Virginia Piedmont Special?

Over 1000 feet above our Virginia Bed and Breakfast Inn

Beautiful sunrise over misty Piedmont hills

If you ask anyone who has been to Orange, VA what they thought about it, probably one of the first things they’ll say is  “It’s so beautiful!”   Indeed it is, which is one of the many reasons why Sharon and I moved here and bought our historic bed and breakfast inn! Let me explain to you why this is.

First, I shall amaze and enlighten you with  a quick and easy geography lesson. Virginia is essentially one giant watershed–that is, the water from the mountains to the west drains through Virginia to the Chesapeake Bay, and eventually into the Atlantic. This watershed is actually quite diverse and includes several topographical zones.  In the East, we have the Tidewater, so named because the rivers flowing from West to East are close enough to the coast, and low enough in elevation, to rise and fall with the Atlantic tides.  The Tidewater is characterized by low wetlands and predominately sandy soil. The eastern broder of the Tidewater is the Chesapeake Bay, and the western border is a geological feature called the Fall Line. The Fall line runs north to south, roughly along the route of I-95.  The Fall Line marks the farthest point inland where the rivers are no longer tidal, and where they historically were no longer navigable by large vessels.  Hence, this is the reason why so many Virginia towns and cities were established along this North-South Corridor (Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Alexandria, just to name a few).

West of the Fall Line is the Virginia Piedmont. The Piedmont is the quintissential Virginia landscape, filled with babbling creeks, streams and rivers flowing gently on their perpetual journey to the Chesapeake Bay. The Piedmont is best characterized by gently rolling hills, historic  pastoral landscapes, large forested areas, beautiful sprawling farms, and plenty of wildlife.  Historically, travellers and commentators have called the Virginia Piedmont “Virginia Horse Country” or “Virginia Hunt Country” because of the historical predominance of these activities here.  More recently, the moniker Virginia Wine Country has increased in usage due to the immense number of Virginia wineries and vineyards dotting the landscape.  Naturally, large expanses of vineyards lend themsevles to scenic views and romantic ideas. It is in this iconic Piedmont zone that one can find Orange, VA, and the Holladay House Bed and Breakfast.

Flight above Orange, Virginia. Our inn is in Orange, VA, which is off to the left.

Our inn is in Orange, Va, beyond this photo to the left

Continuing to the  West, the Virginia Piedmont terminates at the Blue Ridge Mountain range, one of the most scenic and picturesque natural landscapes in America. The Appalachian trail meanders through these mountains, as well as the Blue Ridge Parkway, Skyline Drive,  and numerous Wildlife Areas and State and National Parks.

The Blue Ridge Mountains then descend into the famed Shenandoah Valley, which is bordered on its west side by the Allegheny Mountains, which, like the Blue Ridge, are also part of the Appalachian Mountain chain.

The Peacefulness of . . . Hot air?

So, why the geography lesson?  Because when one understands what makes the Piedmont region unique, one will understand why I was so excited to launch a hot-air balloon five minutes from our Bed and Breakfast Inn! If you continue to read my regular blog posts, you will begin to discover why the Virginia Piedmont is a vital component of America’s history and economy. In modern times, the region still appears much like is did almost 2 centuries ago, and you cannot help but sense the essence of history when you meander across this region.  From a hot-air ballon, this sense of history, place, and natural romance comes to you with stunning clarity!

View of our balloon from the ground, taken outside Gordonsville, VA

The chase crew spotted us near Gordonsville, VA!

The rolling hills, immaculate horse farms, roaming sheep and goats, meandering rivers, historic sites, and low forested mountains are breathtaking from 1800 feet. We launched early in the morning, just after sunrise, and the mist was still nestled among the shallow valleys, with the early sun reflecting brilliantly off the moisture in the air.  The views were breathtaking. One of the most unexpected characteristics of a balloon ride is the quiet stillness one feels when floating in the air currents.  High above the human-induced bustle below, the world is peaceful and still. You have little sensation of movement, because when you are moving at the same speed as the air currents, you feel no breeze.  You are free to reflect upon the beauty of the natural world, and the stirring consequences of the history that happened on this landscape. Truly, the Virginia Piedmont is a special place, and we strongly encourage anyone to view it from the vantage point of a comfortable basket gently sailing in the air currents above.

If you wish to book a balloon ride, contact us directly, or contact Mandy at Monticello Country Ballooning. She is an expert balloonist, and a great gal!

James Madison’s Montpelier has some new cool stuff to do…

We are returning  to our Virginia Bed and Breakfast after a short vacation (first one we’ve taken in about two years). We are refreshed!  So, if you missed our blog last week, I’m sorry–but, even innkeepers need a sanity-preserver every now and then.

A skill that has taken me a long time to master is that of the Brain Dump.  When I go on vacation, I open the drain plug in my medulla and all overflowing data drains out of my skull in a mini-maelstrom of forgetful bliss.  Thus, upon returning to the inn, I began looking at upcoming events in our area to refresh my memory about what’s going on.  I’d be remiss if I did not pass some of the information along to our faithful readers!

President James Madison

James Madison at Montpelier, just 3 miles from our Virginia Bed and Breakfast! (photo by Jen Fariello)

James Madison’s Montpelier is hosting a number of fun things in the next few weeks.   One that really intrigues me is Weekends with the Madisons. Each weekend, two fantastic  James and Dolley Madison impersonators (or is “re-enactors” a more appropriate terms?) will greet guests at Montpelier.

According to the Montpelier Blog, “Guests may call on Mr. and Mrs. Madison in the mansion’s south wing. “Dolley Madison’s Salon” will be held on Saturdays from 11:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m. Mrs. Madison, in full costume, will chat with guests about her husband’s role in crafting the Constitution. She became an expert on this subject during his retirement, when she helped James organize his papers from the Constitutional Convention.

“President James Madison” will be at home on Sundays, 12:00 Noon–5:00 p.m. and at leisure to receive visitors during the afternoon. Now, in the summer of 1810, “Mr. Madison” will be engaged in his oversight of the farm, while also attending to his duties as president while at Montpelier. He will discuss present concerns in 1810 as president, his work in drafting the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, his early life, and other topics of interest and concern to his guests. Visitors are encouraged to introduce themselves and should feel free to ask him questions; he has always enjoyed entertaining guests at Montpelier.”

I have seen these talented folks before, and can attest to their knowledge and ability. Apparently, the actress who plays Dolley has a PhD in Political Philosophy, and Madison’s writings were the focus of her dissertation. So, this is no frivolous enterprise!

One thing that very few people know is that, long after the Madisons had died, Confederate soldiers used James Madison’s Montpelier estate as a Confederate camp during the Civil War.  Local Civil War re-enactors have been steadily reconstructing this camp, using authentic 19th century techniques.  On Sunday, August 15th,  Civil War reenactors from the 3rd Regiment of the Army of Northern Virginia will continue rebuilding the huts occupied by General Samuel McGowan’s South Carolinians during the winter of 1863-1864. The reenactors will use the same construction techniques as McGowan’s men.

I always enjoy “Living History” and have visited this site while re-enactors were there to interpret their activities.  The encampment is a great reminder that history persists at a location long after the most celebrated events occurred there.

Finally, as a trained archaeologist myself, I must tell you about the archaeology programs continually happening at Montpelier. Montpelier regularly schedules programs for anyone who wants to experience real field-work and labratory work alongside trained archaeolgists.  There’s nothing like finding a piece of someone’s daily life that has not been touched by human hands for a few hundred years, and these programs are a great opportunity for education and excitement. If you want to get dirty here in Orange, Virginia, let us know and we will be happy to help you make the arrangements!