Saturday, August 17, 2013

Road Trips and Historical Homes

The pump where Helen Keller first learned the word w-a-t-e-r

"The most beautiful world is always entered through imagination." --Helen Keller

We were on the road the last few days and, oh, the places to which that road took us.

First of all, I once mentioned a book (here) that was an anniversary gift from hubbie one year, Historical Homes of America, compiled by James Tackach. The book was an instant hit. A bonus came when we recognized that we had seen one of the houses featured way back in the early years of our marriage, Brigham Young's Beehive House in Salt Lake City. I remember off-handedly saying, wouldn't it be neat to visit as many of these houses as possible whenever we travel?

Well, fast forward to the present, quite a number of years later, and we can now report that out of 67 houses featured in the book, we have seen 19. Two of those nineteen we saw this week while on our summer road trip...

...starting with the Helen Keller house, "Ivy Green," in Tuscumbia, Alabama. It almost gave me goosebumps to actually touch the pump where the breakthrough to words and communication came for the young child struck blind and deaf by illness when she was only 19 months old. Included in the tour is the house where she was born, the cottage where she and Anne Sullivan ("The Miracle Worker") lived while Anne taught and guided her, and a museum room sharing the story of her remarkable and inspiring life.

The second house we visited wasn't just a house, it was a southern plantation and home of the 7th president of the U.S., Andrew Jackson. "The Hermitage" is located outside of Nashville, Tennessee. The tour here took us far longer than we expected. Three-and-a-half hours worth, and if we didn't still have another five-hour drive home from there, we would have stayed longer. Having read The President's Lady, by Irving Stone and A Being So Gentle, the Frontier Love Story of Rachel and Andrew Jackson, by Patricia Brady, we've been interested in the subject of Andrew Jackson for a time. Needless to say, the opportunity to visit the Hermitage immersed us in the history of the man, his presidency, his personal life, his contributions, his controversies. Highlights from the brochure give a glimpse into the story: "Life on the Edge," "Connections, Confidence and Cotton," "Contradiction and Conflict," "Politics Not-As-Usual," "A Sense of Style and Destiny." Quite an interesting place in which to get a sense of the early-to-mid-1800s south and its issues.

And what prompted us to take this trip in the first place? Why, Little Nicholas' house! We puttered down the highway to visit the grandson (and his mommy and daddy, of course) who has relocated to the States from Spain and now lives only nine hours (by car) from us. It was his house that really was the biggest draw! And the one most difficult to leave when the trip was over.

Road trips and historical homes. Some great stuff. Our album of brochures and photographs continues to grow. Trying to imagine the worlds of people in the past never seems to grow old for me so I can't help but wonder where we will visit next. For sure, I've got plenty of album pages ready and waiting, whichever historical home it might be.

Any noteworthy houses or sites you've traveled to this summer? What historical site is your favorite? Is your imagination stirred when visiting places of the past?

p.s. The nineteen houses we've visited so far include: Helen Keller, Tuscumbia, Alabama; William Randolph Hearst, San Simean, California; John Ringling, Sarasota, Florida; George Rogers Clark, Jefferson County, Kentucky; Paul Revere, Boston, Massachusetts; Henry Ford, Dearborn, MichiganCharles Lindbergh, Little Falls, Minnesota; Jefferson Davis, Biloxi, Mississippi; Daniel Boone, Defiance, Missouri; Harry S. Truman, Independence, Missouri; William Jennings Bryan, Lincoln, Nebraska; William F. Cody (Buffalo Bill), North Platte, Nebraska; Thomas Wolfe, Ashville, North Carolina; George Washington Vanderbilt (the Biltmore), Ashville, North Carolina; Laura Ingalls Wilder, De Smet, South Dakota; Andrew Jackson, Nashville, Tennessee; Sam Rayburn, Bonham, Texas; Brigham Young, Salt Lake City, Utah; Robert E. Lee (the Arlington House at Arlington National Cemetery), Arlington, Virginia. All-righty, only 48 more to go!


  1. What a super fun thing to do. We didn't see any historic homes this summer but in the past, we saw many in Newport, R.I.; we saw Jackie Kennedy's home prior to her marriage; we saw Mark Twain's homes, both the one in Hannibal, MO, and also Hartford, CT; we saw San Simeon; and also Thomas Edison's home near Naples, FL.

    But as you say, for you, the best of all was seeing your grandson and his new home. It was the same for us when our daughter lived in CT. She, however, decided to move home to have and raise her family, and so none of our grandkids have ever lived farther than 25 miles from us.

  2. I have been reading (slowly) Helen Keller's authobiography. It would be such a treat to see her home. Lucky you! I have visted the Hermitage in Nashville (so lovely) and many years ago toured the Hearst home. One of my favorite homes has been Lincoln's boyhood home in Indiana. What a fun goal this is. I'm with you!

  3. The only "historical" home I visited this summer is the one where I grew up, and where my mother still lives. As a young girl, I visited the Crosley mansion in Cincinnati, which impressed me a lot at the time. I love visiting historical sites. Unfortunately, my family doesn't. So I haven't seen many. The Helen Keller home would be wonderful to see!

  4. Cathy, you've visited an impressive list of historical houses yourself :-) One you've seen that's featured in my historical homes book is Mark Twain's place in CT. A photo shows it to be quite an unusual design--"victorian gothic mansion," the caption reads, with "an odd collection of gables, towers, porches, and chimneys." Sounds interesting! Thanks for sharing. If I ever get to Connecticut, it will be top on the list of places to visit...

    Sharon, we've done the reverse of each other--I've seen the house, now I want to read the autobiography; you're reading Helen Keller's book, and wish you could see the house. I hope you can, it was very inspiring! Thanks for stopping by and sharing about the houses you've visited :-)

    Peggy--you've visited an historic home right here where I live that I haven't seen, the Crosley mansion. Will have to check that out :-) And as for family members who don't share your passion for historical sites, I have to say hubbie didn't have the same interest starting out, but I've won him over and now he likes going to them as much as I do. So maybe there's hope for you, too...? Have a great week ahead. Has school started for you yet?

    1. Meetings start today. The semester starts on Wednesday. As always, it's bittersweet - hate to leave summer behind, can't wait to start the new year. :-)

    2. wishing you a great school year...have a good one :-)

  5. Ooo, I drooled over this post! My hubby and I love historic homes, not only for the people-based history, but for the architecture as well! We're saving up to buy a home and I'm constantly dreaming away on websites like and

  6. Jess, thanks for the links to historic properties--I'll definitely check them out :-) And best wishes on your house hunt. Will look forward to hearing what your "dream" house will look like! (Btw, our little country house was built in 1935--does that count as historic enough? ha!)

  7. What a wonderful road trip. My husband and i both love old homes, and I especially like historic homes (given that i write historical fiction.) I would especially have loved seeing Helen Keller's house. I saw that movie many times, and I remember an excerpt by her when I was in high school, where she talked about what she would want to see if she had sight for one day.)

  8. How exciting your trip was. I remember a few years back going to Massachusetts and Cape Cod. Saw Paul Revere's house and visited Mother Goose's grave. You make me want to hit the road again.