Shenandoah National Park, Part One: Skyline Drive

Virginia’s Chunk of the Blue Ridge Mountains

The Blue Ridge Mountains are arguably one of Virginia’s most memorable natural landmarks, providing a panoramic background for most road-trips in the central part of the state. Clearly visible throughout many parts of Orange County, they’re every bit as much a part of “who we are” as farmer’s markets, local wineries, and Montpelier. They’re also easily accessible (Shenandoah National Park is only a little over an hour away) which is why I’m ashamed to admit that it took me 23 years to visit. However, that situation has been rectified, and I can now say: a trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains needs to be on your vacation bucket-list.

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My “Mission Statement”

 In this post and an upcoming follow-up, I’ll be talking about my personal adventure to Shenandoah National Park. Part One will focus on an overview of Skyline Drive, while Part Two will delve a little deeper into our experiences on one of SNP’s most popular waterfall hiking trails, White Oak Canyon. The posts do overlap somewhat chronologically, so you’ll need to read both to get a comprehensive view of the trip.

Along the way I’ll try to share with you a few tips I found useful and a few places I found memorable, to help you in planning your own visit.

Your Journey to Skyline Drive

 The best way to visit the Blue Ridge Mountains is to drive (or cycle!) at least part of the 105 miles of roadway that meanders up through the rocky ranges. Skyline Drive is best known for its annual display of crimson-and-gold foliage in the fall, but you won’t be disappointed any time of the year.

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Here’s a link to the National Park Service site, which provides directions to the 4 entrances, ticket information, and other “rules of the road” you’ll need to know.

http://www.nps.gov/shen/planyourvisit/driving-skyline-drive.htm

Speeding Through Sperryville (And Stopping, Too)

If you travel to Skyline Drive from the Holladay House, my recommendation is to take Route 211 up through Madison (a beautiful drive in and of itself) and enter through the Thornton Gap entrance. If you do take this route, you’ll pass through quaint downtown Madison and, later, Sperryville. When my husband and I went we encountered this little gift-shop in Sperryville, which fell on the spectrum somewhere between organic and groovy and made us wish we weren’t penniless newlyweds. The inventory was hugely varied, stocking everything from a treasure trove of Beech honey and jams to handmade jewelry and quilts, to Polish pottery and knickknacks. There was even a collection of bar soaps that were touted as being edible. If, you know, edible soap is your thing.

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You’ll want to stop for a pint of their delicious apple cider, and a locally-made snack or two.

On Skyline Drive

 Once on Skyline Drive (which will cost you $15 per vehicle) you’ll want to pull off into a few of the overlook lanes to take photos of the valley, which drops off sharply beyond the wall and stretches like a rumpled blanket to the mountain ridges in the distance.

Houses are strewn across the green expanse, spattered here and there like flecks of white paint from the brush of an Impressionist. This is how Monet might have painted the Shenandoah: at once both vague and vivid, shrouded in a hazy fog that softens the outlines and bleeds one color into the next.

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There are over one hundred miles of such scenery to browse through, ranging from the domestic view described above to stretches of pristine wilderness. Each overlook lane provides a different panorama, so you’ll want to take in at least a few.

Why You’ll Want To Go

 You haven’t fully experienced Virginia until you’ve seen what it looks like from the top. If you’re looking for a place to pop the question, folks—I can’t think of a more memorable backdrop than this. It’s also perfect for a picnic, or (if you’re in serious shape) taking a cycling tour. If you’re looking to hike, Shenandoah National Park is also home to a medley of popular trails of different lengths and difficulties, for every skill level. (I’ll talk more about that in the next post.) There’s a something for everyone–you’re not going to find better drive-through tourism than this.

5th Annual Hops & Chops Set For July 5th


The menu is short-listed, the beer is delivered, and the meat is awaiting marinade. In a little over a week there will be a lot more crackling in Orange than just fireworks—and there’s still time  to save yourself a seat.

Hops & Chops is our favorite way to celebrate Independence Day here at the Holladay House. For five years since 2009 (no, that’s not a typo; there was a hiatus in 2012) the Elswick family has pulled out all the stops every 4th of July weekend to share this holiday dinner with their family and friends.

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Hops & Chops steps the traditional Independence Day meal up a notch, bringing to the table food that’s not only delicious, but strictly local. Everything on the menu was produced within the state, and most from within Orange County. From the medley of Virginia beers (many so up-and-coming they’re not yet available in supermarkets!) to the herbs (harvested from our garden out back) flavoring the locally-sourced meat, the celebration brings together our top picks of the area’s offerings.

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The full menu isn’t yet finalized (local availability will play into that) but the sneak peek I received involved things like “Cider-Brined Pork Chops With Dried Cherries and Apple Chips” and “Holladay House Made-From-Scratch Buttermilk Biscuits” as well as a number of just-picked, garden-fresh sides. Complimenting the dinner will be a selection of beers chosen to pair perfectly with the flavors of each course.

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Wrapping things up (my favorite part!) will be a selection of dessert favorites, including “Sharon’s Amazing All-American Apple Pie”.

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Everything is served indoors, away from the humidity, sunburn, and pesky flies that normally go hand-in-hand with the holiday. Not to worry, though—you can still wear your flip-flops. We’ll be serving beer in the dining room starting at 6PM, and dinner just a bit later at 6:30. Afterwards you’re invited to attend the Celebrate Orange fireworks display, located just 10 minutes away at Booster Park. This family-friendly event showcases half-an-hour of “the rockets red glare/the bombs bursting in air” and begins at 9 PM.

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July 5th—-come out for good food, great hospitality, and a laid-back, family-style atmosphere. Get to know everyone, celebrate our nation’s birthday, and, best of all—the kitchen clean-up is on us. Give us a call to check room availability!

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Our First Crop of Herbs Is In (Or Should I Say, “Inn”)

 

When I walked into work today, I was greeted by the sight of Sam teetering on a step-ladder, stringing fishing line across the ceiling in the kitchen. Sharon supervised from the floor below, offering constructive criticism and ostensibly ready to catch him if a strong wind rendered it necessary.

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I’ve worked at Holladay House for four years now and seen lots of projects underway, so I knew if I waited long enough an answer would come to me. When the answer arrived it came with a bag of goodies to take home with me–one of the best perks of working at the b&b.

 

To clarify: the first crop of fresh herbs came in from the garden today! The garden has been an ongoing labor of love here at the inn, so we’re very excited about it.

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So far we have fennel, thyme, lemon balm, and winter savory drying across the ceiling, coloring the air sweet and pungent. We’re looking forward around here to seeing where the dried flavorings turn up. If you’re lucky, you should be able to catch their appearance at the breakfast table: maybe sprinkled across the ham-and-cheese quiches, or adding savor to Sharon’s already delicious Holladay-family-recipe biscuits. I’ve just heard from Sam that they’re definitely billed to make an appearance at our annual July 4th “Hops & Chops” event as well. (I’ll have info on that, and recipes to share, coming up soon!)

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I, for one, am already eagerly awaiting leftovers to take home with me.

The smell of homemade biscuits . . .

Made-from-Scratch Buttermilk Biscuit Recipe from Orange, VA

When we bought the Holladay House Bed and Breakfast in Orange, VA, the Holladay family bestowed upon us the secret of their success: their family buttermilk biscuit recipe! 

Buttermilk Biscuit recipe from Orange, VA

Holladay Family Buttermilk Biscuits baked fresh in Orange, VA!

The Holladay family owned our home for over a century, from 1899 to 2000.  In 1989, Pete Holladay (the grandson of Dr. Lewis Holladay) and his wife Phebe (yes, that is spelled correctly), turned his family’s Main Street historic home into a Virginia Bed and Breakfast.  In a small historic town like Orange, Virginia, an innkeeper simply has no “street cred” unless they are capable of producing the best-tasting biscuits around.  So, Pete kept his family’s buttermilk biscuit recipe alive, and these biscuits probably have been made in this house as long as his family owned it.

We are happy to keep the tradition alive, and our guests are glad we are!  Sharon has delighted many out-of-town guest as well as Orange, Virginia locals by learning this historic buttermilk biscuit recipe. While I get a chance to sleep in a little, she gets up early to bake these buttermilk biscuits fresh for our guests. As I said in my post on how to cook bacon, one should seek instruction from the masters of previous generations.  For your breakfast-eating pleasure, we are passing this recipe along to you.  Enjoy!

Holladay Family Buttermilk Biscuits from Orange, VA

Ingredients:
2 cups all purpose flour
1 T baking powder
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 stick of butter chilled, plus 1 T butter, melted
3/4 cup buttermilk

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 400F degrees.
2. Sift together flour, baking powder, sugar, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt into a bowl.
3. Cut in the 1 stick of chilled butter until mixture resembles large coarse crumbs.
4. Make a well in the center of flour mixture; add buttermilk all at once and stir just until dough clings together.
5. Gently roll out, fold over and roll out dough about 9 times on a floured surface.
6. Pat dough out to 1/2-inch thick. Cut dough with a 2-inch biscuit cutter or glass.
7. Brush biscuit tops with 1 T melted butter.
8. Bake for 10-12 minutes until golden.

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

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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.

Chef Cooper’s Whisky-rubbed Cured Salmon in Orange, VA

After writing my previous post about Virginia-made single malt whisky from the Copper Fox Distillery,  I thought I’d continue the Virginia spirits topic with a recipe.  I consulted one our region’s finest chefs, Randy Cooper, from Elmwood at Sparks.  Elmwood at Sparks is one of several outstanding fine dining restaurants in our region, but it is the only one of its kind right here on Main Street in Orange, VA, just a block away from our Virginia Bed and Breakfast!

Our guests thoroughly enjoy Elmwood at Sparks. We have never recieved a negative review, and Chef Cooper puts his extensive experience with French and American style cuisines to good use. We recieve the best comments about the delectable sauces and scrumptious soups Chef Cooper crafts.

Since I have been exploring the many options for Virginia-produced whisky and other spirits, I asked Chef Cooper to recommend a recipe using whisky as an ingredient. The recipe below is what he provided, and I can’t wait to try it!  Please try it yourselves, and tell me what you think!

“Whiskey Rubbed Cured Salmon”

 2# Fresh Salmon

375 ML Your favorite Whiskey

4 oz ginger- sliced

2 sprigs rosemary

2 sprigs thyme

3# salt

3# Sugar

1T black peppercorns

Cheesecloth as needed

  1. Combine in sauce pot over high heat : whiskey, thyme, rosemary, half of peppercorns,  and ginger.
  2. Reduce by half- CAUTION- this may flame (remove from heat and allow to reduce over lower heat)- allow to cool.
  3. Wrap salmon in cheesecloth and place in a deep baking dish.
  4. Pour ingredients over cheesecloth-wrapped salmon  and allow to marinade for up to 24 hours.
  5. Combine salt, sugar, peppercorns- blend thoroughly
  6. Remove salmon from marinade (reserve liquid).
  7. Using fresh cheesecloth, rewrap the salmon.
  8. Place a shallow bed of salt mix into deep dish- add salmon, cover with remaining salt mixture.
  9. Reserve under refrigeration for 24 hours; check salmon for firmness, when firm, cure is complete.
  10. Remove from curing mix and wash under cold running water; pat dry with paper-towels.
  11. Serve with Boursin cheese, fresh baguette and pickled red onions.

Single Malt Whisky Comes from Scotland—or Does It?

Lodging near Orange, VA

Copper Fox Distillery, only about 45 minutes from Holladay House Bed and Breakfast in Orange, VA

Be prepared, dear readers, for this is my “coming out” day.

 I’m a whisky man.

 There– I said it. Out loud and in the heart of genteel Virginia Wine Country.  This may come as a shock to Virginia Wine enthusiasts who have come to know our Bed and Breakfast in Orange, VA as a place that exclusively serves fine Virginia Wine from local wineries, such as Barboursville, Keswick, Old House, Prince Michel, Gray Ghost, and quite a few others.  We’ve held Virginia wine tasting events, hosted receptions with Virginia wine, offered tours to Virginia wineries, tasted hundreds of Virginia wines ourselves, and generally do all we can to promote Virginia Wine, especially those crafted on the Journey Through Hallowed Ground and the Monticello Wine Trail.

 But I prefer whisky. I’m sorry, I just do. Don’t hate me because I like spirits.

Copper Fox Distillery, 45 minutes from Orange, VA

Barrel of Virginia whisky at Copper Fox Distillery, only about 45 minutes from our Bed and Breakfast!

 In my formative years of alcohol consumption, a man of dubious character said to me: “If you’re going to drink, drink like a man.”  He then handed me a bottle of George Dickel No. 12, suggesting that it was a finer beverage than Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7.  I wouldn’t have known the difference at the time, so I took him at his word.  The first sip went down like a razor blade, but after that my taste for alcohol was a whisky taste—George Dickel No. 12 in particular.  Then, I made it my mission to educate my college roommate—God rest his soul—in the same tradition. He did me proud. I’ve tried to uphold that tradition ever since.

 George Dickle no. 12 is certainly a fine beverage, and nary a disparaging word will be said about it in my written musings. Bourbon is still my drink of choice, preferably from Tennessee or Kentucky. Perhaps that’s my Tennessee mountain roots sprouting from within, I’m not sure (hmm…the thought just occurred to me that most folks probably do not know the difference between bourbon, whisky, or scotch—I guess that’s an excellent subject for a future blog). But, the subject for today is not Tennessee bourbon—it’s Virginia Single Malt Whisky.

 We make every effort to serve local Virginia products any chance we can, and whisky has a long history here in Virginia.  In fact, one of George Washington’s primary sources of income was whisky, which he produced at Mount Vernon (this casts the 1790 Whisky Rebellion in a whole new light).  The generous researchers at Washington’s venerable home have been kind enough to rekindle Washington’s passion for spirits, and they now sell Washington’s whisky.  Bless their little hearts.

 Washington’s whisky used three grains: corn, rye, and barley. It was not a single malt.  Traditional Scottish-style single malt whisky from Virginia has been hard to come by, even today. Until now.

Visit our bed and breakfast in Orange, VA!

The official greeter at Copper Fox

A few weeks ago, I had the extreme pleasure oftaking a tour of a nearby Virginia distillery called the Copper Fox Distillery, where the Wasmund family has been making fine Scottish-style single malt whisky since January 2000.  Single malt whisky is traditionally produced in Scotland. Like my own taste, America’s taste for whisky spirits tends to lean more towards bourbon.  So,  Copper Fox’s production of single malt whisky in the heart of Virginia wine country is kinda special.

The Copper Fox Distillery is nestled in a charming community at the base of the Blue Ridge mountains, not far from Gray Ghost winery, and about 45 minutes away from our Virginia Bed and Breakfast.  The distillery itself is an old building that was once part of an apple-packing and cider production facility. As soon as we arrived, we were greeted by a kind-hearted old soul, the distillery’s friendly yellow Labrador retriever whose name now escapes me. The tour was fascinating, and the wholesome smell of smoked barley was warm and inviting.

 

Visit our Bed and Breakfast in Orange, VA!

Wood stove used to heat the malt kiln, adding fruitwood flavors to the process.

The folks at Copper Fox perform all tasks by hand themselves, including the bottling and wax-sealing. Our guide, Sean McCaskey, showed us how they malt the barley, turn it on the floor with rakes, and then dry it in the kiln. The kiln uses a woodstove for heat, and the smoke from applewood, cherrywood, and oakwood adds some special flavor to the barley.  They hastily avoided detailed discussions of the distillation process (so as not to reveal their secrets!), and then took us to their barrel racks where they showed us the used barrels in which their whisky ages (by contrast, bourbon must be made in new oak barrels, or it can’t be called bourbon). An important feature of Copper Fox whisky is that they add toasted applewood, cherrywood and oak chips to the batch while it ages, to give it a special flavor.  This is particularly appropriate considering they are located in Virginia’s apple country!

Visit our bed and breakfast in Orange, VA!

Malting Virginia-grown barley on site

Virginia law prohibits an on-site tasting (although you can get a nosing sample) but we did buy two bottles to savor in the privacy of our bed and breakfast in Orange, VA. Savor them, we did!  We purchased a bottle of the Wasmund’s Single Malt Whisky and a bottle of the Copper Fox Rye Whisky. The Rye Whisky is  2/3 rye and 1/3 malted barley, while the single malt is obviously 100% hand-malted barley. The Single Malt came from Batch 46 (the latest batch), and the rye whisky was freshly bottled on 28 October 2010.

At  96 proof, the single malt has a bold flavor, but not obtrusive one. Whereas most whiskys of a similar proof I have tried are nothing but “burn,” Wasmund’s had rich, complex, and identifiable flavors that make it pleasant to drink.  My theory is that this comes from the fruitwood chips used during the aging process. Undoubtedly, the bold, pleasing auburn color comes from this as well. This single malt whisky has some excellent characteristics worthy of recommendation.

Visit our Virginia Bed and Breakfast

Wax for sealing the bottles, melted and carefully applied by hand.

The Rye Whisky is similarly strong (90 proof), but  is slightly lighter and more amber than the single malt. Although it has some bite up front, the finish has some definite earthy flavors. The rye has  discernable toasted grain flavors, whereas the Single Malt had more of a charcoal/wood characteristic.

Lodging near Orange, VA

Products at the Copper Fox Distillery store

Certainly, one would not mistake these excellent Virginia whiskys for Appalachian-style bourbons. They have their own unique taste, and both would pair excellently with a Virginia-style barbecue, chocolate mousse, or even a pot of home-cooked beans (I know the latter is true because I just had that for lunch—black beans and lentils slow-simmered in a cast iron pot  with a country hambone, salt, and pepper—simple, wholesome, and delicious).

Holladay House Bed and Breakfast innkeeper

The Innkeeper tasting the only 100% local Virginia Single Malt Whisky

The next time you visit our historic bed and breakfast in Orange, VA, be sure to ask for directions to the Copper Fox Distillery. Even if you are not a self-proclaimed whisky drinker like I am, a discerning palate will appreciate the complexities of this fine local spirit. We also have it available to our guests for a winter evening toast by the fire!

Of course, there are a number of other Virginia whiskys one should try, and even a legal moonshine produced right here in Culpeper, Virginia. In the future, I’ll write more about each and every one of them.

Now, I think I’ll have a drink!

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.