10th Anniversary post: Our first day in Orange, VA

Travel back in time to 1996: Sam, the budding History and English double-major, was accepted in the July 1996 Montpelier Summer Archaeology Program at Montpelier. He stayed on Montpelier’s grounds with about a dozen other university students and wielded his trowel at the Mount Pleasant site on the property. Sam and Sharon, fellow students at James Madison University, had been dating for well over a year.  Sharon drove down from Northern VA on Saturdays to visit Sam. They would grab sandwiches at Sparks Deli (now Elmwood at Sparks) and have a picnic in Taylor Park (the park across the street from the inn.) Fast forward to September 15, 2006: Sam and Sharon just purchased the Holladay House Bed and Breakfast on Main Street. After a morning of directing the movers, they walked past Taylor Park to Elmwood at Sparks to grab lunch and take a moment to celebrate.  They met Randy Cooper, who opened Elmwood at Sparks just 6 months prior, and joked about being the two new kids on the block. As Sam and Sharon exited Elmwood at Sparks, they ran into the Sam’s summer archaeology director from Montpelier! She was still directing the archaeology program at Montpelier; and Sam pointed to the Holladay House Bed and Breakfast and said, “We just bought that today!” Over the last 10 years Sam and Sharon have shared many meals with his archaeology director and still take lunch breaks at Elmwood at Sparks. Save...
A Game of Chess at James Madison’s Montpelier

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

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. 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....
Upcoming Reception for Renowned Civil War Artist

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! 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. Mr. Kunstler has painted other...
A Hot Air Balloon is the best way to see the Piedmont!

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

 What makes the Virginia Piedmont Special? 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...