As I have mentioned before, I am a bit of an odd duck. Fortunately, my husband is also an odd duck and we are raising a small group of odd little ducklings. (It’s a secret plan for us odd ducks to take over the world. Shh!)
Being a family of odd ducks makes many aspects of our lives easier. For example, all but one of us completely agree that mornings are best spent sleeping and the odd duck out is courteous enough to play quietly on those occasions when the rest of us have the opportunity to live out our ideal. This works out rather nicely.
Another way we odd ducks get along well is in our choice of vacations. You would think, being a history buff such as I am, that I would either need to drag my family around to historical sites and museums, or else finagle myself some time to visit them alone. This is not so. You see, my husband is almost as avid a history fan as I and we have happily bestowed this love for all things old and storied upon our children. Thus, when my husband and I excitedly announced that our upcoming vacation would include an extensive visit to Columbia State Historic Park, the 1897 Railtown State Park, and several other museums and historical sites, we were not met with groans and long faces. Nope. My odd little ducklings squealed with joy and bounced up and down in excitement. *contented sigh* Clearly we are doing something right.
Having said that, vacation or no, the historical researcher in me is never turned off, so of course, I have brought back gobs of photos and fun little factoids to share with my fellow history fanatics.
Did you know Mercer Caverns was discovered on September 1, 1885 by a man searching for gold? The first tourists were lowered in by ropes and had only candlelight with which to view these enormous caverns. Worse yet, these candles were carried on boards held in the teeth of the tourists as they lowered themselves into the cave. Hmm. Ropes and flames. What could possibly go wrong there? Later, torches and different types of lanterns (lower right) were used before electricity was finally threaded throughout the cave in 1901.
Another interesting bit of the Mercer Cavern story lies in how they came up with the money to install stairs for tourists. Apparently, Mercer Caverns is home to an extremely rare type of aragonite, so they cut off a chunk of this stuff and sent it off to the 1900 Paris World’s Fair where it won a special prize which came with a nice chunk of money. Sadly, Mr. Mercer passed on before the stairs could be installed, but his widow took over in his stead.
My family’s tour of the Mercer Caverns was exceedingly interesting and I highly recommend a visit if you’re ever in the area. Oh, and if you do stop by, be sure to eat at one of the local restaurants in town. We ate at two and both were exceptionally delicious meals served up by friendly staff.
THE MURPHYS POKEY
I came across this old time jail in Murphy, CA just off the main road on the way to the park where we found a large, modern play structure and public restrooms prior to our Tour of Mercer Caverns. I liked the humor of the story and the handmade feel of the display so I wanted to share it here.
The plaque reads:
“The Murphys Pokey was built around 1915 by Tom Burrow, Frank Kaler, Price Williams, Frank Degale and Frank Forrester and is constructed of hand-mixed concrete. The previous jail was made of wood and was located closer to the creek. It is doubted that any really bad man was ever housed in this jail, but it is said that one of the men who built it became drunk and rowdy while celebrating its completion and was the first inmate.”
1860 Schoolhouse – Columbia, California
Above you see the schoolhouse located in Columbia, Ca along with one of its two oversized outhouses. Originally built in 1860 of locally made sun-dried bricks this building has undergone a number of renovations to reach the appearance it has today.
While visiting Columbia’s main historic area you will notice signs directing you toward the schoolhouse. Do not be fooled. This building is located at the top of a hill about 3 country blocks away from those signs. Though this undertaking by foot may seem easy at the start of your vacation, attempting this walk with three young children after many days of touring and several nights of interrupted sleep (courtesy of those same 3 darlings) will have you panting for breath long before you reach your destination. On the bright side, a bench has been strategically placed about halfway to your destination beneath some trees in the middle of an empty lot. Nevertheless, might I recommend taking advantage of the parking lot we didn’t know was near the school until we got there?
Despite the unexpectedly challenging walk, the schoolhouse was a fascinating site to explore. Apparently, the elementary students used the bottom floor while older students used the upper floor. Being the writer I am, it was fun to stand inside the classrooms and imagine the classes held there in yesteryear. What shenanigans the children might have gotten up to and where the teachers may have come from wandered through my mind. Can you imagine climbing those steep wooden stairs on a snowy winter’s day? Or rushing out to the odoriferous outhouse in the heat of a sweltering summer? Would you have preferred to roast in the seat closest to the wood burning stoves or shiver in the seat farthest from it? The school was in continual use until it closed in 1937 due to not meeting earthquake safety standards.
Columbia State Historic Park – California
Above you see the photographs I took while waiting for the history tour to begin. I’m sitting on the boardwalk outside the visitor’s center, it’s early, and I’ve been up for hours exploring the town on my own while the kids and my husband sleep in, so believe me when I say that’s a smile. I truly am excited, just too tired to show it properly.
Columbia, California is where we spent the bulk of our vacation. This historic state park is packed full of fun things to do and interesting things to see and learn. I could have spent a month digging through all the layers of history the town represents.
Those green metal doors you see? They have nothing to do with thieves as one might think, and everything to do with fire. They were added after two fires devastated this gold rush town. Combined with newly doubled brick walls, it was hoped those doors would keep the fires out.
Speaking of fire, the story goes that one man, despairing of any other solution, took it upon himself to soak the wooden roof of his otherwise brick building with the vast amounts of vinegar he had on hand in order to prevent the building and its contents from being destroyed. It worked. Though his roof suffered some damage, he managed to save the rest. Today you can see the burnt beam left behind by this fire when you enter the visitor’s center, walk to the back room and look up. More interestingly it is said that on a hot summer’s day if you stand next to the building’s brick walls and smell it you will get a whiff of vinegar. I admit I was skeptical, but I tried it. I did not smell vinegar. Still, if you ever get a chance to visit and give it a try I’d love to hear about your results.
So now I’ve told you all about my family’s vacation. What about you?
What’s your favorite vacation memory?
Let me know in the comments below!
When I was young my family would spend a week vacationing near Charleston, South Carolina. I loved exploring the old civil war forts, the antebellum houses, going on carriage tours thru historical downtown Charleston. This summer we are taking our son there for his first visit. I am looking forward to it!
Your trip looked fantastic also!
That sounds like fun! My family took long, looping road trips through the western half of the continental U.S. when I was a kid, and I have had a chance to visit some of the eastern and southern states, but I have yet to make it to South Carolina. Someday when the kids are grown I want to try to visit every state. There is just so much history to explore!