Friday, May 29, 2015

A Piece of Colorado - in Alabama!

Alabama Welcome Center

We left Mississippi and, seemingly, the rain!  Yeah!!!  The first hiccup in our planning happened, however, when the campground we had planned on using in the Birmingham area was full.  The camping gods were smiling on us, though, because we lucked into a delightful place called Deerlick Creek Park, a Corps of Engineers park in Tuscaloosa, AL.

Swimming beach

Campground view

View out my front door

The rain stayed away for the most part and we managed a little much needed down time.  But the Memorial Day weekend was coming up and the campground was fully reserved, so we were only able to stay a couple of days.  Plans to visit Birmingham and Civil Rights sites had to be shelved while we searched for another place to stay.

A last minute spot opened in a tiny RV park on the grounds of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL.  Feeling lucky just to get anything at the last minute over a holiday weekend, we didn't expect much more than a parking lot.  But what a surprise!

Campground entry

Campground view

Nipper on a beautiful walking path

Just 27 spaces, the park is full of sweet gum trees, making almost every spot partially shaded.  The sun stayed out for EVERY day of our stay, with the rain returning only the night before we left.  I think we may have turned the corner on the crummy weather!

Sid, working hard!

The Space Center is home to the Space Camp that I've heard about for many years.  While the center is open to the public, we opted to continue in our relaxation mode for the three days we spent there and did not take a tour.  But here are some pictures of what you could see from the outside.

NASA has been running this camp since 1982

Giant rockets can be seen for miles away

Another space shuttle, this one atop a propulsion rocket

And as for a little piece of Colorado?  In front of the campground was this set up and, at first, we didn't know what it was.

What could this be for?

The Colorado piece required closer inspection. 

Estes Rockets, from good ole' Penrose, CO!

By getting closer, we discovered this was an area set up for rocket launching.  Groups of children were walked over from the Space Center all weekend long and allowed to shoot off rockets they had made from behind the viewing shield.  

It's funny, sometimes, what familiar things you find in the most unusual places!

We're putting Alabama in the rear view mirror as we head for the Country Music Capitol of the World.  Next stop, Nashville, TN!

Until next time...

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Mississippi State Capitol - New and Old

Did you know that Mississippi has two state capitol buildings?  On our way out of the state, we  took a route that would allow us to stop in Jackson, the state capitol.  Our only agenda was to tour the Capitol building, but upon learning there were two, made time to get a glimpse at both of them.

The Mississippi State Capitol is not filled with art as so many are.  It does not need it, as the building is art itself.  Completed in 1903, it was built with funds awarded to the State of Mississippi from a lawsuit against the Illinois Central Railroad for back taxes.

As you can see, the exterior is undergoing some maintenance

This statue, called The Women of the Confederacy, is inscribed on all four sides to mothers, sisters, daughters and wives.

The interior uses Italian marble, man-made art marble called scagliola, Tennessee pink marble, Knoxville marble, and Belgian black marble, just to name a few of the finishes.   Rather than try to describe it, I think I'll just let you look at the pictures.
Images from the Mississippi State Capitol

Each door has one of these plates

Elevators date to 1903

Glass cylinders in the floor are designed to allow light to pass through and illuminate the stained glass panels in the ceiling of the floor below.

Reproduction of original floor including the swastika design to convey good fortune.

Antique water fountain, located in several places on all floors

Again, the pictures I take do not do this beautiful building justice, but I've seen a number of state capitols and this one absolutely took my breath away with its built-in beauty.

The Old State Capitol Museum was another story.  Due to decades of neglect and Hurricane Katrina, almost nothing is original to this building.  They have done an amazing job, though, of recreation and the lack of decoration was probably due to the times in which it was originally built.

Front of the Old State Capitol.  Although it looks like marble or limestone on the exterior, it's actually a brick building covered in stucco and scored to look like block.

Rear of Old State Capitol.  When originally built, the rear of the building faced a swamp and it was deemed not important enough to be faced.  The rebuilding and restoration returned it to its original look.

The interior, while very nice, is extremely plain compared to today's capitol.

Door detail

Door knobs

View from the front door

A look at the rotunda

Spiral staircases on both sides of the front entry

A good job was done of staging the House of Representatives, Senate, Governor's Office and Library.

Governor's office

House of Representatives

The Library


And the grounds contained another monument to the Confederacy, erected in 1871.
Confederate Monument


Not too many cities can boast two state capitols just blocks from each other.  It is a well done museum which documents the history of Mississippi very well, with interactive displays and some original artifacts and was worth the time we spent there.

Until next time...

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Historic Homes Overload

An unexpected opportunity arose while visiting Vicksburg - marked scenic drives around the city.  I had not come across these in my research, but the campground where we were staying had them on their brochure.  With a little time before dark, we set out to see what we could see.

The signs were easy to see and there were actually two - blue (shown below) and red.  As far as I could tell, there was little difference in the two, as they both wound around the city crossing and paralleling at times.

Scenic drive marker

Of course, it was RAINING, so I couldn't get any decent pictures along the way, but I can tell you that there are many historic sites, period homes and unique architecture all along the way.  Highly recommended to do if you visit the area.

Most of the historical and period homes have been turned into bed and breakfasts, but several of them still provide tours, so we stopped at a couple.  I really wasn't expecting too much, as it's been my experience that, once a home is turned into a B&B, most of the original charm is renovated out.

Anchuca, the first of the homes we toured, is one of the most significant antebellum homes in the area. Jefferson Davis's brother owned and lived in the house and the front balcony is the site of one of the last of President Davis's public speeches.  Anchuca is a Choctaw word meaning "happy home."  And I would be a happy girl if I could live in this house.
Front of the home.  That is the famous balcony on the second floor.

Front door.  The lights are original and still run on gas

Gas light at the curb

I'm not a great photographer and better photos can be found on the Internet, but some individual features caught my eye.
The staircase was beautiful from all directions

Back staircase

Ceiling medallions were made of horsehair, molasses and marble dust

This original hand hooked rug is being walked on today!

Side courtyard

Very old crepe myrtle trees

While it was interesting to see the house, we were shown this video, which mostly talks about the artifacts displayed in the home, and then allowed to wander around around the downstairs rooms.  I was expecting a tour narrative of some type, so was a little disappointed.

Cedar Grove Mansion, the second tour of the day, was a lot more interesting.  It too was a self guided tour, but we were given a nine page document that functioned as a "tour guide" and provided details about all the original furniture and features of the home as well as information about the family.  Reading this as we toured was almost as good as having a narrated tour.

Built in 1840 by John Alexander Klein, as a gift to his bride, the home originally stood on 8 acres of land with a grove of 25 ancient Cedars, thus the name. 

Cedar Grove, facing the Mississippi River

Sitting high above the Mississippi River, it was an easy target for Union bombardments and, after the fall of Vicksburg, served as a Union hospital.  General Sherman occupied the main floor of the home, while the Kleins were forced to live on the second level and the basement functioned as the morgue.  One of the cannonballs that found its target is still lodged in the wall of the Gentleman's Parlor and you can see the repair of the hole in the front door through which it entered.

The cannonball was much smaller than I expected - about 3" in diameter

A lot of the furnishings and fixtures in this home were original and our "tour guide" told stories of the reason for some of them. 

The dining table was set with these unusual napkin rings.  We learned that each member of the family had their own so as to reuse their napkins at each meal, thus reducing the need to launder them.

Another ceiling medallion made from the same materials as the ones at Anchuca.

This room was the original kitchen.  When built, it was separate from the house, but today retains the original fireplace and brick floors.

What looks like an ornate wood buffet in the dining room is actually a 3000 lb cast iron safe.  Invited by the "tour guide" to kick the bottom of it, I did and it sounds just like wood.  It is said that this is how Mr. Klein was able to keep much of his wealth even as Union soldiers passed the safe every day.

Many of the interior doors look like this one.  What I liked best about this house was the fact that the woodwork was in original condition, you could see paint chipping and flaking here and there and modernization, at least in the public areas, was unobtrusive.

The exterior retained many of its original features too.

What used to be one of two carriage houses

Mr. Klein's catfish pond.  Nine feet deep, I have to assume they enjoyed eating catfish!

This mound of dirt hides a cistern that provided water to the home

Gazebo original to the home.  Can you just imagine ladies in their hoop skirt taking in the fresh air here?  Maybe not when it's RAINING, like it  was the day we toured!

I absolutely loved touring this home.  It always surprises me that the rooms are not as big as one would guess from the outside and it's always fun to try to imagine what life must have been like.  There were so many beautiful homes in this city that one could easily spend a few days just touring them.  But our time in Vicksburg was coming to an end and I had to say goodbye to this gentile southern city.

Until next time...