Places to go and things to see by Gypsy Bev

Posts tagged ‘Thomas Jefferson’

History Speaks Through Fairfax Stone

A scenic gravel road through wild, wonderful West Virginia in the fall of the year

A scenic gravel road through wild, wonderful West Virginia in the fall of the year

Often a gravel country road leads to places that give us a better understanding of our country’s history. Sometimes the things we find along the way don’t look as important as they really are.

Such is the case with one of the most significant landmarks in West Virginia, the Fairfax Stone located at Fairfax Stone Historical Monument Park near Thomas, WV. This stone marks the North headwaters of the Potomac River, which flows all the way to Virginia. Today the original stone is gone, but a replacement stone marks the spot so future generations will not forget how the states’ boundaries were determined.

Fairfax Stone National Historical Park

Fairfax Stone Historical Monument Park

The reason for the search for the headwaters of the Potomac River came about because the King of England gave Thomas Fairfax all the land from the Potomac River to the Rappahannock River. Naturally, Lord Fairfax wanted to know where the boundaries of his land actually were.

This was part of the Northern Neck Land Grant. The surveying for this western boundary of Maryland was done by Colonel Peter Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson’s father, and Thomas Lewis. Many historians say that George Washington perhaps set the original stone himself as a young surveyor.

Two Fairfax Stones - 1910 and 1985

Two Fairfax Stones – 1910 and 1957

Way back in 1746, the original stone was placed there  to honor a boundary dispute between Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfield of Cameron and the English Privy Council.. Later it became the spot to mark the state boundary of West Virginia and Maryland. The dispute over the boundary between Maryland and Virginia, later West Virginia, was so severe that it ended by being solved by the Supreme Court. Now it is easy to see its importance.

Fairfax Stone plaque describes its purpose.

Fairfax Stone plaque describes its history.

The original stone was a small pyramid of sandstone and had the letters “F.X.” scratched into the stone. Now an engraved six ton rock with a flat surface displaying an engraved metal plague sets over the site of the actual spring, the beginning of the North Branch of the Potomac River in West Virginia. An inscription on the plaque tells the historical significance of the stone. The marker from 1910 rests close by.

Nearby Mountaineer Wind Energy Center generates electricity.

Nearby Mountaineer Wind Energy Center generates electricity.

Even though this park contains only four acres, the Fairfax Stone Historical Monument Park attracts many historians, who want to walk where their forefathers trod. Then take a ride just south of here and view some modern history in the making – the Mountaineer Wind Energy Center, the largest wind farm east of the Mississippi that provides electricity to many of the mid-Atlantic states.

Next time you take a drive, perhaps you will want to explore some of those dirt roads along the way. You may be surprised at what you find.

Fairfax Stone Historical Monument Park can be found off U.S. Route 219 near Thomas, WV. Turn onto county Route 9 and travel .5 miles. Turn right at Fairfax Stone Monument sign and travel 1.5 miles to Fairfax Stone. Great signs help make this easier to find.

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Margaret Blennerhassett Prosperity to Poverty

More is better! That was the feeling of Harman and Margaret Blennerhassett as they came to the United States from England in 1797. Their marriage was frowned upon by friends and family in England since Harman was Margaret’s uncle; therefore, their best chance at a happy life together would have to be in a far away country.  Having sold his castle in England, the Blennerhassetts arrived in the United States with lots and lots of money…$140,000! While this fortune seemed limitless at that time, the Blennerhassetts spent their fortune recklessly and unwisely, always wanting more.

The aristocratic Margaret Blennerhassett was the first historic character for  “When Ohio Was the Western Frontier”, the theme for  2012 Ohio Chautauqua in Marietta, Ohio on the campus of Marietta College.  She received a warm welcome as temperatures soared to near 100 in the red and white striped tent.

Margaret’s story continued with their search for a place to built their new home, and ultimate discovery of  a beautiful tree covered island in the middle of the Ohio River. Margaret thought this would be the perfect place for the elegant home she had in mind so they bought half of the island, approximately 180 acres, for $4500.

One corner of the island was cleared of the huge trees so the mansion would appear as a pearl against green velvet as the boats passed by on the Ohio River. Here they built a luxurious twelve room mansion that had thirty-six glass windows, something not common at that time of log cabins with tar paper windows. Two covered porticos flanked the main house leading to its two appendages: Harman’s office and the summer kitchen.

Not only was the house a beautiful spot but there were acres of gardens and a greenhouse where citrus fruits grew all winter long. There was even special shrubbery trimmed in the shape of the original thirteen colonies.  Margaret especially enjoyed riding her white horse, Robin, over the island appearing as an exotic bird in her scarlet riding cape and feathered hat. Yes, more was definitely better.

But their happy life was short-lived here on the spot they called Blennerhassett Island. Some compared it to the beautiful Garden of Eden, but both seemed to have a snake that spoiled their pleasure. This time it was a snake in the form of Aaron Burr that wanted something forbidden.

Margaret said that Aaron Burr was a genius who applied to college at the age of eleven and graduated from Princeton at an early age. Burr was a very handsome man who loved fine things especially when procured through other people’s money. After a tie in a presidential election between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, the recount made Jefferson the President, and the loser, Aaron Burr, the vice-president. Things did not start out on a good foot here, and Burr was more than a little dissatisfied.

In 1805, Burr visited Blennerhassett Island for dinner as he was curious about the eccentric foreigner … or perhaps he had heard of the money Blennerhassett had available to “invest” in his plans. Burr led them to believe that this was an easy way for them to increase their fortune.  These events took place at a time when the Blennerhassett funds were running low.

Margaret felt that Thomas Jefferson was the real serpent that crawled into their Garden of Eden in order to destroy them. There was a lot of animosity between Jefferson and Burr.  Margaret said that Jefferson was not the wonderful president that many thought he was.  She felt the Louisiana Purchase was illegal, and while considered an inventor said he only had invented two things: a wheel cypher secret decoder and a plow. Thomas Jefferson was said to even cut parts out of the Bible that he didn’t like or wish to follow in his life. It was quite obvious that Margaret did not have fond feelings for President Jefferson.

Jefferson tried to destroy Aaron Burr and by association, Harman Blennerhassett. He attempted to use his power to have Burr found guilty of treason.  However, Chief Justice John Marshall stood up to Jefferson, and the jury found Aaron Burr not guilty. Burr and Blennerhassett were both released from prison.

By this time, their house on the island had been looted with most of the fine things being carried off. The remainder of the items were sold at auction to pay off debts accumulated by the Blennerhassetts. In 1811, their beautiful mansion was burned to the ground. At this point, the Blennerhassett family fell into hardships and eventual poverty for the remainder of their lives.  Their hopes and dreams were shattered.

Debra Conner’s portrayal of Margaret Blennerhassett was outstanding. Debra actually spent much of her youth in the Marietta community and graduated from Marietta High School.  Often during the year, she presents similar programs to the area schools on both sides of the Ohio River as part of their Ohio or West Virginia history curriculum.

2012 Ohio Chautauqua continues throughout the summer with week long performances and workshops in Urbana (June 26-30), Gallipolis (July 17-21) and Warren (July 24-28).  Hope you find time to join them and learn a little more about “When Ohio Was the Western Frontier”.

American History Shall March Along That Skyline

Six Grandfathers Mountain, now known as Mount Rushmore, was spiritual home to the Lakota Sioux Indians. Many of the Sioux were insulted by the building of the Memorial on their sacred land. Add to that the fact that the monument celebrates the Europeans, who killed so many of their tribesmen as well as appropriating their land, and it is no wonder there is still controversy between the Sioux and the US government today.

As far back at 1923, the people of the Black Hills region of South Dakota were searching for an idea to bring tourists to their part of the country. After seeing samples of carvings done by Gutzon Borglum, he was invited by historian Doane Robinson, The Father of Mount Rushmore, to the Black Hills so they could find an acceptable place for a large carving.  After dismissing the idea of using the Needles range, they settled on the granite faced Mount Rushmore near Keystone, South Dakota. The granite was relatively free of fractures, and it also faced southeast for more sun exposure. When the selection was made, sixty year old Borglum remarked, “American history shall march along that skyline.”

For one hour each evening, Mount Rushmore, The Presidents’ Mountain, is illuminated with steadily increasing lights that make this carving glow in brilliant splendor. The four presidential faces shown on this 1989 postcard are from left to right: George Washington, the father of our country; Thomas Jefferson, principal author of the Constitution, and instrumental in the Louisiana Purchase; Theodore Roosevelt, champion of conservation; and Abraham Lincoln, leader during the Civil War.

Today we can see the results of Gutzon Borglum’s  guidance of approximately four hundred workers, including his son,  from 1927-1941.  The four sixty foot likenesses of the faces rest on 1,278 acres. Original plans were to sculpt them down to the waists, but that idea was cancelled due to insufficient funds. Upon his death, Gutzon’s son, Lincoln Borglum, was in charge of completing the project, but he basically left it as the monument appeared upon his father’s death.

Today you can visit the Lincoln Borglum Museum where a film provides an introduction to the memorial site plus historic exhibits.  Take a lunch break at Carvers’  Cafe where you might find on the menu tasty dishes such as Jeffersonian Gourmet Salad or Teddy’s Bison Chili. If you are lucky, you can sit at a table by the large wall of windows, which provides a great view of Mount Rushmore. The Sculptor’s Studio displays the unique plaster models used prior to sculpting on the mountain side, as well as the tools used while carving. A recent addition is the Native American Heritage Village devoted to Indian culture and the Indians’ place in local history.

For another close-up view of the mountain, take the scenic chairlift ride through the Ponderosa pines. Views are spectacular and there is a park at the summit as well as a small outdoor grille.  You must be careful getting on and off as the chairlift stops for no one.  You do get a unique view of the presidential faces as well as enjoying the feeling of flying up the mountainside on the chairlift. Coming down you can either return on the chairlift or descend on the Alpine Slide.  This new slide is 2000 feet long and you are able to control the speed downhill on a wheeled sled with brakes. So it is up to you!  Either take a slow and leisurely ride down, or get a rush of excitement.

On the side of the mountain behind the faces is an interesting tunnel called the Hall of Records. In 1998, they began construction of a vault there that would hold sixteen porcelain enamel panels.  On these panels are: text of The Declaration of Independence, Constitution, biographies of the four presidents, and a short history of the United States.  All this is being done to preserve our present history for future generations. At this time, the Hall of Records is not accessible to the public.

Here at Mount Rushmore, you and your family can have a great educational experience by learning about the Indian heritage as well as the significance of the four faces carved there. Leaving the park, there was an interesting view from the back road where it appeared that George Washington was keeping watch on everything with eyes eleven feet across. The pupils of each eye are made of granite so they appear to twinkle when the sun hits them.  Maybe that is the reason the eyes seem to follow you!  Join the nearly three million people who visit here each year to see the faces march along the skyline.

Mount Rushmore Memorial in western South Dakota can easily be reached off I-90 off Exit 57 to Highway 16, which goes to Keystone. At Keystone take Highway 244 to the Mount Rushmore entrance. 

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