Camp Martin Travels

These entries will be a combination of historical day trips, graduate level travel courses, and just little stops along the way. I have been teaching 8th grade American History for over 25 years. I am also a Civil War Reenactor and have traveled to Germany and Austria with several groups of exchange students and written about our adventures. Please check all my posts by using the monthly Blog Archive tabs shown below. I have posted over 150 Blog Episodes since 2009... Please explore them all!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Phila. / City Hall

Round About Philly Series
Philadelphia's City Hall

Welcome back campers!  Today we are off to the City of Brotherly Love! My wife was called to federal jury duty and she wanted me to come along for the ride.  A full day of me, myself, and I... exploring the city without kids. (Sorry)  I was free, at least until my wife was released and called my cell to end my adventure.  I decided to get off familiar Independence Mall and head deeper into the city.  A building that has always caught my eye is the City Hall building located directly in the original city's center.  Let's go find it...   

The building is striking to the eye, out of place with the modern skyscrapers that surround it.  I like how the traffic patterns round the building, which disrupts the criss-cross grid of busy streets.  The position of the building designated it as the center of the city, like the middle of a compass rose on a map.  The space was originally set aside by William Penn as one of the five spaces he reserved for a park within the young city's plan.  The entire structure is like one gigantic marble monument resembling something historic transported from Europe.  It kind of reminds me of the White City of Gondor from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The official style of the architecture of the grand building is the French Second-Empire style that was widely used at the turn of the century for government buildings.  The building was designed by Scottish architect John McArthur Jr. and adorned with sculptures by artist Alexander Milne Calder who also created the statue of William Penn on top of the structure's tower.  When it was built, the intent of the tower was to make Philadelphia's City Hall the tallest building in the world but it was first surpassed by the Washington Monument in Washington D.C. and later the Eiffel Tower in Paris as it was being constructed.  However, for eight years it reigned as the tallest occupied structure in the United States until the Singer Building was completed in New York City in 1909. 

City Hall by the Numbers
  • Building took 30 years to complete 1871-1901
  • Cost to construct City Hall was 25 million dollars
  • Final cost was more than 3 times the original estimate
  • Structure contains over 88 million bricks and 695 rooms
  • Building's floor space covers 260,000 square feet 
  • Contains 30 individual courtrooms used for civil trials
  • 250 sculptures adorn the building including William Penn
  • The base weight bearing walls are 22 + feet thick
  • In 1891 the building contained 10,400 electric lights

The exterior of the building was amazing to explore, almost a city within a city.  The center of the complex opens up to an expansive courtyard buzzing with activity.  People criss-crossed through the four pedestrian tunnel openings as a shortcut to continue their way along Market and Broad Streets. The ground beneath my feet occasionally rumbled as subway trains ran below. The building itself is the size of four city blocks (4.5 acres) and today remains the largest municipal building in the United States.  In fact, it is larger than the Capitol Building in Washington D.C.  It also holds the distinction as the tallest freestanding masonry building in the world.  

The building of City Hall was the most controversial construction project in the city's history.  It is often called "The Marble Elephant" and "The Monumental Folly" because of the twenty-five million dollar price tag and thirty years of ongoing construction. It is the most expensive municipal building ever constructed in the United States.  It took so long to build, the designs were constantly altered to make room for new technological advances such as elevators and electricity that had to be incorporated into the final plans. It took five years for workers to chisel the holes for electric wiring.  Rumors of corruption, bribes and scandals tainted the building's reputation before it was ever officially occupied.  

The structure continues to be the home for the Mayor's office, City Council, and the Court of the Common Pleas.  The building continues to be controversial as it has become outdated and is in need of repairs.  In 1993 a consulting firm estimated the cost to update the building would exceed 175 million dollars.  In 1987 the tower was reinforced at a cost of 25 million dollars.  One of the biggest problems facing the building was caused by some uninvited visitors.  pigeon squatters were taking up residence in many of the building's exterior nooks and crannies.  Pigeons and their guano (poop) can damage buildings.  In 1993 the city contracted a company to remove an estimated 37 tons of guano from the structure.  Today much of the building is encased in black netting to prevent pigeons from roosting and a pair of falcons now live in the tower to control the local pigeon population. 

Later we will venture up 500 feet in the tower to get a 360-degree view of the city from the observation deck at the feet of William Penn's statue. 

Please See My Additional Photos of City Hall at...

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Phila. / Irish Monument

Round About Philly Series
Philadelphia / Irish Monument
On a recent trip to the City of Brotherly Love, a friend and I decided to explore beyond Independence Mall and walk down Market Street to see Penn's Landing. The view of the Delaware River was beautiful, scanning the waterfront of the distant New Jersey side.  The view was framed by the Ben Franklin Bridge to the west and the Walt Whitman Bridge to the east.  The center was anchored by the retired battleship USS New Jersey moored along the dock. On our way back we stumbled upon a pleasant surprise between Penn's Landing and the city on the corner of Front and Chestnut Streets. 
The Irish monument was designed by artist Glena Goodacre who is also well known for the Women's Vietnam War Memorial that stands in Washington D.C. within the National Mall's walk of monuments.  As a nation, we seem to really like monuments.  You can pretty much find one almost everywhere you go that has a little history from its past worth mentioning.  Most monuments you come across commemorate a specific person, group, or event of historical importance.  They usually consist of a specific bold shape, such as an obelisk or they are symbolic in the form of angelic women.  Our favorite monuments often include ones that exist in human form.  I think we best identify with monuments that look like the people they are attempting to memorialize.  For example, the Lincoln Memorial just wouldn't be the same if his image wasn't inside sitting up there for us all to look up to and admire.  

The three million dollar large scale sculpture project was completed and opened to the public in October of 2003. What made this monument unique and stand out to me was that it actually tells a story as you walk around the base.  Not the story of any one specific person or event, but the personal stories of millions of nameless unknown individuals of Irish ancestry. The stories of both tragedy and hope are represented within the thirty-five life-size bronze figures standing inside the wedge shaped rectangular base.  The story of the monument begins in Ireland during the Great Potato Famine of Ireland from 1845 to 1852 where over a million people perished when blight destroyed much of the potato crop that was vital to three million Irishmen of the lower tenant class. 
The monument is dedicated to those who died but also to those who survived and escaped across the Atlantic to better lives in America.  The next scene depicts people boarding a ship bound for the port of Philadelphia, the location where the second most immigrants entered the country.  On the corner opposite from the famine scene, people arrive and are welcomed into the Land of Opportunity by a waving bystander.  The newly arriving immigrants descend from the deck of a steamer to the landing below, resembling William Penn centuries earlier.  A bright spring flower arrangement was displayed on the base and stood out in stark contrast to the gray bronze figures in the background.  

The story reminded me of my grandfather's own journey from Eastern Europe to New York at the age of twelve.  One does not have to be of Irish descent to appreciate the message and story that can easily connect emotionally with so many people today.  The faces of the monument represent both men and women from all stages of life, providing several sculptures in which every visitor can identify.  As you examine their faces, you try and find the circumstances of the individuals being portrayed within their fixed expressions. 

A mother holds her young daughter close who seems to have an empty gaze that is haunting and filled with sadness. It was the image that affected me most and one my mind recorded and carried home.  The Irish Monument is my favorite memorial of my travels to date.  It may not be the most grand in size and stature but I connected with it because of my own family's story.  We all look for symbols of monumental moments that mark the important events that shaped our personal heritage and that of the nation and world. 

Did you know: There are forty-four million Americans of Irish descent living in the United States today, one of which is my wife! 

Did you know: The 1.75 acre park containing the Irish Monument is actually on land suspended above highway 95 that runs beneath the site.  Notice the Irish flag and monument above the truck cab on the left.

Please See My Additional Photos of the Irish Monument at...

For more information about the Irish Monument check out their website...


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Rockford Plantation / Lancaster

Rockford Plantation
The Home of General Edward Hand

The Back Porch
Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. America, from border to border and coast to coast and all the ships at sea. Let's go to press.  Or how about Lancaster, PA?  Yes, it is that time again, time to go and check out another historic house and property nearby.  Come on Katelyn, humor your old man and come along for the ride.  Discovering history is so much more fun when you have someone to share it with... Katelyn... so stop rolling your eyes and get in the car... Now!  Yes, you can bring your cell phone, ipod, and all other boredom prevention devices... We are off to find Rockford Plantation, the historic home of General Edward Hand. Buckle up!  

I looked up the address online and entered the information into the GPS on my phone.  I was curious to see how this would work out because we would be traveling right up Prince Street through the middle of Lancaster city.  How could a rural plantation be so close to the city?  My GPS took me on a maze of side streets and even narrow alleyways.  We hit a dead end when the GPS instructed us to make a left on a one-way street going right.  We somehow wound up in another alley behind a garbage truck moving at a snails pace. We locked all the doors just in case it was a "hit" set up by the mob.  We got back on the main road, turned off the GPS and just explored.  We soon came upon a sign pointing the way and all was well again. Katelyn was so happy!

 Tending the Garden
I was amazed how the city suddenly came to an abrupt end and we found ourselves driving along a wooded curvy road.  I later found out that we were on the edge of Lancaster County Central Park. The park is the largest in Lancaster County encompassing over 540 acres on the southern end of the city.  We turned down Rockford Road and soon came upon the familiar house I recognized from the many pictures I have seen over the years.  You would never know that it is only a few short minutes from the busy city.  The wooded park provides a perfect backdrop for protecting the historical integrity of the site.  It is a beautiful scene of forest, field and wildlife.  Several deer with a newborn fawn in tow were feeding under the orchard trees a short distance from the front porch.  We knocked on the door and soon a guide, in appropriate historic attire, greeted us warmly into the house.

 Three Sided Covered Porch
As usual, I was disappointed to hear the rules prohibiting the use of any camera equipment inside.  I was electronically turned off but ready to absorb some colonial era history! Katelyn was looking bored already but I didn't allow her flat expression to dampen my enthusiasm!  Let's go learn something!  An elderly gentleman escorted us through the first floor rooms including the study, sitting room, and dining room.

Edward Hand was born in Ireland where he became a physician and later enlisted in the Irish 18th Regiment of the Foot as an army surgeon stationed at Fort Pitt at the forks of the Ohio River in western Pennsylvania.  After resigning his commission in Philadelphia, Edward Hand moved to Lancaster County where he practiced medicine and where he also led the local volunteer militia regiment.     

 Vegetable Garden Bounty
When the American Revolution erupted, Edward Hand joined the Pennsylvania Line as part of General Washington's Continental Army with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.  He was sent back to command Fort Pitt to face the British Loyalists and Native Americans in the area.  He achieved the rank of Brigadier General and served in the west until he was recalled to join the siege of Yorktown along the Virginia coastline, which ended the war with Great Britain.   He concluded his military career as Adjutant General of the Continental Army but was later promoted to Major General in honor of his long and honorable military career. He resigned his commission in the fall of 1783 and returned to civilian life.

 Restored Stone Barn
The upstairs portion of the tour was conducted by a young lady who is a history major at West Chester University and this was her final day of working at the plantation before returning to school for the fall semester.  Both guides did an excellent job giving Katelyn and I a private tour of the beautiful house.  The upstairs bedrooms were tastefully decorated with period correct reproductions similar to the downstairs common rooms.  Every time I tour a historic property, each has an individual niche that makes it unique and different from the others.  Rockford Plantation's unique feature is found on the second floor in the back bedroom, which I deemed my favorite room of the house tour.  Stay tuned to find out why in the paragraph below...

 Deer Visit the Orchard
After Edward Hand vacated the house, it continued to be occupied by tenant farmers who worked the land and took up residence within the house.  The property continued to be occupied by tenants well into the 20th Century.  As a result, the Georgian style brick mansion changed little from the original structure, as tenants would not have invested funds to change or upgrade the property.  For this reason, the mansion is considered one of the best-preserved examples of Georgian style architecture in America.

Now onto my favorite room... One of the rooms was left untouched and remains in the same exact state it was found, when restoration was started in 1957.  The room is an 18th century time capsule in itself with faded white paint, unfinished rough floors, and a refreshing authentic feel.  It is a before and after effect, as you enter and then exit the room.

 House View from Barn
It was a great idea to restore the house by leaving one room untouched as a connection to the past.  The room also serves as a storage space for the thousands of collected artifacts from archeological work completed over the years.  We ended our tour in the basement which, served as the gift shop and preserved kitchen.  Katelyn and I went outside to view the beautiful vegetable garden historically maintained by local gardening clubs and the large red bank barn that hosts local events.  There are several historic reenactments that take place on the property throughout the year.  The entire estate was beautiful and well worth the trip.  Katelyn had a good time as well... especially since I bribed her with ice cream on the way home!  I had some too!

Did you know...
  • President George Washington was entertained to tea by the Hand family when the president visited Lancaster.  The tea is believed to have taken place at Rockford Plantation.
  • Rockford gets it name from the fact that the Conestoga Creek runs by the property and there were no bridges nearby.  As a result, people forded the creek near the rock outcroppings close by the mansion.
  • The house is believed to be haunted by General Hand's son who is rumored to have committed suicide inside the house long ago.

    Tuesday, February 2, 2010

    Chesapeake / Bay Bridge

    The Scenic Route Home
    Chesapeake Bay Crossing 

    Approaching the Bridge Entrance
    I was on my way home from visiting other sites in Virginia and decided to go an hour and a half out of my way to cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel near the port city of Norfolk.  I first encountered the bridge in one of my favorite books of all time, Chesapeake by popular author James A. Michener.  The book follows the bay region from the Native Americans to the Nixon era. The bridge's construction was mentioned and I always wanted to see it in person.  Here was my chance since I was driving solo and there were no kids in the back seat to complain about the extended drive home.  Are we home yet?... Are we home yet?... Are we home yet?...

    Map of the Tunnel-Bridge Route
    The twenty-three mile long bridge and tunnel project was dubbed one of the seven engineering marvels of the world by the American Society of Civil Engineers.  The facility connects the eastern and western shores of the state of Virginia.  There are four man made artificial islands where the bridge converts below ground into a tunnel format to allow open shipping lanes for large vessels to pass above the roadway.  Each of the four islands is five and a half acres in size. The bridge-tunnel span that crosses the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay was first opened as a two-lane expanse in 1964. The tunnel-bridge was built to replace a ferry system that included a large fleet of ships making ninety-one way trips per day.  Unreliable, due to weather conditions and other delays, the tunnel-bridge was built over a four-year period from 1960-64 at a cost of two hundred million dollars.  In 1995-99 the bridge section was expanded to four lanes at a cost of another two hundred million dollars to handle increased traffic loads and improve traffic flow.

    Entering the First Tunnel
    Both building projects were financed through future toll revenues and it is the most expensive toll I have ever paid for crossing a bridge, twelve dollars for a single car.  Over one hundred million vehicles have crossed the bridge since it was first opened generating some serious cash!  Motorcycles pay the same fee as a car and bicycles are not allowed.  However for twelve dollars they will drive you and your bicycle across in a cargo van. Now that is money well spent!  As long as we are talking numbers, you can't be superstitious if you want to cross using the tunnel-bridge since it is officially part of Route thirteen!  Since a black cat had not crossed the road in front of me, I decided to chance it!    

    Under the Chesapeake Bay
    The tunnels are both about one mile in length and seem like any other tunnel I've ever traveled that cut through mountains.  You would never know that there was a huge body of water above your head, let alone a huge cargo ship. The tunnels are only two lanes but there has been a lot of discussion of expanding it to four lanes like the bridge.  However the cost to expand the two-mile long tunnels is close to one billion dollars.  So far they have decided to shelf the project because of the cost and the potential impact on toll increases.  It is already expensive, especially if you have to go back and forth.  Currently, if you cross back over within a twenty-four-hour window they lower the toll back across to five dollars.  What a deal! I was tempted by the savings but decided to stick to my one-way pre-planned course!

    Riding Across the Bridge 
    The view was amazing and it was a strange feeling to be riding across a bridge when you can't see land in any direction. Traffic was light so I could slow down to get a good view of the bay.  It was a clear day, giving the expansive body of water the perception of an endless vista. Ships could be seen in the distance from both sides making their way through the established shipping channel. I approached the second tunnel but first stopped at the rest stop on the small man-made island where the roadway disappears beneath the surface of the water.  When you pay the toll you get a voucher for a free small soft drink at the rest stop called Sea Gull Island and I'm never one to pass up anything free.  I pulled off to take a break from driving, cash in my freebie coupon, and absorb the surrounding views.

    Battleship through the Gap
    Sea Gull island was really interesting, complete with a full service restaurant, a fishing pier where you can rent rods and tackle to fish the channel, a gift shop with official Chesapeake Bay Tunnel-Bridge souvenirs, and a historical display that chronicles the construction process and improvement projects of the tunnel-bridge.  However, the best part of the island's rest stop area was the view of the ships crossing over the submerged tunnel.  The Norfolk Naval Station is located on the west shore of Virginia and I was fortunate to see a large battleship pass through the tunnel gap on its way out to sea.  The island on the other side of the tunnel gap, where the traffic emerges back onto the bridge, is visible in the distance.

    Oil Tanker Heading West / Inland
    I got my free soft drink and a travel pin in the gift shop, which I try to collect from every site I visit.  I was now down to my last two dollars in cash and went outside just in time to see an large oil tanker pass through the gap on its way to Norfolk or Newport News.  I don't think I have ever seen an oil tanker before and it was an impressive sight. There was also an observation deck of the tunnel entrance / exit where you could watch the traffic suddenly appear or disappear through the two-lane tunnel.  Sea Gull Island was the best part of the Chesapeake Bay Tunnel-Bridge experience.  The free fountain soda wasn't even watered down or overloaded with ice... always a plus for a freebie!

    View of the Tunnel Access from Above 
    The tunnel-bridge actually has its own police force for the twenty-three mile expanse to monitor motorists, weather conditions, and to offer a quick response to accidents.  Sometimes weather conditions close the facility, especially when wind speeds exceed forty mph.  There have been incidents where vehicles have been blown over from sudden wind gusts.  It also closes during tropical storms, hurricanes, and icy weather. The police department also offers a unique service at no additional charge.  If a driver has a phobia of bridges or tunnels they can request for an officer to drive the person across the facility in their vehicle..  This free service is offered to diminish the number of accidents caused by phobia stress or panic attacks.  If I would have known this ahead of time, I might have faked a phobia so I could have had a break and be able to take some good pictures without fear of crashing or drowning.

    Waiting Their Turn to Pass
    More oil tankers were lining up to take their turn through the tunnel gap but it was time to continue on my way across the low-level trestle bridge.  The bridge saves travelers 95 miles of driving or about an hour and a half in the car.  However, this timesavings is negated if (like me) you drive 95 miles or an hour and a half out of your way just to cross it.  Soon I was approaching the second tunnel.

    Through the Tunnel and Under the Ships 
    Disclaimer: Don't try this in your own car kids... I actually snapped this picture slowing down to about fifteen mph since no cars were behind or in front of me on the road.  Just for the record, I never took my hand off the wheel or eyes off the road for any of the pictures in this blog posting. However, I will admit, I am not a driver's education class role model.  Please stay legal and follow the law at all times.

    Emerging to the Surface
    It did feel good to come back up to the surface.  Hollywood special effects in movies have enabled us to be able to visualize every possible disaster come to life.  I was looking for drops of leaking water or cracks suddenly appearing within the tunnel walls, which was pointless since there was nothing you could do but die if really did happen. I was now nearing the end of the bridge where it climbed to a height of seventy-five feet to allow smaller boats and ships to pass through the channel beneath. The eastern shore was now within view and I could see land again. 

    View of Elevated East Bound Lane
    I traveled route 13 up the eastern shore which was in stank contrast to the busy multi-lane highways of the west.  The area was mostly rural and small town, a slower pace all-together.  I traveled up through Virginia, Maryland, and eventually Delaware.  At this point, I began to see signs for a toll road and became concerned since I only had two dollars in my wallet.  I was hoping it didn't apply to me but I soon found out I was wrong.  I was approaching the Dover Air Force Base and thought I might wind up at a visitor's center where I could tap an ATM for some cash for the tolls.  Instead the exit brought me right to the base gate where I was greeted by armed military personnel.  I turned around before they could question me and took another road toward Dover.  Now in Lancaster County you pass a bank with an ATM every hundred yards or so but that is apparently not the case in Delaware.  I was running out of options as I continued to drive toward the city.

    Reaching the Eastern Shore
    I finally found a convenience store where they had a sign advertising an ATM inside. I was saved! I found the machine but it wouldn't take my card and the clerk soon told me it was out of order.  I went onto the next convenience store and they didn't have one.  I finally found a mini-mall and entered a large grocery store where they did have one that worked and an hour later, I was finally able to enter the toll road.  However the joke was on me because Delaware Route 1 has a total toll cost of two dollars.  I risked being drafted into the Air Force and getting lost in the city of Dover for nothing.  Who would have thought the toll was only two bucks for the entire fifty-one mile highway? Live and learn!

    Despite getting side tracked and lengthening my trip home from Virginia by four to five hours, it was a fun adventure and something to see that I will never forget.  Maybe my next trip to Virginia will involve traveling down the easternshore so I can cross the bridge again to the west shore.  I will be sure to have plenty of toll cash on hand just in case!

    Please My Additional Photos from My Crossing at...


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