I woke up early on Tuesday morning and went downstairs to help Graham fix breakfast.He was already in the kitchen and setting out the various items we were going to use.
“Are you ready to get to work?” he asked when he saw me.
“Of course.I’m just not used to you boys waking up before me.”
“It’s just that you’re getting old and slowing down,” he quipped.
“Yes, I know, but you didn’t have to remind me of it.”
We quickly got started and it didn’t take long before we were calling the other two to the table to sit down and eat.Once we were all seated, we talked about what was going to happen next.
“As soon as we finish eating and washing the dishes, we’re going to take off for Harrisburg,” Sammy announced, “and I suggest we go to the CivilWarMuseum first.”
“That’s fine with me, because I’m sure you know what would be best, since I take it you’ve been there before.”
“Yes, a couple of times.”
“Have you two gone with him when he’s done this?”
“No, this will be our first time,” Andrew answered.“We passed on the other times he went, but we’re willing to go now that you’re going as well.”
“Yeah, we’re used to visiting these types of places with you,” Graham added.“It will be like one of our old vacations.”
“Yes, I suppose it will.”
Once we cleaned up the mess, we grabbed our overnight bags and headed out to their vehicle so we could hit the road.Sammy insisted on driving, since he knew how to get to these places, and I didn’t have a problem with it.
The three of them had purchased the SUV together, and whoever drove would drop the other two off at their schools before he went on to his own.They did this because they were concerned about the environment and the climate crisis, and besides saving money, it also allowed them to reduce their carbon footprint by driving only one vehicle instead of three.
When we arrived at the museum, I was immediately impressed when I saw the two-story brick building it was housed in.After we parked, we made our way to the main entrance and Sammy told us a little about the place along the way.
“The museum claims that it tells the story of the Civil War and gives and equally balanced presentation, without any bias, and I think they have done a good job being true to that promise.”
“That’s good to know.”
As soon as we entered the building, Sammy made another comment.“The tour starts on the second floor, so do you want to use the stairs or the elevator?”
“Look, I get the point that you all think I’m getting old, but I can still walk up a flight of stairs.”
“Ok, I was just checking.”
As soon as we reached the second floor, we made a left to get to the exhibits.To the right was a café, a banquet room, the archives, and restrooms.
We started out at a display entitled ‘A House Divided’, which told us about the different viewpoints and mounting tensions the nation was going through during this period.We then moved on to the next display, entitled ‘The Peculiar Institution’, where we were given information about slavery and life on the plantations.From there we went to an area labeled ‘First Shots’, which explained what actually started the war – the Confederate artillery firing on FortSumter.
After that we discovered how the armies were formed and got a brief description about the various weapons and equipment that were used.We also learned about the overall battle strategy and were told about some of the various campaigns that were waged.There were also explanations about what motivated the men to enlist and fight on each side, and then we listened to some Civil War era music as we finished up this part of the tour.
“I recognize the Battle Hymn of the Republic and Dixie,” Andrew stated as he glanced at me, “but I’ve never heard some of those other songs before.”
“I hate to admit it, because I know you’re going to use it to call me old again, but I recognize some of those tunes.I’ve heard John Brown’s Body and Goober Peas, but I can’t believe you’ve never heard When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again.”I even sang some of it for them.
“Oh, yeah, I recognize it now,” Andrew said as a light bulb went off in his head, “but I still don’t recognize the other ones you mentioned.”In order to give him some more information, I sang a little of those songs for him as well.
“I’ll admit there are other songs that even I don’t recognize, so they obviously weren’t as popular.”
After we finished making our way through those areas, we returned to the first floor and it was there that we got to see an exhibit about the battle of Gettysburg.Although we had visited the actual battlefield years before, we learned what a hard fought and bloody battle it was, as well as the effect it had on the outcome of the war.After that we viewed an exhibit that explained the true costs of war, which included the economic, political and human costs.We were informed that more American lives were lost during the Civil War than in all of the other wars combined.
From there we moved on to the next area and were told about the roles that women played in the war and discovered that as many as 400 even went as far as to disguise themselves as men so they could fight.After that we were told about the importance of the navy in the war and learned about the ‘Campaigns of 1864-65’, which brought the war to an end.Finally, there was a section about how the Civil War has been remembered in the years since it was fought, and we were shown how it has even been glorified throughout the years.
“I guess that’s why there’s such a big discussion about having Civil War Monuments on public land,” Graham stated, referring to some of the recent uproar over removing some of those statues.
“Yes, because the north and south still have different viewpoints about them.Southerners say they represent their heritage and see Robert E. Lee as a hero, while northerners see him as a traitor.Lee was offered the chance to command the Army of the Potomac, or the Union Army, but he chose his native Virginia and took over command of the Army of Northern Virginia.He eventually became the ranking officer in the entire Confederate Army.”
I found the entire tour to be quite interesting.No matter how much I thought I knew about the Civil War, I was still able to pick up a few details that I’d either forgotten or never knew.It was also nice to view the displays that either confirmed or gave visual reinforcement for the information I already believed to be true.
Once we finished the tour, I had a question for my sons.“Do you want to grab a bite to eat here or would you prefer to stop someplace along the way as we head to our next stop?”
“Eating here would be too expensive,” Andrew pointed out.
“Yeah, let’s find somewhere else to eat,” Graham added.
“I know a place between here and where we’re going next,” Sammy added.“I’ve stopped at this restaurant before and the food was pretty good, because I assume you don’t want to eat at a fast food joint.”
“You’re right.I’m definitely not in the mood for fast food, so let’s go to the restaurant.”
Sammy took us to a small, family-owned establishment, and he was correct.The food was quite good, the service excellent, and the prices reasonable.When we finished our meal, we made our way to our next stop, the FortHunterMansion and Park.
FortHunter had been a log fort that was built during the French and Indian War and named after Samuel Hunter, who had inherited the land from his brother-in-law, Benjamin Chambers.The location was ideal for a fort because it sat atop a bluff, or a slightly rounded cliff, that overlooked a bend in the Susquehanna River.When the war ended, the fort was abandoned and left to decay, and then in 1787 Captain Archibald McAllister bought the property for his personal use.
McAllister had been a young officer who had served directly under General George Washington during the Revolutionary War, and he began to farm the area.As his farm grew, a village formed around it with many valuable services, such as a grist mill, a saw mill, several shops, including a blacksmith shop, a country store, a school, a tavern, and a distillery.
“So, the guy who built this place actually fought alongside George Washington?” Graham asked.
“That he did, although I’m not sure how much actual fighting General Washington was involved in.”
The mansion was built on the site in three stages, with McAllister completing the first two.Then, in 1870 a local businessman, Daniel Boas, purchased the property and completed the final stage.The mansion was constructed in the Federalist style using stones that had been quarried locally, and it is located where the fort once stood.It is also a fine example of how the wealthy and well-to-do lived during this period, compared to rest of society.
When you first entered the building there’s a grand entrance hall and a winding staircase that leads up to the second floor.The rooms are filled with top-of-the-line furniture for that era, and there are displays of china, other household utensils, an assortment of period clothing, toys for the children, and artwork.There were fireplaces in every room, since there was no central heating when the mansion was constructed.
“I’m surprised that people lived this well way out here in the country, cuz I didn’t expect the houses to be as nice as those in the city,” Graham admitted.“I thought people in the country would live in simple houses, maybe even log cabins.”
“Many did, so this shows you how much better the wealthy had it.”
“Yeah, and it’s still like that today.”
When we completed our tour of the house, we went to look at some of the other period buildings on the property.We started with the Centennial Barn, which had been built in 1876 and hence the reason for its name.It contained various elements of Gothic Revival style of architecture and was originally used to house the Fort Hunter Dairy, but today it merely serves as a community meeting center.
From there we went to see the tavern that’s called ‘The Practical Farmer’.It had been built in 1800, in the Georgian style, and was originally used to sell the whiskey, brandy, and other products turned out by McAllister’s Distillery.
“So, McAllister built the tavern so he could sell the booze he made in his distillery?” Andrew wanted to know.
“Yes, it was a sure way to make money from it.”
In addition to selling McAllister’s whiskey, the tavern also rented out rooms on the second floor to overnight guests, and it also served as a community meeting center for the surrounding area.Eventually, the building was used to house the farmhands and milking crew for the Dairy, and now it’s been restored to its 1870 appearance.
We also went to see the HecktonChurch, which was constructed in 1885 on land that was donated by one of McAllister’s descendents.Unfortunately, it had been built on the flood plain of the Susquehanna River and was damaged several times by the rising water.It also suffered some damage in a 1927 fire, although the building wasn’t completely destroyed, but you could still see where alterations had been made to cover over the damage.In 2003 the church was sold to a private group and relocated, and after the move the building was also updated so it now has running water, a bathroom, and is handicapped accessible.
“This kind of looks like the church we go to,” Graham stated.
“Yes, they’re both simple, wooden structures, although our church doesn’t have any fire damage.”
The final area we visited was a covered bridge that had been constructed over the Little Buffalo Creek in 1881 and was known as the EverhartCovered Bridge.When the Highway Department was scheduled to replace the bridge in 1941, the park purchased it and placed it on its front lawn.In 1980, the bridge had deteriorated to the point that it was dangerous, so it was torn down and the various parts placed into storage.In 2006 it was recreated by a crew that studied the original elements still in storage and now it stands on the property again.
“I bet guys would stop their carriage in the middle of this bridge so they could make out with their girlfriend or boyfriend,” Graham teased with a wink and a nod.“No one could have seen what they were doing, but they probably asked later what took them so long.”
“Yes, you’re probably correct about that,” Andrew agreed.
“The grounds are very well manicured and quite lovely,” I added, “and there are lots of trees on the property as well, including many maple trees.For that reason, the mansion holds a Maple Festival every year, so when I get back I’m going to suggest that we bring the younger boys to attend the festival next year.Unfortunately, it’s only held one day each year, usually on a Sunday in March.I’m told it can get quite crowded, so I’ll try to find out when it’s going to be held next year and make arrangements for us to attend.I’ll also try to make sure we get there before the crowds.”
Once we finished up there, I took my sons to the Dodge City Steakhouse for dinner, but don’t let the name fool you.I’d perused the menu online beforehand and discovered that they offered a lot more than just steaks, so I felt everyone should be able to find something they wanted.As we ate, I decided to ask my sons a question.
“So, what’s on the agenda for tomorrow?”
“Nothing yet,” Sammy answered.
“I brought my laptop with me and we can see what else there is to do while we’re at the hotel,” Andrew added.
“Then I want you and Graham to choose where we go tomorrow, because today was Sammy’s suggestion.”
“Ok, we can do that,” Graham concurred with Andrew nodding in agreement.
When we finished our meal, we headed over to the hotel and grabbed our overnight bags before going to the front desk to check in.After we got to the room, we took turns showering and Sammy went first, so Andrew cranked up his laptop and he and Graham looked for something we could do the next day.Once the two of them were in agreement, I borrowed the laptop so I could look for other things to do while the boys and I also watched the news on TV.Although I was multitasking, I wanted to see if we’d missed anything important while we were sightseeing, as the other two took their turns showering.
I went last, and when I came out the boys were watching a movie, so I sat down on the bed and watched it with them.When the movie ended, we turned off the TV and called it a day.
When we woke up, I led the boys down to the lobby so we could partake of the complimentary breakfast.It was a pretty standard fare, with several items to choose from.The buffet style selection included scrambled eggs, sausage links, waffles, bagels, cereal, yogurt, and some fruit, along with milk, orange and grape juice, and coffee to drink.It wasn’t anything special, but we all got full before heading back to our room to grab our overnight bags so we could leave.
“So, where are we headed today?” I asked as we made our way down to the lobby to check out.
“We thought we would go see the State Capitol first,” answered Andrew.
“Just out of curiosity, what made you choose that?”
“You know I love art, but I’m also interested in architecture, so it was a no-brainer.From what I read, the building is amazing and its dome is based on the dome on St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, instead of the one on the CapitolBuilding in Washington, D.C.The statue on top is 17 feet (5.2 m) tall and is made from gilded bronze, and the building’s interior is filled with priceless works of art.Many of those on the walls were painted by Edwin Austin Abbey, so I just had to see it.”
“It sounds good to me, so let’s go.”
We hopped in the SUV and drove to the State Capitol, and when we got there we discovered the first capitol building had burnt to the ground in 1897 and the current building was constructed from 1902 to 1906.We also learned that it’s considered to be the most elaborate capitol building in the U.S.
As soon as we entered, we spotted an enormous staircase, which we soon discovered was patterned after the Grand Staircase at the Paris Opera House. After discussing if we wanted to take a professionally guided or a self-guided tour, we opted for the self-guided tour.After renting the listening devices for the tour, we started out.We couldn’t help but notice the original flooring, which consisted of colored tiles that depicted nearly 400 scenes of the area’s early history, various industries, and wildlife.
“I wasn’t sure why Andrew wanted to come here,” Graham stated, “but the staircase was spectacular and the floor is really interesting.”
“Indeed it is.”
Eventually we made our way to the Senate chamber, and then we went to the Supreme Court room before going to the chamber of the House of Representatives.As we walked along, we could see gold everywhere and the recording told us it was 23 karat gold leaf.We were curious as to how much gold had been used, but the recording stated that no one knew, because the crew building the capitol hadn’t kept track of how much gold was used in its construction.
During that time, we also observed two dozen stained glass windows, ten in the Senate and fourteen in the House of Representatives, and there was a stained glass dome in the Supreme Court.It can’t be seen from the outside of the building, though, and can only be viewed from inside the courtroom.Although it’s the only one at the Capitol, I’ve heard there are numerous other stained glass domes located around the world.Between the stained glass windows, the stained glass dome, and the humongous paintings on the wall, I could definitely see why Andrew wanted to come here.
“Damn, those stained glass windows are as nice as any of the churches we’ve visited with Dad,” Graham quipped, “and I’ve never seen anything like the stained glass dome before.”
“I don’t think any of us has,” I confirmed.
I don’t think any of us were aware of how long we’d been walking around on this tour, so when Graham noticed the time he began to panic.“Damn, I’d better call and see if we can exchange the tickets for what I’d planned for us to do next.I reserved tickets for 1:30, so let me call and see if I can exchange for a later time.”
Luckily, he had the number in his phone from when he made the initial reservations, so he called quickly to see if he could make the swap.We let him do this in private, and when he rejoined us he made an announcement.
“We’re all set and they didn’t mind making the switch.”
“Why?What are we going to do next?” I asked.
“I reserved tickets for us to take a river tour on the Pride of the Susquehanna.I’m glad they let me switch times, because otherwise we wouldn’t have had a chance to eat first.”
“I imagine we would have survived and just had an early dinner when the ride ended, so what time is the cruise now?”
“I moved it back to the one leaving at 3:00.It takes about 45 minutes in all.”
“Why did you want to do this?”
“The Pride of the Susquehanna is a replica of an old-time paddle-wheel riverboat, and after I read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and learned about Mark Twain, I’ve always wanted to ride on one of those.It will be like riding with Twain on the Mississippi River.”
“Yes, I suppose it will.”
This told me something else about Graham that I didn’t know before, and even though I understood why Andrew chose to go to the State Capitol, I also learned a little more about him as well.Now, we all went out and got in the SUV so Sammy could drive us to a nearby restaurant to eat.
Since it was past the normal lunch hour, we didn’t have to compete with the usual throng of customers trying to get in and were seated almost immediately.We enjoyed a leisurely meal and didn’t have to rush in order to get to the next location, and the food was quite good as well.
When we finished our meal and reached the dock, I was surprised because I didn’t see a three-decker paddle-wheeler like the ones I’d seen in old TV westerns and movies as a kid.This one only had two decks, but Graham didn’t appear disappointed, and since it was a fairly nice day and the river was calm, we enjoyed a very relaxing round-trip on the Susquehanna River.During the ride, I decided to go online when we got back so I could investigate if there were any paddle-wheel riverboats like the one I’d envisioned that were still operating on the Mississippi.If there were, then I’d arrange to take Graham for a ride on it, but in the meantime this would have to suffice.
As soon as the boat ride ended, I decided to ask a question.“I know we’re going to the Belmont Theater tomorrow night, but are we doing anything before we do that?”
“There isn’t a lot more to see in York, but we’re planning to take you to see the YorkCountyHistoryCenter,” Sammy answered.
“How long will that take?”
“Probably no more than an hour and a half.Why?”
“It’s because I saw something else to do here in Harrisburg that might be interesting, but it’s too late to do it today.What if I call the hotel to see if we can get a room for the night, and then we can go there before we head back to York?That will still leave us plenty of time to do what you had planned before we go to the Belmont Theater.”
“Yeah, that will work, but what is it that you want to see?”
“The PennsylvaniaNationalFireMuseum looks interesting, so I was hoping we could go there before we head back.”
“But we don’t have any more clean clothes,” Sammy pointed out.
“The hotel has a laundry, so I can do a load with the clothes we wore yesterday and then we can wear those.”
“Ok, that sounds doable,” Sammy concurred with the other two nodding in agreement.
I called the hotel and reserved another room, and after checking in I gathered the clothes we’d worn the day before and took them to the laundry room.I figured I had time to wash and dry them first, and then we could go out for a late dinner.
After putting them in the washing machine, I returned to the room to spend a little more time with my sons, and then I went back to move the clothes over to the dryer.I returned to the room, and when I went back a little later to get the clothes, I folded them before carrying everything back to the room.Once there, we all got ready to go out to eat.
“We looked online for a good place to eat while you were gone, so I know where I’m going,” Sammy explained.
“Good.I’m glad you boys did that.”
When we got there, I noticed they had chosen Gilligan’s Bar and Grill.“So, you brought me to a bar?”
“Yeah, but they serve food here as well.We looked over the menu and they’ve got a really good selection.”
“Ok, I’ll take your word for it.”
“And we’ll be able to have a beer too.”
“If Sammy has one, then I’m driving back to the hotel.”
“That’s fine with me,” Sammy shot back.
The boys were right and there was a nice selection on the menu, and the food was very tasty as well.After we finished eating, we jumped into the SUV and I drove back to the hotel, and once we were in the room I turned on the news while we took turns showering again.As soon as we’d all freshened up, we watched TV a little while longer before we called it a day.
When we woke up the next morning, we went down to the lobby to enjoy another complimentary breakfast, and then we went up to our room to grab our overnight bags.After checking out, we hopped in the SUV and Andrew followed the directions on his iPhone to get us to our next destination.I was hooked even before we went inside, because the museum is housed in an intriguing looking brick building that we later learned was the original 1899 Victorian firehouse for the Reily Hose Company No. 10.
The inside was even better and there were many different things on display.First of all, there were several historical fire engines, if you can call some that, because they ranged from a hand-pulled cart to horse-drawn wagons and more modern vehicles.The oldest was a 1792 hand-pumper and it went up to a 1935 Allison Hook and Ladder truck and a 1947 Mack fire engine.
“How the hell could they put fires out using that thing?” Andrew asked as he looked at the 1792 hand-pumper.
“It was better than the alternative of using a bucket brigade,” I replied.
“Is that where they pass buckets of water down a line of men so they can throw it on the fire?” Graham asked next.
“Yes, and the line might have women in it as well, and then they’d passed the empty buckets back along another line of people that usually consisted of other women and children so they could be filled with water again.”
In addition to the vehicles, there was a fully functioning 1920s era alarm system with an alarm room, along with an early 20th century sleeping area with equipment standing at the ready.There was also a memorial wall honoring those who had died in the line of duty, as well as a wall of company fire patches from all across the U.S. along with a collection of hand-painted felt parade hats.
“So, they just wore these hats when they were marching in parades?” Sammy inquired.
“Yes, and you can see what was painted on the hats was appropriate for the type of parade it was for.The hats with patriotic scenes from the Revolutionary War or of the Founding Fathers were probably for the Fourth of July.The ones with leprechauns and shamrocks were for St Patrick’s Day, and the hats showing soldiers and battle scenes were most likely used for Memorial Day or Veteran Day parades.”
“Ok, that makes sense now.”
I thought this place was a gem and was saddened that more people didn’t know about it so they could come for a visit as well.
Once we finished up there, Graham drove us back to York and we grabbed a quick bite to eat before we went over to the YorkCountyHistoryCenter.The boys were right and it didn’t take long to go through the building, but I got a good feel for the area and its place in Pennsylvania history.Once we finished up there, we went to their house to freshen up and change before our dinner reservation, and after we finished eating we made our way over to the Belmont Theater.
We soon discovered that it had originally been called the York Little Theater and was founded in 1933 to put on local productions.In the early years they performed at a couple of different locations, but in 1953 they signed a leased for the Elmwood Theater, a former movie house, and they took over the title of the building in 1956.In 1997 an addition was added, and in 2012 the entire building was renovated and the name was changed to the Belmont Theater.
Once I found out about the history of the place, I began to wonder if this was going to be similar to a high school musical or if it would be a more professional performance.I was pleased to discover that it was a semi-professional production and those in the main roles did a wonderful job, so I enjoyed it very much.
When the performance ended, we went back to their house.“Are you going to leave to visit Ricky in the morning?” Andrew asked.
“I don’t have to rush off, because Ricky will be working, so I probably won’t leave until after lunch.”
“Ok, that sounds good.I just wondered how much time we had left to visit with you.”
“I really appreciate how the three of you have gone all out to entertain me while I was here and I enjoyed the time we’ve spent together.”
“We enjoyed it too, and we loved spending time with you again,” Graham responded.
“I’m glad to hear that, because I was afraid I was being a burden.”
“Not at all,” Sammy replied.
Now that this had been cleared up, we went upstairs to shower and turn in.