Hours of Transport

 

“What are men to rocks and mountains? Oh! what hours of transport we shall spend! And when we do return, it shall not be like other travellers, without being able to give one accurate idea of any thing. We will know where we have gone—we will recollect what we have seen. Lakes, mountains, and rivers, shall not be jumbled together in our imaginations; nor, when we attempt to describe any particular scene, will we begin quarreling about its relative situation. Let our first effusions be less insupportable than those of the generality of travellers.” – Elizabeth Bennet, in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Let me attempt to describe the particular scenes we enjoyed on our recent journey from the flat, swampy terrain of southern Texas to the sandy shores of slower-lower (as the locals say) Delaware. The greater part of our first day was spent driving to Hot Springs, Arkansas. Arriving as the sun started sinking in the sky, we were rewarded with stunning views of Lake Hamilton from the road above. We opted to find a restaurant in the historic part of town and were again pleasantly surprised to find a delicious pizza at SQZBX, a place that showcases its origins as a piano store/repair shop. We learned that our friendly waitress was from Memphis, and she reminded us of the bridge closure that we’d have to navigate the next day. For breakfast, we found a diner that seemed popular with locals. We enjoyed the food, hearing the local accents, and taking in the lake view as we ate.

We couldn’t leave Hot Springs without a quick tour of Bathhouse Row and a chance to dip our hands at least into the actual hot springs. While heavy rain completely denied us any views from the top of Hot Springs mountain, we didn’t have time to hike up the trails and truly earn them. Hot Springs National Park is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, although President Andrew Jackson reserved several parcels of land around the springs for government use in 1832. Elegant Victorian bathhouses were built between 1880 and 1888, and those wooden structures were replaced between 1912 and 1923 with brick and stuccos buildings that still stand today. Due to medical advancements and more people vacationing in their own cars, the popularity of the bathhouses and the interest in Hot Springs as a vacation destination declined in the 1960s. The natural beauty of the area remains, but some parts of the town appear worn out and neglected. Still, for the historic character and the chance to hike the park trails, we may return for another trip.

The following day of travel took us all the way to Nashville, so recollecting all the particulars is too much to ask. However, the Mississippi River crossing in Memphis was not nearly as difficult as we feared with only one bridge available. It was slow-going, but the view of the mighty Mississippi made an impression in comparison with other river crossings on the trip. Despite the trucks, many hours of rain, and a few good-natured family disputes over music or audiobooks, we made our way over 700 miles in two days without incident. When my grandfather embarked on a cross-country journey with friends in the 1930s, it took three days just to go about 100 miles due to country roads and flat tires. As much as the changing topography and scenery, the relative ease of the whole trip demands appreciation for modern vehicles and our transportation network.  

In Nashville, we explored the downtown from the Cumberland River up Broadway to the Parthenon in Centennial Park. Witnessing the transition of Broadway from a relatively serene street scene in the morning to a rather raucous collection of live music venues and mobile party buses by dinner-time gave us a good sense of the possibilities that the city has to offer. We toured the Country Music Hall of Fame and saw the Ryman Auditorium, but we found The Row restaurant to be a relaxed place for live music and good barbecue. Nashville certainly caters to the over-21 crowd, so our crew was not eligible for experiencing the fullness of its charms. We did see a group of teachers out to celebrate the end of the school year (or perhaps their teaching careers), wearing matching t-shirts with the slogan “Goodbye Tension, Hello Pension!” If they were among those who taught in-person in 2020-2021, I suppose they’ve earned the chance to let loose.  

Leaving Nashville, we headed straight to the Biltmore House in Asheville, NC. This destination was a bit out of the way, but the views of forested hills from the twisting road were as gorgeous as the famous Vanderbilt mansion. Biltmore put the Hot Spring bathhouses to shame, and I suspect that the descendants of George and Edith Vanderbilt are more economically invested and therefore, more successful, at preserving and capitalizing on the natural beauty and historic elegance of the Biltmore than the National Park Service at Hot Springs. Built in 1895, Biltmore is much grander than many French chateaux in the Loire Valley. Even the servants bedrooms appear to be lovely accommodations, especially considering their picturesque views of the Blue Ridge mountains. We surely should have taken the time to tour the many gardens designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, but the constraints of heat, hunger and time meant that we would have to be satisfied with the views from the house and the John Singer Sargent portrait of Olmsted in one of the beautifully appointed living rooms.

After a dazzling sunset in Asheville, we departed early for Charlottesville, VA, in order to tour Thomas Jefferson’s home and grounds at Monticello. Although it is perhaps unfair to compare an estate from a hundred years earlier to Biltmore, we couldn’t help that it was fresh in our minds. We preferred the smaller scale of Monticello and its eclectic elements, which reflect the travels and experiences of  the man who first brought classical architecture to American home design. In keeping with the purposes of each estate, Monticello would be the better home in which to actually live (with some modern upgrades), while Biltmore would be a lavish retreat in which to relish being a guest. 

Until we arrived at Monticello, we were blissfully unengaged in the news or racial strife of modern America. Touring Jefferson’s home, however, means learning again about his relationship to slavery and about the various ways that people were enslaved at Monticello, particularly Sally Hemings. The fact that Sally Hemings bore six of Thomas Jefferson’s children was stated before any discussion of Jefferson as the third U.S. President or author of the Declaration on Independence. We did not dwell on this aspect of Thomas Jefferson’s life, however, as we focused on touring the house and learning about each room and the historical objects contained therein. Then we hurried to find refuge from the heat in the shade of the forested path to the visitors center. Having viewed Jefferson’s gravesite, we returned to the garden path to appreciate the views. 

None of us is ignorant about the reality of slavery in American history, and we’ve had previous opportunities to view the living quarters of historical enslaved people. Monticello adds a layer of context to this aspect of American history by really emphasizing the nature of the power dynamics that would have influenced the relationship between Hemings and Jefferson. It’s all presented in a very authoritative manner by the foundation that preserves and honors Jefferson and his home, so who am I to dispute their historical account? However, I have previously read that the DNA evidence of the connection between Jefferson and the male descendants of Sally Hemings is not as conclusive as some would like to believe. Additionally, it appears that the first accusation of the relationship was made in 1802 by an adversary of Jefferson’s with a political axe to grind. Having lived through the Me Too movement, the Trump Presidency, and the controversy over the Mike Pence rule (a rule stating that men should never put themselves in a situation where they can be falsely accused of rape, sexual assault, or fraternization), call me skeptical. Obviously, U.S. presidents, other rich and powerful men, or even not so rich and powerful men, have not always behaved themselves where women are concerned. Still, everyone has his own biases and interests, including the children of Sally Hemings and the foundation at Monticello. 

Leaving history and its secrets behind, we traveled east through the rolling hills that stretch out beneath the Blue Ridge Mountains. With fine views of farms and forests, we kept a good pace for several hours. Then we approached the Beltway around Washington, D.C. and had the good fortune to avoid a recent collision involving four cars. On the flip side, we sat in traffic for the first time in a thousand miles and were captive as Brood X cicadas buzzed all around us. Traffic is back in Washington, DC, signaling that the pandemic is finally over. Or rather the government over-reach in response to Covid-19 has loosened its grip on the Capital region. 

We completed the seven-day journey on Sunday, arriving at our final destination at the Delaware shore. I can recollect and describe the places we visited, but none has the resonance of the familiar seaside county that I have been visiting my whole life. Each year more people discover it, retire here, or relocate and work from home. The trouble with invigorating a sleepy town by the water is that the crowds detract from the charm that initially invited them. And so the newcomers complain of the traffic and the construction, the disappearance of the bucolic sensibility, and the inevitable change to which they themselves contributed. Some history is preserved and some gives way to renovation or new development, but the bones are still familiar and as beloved as the newly traveled territory that brought us back here.

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  1. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    A wonderful travelogue with beautiful pictures.

    Share your own journey with Ricochet readers. Stop by and sign up now for June’s theme: “Journeys.”

    There are two major monthly Group Writing projects. One is the Quote of the Day project, now managed by @she. This is the other project, in which Ricochet members claim a day of the month to write on a proposed theme. This is an easy way to expose your writing to a general audience, with a bit of accountability and topical guidance to encourage writing for its own sake.

    Interested in Group Writing topics that came before? See the handy compendium of monthly themes. Check out links in the Group Writing Group. You can also join the group to get a notification when a new monthly theme is posted.

    • #1
  2. James Hageman Moderator
    James Hageman
    @JamesHageman

    A lot of ground covered with grace and skill. Thank you!

    • #2
  3. Blondie Thatcher
    Blondie
    @Blondie

    “The trouble with invigorating a sleepy town by the water is that the crowds detract from the charm that initially invited them. And so the newcomers complain of the traffic and the construction, the disappearance of the bucolic sensibility, and the inevitable change to which they themselves contributed.”

    So true. 

    You should return to Biltmore at Christmas. It is gorgeous! 

    • #3
  4. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Lilly B: However, I have previously read that the DNA evidence of the connection between Jefferson and the male descendants of Sally Hemings is not as conclusive as some would like to believe. Additionally, it appears that the first accusation of the relationship was made in 1802 by an adversary of Jefferson’s with a political axe to grind.

    I read somewhere Jefferson had an uncle or cousin who was known to sleep with slave women, thus more likely to get one pregnant and leave DNA evidence . . .

    • #4
  5. Lilly B Coolidge
    Lilly B
    @LillyB

    James Hageman (View Comment):

    A lot of ground covered with grace and skill. Thank you!

    Thank you. I left out the repeated unloading and loading of the car at each stop, the abundance of dog hair on the back seat, and the various species of roadkill (only witnessed after its unfortunate demise), but overall the trip went smoothly. Some set backs or obstacles might make for more interesting reading, but I prefer to leave the drama for fiction if at all possible. 

     

     

    • #5
  6. Lilly B Coolidge
    Lilly B
    @LillyB

    Blondie (View Comment):

    “The trouble with invigorating a sleepy town by the water is that the crowds detract from the charm that initially invited them. And so the newcomers complain of the traffic and the construction, the disappearance of the bucolic sensibility, and the inevitable change to which they themselves contributed.”

    So true.

    You should return to Biltmore at Christmas. It is gorgeous!

    I can imagine! I think the fall must be beautiful, too. 

    • #6
  7. Dominique Prynne Member
    Dominique Prynne
    @DominiquePrynne

    Lilly B: Due to medical advancements and more people vacationing in their own cars, the popularity of the bathhouses and the interest in Hot Springs as a vacation destination declined in the 1960s. The natural beauty of the area remains, but some parts of the town appear worn out and neglected. Still, for the historic character and the chance to hike the park trails, we may return for another trip.

    I have been going to Hot Springs Arkansas since I was a kid in the 1970s.  The real reason for the decline in tourism is more related the Bobby Kennedy and Gov. Rockefeller cracking down on the gambling (ahem…organized crime) there  – well that and the rise of Las Vegas.  A great book to read before your next trip is The Vapors by David Hill.  The book is non-fiction and follows the author’s own grandmother and her proximity to the organized crime and political fracas in Hot Springs in its heyday.  

    https://www.amazon.com/Vapors-Southern-Springs-Americas-Forgotten-ebook/dp/B07Y73G8XL/ref=sr_1_3?dchild=1&keywords=the+vapors&qid=1623275192&sr=8-3

    A good day is to hike up Hot Springs Mountain, West Mountain, or on the Sunset Trail, ensuring you get to the Quapaw Bathhouse before 5:30 p.m. so you can soak in the baths after a taxing day.  Hot Springs is definitely a little “worn” – this is Arkansas after all – and the Wal-Mart money mostly stays in Bentonville.  But I love the character and the nature bathing is divine!  Hope you will enjoy your next trip.  Hit me up for tips!

    • #7
  8. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    Lilly B: We completed the seven-day journey on Sunday, arriving at our final destination at the Delaware shore.

    Biden your time?

    • #8
  9. Lilly B Coolidge
    Lilly B
    @LillyB

    Dominique Prynne (View Comment):

    Lilly B: Due to medical advancements and more people vacationing in their own cars, the popularity of the bathhouses and the interest in Hot Springs as a vacation destination declined in the 1960s. The natural beauty of the area remains, but some parts of the town appear worn out and neglected. Still, for the historic character and the chance to hike the park trails, we may return for another trip.

    I have been going to Hot Springs Arkansas since I was a kid in the 1970s. The real reason for the decline in tourism is more related the Bobby Kennedy and Gov. Rockefeller cracking down on the gambling (ahem…organized crime) there – well that and the rise of Las Vegas. A great book to read before your next trip is The Vapors by David Hill. The book is non-fiction and follows the author’s own grandmother and her proximity to the organized crime and political fracas in Hot Springs in its heyday.

    https://www.amazon.com/Vapors-Southern-Springs-Americas-Forgotten-ebook/dp/B07Y73G8XL/ref=sr_1_3?dchild=1&keywords=the+vapors&qid=1623275192&sr=8-3

    A good day is to hike up Hot Springs Mountain, West Mountain, or on the Sunset Trail, ensuring you get to the Quapaw Bathhouse before 5:30 p.m. so you can soak in the baths after a taxing day. Hot Springs is definitely a little “worn” – this is Arkansas after all – and the Wal-Mart money mostly stays in Bentonville. But I love the character and the nature bathing is divine! Hope you will enjoy your next trip. Hit me up for tips!

    Thanks! True, we didn’t have time for the gangster museum. I was taking the NPS line from the Fordyce Visitors Center as the gospel truth, even though I expressed skepticism over Monticello’s take on TJ. When will I ever learn? 

    I love the suggestion for a hike and a soak, and we do need to go back that way at the end of the summer. 

     

    • #9
  10. Lilly B Coolidge
    Lilly B
    @LillyB

    Basil Fawlty (View Comment):

    Lilly B: We completed the seven-day journey on Sunday, arriving at our final destination at the Delaware shore.

    Biden your time?

    I’ve got Biden stories, but who needs the ones from decades ago when we have a fresh supply?

    • #10
  11. navyjag Lincoln
    navyjag
    @navyjag

    What a great trip. Daughter just moved to Nashville so trying to plan a road trip there but starting in Vermont for a family reunion. Have been to Charlottesville so will skip that but want to see Ashville. Great photos. 

    • #11
  12. JoelB Member
    JoelB
    @JoelB

    The name and logo of SQZBX would seem to indicate an accordion store more than a piano store. Not complaining. This was a great read. Almost enough to make me want to take a road trip too. :-)

    • #12
  13. Taras Coolidge
    Taras
    @Taras

    Stad (View Comment):

    Lilly B: However, I have previously read that the DNA evidence of the connection between Jefferson and the male descendants of Sally Hemings is not as conclusive as some would like to believe. Additionally, it appears that the first accusation of the relationship was made in 1802 by an adversary of Jefferson’s with a political axe to grind.

    I read somewhere Jefferson had an uncle or cousin who was known to sleep with slave women, thus more likely to get one pregnant and leave DNA evidence . . . 

    As I recall, there are nine potential donors of the “Jefferson” Y chromosome, assuming Thomas J. himself had it.  He had no legitimate male descendants, so historians don’t know for sure; or even that he was capable of fathering a son.

    No such doubts exist about Thomas’ younger brother, William, who had five legitimate sons — and liked to party with the slaves.

    Two families claimed descent from Eston Hemings.  The black family didn’t have the Jefferson Y chromosome; possibly a Jefferson slave got (accidentally or for advantage) reclassified into a Jefferson descendant; not unlike George Washington’s 150-year-old nanny, as exhibited by P.T. Barnum.

    The white family had the chromosome, so descent from a Jefferson is almost certain, but which one?  That a descendant of William, or some even more obscure Jefferson, might get promoted to Thomas is all too likely.

    The part I find a little hard to swallow is that, of those nine slave-owning Jeffersons, the only one to leave mixed race descendants, we are told, is the famous one.

    • #13
  14. Lilly B Coolidge
    Lilly B
    @LillyB

    JoelB (View Comment):

    The name and logo of SQZBX would seem to indicate an accordion store more than a piano store. Not complaining. This was a great read. Almost enough to make me want to take a road trip too. :-)

    Yes, you’re right! There are accordions all over the walls, but it seems to have been a piano store and the bar is constructed from old pianos. There are also piano keyboards on the walls. Fun atmosphere, good food and good service, plus their website is funny if you look at the help wanted page. 

    • #14
  15. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Democracy) Thatcher
    Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Democracy)
    @GumbyMark

    Stad (View Comment):

    Lilly B: However, I have previously read that the DNA evidence of the connection between Jefferson and the male descendants of Sally Hemings is not as conclusive as some would like to believe. Additionally, it appears that the first accusation of the relationship was made in 1802 by an adversary of Jefferson’s with a political axe to grind.

    I read somewhere Jefferson had an uncle or cousin who was known to sleep with slave women, thus more likely to get one pregnant and leave DNA evidence . . .

    We’ll never know for certain but I think it very probable TJ is the father of her children based on several factors. DNA evidence of her descendants shows that a Jefferson was involved and the only other candidate is TJ’s nephew. Years ago it was thought he was the most likely since TJ wasn’t at Monticello with the right timing to be the father for a couple of the children but we now have more detailed travel records for TJ and he was there 9 months before every birth.

    Also Sally, her children and her siblings had favored status at Monticello, and that special treatment was noted by visitors at the time and in the later recollections of other slaves who were there. He freed two of the children during his lifetime and the rest upon his death; other than members of the Hemings family he did not free any other slaves.

    During the last 40 years of his life, TJ was never associated by rumor or anything else with any other woman, slave or free, other than Sallie.  The only other woman he was ever linked with was Maria Cosway in 1786.

    I also find the psychological aspect intriguing. TJ was an introvert, hard to get to know personally as opposed to intellectually, and always very guarded about personal revelations. The only person who he seemed to connect with at a personal level was Martha Wayles, whom he married in 1772. By all accounts they were madly in love throughout the marriage. When Martha died in 1782, a distraught TJ stayed confined to his room for weeks and relatives moved in because they were worried he might harm himself.

    Sallie Hemings, whom TJ first met when she accompanied one of his daughters to Paris in 1787, was the half-sister of Martha Wayles and apparently strongly resembled her, with long straight hair and a fair complexion (Sallie was 3/4 white).  We’ll never know for certain, but my best guess is they had a relationship that lasted until his death.

    I think it irrelevant that a political enemy first publicly made the allegations.  In early 19th century Virginia, no white supporter of TJ’s was going to mention it.

    The irony about how this story is told today is that Sally Hemings is only important to history because of Thomas Jefferson’s accomplishments, the very thing some people are now trying to deny him. To the extent it is used to denigrate Jefferson it does the same to Hemings.

    • #15
  16. Lilly B Coolidge
    Lilly B
    @LillyB

    Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… (View Comment):

    Stad (View Comment):

    I read somewhere Jefferson had an uncle or cousin who was known to sleep with slave women, thus more likely to get one pregnant and leave DNA evidence . . .

    I think it irrelevant that a political enemy first publicly made the allegations. In early 19th century Virginia, no white supporter of TJ’s was going to mention it.

    Thank you! I hadn’t thought about it from this perspective. 

    • #16
  17. Taras Coolidge
    Taras
    @Taras

    @gumbymark — To correct my comments in #13 (which you seem to have overlooked), Thomas Jefferson’s much younger brother who liked to party with the slaves was named Randolph, not William.

    This has become one of those fraught issues, like the guilt of Derek Chauvin, that it is dangerous to dissent about.  This may be why, when C-SPAN broadcast a panel discussion, some years back, the historians with university jobs were all on the side of the “consensus”, while independent historians poked holes in it.

    “DNA evidence of her descendants shows that a Jefferson was involved and the only other candidate is TJ’s nephew.”  Unfortunately the DNA evidence consists of the Y-chromosome only, which remains largely unchanged from generation to generation.  This means the suspects include all the Jeffersons alive at the time — all presumed to have the “Jefferson”Y-chromosome — plus any mixed race Jefferson by-blows of whatever generation, and their descendants.  (It’s also possible Eston Hemings’ descendants picked up the Y chromosome after Thomas Jefferson was dead.)

    How do historians narrow it down? Obviously all six of Sally Hemings’ children had to have the same father, because — in spite of evidence to the contrary* — it would be racist to say anything else.  Thomas Jefferson’s travel records suggest he was home on the requisite dates; but then his travel records are far more complete than those of the other suspects.

    The politics of the late 1790s were incredibly bitter, with even George Washington accused of treason by his political opponents.  The election of 1800 was likewise bitter to the extreme — yet, we are told, no one brought up Sally Hemings until two years later.

    *The descendants of one son have the Jefferson Y; the descendants of the other do not.

    • #17