Take A Road Trip Down Memory Lane in 2021
By Bob Tagert
Take A Road Trip Down Memory Lane in 2021
In keeping with tradition, I like to recap the Road Trips that we took the previous year in this space.
With February being Valentine’s month, we took a drive over the mountain at Thornton Gap to visit Shadow Mountain Escape, the dream of Karen and Ralph Riddle (really great people). You will find Shadow Mountain about three miles on the Luray side of the Thornton Gap entrance to Skyline Drive on Jewell Hollow Road. In an attempt to provide an environment conducive to happiness and fulfillment, they focused on exposing the beauty and spirit of the natural landscape and the remarkable life that flourishes there. The use of Timber Frame construction in all of the buildings adds to that theme. Ralph wanted to create the “Old World” charm that comes from his German heritage.
There are four cabins on the fifteen acre property. In celebration of the abundant wild life, all of the cabins were given indigenous “bug” names. The SME Bear Dance Lodge was the first rental built on the property and the two cabins were named the Dragon Fly and Bumble Bee. The Butterfly loft opened in 2003 and the final rental, the Ladybug, was completed in 2011.
Our March issue took us to Ellicott City, Maryland. Ellicott City sits in a Maryland valley and the Patapsco River runs through it. The historic town is subject to flooding when heavy rain visits the area. There were devastating storms in 2016 and 2018. In spite of this rare occasion the town is thriving and is a great destination. Ellicott City was founded in 1772 and is located 10 miles west of Baltimore. Walking is the best form of transportation as street parking is minimal but the town does have large free parking lots. This quaint city is a picture perfect place with many shops, restaurants, galleries, salons and museums. Most of the shops are situated on Main Street which runs through the center of town. There are also many shops, etc. located on the side streets that intersect Main Street and they are walkable as well. On the snow covered day that we visited last year the town took on the vibe of a ski resort nestled at the bottom of the mountain. Indeed, on snowy days the 150 foot elevation from the town can make for a nice short ski run. The City is a five-block historic district. Ellicott City is also home to the oldest surviving railroad station in America and was the original terminus of the first 13 miles of commercial railroad in the country. Today the train station is a museum that was built from the abundance of granite from the surrounding hills. For lunch we chose the Phoenix Brewery on Upper Main Street. This is my kind of place. A converted old lumber yard is now a very comfortable restaurant and bar. All of the old wood is indicative of the old buildings heritage and two large beer vats behind a glass partition provide the libations of the restaurant.
In April and May of last year I was rehabbing from a long overdue knee replacement so our “Professional Travel Writer” friend Vanessa Orr covered for us. Vanessa lives in a suburb of Pittsburg and is also the Executive Editor of North Hills Monthly Regional Magazine based in Pittsburg.
She took us on a trek to some off the beaten attractions in Bikes, Mannequins, Music & More in Steel City. When you think of a museum, what first comes to mind? Priceless art? Imposing dinosaur skeletons and “taxidermized” beasts? Civil War relics or Revolutionary War cannons? While Pittsburg has all of those and more, it is also home to some odder–but still just as intriguing–museums that cater to more specific interests. Bicycle Heaven Shop & Museum, for example, has more than 6,000 different types of bicycles on display; Johnny Angel’s Ginchy Stuff is filled to the brim with rock-n-roll history and collectibles from the 1950s. Randyland pretty much defies description–part art museum, part Pittsburg social hub and one of the happiest places in the ‘burgh. Its main attraction is its owner and artist-in-residence Randy Gilson. While all of these museums are well worth a visit simply for their cool facto alone, the fact that they are all free, and located on the Northside of Pittsburg, makes them a must-visit when stopping in the Golden Triangle.
In the merry month of May, Vanessa took us on a tour of the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania in Outdoor Adventure, Iconic Homes Make the Laurel Highlands a Must-Visit. I’ve always thought of the Laurel Highlands as a magnet for those who love outdoor adventure, from skiing at Seven Springs Mountain Resort to whitewater rafting at Ohiopyle State Park. But as I recently realized while enjoying a peaceful outdoor picnic and lightly oaked Chardonnay at Greendance-The Winery at Sand Hill, it’s also the perfect place to relax and just take in everything nature has to offer. Even before the pandemic, people were flocking to the Laurel highlands, located about an hour’s drive east of Pittsburg to enjoy its spectacular natural scenery and outdoor recreation. The area is also a huge attraction for those who love iconic buildings as it is home to four Frank Lloyd Wright masterpieces. And since the establishment of the Laurel Highland Pour Tour in 2019, it’s become even more popular as a place to spend reinvigorating time away. The waterfalls in the Laurel Highlands are so inspiring, in fact, that one was the impetus for the creation of one of America’s most famous homes. Fallingwater, the home designed for the Edgar J. Kaufmann family by world renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright, was originally supposed to sit across from a waterfall on Bear Run Creek so that the homeowners could enjoy the view.
I was back in business in June so we returned to one of our favorite places, St. Mary’s County, Maryland. This time last year we thought that the pandemic was winding down. Folks were beginning to get out and visit wineries and hitting the road. St. Mary’s County is the southernmost county in Maryland on the western shore. The county is actually a peninsula bordered on the northeast by the Patuxent River, the east by the Chesapeake Bay and the southeast by the Potomac River, and the west by the Wicomico River. As you might guess, the county is well known for its water activities whether it be boating, crabbing, fishing or just spending a lazy day by the water. Leonardtown is the largest city in the county and also the county seat. There are some great restaurants in Leonardtown as well as many shops, and museums. The Old Jail Museum is a jailhouse built in 1876 and in use until 1945 by the oldest sheriff’s office in the nation. The granite block and brick structure retains its original upstairs cells where prisoners were once segregated by gender and race. The jailkeeper’s quarters downstairs house related artifacts. The location also serves as the official Leonardtown Visitors Center. St. Mary’s County is renowned for their working museums. One is a few miles from Leonardtown on the Potomac River. Piney Point lighthouse was built in 1836 located at Piney Point just up the river from the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.
In July we returned to the Shenandoah Valley and the Blue Ridge Whiskey Wine Loop. The “Loop” is the brain child of Karen Riddle, who along with her husband Ralph built and own Shadow Mountain Escape – remember them from the February issue? The Loop actually runs along the east and west sides of the mountains and Skyline drive bordered by Route 340 to the west and Route 522 on the east. The Whiskey Wine Loop includes restaurants, overnight accommodations, wineries, breweries and distilleries. You can google The Whiskey Wine Loop for all the locations…It is a Trip!!
In August Ashley Stimpson took us to northern Maryland on a Road Trip to Harve de Grace. Before it was a capital city contender, Harve de Grace was called Harmer’s Town. But when a visiting Marquis de Lafayette mentioned that the town reminded him of a charming French seaport called Le Harve-de-Grace, residents honored the Revolutionary War hero by incorporating under that name in 1785. (No need to channel your high school French when in town. Locals pronounce it HAV-er-dee-grace.) While the quiet charm Lafayette admired is still on display, Harve de Grace also feels very much like the busy crossroads that garnered the Founding Fathers attention. During my visit on a hot day in May, cars poured down Market Street, many with kayaks and stand-up paddleboards strapped to their roofs. Pleasure boats roared by on the wide Susquehanna River, which hugs the east side of town as it flows into the Chesapeake Bay. Trains rumbled over bridges.
While there are many modes to see the sights, Harve de Grace is a pedestrian’s paradise. To get from one end of town to the other only requires a trek of about 1.5 miles, a pleasant walk punctuated by museums, murals and gorgeous vistas. To make it simple, the city has continued to improve its self-guided walking tour along the Lafayette Trail, which meanders past just about every attraction Harve de Grace has to offer. Visitors who would like a narrated experience can download the DISTRX app and learn about each of the 57 stops along the way.
Our Road Trip in September took us back to the Shenandoah and the Summit Lodge at Riverbend Farm in Bentonville, VA. Bentonville is halfway between Luray and Front Royal along the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. The Lodge is a magnificent five-story escape nestled on 64-acres along a bend in the river. There is more to this property than a getaway, it was formerly the home of Tom and Bettina, a couple who started out in the cabin up the hill where their love story began and the concept of the Lodge was born. Check out the book The River Oak Suite by Tom and Bettina’s friend Tony Baker. The book will tell the story from the beginning. With wrap-around porches this structure is immense – 5 bedrooms with baths and many inviting spaces to just chill. As you walk into the great room you notice the glass paned wall with a huge stone fireplace centered in the middle. The huge kitchen is off of the great room and leads out to the porch with a covered dining area. The kitchen is amazing and made to prepare food for a group. The fifth floor is an enclosed “skybox” topping off the tower. The skybox offers a 360-degree view of the valley. There have been many times I have seen the Shenandoah Valley from Skyline Drive, but it is awesome to sit in a rocking chair in the valley and watch the sun set over the Blue Ridge Mountains.
In October we visited Annapolis, Maryland. Whether you call it Crabtown, Naptown or Anne City, it is still America’s Sailing Capital. For most of the 18th century, the city enjoyed a golden age due to its prominent position in the shipping industry. It served as the Nation’s Capital during this time and the Treaty of Paris ending the Revolutionary War was signed here. The oyster-packing, boatbuilding and sail making industries brought wealth and prosperity to Annapolitans and this cultural epicenter’s social season was pretty epic. Even today, Annapolis maintains its maritime stature as the home to the U.S. Naval Academy. The City also boasts the largest In-the-water boat shows in the world every fall.
Like Old Town Alexandria, Annapolis has a large shopping district and many fine restaurants. Our favorite pubs and eateries over the years have been Middleton’s Tavern, McGarvey’s and O’Briens at the bottom of Main Street. Others include Buddy’s Crabs, Chick and Ruth’s Diner and Castle Bay Irish Pub where you can sometimes find the Eastport Oyster Boys performing.
In November we returned to the mountains and the Blue Rock in Rappahannock County. After watching the restoration of this beautiful property over the last year, we finally had a chance to pay a visit when they opened their doors in late October. The new Blue Rock has a tasting room for their fine selection of wines and whiskys, the main dining room and terrace have all been revamped and there are now rooms available for those who want to spend the night/weekend. The old stables are gone and the landscaping has taken on a whole new life. The Blue Rock is a modern take on the classic country inn. The 80-acre equestrian themed property, set against the Blue Ridge Mountains, features five uniquely designed inn rooms, an on-site restaurant lead by esteemed chef, Bin Lu. An adjoining five-bedroom farmhouse, also recently restored, is available for private rental.
In December we stayed home as is the tradition and wrote about our home town, Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. Her story has been in these pages each month for 34 years! Come Visit!
We are looking forward to many new adventures and treks to places we haven’t featured as well as some visits to those that we haven’t been to in a while!
Note: These are brief descriptions of each road trip from last year. If you want to read the complete columns go to our online version at oldtowncrier.com and pull them up from the archives.