April 2016 – Appamatox, Virginia

The trip north from Mt. Airy, North Carolina into Virginia was over 3 hours, however, most of the trip was along Interstates so we had rest areas to stop at.  We have found that we like to travel no more than 2 hours when we are pulling the RV before stopping at least at a rest area or Walmart parking lot.  Therefore, most of our trips are 80-120 miles between campgrounds, unless we are traveling on Interstates where we know there will be rest areas.  I had wanted to stop again near Appamatox and Lynchburg as there was a National Park in the area that we had missed last fall.  As you may know, I have pinned the location of a lot of campgrounds throughout the US in Google Earth along with the locations of all the National Parks, state parks, and National Landmarks to use to plan our trip.  As we visit different points of interest or stay at specific campgrounds, I change the pin on the location to indicate we had already been there.  Although it is not a requirement, I try to select campgrounds that we have not visited before, which is usually not a problem since we are not traveling to the same locations.  Therefore, I picked Paradise Lake Family Campground due to its proximity to Appamatox.  It was not until we were traveling down US 460 approaching the campground that Kal asked if we were heading to the same campground we stayed at in the fall.  It turns out she was right as I realized when we turned off of US 460.  I somehow had forgot to change the symbol in Google Earth and we were back again.  For those of you that have read these blogs over the past 6 months, you might recall the story of getting stuck at a campground waiting for a new switch to be delivered so we could raise the landing pads on the RV.  This was the same campground and we were even put onto the same exact site!!  As we learned later in the week after it began raining, this was also the campground where we tracked in the red clay into the RV that took a while to get cleaned out.  In any case, it is a nice campground and we enjoyed another week there.


Especially since the weather forecast was for storms by the weekend, we immediately headed out on Tuesday to the National Park we had missed last fall, Partick Henry’s home Red Hill.  Upon reflection, I recall why we had missed it.  In the first place, there was enough to see in the area with Appamatox Courthouse and the nearby Blue Ridge Parkway that we were working on completing.  In addition, Red Hill is a National Memorial and is affiliated with the National Parks, but is actually owned and operated by a private foundation.  Irregardless I am glad we came back into the area as it was well worth seeing.  On a Tuesday in late April, we were just about the only visitors and therefore had the staff all to ourselves.  Our “tour guide” could not have nicer and we enjoyed talking with her about Patrick Henry, of which we knew a little more than the average visitor, but still not nearly as much as she did.  Along with their short video, we learned a lot about Patrick Henry, one of the founding fathers, and how he ended up at Red Hill at the end of his career.  I am sure everyone is aware of his most famous speech leading up to the Revolutionary War where he declared “Give me liberty or give me death” in opposition to the Stamp Act.  However, since he never served public office at the national level, turning down appointments to Secretary of State, the Supreme Court, and minister to Spain and France, his role in our Independence has largely been forgotten.  Patrick Henry was the first elected governor of Virginia where he served five terms during and after the Revolutionary War.  He was a strong supporter of General Washington and the Continental Army during the war.  He was one of the drafters of the first Virginia Constitution which was one of the primary models used for the US Constitution, in particular the Bill of Rights which largely was part of the Virginia Constitution.  Patrick Henry argued for the inclusion of the Bill of Rights before adopting the US Constitution.  We learned that Patrick Henry was always a strong advocate of individual rights and was a modest lawyer.  He owned some 12 homes, none of which would be considered a mansion along the lines of other founding fathers.  Red Hill was the last home he owned when he retired from public life.  Originally it was a very small home of around 400 feet in 1.5 stories and a single room.  Along with his extended family this was the home for up to 20 family members at a time.  Since his death the home had been expanded on multiple times, but the foundation had restored it to its condition at the time of Patrick Henry.  Although they did made a mistake including two small wings on either side of the main house that were later additions.  One of the more interesting features was the huge Osage Orange tree in front of the house which dates from the time of Patrick Henry, under which he would play the violin with his grandchildren around him.  The tree is absolutely massive today and still quite healthy although it is now over 300 years old and outside of its native range of Missouri and the plains.  We also spent time walking the grounds and admiring the view of the fields leading down to the river where there is suppose to be the old whistle stop for the railroad (obviously long after Patrick Henry) and the docks on the river used to transport the tobacco crops.  Unfortunately the trails leading to these points of interest was still under construction by the foundation so we could not visit them.  However, I did take the trail down to the slave cemetery, which was a little steep the last 500 feet, so Kal decided to just stay in the truck.  I was impressed with the number of gravestones at the cemetery, which in my experience is unusual for a slave cemetery.  We did visit the gravestone of Patrick Henry, his wife, and other family members on the property up closer to the house.

As predicted the weather turned nasty by Wednesday with periods of rain throughout the day and on Thursday as well.  Therefore we stayed in the campground, did the usual laundry and cleaning of the RV.

By Friday the weather had cleared up with more rain predicted for the weekend, so we decided this was going to be our best opportunity to visit another location we happened to see a sign for on US 460 on our drive in to the campgrounds.  This turned out to be a great find, as I am glad we got to see it.  Years ago we visited Monticello in Charlottesvile, which is Tomas Jefferson’s home, but I don’t recall anything about Poplar Forest near Lynchburg.  I knew that Thomas Jefferson had owned numerous plantations in Virginia, but was not aware of this special location.  Thomas Jefferson inherited this property when his father-in-law died while still a young man.  For years he continued to operate the property as a working tobacco farm visiting the property only rarely.  The only time of note was during the Revolutionary War when he was warned that the British intended to arrest him in 1781 and he moved his family to the overseer’s house on the property for a period of time.  Beginning in 1805, during his Presidency, Thomas Jefferson made plans to construct a large octagonal house in the European style as a country home during his retirement.  At the same time he was planning and constructing the original buildings at the University of Virginia.  It took many years to complete, but when finished it was certainly a show place, although it was used exclusively by Thomas Jefferson and his family.  He made trips 3-4 times a year, often with just some of his grandchildren, to Poplar Forest where he oversaw the continuing construction and operation of the plantation.  After his death Poplar Forest was given to his grandson Francis Eppes, although most of the land had to be sold to pay off the debts of the estate.  Francis only lived there for two years before selling the home and moving to Florida.  Over the years since then, the property went through many changes, especially when everything but the bricks burned in 1845.  Today it is being restored to its original plans, of which they have a lot of evidence left by Thomas Jefferson.  The first impression of the house as you come up the drive towards the crest of the hill is truly impressive.  Here is this massive 8 sided house situated on the top of the hill.  To the east side of the house is a series of servant areas consisting of the kitchen, laundry, smokehouse, and storage rooms.  There were plans for a west wing as well, but these were never constructed.  Instead there are trees and shrubs planted extending to a large mound of earth.  There is another mound at the end of the servant areas to the east as well.  These mounds were the back fill created by the slaves in digging out the sunken lawn extending behind the house.  Thomas Jefferson actually paid the slaves to do this digging as it was to be done after they had completed a long day in the fields.  Finally, on the outside of each of the mounds are small octagonal brick structures that look like guard posts.  Actually, they turned out to be private privies to be used by Jefferson and his family!!  I strongly suggest taking the house tour, which does cost $15 each, but this supports the restoration efforts of the foundation.  With this tour you gain access to the main level of the house which is laid out in a unique way.  On either side of the front portico are two small rooms that they believe were primarily for storage.  Around the outside there are then two large bedrooms on the east and west side of the house.  Thomas’s bedroom was on the west end and would have had large bed in the center of the room, similar to his bedroom in Monticello.  The other bedroom would be for his grandchildren or other family members that traveled with him.  At the back was a large portico that would resemble a patio overlooking the sunken lawn when all the windows were opened.  The center of the house was perfectly square dining room.  Along with the the many large windows in each of the rooms and the large skylight in the dining room, the natural lighting in the house was spectacular!  It was also obvious that they were still in the process of restoring the interior, as all of the rooms still were to be painted and the cornices around the top of each room were still being made.  Still it was an impressive and innovative home for its time and stands as a testament to the architectural talents on Thomas Jefferson.  Following the home tour we stuck around for a second tour that focused on the slaves.  We learned quite a bit about the lives of the slaves at Poplar Forest with stop at both the kitchen, laundry, and the only slave community they have been able to locate so far.  It is likely that most of the slave communities were located adjacent to the fields and today are under residential houses.

Saturday we spent in the campground watching the weather which was supposed to turn nasty.  Saturday turned out to be a beautiful day and I am sorry we did not get out and do anything.  However, Sunday did turn nasty especially in the evening.  A very nasty thunderstorm was coming our way from West Virginia and by 10:45 we were under a severe thunderstorm warning from a storm with a history of 60+ mph wind gusts and quarter sized hail.  We packed up the computer and walked over to the restroom shelter to wait out the storm, which was not as bad as predicted.  The wind finally picked up around 11:10 and it began to rain hard, but we never saw any hail.  In fact, about the time it started to rain they canceled the severe thunderstorm warning as the storm had weakened.  Thank goodness!!  I dread the day we get caught in a hail storm.  I hate to think of the damage quarter sized or larger hail would do the rubber roof of the RV!!  However, we were lucky again and all is good.