Dawn of the Final Day
We began the day by looking at the route home when I discovered a place that we'd unexpectedly pass: Montpelier, the home of President James Madison. It was a detour of just a few miles from our initial route, so we decided to take the detour and tour his home.
Having visited Monticello many years ago, I kind of knew what to expect, but that was a while back and a completely different house. Montpelier was similar - starting in the visitor's center, we watched an introductory film and learned about how the house was undergoing extensive research to return it to what it would have looked like at the end of the Madison tenure, as it had been extensively modified by subsequent owners after the widowed Dolley Madison had to sell it to pay her debts.
The tour started off slow but picked up interest as it went along, and was given by a nice older man whose general facial features, unfortunately, resembled Dracula. They've pretty much finished stripping back the additions and restoring the structure to what it would have looked like during the residence of the Madisons, but there were very few original pieces of furniture. While everything was a period piece, tracking the original furniture and knick-knacks from the house is a difficult and time-consuming process.
Among the interesting information was the importance of Dolley Madison in the fledgling nation's affairs. She was the longest-serving First Lady, as the socialite and trend-setter had served as the de facto First Lady under widower Thomas Jefferson. In addition to her popularization of ice cream (her favorite flavor: oyster), she popularized the turban and made her husband so popular that his presidential opponent said that he could have beaten Mr. Madison, but not Mr. and Mrs. Madison.
We exited Montpelier and endured the blistering heat back to the air-conditioned sanctuary of the visitor center, where we added an ornament to Mom's Collection and rolled on out, continuing down the road to our original first stop of the day at Appomattox Court House. Though long hailed as the end of the Civil War, as Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia had long posed the biggest threat to Union forces, and Lee himself had just earlier in 1865 been appointed commander of all Confederate forces, it was not the last action of the Civil War. Other armies surrendered later, and the last battle - in Brownsville, literally as far south as you can go and still be in the United States - was won by the Confederates.
The sweltering heat had not diminished in the least as we sweated around Appomattox Court House. While it's only just a few houses situated at a crossroads, it served as the administrative district for Appomattox County, which is confusing because the town of Appomattox is just a few miles from the Court House.
Easily the most interesting thing on the grounds was the famous McLean House, site of Lee's surrender to Grant. The magnanimous Grant made sure that Lee's depleted army - starving and tired to the point that some would just fall over asleep while marching and captured by the Union forces coming up behind them - was properly supplied and sent back home in an orderly manner.
Amazingly, Lee didn't want to give up the cause, saying that he wanted to keep fighting to the death than give Grant the unconditional surrender he demanded. Though the war was lost, a short battle was waged the night before, with the Confederates unsuccessfully trying to break through the lines of the Union army that finally had them surrounded. Cut off from their only way out - south to General Johnston's army, which surrendered not long after the events of Appomattox - Lee realized that attacking was suicidal.
The McLeans were forced to sell their house after the war, as their fortune, which was entirely in Confederate money, was worthless. The new owner was an enterprising fellow, and took extensive notes on the interior of the house before meticulously taking it apart, with the intention of taking it to the Chicago World's Fair, like the building at Harpers Ferry that housed John Brown. But with the travel cost from Appomattox to Chicago prohibitively expensive, he decided to re-build it in the much closer Washington, D.C. ... but he went bankrupt shortly after, leaving the McLean House not much more than a pile of stones and slowly rotting wood.
It was re-built on the spot years later and restored to what it would have looked like when it hosted the generals of both sides. With a mix of originals and replicas, it really wasn't all that big.
Though still immensely hot, we made the trek to the gift shop, where - in addition to the obligatory ornament - my dad got a few books for himself. I have no shortage of assurance that he will have completed these tomes within the week.
Back in the car, we continued down the road a little ways. Hungry, and with nothing to eat on Route 29 itself, we exited and found an Applebee's, where we all got what we'd had yesterday, purely in the interest of time, as our main priority at that point was to get back home during the daylight hours. I'm glad to report that there was no atrocious karaoke at this establishment, only a waitress who called all of us "sweetheart" and "honey" in alternating order.
Two hours of driving later, we made it back home, just as the sun was setting.
This trip clocked in at 4625 miles on the dot, about 55% of the mileage that we covered on the first two trips. Strangely, it feels like we've done more, as the things to do in the Northeast are generally more tightly packed. The wilderness of northern Maine, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and parts of Québec and Vermont was more like what we've been accustomed to out west. Though there are more baseball teams in the northeast, the number of pennants we collected was significantly lower, which I can only attribute to the fact that, in terms of mileage, this is only half a trip.
Our beloved car has finally seen its last road trip. With over 120,000 miles and many road trips in its rearview mirror, it's broken down six times on these road trips, and we were on track for five if this third trek had gone a full 8,000. She's a retired greyhound now - still a great car, but we're not going to put her through any unnecessary stress.
Tomorrow: we sleep in our own beds for the first time in roughly a month - and tonight, I don't have to pile pillows on my head to protect my ears from the wood-chipping quality of my parents' patented Tandem Snoring™.