Shawnee Lookout: Life-sized Timeline

Caption: The lovely featured image of the old log cabin at Shawnee Lookout was taken by Cathy on Flickr. Check out her photo here.

Today, I was supposed to knock out three hikes and make up for some lost time. But, with the temperature in the single digits this morning when I started to head out, I thought I’d rather just curl up with a pot of coffee and get some busy work done. (Hiking in sub-zero temps may be OK with The Real Hiking Viking, but not for Cassie. Though I am enjoying watching his hike progress.) I was going to hike Shawnee Lookout today, but instead I’ll fill you in on some of the history of my second-favorite local park. Then next weekend, we’ll see how my lungs fare on its trails.

Shawnee Lookout spans a beautiful swatch of land between the Great Miami and Ohio Rivers, less than a mile from where the two rivers converge. Of the park’s three trails, the westernmost trail ventures into the point between the rivers, stopping near the floodplain between the two waterways.

I love to hike here, but it’s not really one of those places you can hit up and hope to feel completely disconnected and lost in nature. To me, it’s more of a place where you get a great walk in the woods – and see a life-sized timeline spanning more than 10,000 years.

I’m a long time removed from my seventh-grade Ohio History class, so I’m more than a little rusty on my facts. But, what I culled from dear old Google tells me that there have been more developments in the last 20ish years, so I don’t feel so bad for forgetting most of it. A 2009 study done by University of Cincinnati archeological students showed that Shawnee Lookout could be “the largest continuously occupied hilltop settlement established by any Native American group,” according to an article published in “Science Daily.”  This statement is supported by artifacts found which date back 14,000 years and are attributed to the Hopewell Indians. Some of the more recent studies have shown that the most recent Native Americans to live in the area, the Shawnee the park is named after, are linked to the Hopewell Indians, thus creating this continuous Native American habitation for over 10,000 years.

Let’s take a walk through time.

Miami Fort Trail

22301927921_21494255f9_k

This photo of the valley was taken by Stephen on Flickr. You can view his photo here: https://flic.kr/p/zYKdbD

Even though artifacts have been found in the area that date back 14,000 years, according to the sign at the Miami Fort Trailhead, the oldest part of history you can easily see are the earthen mounds around the park. None are what you might call “plainly visible” because the trails are kept several feet away and trees and brush have been able to grow up around them. Still, several of these mounds are marked along the 1.4-mile Miami Fort Trail as it meanders its way around the mounds and gives hikers some pretty views of the rivers the park boundaries parallel.

Out of the three trails in the park, this one has always seemed to be the most difficult. It starts you out going up a pretty large hill, and then runs you up and over a couple of ridges once you’re at the top. Still, the cardio is worth it for the views you’ll get.

Between the name “fort” and the ridge top location between rivers, I always assumed this was a fortified position used for defense, but that may not actually be the case. Another blogger visited this park in 2010 and wrote that the Hopewell Indians used this hilltop as a ceremonial burial ground, not as a defense post. But a local newspaper published republished Tamara York’s chapter from “60 Hikes within 60 Miles” which said it was used as a strategic spot, so you can decide how you think it was used. I’m not sure if I prefer thinking I’m walking on a fort, or desecrating a burial ground. But since there haven’t been any reports of children in the area being sucked into televisions, I’m guessing we’re safe. (Also, if you’re into history, I’d encourage you to read all of the blogger’s post above. It has more interesting tidbits about the area surrounding the park.)

7058272397_25b5c455c0_k

This photo of the valley was taken by Stephen on Flickr. You can view his photo here: https://flic.kr/p/zYKdbD

Ancient history and modern day have an interesting juxtaposition along the Miami Fort Trail. On one hand, you are following a marked path along Indian mounds, and on the other you have some pretty fantastic views of the river below – and the power plant belching smoke on its bank. This is the first example of how you can’t quite get away from civilization on this hike.

2532123147_01e0debf2e_b

This photos was taken by Just Nora from Flickr. You can view her photo here: https://flic.kr/p/4RKMZD

Little Turtle Trail

After tens of thousands of years, the pioneer settlers showed up. On the only road through the park, just past the Little Turtle Trailhead, lies the Springhouse school and log cabin. Neither were originally located in the park, but both were built in the late 1700s and moved to the park in the 1970s to preserve them. Farewell, Shawnee. Hello, Europeans.

The Little Turtle Trailhead is across the street from the parking lot, just next to a playground. Measuring about two miles, this is the longest single trail in the park. Even though the trail takes you up and around a decent hill, the trail is still pretty easy/moderate for most people. Out of the three park trails, I’d rank it a second-most difficult, behind the Miami Fort Trail. The cool things about this trail are the scenic overlooks along the hillside where hikers can see the rivers below. They’re great places to stop, catch your breath and switch out oxygen tanks.

This trail has little else to remind you of the historical significance of the area. There aren’t any marked mounds along the trails and there aren’t many reminders of modern day unless you get a glimpse of something along the river.

But if you want to take a step forward in time, cross the street for the third and final trail in the park.

Blue Jacket Trail

I can’t walk this trail without Treebeard from “Lord of the Rings” coming into my head: “They come with fire, they come with axes…. Gnawing, biting, breaking, hacking, burning!”

Even though you don’t have the (necessary, I’ll admit) ugliness of a power plant wrecking your view of the river, this trail is bisected by a wide swatch of land that has been cleared for power lines to cut through.

You’ll head into this 1.3-mile trail like you’re on a jolly jaunt into the woods, and start on your merry way. And then, BOOM! You’re in a clearing you think is a cute little meadow or something until you look around and realize there are hulking towers on either side of you and electrical wires buzzing over your head. I mean, I’m sitting here with a computer, cell phone, desk lamp, and various batteries charging, but I don’t want to be reminded of how my own materialism impacts the earth when I’m trying to pretend I’m one with nature. But then, maybe it’s a good thing to have that reminder?

Once you get past the power lines, you’re back into the quiet woods. This trail seems to be to be the least trafficked one, maybe because the only views it has are of trees. There are occasional benches, but there’s nothing to look at but woods – which is better than a power line, any day.

 

Advertisements

Reaching freedom’s shore

Featured image: The John Rankin House sits atop Freedom’s Hill in Ripley, Ohio. Hundreds of escaping slaves passed through this house on their way north. 

Ripley's Front Street lines the riverbank with historic homes and shops.

Ripley’s Front Street lines the riverbank with historic homes and shops.

Nestled between a high ridge and a deep, narrow neck of the Ohio River you’ll find Ripley, Ohio, population 1,738. If you float east of Cincinnati for about 50 miles you’ll glide right past it. But be careful – blink and you may miss it.

Ripley was home to a huge shipping center, and bustled year round. The area’s pork and tobacco farmers used the many tributaries leading to the river to move their wares further down the Ohio River to the Mississippi and beyond. But underneath this busy farm city was a quiet movement that helped transport hundreds of people through the area. While slave traders were shuttling African Americans west down the river to sell them, others were helping a movement that led to freedom.

Ripley was well known as a hotbed of activity for the Underground Railroad, so much that armed fights were not uncommon. Some Southern slave owners had even placed bounties on the heads of well-known abolitionists, such as the Reverend John Rankin and freed slave John P. Parker.

Reverend Rankin's home on Freedom Hill has a great vantage point to see signals from the town for when it is safe to cross the river and watch for approaching bounty hunters.

Reverend Rankin’s home on Freedom Hill has a great vantage point to see signals from the town for when it is safe to cross the river and watch for approaching bounty hunters.

Rankin’s home at the top of the ridge was made to order for his work. With the home’s elevation, it was easy for lookouts to see several miles to make sure there was no one pursuing. The area’s terrain and waterways also worked to escaping slaves’ benefit when they needed help losing the hounds tailing them.

If you stand behind the Rankin House, you can see for miles in either direction down the river, even on a misty, spring day. When you walk down the 100 steps and look back up to the house, maybe you can imagine the relief that escaping slaves might have felt when they finally reached that hearth. Today, this ridge is known as Liberty Hill. From Rankin’s home, railroad passengers were transported to Felicity, Ohio on their way to Canada.

It’s worth mentioning here that one of the Reverend’s visitor’s was Harriet Beecher Stowe. Even though Rankin didn’t speak publicly about his work on the Railroad, for obvious reasons, he made an exception for this guest and told her the story of a woman who was chased across the river on foot while it was thawing. She was forced to hop from chunk of ice to chunk of ice with her baby in her arms to escape bounty hunters. This story made it into “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

Rankin’s home has been restored to its appearance when he lived there, and can be toured for a nominal fee.

John P. Parker was a slave who bought his freedom and eventually settled in Ripley. He was one of the first black men to have patents issued before 1900 and helps hundreds of people reach freedom.

John P. Parker was a slave who bought his freedom and eventually settled in Ripley. He was one of the first black men to have patents issued before 1900 and helped hundreds of people reach freedom.

Another well-known Ripley resident was John P. Parker, a man who was able to buy his freedom by working extra hours for his last owner. I can’t help but pause here to think about what it would have been like to have to work to earn the right to be my own person. Did he ever wonder, while he was working all those hours, if his owner was lying to him and wouldn’t grant his freedom after all? The concept is unfathomable to me.

But Parker did get his freedom and eventually settled in Ripley, where his experiences as a slave fueled him to help others reach freedom. He was also one of the first black men to have inventions patented before 1900. Today, his former home is a museum that can be visited during summer.

Ripley has a beautiful, historical waterfront with other places that played a role in the Underground Railroad. A few of them are listed below and more information can be found on Ripley’s website.

  • 212 Front Street: The “North Star Station,” owned by Thomas McCauge; known as the wealthiest man in the western reserve.
  • 200 Front Street: Owned by Thomas Collins; a story goes that he sold coffins and once hid escaping slaves in them to thwart a search party
  • “Signal House”: I haven’t been able to find a location for this, but this was owned by Vic and Betty Billingsley and signaled to the Rankin’s on the hill that the river was clear to transport escaping slaves.

Underground Railroad: Fee Villa

caption

Fee Villa, pictured above, was a stop on the Underground Railroad in Moscow, Ohio. When it was safe for escaping slaves to enter, the residents would signal by placing a candle in the window.

Along the river are a lot of those little blink-and-you-miss-them towns. You know the kind that have a sign saying, “Welcome,” then 10 feet later one saying “Thank you for visiting.” They’re charming, usually hiding some kind of gem – either a great locally-owned shop or restaurant, or someone with a great life story. One thing you can count on is they always have a story to tell.

Moscow, Ohio is a little town like that. If you’re following US-52 – yep, that road again! – you don’t even have to blink to miss it. You’ll see signs for it once you get out of Point Pleasant, Ohio, but you have to turn off the main road to find it.

This teensy town registered 185 citizens in the 2010 census, down from the 244 who registered during the 2000 census. It was in the news about three years ago when tornadoes ripped through the area, taking out about 80 percent of the town and killing three people.

Go back about 150 years and the town was home to a distillery that made fruit brandies, and a glass factory. Today, there are some houses and a church or two. At the end of Water Street is a stately white house standing vigil over a long dock on the Ohio River.

caption

Check out that eerie fog. That’s the Ohio River blending in with the sky there. Usually, its easy to see the opposite bank.

The house wasn’t hard to find, exactly, I just had a bit of trouble figuring out which street I was on. You would think with just a handful of streets it would be easy, which is what I think the village planner thought too because I didn’t think the streets were marked well.

I finally found the house – but only because I decided to drive down a street that ended in a boat ramp because I wanted to get some photos of the river covered in fog. I chickened out before getting to the ramp – I always feel like I’m going to drive straight into the river, even though I’m at least 200 feet from the shore – and when I turned my head to check my mirrors, I saw the small green sign to designate this house as part of the Clermont County Freedom Trail.

This large white house was once a beacon of freedom for people crossing the river. I stood on the bank of the river below the house and tried to imagine what it would be like to get across that river. Its wide and with the heavy fog the morning I was there, I couldn’t even see the other bank. The river and its swift current dwarfed the dock beneath the home.

caption

More eerie photos. I can’t help but love the fog!

The place is Fee Villa, formerly inhabited by Thomas Fee, Jr., a noted abolitionist. When it was safe for escaping slaves to enter, Fee would place a candle in the window of the house. That candle in the window is still used in Moscow’s village logo today.

The Fees would feed, clothe the people they helped, and then transported them along the railroad to Felicity, Ohio.

A few blocks away is an open site where the home of Robert E. Fee once stood.  Fee fought to get back the freedom of a woman and her children who were kidnapped and then sold into slavery. He was unsuccessful, but dedicated his life to helping slaves escape. He was indicted by Pendleton County for slave stealing, but Ohio refused to extradite him to Kentucky to stand trial.

If you want to keep following the Freedom Trail in Clermont County, Ohio, there a many more places to visit. Check out their brochure of Underground Railroad locations, and keep checking back here. I’ll keep visiting them throughout the summer!

Wednesday, Bloody Wednesday

caption

Burnside Bridge, named for the Union general who captured it from Confederate forces during the Battle of Antietam, was one of the last scenes of battle. Topography favored the outnumbered Confederate forces and helped them hold off Union soldiers for several hours.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but what if the picture leaves you with no words, just feelings of shock and despair?

In April, I took a quick, weekend trip to DC with Lacey. She was shooting a wedding, and we touristed it up for a day before coming back home. On our way back, we exited the highway looking specifically for a Sheetz travel center – which we did not find – but we did see a sign for Antietam Battlefield. It was close, only about 15 minutes off the highway, so we decided to break up the drive with some sightseeing.

I wasn’t sure which war this battlefield was part of until we got there; years of memorizing places and dates in school just left me with a jumbled set of facts in my head. Thanks to a half-hour video narrated by James Earl Jones, we got a crash course on the bloodiest one day of battle in American history. It was a lesson in just how terrible human beings can be.

DSC_5206

After 12 hours of battle, nearly 23,000 soldiers were either dead, wounded or missing. The kicker with this statistic? That count is approximate.

On September 17, 1862, Union and Confederate troops met at Antietam Creek. After 12 hours of battle, nearly 23,000 soldiers were either dead, wounded or missing. The worst part of this enormous number is that it is approximate. Because the losses were so huge, no one was able to get an accurate count.

Think about that for a minute: So many lives were lost – in less than a day – no completely accurate count exists.

At the time, Lincoln was looking for some kind of decisive victory to give him a wave of support on which to ride while he delivered the Emancipation Proclamation. Meanwhile, the Confederate Army was trying to get a victory of its own – by taking a piece of Northern territory.

caption

After the battle, photographers captured the first images of the field before the bodies were buried. The images helped show those still at home the horrors of war.

After 12 hours of bloody battle, the Confederate force withdrew to Southern-held Virginia, technically making the battle a Union victory. But no one really won. The Union forces didn’t chase them back to Virginia, they just let them go.

After the battle, photographers came onto the scene and captured the first images of a battlefield before the dead were buried. The Civil War was where photojournalism was born, but no one had seen images like this before. The scenes were haunting: Men and boys, someone’s father or brother or son, still lying on the ground, piled up next to half dug-graves.

Today when you drive through Antietam, it’s hard to imagine it as the site of a terrible battle. The hills are peaceful, broken up by rocks jutting from the ground. These may have given precious little shelter from gunfire to the men and boys fighting around them. Trees cover many of the hills and green grasses wave in the wind, just as I’m sure they did before the first boots landed 153 years ago. By the time the battle was done, the trampled ground was soaked in blood.

caption

The Dunker Church was one of the focal points of the battle. Afterward, it was used as a temporary field hospital and later an embalming station before it was returned to the congregation.

Even if you don’t have an itch to visit a Civil War battlefield, this is still a nice place to check out if you just want to take in some fresh air and sunshine. The driving tour gives you beautiful landscapes to see, and a network of five trails crossing the battlefield covers about 7.4  miles. I didn’t hike these – my blisters were still howling from walking all over the National Mall. From what I saw of them from the road, they looked like smooth, wide, easy-to-follow trails, but the terrain at Antietam is not flat, so expect some inclines.

Visitors to the Antietam National Battlefield can go inside the Dunker Church. There is parking across the street, or accessible parking to the side of the building.

Visitors to the Antietam National Battlefield can go inside the Dunker Church. There is parking across the street, or accessible parking to the side of the building.

What we did get out of the car for included the Dunker Church, which was one of the focal points of the battle, and was used as a temporary field hospital and later an embalming station before it was restored and returned to the faithful for services until the turn of the century, according to the NPS website.

gus scale

The driving tour gets a zero on the Gus Scale; there is nothing taxing about it. I’d estimate the trails around a three. They seem easy enough, but, again, those hills.

We also stopped at Burnside Bridge, named for the Union general who captured it from Confederate forces during the battle. If you’re allergic to bee stings, send ahead a spotter or take an EpiPen. When we went through there was a horde of bumblebees dancing around one end of the bridge.

Exploring on Sunday

Ulysses S. Grant's birthplace in Point Pleasant, Ohio, just a few hundred feet from the Ohio River, is a reminder that no matter where you begin in life, you never know where you may end up.

Ulysses S. Grant’s birthplace in Point Pleasant, Ohio, just a few hundred feet from the Ohio River, is a reminder that no matter where you begin in life, you never know where you may end up.

I had the itch go to for a drive last weekend, and decided to take another bite out of my ever-growing list of Underground Railroad locations. (I promise, the posts will start rolling out over the next week.)

I love Sunday mornings. I love to sleep in, but even more I love getting up while most people are still tucked in their beds, or having pancake breakfasts, or sleeping off the night before. Traffic is nonexistent, hiking trails are clear, and you can explore small towns without anyone else around. (Which, to me, means I don’t have to small talk when I’m not in the mood to be social, which is most days that end in “Y.”)

Last Sunday, I opted for the small town explorations with Emme the Mutt in tow. She loves a good ride in car, just not for six hours, I eventually learned. But she also likes sniffing things, chasing geese into the river, and barking at bicyclists, so she had a great time.

The morning was very foggy, and while visibility on the roads was fine, the fog was so dense over the river that I couldn’t see the other side. I have to admit, I kind of love fog. It can be annoying, and it wreaks havoc on the focus in my pictures, but I love the surreal feeling it creates.

I took my favorite route along US-52, a scenic byway that runs along the southern border of Ohio on the river. My first destination of the day was to be Moscow, a map dot barely out of the river. I stopped off in New Richmond first to check out some points of interest (to be blogged about later).

About five miles east of New Richmond, I stumbled through a historic district with ties to the Civil War. It wasn’t on my list for the day, and despite driving past it eleventy million times, I forgot it was even there.

A simple white house behind a flagstone sidewalk anchors the district. Of course, district is a generous term because the white house, a well next to it and signage in the yard are about all there is to the space. A stern looking man will be peering at you through one of the front windows, and you’ll know you have the place. Ulysses S. Grant’s birthplace is in Point Pleasant, Ohio – not to be confused with the home of the Mothman in West Virginia.

President Grant, in case you aren’t familiar, commanded the Union Army during the Civil War and accepted General Lee’s surrender. While being known for his military strategy and personal integrity, his presidency was marred by scandals.

Good ol’ Unconditional Surrender had his humble beginning along the banks of the Ohio. He lived in that house for less than a year before his family moved about 23 miles away to Georgetown, Ohio.

The thing I like most about places like this is that it reminds me that no matter where you start in life, you never know where you can end up. Grant started life as a tanner’s son along the Ohio River, and went to West Point against his will, according to the information boards outside the house. Even though his grades at West Point were mediocre – one would assume from not applying himself since he didn’t want to be there in the first place – he rose to command the armed forces of the United States, became President and traveled the world.

When you visit, you can tour both his birthplace in Point Pleasant and boyhood home in Georgetown and see the schoolhouse he attended. Fun fact: I lived a few blocks away from Grant’s boyhood home when I was a kid. I walked past it almost every day on my way to school.

For more information about visiting these sites, you can check out the Ohio History website.

Up next: Summer shenanigans

Its summertime! You know what that means? Shenanigans. All day. Every day!

Its summertime! You know what that means? Shenanigans. All day. Every day!

Summer is finally here! It’s been so great not having to deal with cold, crappy weather. Even the rain this spring hasn’t been so bad, or at least it hasn’t interfered with my plans too much. But on the occasion when I am cooped up, or in the evenings at home, I’ve been planning some projects for the summer. Usually, I try to stay away from previews on this blog – it’s part of managing expectations. I don’t like to make promises and then not deliver.

However, I’m super excited about this summer, and some of the adventures I’m about to introduce have already started, so I’m confident I’ll get through them this summer. Without further ado, I present to you my summer adventures!

Gettin’ my nerd on

I try to keep my nerd hidden, but sometimes it slips, usually when it comes to historical things. History was always my favorite subject in school; I’m fascinated by how it  overlaps with everyday life. I see history in layers. Where I am right now is one layer, but if you peel some back, you’ll find my apartment gone and just a wild, land filled with Indians, then Simon Kenton and Daniel Boone.

Right now, the layer I’m fascinated with is the Underground Railroad and Civil War. The Ohio River was a main thoroughfare for escaping slaves, and subsequently there are many Underground Railroad stations in the area. Of course, Kentucky’s strategic geographical location made it the location of several Civil War Battles, so there is much history to explore in Kentucky as well.

Over the coming months, I’ll be exploring as many of these locations I can find.  In the meantime, if you have a suggestion of somewhere to check out, please leave it in the comments. I have a huge list of places to visit, but I know I haven’t found everything.

Hiking, camping and general outdoorsy stuff

I’m still stubbornly working on increasing my endurance and lung capacity so I can hike over longer distances, so I’ll be sharing my misadventures along the trails in the Tri-state area. Along with these adventure posts, I’ll finally start updating more of the Gus Scale posts – my ranking for trails in the area. I’ve found that many of the descriptions of trails really aren’t accurate, or detailed enough. Something that is called “moderate” has me about to die after a quarter mile. \

That’s not moderate.

So I have a slightly different rating scale that’s handy for other cripples, like me, or people who just want to know how easy or difficult it is to navigate a certain area.

Vagabond Girls

Last year, before my body broke down, Lacey and I were working on starting a joint blog project to document our adventures. We met up at The Highland – a great coffeehouse in Clifton – bought a domain, set up a blog and started working. Then life intervened, and we realized it would just be better to keep the Vagabond Girls theme, but make it separate sections on our respective blogs.

She’s working on getting her blog revamped and relaunched – with some nagging from me – and I can’t wait to read her musings on the world. We have several smaller adventures in the works this summer, but we’re also working on some bigger ones a little further in the future, including a driving tour to Alaska and eventually to the tip of South America.

Washington, Ky.: Take a walk through time

DSC_4651

Historic Washington Village, Ky., just south of Maysville, offers a bundle of history, shopping and entertainment. Visitors can schedule a guided walking tour calling 606-759-7411, or take in the town at their own pace, using signs posted throughout the town. Washington features  log cabins dating from the 1790s and a stop on the Underground Railroad.

The more I explore Kentucky, the more surprised I am by how many very interesting and beautiful things lurk in the next holler. Even though I moved to Kentucky with the intention of only staying long enough to finish my degree, I don’t really ever plan to leave. You know, unless I happen to find a Montana cowboy. I suppose then I could be persuaded to leave my rolling hills for more wide open spaces.

Maybe.

Historic Washington isn't the kind of town you'll find to restored to a perfect replica of how it was 150-plus years ago,  but the imperfections only add to its charm.

Historic Washington isn’t the kind of town you’ll find to restored to a perfect replica of how it was 150-plus years ago, but the imperfections only add to its charm.

One of the places that inspired me recently was a small village just south of Maysville, Ky. Its store-lined Main Street looks like something from a painting, the sight helped along by the number of period buildings still standing. Washington isn’t the kind of place you go to see something restored in pristine condition – it isn’t that kind of tourist attraction. In fact, it doesn’t feel like a tourist trap at all. Many of the old homes are private residences, and are opened to the public only for certain events. Of the places that are open to the public, they are accessible only on a walking tour through the town.

caption caption

A long stretch of flagstone sidewalks stretch from Mefford’s Fort to the Visitor’s Center.

We visited in late spring, when the town was still waking up from winter. There were some vendors on the sidewalk in front of the Old Courthouse Lawn (more on that location later), and more traffic through the various shops than I expected. I can’t say the buildings were in pristine shape, but they weren’t ramshackle, either. You will see some minor wear and tear, maybe a missing or damaged shutter here and there, but all of these things add to the charm of the town. I’ve been to fully-restored historic towns, forced to keep to a certain code so they always look just-so, and they do not have the charm and personality of Washington.

When I walk on flagstone sidewalks along Main Street, it’s easy to imagine hearing the clop of hooves on the road. What is harder to imagine is the impact the people of this blip on the map have had on the world.

In the beginning, there was an explorer.

caption caption

Many of the first settlers of the village  were Revolutionary War veterans.

Washington Village, now part of Maysville, Ky., is older than the state in which it resides. It was one of the first towns established in modern-day Kentucky, one of the first American settlements west of the Appalachian Mountains, and the first town named after George Washington. It’s a whole lot of firsts. Washington was founded in 1786 by Revolutionary War Veteran William Wood and many of the original settlers were Revolutionary War soldiers, and are buried at the Old Baptist Cemetery just outside town.

caption caption

Fun story: This log cabin used to be a flatboat. And then 13 people lived in it. Its the only known remaining flatboat cabin left in the country.

One of the most memorable things about Washington is the number of log cabins still standing that date to the town’s founding in the late 1700s. One of these, Mefford’s Fort, is the last known flatboat cabin still standing. Mefford was in on the whole repurposing trend about 300 years before it was cool. He floated his wife and children down the Ohio River, then hauled the boat about five miles uphill from the river and made a log cabin out of his boat. His wife and 13 children shared this house. All I can say is it’s a good thing they didn’t have indoor plumbing. There would have been bloodshed in that house over the bathroom.

caption caption

The log cabin post office is the only working log cabin post office in the country.

As one of the first settlements, it’s post office became the first established west of the Appalachian Mountains and served the entire Northwest Territory, which encompassed Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota. The original post office was torn down in 1848, but the existing building is the only working log cabin post office in the country.

caption caption

The area used to be filled with cane brakes like this one behind the Bluegrass Artisan Center.

Other cabins in the town include the Cane Brake Visitor’s Center and the Simon Kenton Shrine. The town’s Visitor Center now occupies the Paxton House on the opposite end of Main Street, and the Cane Brake cabin has become the Bluegrass Artisan Center. Simon Kenton never lived in the cabin named for him, but he did once own a store in the town and sold the land for the town to its original settlers. The town still honors its earliest explorer the third weekend in September with the Simon Kenton Festival.

A town divided over slavery

caption caption

The Methodist Episcopal Church split over the issue of slavery and didn’t reunite until over 100 years later.

Much of the advertised history of Washington relates to the Civil War and Underground Railroad. As a border state, Kentucky tried to stay neutral and act as a liaison between the two sides. But just as this approach didn’t work for the state, staying neutral didn’t work at the town level, either. The debate trickled into a church congregation and ripped it apart. In 1845, the Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington split over the issue of slavery.

The congregation in Washington became the Methodist Episcopal Church South and had a separate slave gallery that was removed in the 1970s, according to the inscription outside the building. The Methodist Episcopal Church North relocated to Third Street in Maysville. More than 100 years later, the congregations reunited as the Trinity United Methodist Church.

Dueling generals

This house sheltered two men who both attended the same Washington Presbyterian Church, West Point and then opposite sides of the Civil War.

This house sheltered two men who both attended Washington Presbyterian Church, West Point and then fought on opposite sides of the Battle of Shiloh in the Civil War.

Nowhere is there a better example of the divide in Kentucky than the Albert Sydney Johnston House on Court Street.

This quiet, white dwelling housed two men who eventually faced each other on opposite sides of the Civil War.

Johnston, the home’s namesake, spent time in the United States Army before retiring to join the Texas Army. He then returned to the U.S. Army only to again retire to join the Confederacy. He became a general in the Confederate Army, taking a mortal wound early at the Battle of Shiloh.

Also fighting at the Battle of Shiloh was Union General William “Bull” Nelson. His family took up residence in this house after Johnston’s father died. Both men attended the same Presbyterian Church in Washington, both men attended West Point and both men fought at the Battle of Shiloh. But where Johnston’s story ends there, Nelson’s continues until his murder in 1862.

Nelson was known for publicly disciplining his officers. One of them, General Jefferson C. Davis – not to be confused with Confederate President Jefferson Davis – gunned him down in a hotel after one of these public disciplinary sessions by Nelson some time before.  Davis admitted to the murder, but was not charged or arrested and went back to duty about two weeks after the incident.

Inspiring “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”

caption caption

Events on this bright green lawn inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

One of the things Washington is best known for isn’t a resident, but a famous visitor. Harriet Beecher Stowe visited the town before she was married. At the time she was teaching in Cincinnati, and came to the small town to visit one of her students. While in Washington, she witnessed a slave auction on the Old Courthouse Lawn.

The Harriet Beecher Stowe Slavery to Freedom Museum was established in the Marshall Key home, where she visited Washington.

The Harriet Beecher Stowe Slavery to Freedom Museum was established in the Marshall Key house, where Stowe stayed while she visited.

The sight stayed with her and was one of the experiences that influenced “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” The courthouse burned down in 1909 after being struck by lightning. Today, the only thing to mark the dark history of the spot is the sign  commemorating the Old Courthouse.

While she was visiting, Stowe stayed at the Marshall Key house. Key was nephew to Supreme Court Justice John Marshall.  Today, the home has been converted to the Harriet Beecher Stowe Slavery to Freedom Museum and is available to tour.

All aboard the Underground Railroad

caption caption

The Paxton Inn (right) has a secret stairwell that was used in the Underground Railroad.

Northern Kentucky’s position along the Ohio River lent itself to several stops for the Underground Railroad. At least one of these stops was in Washington in the Paxton Inn. This Inn also served as an important community center where meetings were held to discuss important issues, including slavery. There is a secret stairway between the first and second floors where people could be hidden until they were moved across the Ohio River. I wonder if Underground Railroad passengers ever overheard one of these debates while they were in hiding?

Influencing international law

caption caption

One of my favorite Washington characters didn’t make the cut for the sign.

Even though Washington was host to some impressive visitors in its heyday, one of my favorite characters of the town would have been overlooked by most of the citizens. His story didn’t even make it to the inscription outside the home.

Thornton Blackburn was a slave who served in the Murphy-Lashbrooke house on Main Street. He was sold, eventually ending up in Louisville, where he escaped with his wife and fled along the Underground Railroad to Detroit. They lived there for about two years before being discovered and arrested in 1834. Detroit’s first race riot broke out while they were incarcerated, giving the Blackburn’s enough cover to escape from the city into Canada.

Once in Canada, slave hunters again located the couple and tried to arrest them and have them extradited to the States. But Canada refused to release the couple to United States custody, determining a person cannot steal himself, and establishing case law that determined once a slave set foot on Canadian soil he or she became a free man or woman.

The Blackburn’s earned a very American ending to their Canadian story. In Toronto, the Blackburns helped many slaves reach freedom in Canada, thanks to the law they helped create. They built a prosperous, influential life for themselves in Toronto. Blackburn became a successful businessman when he established the city’s first cab service. He chose yellow and red for his cab’s color scheme, and Toronto kept this when they adopted city transportation.

Washington’s worldwide influence

At the beginning of this story I promised that Washington residents had a worldwide impact.  So far, we’ve talked about the Civil War and slavery issues stretching into Canada. Now, I’m going to shift focus a bit – to Pakistan.

I’m told there are ruins of a house on a golf course in Washington, but I haven’t found them. These ruins are what’s left of the former residence of Charles William Forman, a hemp farmer turned missionary to India. Forman tried to establish a mission to the slaves in Washington before leaving to attend the Centre College in Kentucky and then the Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey.

Forman settled in Lahore, India (now part of Pakistan). There, he established an English-speaking school, Rang Mahal School. The school added a college in 1865, and Forman continued helping develop the education system in the area.

The college in Lahore, now known as the Forman Christian College, has produced many notable alumni, including former Prime Ministers of both Pakistan and India, Pakistani and Indian senate members and presidents, diplomats, judiciary members, athletes, artists, military officers, journalists and business people.

Now, who among you would have thought that a hemp farmer from Kentucky would have helped create an education system half a world away? Be honest, now.

Visiting historic Washington Village

caption caption

The Washington Presbyterian Church was the second one established in the city.

I know there is much and more I missed in my self-guided tour of Washington. If anyone reading has a place, story or anecdote to share, please comment below. I’d love to hear more about the town.

Some of the information in this post came from the washingtonky.com website, but this site is not sponsored by Historic Washington or Maysville and does not appear to have been updated in quite some time. According to the women working in the Visitor’s Center the day I was there, this site was put together by one of the residents of the town. It lists several community events – including a Chocolate Festival – which the village no longer offers. My hosts explained that they had too many events and it was too much for the town and the shop owners to keep up with. The two events that the town still hosts include the Simon Kenton Festival the third weekend in September and the historic Christmas walk the first weekend in December. Plus, historic tours are offered from April through the first week in December.

This shop at the corner of Main and Court Street had a wide selection of primitives, Fenton glass and other home decor items.

This shop at the corner of Main and Court Street had a wide selection of primitives, Fenton glass and other home decor items.

But for the weekends when there aren’t events, there are still several shops to check out in Washington.

Phyllis’s Antiques, David’s Brass Works and Elaine’s Gallery and Framing sits at the corner of Main and S. Court Street and carries a wide selection of Fenton glass, and everything you see in the picture to the right.

The 1790 Rowhouse Mall also contains some retail shopping, and was having a sort-of sidewalk sale the day I visited.

My favorite shop was the Strawberry Patch Country Store. It was a store-of-all-sorts with all kind of antique books, keys, tools, baseball cards, electronics, dishes … you name it. Don’t miss the upstairs or the basement.

caption caption

The Strawberry Patch Country Store was loaded with antiques. It was my favorite shop in the town.

I did not venture into The Grey Wolf with my backpack full of oxygen; it appeared to have some beautiful items but it was packed wall-to-wall with people. The Iron Gate is next door to The Grey Wolf, but was not open the day I visited.

I would encourage a visit to the nearby Baptist Cemetery when you visit the village. It is just south of main street off US 68. There was no sign for the cemetery, but there is the telltale log cabin standing vigil. Honestly, it appears to be about the only thing watching over the graves because many of the markers are falling or have fallen and broken.

I gave Historic Washington Village a two on the Gus Scale. The village proper is on relatively flat land and was incredibly easy to walk through. I would have rated it a one if not for the bumpy, though beautiful, flagstone sidewalks. If you’re someone who needs to use wheels to get around you won’t have quite as easy a time as I did.

Ohio Day Trip: Covered Bridges

The first road trip of the season is always my favorite. It’s the first time you get to shake the dust off, work out the kinks and get lost trying to find something. The only thing I was waiting for this spring was a free Saturday with clear weather, and I finally got one in late March. It was a chilly day – the high was only around 40 degrees – but the sun was shining and the puffy clouds in the azure sky couldn’t have been more perfect if someone painted them. They were the ideal backdrop for covered bridge hunting in southwestern Ohio.

Ohio has one of the largest collections of covered bridges left in the nation, and seven of them fall in about a 70 square mile area. The path between the bridges will take you along the Ohio River, past Underground Railroad Stations, through the rugged terrain of southern Ohio and over the rolling hills of Amish Country. You’ll pass suburban sprawl and a host of what I affectionately call “dumpy little towns” – the kinds of places I wouldn’t mind living. My dad and brother are into covered bridges in that guy/building kind of way. They like to look at how things are put together and talk about it, you know, knocking on walls and things. Mom and me? We just think they’re pretty. So we loaded into the car Griswold-style and set off.

The route connecting the bridges covers about 75 miles and would take about two hours to complete. When you’re planning your trip, you’ll want to add time to get to and from the beginning and end of the route and time to explore around the bridges. If you’re anything like me, you’ll want to have some time to climb around in the creeks (once the weather warms up) and check out all the local businesses you’ll be passing along the way.

I’ve lived in the Greater Cincinnati area my entire life. Part of my childhood was spent in suburban Milford and part of it in more rural Brown County. The rolling corn fields of Brown County are by far my favorite. The only thing that stops me from moving that far off the beaten track is getting to work. I love road trips, but I hate, hate, HATE commuting. Of course, when I lived there 20 years ago the only places to shop were Pamida and IGA and now many of the towns have built up. There are Kroger stores and Wal-mart stores and subdivisions; it’s fallen victim to the ever-permeating suburban sprawl. Still, most of the area is full of stately old farmhouses, dilapidated barns and rolling farmland.

This time of year, the land hasn’t come back to life yet. Trees are still bare and fields are not plowed. The grass is just showing the first hints of green. But the sun is shining and the cows and horses we pass seem as excited for the spring as we are.

**************************

Continue reading