Sunday, June 29, 2014

Hungry Mother State Park, Marion, VA

Our next adventure will take us to Hungry Mother State Park in Marion, VA.  We will be staying in a cabin built by the CCC in 1933.  We will be using the park as a base for exploring Southwest Virginia.  Some of the areas we will explore include Mt. Rodgers National Recreation Area, Grayson Highlands State Park, Abingdon.  Perhaps we will have time to take in Galax.  With luck, we will get in some light hiking and lots of photography.  Weather looks typical for the Virginia Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains.  Afternoon rain storms, warm and humid.  However, it should be cooler there than in Richmond.  Perhaps we'll be blessed with a breeze or two.

Here's a map!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Day In Washington: Library of Congress

This is the second of three posts covering our day trip to Washington DC.  The Library of Congress is four blocks south from Union Station, an easy walk.  It is adjacent to the US Supreme Court and across the street from the US Capitol Building.

The Library of Congress was created in 1800 by an act of the United States Congress.  Shortly thereafter, 740 books were purchased with $5,000 from publishers in London and housed in the Capitol Building.  When British soldiers set fire to the Capitol in 1814 during the War of 1812 , the Library and its 3,000 books were destroyed.  A month later, Thomas Jefferson offered his collection of 6,487 books to the US Government for $23,950 to pay his debts.  His collection became the basis of the new Library of Congress.  However, a second fire in 1851 destroyed 35,000 books including two thirds of Jefferson's collection.  The library was left with 20,000 books including the remaining 2,000 of Jefferson's books.

In 1998, the Library began acquiring replacements for Jefferson's books.  10 years later, the Library of Congress had replaced all but 300 of Jefferson's books!  While touring the building, we saw his collection.  Very cool!

When the new Library of Congress Building was opened on November 1st, 1897, the library's collection consisted of 840,000 volumes.  The building was designed by architects John L. Smithmeyer and Paul J. Pelz.  It was renamed the Thomas Jefferson Building in 1980 to honor Jefferson's contributions to the library.

Click on my photos below to see them in high resolution on Flickr.  You can view the entire set in high resolution by clicking here!

Thomas Jefferson Building from First Street SE

The Gutenberg Bible is the first major book printed in the West using movable type.  It is known for its aesthetic and artistic qualities.  One of only 48 copies in existence today, the bible is considered one of the most valuable books in the world.  Below is the Library of Congress' copy of the book on display.  You can view pages of the book here.

The building was designed in the Beaux-Arts style.  It is elaborately decorated with intricate designs on the ceilings and walls of every room.  A joy to walk through!

Ornate Ceiling

The Great Hall


Main Reading Room

You can view the entire set in high resolution by clicking here!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

A Day In Washington: National Postal Museum

Join me as we explore Washington, DC!  During our day in Washington, we toured the National Postal Museum, enjoyed lunch in an Irish Pub, toured the Library of Congress and walked around the US Capitol.  This post is one of three covering our day in Washington.

Our adventure started as we boarded Amtrak's 8:00 am Northeast Regional train at Richmond's Staples Mill train station.  We bought coach tickets on sale for $19 each, one way for a total of $86 for two people, round trip.  Not a bad deal at all!  In my opinion, taking the train to DC is much preferable than driving I-95 and paying for parking.  The train left on time and arrived only a few minutes late.  Our Coach Quiet Car was quiet indeed and pretty comfortable.  I did visit the cafe car for some bottled water and a sausage, egg & cheese biscuit.  Hit the spot!  Fueled up for a day of exploring!

Below is the engine for our train to Washington, DC's Union Station.  It was already at the station by the time we parked at about 7:15 am.  Parking at Staples Mill Station is tough at the moment until the parking lot expansion is complete.  I recommend arriving about 45 minutes prior to your train departure.

Click on my photos below to see them in high resolution on Flickr.  You can view the entire set in high resolution by clicking here!

Amtrak Engine 117 a GE Diesel P42DC @ Union Station - Washington, DC

Union Station was built in 1907.  Today, it serves Amtrak, MARC (Maryland Area Regional Commuter), and VRE (Virginia Railway Express) as well as Washington Metro and buses.  The original portion of the building is quite pretty to look at.  Here's the ceiling of the main hall.  

Statues & Skylights @ Union Station c. 1907 - Washington, DC

The National Postal Museum is located adjacent to Union Station.  Literally, you just cross one street and you are there.  Unfortunately, it was pouring rain and Pam's feet and sandals got soaked.  

In 1775, the Second Continental Congress appointed Benjamin Franklin the first Postmaster General of the American colonies.  He was responsible for post offices from Georgia to Massachusetts.  As such, he is considered the father of the US Postal Service.  

Benjamin Franklin, First Postmaster General

As we walked toward the main gallery from the escalators, we were greeted by this scene. The plane is a de Havilland DH-4B Airmail Biplane, one of 100 de Havillands  the Post Office Department requested from Army surplus after World War I.  At one point, half of the Air Mail planes operated by the Post Office were de Havillands.  

Entering the atrium

De Havilland's were nicknamed "Flaming Coffins" because the pilot could become trapped between the engine and the mail compartment in a crash.  Modifications in 1919 eliminated most of the design flaws.  In their first year of service, de Havillands carried 775 million letters.  They were retired from service starting in 1926 when the Post Office Department started contracting with private carriers.

Right next to the de Havilland is the Wiseman-Cooke Biplane.  This plane was flown by Fred Wiseman in 1911 from Petaloma to Santa Rosa, California to deliver the first Air Mail in the United States.  He carried only three letters, some copies of the local newspaper ("Press-Democrat") and some groceries.  His trip was marked by mechanical failure, forcing Wiseman to land twice.  His second landing was so close to Santa Rosa, he was carried, with his mail, by cheering spectators into Santa Rosa.  During his flight, Wiseman never exceeded 70 mph and flew no higher than 100 ft off the ground.

On the ground, the Post Office Department contracted with owners of coaches to carry the mail from the 1820's until the early 1900's.  When a federal law prohibited awarding extra fees to stagecoach contractors, horseback riders were utilized. The fully restored Downing & Son Concord-style coach was built in Concord, NH in 1851.  It carried the mail between White River Junction and the Woodstock Inn in Vermont.

Starting in 1832, mail was transported via railroad mail cars.  However, the volume of mail carried by rail was modest until the Civil War.  Starting in 1862, the mail was sorted while en route between destinations, significantly reducing the amount of time required to deliver the mail.  The practice also facilitated the effort to decentralize the post office operations.  As the rail networks grew, so did rail delivery of mail through World War II.  

Mail Sorter inside the mail car

I felt a bit old when I recognized some of the mailboxes in the exhibit below.  Do you remember seeing any of these mailboxes?  I do!

Horses were not the only animals employed in the delivery of mail.  So were dogs!  Dog sleds were used to deliver mail in Alaska from the late 1800's to the early 1920's.  Ed Biederman and his son Charlie Biederman used the sled to deliver mail between Circle and Eagle, Alaska, a 160 mile route from 1922 to 1938.

Alaskan Dog Sled c. 1922 

The Post Office Department was one of the first federal agencies to purchase Thompson Submachine Guns ("Tommy Guns") for their Postal Inspectors.

During the Great Depression and World War II, purchases of new trucks for the Post Office Department were kept to a minimum.  As a result, trucks purchased in the 20's and early 30's were kept on the road much longer than expected.

In the 1930's, Stinson Reliant airplanes were used to test a newfangled way to snatch mail bags in midair with a hook.  Mail-on-the-fly eliminated the time required to land the plane, service and take off again.  The mail-on-the-fly method was used to service 150+ post offices in Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and West Virginia.  Over 10 years, 75,000 pounds of mail was snatched during 23,000 pick ups. 

You can view the entire set in high resolution by clicking here!