About Mary Ames Mitchell

Writer, Graphic Designer and recent RVer. Check out my website at www.MaryAmesMitchell.com.

Smokies

Turns out for me that Florence wasn’t hard to outrun. However, I don’t think my cousins Robin and Marta, who live on the Outer Banks, are going to be so lucky.

Aiming for something between Maryland and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, I was turned away from campgrounds near to water. Dixie Caverns had a spot. It was rainy and getting dark so I took it.

I forfeited my discounted ticket to see the stalactites and stalagmites the next morning so I could keep heading west. For most of my trip to Tennessee, the sun shone on gorgeous green countryside.

It did start to rain as I entered the park around 4:00. The good news is that I was able to have a campsite IN the National Park. That was a treat.

There was a lending library in the park office that had a Philippa Gregory book, the White Queen, so I was set for a good night of reading while the rain pitter-patted on Ramsey’s roof. Annie and I were very cozy. I’d bought some steel trout at Walmart. I hoped one of the many black bears in the park didn’t smell me cooking it.

Getting up bright and early, I drove to the top of Newfound Gap, the highest part of the ridge, the dividing line between Tennessee and North Carolina, and a crossing of the Appalachian Trail.

It is no trouble understanding why the Indians named the mountains after their blue smoke-like haze. The rangers said the park might have to close this weekend because of Florence. I was heading out through the Townsend Gate by 1:00pm.

Now on my way to Memphis, I’m in a terrific campsite by the J. Percy Priest Lake at Poole Knob Campground. It is managed by the Army Corps of Engineers. With my Sr. Pass discount, the fee for my POSH lakeside site is only $13.

I’m crossing my fingers for all those folks still on the Atlantic Coast.

A Truly Henry Knox Day

My last day on The Trail was a very exciting one. I started with Monument No. 18 on Main Street (Route 20) across the street from the Northborough Library. Katrina Ireland (left above), the librarian, advertised a “Celebration” that brought 15 to 20 mommies and their children to hear me sing/tell my ballad about Henry and his Train of Artillery.

More exciting, as I was explaining who the hero of the tale was, in walked the man himself (right above). Don’t tell the children that sometimes this Henry Knox thinks he’s Archer O’Reilly III, Secretary of the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati.

So, after the children and I finished the last chorus and the children yelled “kaboom” as loudly as they could, Henry Knox talked about himself for awhile. He told the kids how his wife’s family were Tories and left Boston with the rest of the British, never to see their daughter again. He explained how some of the cannon had fallen into the ice-covered rivers and had to be fished out during the dead of winter.

Here is the Northborough monument in front of the Town Office and a Minuteman statue.

I wish all of my library visits could be so festive. I continued down the Old Boston Post Road (Route 20) to the next town, Marlborough. It is a POSH town and their large modernized library has none of the coziness of the smaller libraries.

The director accepted my book graciously but with no recognition of what it was about. I don’t think she knew about her town’s marker even though it has been very well kept.

Monument No.19 guards the entrance to the village three blocks farther down the road.

Southborough Library was much more enthusiastic.

I already had a soft spot for the town because it is home to St Mark’s Preparatory school, which my son Jon attended.

The cute library on Main Street is kitty-corner from Monument No.20.

Moving on in spite of it being 98 degrees out, I found Monument No.21 on Main Street by Framingham’s Town Common, not today’s Framingham center.

The Memorial Library next to it is now the Framingham History Center. I gave them some of my bookmarks and they gave me a brochure on, would you believe, the Henry Knox Trail.

I learned something I didn’t know before. From Framingham on, Knox was told “to disappear.” The roads close to Boston were heavily guarded by British soldiers. That explains why Knox didn’t leave detailed records about his route through this part of Massachusetts. Historians have pieced together the puzzle by looking at such things as tavern records.

The route veers from Route 20 at Wayland, which is the one town with two monuments, sort of. The Old Post Road probably crossed the Sudbury River at what is now called the Old Stone Bridge.

You can see the decaying bridge from today’s bridge. Thank goodness I had tried to find it online back at home or I would never have known where to look. Heading east over today’s bridge on Potter Street at the town line, you see the old bridge to your left (north). Then you come to a street called Old Stone Bridge Rd. Turning left onto that road, you backtrack toward the old bridge, driving through homes. The old bridge is blocked with mounds of dirt, rubbish, and weeds, but you can see two stone pillars marking the entrance. On top of the right pillar is a stone sign that says, “Knox Trail Fort Ticonderoga to Cambridge.” That’s it! To the left is a granite stone that looks like the top of a monument, but it is buried.

The second monument, No.23, is your standard variety. It stands on the SW corner of Route 27 and Route 126. There was absolutely no where to park, so I had to be content with a photo from my car window. I couldn’t place my book on top of the monument to prove it was my photo.

Taking a left off Route 26 onto Route 126, you reach the charming Wayland Library.

Unfortunately, Pam McCuen, The Director of Youth Services, was out to lunch. We had previously had a great chat on the phone and I was looking forward to meeting her and telling her about the old bridge marker. But another librarian enthusiastically received the book so I could hurry back outside where I had left Annie tied to a tree. It was simply too hot to leave her in the van.

Back on Route 20, I drove to Weston’s town center. Monument No. 24 stands across from the fire station. The town takes good care of it. Their newish library is several blocks away.

Then I reached Waltham, home of Monument No.25, which stands with a monument to George Washington on a grungy corner across from a Walgreens. It looks like someone tried to rip off the brass plaque.

The library is a few blocks farther down Main Street (still Route 20), but it was closed. Their air conditioning system had broken down. A woman there said it was the hottest summer she remembered in the 40 years she lived in Waltham.

As I sat in Waltham’ McDonald’s parking lot eating a Quarter Pounder, it suddenly got windy and began to rain. The temperature dropped 20 degrees. I only had two more monuments to go, so I pushed on.

Watertown‘s beautiful main library, where I donated a book, is on Route 20. The stone is in front of another old library that was shut down about ten years ago. Monument No. 26 gets the Most Neglected Monument Award. It leans sadly to the side, is partially buried, and its library is all covered in vines.

Last but not least, I reached Cambridge. Massachusetts Monument No.27 stands on the edge of the Cambridge Commons facing toward the center of the green. When you pass it on Garden Street, you see a blank back of a stone, unlike all the other stones that face the street. It is in good shape. No flowers or flags, but upright and clean.

The library is three busy blocks and a tunnel away on Broadway. It’s huge and intimidating. I couldn’t find a place to park and it was getting late. Since I knew I was returning to Cambridge the next day to meet a friend for lunch, I decided to do my donating the following day when I was on foot. Ramsey, Annie, and I spent the night at my college friend Jill’s in Stoneham just north of Cambridge.

I took the subway into Cambridge the next day, a signed book in hand. I worried about approaching the Public Library. I feared rightly they wouldn’t accept a donation from just anyone. Sure enough, when I asked the man at the information desk if Julie Roache, the Youth Services Director, was available, he said, “We have a procedure for accepting donated books. You need to go online and download a form. Have you done that?” He said that in a not so nice way.

With a spunk I didn’t know I had, I replied, “Sir. I’ve driven here from California. I’ve been following the Henry Knox Trail speaking at many of the libraries along the way. I just want to give you a book. Isn’t there someone I can leave it with? You can throw it away for all I care if your library is too big and important.”

“Well, why don’t you talk to Admin,” he said, and gave me directions how to find the Administration Office on the second floor.

Melanie at Admin was delightful. “I’m here from California,” I repeated to her. “I want to donate this book about the Henry Knox Trail. Do you know what that is”

She smiled sheepishly and shook her head.

“That’s why I wrote the book.” I explained and showed her some of the photos I had taken. “You have the final monument here on your commons where Knox delivered the guns to Washington. I’ve visited 57 monuments [40 in New York and 27 in Massachusetts] and nearly as many libraries. I’m tired. I don’t want to be told I need to download a form.”

Melanie cheerfully said to leave the book with her. “We like books about local events. Have a safe trip back and thanks.”

Now, back to rambling.

Brookfield to Shrewsbury

Today we have a tie for The Charming Old Library Award. Check out Brookfield’s Merrick Library and its neighbor, Spencer’s Richard Sugden Library, both built in the late 1800s when it was cool to be a philanthropist. The librarians were excited to get a copy of Henry and well aware of the history.

Merrick Library in Brookfield.

Merrick Library from upstairs looking down.

Merrick Library at the south end of Brookfield Common.

Richard Sugden Library in Spencer.

Richard Sugden Library interior.

Brenda Mettterville, who has been the librarian at Merrick for over 20 yrs, showed me some old photos of the celebration in 1927 in Brookfield for the placement of the Henry Knox Trail monuments as part of the 150th anniversary of the Revolution. Monument No. 13 for the trail is at the other end of Brookfield’s Common. It overlooks Route 9, once the Boston Post Road, that connects all the towns I visited today.

In fact, if you are only looking for monuments (and not libraries, too), all you need to do is stay on that road. Monument No.14 is right around the corner from Spencer’s Richard Sugden Library. It also looks out over Route 9, like a little soldier.

The next town is Leicester. Monument No.15 is right out in front of the Leicester Public Library. The library is closed for construction so I will send them their book when I get home. Meanwhile, the monument is neglected and surrounded by weeds.

Next was Worcester, a big city. By noon, it was 94 degrees out. It was hard to find cool places to park the van so I could leave Annie in it long enough to run into the libraries and take photos of stones. Monument No. 16 is part of the front walkway of the courthouse and gets the Hardest To Find Award for today. Main Street splits in that area with a tunnel in between the split. One-way streets make the area even harder to navigate.

The modern Worcester Public Library is relatively easy to find. It is gigantic and so is the parking lot. I worried about how hot the van would get by the time I walked the length of the lot to the library, paid for parking, and found Cynthia Bermudez, the Coordinator of Youth Services, whom I’d been communicating with. When I learned she was busy, I let the assistant librarian have the book, told her that the information and links to the videos were on the HenrysBigKaboom.com website and fled to get back to Annie.

From there (2:30pm) I drove to Whole Foods Market in Shrewsbury to buy a healthy salad for lunch. Shrewsbury is the next town over from Worcester and home of Monument No.17, which stands across the street from the Shrewsbury Public Library. I pulled down all the shades in the van and turned the fan on high. Then I dashed to the monument, took my photos, dashed across to the library, easily found the Youth Services Director, Sonia, nearly threw the book at her and made it back to the van before it got too hot. Actually, I had a nice, though quick, chat with Sonia.

Pooped and sweaty, I headed to the nearest camping place, Sutton Falls, about a 30-minute drive. The trip through the countryside was calming after my tangle with the city of Worcester. As you can see from the pix, the campground is nice and friendly. Annie and I are still trying to chill.

Tomorrow, starting at 9:30am, I bring out the ukulele for the children of Northborough. Tomorrow is borough day. I also visit Marlborough, and Southborough as well as Framingham and Wayland. Wayland has two monuments.

As I’ve mentioned, I visited the monuments in New York, and the first 7 monuments in Massachusetts last June. Here is the map for this trip.

Massachusett Monuments for the Henry Knox Trail from West Springfield to Cambridge.

Massachusett Monuments for the Henry Knox Trail from West Springfield to Cambridge.

Baby Cows, a Baby Bear, and a Beautiful Bride

This vacation has been so packed with fun that my head is swimming. Or is that the heat and humidity that is making my brain fuzzy?

While in Vermont, and while the tent was going up and my-sister-in-law baked 19 wedding cakes (or was it 13?), I got some more stamps on my National Parks Passport. 35 minutes south of my brother Tom’s house, I toured the Saint-Gauden National Historic Site. S-G was a talented sculptor who specialized in bronze-casted, life-sized statues of important people like Abe Lincoln. The NHS was his home and gardens.

More fun was driving through the covered bridge each way. Ramsey is 9’3″ tall, the limit, so I stayed in the middle of the bridge. A local I met later at an ice cream stand told me this bridge is the longest covered bridge in North America.

By the following day, my other brother, Charlie, and his wife Paula had joined the menagerie. They accompanied me in visiting the much more lively Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park. The site includes a working dairy farm ā€” all gold-colored Jersey cows. The best part is the nursery for the little calves. I took a ton of videos, which I’ll insert in my YouTube summary of this trip. For now, here is another still shot.

They had a terrific museum about local farming and a well-done movie about George Perkins Marsh (1801-1882), who first established the estate, Frederick Billings (1823-1890), who bought the estate from Marsh in 1869, and Laurence Rockefeller (1910-2004), who married Billings’ granddaughter Mary French.

The men never met each other. The most important thing they had in common is that they were conservationists. The grounds and house are lovely, but not as fun to see as the cows.

The wedding of my niece Megan to Tom of NYC (yes, another Tom in the family) went off without a hitch. No rain, a huge blessing since it interfered with the wedding of Megan’s parents, Tom and Marguerite, on the same knoll 32 years ago. A haze blocking the sun kept it from being too hot.

After bagels at my brother’s house and goodbyes to Megan and Tom, due to return to Thailand the next day, I headed south. It was Labor Day. I stayed in a charming RV Resort by a stream, where I was able to catch up on my laundry. (Not in the stream.) The highlight of the night was a small bear who lives nearby, raiding their dumpster at night. Apparently, there is no mommy bear anywhere.

He spent a lot of time relaxing on a large boulder across the stream from Ramsey, but not that far. He watched me with lonely eyes and I wished I could feed him but knew better.

My task for today, Tuesday, through Friday, is to visit the final 20 monuments on the Henry Knox Trail. I’ll visit five each day, ending in Cambridge. In general, the trail follows Route 20 as it crosses Massachusetts from West Springfield.

Today I first found West Springfield’s monument.

Then Springfield’s. The monument is in front of the National Armory NHS (also started by Henry Knox), so I toured that, too, and got another stamp on my passport.

Then Wilbraham.

Then Palmer.

Finally Warren.

After finding each monument, I took a photo of it, then drove to the local library and donated a copy of Henry’s Big Kaboom to the children’s department.

The Most Charming Library of the Day Award goes to the Warren Library.

I had written ahead to the libraries, so they expected me. Palmer (today) and Northborough (Thursday) asked me to perform with my ukulele. I like doing that. My goal is to educate the towns along the route so that in 2026 when the Train of Artillery is reenacted to celebrate our nation’s 250th birthday, the residents will actually know what’s happening.

Tonight I am at Wells State Park not far from Brookfield, Mass, where I start up again tomorrow. Too bad I don’t have time to see nearby Sturbridge Village.

Made It to Vermont

15 days from departing Pasadena, California, I drove into gorgeous, Vermont, where my niece is getting married on Sunday. It’s Labor Day weekend. She and her betrothed are here at her parents from their own home in Thailand. The family is gathering from all over.

USA Swing Statistics So Far

I traveled through 16 states to get here.

I toured 8 National Parks, 4 National Historic Parks, 4 National Monuments (5, if you count Scott’s Bluff, which I saw from a distance), 1 National River and Recreation Area, 1 National Historic Site, 1 National Heritage Corridor, and crossed over 1 National Historic Trail. My National Parks Passport has all sorts of cancellation stamps in it.

I spent 4 nights in RV parks, 5 nights in state parks, 1 free night in a rest area, 1 free night boondocking on public land, and 3 nights parked in front of relative’s homes.

I stopped for gas 29 times. The most I spent for gas was $3.49/gal in Bryce Canyon NP, and the least was $2.69/gal in Minnesota.

My favorite campground was Fort Robinson in Nebraska, and my favorite food was the beef with barley soup I bought take-out from their restaurant.

Best of all, I’ve made 4 new fellow-RVer friends!

Since my last post, and before leaving Buffalo, I stopped briefly in the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site. It was the home of Ansley and Mary (Grace) Wilcox on September 14, 1901, where Teddy Roosevelt was staying when he learned that President William McKinley had died. McKinley had been shot by an assassin in Buffalo eight days earlier on September 6. Teddy was sworn in as the new president in the library of the house (now part of HIS National Parks) four hours after McKinley’s death.

Annie was waiting in the car, so I took a quick look around, collected the brochure, and stamped my passport.

About an hour and a half hour northeast, I reached the Women’s Rights National Historic Park in Seneca Falls, which is also along the route of the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor.

As it states on the placard, this is the only National Park dedicated to a movement. I was allowed to take Annie with me on the walk around Elizabeth Candy Stanton’s home.

We peeked in the windows.

And we walked to the Seneca River below, which was, in Stanton’s day, part of the canal system.

The Visitor’s Center is across the river in the old industrial town of Senaca Falls, named after the Senaca Indians who once lived there. But, as you can see from my dashboard , it was 98 degrees out. (You can also see that Ramsey passed his 20,000 mile mark.)

Dogs are not allowed in the National Parks Visitor Centers, so with the car still running and air conditioner blasting, I dashed into the center to stamp my passport, collect the National Park brochure, and snap this photo of a tour going on that I had to miss. You can barely see the ranger guide behind the suffragettes.

I drove through the next town over from Senaca Falls, Waterloo, to see (through the van window) the homes of Mary Ann M’Clintock and Jane Hunt. Annie wasn’t welcome in the Waterloo Memorial Day Museum either, so we skipped that in favor of a chocolate mint ice cream cone.

Then traveling I-90, which follows the Erie Canal as it heads to Albany from Buffalo, we headed to Fort Stanwix National Monument. The fort used to guard the stretch of land between Lake Ontario and the Hudson River, waterways important from the earliest fur trading days, and even before by the American Indians. Traders used to carry their canoes and other boats from the lake to the river, hence the land was considered a portage. Eventually the city of Rome, New York, grew around and over the fort. Like its namesake, all roads led to Rome, and it was the center of the Empire (State).

110 miles due east, I arrived at Saratoga National Historic Park on the corridor of the Hudson River. I had driven past it last June when I followed the Henry Knox Trail. Henry’s Train of Artillery passed by Bevis Heights, where the park is, in December 1776. The Battle of Saratoga, during which Benedict Arnold took a lead role, occurred in September 1777. The park consists of the visitor center and the battlefields. The road through the latter was closed for repair. Missed that. But it was cool enough to leave Annie in the van so I could watch the movie about the battles and see the exhibits in the visitor center.

A five-year-old boy overheard me ask one of the rangers if many visitors to the park were also following the Henry Knox Trail. The boy ran to his parents who then informed me that the lad was a huge fan of Henry Knox. The family was indeed in the middle of following the Henry Knox Trail (even using the same guide I used in June from the Hudson Valley Foundation), had visited the Henry Knox Museum in Thomaston Maine, and bought my book. The young boy has been driving his parents crazy with the Kaboom chorus just as my four-year-old grandson has been driving his parents crazy.

How fun to have a fan!

I gave a copy of Henry’s Big Kaboom to Saratoga NHP. Who knows? Maybe they will add it to their bookstore.

Here is the view of the battlefield. Beyond that is the Hudson River, and beyond that are the Green Mountains.

I made it to my brother’s in Vermont in time to interrupt dinner with the in-laws-to-be. I parked Ramsey across the street on the lawn of an abandoned house, made myself a bean and cheese quesadilla, and opened my last Corona. What a great trip it has been had so far.

Pokagon and Cuyahoga

As I write, I’m parked in front of my baby brother’s house in Buffalo, where I spent the night. Trouble is, my brother is missing. He and his wife were delayed in Toronto so I won’t catch up with them until the wedding of our niece this weekend. Now to this blog.

After leaving my rellies in Minnesota, I spent a free night in a Rest Area in Wisconsin. Here is Ramsey parked between the Big Boys.

From there I headed toward Chicago. I followed a brief wild goose chase by seeking out a Riverside Cemetery just outside the other Windy City, where I thought my great-grandfather was buried. Lesson learned ā€“ copy genealogy notes more carefully. After learning no Knowlton Ames was buried there, I did some Googling with my cell phone and learned he was buried in Rosehill Cemetery. Since that meant backtracking, and I had 1000+ miles ahead of me before the weekend, I pushed on.

In the northeast corner of Indiana, I spent a beautiful, star-covered night in Pokagon State Park. I was one of only three guests.

Then I drove into Ohio, where I found Cuyahoga Valley National Park. It is just south of Cleveland. Whereas Arches NP is known for its rock formations and Rocky Mountain NP is famous for its 12000-ft-high drive, this NP is meant to preserve the history of the era of the Erie Canal. The hour or so drive up the valley follows an old canal, now mostly grown over, and the towpath, now manicured as a hiking or biking trail. Fun to see was the old lock.

Cuyahoga Valley NP is also known for its waterfalls. Brandywine is the most famous (photo above). Arthritic Annie was allowed to walk the boardwalk trail with me.

I had to carry her back up the stairs, poor girl.

Today we scurry through upstate New York.

Iā€™m in Wisconsin

It is stormy and green here in the cheese state, but gorgeous.

Since my last post, I spent a peaceful night by the lake at Split Rock Creek State Campground just east of the Minnesota border – the best site for a night in Ramsey ever.

About 15 minutes up the road, I toured Pipestone National Monument, where American Indians have mined the red stone used for peace pipes for as long as their oral tradition remembers. The red stone is thought to contain the blood of their ancestors, hence a very spiritual stone.

This reproduction of a painting by George Caitlin shows the mines in the middle of the prairie in the mid 1800s.

Then I dashed through corn field after corn field to St Paul on the other side of Minnesota to visit my third-cousin-once-removed, Leila. She turns 94 this Thursday. I spent two nights in a real bed.

On Saturday, we toured Grand Hill, where her side of our family lived for four generations, and where my paternal grandmother spent her childhood. The current owner of 501 Grand let us look around.

This morning, more of my third cousins gathered for breakfast. Here are four generations of Ameses.

Next destination, Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio. I must drive through Illinois and Indiana first. I’m due in Vermont for the wedding festivities for my niece on Friday.