Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Great Falls -- Paterson, NJ

Aunt Barbara Berberich took Ashley and I on a sightseeing tour of Paterson, NJ.

We walked to the Great Falls after touring the Paterson Museum. The falls are quite magnificent. It had rained a lot earlier in the week, so the falls were gushing with water. Upon hearing the roar of the water (which sounded like a stampede of horses), it is easy to imagine why people harness its power. At 77 feet tall, it is the second highest waterfall on the East Coast (Niagara Falls is the highest).

The falls look great from many different angles, but my favorite was from walking across a suspension bridge. Yes, I was glad Ashley is old enough that I did not have to worry about her going over the edge of the bridge. And yes, I was a bit nervous as the bridge swayed, but the views made up for my discomfort.

The town of Paterson is the first planned industrial city in the United States. George Washington sent Alexander Hamilton to scout for the best location. When Hamilton found the falls, he felt Paterson was it.

In the center of the falls is a rock formation that sort of looks like an Indian Chief's head. My mom said he has a name, but my limited research did not find details about it.

In 1970, the area surrounding the falls was declared a National Historic Landmark District. In 2004, the Great Falls were designated a New Jersey State Park. Since then the 35 acres around the park been designated a National Historic Park.

It is in the city of Paterson, but we did not feel threatened or uncomfortable with our surroundings. There were enough other people doing exactly what we did.

Paterson Museum

The Paterson Museum is a great example of what more towns should do: it highlights Paterson's claims to fame.

The museum is not large. It has a section on how Paterson earned the nickname the "Silk City" with big machines and multiple spools of thread. You could almost picture someone working at the machines.


There was also a small display about Paterson's most famous resident: Lou Costello. We all enjoyed the display on the Wright Aeronautical Corp. Aunt Barbara is pretty convinced that is the company her father (my grandfather)worked for many years. Wright Aeronautical Corp. is most famous for building the Spirit of St. Louis.

Ashley in front of the museum.

Lambert Castle

The story of Lamberts is a rags to riches tale of an immigrant. Catholina Lambert was born in England, the eldest son of mill workers. Aunt Barbara Berberich took us to Lambert Castle during our tour of Paterson history.

Catholina went to school until he was 10, then he was sent to work in the mills. Fortunately the mill owner recognized some spark in him and sent him on a 7-year apprenticeship, where he learned about the business side of running a mill. Then he and his brother went to America where there was a greater chance for success. Within 6 years (by the time he was 23) he was a successful new American citizen and married into a socially prominent family. Not bad for the son of mill workers. In Paterson he built and ran very successful silk mills.

He designed the castle after castles he saw growing up in England. He filled it with masterpieces. Tough times hit (such as the great fire of 1902) and he sold most of those masterpieces. Throughout the castle are pictures of what it looked like in his day-- hardly an inch of wall space was visible behind the art.

Seven of their eight children died before he did at the age of 89 -- the eldest of those dying at the age of 40, others in infancy and childhood. His son sold the castle to the town of Paterson in 1925.

It is a self-guided tour, with the aid of a pamphlet. My aunt said in December they take out all of the artwork and furnishings and host a giant marketplace. When we were there the third floor was covered with Civil War memorabilia, including U.S. Grant's death mask and many photographs. There were guide books to help trace local Civil War genealogy.

National Zoo

On our way home from Virginia we detoured to visit the panda bears at the National Zoo. We love the National Zoo! First of all, it is free, which is always nice. The layout of the park was designed by Olmsted making it extremely visually appealing.

The zoo is trying to keep up with the times. They are currently installing an elephant walk so the elephants can roam "free" in a "natural" setting rather than being cooped up in a circa 1950s space. It will be worth returning in 2013 when that is finished.

This time, though we did not have a lot of time to visit. We parked on one side of Olmsted Way and walked most of the 8/10 of a mile path to the highlight for Ashley: the panda bears! Mei Xiang and Tian Tian  were inside when we visited. I'm not sure if that was because it was raining out, or for some other reason. The rain kept the crowds down (yeah!) and the indoor viewing meant they were a lot closer to us, so we did not complain. While Tian Tian was cute, he was napping. On the other hand, Mei Xiang was eating and mugging for the cameras, so she was a lot more fun to watch. Well, until she decided to take a nap. Since coming home we have watched them on the Panda Cam:

As we did not arrive until after 4, we were pleased to find out the buildings stay open until 6. After leaving the pandas we went to visit the orangutans. The last time we visited the zoo (a few years ago) we were mesmerized by the work being done in the Think Tank: Here scientists and researchers are testing the orangutans' memorization skills. It is fascinating research. Even without the "show," it was still fun watching them play.

The grounds stay open until 8. We still had lots of time to see some other animals. None are as cute (in Ashley's eyes) as the pandas.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Kate Gorrie Butterfly House

The Kate Gorrie Butterfly House in the Stony Brook Watershed in Hopewell, NJ is one of those fun hidden treasures in our area. The entire Watershed is a great place to bring children to learn about nature. The Butterfly House feels like an oasis.

The day we went it was raining, which means the smart butterflies were hiding to keep their wings dry. A few others popped out. We knew this going into it, but we had just learned about their Monday morning talks and decided to give it a try.

I'm so glad we did. Our guide (whose name escapes me -- Katie?) gave us an enthusiastic talk about butterflies. She answered all sorts of questions from us and the other family in our group including one that has bothered me. If butterflies only live for about 3 weeks, how do they make the journey South to Mexico and back North to lay their eggs for the next generation?

Our naturalist said every few generations of butterflies produces a super strength of butterfly that lives for 7-8 months -- long enough to make the journey and return part of the way to lay eggs. Nature is amazing.

Listening to her talk I was thinking about a children's book I read recently called the "Prince of Butterflies" ( by Bruce Coville. An inspirational tale of how a child's life can be changed by nature. 

A few more comments about the place:
  • The entire garden is filled with native plants
  • It is open from dawn to dusk every day and is open to the public
  • It is open from June until October when the netting is opened and the butterflies are free to leave
  • All butterflies are tagged (as part of a national tagging system) before they are released
  • The caterpillars are brought inside to have a chance to change in a safer environment, and to make it easier for people to watch the life cycle happening live
The nature center is also free to visit and a great place to go with kids, even on rainy days. Trails are open to the public and are also free to use.


To be perfectly honest, I went to Peachfield with low expectations. The house is only open a few times a year so how exciting could it be? After all, if it was very exciting, it would be open a lot more often, right?
I was pleasantly surprised by how much we enjoyed our visit.

Peachfield is owned by the Colonial Dames of New Jersey. The Colonial Dames is an organization similar to the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), in that the ladies can trace their ancestry back to living in the Colonies during the Revolutionary War, however they might not have any family members who served in the war.
Peachfield was built in Westampton, NJ (near Burlington, NJ) in 1725 by the Burr Family. These Burrs are distant relatives to the more famous Burr, Aaron. A large addition was built in 1732. The home remained in the Burr Family for nearly 200 years. That alone is impressive.

In 1928 the house was struck by lightning and suffered a major fire. Amazingly, the Burr family was able to sell the home to the Harker family in 1930. Mrs. Harker bequeathed it to the Colonial Dames three years before she died in 1965, with the stipulation that they maintain it and keep it open to the public.

Mrs. Harker had an amazing eye and a terrific vision for the house. She hired a famous historic architect by the name of R. Brognard Okie, Brog to his friends (I dare you to call anyone Brog without laughing or at least thinking about a frog). Brog's major claims to fame include restoring the Pennsbury Manor and the Betsy Ross House.

Like I said, it was 1930. Even though Mr. Harker was a foreclosure attorney (one of the few careers with job security during the Great Depression) this was an expensive and lengthy process. Mrs. Harker's vision for restoring the home was to bring it back to the original style. Looking at it today, you cannot tell what was added and what was original to the house.

Her secret? She used 18th century glass, moldings and woodwork as she did 20th century restoration.

Where did she find such a treasure trove of 200 year old building material? She asked for it from the current owners of 200 year old homes. Some of the homes were about to be destroyed as the New Jersey Turnpike was being built (including one owned by a different member of the Burr family). In at least one case she offered someone new windows for their old ones. It is pretty remarkable.

There are also some treasures to be found in the furnishings and decorations. The creepiest was part of their temporary exhibit on Washington -- a lock of the first President's hair. I kid you not! That exhibit is about to end and be replaced with an exhibit on needlework that should also be interesting.

Periodically the Dames have fun programs. We missed the one on "Brog" visiting. There was also another one with "Sojourner Truth." As you have probably already surmised from reading this blog, I am fascinated by first person re-enactors.

Our guide, Maureen, was terrific! It was her fourth tour of the day. In our tour group were a couple of women who are related to a different branch of the Burr family. They talked a lot about genealogy.

Ashley's favorite part was the back staircase that was not open to the public.

I liked the story behind the gorgeous upholstered chair that hid a chamber pot. As it was the second one we had seen in a week (the first was at the Wallace House) we were not as surprised as the others in our group. Legend has it "Washington sat in the chair," or some such wording. The original notes (when the chair was donated to the Colonial Dames) said he "used" the chair. The notes were later modified.

I'm glad Ashley and I made the effort to go.

W & OD Trail

Don and Ashley brought their bikes with them to Virginia. I planned to go for a run while they biked, but settled for a walk as I was still sore from my run two days earlier.

The Washington and Old Dominion (W&OD) Trail is very well maintained. It is a 44-mile trail that runs through Virginia. It is amazing. There is a paved part that is perfect for bicycling. It is flat and straight. A winding trail made of crushed stone runs along side it and up some hills. That trail is perfect for mountain biking, walking, running and (of course, given the area) horse back riding.You know a lot of people ride horses when the signs give them the right of way. There seemed to be a rest area about once every mile, and placards talking about the local history fairly often.

For us the day was going along really well. I walked about a mile up, and a mile back. I was hanging out on this nice bench in the shade, next to a water fountain, when my cell phone rang. Uh oh! Ashley and Don rode about 6 miles when she fell off her bike and scraped her knee. Fortunately all she needed was a first aid kit. It was just enough, though, for them to ask me to pick them up further on the path. About the time the phone rang someone stopped and, using his new Smart phone, he was able to give me terrific directions to find Don and Ashley. Alls well that ends well, I suppose.

Dodona Manor

Dodona Manor, a National Historic Landmark, was the retirement home for General George C. Marshall and his wife, Katherine.

By now most of you are saying "who is Gen. George Marshall?" Perhaps a few of you have linked him to the Marshall Plan (if so, you must be a history buff). We went with Judy and Mike Wodynski while we were in Leesburg, VA. All five of us benefited from the video about his life that we watched before being allowed to tour the house.

Mike made the astute comment that this was one of the few times he has toured a house that is set in the 1950s (as far as decor) -- the house was actually built in the 1820s. We have all been in houses like it -- it reminded me of my dad's parent's house (Tata and Grandad), as well as Don's mom's house in other ways. I felt as if I could make myself at home in their family room.

In my mind, though, Dodona Manor will be linked with the time Ashley could not answer a question about history. The tourguide, a lovely Southern lady, pointed to a picture  and asked Ashley who he was. Even after explaining she is from New Jersey and we don't cover Civil War history for a while, she pointed to a different picture of him when he was older  and thought she would recognize Gen. Robert E. Lee. Teasing aside, she did recognize all the pictures of General George Washington and could answer her other questions about history.

Morven Park

Our summer travels took us to Virginia for a couple of days. After a decade, we finally reconnected with Judy and Mike Wodynski in person. Last summer Judy left Nantucket (where we tried to visit them, really) to become the development officer at Morven Park in Leesburg, Virginia.

Knowing we love to visit historic sites, Judy gave us the full tour of Morven Park. Morven was the model farm home of Westmoreland Davis, Virginia's 55th Governor. Knowing that New Jersey governors used to reside in Morven, I wondered if there was a connection. In Scottish, the term "morven" means shangri-la. It is actually a fairly common name for places.

Morven Park is an 1100 acre oasis in Virginia. Hard to believe we were only an hour outside of Washington, DC. In addition to the mansion, it is a world class equestrian center, it has many trails and great gardens and places to picnic. It has a Civil War Hut site, which is still used by re-enactors at different times of the year. Archaeological research is taking place at that location. The mansion is also home to the Museum of Hounds and Hunting -- a collection of items related to fox hunting. They are also home to a therapeutic riding clinic and a race track.

On the tour of the mansion we learned about the history of Westmoreland Davis and of the mansion itself. Westmoreland learned a lot about farming while living on his estate, and shared his knowledge with others in the Southern Planter, a farming journal he purchased. The house itself has quite a history. It was built in different sections and has 9 different staircases. There are some great pictures of the interior on the website.
Every once in a while it is nice to include a picture of us. These lions reminded me of the TSC lion.

Wallace House and Old Dutch Parsonage

It took us two tries, but Ashley and I visited the Wallace House and Old Dutch Parsonage. That is why the best word of advice is to call before visiting a historic and verify that it will be open when you want to go. The first time I called the day before after they closed. I took a chance, and lost. The second time I called the day before and spoke with Jim, the curator. The only reason we gave it a second try was that it was recommended by our good friend, Heidi Harendza, as well as reenactors at Fosterfields.

The Wallace House's claim to fame is that Washington spent a winter in the house during the Revolutionary War. There were three winters during the War. The first winter he spent in Valley Forge, PA training the troops. The second winter he spent in Somerset, NJ at the Wallace House, and everything went well. The third winter he spent in Morristown, NJ and it was the coldest winter in the 18th century.

Jim is extremely knowledgeable. He answered all of our obscure questions. The only one he did not know the answer to (and which I will continue to ask) is what did women keep in their pockets during the Colonial Era? Each site will tell you about their pockets, but no one seems to know why they needed it. It wasn't for electronics (obviously), probably not for keys or even money (you could sign for things in town). What was left?

Practically in the backyard of the Wallace House is the Old Dutch Parsonage. Again, Jim gave us the tour of this work in progress. The house used to reside in another part of town. In 1907 when the railroad was going to be built through town, the house was slated for demolition. Fortunately it was able to be saved.

Jim asked me to remember that, in addition to being the home of pastors of the Dutch Reformed churches in the area, it was the home of Jacob Hardenbergh -- the first President of Queen's College, known today as Rutgers.

Wallace House:
Old Dutch Parsonage:

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Burlington County Historical Society

Back in May, Don, Ashley and I attended the New Jersey History Fair and had our picture taken by the Burlington County Historical Society. Ever since that chance meeting, we have been trying to get to the museum to see it for ourselves.

Yesterday was the day. It was threatening to rain, so we used the museum as an excuse to be closer to Don's office so we could offer him a ride home (he rode his bike to work that morning).

We showed up at 1:30. Laura, a new docent who last worked in Cooperstown (pay attention to that clue) gave us the grand tour of the four buildings. All together, we were there about 3 1/2 hours.

 The first stop is the Bard-How house. As far as historic significance goes, no one famous lived there and nothing remarkable happened in that site. The county decided to turn it into a living history museum. It represents the type of dwelling a fairly well-to-do family in the 18th century in Burlington, NJ would have lived. Though small by 21st century standards, it housed the husband, wife, grandparents, eight children and several servants. The first floor included a shop that the grandfather ran. Fortunately at some point the family added a section which nearly doubled the site.

Today it is in the style of an historic please touch museum -- everything can be played with and felt. I failed to mention, Laura's first mission was to dress both of us in Colonial attire, which we wore for the rest of the tour in this house. 

It added a bit of fun walking through the house and learning about the times while wearing a mob cap. I felt a bit like a horse with blinders on as I could not see sideways. Going up and down the narrow stairs in the skirt was also a challenge.

While in this attire, Ashley and I played draughts and wrote a shopping list using a quill pen.

Before heading to the next house, we had to change back into 21st century attire. Next door is the James Fenimore Cooper House. Mr. Cooper was born in Burlington, NJ and lived in this house until he moved when he was 13 months old to (drum roll please) Cooperstown, NY. Yes, our docent is destined to be following in the footsteps of James Fenimore Cooper the rest of her career. James Fenimore Cooper is most famous for writing "The Last of the Mohicans." Since the family moved out of that house, only one chair was original to the family -- the chair his mother sat in and threatened to stay in Burlington when his father insisted they move. The elder Mr. Cooper picked his wife up, chair and all, and moved them to the wilderness up upstate New York.

The third house is the Captain James Lawrence house. His claim  to fame is uttering the phrase: Don't Give Up the Ship! He died anyway during that battle.

The upper galleries are home to Burlington County's most internationally famous resident: Joseph Bonaparte (Napoleon's brother). He lived in Bordentown, but some of his furniture can be seen in the Burlington County Historical Society.

The last building is the Children's Museum. Here we ran out of time to do everything. Ashley did work on a quilt, but she did not have time to create a grandfather clock.

I would highly recommend visiting with a scout group or a class. The place is rich in teaching about history of many different eras. In addition to being a lot of fun to go with just the two of us, or a family, they are well equipped to educate and entertain larger groups.

Happy 95th Birthday, Aunt Elva

Five years ago we gathered at the Washington Crossing Inn to celebrate Aunt Elva Pillsbury's 90th birthday. At the time she was still living in Ewing, on her own, and driving her big Buick (heaven help the rest of the drivers). At that happy celebration she invited us to join her at the same place in 2016 to celebrate her 100th birthday.

On July 30, 2011 we celebrated her 95th birthday at the Yardley Inn. In the meantime, Aunt Elva has moved to Boston to be closer to Martin and Helen, two of her three children. She is still living on her own, just a few hours north. This weekend was her first time returning to Ewing since her move three years ago.

Those of us who thought the move to Boston would do Aunt Elva in were wrong. She is still just as fiesty. She has all her memory intact -- both long term and short term. She walks with a cane, and is slowing down a bit, but knows everyone and remembers everything. What more could any of us ask for at 95?

I will say Aunt Elva was a bit annoyed that we did not wait until 2016 to gather again in her honor. It was as if we don't have any faith in her making it another 5 years. Au contraire, we just wanted another excuse to visit with each other.

Don, Ashley, and I had a great time reconnecting with his cousins' children -- Sara, Joe, and Nick. By some quirks of fate they all now live in Boston. We joked that we were sitting at the kids' table -- as in the table for those under 50. It was so much fun reconnecting with them since our last visit in October!

The Tomkavage Family: Paul, Helen Pillsbury, Nick, and Aunt Elva.

Martin and Franca Pillsbury, Aunt Elva, Nancy, Sara, and Joe Stromer.
The youngest (9) and oldest (95) Pillsbury.

Happy 95th, Aunt Elva. Hope to see you long before we celebrate your 100th birthday in 2016.