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Archive for December, 2002

In the midst of the Appalachian foothills, I made my way into Jonesborough, Tennessee’s oldest town. Here I came across the historic Eureka Hotel, located conveniently in town on Main St., the old Stage Road. This lodging establishment is a treasure of a find for anyone who appreciates restored, historic lodging, not to mention being located in a town with plenty of history to offer itself.

Opened for lodging in 1900, the original building dates back to 1797, when it was built as a private residence. It changed owners and names several times during the 1900’s, each time adding or changing the hotel in varying degrees.

As with many historic hotels, it fell into various usages and eventual disrepair. Fortunately, it was purchased in 1997 by a group of local investors, who undertook the sizeable task of restoring it to its original glory. Their two and a half million dollar renovation created a stunning hotel, with unique, beautifully appointed rooms, each filled with antiques and period reproductions.

I settled into “The Cook’s Room,” located in a quiet upstairs corner at the rear of the building. The large, private bath, originally a staircase to the former kitchen below -now “The Kitchen Room” – was immaculate, with a state-of-the-art tub/shower combination, telephone and attractive basket of complimentary bath products.

The room itself was spacious and luxuriously comfortable, with a high ceiling, queen bed, overstuffed chair, armoire, writing desk, data port, voicemail and individual climate control. As an added bonus, a balcony porch just outside (accessed through the main hallway) offered an outdoor seating area, overlooking the garden and surrounded by white, wooden railings and planters filled with ivy and geraniums.

Included in the very reasonable lodging expense was a complimentary breakfast, including bagels, english muffins, danish pastries, fresh fruit, cereal, orange juice, coffee and tea. The leisurely check-out time of noon allowed me to linger over my meal at an antique oak table before sauntering outside to explore the town itself.

The town of Jonesborough has the distinction of being Tennessee’s oldest town, established in 1789, many years before Tennessee became a state. Originally a part of North Carolina, an attempt was made in 1784 by Jonesborough, along with other towns, to form a new state named Franklin, after Benjamin Franklin. But four years later, when Congress failed to recognize it as a state, it reverted back to North Carolina and remained so until the official establishment of Tennessee as a state in 1796.

Shawnee, Chicksaw, Cherokee and Creek Native Americans were the area’s original inhabitants, dating back into the 1500’s. The first cabin built by a white settler was in 1769, ten years before Jonesborough officially became a town.

Not far from the hotel, I found the 1777 Christopher Taylor House, where Andrew Jackson, who would later become the 7th president of the U.S., lived briefly in 1788. Located at that time outside of town, the house was moved into town in 1974.

One of Jonesborough’s main claims to fame is that it is home to the International Storytelling Center, which packs the town full for the Storytelling Festival each year. The website for the Eureka Hotel cautions would-be visitors that their rooms are booked years in advance for this popular event. Any time of the year is a good time for entertainment, though, as the Jonesborough Repertory Theatre is located right next door to Eureka Hotel.

There’s history around every corner in this town. The first anti-slavery papers were written here long before the Civil War and the attempt to establish the “ill-fated State of Franklin” took place. An historic marker commemorates the abolition publications that were generated.

The Jonesborough Visitor’s Center is a gold mine for local information and has a museum and gift shop, as well. It’s a great starting point for exploring the town.
Leaving the Visitor Center, a walk along Main St. will take visitors past the plentiful dining and shopping options. I enjoyed both the “country cafe” ambiance and a plate of soup beans, cornbread and chow chow, a traditional local relish, at The Cranberry Thistle, just across from the old courthouse.

Art galleries and shops along Main St. provide plenty of browsing opportunities, showcasing a wide range of hand-blown glass, paintings, ceramics, quilt-making supplies and local crafts. Antique browsers will not be disappointed, either.

Shoppers can also find a few unusual gift items – I picked up cans of “Tennessee Possum” as souvenir treats for my brothers, a clever re-labeling gimmick that the area has been offering for years.

One day just wasn’t enough time to see everything Jonesborough had to offer, so it goes onto my “must go back” list, as well as into my “great small towns” collection. As an alternative to larger, crowded tourist-type destinations, this quaint southern town was an excellent find.

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I decided years ago that I would celebrate each birthday with a trip to a new destination. Maybe a seaside cottage or a rustic mountain cabin. Perhaps an old western hotel room or a rejuvenating desert oasis. It didn’t really matter where I went, only that I treated myself to a new exploration. This past year was no exception. With a little browsing through options, I found a perfect opportunity for adventure. For this year’s getaway, I was going to Ross Mill Farm, home of the pet pig.

I took Pennsylvania’s Hwy 209, along the west side of the Delaware River. As the highway turned to Route 611, smaller country roads approached, taking me west into Bucks County, PA, a mosaic of farmhouses, quaint towns and fields.

I was in for a wonderful experience. The cottage alone would have been worth the trip, a fabulous fieldstone structure, built in 1696. Under a solid beam ceiling, a couch and two cozy chairs circled the old fireplace. Pewter cups and stenciled lace covered the mantel. Tiny lamps rested in old windowsills and on wooden tables and a bowl of fresh apples waited in the stocked kitchen. Looking around, I felt instantly at home as my glance fell on baskets, bookshelves, throw pillows, and a woven oval rug. A plaid tablecloth covered a comfortable table, perfect for meals and writing.

For a price lower than many ordinary hotel rooms, I had an entire cottage to myself. In addition to the living room and kitchen, an enclosed sun porch looked out over a meadow. Off the side of the kitchen, a bathroom offered not only a shower/tub combination, but a stacked washer and dryer. Everything I could have asked for was there and waiting, including a peaceful view from every window.

I was so enchanted that it took me by surprise when a printed brochure informed me that this was a two-bedroom cottage. I put the pamphlet down and looked around, puzzled. Everything seemed complete. It was only upon close inspection of the wall to the left of the fireplace that I realized the appearance of two small closets was deceiving. I pulled on a painted blue door and discovered a staircase that curved sharply inside the wall and headed up toward the right.

Following the narrow, steep steps, I found two wonderful bedrooms. In the first, a comfortable double bed rested below a slanted roof. Beyond this room stretched another, with twin beds and a small nightstand and lamp. A metal angel rested in the frame between the two rooms, three heart shapes allowing light to flow through its center. I looked back down the stairs and felt like I’d found a hidden passageway.

Descending the stairs, I found a quiet seat outside on a carved wooden bench, where I watched the sunset through the bare branches of winter trees. A quiet stillness settled over the cottage and I moved inside, where I fixed a simple meal and built a fire. The warmth of the flames and hush of the evening soon led my eyelids to droop and I soon enjoyed a sound, peaceful night’s rest.

I was sipping fresh coffee in the morning sun when a pig that I would come to know as Manny sauntered by. I watched with curiosity as he calmly headed past the cottage and on down the road.

“Manny knows the meaning of life,” Richard Magidson would tell me later. Co-owner with Susan Armstrong, Richard explained that Manny has long talks with people about knowing this secret, but never actually reveals it, as he knows it is something people must find out for themselves.

As I wandered through the farm, I met many other pot-bellied friends, including Grady, Sunny, and Spike, along with adorable piglets 6-8 weeks of age. It took no time at all to fall completely in love with these amazing creatures. Intelligent and communicative, they responded to discussion and approached eagerly to visit.

There are close to one hundred pot bellied pigs on the farm and as I sat in a wooden swing I watched with fascination as they went about their daily routines and play. Two snapped their snouts playfully at each other, while another galloped by and took off up a wooded trail. A mother pig strolled by, squealing piglets chasing not far behind, who ventured off sideways to explore, then quickly ran back to catch up with their mother.

The farm was busy with activity. A large truck arrived and backed up to double doors, unloading pallets stacked with sacks of feed. This turned out to be Champion Premium Pet Pig Food, a 100% natural mixture that is manufactured by Ross Mill Farm. In addition to high quality food, the farm also offers a safety harness and other necessary items for the proper care of the pot-bellied pig.

I wandered the grounds, a roomy spread of thirty acres. Each living area for these animals is spacious and well kept, with houses that rival the cottage itself. No two are alike, from the “Pig Chalet Bed and Breakfast” to a cozy log cabin and a patriotic red, white and blue structure.

I suppose no vacation is really complete without doing a little shopping and this opportunity was delightfully easy to find. The General Store at Ross Mill Farm offered everything I needed for a good consumer spending spree. If only I had one of these delightful pets at home, I’d have picked up a couple packages of LulaBell’s Good Little Pig Treats, offered in a choice of: Peanut Butter Crunch or Apple and Coconut Snap Cookies. However, my purchases needed to be geared toward presents for my family, so I looked around the shop for other choices. By the time I was ready to total my selections, I had a soft gray fleece sweatshirt, a box of stationary with cottage and farm sketches, a signed copy of Lowell, The True Story of an Existential Pig, by Gay L. Balliet and several copies of Pigorian Chant, a CD-accompanied publication that is both enchanting and humorous.

I reluctantly said goodbye to Ross Mill Farm and waved to my new pot-bellied friends before turning my car down the driveway and heading out. This was a birthday I certainly wouldn’t forget, and a discovery of a wonderful place that is definitely not to be missed.

Ross Mill Farm is conveniently located one hour north of Philadelphia, in scenic, historic Bucks County, Pennsylvania. An easy drive from many east coast areas, it’s a perfect destination for a family trip that is both fun and educational, as well as a unique getaway for the romantically-inclined couple.

Location: Ross Mill Farm, P.O. Box 498, Rushland, PA 18956
Phone: (215) 322-1539
Website: www.rossmillfarm.com

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