Backtracking … back to Washington.

During the Revolutionary War, Martha Washington often joined her husband on the road – especially in the winter when the army stayed in one location. The major goals? To reevaluate their tactics and for the army to simply survive.

Two of those winters were spent in Morristown, New Jersey.

One soldier wrote: On the 14th of December we reached the wilderness, about three miles from Morristown, where we are to build log huts for winter quarters. Our baggage is left in the rear for wagons to transport it. The snow on the ground is about two feet deep, and the weather extremely cold.

During that winter, 1,000 14 x 16 huts were built – each housing 12 soldiers. Little food was available and loose straw was gathered in piles to make their beds. Some soldiers didn’t take off their down jackets until April. (Can you imagine the smell? Though maybe their noses were so frozen, they couldn’t smell.) A thousand men deserted the army that winter, but most didn’t. It is said that if the army hadn’t stuck together through those long, cold months – the war would’ve been lost to the British.

Meanwhile, a widow with four young children offered her home – the finest in Morristown to General and Mrs. Washington. Here Washington had daily meetings with his officers to plan strategy and solve problems.

This was not a successful visit. Again this was on our October 2001 trip and GPS systems weren’t common. We arrived in Morristown early in the morning, wanting to visit Washington’s HQ and then go on to other places. But the first five people we asked had no idea where the house was located, indeed, none of them even spoke English. We finally found a policeman who steered us sort of in the right direction.

We finally found it, looked at some exhibits, watched a video and then had a tour by a guide who absolutely told us nothing. Seriously, you can usually pick up something from a tour – but not this one. One other family took the tour with us and they had a ten-year-old boy. For some reason this guy totally focused on the kid as if the rest of us weren’t even in the room. I’ve been on a lot of tours with schoolkids and have really enjoyed them because the guides often bring out interesting stories, etc. But nothing here. Ken, knowing quite a bit about history, asked some great questions, but didn’t get any real answers.

We gave up.

But this was Washington’s house – at least for a winter. Here Ken and Kelli at least try to get something out of the exhibits.


I’ve always been intrigued by Rachel Jackson – and excited about visiting The Heritage.
I have read many of Irving Stone’s books, including The President’s Lady, his book about Rachel.
Rachel, the daughter of a prominent family (her father was a member of The House of Burgesses) married Colonel Lewis Robards – a man with a fierce temper and fits of jealousy. His treatment of her was so cruel,  she went home to live with her parents. But when Lewis came to the house and promised he had changed, she listened and went back to Kentucky with her husband.
But he hadn’t changed and once again the abuse was unbearable. Andrew Jackson (a boarder at her parents’ home) went to rescue her.
Finally, Robards told Rachel he had filed for divorce and that the divorce was final. Rachel married Andrew Jackson – only to learn that her first husband had not legally divorced her. The proper paperwork was finalized and Rachel and Andrew married again – but the situation haunted them for the rest of their lives. Andrew Jackson fought 13 duels for his wife’s honor – even killing one man.
The Jackson’s couldn’t have children but adopted one of Rachel’s nephews and raised him as their own. He became  Andrew Jackson’s private secretary. Jackson won a close election and once again Rachel’s sordid past was the topic of gossip. The attacks were above cruel. Andrew tried to keep them from Rachel, but of course, she knew.

Two weeks after her husband won the presidential election, but before his actual inauguration, she died. No one is exactly sure why – but many scholars think it was because of a broken heart, a result of being the center of so much nasty gossip.

Ken and I visited The Hermitage in 1998. A tornado had gone through the property in April, destroying many of the trees that Andrew had planted – and also hitting the nephew’s nearby home,  Tulip Grove,  to such an extent that you couldn’t go near it.
I went back to The Hermitage in 2008 with my friend, Sue – that’s when I took these pictures. The day was thunderstorm rainy.
When I was there with Ken, they gave us headphones. You need to punch in  a number and a recording would tell you what you were seeing. They did that this time, too, but not for the house itself. This time they had tour guides in the house so you could actually ask questions and get more information.
Alas, I don’t think I’m supposed to see Tulip Grove. This time, we could drive to the house, but it was only open on weekdays (we were there on a Sunday).  That’s Tulip Grove below. There is also a church by Tulip Grove. Andrew built it for Rachel and the community, but would not join. He told her that, as a politician, he shouldn’t belong to a church and promised her he would join when he got out of office. Which he did.

September 17, 2008 | Permalink


We continue on our not-a-very-good-start track here.

President #2 was John Adams and I haven’t been to Adam’s house.

President #3 was Thomas Jefferson who lived in Monticello.

We went to Monticello on our last just-the-four-of-us vacation.  Both kids came home from their summer jobs and we headed East. This was back before my good before-digital  35mm camera and most of the pictures on this trip I KNOW for sure were taken with our video camera – I know because the video were taken by Jeff in Jeff’s own unique style.Monticello is one of the most well-known Presidential homes, not only because it is considered an architectual masterpiece, but also because it is full of Jefferson’s inventions.  Monticello is on a mountaintop in Albermarle County, Virginia.

You walk into a dome-shaped entrance hall that’s actually a mini-museum planned by Jefferson himself. The hall has bones and a buffalo head and a 7-day clock which keeps track of the days and the hours.  He also built revolving service doors between the kitchen and dining room so the servants wouldn’t have to see the guests and had fourteen skylights built into the roof.

Other inventions include a revolving book stand where Jefferson could have five books open at once to help while he was doing research, a copying machine,  a concave mirror so he could see hidden corners and a solar microscope.

The grounds of Monticello are also magnificent. The plantation stretches for 5000 acres and includes gardens with 170 varieties of fruit and 333 varities of vegetables. The property also has many different varieties of trees.

Perhaps Jefferson himself summed it up the best when in n 1809 he wrote to  friend …

Within a few days I shall bury myself in the groves of Monticello and become a mere spectator to passing events.

Easy to see how he could do that.


First ladies are one of my many interests and hobbies. (First ladies rather than presidents because by reading about First Ladies, you learn about the human-side of the president. Often reading about presidents teaches you about wars they fought or lists of all the people who were part of all their meetings, but doesn’t really talk about THEM.)

And one aspect of that hobby is visiting as many presidential homes as possible. I had been to a few as a kid since I come from kind of a history-loving family.  But I had many more to visit – and still have more to visit.

One day I found a coffee-table-type book about president homes on sale at Borders. So I bought it and we started recording the dates of our visits to the homes.

A few people have asked me why I haven’t done an “online” tour of the homes we visited, so I thought I’d do just that. (But not all at once or even all in a row.)

Unfortunately, this will not be getting off to a good start.

I thought it made sense to start with Washington (duh!) and I’ve actually been to Mt. Vernon two times – if not three.  Yet, I can only find a few pictures and those aren’t even good ones.  Somewhere I have great photos of Mt. Vernon.

If I find them, I’ll upload them later.

Mt. Vernon is near Alexandria, Virginia and sits on the banks of the Potomac River. The white, wooden mansion is elegant and homey at the same time.  The estate was a working  plantation when Washington lived there and it has been owned by the family (although no one particularly wanted to make the effort to keep the estate in working order) until the mid 1800s. In 1858 The Mount Vernon Ladies Association bought it and they’ve been operating it ever since.

(I actually corresponded with the dear sweet, genteel and elegant ladies of the Mount Vernon Ladies Association because I wanted to use something I saw at Mt. Vernon in a kid’s story I wrote. They were very dear sweet, genteel and elegant in their response and did give me the necessary permission.)

Anyhow, the first time I was at Mt. Vernon I was in second grade. The last time I was at Mt Vernon was for my parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary. Ken and I took a trip out East with them and Mt. Vernon was one place we stopped. (You will notice in the picture of Ken and me in front of a tree – planted by George himself – that Ken is holding our video camera which might account for the lack of photos – but I still think there are some more around.)

Several other people were on the tour with us through the house. One lady stood out as asking intelligent questions which showed she knew something about history. I appreciated what she was asking because nothing can ruin a tour more than someone asking dumb questions and nothing can help a tour more than questions from someone who knows about what we’re viewing.  She was there with an older daughter and my guess was she was a history teacher.

On the way back down the lane to the parking lot afterwards, we just happened to be walking by the lady and the daughter and I asked her if she taught history. If I remember correctly, she did. But then my dad asked her where she was from and she said Minnesota. As we continued chatting we learned that her daughter was a student at Northwestern – which was interesting because Jeff was at Northwestern at that time. I don’t know how the conversation went from there – whether Ken or I said we had just been through Minnesota on the way to camp in Montana or what, but we then discovered that her other daughter had been a counselor at Clydehurst that summer. Ken and I were junior camp speakers that year and knew her other daughter well! Small world.

In conclusion – as George himself said about his house –  I have no objection to any sober or orderly person’s gratifying their curiosity in viewing the buildings, Gardens, &ca. about Mount Vernon. (I have no idea what &ca is – I must have missed it.)

I promise I have better pictures of most of the other houses.