Stirring up memories
More Than Dates and Places
September 12, 2006
Colts jumped fences
I still have—it's right in front of me—the battered green poetry book that was a favorite of my childhood. It's full of intriguing tales of proud mysterious cats and buffalo ghosts running wild across the plains. But my very favorite then, and now, is the poem that author Vachel Lindsey must have loved best as well, for it's the name of the book: Johnny Appleseed.
Snorting, ramping, snapping, sniffing,
With gastronomic calculations
Crossed the Appalachians...
Johnny Appleseed, John Chapman, left his New York home and headed across Pennsylvania and points west planting apple orchards and acting as a peacemaker between settlers and Native Americans.
Last summer we stood exactly where legend tells us Johnny began his journey in Cumberland, Maryland. He crossed the Potomac and started out down the old Nemacolin Indian Trail (later Braddock's Road) until he reached the Monongahela River; then he headed down the river to today's Pittsburgh. We planned to trace Johnny's trail at least as far as the river and then continue on the road to West Virginia along U.S. Highway 40—the National Road, the first federally funded highway and the door to the West.
We were doing more than following Mr. Chapman, though. We were following the course of history—our nation's history and, I hope, a little bit of my own. My dad's family legends tell that the Nordykes landed in New Amsterdam and stuck around even when it became New York, but later in the early 1800s some of them (a Quaker branch) headed west, ending up in Indiana. The timing tells me that once upon a time, I had some great, great, great-grandfolks camped in Cumberland with a loaded Conestoga wagon heading out to a new life.
This summer Bob and I, like Johnny Appleseed and the Nordyke family, stood on the banks of the Potomac in Cumberland, and gazed westward. We visited George Washington's headquarters, had a really good dinner, hopped in our rented car and found Mile Marker No. 1 and headed west into Pennsylvania on the original National Road.
Almost every one of the 131 miles is marked with one of these markers—some the original, some exact replicas—and just about every mile is loaded with history.
In Uniontown (appropriately established on July 4, 1776) you could spend a month. We spent a couple of days seeing Fort Necessity, built by a very young George Washington, and walking a bit along the Nemacolin Trail (see Stirring up Memories, Aug. 30, 2006).
Our hosts and longtime friends, Jim and Eleanor Ulmer, served as guides and took us for dinner at the marvelous Chez Gerard. A bonus—it's lodged in an early 1800s inn, the Hopwood-Miller Inn, right on the National Road.
"Come for a slice of American history...and a slice of French Camembert," the literature urged us. History surrounded us; we had to wonder which famous Americans (and which early Nordykes) had dined where we ate that night.
Uniontown is the county seat of Fayette County. If you are a history buff you might go no further—the county has about 70 sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The revolutionary, pioneering spirit of the town is not limited to the 18th and 19th century. That 20th century architectural pioneer, Frank Lloyd Wright, left his mark nearby—twice—in two magnificent homes.
Fallingwater is world renowned and worth a trip on its own, but I was not familiar with Kentuck Knob, a smaller house built nearby. (Eleanor knew the owners and watched the house rise up and become their home.) Now privately owned by a British billionaire, it is open to the public. The simplicity of the small structure and its openness to the surrounding Allegheny countryside made us both feel we could move right in. Instead, it was time to move on and head west.
Soon we approached Blairstown and the delight and highlight of my National Road journey—The Madonna of the Trails. This statue erected by the Daughters of the American Revolution commemorates the spirit, stamina and overall heroisms of the westward trekking women, wives and mothers. Eventually the National Road extended westward across the nation. A madonna stands in each of the 12 states it transverses.
We continued on our trek through Washington, Pennsylvania. Again, you could spend several days checking out the historic sites. We promised to come back again soon and kept our eye on our goal, Wheeling, West Virginia, where this first leg of the National Road ends at the Ohio River. Here the pioneers made their way to their new adventures and new homes on the river.
We also ended our journey here, but in a good pioneering spirit not before we crossed the river and spent the night in Ohio.
If you are seeking a great taste of history, mixed in with stunning scenery and welcoming folks, take a ride along the National Road. If you have school-aged history students to take along, all the better. American history will never be dates and places again.
In honor of good John Chapman, Johnny Appleseed, and because fall is just around the corner—on the calendar if not on the thermometer—here are a couple of good apple recipes for the hot and cool days ahead.
1½ cup (12 ounces) apple juice
1 tablespoon honey
3 cups crushed ice
Blend all in a blender or with an immersion blender to the consistency of snow. Serve at once. Brrrrrrrrrrr.
Here's a delicious cake that will last a long time if it's put in an air-tight container—and your family doesn't know it's there. It's said to be an authentic Pennsylvania country recipe, copied into an old cookbook found in a second-hand store.
Boiled cider fruit cake
Sift 2 cups of flour with ½ teaspoons salt, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon cinnamon and ½ teaspoon each ginger and nutmeg. Be sure it is in a heat resistant bowl. Set aside.
Combine one cup apple cider, 1 cup brown sugar, 1 cup raisins and ½ cup butter and bring to a boil over a low heat. Pour this boiling mixture all at once into the flour mixture. Stir until it is all blended and pour into a greased and floured tube or Bundt pan. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees until firm, about 30 minutes or a little longer.
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Trilla Pando is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance & the Story Circle Network