November 17, 2011

First in the Hearts of His Countrymen

Tim and I decided yesterday morning to take the day off.  We had already made plans, but it was raining, and not the best day for touring.  We also realized that we needed to rest and catch up on a few odds and ends.  Kitty also needed a break.  It was a good decision, and we are ready to hit the road today.

Why Can't I Go In?
Isn’t it funny how a visit to one place can be the impetus for other visits?  We had not originally planned to visit the homes of presidents (with the exception of FDRs home). However, our trip to Montpelier on Tuesday prompted us to look at other presidential homes in the area.  Mount Vernon was an obvious choice.

Neither Tim nor I had been to Mount Vernon since we were children.  Of course I had studied Mount Vernon in college as the nation’s first historic preservation success story when it was purchased by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association in 1860.  I had also read about the restoration of the vibrant wall colors on the interior walls not too long ago, and was curious to see what the house looked like today.  

Mount Vernon

Mount Vernon Sits on a Rise Above the Potomac River

View from the Portico

The View from Mount Vernon Has Been Preserved
Through Land Acquisitions and Easements
Mount Vernon is quite an operation.  It is the most popular historic estate in the United States and handles more than one million visitors each year.  Luckily, we were here on a slow day.  While I enjoyed touring the house and viewing many objects owned by George Washington, I felt some of the exhibits and films at the new Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center were a bit heavy-handed.  I did learn more about Washington the man and leader, but too often I felt I was being lectured to about patriotism.

Tim and Sarah Visiting with George and Martha
This experience, as well as those over the last week or so, got me thinking today about patriotism.  I consider myself to be a patriotic person, but I don’t wear it on my sleeve.  My major in college was American Studies, and I am spending nine months touring the United States.  I love American history, architecture, art and literature, and I believe in American values and ideals.  I greatly admire the early leaders of this country and wonder if we will ever again see politicians with such vision and character.

That said, I am not one who thinks that patriotism means “My Country, Right or Wrong.”  Viewing the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights and listening to James Madison’s views on liberty have only reinforced my sense of the importance of freedom of speech and assembly, as well as the separation of church and state.  Too many people who consider themselves “patriotic” actually reject such fundamental beliefs, and I find that frightening.  I really wasn’t expecting to be so philosophical today, but I guess it’s a good thing.

On our way to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, Tim and I made a stop at Manassas National Battlefield Park.  What did I say earlier about one visit leading to another?  We had not planned to visit so many Civil War battlefields, but we couldn’t seem to forego a visit to the first land battle of the Civil War.  Manassas seems to be all about naïve and enthusiastic young soldiers coming face to face with the brutal reality of war.  Another sobering experience.

The Critical Fighting at First Manassas Centered on Henry Hill and the Henry House

A Statue of General "Stonewall" Jackson Overlooks Henry Hill

The Stone House Served as a Field Hospital
Although the main focus at Manassas is the battlefield, the park is also an urban oasis in the middle of the tangled mess of development that is Northern Virginia.  Studies have discovered that parks like Manassas contribute to the conservation of regional biodiversity.  Manassas, for example, is a refuge for numerous birds and butterflies and has preserved some of northern Virginia’s largest grasslands.

No comments:

Post a Comment