Chickens, the Revolution, and Silent Cal


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North America » United States » Vermont
July 21st 2016
Published: July 22nd 2016
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I've made a turn to the east, which will take me all the way to Halifax, Nova Scotia, by Saturday evening. In the meantime, I've still got a while before that happens. Today was not very far on driving, similar to the previous two days. Tomorrow, though, looks like a beast - at least 9 hours total. To top that off, I'll be getting up early tomorrow to feed chickens and cats. You read that correctly. More about that later.

My first airbnb experience in another person's home went pretty well. I slept better than I had thought I would, and I even slept later than normal. The main limits to my day today were Saratoga battlefield opening at 8:30 - no problem with getting there too early - and the Calvin Coolidge site closing at 5 - again, no worries about that. It meant that I could leave Albany around 9 and still get to every place I hoped to visit.

My first stop was in Albany, at the Albany Rural Cemetery - primarily for those who fought in the Civil War or earlier. My mission was to find Chester A. Arthur's grave. He was governor of NY before becoming vice president and then president of the USA in 1881 when President Garfield was assassinated. Arthur's presidential site is in NYC, where he spent much of his life, but I am trying to avoid major American cities on this trip. When I found out that his grave was basically on the way, I thought that would be worth a visit. It is impressive, though the cemetery does a poor job (or no job) in giving direction to its most famous inhabitant. There is an American flag, but the grave isn't on the main road. You have to go almost all the way to the end, then turn right and it's the 1st left after that, at which point you can't miss it.

After the success of my first mission, I set off toward Saratoga National Historical Park. I could've 'located' this entry there, since I spent 2.5 hours there, but I wanted at least one entry in Vermont, since I've spent more of my day in Vermont now. Anyway, Saratoga is in the middle of nowhere, but they do have good signage to get you there. Also, the former town of Saratoga is now called Schuylerville, so don't look for the old town on any current maps. It costs $5 to do the driving tour, or it's free with a National Parks Pass. Thank you. Their visitor center is pretty basic - the obligatory mini-theater for the requisite introductory film, a gift shop, and then a room towards the back with a diorama that dominates the room and a chronology along the walls with various artifacts and quotations mixed in with the historical info.

The real gem of this park is the guided audio tour, available at a website where you simply click 'play' at each of the 11 stops along the drive. I almost didn't get to do that, but as I was walking out, one of the rangers asked if I had the info for that and then handed me the brochure. It helped a lot, since many of the placards at the sites had similar information, though usually much less. All but one of the stops was worth parking and walking around. I compared it a lot to Antietam, except that Antietam has hundreds of monuments along the roadsides (so it seems); Saratoga had maybe 20. One of the first ones, erected by the DAR in 1931, was a whole lot of art deco! The best stops, for me, were the ones with scenic overlooks. Most of them, though, had a display stand explaining what happened at that sight, usually accompanied by a map to see troop movements or former building sites. Some of it was interesting, but I'm not really a 'detail' person; I will say that the diagrams and troop movements were easier to follow than those at Antietam.

I was unaware that Saratoga wasn't just 1 battle but 2, carried out almost 3 weeks apart. The British thought they had won after the first, but still needed to get the Americans out of the area to cut off New England from the rest of the country; the 2nd battle was the first major defeat for the British. Similar to Antietam, Saratoga had garnered foreign interest. Whereas Antietam lost potential French and/or British support for the Confederacy at a crucial moment, Saratoga earned French intervention on behalf of America. Between Antietam, Gettysburg, and Saratoga, I feel like I've been to probably the three most crucial battles on American soil.

My next destination was the Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site in Plymouth, Vermont. On the way, I traced the river again and when I got to Vermont, the scenery became suddenly more interesting. Up and down, up and down. Hilly country, which some might even call mountains. The benefit to being on "backroads" is seeing what people's daily lives look like. I'm glad that I've been able to do that for much of this trip. The Coolidge site is another example of that trend. It's nestled in the mountains, and it's the first place on this trip where I got absolutely zero cell phone service. If not for the free wifi at the visitor center, I'd have been completely out of contact with the rest of the world. Not so bad, I guess.

The admission price is $9, but you can only pay with a credit card if your purchase is above $10. Nice. So I got a postcard and pin to get over the minimum. As always, they have a gift shop (not much good selection, frankly) and a film in the living room. No mini theater, just some couches in a U shape and the TV over a fire place. Behind that is the "museum," which houses
Benedict Arnold Monument at SaratogaBenedict Arnold Monument at SaratogaBenedict Arnold Monument at Saratoga

Arnold was a hero here, securing the victory for America despite being shot in the leg. But his name is nowhere on this, because of his traitorous activity later on.
a permanent exhibit with interactive bits situated in a single room. It was pretty good, considering its size. There'a another room before that, apparently with changing displays - they were showing the gifts given to Coolidge over the years when I was there today. The real gem is the old town block, which is pretty much exactly as it was over 100 years ago. The president's son, John, made some money and bought the whole thing (except the church) and even the nearby mountain when people were speculating and considering building condos over there. He wanted his father's memory preserved, so he made sure it was.

Our tour guide was a retired history professor from a nearby college. You can guess what my tour group looked like - me and a retired couple, of course. We got to see the church, the old house where Coolidge was born, and the interior of the house where he grew up, which is right across the street. The birth house still has all original pieces that belonged with the house, and many of the items in the newer house did, too. The highlight, I guess, was seeing the room where Coolidge's dad swore him in as president when news arrived that Harding had died in 1923.

The guided tour took 45 minutes, after which we were free to wander the town. My first stop was the Plymouth Artisan Cheese company. After all, I came to Vermont and I wanted some bona fide Vermont cheddar. I opted for the sharpest kind, called Hunter, in a black wax coating. They had several bowls with small bits you could sample. Our tour guide had recommended the smoked variety, and I almost got that. But as soon as I tasted the Hunter, I knew I had found my cheese. I've already had a little bit tonight, and I was not disappointed in my purchase. Beyond that, I went into the upstairs of the general store, where the tour began, to see a display of the Summer White House from 1924. Coolidge had lost his son, Calvin, Jr., and doctors told him to take some time away from Washington; so we brought his family, entourage, and 18 secret service members to Plymouth, VT, for a few weeks. It did him a world of good and did nothing to derail his presidential bid, since he won with the largest plurality ever by a Republican candidate to date. Across the street from the general store, on the way back to the visitor center, is a large barn with two sides, each with exhibits. The one on the right includes carriages and a Model T Ford. Kind of cool. The one of the left was larger and showed artifacts from daily life during Coolidge's childhood. It didn't impress me so much, but then I did spend summer vacation weeks going with my grandmother to her job at the Georgia Agrirama, the "living history" museum of the 1890s. I imagine I was the last person out of the place today - they closed at 5, and I pulled away around 4:50.

Okay, so now I'm in Putney, VT, for the evening. It's my 3rd experience with airbnb, though only my 2nd with staying in someone's actual house. It's also my final one for this trip, and it's a doozy. I'm staying on a "farmette," which means the house is almost like a barn and there are two chicken coops and a decent-sized garden. I appreciate the efforts the homeowner has gone to, in order to live as sustainably as possible. I'm only paying $20 for the night, so when she asked if I could feed the chickens in the morning, maybe water the garden, I thought that would be no problem, maybe a fun story. Well, I got here and nobody is here. I knew she would be out of town, but there was supposed to be someone else here, maybe two someone elses, taking care of most stuff. The owner texts me as soon as I pull up and asks when I plan to be there and that she might need me to do more stuff since the person supposedly here isn't here. That was at 6pm, and it's now 9:30 as I write this. No one else has shown up. The chickens were grazing in the yard and driveway - I'm frankly surprised I didn't run one over. The door was unlocked, so I let myself in. Two cats greet me, very friendly. But obviously they think I'm there to feed them. I finally find some instructions - for basically maintaining the entire house, written by the owner to whoever is staying here the entire time she's gone (a week, I think). So, I make the assumption that it's my job to feed the chickens and kitty cats and then put the chickens back in their coops. Someone had written down that they had done so this morning, and the evening slot was still empty. So that's what I did. She says that the chickens will typically put themselves back into their coops around dusk, but you may have to lure them in with some scratch (ground up corn bits). I tried luring them in at 7:30, but that was a fail. So I bring my stuff into the house and then go back out again around 8:15. The birds had gotten themselves back into their coops for the night! So I've now closed them in, got the cats fed, and am sitting happily in my own room. I have to get up by 7 to feed them, so I'll probably be turning in soon.


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