Final Installment of the Virginia Model T tour 2013
Copyright Vladimir Kagan, June 30, 2013
Our itinerary was filled with visits to famous plantations and historic sites. One of the most fascinating of these was Bacon’s Castle in Surrey. A house built in 1665 the oldest datable brick house in Virginia. It is a rare surviving example of Jacobean architecture in America and was built by Arthur Allen, a wealthy planter. On his death it passed on to his son Major Allen who was forced to abandon it by Nathaniel Bacon, during the Bacon’s Rebellion. Bacon billeted seventy of his men in the house, forcing the Allen family out of their home. Ever since, the house became known as Bacon’s Castle. Bacon was a rogue character and rebelled against the Crown by demanding a war on the Powhatan Indians. Governor William Berkeley refused, and Bacon was ultimately hanged for his defiance.
Of particular interest to students of architecture is the brickwork of the “Castle” that has alternating glazed and natural bricks. At each end of the house the walls terminate with a Dutch ornamented profile. The “Castle” is renowned for its six chimneys; three located at each end, canted at a 45-degree to the wall to better resist the forces of the prevailing winds.
On our return trip we stopped for lunch at the Surrey Inn where we were offered a typical local fare starting with peanut soup (very delicious), Fried soft shell crab, a specialty at this time of the year and instead of a pecan pie, we finished the meal with a peanut pie. (I still prefer pecans.)
Surrey is reached by a modern ferry crossing Chesapeake Bay at the Chiickahoniny River. This is normally a delightful free ride, which takes about ten minutes… unless you get caught in a storm! The trip over was uneventful… the return was a different matter. Heavy thunderstorms with deadly lightning were predicted for the late afternoon. Though it was beastly hot and humid, the day was still calm and sunny. By four o’clock we were certain that we had escaped the dire weather. Returning on the ferry, there were no visible signs of a storm. That changed within minutes. Looking westward, we admired the blue skies and calm seas… coming out of nowhere, the eastern sky turned purple and black; in minutes it morphed into an angry storm... the wind was gale force… torrential rain and hale pummeled us at 60 miles per hour. Those sitting in their open antique cars could not hide and had to bundle up as best as they could. In the comfort of the chase car, I watched this astonishing, rapidly changing scene with amazement, Thunder, lightning, angry waves and torrents of rain came rushing at us from everywhere. The ferry was forced to stop amid stream as we were being driven toward the nearby shore … the captain reversed course and headed back from whence we came. Once safely docked, we waited out the storm. Within fifteen minutes the temperature had dropped 30 degrees, the squall moved on as quickly as it came. All was calm, the sea flattened and the ferry was able to once more proceed to its destination.
lower photo: Our ferry waiting out the storm in a safe-haven
Top photos: show the intensity of the sudden storm
On land things were quite different. The destruction was devastating. Giant trees were uprooted and toppled across parkways and neighboring roads. Debris was everywhere, power lines went down, and electricity was out for over thirty hours.
We returned to our hotel without owning a flashlight or candles… our room was pitch black. We groped around our small room by brail… the windows were in operable. As the room was hot and airless, we were force to sleep with our door wide-open to an eerie dark wilderness. Timidly, we ignored the prospect of nocturnal critters that might invade us at night. (None did.) We were poised to face a second night of airless darkness and fortified ourselves with candles and flashlight, but mercifully, just before nine o’clock, the lights were turned back on.
As I was running out of subject matter for this Blog, the storm was a Godsend.
Gloucester is a large sprawling community accessed via Virginia route 17, which is bordered by endless mini-mall, convenience stores, billboards and cheap motels, certainly the ugliest road in this part of the State. For a stretch of twenty-five miles there were no alternative routes to the many historic sites we visited in three successive days.
The ruins of Rosewell Plantation are located on Carter Creek near the York River in Gloucester. In its heyday it was an impressive three-story brick mansion built in 1725 by Mann Page 1st, Beatty Cramer’s ancestors. (Dolph’s wife). The house passed on to Governor John Page and was frequently visited by his good friend Thomas Jefferson. It is said that it was intended to rival the Governor’s Palace in Williamsburg. In 1837 it was purchased by Thomas B. Booth who sadly proceeded to dismantle many aspects of the mansion including the lead roof, carved marble mantles and the mahogany wall panels. By the beginning of the 20th century the house fell into shambles. In 1916 it still had no running water and when a fire broke-out in one of the chimneys, buckets of water had to be carried into the house to try to extinguish it. The heat was so intense that it overwhelmed the rescue efforts and this magnificent mansion was gutted… All that remains today are its four massive walls and chimneys.
Gloucester Village and Court House is a small remnant of a once thriving 18th century community. The pre-revolutionary courthouse is still in use today, but sadly it has been architecturally desecrated with a acoustic ceiling, fluorescent lights and other modern trapping.
Every township in the vicinity of Williamsburg wants a piece of the action of Virginia’s grand history. The good folks of Gloucester have usurped the legend of Pocahontas as their own and built a bronze monument depicting her as a sweet teenaged girl, (right out of their local high school) and though we did not see it, they commissioned a 150 foot long mural for the town’s library, depicting the life of this legendary Indian girl.
Pocahontas never lived in Gloucester... but the town fathers erected a monument to her
Our last day of touring took us to Historic Jamestown. The Jamestown Settlement Museum turned out to be my favorite, obviously because of my love of boats and ships. The little harbor had three full-size replicas of the boats on which the original settlers arrived: the Sarah Constant, the Godspeed and the Discovery. The Discovery was the smallest, manned by only twenty men and carrying forty passengers, The Sarah Constant was the largest and very impressive for its detailed replication. For the new settlers, it was a long transatlantic crossing taking four and a half months! The boats were under the command of captain Christopher Newport. They carried one hundred-five men and boys (one died en route) who them became the original settlers of Virginia’s shore. There were no women. Women were recruited in England, some years later, to establish a permanent colony on the shores of the Chesapeake. This colony was a commercial enterprise by the Virginia Trading Company, which was chartered by King Charles to establish the first English settlement. (And incidentally to serve as a bulkhead against Spanish expansion.) The Spaniards had arrived a century earlier with Columbus. It was a get-rich-quick scheme that eventually failed commercially* but established England’s foothold on the new continent.
*The Virginia Trading Company came in quest of gold and trade with the natives, but instead encountered starvation and hostile Indians. It took a hundred years to finally create a favorable trading relationship with the homeland, mostly with tobacco raised and harvested by African slaves.
A beautiful ship's model was exhibit in the museums reception area
Early etchings of John Ssmith and Pocahontas - never lovers, but inseperably linked in history
Jamestown is separated into two entities. The site of the original settlement is a National Park, where they have initiated remarkable archeological discoveries. Extended digs reveal new discoveries almost daily. With painstaking patience, Docents well versed in the local history, explain the recent discoveries and their relevance to the settlements.
An ongoing archaeological dig on the site of the original settlement
Jamestown has an impressive time-sensitive museum with panoramic displays. On the grounds of the museum is a recreated Powhatan Indian village. Further down the road, you enter a stockade-enclosed Settler’s village. The two villages were done with astonishing authenticity, including costumed guides ready to explain their early way of life. Finally you end at the docks for a hands-on visit of the three boats hosted by salty sailors answering all your questions. It is a site well worth revisiting.
Top photos: The Godspeed and the Discovery - the two small boats that crossed the Atlantic in four and a half months - Bottom photo: The lead ship Sarah Constant, under the command of Captain Christopher Newport
The salty sailors and me
The official reunion ended without a tour through Historic Williamsburg where the streets are closed to automobile traffic. It was presumed that everyone interested in American history had already been there. After all the 2009ers departed, Chris and I had a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon, strolling through Williamsburg and seeing some of the finest Colonial architecture that had been assembled by John D, Rockefeller back in 1926 and moved to what is now Colonial Williamsburg.
The most prevelant architectural feature of Williamsburg houses are the dormers on the top floor
The centerpiece of Colonial Williamsburg is the grandiose Governor's Palace
This was a wonderful week, spent with the most companionable people. I can’t wait for next year’s reunion… if I am invited. (Peter and Mary Bernhardt say I am invited to all future reunions as an exofficio 2009er)
The Dolph Cramer Team - For the next reunion we'll have Dolph back in the driver's seat!
Ian Evans and Peter MacAlister, who flew in from England to drive Dolph's Touring car
and Christopher Eitel, who joined me on the tour and became our invaluable navigator
John Fatini who drove two thousand miles in a chase car and me, your reporter