Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Review: Joseph Schwantner, Chaser of Light

Joseph Schwantner
Chasing Light; Morning's Embrace; Percussion Concerto
Christopher Lamb, percussion
Nashville Symphony; Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor

Two of these things belong together (but the third one's fine, too). That's a capsule summary of my reaction to this new recording, Joseph Schwantner: Chasing Light... This Pulitzer Prize-winning composer has been fascinated by light, and two of the works on this CD were directly inspired by it.

Morning's Embrace, according to the composer, "draws its spirit and energy from... intensely vibrant early morning sunrises." Schwantner's wide-open melodies and spare orchestration seem almost Coplandesque at time, which is not a bad thing at all. It's a warm, inviting work, fulfilling the promise of the title.

Chasing Light is another dawn-inspired work. In this case, Schwantner creates a tone poem describing the play of morning sunlight through a stand of trees. But the hammering tympani that start the piece let you know this won't be a quiet contemplation of nature. This sun's coming up like thunder. Schwantner's music simultaneously shimmers and pushes forward, as inexorably as the rising sun. The dramatic nature of this composition makes it seem almost like a soundtrack for an epic film.

While the Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra has nothing to do with light, it has everything to do with Schwantner's affinity for percussion. Commissioned by Christopher Lamb (who performs in this recording), this a brawny, full-blooded work that celebrates the musicality in all things struck. The first part sets the tone with various drums sounding out the melody that the orchestra picks up. The lyrical middle section is primarily for vibraphone and various tuned percussive instruments that create a haunting, and contemplative elegiac mood. The finale is as rhythmic and percussive as the first part -- only more so. It's great fun to listen to, and I suspect even more fun to watch in live performance.

Giancarlo Guerrero masterfully leads a Nashville Symphony that's on top of its game. The ensemble plays with conviction and authority, as if they had been performing these works for years. Christopher Lamb is an incredible percussionist, playing music that's an integral part of him.

Top-flight in every way.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Route 11 Road Trip: Day 7 Abingdon to Bristol

On the final day of our road trip, we started off at the Abindgon Farmer's Market. The town recently built a loard pavilion area for the market, and the place was packed. It was the largest selection of vendors we had seen since visiting the Roanoke Court Square market.

Later in the day, we officially completed our road trip by driving Route 11 down from Abingdon to Bristol, VA. It was a journey we'd made many times, so it didn't hold many surprises. Along the way we passed the Hi-Lo Burger. It's been around for decades, and is an area fixture.

You drive up to the window facing the road and place your order (and pay for it). Then you drive around to the opposite side of the building and pick up your order.

This part of Route 11 is also known as Lee Highway. When it was the major thoroughfare motels were plentiful to serve the weary traveler.

Once traffic shifted to Route 81, many of these motels went out of business, including the Robert E. Lee motel. For a number of years we'd watched the building with its large metal sign fall further into disrepair. Eventually, the sign was rescued and restored by a local storage business owner, which is where we found it.

The Robert E. Lee Motel sign is still on Route 11, just a short distance from its former location.

Also on Route 11 is the Helms Candy Company. If Santa visited your house in Southwest Virginia (or you visited him at a Parks-Belk Department Store), then chances are you had a Helms Candy candy cane. The factory is still just outside of Bristol, and the candy is still available.


One of the big attractions of Bristol is its unique geography. The city straddles the Virginia/Tennessee state line, which runs down the middle of State Street. Technically, the area comprises of twin cities: Bristol, Virginia and Bristol, Tennessee. But most people just think of "Bristol" as one large city that just happens to be in two states.

Bristol's known as "the birthplace of country music." If the big guitar doesn't remind you, every water gauge plate will. In 1927 the Carter family made the first of a series of recordings that became popular nationwide and started a new genre of music.

Our road trip was an amazing seven days. Normally it takes six hours to drive from our home to Abingdon, so stretching the journey over six days gave us a fresh perspective. We passed through places we'd only seen from the Interstate, and lingered in towns we usually hurry through. We experienced many things we said we would do "someday."

I'm grateful that "someday" arrived -- and it was well worth the wait.

#route 11

Route 11 Road Trip -- The Plan

Route 11 Road Trip -- Day 1: Winchester

Route 11 Road Trip - Day 2: Winchester to Harrisonburg

Route 11 Road Trip - Day 3: Harrisonburg to Lexington

Route 11 Road Trip - Day 4: Lexington

Route 11 Road Trip - Day 5: Lexington to Christiansburg

Route 11 Road Trip - Day 6: Christiansburg to Abingdon

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Route 11 Road Trip - Day 6: Christiansburg to Abingdon

We started out day 6 of our Route 11 road trip in Christiansburg. As it had been throughout the trip, the weather was hot, hazy and humid, with temperatures getting up into the 100's. Christiansburg is an old town, established in 1792. Part of the town's growth was due to settlers pushing through the mountains to the wilderness west of the mountains. In fact, at one time both Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone lived in the town (before moving on).

Downtown Christiansburg was beautiful. Flowers in sidewalk and lamp post planters added a lot of color. And, as I've done throughout the trip, I took some photos of churches.

Baptist Church in downtown Christiansburg is neo-classical, but there are some distinct differences from the style further up the Valley. Note that the lines are cleaner, the details simpler. In a way, it's sort of an abstraction of the architecture we saw in Winchester and Lexington.
By contrast, by contrast, the Lutheran church had more of the fortress-like appearance. This is a style we've seen all down the Valley.  Consistently, all the examples we saw were either made of brick (like this one) or stone (like the Presbyterian Church in Harrisonburg).

The next stop on our trip was Radford. Compared to some of the other communities in the Valley, it's a fairly young town. Radford was founded in 1887, well after the Civil War.

One of our daughters attended Radford University so we've spent a lot of the time in the city – at least a certain portion of it. Having an opportunity to drive around, though, we discovered  this  large fabric store, Sew Biz on a side street. While it looks spacious on the outside, the interior is anything but – it was a series of winding trails stuffed with all kinds of fabrics, patterns and supplies for quilters and seamstresses of all abilities.


If the name seems a little odd, there's a reason. Pulaski is named after Count Casimir Pulaski, a Polish officer who was called the "Father of the American Calvary" for his leadership and help during the American Revolution. Pulaski, Virginia is but one of many communities named after this war hero (although the only one in the Commonwealth, I believe).

Downtown Pulaski was something of a disappointment. It’s another of those town whose fortunes seem to be ebbing – at least at the moment. The Court House was sufficiently imposing, though. A late-ninetheeth century building made out of rock quarried locally.

And in front of it was an interesting piece of history. The arched stone gate was built in 1907 and served as the entrance to the Pulaski County exhibit at the Jamestown Centennial Exposition that same year.  After the exposition, the gate was dismantled and reassembled in front of the courthouse.
Draper Mountain
South of Pulaski, Route 11 climbs Draper Mountain. As I noted in an earlier post, as we journeyed south, the terrain became hillier and the mountains seemed to close in. At the top of Draper Mountain we stopped and surveyed the view. To the east of us was the Appalachian Mountains, and we could see Interstate 81 running along the base of it. To the west, we could clearly see the Alleghenies, slightly obscured by the haze of a humid Virginia summer day.

The view from Draper Mountain, looking west to the Alleghenies.

The view from Draper Mountain, looking east to the Appalachians.
We’ve traveled Route 81 countless times over the years,  and Wytheville is one of the major milestones along the way. It stands at the intersection to Interstate 81 and Interstate 77 which goes to West Virginia and Ohio. It’s also about an hour’s drive from Abingdon, our usual destination.
This time, though, we stayed on Route 11 and drove through downtown Wytheville. It too had older vertical rather than parallel parking for cars. It’s also where I saw the most unusual church on the trip.  The building had two towers, but neither one was open at the top. The steeple was almost stunted, and the entrance seemed to be through the basement. That wasn’t really the case, of course, the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church was a one-of-a-kind building, nevertheless.

The Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Christiansburg, VA.

Further down the street was a more traditional church. The Lutheran Church had an elongated spire, with louvered windows for the church bells. It seemed as imposing as the Bethel AME church, but in a different way.

Lutheran Church in Christiansburg, VA.
Glade Springs

In April a tornado touched down in this small community, killing four and leaving a broad and clear path of destruction. We had visited the town shortly after the disaster and saw trees, debris, cars, trucks, and tractor trailers strewn about like toys in the aftermath of a child’s tantrum.
Some of the ruined structures had been razed, most of the smaller debris and had been cleaned up, but things are still not back to normal. Many of the homes still have plastic tarps over their roofs, and  although construction and repair work was going on, there was still plenty to be done. I think the tornado’s path will be visible for some time to come.
South of Glade Springs we stopped at the famous Dip Dog. If you live in this part of Southwest Virginia, then Dip Dog is indeed famous. What exactly is a Dip Dog? Well, sort of like a corn dog, only more so. Like many other locally known restaurants, they had a wall with the autographed celebrities who enjoyed Dip Dogs – including the members of ZZ Top!

An autographed photo of ZZ Top at the Dip Dog.
We arrived in Abingdon in the late afternoon. Abingdon is another old community, founded in 1776. Since my wife's from Abingdon, it's a city we're well-familiar with the city. We pulled into the drive at Grandma’s house, ready for a break. But the journey’s not over yet. We started on Route 11 at the West Virginia line, and tomorrow we follow it down to the Tennessee border (it’s not a long trip by any means).

#route 11

Route 11 Road Trip -- The Plan

Route 11 Road Trip -- Day 1: Winchester

Route 11 Road Trip - Day 2: Winchester to Harrisonburg

Route 11 Road Trip - Day 3: Harrisonburg to Lexington

Route 11 Road Trip - Day 4: Lexington

Route 11 Road Trip - Day 5: Lexington to Christiansburg

Route 11 Road Trip: Day 7 Abingdon to Bristol


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Route 11 Road Trip - Day 5: Lexington to Christiansburg

We started off Day Five of our Route 11 road trip in Lexington. There happened to be a Farmer's Market downtown, and we took time to look at all the offerings.

Just a few blocks away was a quiet residential section, with large, gracious houses. The sidewalks weren't concrete, but rather brick -- and very old brick at that.

Here's two of the residences along the street. The others were equally attractive.

From Lexington, the next major stop down Route 11 was Natural Bridge. This rock formation was surveyed by George Washington, and with the advent of the automobile and tourism, has attracted a steady stream of visitors. And as with other tourist attractions, a whole subculture of subsidiary businesses has grown up around it.

Natural Bridge

In many places along the route there are traces of these old roadside attractions. One of the best i the Pink Cadillac Diner. This is a no-nonsense old-fashioned diner with a '50's motif. We've eaten there several times, both at their old and their current location. Good thing I stood as far away as I did to get the shot below. Up close, you can see that the car is rapidly biodegrading, both inside and out.

As we approached Natural Bridge, the attractions became kitschier - - but then, if something like "Foamhenge" can get people to pull over and spend money, why mess with a winning formula? The Natural Bridge Zoo is a good example. We didn't go in, but just being in the parking lot to take the  photo below as enough. Loudspeakers mounted in trees kept up a steady barrage of authentic jungle sounds.

We passed on the tiger photo-op.

At first glance, there didn't seem to be much to the town of Buchanan (which is pronounced BUCK-anan). But then we saw the footbridge.

Like Route 11 going into town, the bridge spans the James River. We took some time to cross it, and enjoy being suspended over the moving waters of the James. The original bridge pillar was constructed in the 1850's. The suspension bridge was added in the 1930's (but seemed to be reasonably sturdy).

One thing I had noticed once we started our trip. As we drove southward into the Valley, the mountains and hills became more pronounced. The road itself didn't necessarily become hillier, but steep slopes and close-by mountains fast became the norm for scenery.

The view from main street Buchanan. That
mountain's not far away.


A GP9 locomotive at the Virginia
Museum of Transportation.
Buchanan is on the outskirts of Roanoke. For most people living in other parts of Virginia, the Commonwealth ends in the Star City (Roanoke's nickname). In the 1700's the city was a major hub for the wagon routes, so it's natural to think that's were things stop. But it's more than just a major city. It's also the entrance to Southwest Virginia.

We've been to Roanoke many times, and often enjoyed their thriving city market on the downtown square. But we had never been to the Virginia Museum of Transportation. Roanoke is a major hub for the Norfolk & Western Railroad, and the area around the old downtown train station is a perfect place to store and display vintage locomotives.

The museum is indeed a transportation rather than a railroad museum. There are good-sized exhibits on automobiles, buses, and one under construction for airplanes. All with the focus of transportation in the Commonwealth.

The DC Transit PCC streetcar. Could this be one
I rode a half century ago?

I had some mixed emotions when I saw the PCC streetcar. It was an old D.C. Transit streetcar, in serious need of repair. As with many of the museum's acquisitions, it had been rescued from the scrap pile, but nothing could be done to it until the museum could afford to restore it.

Streetcars were a common sight in Washington, DC when I was very young. They were phased out in favor of buses in 1962. My father took me on the very last ride of the very last streetcar. As I looked at this relic, I wondered if it was the same one Dad and I rode on over a half-century ago.


We made it as far as Christiansburg. When we travel Route 81, going over Christiansburg Mountain is sort of the sign that we're entering (or leaving) Southwest Virginia. The climb was even more difficult on Route 11, but we made it in time.

Christiansburg may seem like another picturesque mountain town, but its history is a little more interesting than most. The town, incorporated in 1792, was at one time the home of both Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone. And according to local legend, Dr. Pepper, a local doctor is the namesake for the cola (we'll visit the birthplace of another soda tomorrow).

#route 11

Route 11 Road Trip -- The Plan

Route 11 Road Trip -- Day 1: Winchester

Route 11 Road Trip - Day 2: Winchester to Harrisonburg

Route 11 Road Trip - Day 3: Harrisonburg to Lexington

Route 11 Road Trip - Day 4: Lexington

Route 11 Road Trip - Day 6: Christiansburg to Abingdon

Route 11 Road Trip: Day 7 Abingdon to Bristol

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Route 11 Road Trip - Day 4: Lexington

The fourth day of our road trip we spent in and around Lexington, Virginia. The entire trip we'd been enduring 100-degree temperatures with high humidity, and today was no exception. Even though it rained throughout the morning, the air was thick with moisture after the storms had passed. Next time, we'll plan something for either the late spring or early fall!


We took a brief trip out to Fairfield. There's a quilting store there that one of us in interested in. In the 1920's many towns initially had automobiles park at an angle, with the vehicles facing the sidewalks rather than parallel to the curb. That's still the case in downtown Fairfield, which makes for extremely wide main street.

The United Methodist Church there provided yet another example of variation on an architectural theme. Note the large, open belfry in the tower. The neo-classical elements  so common farther up the Valley are missing. This is a very plain (if large) structure.

The United Methodist Church in Fairfield, VA.

Virginia Military Institute

When we arrived in Lexington proper, we passed by two institutions whose histories are inextricably mixed with that of the region: VMI and W&L.

We didn't have a chance to tour VMI, but most the buildings are
in this no-nonsense military style.
 The Virginia Military Institute is a state college founded in 1839. Many of its alumni, faculty, and even students served in the Confederate Army with distinction. Stonewall Jackson was an antebellum faulty member, and important to this day is the events at the 1864 Battle of New Market (further up the Valley Turnpike).

The Union forces were gathered to push into the Valley. The VMI cadets force-marched 81 miles to arrive on the scene, where General Imboden held them in reserve. When the Confederate line broke,  the cadets repulsed the Union adavance, and charged across the field to capture an enemy battery, turning the tide and helping the rebel forces win the day.

The Lee Chapel
To commemorate this event, every year a squad of cadets marches from Lexington to the New Market battlefield. To mark the end of their probationary status, the freshman class (known as "rats"), recreate the cadets' charge across the battlefield. When they arrive at the old Union battery, they're greeted by the upperclassmen, no longer rats, but full-fledged members of the corps.

Washington & Lee University

Civil War events not only define VMI traditions, but are important to Washington & Lee University, which is literally next door to the military school. Established in 1749 as the Augusta Academy, the school changed its name to Washington after the First President gave the college a sizable donation.

Photography isn't allowed in the Chapel. But
thedoor details provide a good indication
of the architectural features inside.
When Robert E. Lee returned to civilian life in 1865, he became president of the college, a post he held until his death in 1870 (when his name was incorporated into that of the institution he served so well).

The Lee Chapel on the campus is a small, stately building, steeped in history. Robert E. Lee and members of his family are buried in the crypt undeneath the chapel. Inside the chapel, the walls are lined with commemorative plaques, going back over a century. Like Lee, it's a building filled with quiet dignity.


The city of Lexington is an old one, extablished in 1777. In addition to being at an important crossroads, it's also the county seat for Rockbridge County. Throughout the downtown we saw many examples of colonial and Federalist-inspired architecture. Case in point: the Baptist Church downtown.

The Baptist Church in Lexington, VA.
Another good example was the (what else?) United Methodist Church. The one in Fairfield was a simple wooden clapboard structure. This was a brick building with more complex architectural features. And it also references a common form of hospitality in the Valley (and many other parts of the rural South). Its front porch had several rocking chairs with a sign inviting folks to stop and rest a while.

The United Methodist Church in Lexington.
Complete with porch and rocking chairs.

Downtown Lexington had many small boutique and antique stores. I personally liked the Second Hand Shop, with its stained-glass banjo transom (right).

As we were waiting to meet friend for dinner, we head a mighty rumbling. The Rally North America's 2011 Rally Appalachia came to town, with dozens of cars slowly crusing down the thoroughfare to park in designated areas along the street.

This kind of serendipitous show was one of the delights of the trip. Unplanned, unanticipated -- just a cool, random event that we happened to be in the right place and the right time to observe.

We have good friends in Buena Vista (pronounced Bewna Vista), which is a small town just down the road from Lexington. Locals travel to the city sometimes on a daily basis for work, and often for shopping and entertainment. Although we had met our friends many times in Lexington to get together, we seldom had time to explore the city -- not like we did this day.

And because we had decided to spend a second night in our motel room, we didn't have anyplace we had to be later. The four of us talked well into the night, celebrating the time we had together, and mindful of how things had changed in just one short year.

Tomorrow we would start out in Lexington and continue our journey down Route 11.

#route 11

Route 11 Road Trip -- The Plan

Route 11 Road Trip -- Day 1: Winchester

Route 11 Road Trip - Day 2: Winchester to Harrisonburg

Route 11 Road Trip - Day 3: Harrisonburg to Lexington

Route 11 Road Trip - Day 5: Lexington to Christiansburg

Route 11 Road Trip - Day 6: Christiansburg to Abingdon

Route 11 Road Trip: Day 7 Abingdon to Bristol

Monday, July 18, 2011

Route 11 Road Trip - Day 3: Harrisonburg to Lexington

Day three of our Route 11 road trip started in Harrisonburg. This part of the Valley Tunrpike we knew pretty well. Both my wife and I attended James Madison University, located in the city. During the four years we were in school, we also made a lot of friends who lived in the area. As a result, we were both very familiar with Harrisonburg, Elkton, Broadway, Dayton, and environs.
Our first stop was to the JMU campus, which we hadn’t visited in years. Throughout the day I experienced an odd sense of dislocation. There were many structures that appeared virtually unchanged, right next to brand new buildings and parking lots. It was like being in two different eras simultaneously.
The library at right I spent many hours in. The building at left?
It was a parking lot when I attended JMU!
I had the same feeling visiting the court square. The  Rockingham County court house was the same as it ever was. Set in the middle of the square, there is no place for the building to expand, so there have been no additions to the structure. It’s essentially the same (at least on the outside) as when it was erected.

The Rockingham County Court House, built with native bluestone.
Some other old buildings remain, also. In the 1920's, the Rockingham Motor Company erected a new building that captured the enthusiasm of the age. By the time I was at JMU, the building had fallen on hard times and was occupied by a second-hand store (which I often frequented).  It’s currently a fabric store, but fortunately the fa├žade has never been updated or covered over.  Still visible is the original stained glass windows and the stone architectural ornaments.
The c.1920's Rockingham Motor Company building.

Fortunately, the original stained glass windows are intact.

One thing I did notice about the architecture: over the past few days there was an evolution of style as we drove  down the Valley. In Winchester, the style was more Federalist.  As we went south the style became simpler and more utilitarian.
Bluestone is a common building material, in the Valley. It’s actually limestone, but of a much darker hue than normal. In the northern end of the turnpike, most of the rocks used were grayish in color.

As we approached Rockingham County, which is where most of the bluestone comes from, the rock walls and structures had a deep grayish-blue tint that gives the limestone its name.
In the northern part of the Valley, rock walls had stones set on end to make a natural crenallation (right). Further south, that disappeared, and the rock walls usually had flat tops.
Speaking of crenallation, I had to take a picture of the First Presbyterian Church that sits across from the court house in Harrisonburg. It seems more of a fort than a place of worship, the stone and brick construction showcasing the relative wealth of the congregation that built it.

A mighty fortress, indeed.

Our detour down Route 42 to Staunton.
Since we were familiar with this part of the route, we decided to take a little detour  down Route 42, driving through Dayton, Bridgewater. On the way, we drove through Parnassus.
In Greek mythology, Parnassum is at the peak of the Delphi, the home of Apollo and the nine muses. “Climbing the steps of Parnassus” (Gradusad Parnussum) was the title of an influential how-to book on musical counterpoint written by Johann Fux in 1725.

Claude Debussy made reference to the title in his piano piece “Dr. Gradus et Parnassus.”

Knowing all this, I had to stop when we passed through the town of Parnassus and take a picture. The entire community consists of two houses and a church. As I mentioned  when I posted the image on FaceBook, we had arrived at Parnassus. It was something of a disappointment…

Nice, but hardly the home of Apollo and the Muses....
We continued down Route 42 to Churchvile, where we took Route 250 to Staunton, which reconnected us with Route 11. Churchville was a sleepy little town, and despite its name, did not have an inordinate amount of churches.

We did stop long enough to take a picture of the Presbyterian church (right).  Notice the two columns in the front. It’s almost an abstract version of the Federalist style we saw up north.
Near the Wharf area.
For those not from the area, you need to know the name of the town is pronounced “Stanton.” It’s but one of many odd names in this part of the Commonwealth – like McGaheysville (MaGackeysville) and Botetout (Botty-tot).
When we last visited downtown Staunton, it was thriving. Many of the older buildings had been rescued and restored, and new businesses and boutiques had opened up.  How different today. The warehouse area next to the railroad tracks is known as the Wharf district. Where a line of restaurants and shops were are now empty storefronts.
The one bright spot was Pufferbellies. A former colleague of mine, Erin Blanton, started this  high-end toy story a few years ago, and has made it a thriving business. It was great to see Erin again, and to see the store was still doing well.

Pufferbellies - a great toy store!

We ended the day in Lexington. Because we have friends in Buena Vista (pronounced Buna Vista – there’s another one), we come to Lexington quite a bit. Buena Vista is the next town over from Lexington, and locals make the trip almost on a daily basis. Tomorrow we visit some of the sights in Lexington that we never had time to stop at before.

#route 11

Route 11 Road Trip -- The Plan

Route 11 Road Trip -- Day 1: Winchester

Route 11 Road Trip - Day 2: Winchester to Harrisonburg

Route 11 Road Trip - Day 4: Lexington

Route 11 Road Trip - Day 5: Lexington to Christiansburg

Route 11 Road Trip - Day 6: Christiansburg to Abingdon

Route 11 Road Trip: Day 7 Abingdon to Bristol

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Route 11 Road Trip - Day 2: Winchester to Harrisonburg

On the second day of our trip, we spent most of the morning exploring Winchester. There's one nice thing about not having a set itinerary -- no pressure. We didn't have to be anywhere at any particular time. So no matter how fast or slow traffic moved, I didn't worry about it. When you're not in a hurry, no one's really in your way.

From Winchester we made our way south down the Valley Turnpike (Route 11). Near Stephens City we saw the first of many drive-in theaters along the road. In the heyday of car culture, drive-ins were everywhere. But changing tastes, and the rerouting of traffic from 11 to Route 81 killed many of these businesses. The Family Drive-In Theatre was still thriving, though.

If you look carefully to the left, you can see part of the reason why -- they borrowed a concept from the cineplex and put in a second screen!

Stephens City

Stephens City (named after founder Peter Stephens, so there's no apostrophe)  is still a small, fairly rural community. One thing we learned pretty quickly --  Sunday is a good day to travel, and a bad time to shop. We rolled into town around 10:30, while most churches were still holding services. The shot below as taken standing in the middle of the main road -- try that in a major metropolis!

Stephens City, Sunday morning.
I didn't intend to, but at the end of the day when I transferred my pictures, I found I had taken several of the various churches we saw. Most of them were  Protestant, many United Methodist (there's a reason for that), with various types of Baptist churches running a close second. Lutheran and Presbyterian were less common, and I didn't see any Catholic churches along the road.

Most of the church architecture was the same: a large meeting area for the congregation to worship in, a steeple with bells to call people to worship, and perhaps an adjoining fellowship hall. We saw many variations on these themes as we traveled along.


The next town we entered was Middletown. It was a short distance from Stephens City, and was also shuttered up tight. The shot below was taken in the middle of the main street before 11:00AM.

Although we couldn't explore any of the shops, we did visit the famous Wayside Inn, which has been in continuous operation since 1797. I'm sure readers living in Europe might not think much of such a young building, but here in the U.S. such a structure is steeped in history.

Close up, it was easy to see how the original structure and been added to and expanded throughout the centuries. And the rocking chairs on the porch were a nice touch. While they may be an affectation at a Cracker Barrel, in the Valley they're on almost every porch big enough to have one. And as we drove along in the 98-degree heat, we saw many people rocking in the shade of the porch roof, watching the cars go by.

Cedar Creek

Cedar Creek was the site of the last engagement of the Valley Campaign in 1964. Philip Sheridan's Union Army met the Confederates under the command of Jubal E. Early. Over the course of two days the rebel forces were crushed and driven back in disarray, leaving the Valley unprotected (George A. Custer's calvary division was part of this battle, at one point breaking through the enemy lines.

From where we stood, it looked like a significant portion of the battlefield has been preserved, including the farm house that was there at the time.

We've visited Strasburg before on shorter day excursions. This time we were able to take in more of the downtown, which had some very nice shops. As we traveled down Route 11, the small towns we drove through either had thriving antique/boutique/tourist areas, or were just empty storefronts -- there didn't seem to be anything in between.

 Light shining through vinegar bottles in a shop in Strasburg, VA.

"Follow me, boys!"
Woodstock, VA is the county seat for Shenandoah County. Like many other towns in the Valley, it was greatly affected by the Civil War. But there are historic ties to the Revolutionary War as well. In front of the courthouse is a bust of  John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg.

Muhlenberg was a Lutheran minister serving in Woodstock. January 21, 1776 he preached from Ecclesiastes. After reading "a time for war, and a time for peace," he said, "and this is the time of war." He threw off his robe, and the congregation saw he was dressede in a colonel's uniform of the Continental Army.  He marched down the aisle, encouraging the men to follow. With a few hours, 162 men had enlisted.

The United Methodist Church, Mount Jackson, VA.
The courthouse not only has a bust of this warrior/cleric, but a statue as well. The statue shows Muhlenberg throwing open his robe, dramatically calling others to follow.

Mount Jackson
The community of Mount Jackson is small, but proud. And also mindful of their heritage. The Confederate Cemetery is a quietly dignified space. Its still carefully maintained, as is the memories of the war (not uncommon in Virginia).

The United Methodist Church was formed by the
merger of the Methodist Church and the  Evangelical United Bretheren Church.
This building is a capsule history of that change.
By way of contrast, another church in Mount Jackson.
Note the difference in architecture between it
and the United Methodist wooden church above.
Just south of Mount Jackson was the covered bridge at Meems Bottom. This is the oldest covered bridge in the Commonwealth, was well worth the slight side trip. The bridge has been reinforced with steel beams and concrete pillars, but you don't really see them as you drive up to the bridge. The truss work inside the structure was amazing, with hand-cut lumber throughout.

Underneath flowered the North Fork of the Shenandoah River. This was a very calm and peaceful spot. The water rippled past at a gentle pace,  crystal clear and bright. We stayed for quite a while, just watching the river roll past. I have to admit I took a souvenir -- a small, smooth river rock in the shape of a triangle. It should make an excellent worry stone.

Inside the covered bridge at Meems Bottom

The cool water of the North Fork.

We arrived in Harrisonburg in the late afternoon, found a place to stay, and turned in early. This is a town we're both familiar with, and we would explore it tomorrow!

#route 11

Route 11 Road Trip -- The Plan

Route 11 Road Trip -- Day 1: Winchester

Route 11 Road Trip - Day 3: Harrisonburg to Lexington

Route 11 Road Trip - Day 4: Lexington

Route 11 Road Trip - Day 5: Lexington to Christiansburg

Route 11 Road Trip - Day 6: Christiansburg to Abingdon

Route 11 Road Trip: Day 7 Abingdon to Bristol