Natural Bridge, Rev-Civil War, meet US family

Trip Start Mar 14, 2006
Trip End Mar 15, 2007

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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

I spent the day driving to Richmond (about 250 miles). Again passed through lovely greenery and trees. I stopped off at the Natural Bridge (another part of Civil War Trails - Hunter's Raid). It is in an area called "The Cedar Creek Trail and Nature Park". The river eventually flows into the James River which exits to the Atlantic at Richmond.

The Natural Bridge (215 Feet Tall 90 Feet Wide) and its surroundings are formed of limestones, dolomites and shales that originated 300 million to 500 million years ago when the area was submerged under water. 200 million years ago, the layers were all uplifted. Then, 3 million years ago, underground creeks flowed through the porus rock and its fissures, carving out caverns and hollows. The weak rock eventually collapsed and all that remained was the Bridge, the chasm, and Cedar Creek. The layers under the bridge are flat lying. Both up and downstream, the layers are inclined towards the bridge. The bridge is at the centre of a downward fold, a syncline, formed over 200 years ago.

The first Nations in the area are called the Monacans. Their first known contact with Europeans was with Captain John Smith (of Pocahontas fame who was part of the Jamestown colony at or near Richmond) in 1608. He noted 10 villages and the abundant wildlife in the area. Before colonists arrived, American Indians used this as an area as hunting ground. Abundant wildlife and natural resources provided everything they needed. The Natural Bridge served as a bridge then as well; carrying the trail they called the "Great Path". Later as settlers moved across the region, this path became the "Great Wagon Road". Civil War troups crossed the bridge calling it the "racecourse of the armies". Today, one drives over it and it is called Route 11, Lee Highway.

The bridge, once owned by Thomas Jefferson, was one of the nation's first tourist destinations, heavily visited during the 17th and 18th centuries by travelers all over the world. Many explored the countryside around the bridge on horseback or in horse-drawn carriages. The braver were lowered over the edge from the top of the bridge in a hexagonal cage while a violinist played. During the Civil War, Union and Confederate officers and soldiers visited the Natural Bridge and recorded their impressions in letters, diaries and memoirs. In 1750, [apparently] a young George Washington surveyed the Natural Bridge site for Lord Fairfax. Landmarks remain of the work and on the wall of the bridge where he carved his initials.

In addition to the Bridge (which is pretty amazing in itself) it notes that Virginia's state tree is the flowering dogwood (which made me feel quite at home as the dogwood is BC's provincial flower as well), cardinal is the state bird and that in placed around the park one can see great blue heron, kingfisher, bluebirds, pileated woodpeckers, mockingbirds, raccoon, Canada goose, monarch and swallowtail butterflies, screech owl, gray squirrels, cottontail rabbits, opossum, white tailed deer, green snakes, sugar maples, beech, bee balm, sassafras, hemlock, white ash, princess tree, columbine, oak, locust, flowering tulips, yellow ironweed, bleeding heart, spring beauties, chicory, ferns, lily of the valley, black eyed Susan, queen Anne's lace, trillium, wild geranium, common blue violet and I am sure, many other things.

The Revolutionary War presenter was very good. He went through the history of settlement in that period (British, settlers) and the relations with the first nations peoples. He and I later compared notes about Canadian and American understanding of those times and how if we don't get to know our mutual histories, we may repeat it.

I continued down Interstate 81 and turned down Interstate 64. Not too far down the road I came to Rockfish gap. Wikipedia tells me "this is a wind gap (a mountain pass or lower point in elevation between ridges which was apparently formed through the erosive action of wind) located in the Blue Ridge Mountains near a peak known as Afton Mountain in Virginia. Separating the Shenandoah Valley from the Piedmont region of the state, it is the site of the mountain crossing of Interstate 64, U.S. Highway 250, and the former Blue Ridge Railroad which later became part of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway. With an elevation of about 1,900 feet, it is one of the lowest gaps between the Potomac and James Rivers. The bucolic Skyline Drive, which runs north to Front Royal and the Blue Ridge Parkway, which runs south to a point near Cherokee, North Carolina, each generally following the mountain ridgetops, meet at Rockfish Gap. The Appalachian Trail also passes through the gap."

It is a very nice place to stop and one gets a lovely panoramic view of the region below. It is also famous for being the place where, in 1818, Presidents Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Chief Justice John Marshall and 24 other dignitaries met (in the Mountain Top Tavern which is no more) to select Charlottesville as the site of the University of Virginia.

Carrying on to Richmond, I set up at the Super 8. It was not terribly impressive; however, it was clean, had wireless and was close to where I wanted so I was pleased with that. I called the Nelsons and they invited me up for dinner and conversation. Directions up Route 301 were very easy to follow and I was going through lovely landscape and buildings. Styles vary; however, the feeling is that of "quite old".

I am sort of vaguely following Civil and Revolutionary War sites. In there area are: Historic Hanover Co. Courthouse and Tavern. Apparently Hanover County was one of the most fought-over counties in the country. The first place I saw was the Hanover Tavern. From 1791 until 1836, the old stage road past the tavern was the main route between Washington, DC and Richmond, VA. The tavern is still in operation and there has been one at that site since 1733 although this one dates from 1791 with an addition in 1823. It is across the street from the old courthouse (built in 1735 - second oldest continuously used courthouse in the US). These have Civil War associations with Patrick Henry and J.E.B. Stuart who led his Confederate troopers through here in 1862 during his famed ride around McClellan. The battle of Hanover Court House was fought nearby; and the tavern served as a haven for refugees from Northern Virginia.

Heritage Protection Services website advises this battle was part of the Peninsula Campaign (March-September 1862) and was fought on May 27, 1862. The Principal Commanders were Brig. Gen. Fitz John Porter [US]; Brig. Gen. Lawrence O'B. Branch [CS]. Estimated Casualties were 1,327 total (US 397; CS 930). Description of the battle was: On May 27, 1862, elements of Brig. Gen. Fitz John Porter's V Corps extended north to protect the right flank of McClellan's Union army that now straddled the Chickahominy River. Porter's objective was to cut the railroad and to open the Telegraph Road for Union reinforcements under Maj. Gen. Irvin McDowell that were marching south from Fredericksburg. Confederate forces, attempting to prevent this maneuver, were defeated just south of Hanover Courthouse after a stiff fight. The Union victory was moot, however, for McDowell's reinforcements were recalled to Fredericksburg upon word of Banks's rout at First Winchester. Result was a Union victory."

After I finished my Civil war visits, I met John Dandridge Nelson and his wife, Mabel - a great experience. We sat and chatted and had a glass of wine and shared family tree information and generally had a wonderful time. I find he (they) think very much the way I do. They are infinitely courteous and we took to each other as if we had known each other for years.

We ate at a local restaurant (can't recall name) and I had tilapia and a local specialty known as hush puppies (an American term for small cornmeal breads that are deep fried in a spherical or oblong shape. The usual ingredients include cornmeal, flour, eggs, salt, baking soda, milk, and water, and can include onions and pepper). Took pictures, said fond farewells and headed back to Richmond with the promise that once I figured out how to copy the Crease information I will send or bring him a copy.

Sleep at the Super 8 was not early in coming. The entry way "beeper" went off every time anyone came in or out and that was about 8 times an hour until about 2 in the morning. Grrr.
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