After leaving Nashville, we spent a couple of days just relaxing and doing basically NOTHING but catching our breath. Once we were back to full strength, we drove to Savannah to meet up with Bob and Linda Reeves.
Bob was my boss when I worked at Leigh University some 40 years ago. We had not been in contact with him really since that time but as part of our road trip last June when we reconnected with Myrt, who also worked at Leigh, I reached out and he invited us for a visit. We arrived at their place on Skidaway Island on Thursday afternoon.
They live in a private, residential community with several golf and country clubs called The Landings on Skidaway Island. There home,
a small place of about 4,800 square feet (I upsized when I retired Bob said) right on a lagoon was wonderful to call home for a few days.
Skidaway Island is just south of the main part of Savannah by about 10 miles and virtually the entire island is made up of this private community. With walking and biking trails, several different golf courses, tennis courts, swimming pools and all the usual stuff it seems like a really nice place to live.
After getting settled in, and some laundry started, Bob took us on a driving tour of Savannah to give us a quick overview of the City.
It was a great way to get a little orientation prior to our venturing out on our own the following day.
Savannah is the oldest city in Georgia having been established in 1733 along the Savannah River. General James Oglethorpe and settlers from the ship Anne established the settlement with the help of Tomochichi, a Yamacraw Native American, who befriended them early on their arrival.
During the Civil War local authorities negotiated a peaceful surrender to General Sherman, thus saving Savannah from destruction. The City has diverse neighborhoods with more than 100 distinct areas. There are 24 different squares in the city many with statues of significant people from the past.
Sunday – Mothers Day – a trip to an old Southern Plantation seemed like the thing to do. In 1807, Virginian John Harding bought
Dunham’s Station log cabin and 250 acres on the Natchez Trace – the main road through Nashville. Harding did sufficient business to build the first of two mansions on the property.
The plantation, that he named “Belle Meade,” French for beautiful meadow, and known as the “Queen of Southern Plantations”, was not used for farming, but rather various service enterprises such as a blacksmith shop, cotton gin, and a grist and saw mill. By 1816, Harding was boarding horses for neighbors such as Andrew Jackson and breeding thoroughbreds for the plantation which became renowned throughout the world. William Giles Harding inherited Belle Meade Plantation in 1839 and enlarged the mansion and the estate into a 5,400-acre plantation with
136 enslaved people. Racing and breeding operations came to a halt in the South with the onset of the Civil War but the plantation was able to survive during the war.
After the Civil War, Harding resumed his successful horse operations, though as a result of the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 there was a reduced workforce. Of the 136 slaves living on the plantation prior to the war, only 72 workers chose to take employment with William Harding, though most lived off the property.
In 1868, his daughter Selene Harding married Confederate States Army General Williams Hicks Jackson on the one condition that the couple stay at Belle Meade following their marriage.
Selene managed the household affairs and Jackson co-managed the farm with his father in law. In 1875,
Harding and Jackson decided to focus exclusively on breeding, turning the plantation into an internationally renowned Thoroughbred farm and showplace.
Belle Meade had many successful studs, including Bonnie Scotland and Enquirer, whose bloodlines still dominate modern racing. Jackson brought Belle Meade international fame by purchasing Iroquois in 1886 to stand at stud, becoming the leading sire of 1892. In 1881, Iroquois had been the first American-bred Thoroughbred race horse to win the prestigious Epsom Derby in England..
Following William Jackson’s death in 1903, and that of his son later the same year, it was decided to sell the plantation as a result of years of adverse financial conditions. A business syndicate called The Belle Meade Land Company purchased the plantation and developed the residential neighborhood of Belle Meade.
The mansion had a series of successive owners, and remained a private residence until 1953, when the State of Tennessee purchased the mansion and eight outbuildings on 30 acres. The state in turn deeded the property to the Association for the Preservation of Tennessee Antiquities.
We toured the Mansion, Smoke House, Carriage House and other building on the property. There is also a winery making wine from local grapes as well as from juice shipped in from California and Washington.
An aura of Victorian elegance and family business of a plantation has been preserved by the APTA and a “catalog” of Tennessee thoroughbreds adorns the mansion walls to this day. Southern magnolias adorn the grounds and southern hospitality is preserved as surely as the gold tempered red panes of glass over the entrance to Belle Meade.
Saturday we decided to go to the Ryman Auditorium and then to the Country Music Hall of Fame Museum. Two different events in one day! Fortunately they were only a few blocks apart and while the Ryman is filled with history, it wouldn’t take long to tour. Arriving for our self guided tour shortly after it opened, it is clear this is a special place. As a result of a tent revival experience, Thomas G. Ryman, captain of several riverboats and a well to do man in Nashville, decided to build a permanent structure for the Union Gospel Tabernacle.
This was to be places were all people could gather and worship – along with be entertained. Upon his death in 1904 it was renamed the Ryman Auditorium. Over the next 20 years or so, the Auditorium limped along until Lala C. Naff took the help and started booking various acts.
It wasn’t very long before she had made a repetition of bring quality entertainment to the Nashville community. In June of 1943, the radio show The Grande Ole Opry moved in to do it’s weekly broadcast both providing a steady income stream and making the Ryman a household name across the country.
When you walk through the doors of the historic Ryman Auditorium, one thing becomes clear right away: this isn’t just another nightly music venue, and it’s so much more than a daytime tourist stop. This place is hallowed ground. This is the exact spot where bluegrass was born,
where Johnny Cash met June Carter, where souls were saved and a slice of history was nearly lost. It was right here that country music found an audience beyond its own back porch, and countless careers took off as deals were signed on napkins and paper scraps backstage.
Showing it’s age,
it was closed and the Grand Ole Opry House was opened across town and the doors closed. It was saved from the wrecking ball and restored 2012 and brought back into prominence with performances again.
After the Ryman, we walked the several blocks to The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
Chartered in 1964, the museum has amassed one of the world’s most extensive musical collections. As the collection continued to grow, a new building was opened in 2001 to house the collection and make it more accessible to the public. In the museum’s core exhibition, Sing Me Back Home: A Journey Through Country Music, we were immersed in the history and sounds of country music, its origins and traditions, and the stories and voices of many of its architects. The story is revealed through artifacts, photographs, and text panels, recorded sound, vintage video, and interactive touchscreens.
Just as we got off the elevator, on the 3rd floor, was an entire section dedicated to Loretta Lynn.
Starting from her early Kentucky years through a west coast pathway to stardom, it was a huge collection of things – dresses, sheet music, notes, photographs, musical instruments – lots and lots of stuff. It was an interesting introduction to the life of one of Countries’ most memorable performers.
From there we wondered around learning more about Country Music then you could ever want! Displays of the early pioneers of the music to modern day were represented. Many with displays of special clothing designed by Nudie Cohn plus the
1962 Pontiac Bonneville convertible that he customized for Webb Pierce. Elvis Presley’s 1960 Solid Gold” Cadillac limousine was also on display. With hundreds of historic musical instruments, including Maybelle Carter’s Gibson L-5, Earl Scrugge’s banjo, Bob Wills’s fiddle and Bill Monroe’s mandolin
there were things everywhere.
The audio tour was well worth the extra cost and we spent the better part of 3 hours touring the building. It was well worth the time and effort to visit.
I have realized, after all these years, that from time to time I need to take Janeen to a garden very so often. So after heading out after or Jim Beam adventure we made for Nashville and the Cheekwood Estate & Gardens.
Once the family home of Mabel and Leslie Cheek, this extraordinary 1930s estate, with its Georgian mansion and 55 acres of cultivated gardens and expansive vistas, today serves the public as a botanic garden, woodland sculpture trail, and art museum.
After getting parked, we starting walking around first visiting the Trains – this exhibit was wonderful – an enchanted woodland theme with fairies and waterfalls, miniature worlds and trains running throughout the exhibit!
Certainly puts a smile on your face as one person said as we walked towards it. From the Herb Garden.
Herb Gardens are of course Janeen’s favorite having spent 5 or 6 year as a docent in the Herb Garden at the Huntington Library.
It was a nice display, not a lot of plants as compared to the Huntington, but well presented. This garden displays herbal plants that can be grown in Middle Tennessee. There are plants to touch and smell, to use for cooking, fragrance, dyes, fibers, and cosmetics. Next up was the Dogwood Garden.
Unfortunately the dogwood plants were past the bloom but one could certainly imagine how it might have looked just a few short weeks ago.
As we continued our walk we ended up at the main house just as a docent lead tour was starting. The origin of Cheekwood, as a concept, is traced to a family story involving Mabel Cheek making sure her husband, Leslie Cheek, Sr., kept his word to build a bigger house that could hold a gilt mirror, too tall for their current home in the 1920s. Cheek allegedly told his wife, “I suppose we will have to either sell the mirror or a build a house to fit it in.”
After reciting these options, the couple set out to combine their tastes, interests, and family names “Cheek” and “Wood,” the maiden name of Mabel Cheek, into the design of a grand estate, to be called “Cheekwood.”
Just like William Randolph Hearst did when building Hearst Castle in California, they went to Europe with buckets of cash and bought stuff – furniture, pieces of building (doors, stair cases, fire places – you name it and they bought it), art and everything they could think of.
This ended up being part of their new home.
The house was completed in about 1933 and lived in until around 1957 when the family donated the entire estate to the City of Nashville resulting in a wonderful place to visit.
Bourbon – Whiskey – stuff made in Kentucky that people drink a lot – that was the mission today. First stop, Jim Beam Distillery
for a tour and tasting. Located just off interstate 65 south of Louisville is the place where they make a LOT of this bourbon. Our tour started at 9:30 and lasted about 90 minutes. They have been making whiskey since 1795 – ok, there was a break because of that stupid law in the 20’s – but basically continuously for over 200 years.
Here’s the deal, we are not bourbon drinkers – scotch is more to our liking. However, the process is really very similar. Start with a “secret” mix of corn, rye and barley malt
– add some Kentucky water and let it ferment for a while. The natural yeast of the barley creates the fermentation lasting several days.
Once complete, the mix tastes like a rich beer. This beer travels into a 65-foot tall column still. Heated to about 200 degrees – enough to turn the alcohol into a vapor but not so hot that the beer boils. The vapor then turns back into a liquid. This resulting “low wine” is about 125 proof. From the column till, the low wine flows into a ‘doubler’, similar to a pot still, for a second distillation. When the vapor condenses into what’s then called “high wine” it’s less then 160 proof.
After distilling, the high wine is put into brand new charred oak barrels – always new and always American oak. The oak barrels are toasted to what is called an “alligator char” that is they are fired enough that the insides take on the scaly, bumpy look of a gator’s skin.
The law in Kentucky says you have to age in barrel for 2 years.
The basic “white label” Jim Beam that is sold worldwide gets aged for four years. Some barrels become ‘special’ and age longer resulting in different blends and labels and of course a price impact.
During the tour there was an opportunity to create your own bottle – well, not really, you got to “rinse” the bottle,
put it on the line for filling and then once filled and the wax installed you got to personalize the wax. This was on the single barrel line of the Knob Creek Bourbon. Needless to say I did this.
After our tour through the both the small batch processing buildings and through a portion of the big building we ended up in the tasting room where we sampled three different products.
Janeen and I sampled several
but decided the one we liked was Baker’s. This is not for the faint of heart for sure, as it is 107 proof and according to our guide, Olivia, most like a scotch. This is small batch bourbon and aged 7 years. It is named after the grandnephew of Jim Beam. Janeen also liked the Basil Hayden’s another small batch bourbon. Both of these could find it’s way into our drink glasses.
Just down the road from Jim Beam is Forest Edge Winery.
Sure, wine in Kentucky you say.
Well big surprise, they IMPORT all of the grapes from California, Washington and New York in refrigerated trucks. Wine was OK – nothing really special although we did pick up a bottle of the Rose for later consumption.
While at Forest Edge, we asked the guy in the tasting room, Josh, where else we might visit. He suggested stopping at Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest
just down the road. We did, drove around the area and enjoyed the lovely forest, plantings and
wild life. Founded by a German immigrant, Isacc Bernheim,
the place as been around for a while resulting in a 600-acre arboretum with over 8,000 varieties of trees, shrubs and other plantings.
It was a nice break in the otherwise world of alcohol.
Today we headed out of Cincinnati towards Maysville Kentucky. My dad grew up in Maysville along with his brother and adopted sister until he went to the University of Kentucky and then to the US Naval Academy and never really went back except to visit. Along our way we drove through Ripley Ohio, where my dad was born, and then over the Ohio River to Maysville.
Maysville, located along the banks of the Ohio River, might be the County Seat (Mason County) but it still only has maybe 9,000 residents and I’m sure it was even smaller when my dad was growing up. Along the banks of the River there is a 10 or 15 foot wall built to protect the downtown area from flooding – which it has been know to do over time.
On the edge of the outer Bluegrass Region, Maysville is historically important in Kentucky’s settlement. Frontiersmen Simon Kenton and Daniel Boone are among the city’s founders. Later, Maysville became an important port on the Ohio River for the northeastern part of the state. It exported bourbon, whiskey, hemp and tobacco, the latter two produced mainly by African American salves before the Civil War. It was once a center of wrought iron manufacture, sending ironwork down river to decorate the buildings of Cincinnati, and New Orleans.
Maysville was an important stop on the Underground Railroad, as the free state of Ohiowas just across the river. Abolitionist author Harriet Beecher Stowe visited the area in 1833 and watched a slave auction in front of the court house in Washington, the original seat of the county and now a historic district of Maysville. She included the scene in her influential novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, published in 1852.
One of the most famous people from Maysville, at least in more modern times, is Rosemary Clooney – you know, George Clooney’s Aunt?
They hold a music festival founded by the singer at the local theatre and have the greats like Debby Boone, Rita Coolidge, Michael Feinstein, Roberta Flack, Alison Krauss, The Pointer Sisters, Michael Bolton and Linda Ronstadt have performed.
We stopped at Parc Café with a signpost
indicating the distance to Athens, Versailles, Paris and London all located along the river in Ohio and Kentucky! Fascinating world we live in.
After lunch we drove out to the ancestral home, Leewood.
My grandmother took Janeen and I to this place when we visited and mentioned that the balcony between the twin chimneys was a spot from which the owners fought off an attack from the Indians. The house and land was purchased in the late 1700 by General Henry Lee
and was held in the family for an extended time. On the hill behind the house is the family gravesites with a number of my ancestors are buried with their families.
Many of the graves are unreadable – but some are still very clear.
After visiting Leewood, we drove further along to Versailles , thoroughbred horse country ,to meet up with my cousin,
Bonnie, who I have never met! It was neat to meet my dad’s sister’s daughter and her husband Frank.
On Monday we left Macomb and started our journey towards Savannah Georgia. Our first stop was in Cincinnati where we decided to spend a full day just enjoying the sites along the Ohio River. After a night at the hotel, on Tuesday we headed out to discover the Riverfront Park. On the way, however, we find The Theodore M. Berry International Friendship Park.
This park was completed in 2003 along the Ohio River just east of downtown, and is has a number of sculptures and flora representing five continents and also featuring a riverside bike trail and walking paths.
Named for Cincinnati’s first African-American mayor, it serves as a lasting tribute to world unity and global understanding. The design of the park drew its inspiration in part from a child’s friendship bracelet. Two intertwining walkways guide park visitors through gardens of the continents in a perpetual celebration of international peace and friendship.
It was a nice start for our day.
From there we went further along the River and parked across the street from the Smale Riverfront Park Opened in 2012 this park features a number of play areas, water features, walking paths, adult porch sized swings with great views of the river and Kentucky on the other side and a Labyrith.
This delightful park has a variety of sections with lovely flowers, water features, play and exercise areas and generally a nice way to spend some time along the river.
Over the river, is the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge that looks a lot like the Brooklyn Bridge in NYC. Built in 1866 it links Kentucky with Ohio.
A neat feature of the Park is the worlds largest Chime Foot Piano. This one-of-a-kind structure was designed and built by Cincinnati’s Verdin Company. Sensors under the piano keys electronically cause the strikes at the top of the structure to ring the chimes. Janeen had a good time tapping out a tune.
After playing in the Park, we headed out for some lunch and a brew. Finding our way to Moerlein Lager House we had a wonderful lunch, a few brews and great views of the Ohio River. It was hard to leave this lovely spot but we felt a walk would be a good idea and headed off to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.
The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is based on the history of the Underground Railroad. Opened in 2004, the Center also pays tribute to all efforts to “abolish human enslavement and secure freedom for all people”.
The center’s principal artifact is a 21 by 30 foot, two-story log slave pen built in 1830. By 2003, it was “the only known surviving rural slave jail,” previously used to house slaves prior to their being shipped to auction. The structure was moved from a farm in Mason County, Kentucky, where a tobacco barn had been built around it.
Throughout the Museum are various displays and artifacts focused on slavery and the fight the struggles of slaves to reach freedom. Several films were presented depicting various portions of the struggle.
A well built place with lots of history to discover.