Mountains to Mansions

We have gotten to see some wonderful things on our adventure like National Parks and magnificent capitol buildings. Each place has its own history and natural features, so none of these places are the best and each is just different from the rest. The first place we visited in the state was New York City and it was impressive to say the least. The rest of our New York experience was great though and we enjoyed seeing some of the rural areas. After leaving New Jersey we decided to head into the forest and visit Catskill Mountain, where we thought we could camp for free. Well we towed up into the mountains and down a dead end, where we had to do some tricky maneuvering to get out! So the camp wasn’t free and apparently only backpackers can camp for free. The North/South Lake Campground was lovely though and we enjoyed hiking around and visiting the lakes. This was the first time ever that we didn’t even unhook the car from the trailer. It was almost perfectly level and after raising the front of the trailer a bit it was at the perfect height to just leave it ready to tow. Good thing too because the campsite was long and narrow making it difficult to back into and I was worried about getting out later. We didn’t have anywhere we were planning on driving; all we wanted was to spend sometime in nature. Some fellow campers told us of a neat feature at this camp which was only a short hike past the swimming area, alligator rock and dinosaur rock, this was where people had placed small pointed rocks into some larger cracked stones. Apparently this was done quite a long time ago and we all enjoyed the effect.

Each capitol city has it’s own beauty and challenges that people new to the area have to experience. Albany has a great parking lot underneath it’s main plaza that is tricky to get into, but centrally located. It allows you to walk through an underground mall area to get to the capitol, which is a nice feature if it is raining when you visit. The capitol building in Albany was unique from the others we have visited because it was stone on stone construction without a steel substructure. This sandstone was then hand-carved by masters of their craft and the effect is beautiful. There are faces, grotesques that are supposed to scare off bad spirits, flowers, animals and lots of mosaic designs. The carvers were allowed to have some artistic freedom too and each hallway has different designs. I don’t know how many pictures we took of just the carvings, but the ones we put up here are just a sampling of them. You really just have to visit the capitol building and view them for yourself, they are works of art. All the historic places we visit are becoming connected for us and at this capitol they had a picture of Washington that we had seen at multiple other places, but this time we got to see the original copy! The tour ended in the Hall of Governors, which had portraits of every New York Governor, artifacts, displays and a timeline of major events that have happened since the state was founded. We spent about an hour just reading the displays and everyone learned some history. After we had toured the capitol we strolled across the plaza to the state museum because we love free museums. Unfortunately, the museum was kept at the same temperature as a walk in refrigerator and we had to just leave after only a short time in the building. I am pretty much always hot and have to worry about heat stroke in the sun and even I was freezing in the museum! The kids had their arms inside their shirts and were even shivering! We did visit the upper floor though where one of the oldest American made carousel was and they even let the kids ride it (also free). This carousel had some horses from the 1890s and a few donkeys that are even older than that! Because this carousel has been in operation since the early 1900s they only run it a few times an hour and for only a song, but the kids had fun taking a ride on this historic carousel.

After visiting the Martin Luther King¬† Jr. National Historic site we have made an effort to visit more than just the well known National Parks. While staying near Albany we were within driving distance of so many National Historic Sites and State Historic Sites that we just couldn’t see everything. So we started with President Martin Van Buren’s house that he named Lindenwald. Now I am a history buff and have been studying history since I was about nineteen, but I honestly didn’t know much about our eighth president. With so many presidents it is hard to remember each one when you are just reading about them in a book, but after visiting his house I think I will always remember him now. He was the first American born US president and English was his second language (yes all the previous presidents were born in the British colony of America). Van Buren was ahead of his time and his house was one of the very first in America to have indoor plumbing. The sink even had warm water that was piped through the fireplace chimney before it reached the sink. One of the neat facts we learned on the tour was about the presidential bust that was displayed both in Van Buren’s house and at the White House. The tour guide mentioned that there was also a picture of the bust in the Red Room of the White House and that made Van Buren the only president with two busts in the entire house. Well I had to go back through our photos to see if we had caught it with our phone when we toured the White House and sure enough there was the painting with the bust in it! Another really cool part of his house was the fancy wall paper that is in great condition considering how old it is. The wallpaper depicts scenes of a hunt and only a small section of it was damaged when the National Parks took over the house. Good thing the company that made the wall paper is still in business and continues to make the same wallpaper to this day! The park service was able to replace the damaged section and now you can see the difference between what the original looks like compared with the new. We had a great time visiting this presidential house and even saw a beaver when we were walking on the grounds.

The next day we struck out to visit both the Vanderbilt mansion and the FDR presidential house and library. Unfortunately the Vanderbilt mansion was under renovations and the outside was covered in scaffolding, plus all the furniture had been moved and covered. It was still great to tour the inside of the building though and we learned about this influential family. The first generation made a fortune and the second generation doubled it, but the third generation spent it all. The only wealth that was left in the family was one of the sons that married a girl the parents didn’t approve of and was cast out for it. He did well and decided to not leave a dime to anyone in the Vanderbilt family! Turns out he was great to his staff and gave them varying amounts of wealth and estates as well as taking care of them while he was alive. The gardens were beautiful and we loved walking around them before we left.

Well we went from a capitalists house to FDR the author of the new deals house and they were different in some ways and similar in others. Both had been turned over to the government to be turned into historic sites and both were large mansions that had an extravagant air about them. FDR’s house definitely felt more homey though with lots of pictures and nick-nacks everywhere. Turns out it was actually his moms house and she ruled the roost, so the president later had another house built and his wife also built her own house. Miles spotted an old Edison Phonograph and had to ask the tour guide if it was a Victrola or an Edison and it turned out he had correctly identified it as an Edison. At the presidential library we learned some more about the internment camps the Japanese-Americans were forced into after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. This lesson was first introduced to the kids in Hagerman, OR when we looked at the display about the Menadoka internment camp. Yes all this history seems to fit together and the interconnections are easier to see when you are visiting these places first hand.

We have traveled a long way on this adventure and it is interesting to see the interconnections of things first hand. When you read about things in books it can be hard to see how it all fits together. Getting to visit places first had though makes it easier to understand how these things fall into place in our history. I have heard that history is not taught as much at public school anymore and that math and reading are the focus. I didn’t think history was as important when I was in school, but that is because we just tried to memorize dates of events. Taking the kids on this educational tour of America has shown me that history can come alive for the next generations. To see our kids answering questions about Americas history has me asking them, ‘why was that event important’. Their answers let me know that history is a subject that needs to be taught otherwise our society might make the same mistakes over instead of learning from them. Plus we have so much fun at all these historic sites that it is a win win for everyone.

Here are some more pictures and links for the places we mentioned:

North/South Campground

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New York State Capitol Tours

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New York State Museum


Our article about visiting Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Site

Martin Van Buren National Historic Site (Lindenwald)

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Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site

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FDR House and Presidential Library

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