April was a combination travel and sightseeing month. We had to be in Rhode Island around the third week of the month, so we planned our route from Bushnell, Florida to North Scituate, Rhode Island, via Americus, Georgia; Hillsville, Virginia; Fredericksburg, Virginia; and Fort Meade, Maryland, combining ‘business’ and pleasure.
First stop was Americus – home of Habitat for Humanity International, where we met up with Dave and Mary. We set up in Habitat’s own RV park for volunteers passing through. While in Americus, Lucille met up with several of the folks with whom she is working now in her volunteer position as the one processing RV Care-A-Vanner registrations. Habitat provides her with a laptop and authorized programs to be able to access their database of volunteers – we got the laptop tuned up and programs updated while we were there.
We had an opportunity to tour Koinonia Farms, established in 1942 by Clarence Jordan. Koinonia, Greek for loving community, “was founded as a demonstration plot for the Kingdom of God, sharing resources, work and prayer.” Reviled by many in the 1950s and 1960s for believing in peacemaking, radical sharing and brotherhood/sisterhood, they endured violence from nearby communities as well as rejection from local churches. Their mail-order pecan business helped them through the lean years as locals boycotted their products – the pecan business remains their main source of earned income. “Partnership Housing, which later became Habitat for Humanity, was born here to help neighbors afford decent, simple homes.” We got a personal tour of the facilities, including the kitchen where the pecan sweet products are made, as well as the pecan-shelling and packaging facility. RV sites are available for those who’d like to stop by and help, especially needed when the pecan crop is at its most prolific.
Also staying at Habitat’s Volunteer RV park were John and Joyce Williams, winners of the 2011 Good Sam Club’s RVers of the Year – what a treat to meet them. We also met John and Regina – John is active with the Womens’ Build division of Habitat and Regina was looking for local employment. She presented us with freshly baked Easter bread, complete with decorated eggs – how thoughtful (and quite tasty.) The eight of us enjoyed dinner out at La Hacienda – it was fun getting to know these folks.
Time to head out, destination Hillsville, Virginia, with an overnight stop at the Home Depot in Rock Hill, South Carolina – our first time blacktop camping at Home Depot. Besides picking up a few items at Home Depot (a small price to pay for staying in their parking lot), we enjoyed supper at Sonny’s BBQ and breakfast the next morning at IHOP – both restaurants just a few minutes’ walk.
Lake Ridge RV Resort in Hillsville was just opening up for the season. The resort has both seasonal sites and sites set up for travelers like us, and lots of activities planned on weekends. We chose this area as home base because it was convenient to Virginia’s Crooked Road as well as Mount Airy, North Carolina.
The Crooked Road is Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail – 333 miles through the scenic mountains of Southwest Virginia, connecting major heritage music venues with a thriving network of jams, festivals and concerts. Here can be found the roots of American music – old time fiddle and banjo, a cappella gospel and ballad singing, and bluegrass. The Carter Family, the Stonemans and Ralph Stanley – some of the greatest names in American music – all came from this region.
Some of the towns we visited on the Crooked Road: Floyd and the Floyd Country Store, where jam sessions are the norm on Friday evenings and Sunday afternoons. We attended a jam there on Easter Sunday afternoon but because of the holiday, we feel that most of the better musicians were out with their families. The city of Galax, known as the Best Pick in Virginia, had a double jam session happening at the Stringbean Coffee Shop. One side had traditional folk music while the other side featured a mix of folk, traditional, contemporary and country music. We spent time at each of the venues, enjoying a cup of tea and some really good toe-tapping music.
Mount Airy, North Carolina is a few miles from Hillsville, accessed by the mountainous and twisting but very scenic Hwy 52 down thru Fancy Gap and beyond. Mount Airy was Andy Griffith’s hometown and what he patterned his TV program after. We learned that the characters in his show were often composites of folks he knew, including the town drunk Otis Campbell (taken from the first names of two policemen who apparently didn’t mind being made famous in sort of an infamous way.) We took a Squad Car Tour, in a Ford Galaxy similar to the ones used in the TV program, with Jonathan, our informative guide. We drove by Andy’s homeplace, past Floyd’s Barbershop, Snappy Lunch, the Andy Griffith Playhouse, the Old Jail and Visitors Center. Mount Airy’s original claim to fame is their granite quarry, the largest surface mine in the world - several DC monuments and other monuments have granite quarried from here. Due to security reasons, we only got as close as the chain link fence surrounding the property.
Afterwards, we visited the Andy Griffith Museum, which focused on his movie career prior to TV programs and his musical talents. We had lunch at the Barney Café, and then enjoyed listening to some bluegrass folks picking and grinning at the Fancy Gap Outfitter’s Store while we shopped.
Based on Jonathan’s recommendation, we took Main Street out of town, up through Orchard Gap, ending up on the Blue Ridge Parkway. This was another very twisty, scenic, hairpin turn road, more so than Hwy 52. Historic Mabry Mill, on the Blue Ridge Parkway, is the site of the most photographed and recognized grist mill. The mill wasn’t open for the season but you can still walk around and look at the buildings.
Hillsville itself has quite a bit of history. The Carroll County Historical Museum is located in the old courthouse, where on March 14, 1912, court officials and members of the Allen family engaged in a courtroom gun battle killing five and wounding seven. A massive manhunt followed, with the eventual capture of the Allen Clan. Floyd Allen and his son Claude were executed – the tragedy and manhunt remained headline news across the nation, eclipsed only by the sinking of the Titanic. There is a display in the museum describing this momentous event.
The Family Shoe Store was once the site of the hospital as well as a hotel. It now houses the largest shoe selection in Virginia, not to mention handbags and other accessories. As small as Hillsville is, it’s amazing the store has enough business but the service and prices are the secrets of its success. The Hillsville Diner has been a landmark since 1945 – we enjoyed lunch at the oldest continuing operating railcar diner in Virginia.
Time to hit the road with a few days’ stop in Bowling Green where Fort A.P. Hill is located. This was our first visit to this military campground – what a hidden treasure – quiet, secluded and reasonably priced. Fort A.P. Hill was our home base while we toured the Fredericksburg area.
Four major Civil War battles were fought in this area: Fredericksburg (December 11-13, 1862); Chancellorsville (April 27-May 6, 1863); The Wilderness (May 5-6, 1864); and Spotsylvania Court House (May 8-21, 1864). Lots of history here. We visited the Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville County Battlefields Memorial National Military Park, as well as Old Salem Church and the Stonewall Jackson Shrine.
Ranger Leanne gave an informative tour of the battle that took place in Fredericksburg, with the Confederates victorious. Because of the Confederate Army’s defense position, the Union soldiers never had a chance – they were picked off like chickens as they charged up the hill.
The Fredericksburg National Cemetery is located up on Marye’s Heights, the Confederate position that proved so impregnable. Union soldiers are buried here while Confederate soldiers are buried in Confederate cemeteries elsewhere in Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania. Less than 3,000 of the 15,000 men buried in the national cemetery are known with remains of up to six in a grave marked by a simple stone.
Our next stop was Chancellorsville. The ranger giving the tour was very knowledgeable but way too detailed so after about 45 minutes, we peeled off from the tour and watched the video inside, learning the same info only quicker. Did you know that Stonewall Jackson did not want to be nicknamed Stonewall but believed that name belonged to his brigade? On May 2, 1863, Jackson marched twelve miles around the Union army and destroyed its right wing in a celebrated surprise attack. In the confusion after dark, Jackson was accidentally shot by one of his own troops. When one of the soldiers accompanying Jackson realized it was their own army firing on them, he yelled at them to stop but his pleas were ignored, with one soldier yelling back that it was a trick. Can you imagine what this soldier felt when he realized his statement ultimately caused Jackson’s death?
After being shot, Jackson was brought to Guinea Station to an outbuilding on Thomas Chandler’s 740-acre plantation. Medical care was available in a larger town but rail service had been destroyed so they hoped Jackson could recuperate there till the trains were running again. Alas, Jackson died of pneumonia there. The outbuilding is now the Stonewall Jackson Shrine. We got there just minutes before they closed for the day so we got a quick tour of what used to be the plantation’s office building. Jackson’s doctor chose this rather than Chandler’s house because it was quiet.
The old Salem Church was built in 1844 by the Baptists as a place of worship for upper Spotsylvania County. During the Battle of Fredericksburg, it was a haven for refugees. During the 1863 Chancellorsville Campaign, soldiers from both sides fought around the church. After the Battle of Salem Church May 3-4, 1863, Southern surgeons treated wounded soldiers from both armies in the building.
The Hugh Mercer Apothecary Shop in downtown Fredericksburg was a fun and informative stop. This was an 18th century doctor’s office and pharmacy where we got a great presentation from two different docents about the various cures during Colonial times. Factoid: Leeches were a popular way to blood let, with the thinking that whatever poisons are in your system, will be sucked out. A child needs about six leeches whereas an adult twenty. Once they do their job, they don’t have to be fed for another four months so a good supply of leeches is necessary. (Isn’t this handy information to know the next time you are at your local pharmacy wondering just how many leeches you need?)
A search for some geocaches brought us to Government Island to visit the old sandstone quarry. Aquia sandstone was quarried for the White House and Capitol building. It is easy to carve and etch but not so good for supporting walls. Pierre L’Enfant, after being tasked with building those two structures, scoped out the area and chose this part of Virginia for its sandstone and ease of access to DC.
We then went on to visit the Aquia Presbyterian Church, getting a personal tour from the church secretary. This beautiful building, first built in 1851, burnt down immediately, was rebuilt and has been active since 1854. It has been restored and renovated since then. The three-tiered pulpit with sounding board above to help broadcast the sermon is quite impressive. The first tier is for announcements from clerks; the second Scripture lessons; and the third sermons. All pews are still enclosed, with one section having higher walls than the rest of them. They were made taller to prevent churchgoers from being distracted by others around them, with an added bonus of keeping the heat contained within each pew. Oral history has it that Union horses brought in and corralled in some of these pews chewed down the rails. This particular area of Virginia was not devastated by the war as other areas were and the church was not used as a hospital or to store bodies (but possibly used as a horse barn.) This stunning church is well worth a stop. Just call in advance to arrange a tour.
There was still so much to see and do in the Fredericksburg area but it was time to move on to the military campground at Fort Meade, Maryland. We avoid I-95 and the Beltway like the plague and Fort A. P. Hill was conveniently located off of US 301 which continues northeast of the busy DC area and very close to Fort Meade. It was a pleasant drive but Lucille is glad she didn’t drive this stretch because the two-laned Governor Harry Nice Bridge crossing the Potomac is quite narrow and steep – a major eek moment when in a motor home way taller than the guardrails.
Larry’s Aunt Loretta and Uncle Bill live nearby – it had been several years since we had seen them so we got after we got set up, we visited while enjoying a wonderful dinner Loretta fixed. We saw them again the following day when we picked them up to go to their son Joel and wife Lyn’s home in Cheverly for another great meal, then once more on our last full day there as we enjoyed lunch at Shannon’s Saloon in Ellicott City. Larry and Loretta spent time during our visit comparing genealogy notes – they have given us lots of tips on searching for our roots.
Once again, time to hit the road, destination North Scituate, Rhode Island, with a stop at our regular overnight blacktop camping spot near Middletown, New York – Sam’s Club. We then only had 200 miles to cover on the last leg of our journey to North Scituate, where we would be parked for the next three weeks, helping to ready Camp Aldersgate, a camp and retreat center run by the Methodist organization. We were part of the first of two NOMADS teams scheduled to help them open up. Our leaders Joe and Joyce sent us great directions, with Joe greeting us when we pulled in, as well as Lee, the camp’s director. Joe was manning a weed whacker so we mistakenly thought he was the gardener! We all had a good laugh over that.
Because our stay there lasted three weeks, extending into May, we will write about this NOMADS project when we send out our May update.
One added perk to being in this area was that Lucille’s cousin Marcel and his family lived about 20 miles away. We met Marcel that first Friday night at Uno’s Chicago Grill and made plans to get together with wife Priscilla and son Rob the following week.
Coming up: Our NOMADS project – what we did and the new friends we made; a day trip to Upper Cape Cod; a couple of great concerts; and ending the month at our site at Klondike Camping Resort in Otis, Massachusetts.