Tag Archives: history

Fun in Cheyenne, Wyoming


Our first overnight stop on our journey back home after dropping off Miss Molly (who is doing fabulous, by the way! More on that in a future post) was Cheyenne, Wyoming. This was a perfect place to hang our hats for the night…

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Our cowboy hats!

 We were in the heart of cowboy country and everything around us reflected that. Including the hotel we called home for the night.

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When booking our hotel I simply went online looking for the best deal available in the area. This tactic sometimes fails me, but more often than not we are pleasantly surprised at how great the hotel is given the inexpensive pricetag.

This hotel was one of those experiences.

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We stayed the night at The Historic Plains Hotel in the heart of downtown Cheyenne, Wyoming.

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“Few hotels capture the history, heritage and traditions of the American West like The Historic Plains Hotel. Steeped in the frontier legends and charm of turn-of-the-century Cheyenne, WY, our beautifully restored hotel offers every travel comfort while preserving every detail of our original grandeur.

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Since 1911, we’ve been a vital part of Cheyenne’s culture and character like no other hotel. Today, we exude an authentic, local style worlds apart from the cookie-cutter branded hotels all too common these days. To stay here is to rediscover an era when travel meant something special and unexpected. Stepping into our opulent Grand Lobby, with its beautiful bisque tiling, stained glass skylight and impressive pillars, is only the beginning of a stay that will provide interest, intrigue and uniquely personal experiences at every moment.”

It was a stunning hotel…

A true feast for the eyes,

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With beautiful and historic gems hidden around every corner.

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The age of the building was especially evident in its original elevators. The woodwork and brass fixtures were stunning but the elevator itself was tiny, requiring the boys and I to take two separate trips up to our room.

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As we stood waiting for the elevator to return we saw this sign and found out the reason for the tiny elevator…

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What a hoot!

After dropping off our luggage at our home for the night, we headed over to Terry Bison Ranch…an unknown excursion I planned for the boys to be enjoyed on our trip home.

After a week of seeing thousands of Bison from the safely recommended distance posted around the national parks we visited, I thought it would be fun to get a little closer. When I read the reviews of this ranch online I knew it had to be one of our final stops on our road trip.

There were many activities offered at the ranch but I chose to sign us up for the Bison Train Tour.

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This experience takes guests on a narrated tour through the ranch, and in among the herd, on a custom built train car.

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We boarded the train and were off, learning much about Bison as we chugged along toward where the herd of Bison were grazing.

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Along the way we crossed over into Colorado, a fact that delighted Braden who was on a mission to “collect” as many visited states as he could on this trip.

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As we got closer to the herd we received the unexpected and exciting news that a baby had just been born 30 minutes earlier and we would get to see the brand new baby Bison in among the herd.

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This cinnamon colored beauty was the first thing I spotted as we drove into the heart of the Bison herd. I couldn’t take my eyes off momma and baby.

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It was a beautiful sight to behold!

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The train came to a stop in the middle of hundreds of Bison. It was a bit disarming to see them come ambling over to the train with such eager enthusiasm.

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It was clear they knew exactly what a stopped train meant…

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It was snack time!

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In the aisles of the train were five gallon buckets filled with Bison pellets and we were allowed to hang out the windows of the train car and feed these magnificent beasts.

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After two weeks of enjoying these incredible animals from a distance, we were now able to interact with them face to face, feeding them from our hands and petting their furry faces.

It was pretty incredible.

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Especially when the larger bulls came right up to our window in search of hand-outs.

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The train remained stationary for 30 minutes, giving us plenty of time to get our fill of Bison love and plenty of time for the beasts to fill their bellies…

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Then we were off. The herd hated to see us go and followed alongside the train until we exited the paddock.

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When the train returned to the station we exited and were able to walk around the ranch and enjoy some of the other animals that call Terry Bison Ranch, home.

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There was an elevated observation platform that extended above the various animal enclosures allowing us to check out the farm animals from a birds eye view.

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Then we went down to love on them face to face before heading out.

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It was such a fun experience to share with my oldest sons on our journey back home.

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Thanks. Cheyenne!

It’s been an adventure!

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Winter Quarters, Nebraska


After a good night sleep we got on the road early, knowing we had an eleven hour drive ahead of us. The next hotel we had booked was located just outside of Badlands National Park. To break up a long day of driving we decided to add some impromptu stops along the way. 

Finding ourselves emotionally invested in the stories of the faithful people of Nauvoo, we felt compelled to follow their path across the river and venture on to Winter Quarters, Nebraska.

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“At the Winter Quarters LDS visitors center guests have the opportunity to catch  glimpses of the great “Mormon Migration” as they walk beside a covered wagon, pull a handcart, climb in the bunks on a steam ship, and imagine a railroad journey. Exhibits also explore the expulsion from Nauvoo, the crossing of Iowa, and temporary settlements in the Middle Missouri Valley, including Winter Quarters, where the center is located.”


Winter Quarters Complex – Omaha, Nebraska

“Built on Indian land with permission from the U.S. Army, Winter Quarters served as the main settlement of the Mormons on the Missouri River until they moved the fitting-out site to Kanesville in Iowa.”

“The winter of 1846-47 was devastating, and with inadequate shelter and food they died by the hundreds of malaria, scurvy, dysentery, and a host of other unidentified ailments. Louisa Barnes Pratt recalled in her memoirs, “I hired a man to build me a sod cave. He took turf from the earth, laid it up, covered it with willow brush and sods. Built a chimney of the same. . . . I paid a five dollar gold piece for building my sod house, 10 x 12. . . . A long cold rain storm brought more severely again the chills and fever. These with scurvy made me helpless indeed! . . . Many of my friends sickened and died in that place, when I was not able to leave my room, could not go to their bedside to administer comfort to them in the last trying hours, not even to bid them farewell. Neither could I go to see their remains carried to their final resting place where it was thought I would shortly have to be conveyed.”

As we walked around the visitor center, guided by a sweet sister missionary, we really got a feel for the stories and sacrifices made by those who found themselves wintering over in Western Iowa and Eastern Nebraska. Their losses were great but their faith was even greater.

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December 1846- Diary of Lucy Meserve Smith

We moved down to Winter Quarters when my babe was two weeks old. There we lived in a cloth tent until December, then we moved into a log cabin, ten feet square with sod roof, chimney and only the soft ground for a floor and poor worn cattle beef and corn cracked on a hand mill, for our food. Here I got scurvy, not having any vegetables to eat. I got so low I had to wean my baby and he had to be fed on that coarse cracked corn bread when he was only five months old. We had no milk for a while till we could send to the herd and then he did very well till I got better. My husband took me in his arms and held me till my bed was made nearly every day for nine weeks. I could not move an inch. Then on the 9th of February I was 30 years old. I had nothing to eat but a little corn meal gruel. I told the folks I would remember my birthday dinner when I was 30 years old. My dear baby used to cry till It seemed as tho I would jump off my bed when it came night. I would get so nervous, but I could not even speak to him. I was so helpless I could not move myself in bed or speak out loud. . . . When I got better I had not a morsel in the house I could eat, as my mouth was so sore. I could not eat corn bread and I have cried hours for a morsel to put in my mouth. Then my companion would take a plate and go around among the neighbors and find some one cooking maybe a calf’s pluck. He would beg a bit to keep me from starving. I would taste it and then I would say oh do feed my baby. My appetite would leave me when I would think of my dear child. My stomach was hardening from the want of food.

The next July my darling boy took sick and on the 22nd, the same day that his father and Orson Pratt came into the valley of the great Salt lake my only child died. I felt so overcome in my feelings. I was afraid I would loose my mind, as I had not fully recovered from my sickness the previous winter”

(“Original Historical Narrative of Lucy Meserve Smith: 14 Aug. 1884–1889)”

I can’t imagine packing up my family and heading to an unknown land with minimal provisions, propelled forward only by a hope of a better life and a deep faith in God.


In the visitor’s center there was a display showing the provisions allowed for each wagon headed west. These are the provisions for a family of 5.

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Handcart pioneers were more limited in the weight they could pack because of the fact they would be pulling their carts across the country without the help of oxen.

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It was fascinating to step within the log cabin recreation and see what a typical log home would have looked like, as families wintered the elements at Winter Quarters.

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At one display we were able to see the means used to track the pioneer’s mileage west. By tying a rag to the wagon wheel, and measuring the size of the wheel, one person was assigned the task of counting each rotation of the rag, recording the daily number, and calculating the mileage for the day.

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Can you imagine having that job?!

We left with a better appreciation for our pioneer heritage and a deeper gratitude that we are trekking west in an air conditioned car, rather than by handcart.

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Braden trying out a pioneer game.

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A Visit to Old Nauvoo


On our journey westward, our first stop was Nauvoo, Illinois.


“As the Latter-day Saints fled Missouri during the winter of 1838–1839, having been threatened by the governor of that state with extermination, they crossed into Illinois and settled in a swampy area along the Mississippi River that they named Nauvoo. Over the next few years, an estimated 16,000 Latter-day Saints took up residence in the city and its surrounding communities. It became one of the largest cities in Illinois at the time and an important commercial center on the upper Mississippi.

Many in the surrounding communities continued to harass the Latter-day Saints, and on 27 June 1844, a painted mob shot to death Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum. Despite the rapidly escalating tension in the area, the Latter-day Saints continued at great sacrifice to complete a temple in the city, even while they prepared for a mass exodus to the West. Between February and September 1846, most of the Latter-day Saints took up their march to the West, leaving their homes, their city, and their temple to the hands of those who had not built and the hearts of those who did not care.

Today Nauvoo is a significant historic district, with many of the buildings in the original townsite rebuilt or restored and open for the public to visit.”

This was Braden’s first time to Nauvoo and I couldn’t wait to share with him this quaint corner of Illinois.


Nauvoo has a feeling much like historic Williamsburg, with historic and recreated buildings from the 1840’s.

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The sister missionaries and senior missionaries demonstrate life from the 1840’s through hands-on activities in each shop.

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Historic Nauvoo consists of 30 different historic buildings in the village, the visitor’s center and the Nauvoo temple.

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What sets Nauvoo apart from other historical villages is the spirit felt there. I loved the education we acquired at each stop about what life would have been like in historic Nauvoo, but appreciated even more the spiritual messages and sweet testimonies born by our tour guides.

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Here are some of the favorite stops we made as we discovered Historic Nauvoo:

“Visit the Scovil Bakery to experience a baker’s lifestyle before the days of electric and gas ovens. See the baking equipment of the 1840s, original Temple Plates, and many other items used for baking during the Nauvoo period. The Scovil Bakery was one of several such establishments in Nauvoo in the 1840s.”

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Here we enjoyed a homemade gingersnap cookie!

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Next stop was the blacksmith shop:

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“Chauncey Webb, along with his father and brothers, owned and operated this blacksmith and wagon shop. This shop has been reconstructed on its original foundation. When you visit, you will learn how wagon wheels were constructed, and you will see a wagon, loaded with supplies, ready to cross the plains. Everyone who visits receives a “prairie diamond” ring, made from a horseshoe nail, to take home as a souvenir.”

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In addition to everyone receiving a “prairie diamond” ring, each family received a souvenir horseshoe.

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“Tour the Jonathan Browning Home and Gun Shop and learn about the humble beginnings of the worldwide Browning Arms Corporation. See authentic rifles, handguns, and shotguns from the early 1800s and their present-day counterparts. In this shop, you’ll see a fine display of firearms made by Jonathan and his descendants.”

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“Brickyard: Many early settlers lived for years in log cabins while they built their brick homes, only to enjoy them for a few short months before they left to begin their trek westward. By 1845, Nauvoo was home to seven brickyards, supplied by local red clay and kept busy producing bricks for the growing population.

The brickmaker will demonstrate how bricks were formed, dried and baked here in Old Nauvoo.”

As we left the brickyard we were given a souvenir Nauvoo brick to help us remember our visit. This was Rusty’s favorite stop of Historic Nauvoo.

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Stoddard Tin Shop: In this restored tin shop, see a demonstration of how Sylvester Stoddard used patterns to make a variety of essential household tin goods. Step into Charity Stoddard’s sitting room and gain insight into frontier life. Innovation was key.

Here we enjoyed the unexpected surprise of running into someone we knew. As we entered the tin shop, greeted by the sister missionaries, recognition came over us when we realized we knew one of the sister missionaries. It was Rebecca Doud, one of my 7th year campers from last year’s Girls Camp!

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What a small and wonderful world!

After touring many of the historic shops we headed over to the Family Living Center, an area geared toward children, where crafts and trades of the 1840’s are demonstrated. 

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The highlight here was getting to learn about how homemade bread is made and getting to sample the homemade bread!

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At 5:00 pm the shops of historic Nauvoo shut down, so for the remainder of our visit we visited the outdoor areas that were still open to the public.

We headed up the hill to walk around the grounds of the beautiful Nauvoo temple,

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And to see the Joseph and Hyrum Smith Memorial:

“Joseph and Hyrum Smith Memorial: Overlooking Historic Nauvoo and the Mississippi River, this statue commemorates the departure of Joseph Smith and his brother, Hyrum, for Carthage on June 24, 1844. Not far from this location by the temple, Joseph turned to Hyrum and said, “This is the loveliest place and the best people under the heavens; little do they know the trials that await them.”

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Molly’s  favorite location in Historic Nauvoo was the women’s garden:

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We concluded our visit to Historic Nauvoo with the powerful and moving experience of walking the Trail of Hope down to the river where the people of Nauvoo crossed, driven from the town they loved into an unknown future.

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Trail of Hope: Stretching along the western leg of Parley Street are 30  markers with journal and letter quotes from Mormon pioneers preparing to leave Nauvoo. Read their words of hope, sadness, faith, and courage.

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As we walked the path, reading the plaques, we listened to the music of the Tabernacle Choir on Molly’s phone as they sang the words to “Come, Come Ye Saints.” It was an incredibly powerful and moving experience.

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Our visit ended with a visit to the final resting place of Joseph, Hyrum and Emma Smith. This was Braden’s favorite stop.

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It was an amazing day with my middle kids. What a delight it has been creating special memories with these three and sharing with Braden some of the experiences he missed out on, having not been our son when we took our cross-country road trip three years ago.

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May the adventures continue…

On the road again!


Touring Philly from the Top of a Bus




As part of our mini-vacation to Philadelphia, Toby and I decided the best was to make the most of our 24 hours in the City of Brotherly Love, was to take advantage of the Philadelphia City Pass.

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With The Philadelphia City Pass we could gain access to some of Philly’s more well known sites for 1/2 the price of purchasing tickets at the exhibits’ doors. As we pondered the different choices offered through the City Pass we chose to visit the Philadelphia Zoo, Eastern State Penitentiary, and do the Big Bus tour.

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The Big Bus tour ended up being a fun way to see the sites of Philly. From the open top of a double decker bus  guests are able to ride the 1.5 hour loop of the tour route while a knowledgable tour guide shares fascinating facts and interesting history about the city. Guests also have the option of jumping on and off at different stops along the route.

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The flexibility makes it a fun option for seeing the sights of the city without the nuisance of navigating the parking situation in Philadelphia. Regardless of whether guests choose to simply ride and enjoy the sights of Philly from the upper deck, or use the Big Bus as a means of getting to desired touring locations, it is a great way to see the city. We had a lot of fun learning more about the city in this unconventional way.

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Some of the sights we enjoyed with the Big Bus tour included:


  1. Christ’s Church Burial Ground, the final resting ground of many of our country’s founding fathers,


Including Benjamin Franklin’s grave:


2. Love Park:



3. Independence Hall:

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4. Independence Visitor Center, location of the Liberty Bell:

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5. City Hall, one of the prettiest buildings I’ve ever seen!

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6. The Philadelphia Museum of Art…aka: The Rocky Steps!

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7. And the home and final resting place of Betsy Ross:


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(More about the historic Betsy Ross home in the next blog)

We really enjoyed the Big Bus tour. We felt we learned much about the city, while enjoying the fun novelty of open-air travel on a perfect summer day in Philadelphia!

Where’d that Quarter come from?



Toby is a coin collector and has been since he was a child. It is a hobby he shared with his father and a hobby that has continued his entire life. It is a hobby that pairs well with another favorite hobby of his: metal detecting. I love that he is so passionate and knowledgeable about something that brings him such joy,

And despite my complete lack of knowledge about currency, I enjoy learning from him as he shares his knowledge with such enthusiasm.

While we were in Philadelphia for our two day anniversary trip we decided to make one of our stops the Philadelphia Mint. Located in the heart of Philadelphia, this mint is one of five money-making factories in the United States and the top producer of the coins that jingle in your pocket.

Just pull out a handful of change and every coin marked with a “P” or not marked with a letter at all (this tradition is a nod to when the Philadelphia Mint was the nation’s only mint) was produced at the Philadelphia Mint.

It’s estimated that about 50% of the coins in circulation today were made at the Philadelphia Mint. 


The Philadelphia Mint is actually the nation’s first, started in 1792. The currency needs of the government continues to increase, and the mint has outgrown three buildings throughout its years. The current Philadelphia Mint building has been in use since 1969.

The Philadelphia Mint mints all coin denominations in use in America as well as many of the medals that the government hands out each year (think Congressional Medals of Honor, Presidential medals, etc.). The mint is capable of making upwards of 1 million coins every 30 minutes. By contrast, it would have taken the first Philadelphia Mint three years to create that many coins.

We arrived at the mint already knowledgeable to the rules and procedures of this government building having spent some time on their website. Due to the sensitive nature of the product produced inside, visitors are restricted from taking photographs.

We were able to nab a few photos outside the building before walking in.


Guests are guided through security before being set up the escalator to the second floor where the FREE tour begins.


We began our visit by learning the history of money making in America. Artifacts like the first coin press from 1792 were on display, along with a collection of old coins. There was also a short video that explained how the concept of a US mint came to be. By riding the escalator to the third floor we were guided to the next stop on the tour where guests are guided through the process of how coins are made.

The process of making a coin actually starts with Congress, who has to pass legislation for a new design or denomination. Once the bill has gone through Congress and the President has signed it, the process of making the coin really starts.

The Philadelphia Mint is home to the artists who actually figure out what the coins will look like. This can be quite a long process, with several variations made and many suggestions offered. Eventually though, a new design is settled upon and the process of making the coin can start.

This is also where the tour of the Philadelphia Mint gets really interesting because guests can actually look down on the factory floor below and watch the minting process.

On our self-guided walking tour we learned more about the five steps that are involved in the actual minting of the coins: die making, blanking, annealing and upsetting, striking, and inspecting/bagging. Each step was well explained with signage explaining the process, touch screens that showed us the of the highlights of the factory, and an audio explanation that played through speakers.

It was pretty amazing watching the coins being made below us. It was crazy to think that one of the coins we were watching be made may someday find its way into our pocket or change purse.

Both Toby and I found the Philadelphia Mint factory tour to be very interesting. It felt to me like we were walking through an episode of Discovery channel’s “How it’s Made.” Despite the tour being self-guided, we had no problem understanding each aspect of the process.  We both would highly recommend a visit to the Philadelphia Mint for anyone who collects coins or is simply interested in learning more about where their money comes from.

Darling Darlington


Just minutes from our home sits the small town of Darlington, population 249. Darlington is one of those one-horse towns that are frequently driven through but rarely visited. Currently Darlington is home to two gas stations, a convenience store, our mechanic and veterinarian, a handful of churches, and a whole lot of history!

Located within the town limits, multiple historic buildings can be found that have been converted into a place of historic preservation. Over the last decade I have passed these charming old buildings hundreds of times, but had never stopped in for a visit. It hasn’t been for lack of desire, however. The history-lover in me has been itching to explore the treasures hidden behind those 200 year old walls and learn a bit more about the local history of the area we call home.

Miss Corrina, a fellow mom in our co-op, was next in line to plan our co-op activities for the month of March. The first outing she planned finally gave me the excuse I needed to do a little local exploration, when she booked a tour with Darlington’s local historical Society. As part of our tour we were led through three different historical buildings in the town.

Because of the large size of our group we were split into two smaller groups, with Molly joining her friends in group A, while the rest of the McCleery clan stayed together in group B. Our first stop on our tour of historic Darlington was to the Greersburg Academy.

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“The Greersburg Academy, a two story stone structure, was established in 1802 by Rev. Thomas E, Hughes.

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In its earliest history it was a prep school for men entering the ministry and later became a classical academy. It is Beaver County’s earliest educational institution, and is the oldest standing public building in the county. Those who attended include William McGuffey and John Brown.

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In 1882 it was transformed into a passenger/freight train station, and is the oldest standing railroad station in the nation.

Today, the first floor contains the Meeting Room, Greersburg/Train Room and the Research Room. One of the main displays on this floor presents the history of the Underground Railroad of which Darlington was a central hub.”

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Next we walked over to the Little Beaver Museum, where we continued gaining an education on the history of the area.

“The Little Beaver Museum, a two story brick structure, was built to carry on the tradition of the Greersburg Academy.

The building was erected in 1883 after the Academy closed. It later became a two-year high school, graduating its first class in 1910.

The building and grounds of the Little Beaver Museum were deeded to the Society in 1964. Today it houses two floors of artifacts and displays.”

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Our final stop on the tour was also the last addition to the Little Beaver Complex…

The log cabin.

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“This historic cabin originally came from Fredrickstown, Ohio. In 2009 it was donated and moved to Darlington. It features a beautiful working stone fireplace and chimney.

The cabin houses a number of traditional artifacts and is used to display and demonstrate traditional cloth arts like wool dying and spinning.”

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It was a wonderful outing.

Who knew so much history played out in our own back yard!

A “Phipp’in” Good Time!


Last week we headed south to Pittsburgh for a field trip to Phipps Conservatory. We hadn’t visited Phipps for probably a decade so it was fun to have an excuse to go back. Beautiful anytime a year, Phipps is especially stunning during the month of December when the halls are decked for Christmas.

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“A green oasis in the middle of Pittsburgh’s vibrant Oakland neighborhood, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens has provided a world-class garden experience to its visitors since 1893. Explore the beauty and wonders of nature at Phipps, encompassing 15 acres including a 14-room glasshouse and 23 distinct gardens. Experience industry-leading sustainable architecture and green practices, stunning seasonal flower shows, exclusive commissioned exhibits, renowned orchid and bonsai collections and more. This historic landmark is just a few miles from downtown Pittsburgh in Schenley Park.”

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We arrived, checked in, and were given our schedule for the day. The first hour was to be spent exploring the green houses with a self-guided tour. The second hour was scheduled to be more formal with a presentation on the Flora of Cuba and corresponding activities.

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We began our self-guided tour in the atrium where beautiful Christmas trees lined the stone courtyard.

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Turning left we worked our way through the various rooms, enjoying the Christmas themes that blanked each area.

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The décor was stunning and the magic occurring within the glass of the greenhouse shone all the more brightly framed by the falling snow outside.

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Everyone had a favorite room.

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Following in the footsteps of his Grandpa Rich, Rusty loved the cactus room:

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Grace fell in love with this beautiful room paved in stone that is frequently rented out for weddings:

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Molly had a hard time choosing a favorite, enthralled by the natural beauty found in each themed greenhouse:

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As for Tyler…

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Well, let’s just say this outing was NOT his idea of a good time. As we moved from room to room he would slump with fatigue and whine, “We already saw these plants.”

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Poor kid just couldn’t work up any enthusiasm for room after room of foliage.

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Thank goodness for the pockets of child-friendly fun scattered among the acres of plants that allowed Tyler to fortify himself for all the walking and flower gazing that accompanied a field trip to Phipps Conservatory.

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The miniature railroad display and play grocery store were among his favorites.

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While he played “grocery store,” I enjoyed strolling through the room checking out all the Christmas sculptures created from flowers.

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For the second half of the field trip we joined other students and their families in one of the auditoriums for a presentation highlighting one of Phipps’s newest displays: “Tropical Forests of Cuba.”

We enjoyed a slide show introducing us to the habitats of Cuba, particularly the flora and fauna found in its tropical forests.

After an educational slide show we were taken to the Cuba room where the kids were set loose with scavenger hunt sheets and given 15 minutes to find the information missing from their sheets. The answers they found were then used to compete in a Cuba Jeopardy game.

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The kids paired off in groups of two, with Grace and Rusty competing against Molly and Tyler.

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This activity was more up Tyler’s alley and he loved the competitive nature of racing through the rain forest display in search of answers.

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After time expired, we walked back to the auditorium for the Jeopardy game where the kids had a chance to use their newly acquired knowledge of Cuba’s tropical forests to compete against the other students for bragging rights.

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The greatest take-away from the activity was probably the awesome conversation Molly enjoyed with the presenter following the game. Waiting until the crowds had left, Molly approached the young lady who had been our teacher and asked about her educational background and the life experiences that led her to this career. After speaking with Molly about different environmental science programs and possible directions that can be pursued, Molly left wanting to look further into environmental education as a possible narrowed focus to her environmental science degree, thus marrying her passion for nature with her love for people.

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We ended our day with a picnic lunch.

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It was a lovely day spent in an even lovelier place!

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Happy 4th of July!


On the 4th of July Grace and I found ourselves home alone for the third day while the boys were away at Boy Scout Camp and Molly was serving the people of Costa Rica. We considered different possible plans for the day but in the end decided that a day in Pittsburgh was the best plan, since we would end up in the city that evening for fireworks anyway.

Grace had a paper to write for one of her summer college classes so we got a later start which allowed me to get some chores done… chores that had been ignored the last two days while we were playing tourists around town.

At 10:00am we were on the road and headed down to the Strip District of Pittsburgh to do a little shopping. Grace had never visited the Strip District (home of ethnic food stores and international restaurants) before, so we thought it would be a fun way to start the day. It turns out most places were closed because of the holiday. That didn’t deter us from enjoying those stores that were open. It just meant we were in and out of the strip far quicker than we had planned.

Our final stop before leaving the strip was Pittsburgh Popcorn where we each purchased a treat to enjoy later during the evening fireworks show.

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From there we headed down to Point State Park where the fireworks would be taking place that evening. We thought we would find our parking spot before the crowds converged on the city and enjoy a day down at the Point.

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It was a HOT day to spend outside so we countered the 8 hours outside with some indoor sightseeing at the Fort Pitt Museum:

Fort Pitt Museum is an indoor/outdoor museum that’s in downtown Pittsburgh. It is at the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers, where the Ohio River is formed. Fort Pitt Museum is surrounded by Point State Park named for the geographically and historically significant point that is between the rivers. This piece of land was key to controlling the upper reaches of the Ohio River Valley and western Pennsylvania, before, during, and after the French and Indian War, as well as the American Revolution.

The museum is in a recreated bastion of Fort Pitt, which was originally built in 1758 by the British. The historical focus of the museum is the role that Fort Pitt played during the French and Indian War. The museum also features detailed information on Fort Pitt’s role during the American Revolution, the Whiskey Rebellion and the founding of Pittsburgh.

This was a Pittsburgh historical site that neither Grace nor I had ever visited before. It was a perfect day for a first time visit, not only because the air conditioning felt so good after our 100 degree walk in the heat, but also because of all the added activities being offered at the fort in honor of the 4th of July holiday.

We stepped inside and stepped back in time to the 18th century frontier to discover what life was like for the earliest residents of the region.

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Grace learning some period games with one of the volunteers.

Grace learning more about the fort at the meticulous diorama that gave a glimpse of 18th century Pittsburgh in miniature.

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Like a trader of old we were able to bring furs to market at the Trader’s Cabin and peer inside a replica Casemate to see munitions being made deep within the walls of Fort Pitt.

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Grace and I learned about the artillery that kept watch over the fort during the French & Indian War and were able to see if we had  what it took to be part of the crew on the replica cannon.

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Then we headed to the Soldiers’ Barracks to discover what life was like for the troops that garrisoned and protected Pittsburgh.

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With a wide range of interactive exhibits for visitors of all ages, the first floor gallery was the place to learn about daily life in 18th century Pittsburgh. We were so impressed with all the stations offered that allowed us to really step back in time and experience life at Fort Pitt.

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From there we moved upstairs to the second floor where we learned more about this area and Fort Pitt’s role in our country’s history.

In the mid-18th century, the contest for control of the lands west of the Appalachian Mountains was far from decided. Among the relative newcomers to the region were Shawnee, Delaware, and Seneca Indians in search of autonomy in the Ohio Country, as well as military representatives from the two most powerful nations in the world: England and France.

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The clash of these two great empires, which began in the backwoods of present day Western Pennsylvania, forever changed the course of world events, had powerful repercussions for Native America, and ultimately inspired thirteen rebellious colonies to declare their independence from Great Britain.

Explore these momentous events and their impact on our region in the permanent second floor exhibit, Fort Pitt: Keystone of the Frontier. The exhibit features two audio-visual presentations covering both the French & Indian War and the American Revolution, intricate dioramas of the earliest forts at the Point, and numerous artifacts, all of which paint a vivid picture of war, trade, adventure, and diplomacy on the 18th century frontier.

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After a few hours touring the Fort Pitt Museum we headed back out into the heat and sunshine. First stop: The Blockhouse. Located just outside the museum is the Blockhouse, the only original structure left standing from historic Fort Pitt.

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Grace and I enjoyed an afternoon of strolling, sightseeing, and people watching at the point.

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The heat eventually led us the water stairs (across the river on the north side) where we enjoyed some Rita’s Italian Ice while we sat with our feet in the water, trying to cool off.

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As the sun lowered in the sky the air cooled, due in part to a front moving through the area. The front brought with it its own impressive light show…

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A prequel to the fireworks that followed.

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I’d be hard pressed to decided which show was more stunning!

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It was a delightful day with my first born daughter.

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Happy birthday, USA!!


Old Economy Village…a journey back in time!


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For two decades I have resided in the Pittsburgh area and for two decades I have heard tales of the wonders of Old Economy Village but had never managed a trip to visit it in person. That all changed last Friday when we were invited to join friends who are PA Virtual families for a field trip to Old Economy Village. A good portion of our co-op attended and it was fun to catch up with friends. Thanks to a state grant received by the cyber school admission was free (an unexpected blessing!) which just added to the enjoyment of the day.

Upon arriving we had the opportunity to stroll around the Visitor Center and become better acquainted with the history behind this Beaver County gem. Here is an brief overview of the Harmonites who settled and developed this historic community we know as Old Economy Village.

“In 1804, the followers of the Separatist George Rapp (1757-1847) emigrated to America from Iptingen (near Stuttgart) in southwest Germany seeking religious and economic freedom. Nearly 800 farmers and craftsmen followed their leader to Butler County, Pennsylvania where they built the town of Harmony. Ten years later they migrated westward to Posey County, Indiana founding a second town named Harmony, which today is known as New Harmony.
In 1824, the Harmony Society returned to Pennsylvania, this time settling in Beaver County along the Ohio River. There they founded “Oekonomie,” now better known as Old Economy Village. It was here that the Society gained worldwide recognition for its religious devotion and economic prosperity.
The Harmonists developed a simple, pietistic lifestyle based upon the early Christian Church. They turned over everything they owned to the Harmony Society when they became members. Everyone worked together for the good of the Society and received, in turn, what he or she needed to live simply and comfortably. Because they expected Christ’s Second Coming to Earth at any moment, they adopted celibacy in 1807 in order to purify themselves for the Millenium – Christ’s 1,000 year reign on Earth.

The Harmony Society successfully “placed the manufacturer beside the agriculturalist,” an accomplishment held in high regard in the early nineteenth century. National leaders like Thomas Jefferson viewed this as the ideal plan for America’s economic and political future. This ideal would be a national economy that would thrive in both agriculture and industry, independent of foreign influence.

The Harmonists created, adapted, and adopted the new technologies of their day giving them a competitive edge in the growing early American economy, particularly in textile manufacturing—wool, cotton, and silk—and agricultural production.
By 1825 they had constructed textile factories powered and heated by steam engines. They built shops for blacksmiths, tanners, hatters, wagon makers, cabinetmakers and turners, linen weavers, potters, and tin smiths, as well as developing a centralized steam laundry and a centralized dairy for the community. Later, they perfected the technology of silk manufacturing, from worm to fabric, for which they received gold medals during exhibition competitions in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. Despite the Society’s economic success, time and events brought about its decline. In 1832, one third of the members left Economy under the leadership of Count de Leon, a self-proclaimed prophet. In 1847 Father Rapp died. Although the Harmonists leaders turned to new business ventures – railroads, oil production, and building Beaver Falls and its industrial complex – their economic vitality, like their membership, eventually waned.

By the end of the nineteenth century only a few Harmonists remained. In 1905 the Society was dissolved and its vast real estate holdings sold, much of it to the American Bridge Company who subsequently enlarged the town and renamed it Ambridge. Six acres of the Society’s original holdings, along with seventeen buildings, were acquired by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1916.

Today, these six-acres, surrounded by Ambridge’s National Register Historic District, are administered by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission as a National Historic Landmark site.
The historic site, which contains the seventeen restored historic structures and garden built between 1824 and 1830, originally was the religious and economic hub of the Harmony Society. The buildings, grounds, library, archives and 16,000 original artifacts are a memorial to the Society’s commitment to the religious discipline and economic industry that built their American Utopia.”

Once all families had arrived we were led from the Visitor Center to the village, where we stepped back in time 150 years, by walking through the doors of the Feast Hall into historic Old Economy. 

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Old Economy Village is comprised of 17 historic buildings and  various “stations” that function as a living history experience. We had the opportunity to split into self -guided groups and tour the village independently. Many of the buildings had volunteers in period dress demonstrating skills from that time period and sharing more about the history of the Harmonite people.

Other locations offered fun, interactive, hands-on activities common to that time period that the kids could participate in and experience first hand.

In my group I had my four kiddos (Grace was at work), as well as other friends from co-op. They enjoyed moving from station to station, learning about life in the early 19th century from the fascinating and engaging volunteers dressed for the part.

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Here are some of the places we visited during our tour of Old Economy Village: 

Feast Hall / Museum Building  Built in 1827, the first floor showcased a Natural History Museum (now recreated) open to the Society for free and to the public for a ten cent admission fee.  Harmonists gathered on special feast days for communal meals or for musical performances in the second floor Feast Hall.

Here the kids were able to experience school as a 19th century student, complete with a handwriting lesson using a quill and ink.

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George Rapp Garden
Visitors to Economy described George Rapp’s garden as “neatly laid out in lawns, arbors, and flower beds.” The 1831 Pavilion once featured a wooden statue carved by American sculptor, William Rush. The current figure was made in the 1950s.  Also built in 1831, the Grotto’s rough exterior belies its elegant neoclassical interior. Harmonists viewed this building as a metaphor for their Society – rough on the exterior but refined inside.

The gardens were our final stop for the day and everyone enjoyed strolling these beautiful grounds, inhaling the intoxicatingly sweet scents of the garden.

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Baker House, Garden and Family Shed
Storekeeper R. L. Baker, his mother, and sister lived here. Following George Rapp’s death, Baker, Jonathan Lenz, and Jacob Henrici led the Society and maintained their business ventures. The Baker House is a typical Harmonist dwelling. Every household had its own garden, even though food was provided by the Society. The shed was vital to the household as a food storage area, tool and wood shed, chicken coop, cow stall, root cellar, and outhouse.

In this part of the settlement the kids got to walk through the herb garden and learn about its preservation, as well as try their hands out at egg gathering and cow milking.

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Water Pump
Pumps were located on Economy’s streets in various locations. Water was distributed through wooden pipes from a spring on the hill east of town. This pump is a reproduction, plumbed to the city water supply. Visitors are invited to experience wash day at Old Economy.

The water pump was one of the biggest hits of the day. Everyone was impressed with the hand pump and had fun attempting water hauling and hand washing the laundry.

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The woodworking tools that helped build and furnish Economy are exhibited in this original wood frame building.


The volunteer who was demonstrating his craftsmanship in the cabinet shop was a delight. He was a retired school teacher who loved sharing his knowledge with the kids and engaging them in what life would have been like for the settlement’s cabinet makers in 1830, including letting them see how cabinets were constructed and allowing them to try out some of the hand tools.

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Blacksmith Shop
This structure was built in the early twentieth century as a garage for the site’s caretaker. It was later converted into a blacksmith and cooper shop for demonstrations. The original structures for those trades were located elsewhere in Economy, outside of the site’s present boundaries.

The two gentlemen who ran the blacksmith shop were equally engaging and we were all fascinated with their work as they created beautiful, decorative hooks as they spoke of their trade.

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Cobblestone Street
This is the original Harmonist Street, where visitors can roll hoops, walk on stilts, and play games of graces.

But the cobblestone street was the biggest hit of all. Home to the old fashioned games available for the kids to try out and play, this was the epicenter of activity for our group. I had a hard time pulling Tyler away once he discovered this stop on our tour of Old Economy.

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It was an absolutely delightful day at Old Economy Village. It took me two decades to make it there but hopefully we will be returning in a more timely manner, with Toby and Grace in tow…

What a lovely day to visit such a lovely place!


Visiting Seminary Ridge



“Located 50 miles northwest of Baltimore, the small town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania was the site of the largest battle ever waged during the American Civil War. Fought in the first three days of July 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg resulted in a hallmark victory for the Union “Army of the Potomac” and successfully ended the second invasion of the North by General Robert E. Lee’s “Army of Northern Virginia.”
Historians have referred to the battle as a major turning point in the war, the “High Water Mark of the Confederacy.” It was also the bloodiest single battle of the war, resulting in over 51,000 soldiers killed, wounded, captured or missing. To properly bury the Union soldiers who died at Gettysburg, a “Soldiers Cemetery” was established on the battleground near the center of the Union line.
It was here during the dedication ceremony on November 19, 1863, that President Abraham Lincoln spoke of “these honored dead…” and renewed the Union cause to reunite the war-torn nation with his most famous speech, the “Gettysburg Address.”

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And it was here we joined 21st Century Cyber Charter School students from across the state for our school-wide end of the year field trip.


Throughout the school year our cyber school offers outings across the state. These outings allow students to connect face to face with other students and their teachers. Since the student body is spread across the entire state of Pennsylvania these outings occur regionally, allowing every student access to at least some of the school’s outings. The exception to that rule occurs every May when all the students, teachers, and 21st Century families come together for one big field trip. It is always very well orchestrated and is the highlight of our school year. In the past our school has taken us to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Mount Vernon, and Annapolis, Maryland.

This year the school took us to Gettysburg.


As a way to encourage attendance and lessen the financial strains on their families, 21st Century charters buses to pick up families from various corners of the state and bus them to the field trip. This means an early morning for those students on the western side of the state but there are rarely complaints from my crew as they find it to be a grand adventure waking up at 4:00 am, boarding a bus with all their friends, and taking a road trip across Pennsylvania.

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By 9:30 am buses from each corner of the state rolled into the parking lot at Seminary Ridge and unloaded.


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The 21st Century Students from our local co-op.

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Tyler and Ozzie sporting the t-shirts from this year’s field trip and Ozzie’s teacher popping in to say “hello!” We LOVE Mrs. Scarpignato!


Students, families and teachers were split into four different groups and were given colored wristbands to guide them through the schedule of the day ahead. Each group was 25+ people strong and the amount of preparation and planning that went into this event was evident in how smoothly our large group moved through the activities of the day…much like a well-oiled machine.

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Our day was broken up into 45 minute chunks with 15 minutes set aside for moving from one activity to another. It was a perfect set-up as it allowed the kids to really delve into the history of Seminary Ridge in a meaningful way without losing their attention.


Our day began with the kids in the blue group stepping into the shoes of a Civil War soldier, quite literally, with field training.

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Each student was given a harversack bearing the name of an actual Civil War soldier. On the outside of their harversack was their name, age, occupation, and their status as a confederate or union soldier.

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Using the information on their harversack they went around and introduced themselves allowing the gentleman who was leading the exercise to illustrate the wide variety of men who came together to fight side by side during the Civil War.

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Once introductions were sufficiently made, training began. The students began by learning the basics of standing at attention and marching.

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Once they could march seamlessly as a group then they were issued their riffles for war and guided through the motions and movements of various commands.

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The kids really enjoyed this hands-on activity and the soldier leading the exercise did a wonderful job of bringing a sense of reality and connection to something that had previously been only words in a history book.

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When our time at that station was done the students were allowed to open their harversack and pull a paper from within that revealed what happened to the soldier they were representing for that exercise. It made it all the more personal to discover their fate as they read what happened to the soldier whose name they bore.

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The next station we visited was the medical tent where students learned about the important role of field doctors during the Civil War.

Once again they were each given a biography of a soldier who was injured on the battlefield and were able to learn about how that particular injury would have been addressed and treated at that time.

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They quickly realized that the risk of death by infection was higher than deaths actually caused by the injuries themselves.

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They also gained a lot of respect for the tenacity and strength of those Civil War soldiers as they read the accounts of bullets to the brain and amputated limbs, only to read that soon after being patched up from injuries that would land you in an ICU ward today, these men would be back on the battle field again as soon as they could walk and carry a gun.

The shock over conditions at Civil War field hospitals only escalated when they were introduced to the surgical tools and procedures of surgery during that time in history.

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During lunch break we enjoyed a stroll around the grounds of Seminary Ridge before joining our group for the next activity of the day.

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Following lunch it was our group’s turn to tour the Seminary Ridge Museum. To make the experience more interactive and engaging we were each given a scavenger hunt to complete. The answers to the questions on the sheet were found throughout the four floors of the museum.

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As we searched for answers, we became acquainted with the history of Seminary Ridge and its significance to the Battle of Gettysburg.

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“The museum touched on three main topics: the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, care given to wounded soldiers at Schmucker Hall, and moral questions from the Civil War era.”

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Our last activity of the day was an interactive tour of the grounds. The historian that led our walking tour guided us through the events that occurred on the grounds around the seminary building on the first day of the battle of Gettysburg.

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Role in the Battle of Gettysburg

The Seminary building served as a lookout on 1 July 1863, the first day of battle. From the cupola, Brig. Gen. John Buford both observed the opening of the battle to the west of Seminary Ridge and witnessed the arrival of the I Corps under Maj. Gen. John Reynolds marching to his relief from the south. By the late afternoon, the Union lines on McPherson’s Ridge, west of the seminary, were forced back to Seminary Ridge by Confederate troops. Before the troops could dig in on Seminary Ridge, a further attack by Pender’s Division broke the line. The I Corps streamed across Seminary Hill and through the town of Gettysburg, covered by a delaying action on the grounds by the famed Iron Brigade. The Confederate Army of Northern Virginia occupied the seminary grounds and held them until the Army’s retreat on 4 July 1863.

There was no further infantry combat on the seminary grounds, but it continued to play a prominent role in the battle. The seminary building had begun to be used as a field hospital for soldiers of both armies during the first day, and this continued throughout the engagement and after the battle was over. Artillery was posted on the hill and participated in action against Union artillery on Culp’s and Cemetery Hills on July 2nd and 3rd.

Confederate troops also used the seminary building cupola as a lookout.


The day came to a close all too soon as students said good-bye to their friends and teachers and boarded the busses for the long haul home.

It was another amazing field trip with 21st Century Cyber Charter School!

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