Tuesday, September 1, 2020

CUMBERLAND ISLAND NATIONAL SEASHORE EXPEDITION!

If you want to visit the place where this photo of me was taken, you will need to head to St. Mary's, Georgia.  The town is the gateway to Cumberland Island National Seashore.


The town is located on the banks of St. Marys River, which empties out into the Atlantic Ocean, just a mere six miles away.  For this reason, it serves as a prime location for not only pleasure water craft, but commercial boats as well.  With such a strategic location, one can understand why its settlement goes back to the mid-sixteenth century, when the Spanish first occupied the area. 

The town has a lovely waterfront park, that is good for bicycling, running, walking, or just relaxing, as you watch the people on land and the boats in the water. 


The waterfront is also the home to the Visitor Center for the Cumberland Island National Seashore ( www.nps.gov/cuis ).  This is where you can purchase a ticket to ride the ferry boat to Cumberland Island.  Cumberland Island is Georgia's largest and southernmost barrier island.  It has pristine maritime forests, undeveloped beaches, and wide marshes.  Native Americans, missionaries, enslaved African Americans, and wealthy industrialists all walked here.  The island has over 9,800 acres of Congressionally-designated wilderness. 

The Visitor Center has a nice gift shop, viewing platform for the ferry, and clean restrooms.  In addition to these amenities, there are exhibits that tell about the history of the area, including a significant battle that was fought nearby, during the War of 1812. 

Another point of interest along the riverfront, is the St. Marys Submarine Museum ( www.stmarysubmuseum.com ) It is the largest museum of its size in the South, and has exhibits of interest to young and old alike, including a periscope, simulated control room, and examples of sleeping/dining spaces on a submarine.  The museum displays items from both United States and foreign military submarines.


It is only fitting that St. Marys has a submarine museum, because the town borders the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base.  This sign is a reference to one of the subs that call Kings Bay their home---the USS Maryland (SSBN 738).  This particular vessel is an Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine, with the nickname "Fighting Mary".  Since the military submarines are called "The Silent Service", I am using this image to help me learn one of my First Place 4 Health memory verses ( www.FirstPlace4Health.com ) that says, "The LORD will fight for you while you keep silent."  Exodus 14:14.  When I was researching information for this article, I was intrigued when I saw that the submarine base is adjacent to Grover Island, since I have a family member with the name, Grover. I learned on Wikipedia that Grover Island was our country's first National Forest Preserve!  It was so designated by President John Adams, because its live oak forests supplied the necessary building components for America's naval vessels, such as the USS Constitution. 


A good place to start your visit to St. Marys is the Welcome Center.  There one can get the necessary information needed to fully learn abut the community, and get the map/brochures to guide you  through the National Historic District.  Their phone number is 866-868-2152.


There are at least two historic churches located in St. Marys.  The First Presbyterian Church (shown in this photo) is the oldest Presbyterian Church in Georgia, and its building is the oldest continually used church building in the state, having been in use since 1808.  In addition, the Christ Episcopal Church Historic Chapel had a founding congregation that dates back to 1843.  They constructed a church between 1845-46.  It was burned during the Civil War, but reconstructed in 1889. 


Another historic building is Orange Hall.  Its architecture is a good example of the temple form of a Greek Revival dwelling. It was completed in 1838, and has undergone extensive work to restore it to the beautiful appearance one sees today.  The name "Orange Hall" comes from the fact the home was surrounded by orange trees.  Orange Hall is open for tours, and one can phone 912-576-3644 to get current prices and hours of operation.

The St. Marys Railroad offers themed train rides, as well as a train museum.  You can learn more at their website---www.stmarysrailroad.com


Adjacent to the railroad, is the Theater by the Trax.  A group of very dedicated volunteers are currently offering a live production called "River of Life".  Their website says performances will make the history of St. Marys come alive through song, dance, comedy, and drama.  It is both fun and educational. 


At the time of this visit, the tall sailing ship shown in this photo was docked, and available for visitors to board.  It is a barquentine, which means it is a sailing schooner with 3 or more masts. 


The sign tells us that the name of the ship is The Peacemaker, and it was owned by The Twelve Tribes Communities ( www.twelvetribes.org ).  This is a religious community that has around 50 communities in North America, South America, Europe, and Australia.  It is available for festivals and dockside events, which explains why it was currently moored at St. Marys. 


The Twelve Tribes use the boat to travel between their communities, while providing apprenticeship for their youth in sailing, seamanship, navigation, and boat maintenance.  As a seaman, one needs to know how to spell with Maritime Signal Flags, as well as the computer.  There is no "spell check" for communicating with these flags, so it is important to learn the language correctly!


I took this photo of my friend, Diane, coming out of the ship's large deckhouse, finished in mahogany.  We also visited the galley, and seemed to be un-noticed by a family with small children, who were having their lunch.  They told us they were part of the live-aboard crew. 

Unlike the Peacemaker gangplank, there were no welcoming signs to come visit the boat at the end of this dock.  We decided it must be some type of government or law enforcement boat, since it had the familiar blue strip across the front.  At one time, this was an official "Port of Entry" for the U.S., as the St. Marys River forms the winding border between the states of Florida and Georgia, before it empties into the Atlantic Ocean. 


We had hoped to do some kayaking in the Cumberland National Seashore area, but alas, the rain ( and running short on time) made us decide against it, in spite of this cheery looking kayaker below,  inviting us to join the fun!
There are kayak outfitters that can set you up with guided trips on St. Marys River, that can last from a couple of hours to all day.  Likewise, experienced paddlers can arrange to paddle all the way to the tip of Cumberland Island.  However, this presents some challenges due to the extreme tidal variations and strong currents in the ocean waters surrounding Cumberland Island.  Those notes of caution were enough to make me think I will take the ferry!

I am very thankful for this visit to the gateway of Cumberland Island National Seashore, and the town of St. Marys, Georgia.  It gave me "MILES OF SMILES"!!   Tricia

Monday, August 24, 2020

FRENCH LICK/WEST BADEN EXPEDITION!

This group of 4 colored wrist bands, represent four days of "COVID19 screening test victories" that I am very thankful I was able to wear, while a guest at the magnificent French Lick Springs Resort.  At a time when the tourism industry was in a free fall, due to the COVID19 Pandemic, French Lick Springs Resort, hosted a tourism convention, that was the first of its kind in the U.S., since the pandemic was recognized in March, 2020.  The resort management, and the organizers of the convention ( grouptravelfamily.com ), wanted to take every necessary precaution to ensure a safe gathering:  this included a virus health screening and temperature check, each day a guest was on the property.  Getting approved each day for a new colored bracelet, was as valuable to me at the time, as a solid gold bracelet would be!

This photo shows the magnificent wrap-around porch that adorns the front of the French Lick Springs Hotel, located in the town of French Lick, Indiana.  This hotel is part of a 3,000 acre complex that includes two hotels, 3 golf courses, riding stables, 30 miles of hiking trails, a rail trolley, health spas, a bowling alley, volleyball/badminton courts, casino, and numerous restaurants.  


This photo shows the entrance to the second hotel on the property---the West Baden Springs Hotel.  As an explanation of the phrase "Carlsbad of America", at the time the archway was built, Carlsbad was a famous European spa.  The purpose of the advertisement was to show that Americans did not need to travel to Europe for their health spa experience, it could be found in southern Indiana.  The name "West Baden" was chosen because it sounds like the name of the German town of Weisbaden.  Notice the black metal gates preventing driving onto the resort.  They have been erected since the start of the pandemic, when the resort was forced to completely shut down during spring, 2020.  It only reopened to guests in June, and the conference I was attending was the first one they had hosted since pandemic precautions were enacted .


Everyone entering any of the buildings first had to be screened with a health questionnaire, and a temperature check of their forehead, by a "no contact" battery-operated digital thermometer.  If you passed this screening, you were given a colored wrist band, that was good only for that day.  Also, the numerous entrances onto the property were locked, so that everyone was required to go through the entrance where the health screener was located.  


The slight inconvenience of these entrance requirements were MORE than worth it, when one was inside the atrium of the West Baden Springs Hotel!  This 200 foot dome had the title of world's largest free-spanning dome, when it was built in 1902.  It remained the largest dome in U.S. until completion of the coliseum in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1955.  Besides being on the list of National Registry of Historic Places, and National Historic Landmark, it is also designated as a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.  As you can see from the spaciousness of the seating arrangements, it was very easy to do the "six foot social distancing" the CDC guidelines were recommending.  It is not surprising that this dome space was once named the "Eighth Wonder of the World."  The entire resort complex has undergone an amazing transformation, following a $560 million restoration project.  It was the largest historic restoration project in Indiana history, and one of the largest privately funded preservation projects in the United States!



All the French Lick employees were wearing masks when they were inside, and this employee is holding the digital thermometer she used to check the temperature of those entering the building.  Only those who were overnight guests of the property could come inside.  This is another precaution implemented during the pandemic, as normally, visitors are welcome to walk through the historic hotel lobbies to observe their priceless decor.  


When I got checked into the hotel, and made it to my room, I was delighted to see there was a Gideon Bible in the bedside table!  There is an old country music song that says, I only want to stay in a hotel where that man---Gideon---has left his book, and I feel the same way!


The towns of French Lick and West Baden have a small population of about 2,400 residents, and the resort employs about 1,700 of those residents! (pre-COVID19)  One of the most famous of the area's former residents is NBA legend, Larry Bird.  There is a bust of his likeness at his high school Alma mater:

The resort employees were very visible, frequently disinfecting surfaces that were high-touch areas---doorknobs, faucet handles, toilets, light switches, etc.,  Plus, there were dispenser bottles of hand sanitizer on just about every counter or table throughout the hotel!  The employees seemed happy to be back on the job, because many had been furloughed during the initial shutdown of the hotel.  


There are many ways to explore the French Lick Resort campus.  This photo shows the resort manager, Joe Vezzoso, (Director of Operations) taking a phone call outside, beside the four-person pedal "Surrey Bikes" that are available to guests.  Mr. Vezzoso is to be commended for agreeing to his property being the site of the conference, because it was a "last minute" choice, when two previous cities in other states where the conference was scheduled to be held, were forced to withdraw their invitation, due to state-mandated restrictions on travel and tourism.  So a big THANK YOU to Joe Vezzoso!  He and his staff did a MAGNIFICENT job of facilitating a smooth-running conference location!


Another way to get around the resort property ( as well as trips into the nearby downtown ) is the motorized trolley.  Of course, one needed to have their mask on to ride the trolley.

Yet another way to get around the resort is the railroad car trolley that makes the one mile trip between the French Lick Springs Hotel and the West Baden Springs Hotel.  This is the type trolley where the conductor simply changes locations between front and back, depending on which direction the trolley is going.  As you can see from the photo below, I was the only one riding the trolley on this day!  (It had only recently resumed operation, being completely shut down during the Phase 1 of pandemic precautions)
The rail trolley dates from around 1924, and underwent a complete restoration to make it suitable for resort guests.  Another way to get around the resort is via bicycle.  The gazebo logo on all the bikes represents the gazebo over Pluto Springs, that is located in the gardens behind the French Lick Springs Hotel.  

This lovely brick-covered street, lined with carefully tended flowers,  provides an impressive entrance to the West Baden Hotel.  A pedestrian does not need to be concerned about dodging motorized vehicles on this section, because it is currently closed off to that type of transportation.



Throughout the resort complex, there are placards that give historical tidbits about the resort's history. For example, this placard claims the hotel restaurant is the "Birthplace of Tomato Juice".  That is because tomato juice is said to have been served for the first time at the hotel in 1917, when chef Louis Perrin ran out of orange juice and needed an alternative. 


The photo below shows the Pluto Spring House gazebo, that serves as the graphic design for the resorts logo.  Water from this spring was bottled, and called "Pluto Water".  It was a best-selling laxative of the first half of the 1900's. However, production of Pluto Water ceased in 1971 after lithium, a naturally occuring mineral in the water, became classified as a controlled substance to treat bipolar disorder.  Other active ingredients of Pluto Water were sodium and magnesium sulfate---the same ingredients in the infamous bowel-clearing prep, given to patients before a colonoscopy.

The expansive banquet room at the French Lick Springs Hotel was just what was needed so that attendees could spread out, and maintain social distancing.  Another change from previous conferences I have attended is that there were only four people per round table, instead of the usual eight per table.

Another section of the conference center served as the location for appointments between buyers and sellers of tourism-related services.  Plexiglass shields, hand sanitizer wipes, and six foot spacing , made appointments comply with COVID19 precautions.  Because this facility did such an outstanding job of handling our conference, I would recommend you visit their website, ( frenchlick.com ), to plan a trip to their outstanding location!


I am using the photo of the cross atop this church in downtown French Lick, as the visual aid to help me learn one of my First Place 4 Health ( firstplace4health.com ) memory verses that says, "From now on, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus."  Galatians 6:17   As we go forward in light of the COVID19 Pandemic, we can be sure it will cause some (economic) bruises that will make a "mark".  But if we can look at those marks as "battle scars" against obstacles that we have fought and overcome, we can claim the hope that Jesus' death on the cross assures us.  He took the penalty for our sins, and through belief in Him, we can get through whatever the future holds.  Having this promise from God, gives me "MILES OF SMILES"!


Thursday, August 6, 2020

AMELIA ISLAND EXPEDITION!

Although all the boats shown in this photo can be classified as leisure/recreation water craft, there was a time in the history of Amelia Island that its Fernandina Harbor was considered North America's busiest seaport, with more than 500 ships sailing in and out daily!  During the earliest part of USA history, Amelia Island was one of America's most sought after, and fought over, pieces of real estate.  It was crucial as a shipping stronghold---and thus, for global power plays, because it had the South's deepest natural harbor.   Amelia Island is a part of the Sea Islands chain, that stretches along the East Coast of the United States, from South Carolina to Florida.  It is the southernmost of the Sea Islands, and the northernmost of the barrier islands of Florida's Atlantic Coast.  It is 13 miles long and 4 miles wide. 

Back when the harbor was at its shipping zenith, a molded kayak like the one in this photo, made of synthetic materials, had not even been invented!  This boat was on display in the harbor, because it was one of the prizes for the fishing tournament that was taking place when I visited. 

The annual Amelia Island Redfish Spot Tournament is open to all anglers fishing from powered boat,, kayak, canoe, shore, bridge, pier, etc.  (This is the first time I have read about a tournament with such liberal entry requirements!) 

As I observed the fish being weighed and measured at the end of the tournament, I was reminded of the bass fishing tournament weigh-outs I have seen in the Ozarks.  Sometimes the weigh outs are even televised!

Even though the fishing tournament entry requirements are liberal, they have left out one category that probably has a higher percentage of fish catches that humans---waterfowl---like the ones shown in the photo!

Seeing the assortment of flags flying on the front of the popular Florida House Inn lodging establishment, is a reminder to say that Amelia Island has had several flags flown over it, since 1562:  France, Great Britain,  Republic of Florida, Green Cross of Florida, Mexico, Confederate States of America, and the USA  It is the only municipality in USA to have flown eight different national flags. 

It is nice to know that Amelia Island has numerous dining establishments, many with outdoor eating areas, so one can enjoy the fresh air, and pleasant surroundings. 

In the South, houses were usually built with porches, so that, at a time before air conditioning, residents could sit on the outside of their residences, to visit and enjoy cool beverages in the hot and humid climate. 

Early seacoast settlers used the plentiful shells in a myriad of  ways, including making a type of mortar to build their houses and streets.  In the photo shown, a craftsman made a colorful "curtain" of seashells!

Fernandina Beach's historic downtown main street is full of eclectic and independent shops, that stretch from the harbor, through downtown,  and around Centre Street. 

The Palace Saloon on Centre Street was originally constructed as a haberdashery in 1878.   Then, Louis Hirth bought was called the Prescott Building in 1903, and replaced the shoes with booze.  It claims to be Florida's oldest bar.  Hirth's friend, Adolphus Bush, founder of Anheuser-Bush, came from St. Louis, to help design the forty-foot-long bar for the saloon.

I was mesmerized by the bright yellow color of this blooming plant seen on Amelia Island.  Perhaps the invitation by Privateer Louis-Michel Aury around 1817,  for residents to "unite in throwing off the Spanish yoke", was his attempt to create a "bright spot" in the island's history.  However, his reign over the island only lasted a few months. Considering Wikipedia referenced Aury's quote of the phrase about a "yoke", I am using this blog as a visual aid to help me learn one of my First Place 4 Health ( www.FirstPlace4Health.com ) memory verses that also has the word "yoke" in it:  "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery."  Galatians 5:1

This photo of St. Michael Catholic Church on Amelia Island, is a reminder to say that Jesus' parable about "The Good Samaritan" was illustrated here during the Civil War.  Enslaved Africans were attracted  to the Union lines here, because during the Civil War, Union Forces restored federal control in 1862.  By 1863, there were 1200 freedmen and their children, and 200 whites, living on the island.  In 1862, the Secretary of War, Edward M. Stanton appealed to northern abolitionists for aid in caring for the thousands of freedmen, who camped near Union areas.  The Freemans' Relief Association raised funds to pay the salaries for two teachers, hired to provide assistance and education to the newly freed slaves. 


This photo shows just a tiny stretch of Amelia Island's 13 miles of beaches.  It is a beachcomber's paradise!  Fernandina Beach is the northernmost city on Florida's Atlantic coast, and is considered part of Greater Jacksonville. 

Considering Amelia Island's history of subjugation and occupation by various rulers, this small child's exuberance is one that can be shared by all of us that enjoy the freedom we are given in the USA!  You can start planning your own trip to this enchanting island by visiting their tourism website at www.AmeliaIsland.com .  This visit gave me "MILES OF FREEDOM SMILES"!!   Tricia