Berkeley Plantation

This is one of my favorite adventures that we’ve taken. We visited Berkeley Plantation in Charles City, Virginia. Charles City is near Richmond, and is about 1.5 hours south of Northern Virginia. It isn’t far off of I-95, and was an easy drive.

My ancestors first came to Virginia in the 1600s, and settled in Charles City, so this trip was especially exciting for this genealogy nerd!

First, a quick history of Berkeley.

The Good Ship Margaret departed England on September 16, 1619, and arrived at Berkeley on December 4, 1619. It is believed that on the day of their arrival, the first true Thanksgiving took place in the New World.  

President Kennedy acknowledged this.

The White House mended its ways. President Kennedy’s next Thanksgiving Proclamation on November 5, 1963, stated that “Over three centuries ago, our forefathers in Virginia and Massachusetts, far from home, in a lonely wilderness set aside a time of Thanksgiving. They gave thanks for their safety, the health of their children, the fertility of their fields, for the love which bound them together and for the faith which united them with their God.” Finally, Virginia was given its rightful recognition and place in history! To put this in historical perspective, Kennedy was assassinated, in Dallas, just 18 days later.

Berkeley Plantation

Berkeley Plantation was purchased in 1691 by Benjamin Harrison III. His son, Benjamin Harrison IV, built the mansion.

There is a round date stone carved above a side door that has the intials B for Benjamin, A for his wife Anne – with a heart between the two initials, and the date 1726 for the year the house was built.

Sadly, Benjamin IV and one of his daughters were killed in 1745 when they were closing a window during a storm, and were struck by lightning. (There is confusion over whether one or two daughters were killed. Most accounts say that his two youngest, which would be Lucy and Hannah, died that night. However, Lucy went on to marry and move to England. There is no record of Hannah after 1745, and no record of another younger daughter that could have been lost that night.)

While waiting for our tour to begin we explored a nearby building that houses a family chart, various other documents, and a video about the filming of the movie Harriet at Berkeley. There are also restrooms within the building.

Shane was our tour guide, and he was excellent. He allowed the boys to handle a replica gun from the time period, before using it to demonstrate for us.

Once the initial presentation was over, we moved toward the main house. The first thing we learned about was the damage that a cannon did to the outside of the home during the Civil War, which can still be seen.

Photography is not allowed inside of the house, so unfortunately no pictures from there. The inside of the home is beautiful however, and I highly recommend taking a tour to see it for yourself.

Shane was very knowledgeable about the home and grounds. We learned that they had discovered much underground near the home as well.

This home has seen so much history. Benjamin V, son of the builder of Berkeley, was an original signer of the Declaration of Independence. During the Revolutionary War, the British went looking for anyone in the area who was fighting for independence, and most of the homes in the area were destroyed. Berkeley was spared because Benedict Arnold was convinced he and the British would win the war, and he wanted to come back and claim Berkeley as his own after their victory.

Benjamin V’s youngest son, William Henry Harrison, became the ninth president of the United States. He was born at Berkeley.

Civil War battles were fought on the grounds of the plantation. TAPS was composed here.

There is much to do on the property, and we only did some of it. I’m looking forward to going back to learn more! Tammy with American History for Travelers has an excellent post about Berkeley with much more information.

Berkeley Plantation has a well shaded on site parking lot. The visitor’s center where you can purchase tickets and souvenirs is a short walk from the parking area. The house is two stories, plus a basement entered from outside steps. The basement was a prison during the Civil War and has lots of history as well!

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Braehead Farm

In June, the boys and I took a drive down to Fredericksburg to visit Braehead Farm, a family owned farm and market that dates back to 1937.

Braehead offers Pick Your Own (PYO) produce April through November. They also have a market where you can purchase pre-picked produce, as well as other items such a dairy products, meat and seafood, eggs, prepared food items, jams, etc. When we arrived at the market, an employee told me that everything, outside of the dairy items, are Virginia products. They also have a Lunch Kitchen, and ice cream.

We didn’t pick any produce the day that we went. Instead, we went to play in their play area and meet some animals! $5 per person (including adults), gives you access to a large open area with several different animals – horses, goats, alpacas, and free range chickens. There are several play structures. Plenty of room for kids to climb, swing, play in sand, and play with outdoor toys.

Masks are required when in the market, but not when outside in the play area. We went mid-week, and mid-morning, and though there were many other people there, I felt that there was plenty of room to keep a distance from others if desired.

We do plan to go back in the fall when it’s not as hot to try out their PYO produce. What I loved about what I saw of the fields is that they are close to the parking area. No getting on a hay wagon to be carted out to the field (hello allergies!). You simply pick up a bucket by the market, and walk out to the crops (see Braehead’s webpage for PYO procedures).

Some other details:

Parking is free, and is near the market/play area/field.

I saw a few picnic tables outside of the play area, and several within it.

It is free to PYO, you only pay for what you pick.

I don’t know if there were bathrooms inside the market, but there were porta potties outside the play area.

The market and play areas were both stroller friendly.

The chickens are super friendly and will walk right up to you.

There is a lot of shade in the play area.

A Pandemic Update

The last time I posted was in early February, about a month before the whole world changed. At that time, the boys and I were just getting back into the swing of homeschooling after the holidays. I was looking forward to CL’s early February birthday (my baby turned 14!). We were enjoying church every Sunday. We were looking forward to new classes, and upcoming spring field trips. The gloomy days of February were trying at times, but knowing that soon it would be Spring, and time for outdoor activities and trips, made it bearable.

Then mid March happened. Suddenly, all homeschool classes were canceled. Our parks and libraries closed. No movie theaters, restaurant lunches, or field trips.

I felt very fortunate to be a homeschooler. I watched my friends on Facebook who have kids in public school struggle to find a new routine. Struggle to teach their children after being thrust into that position without any warning. Though losing our outside classes, field trips, and visits with friends was extremely hard, school went on like normal, and that felt like a gift.

We dove into schooling, though I did cut back on some subjects. We continued with Gather ‘Round, and eventually moved from Europe to Earth Science. I scrambled to buy things to keep the kids occupied at home. Sidewalk chalk, squirt guns, and a second tree swing so LL and LW didn’t have to fight over the one we already had. I dusted off board games that had sat untouched for many (many) months.

The boys all handled the change very well. LW actually thrived through it. He discovered a love for being outside, and spent many hours on the trampoline or swing. Over and over he told me how much he loved being at home, and not having to run around as much.

School is over for us. We didn’t quite finish most subjects, but that’s ok. At some point you have to say “DONE” and take a break. I am proud of us for completing as much as we did, considering what all has been going on. CL and I will continue reading through his history book this summer, but that’s something we both enjoy. School will start for us again in early August. Earlier than we usually do, but with the lack of our usual summer activities (our pool isn’t opening this year), it feels like the right choice. It will give us some wiggle room for the upcoming school year, and allow us to be done in early May next year.

James Monroe’s Highland

Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello has been on my to do list for quite some time. A few months ago though, I learned about another presidential home in Virginia that I didn’t know about – James Monroe’s Highland. The drive out there from Northern Virginia was pleasant, and took about 1.5 hours.

Upon arriving at Highland, you park, and then take a short walk up a small hill to the welcome area. We went on homeschool day, and were greeted by employees that checked us in, and gave us a map.

They offer tours of the house. The house itself is not large, and other than a few steps to go up into the house, and a few more steps toward the end of the tour, it’s all on one level.

Photography is allowed on the grounds, but not inside the house. The house was not the one that the Monroe’s lived in. It was their guest house, built during Monroe’s presidency. The house has several rooms, and is furnished with personal items that belonged to the Monroe’s. One thing I loved about this tour was that when you are in a room, you are right there with the items. No peering through roped off doorways, furnishings weren’t behind ropes or glass.

The rest of the grounds offer other opportunities, such as trails and farm animals. There is a gift shop with a few snack items, and bathrooms.

Visiting Luray Caverns

We had two fun field trips in November. One was Luray Caverns. It was about a 1.5 hour drive from our home in Northern Virginia. The drive itself is pretty easy, though if you’re not used to driving in mountain areas (I’m not!), it can take a little getting used to.

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When you arrive at Luray, you will enter a large parking lot. The parking lot is bordered with a strip of small buildings. A cafe, gift shop, car and carriage museum, and an ice cream/candy shop. There is also a ropes course.

Tickets are purchased in the gift shop attached to the museum, and from there you make your way to the main building. After walking through another gift shop, you end up at the line for the cavern. The day we went was homeschool day, and there were also several school groups. Because of this, they didn’t offer guided tours, but my understanding is that they normally do offer them.

Once they let you in for the tour, you walk down a fairly long, paved and under cover, ramp. At the bottom of the ramp is the caverns entrance. Though they didn’t offer guided tours, they still had employees at certain stops through the cavern to give information.

Some “pro tips” for a visit to Luray Caverns.

  • The temperature is low, about 54*, BUT, the humidity is high, and it feels more like the mid 60s. I was hot by the time we left there. I would advise dressing in light layers.
  • Luray’s website says that a small stroller is best, and I agree. However, if you can go stroller free, I would try. Though the path is paved, there are a few sections with very steep hills. While in the cavern, you’re basically walking up a large hill, and then back down it to leave. There are also a few places where the path is quite narrow.
  • The paths can be a little slippery at times, don’t be rushed.
  • The school groups can be very overwhelming. We tried to hang back at some points, and then get ahead of them at others, but we kept getting swept up into a large class. I would try and go on a day when guided tours are being offered, and avoid the larger groups.
  • There is a gas station on the caverns grounds. We didn’t need to use it, but I thought that was a nice touch.
  • You can take all the pictures you want, but don’t touch the formations!

On Adding a Puppy

My sweet boy, Rosco

This past July, we had to say goodbye to Rosco, our nearly 16 year old Australian Cattle Dog. My husband and I adopted him as an eight week old puppy. He was here to welcome our three boys to the family. He went on numerous vacations and road trips with us. As a heeler, he was literally with me every second of the day. And if I dared go into the bathroom and close the door without him, he was waiting to greet me when I came back out. Losing him was HARD. His last several months were also hard, as he had lost the use of his back legs. We did everything that we could for him, but in late July, we knew it was time to let him go.

Our new baby, Dozer

It’s hard to know when you’re ready to accept a new pet into the home after losing one that you love so much. I spent several weeks after Rosco’s passing in tears. I couldn’t sleep. It’s been 3 months, and I still miss him terribly. You never want to feel like you’re replacing a beloved animal. I don’t see it as replacing – a living thing that was loved so much could never be replaced. To me it’s moving to the next chapter. Continuing that love. I truly think that Rosco would want us to. I truly think that he would want us to bring in another protector for our family. Another sweet dog to be here for us, to continue the hard work and love that he gave us.

So about a month after we lost Rosco, we adopted Dozer. Adding him to our family has been challenging at times, but so worth it. The boys are learning how to care for a pet. They’re learning responsibility. They’re learning how important it is to keep toys picked up and hidden away from a puppy 😉

Neabsco Creek Boardwalk

Recently, we decided to visit a new nature trail in our area, the Neabsco Creek Boardwalk. The board walk has two entrances, one by Leesylvania Park, and another by Rippon Lodge. I had been told that the Leesylvania entrance is short on parking, so we headed for the Rippon entrance.

This entrance boasts a large parking lot, a playground, pavilion, and a couple porta-potties.

There is a wide paved trail that begins at the parking lot, and leads you to the Board Walk entrance. The board walk entrance has a couple of benches, and beautiful views.Most of the boardwalk is over water, and has a hand rail bordering it. A few spots are lower, and I believe over land.The board walk is 3/4 of a mile long. There are some benches along the way, but not a lot. The walkway is perfect for little ones and strollers. Be sure to wear sun protection and bring water! There isn’t any shade other than at either end of the walkway.

We unfortunately didn’t see much wildlife. We did spot a crane, and either a snake, large lizard, or alligator (kidding, no gators here, but the kids were hopeful) hanging out just below the surface of the water.

Pine Knoll Shores Aquarium

While on our trip to Emerald Isle, NC in November we took a trip to the local Pine Knoll Shores Aquarium. It wasn’t our first time visiting, we tend to go every 2-3 years while on vacation. However, this was the first time going during the off season, and it was a completely different experience compared to the crowds that we’re used to during our summer visits. It wasn’t empty, but it was a low enough crowd that we were able to really spend time at the exhibits, and even had a chance to talk with some of the aquarium workers about the sea life.

Tickets for the aquarium run at about $13 for adults, $12 for seniors and military, and $11 for kids ages 3-12. 2 and under, along with NC aquarium society members, are free.

I would consider this to be a “smaller” aquarium, but there are still plenty of exhibits, including an outdoor area. Our favorite exhibits were the otters, large tank with sharks, and stingrays.

The stingray tank is open on the top, and the stingrays appear to enjoy being touched. They will often swim up to people standing around the tank. All three of my guys were brave enough to put their hands in the water and pet the rays as they swam by. I even worked up the courage after watching for awhile 😉

The aquarium is stroller friendly, and is all on one floor. The outside exhibit area is a wooden walkway. Beware as you walk in, someone will be ready to take your picture in front of a green screen. As you’re leaving, they will have pictures ready to sell to you of our kids/family posed in front of sharks, otters, etc. I find them to be very pricey, and you can get even better pictures of your kiddos at the different exhibits with your own camera.

Fort Macon North Carolina

This past November we were blessed with a trip to the beach, for most of the month. It was just warm enough to go to the beach most days. We did have a couple rainy days, a couple really cold days, and one really wild day where a tornado touched down a few houses from us. But for the most part, we had beautiful weather and were able to enjoy the local sights.

We brought our school work with us, and did school most days. There were a couple of days where we went on field trips instead of hitting the books.

Our first field trip was to Fort Macon State Park. Fort Macon is a Civil War era fort that has been restored, and is now a source of both education and recreation in the Bogue Banks area. We were there during the off season, but visitors can even swim along the shoreline. We were also there not long after Hurricane Florence came through, and many of the exhibit rooms were closed due to flood damage.

There is no admission fee to the fort or surrounding parks. There aren’t any concession stands or places to eat, but you can bring a packed lunch. There is a gift shop that has a small selection of bottled drinks and snacks.

The fort is stroller friendly. There is an upper level of the fort that can be accessed by stairs, but there is also a way to get to the upper level without using the stairs, as you enter the fort area. Beware though, there are several large drop offs, including staircases, in the main walking area. They were not enclosed.

Stairs of Doom

Outside of the fort, there are trails that can be walked. We stuck with the shorter one, which led down a sandy path to the beach area.

I would highly recommend Fort Macon to anyone visiting the Emerald Isle area of North Carolina. It’s a beautiful, inexpensive, way to spend a day learning local history and ecology.