February 14, 2008

Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Washington, DC

For a long time I have wanted to do some research on distant family members in Pennsylvania and New York. So, from the 27th through the 8th of February I made my way to Pittsburgh, Erie, Friendship, Cortland, Auburn, Syracuse, Scranton and Carbondale in my quest for information. Finally, on my way back to Greensboro I stopped in Washington for a few days. A brief description of the loop north follows.

Abigail and David; Bahar and Me
 Abigail, David and Bahar

On Sunday the 27th of January, I headed toward Pittsburg. Most of the day, I drove through West Virginia. The road was hilly to say the least. I even passed through a long tunnel. Even at this time of the year the land is beautiful. I drove all day long and arrived in Pittsburgh just after dark.

I was welcomed to the home of Liz and David, my couch-surfing hosts. They are doctors, who both work part-time as they raise and home-school their four children. They have a lovely home on the south edge of Pittsburgh. During my three-night stay, we had ample opportunity to talk. And talk we did, discussing gardening, our kids, our homes, politics and so much more.

On Monday I headed to a nearby county, where I found a wonderful little museum with local church records. I was looking for info on my great-grandfather, John Charles Brinker. I thought that I had a lead on his family, but I was wrong. But I was able to eliminate the only John C. Brinker in the 1860 census as a possibility. I also spent some time in downtown Pittsburgh at the Mellon Institute Library. It is a great library in the heart of Pittsburgh.
During all my driving Monday, I got a real sense of the area. Like other Eastern areas, the age and beauty of the housing stock and other buildings was wonderful. The topography of the area is extremely rough for an urban area. Everywhere I could see deep ravines or river valleys. There was one ravine than a steep hill and another ravine, one after another after another. I estimate that less than half-the land is available for development. And the site of houses climbing up the side of steep hills took me by surprise.

South End of Lake Skaneateles
 Lake Skaneateles

After taking it easy all day Tuesday, I drove north on Wednesday. First stop was Erie, PA. I only stopped long enough to discover that I could not get the info I wanted. I immediately headed north and then east to Friendship, NY. Several of my grandmother’s great uncles and aunts and their children lived in Friendship in the late 1800’s. In Friendship I met with the town historian. We talked for a while. I was able to verify some burials in the local cemetery and we visited the cemeteries. An hour before dark, I was headed east again. The only big shock along the way was the price of gas. Where I stopped, the cost was $3.27 per gallon. I made it to Cortland to settle in for the night.

To see all our photos for this entry,
press HERE for a slideshow.
Visitors to the National Gallery
 National Gallery 2
More Visitors
 National Gallery 3
Washington Sites
 Protestor and Washington Sites
The Roosevelt Memorial
 Roosevelt Memorial
East Potomac Park
 East Potomac Park
Memorials to Davis and Lee
 Memorials to Davis and Lee

My grand-mother’s great-grandparents, Zenas and Nancy Miller, moved to this area of New York from Massachusetts in 1812. After a few years of moving around they finally settled in the Town of Scott, where they raised their eight children. The town lies between two high ridges that seemed like mountains to this flatlander. The north edge of Scott borders Lake Skaneateles, one of the many finger lakes in the area. I did not discover anything in Cortland. So I headed north through Scott and along Lake Skaneateles. Soon I was in Auburn, where I spent the day finding obituaries in the county historical museum. I was not able to get a lot of info, but it was much better than in Pittsburgh or Friendship. About sundown I headed for Syracuse, and the home of my next couch-surfing hosts, David and Bahar. David is a professor at a nearby college and Bahar is a grad student. They have a lovely home. Again the talks about travel, food, gardens and politics were excellent.

The next two days of research were very fruitful. I was able to track down much of the info on the descendants of Seymour Miller that I had come for. I found it in the main library of downtown Syracuse. There were a New York state death index, city directories, and an online searchable newspaper database.

I stayed in Syracuse two more nights but I moved on to a new host, Yeliz. She is a PhD. candidate in Information Technology. Saturday night we went out to Coleman's Authentic Irish Pub and listened to some great bar music by the band Sirsy. The music is very good, you might want to download one of their songs from iTunes or from their sample site. Sunday was a quiet day. I took it easy all day long.

Every town that I visited in New York had delightful, well-maintained, very old homes. The towns appeared to be caught in the mid 1800’s. The ridges or mountains and lakes were stunning. I truly enjoyed my visit to this area.

At the National Gallery
 National Gallery 1

Monday morning I was headed south to Scranton. I made a stop at the Forest Hill Cemetery, where I got a lot of info on the descendants of Edwin Miller. I was quickly back on the road to the nearby town of Carbondale. Here I found the obituary of one of Edwin’s grandchildren. Carbondale and the road to it is coal country. It seemed like the hills were made of it. There was raw coal everywhere. Near Carbondale I found mountains of mined coal in piles several stories high. When I was done in Carbondale, I again headed south and stopped in York, PA.

I left York in the late morning. My next stop was Washington, DC. I found my hosts, Bob and Kate, in Arlington, VA. They lived in one of those beautiful brick homes that can be found throughout Arlington and Alexandria. Their home was furnished with Stickley pieces. As a furniture maker, I love to look at and use these pieces.

The next two days I visited four museums and several parks and the Roosevelt Memorial. I started in the Archives and saw the Declaration of Independence and an early draft of the U.S. Constitution. I did not stay long at the Archives. Across the street and down the block is the National Art Gallery. It is spectacular. It is one of the best art museums that I have ever visited. Please, check out their website. Their photos are much better than mine. I spent most of the day there. My favorite painters are the 19th century impressionist, especially Manet. Late in the afternoon I made it to the National Portrait Gallery. The content is varied. It is best known for its collection of presidential portraits, but there is so much more. Great American art work abounds from the serious to the playful. The primary subject of the art is Americans: painting, sculpture and photographs of well-known Americans. There is a large section of folk art, which I loved for it mirthfulness. I found the sculptures of Paul Manship. Originally from Minnesota, his art is so worth seeing. I learned more and saw more than you could image. Finally, I want to mention the Luce Foundation Center for American Art that is housed in the Portrait Gallery. All of its pieces are available to see on the third floor mezzanine. Their catalog of pieces is online. I highly recommend that you take a look at it.

Stephen Colbert and Me
at the National Portrait Gallery
 National Gallery 1

My legs gave out before I could see the entire museum. So, I returned the next day. I want to mention a very funny piece that I saw. A portrait of Stephen Colbert hangs between one of men’s and women’s restrooms. Stephen is an American satirist best known for his TV show the Colbert Report. I snapped a picture of me standing next to the portrait. Betty loved the photo, because she loves Stephen’s humor. He tried to get a museum to take his portrait and surprisingly enough the National Portrait Gallery took it, and based on the other folks taking pictures of it – it is a very popular piece. If you have never seen his show check out the Comedy Central page with some of his recent shows. You will be laughing for days and a new one is out every week-day.
Besides returning to the Portrait Gallery on Thursday, I visited Potomac Park that lays on a narrow peninsula jutting out in to the East Potomac River. There were children climbing all over a very strange sculpture, the Awakening. See my photos for a good look. I also visited the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, a good place to rest and think on a sunny day. I also saw the Capitol building and the White house with its proverbial protestor.

On Friday I returned to Greensboro for a night, before flying to Gulfport, MS, on Saturday. Along the way, I drove down the Memorial Boulevard in Richmond. Mostly Confederate “Heroes” are remembered. But there is a Memorial to Arthur Ashe. Ashe a world famous tennis player could not even play on the city tennis courts as a boy, because he was a Black man.

From the National Portrait Gallery
 From the National Portrait Gallery

Posted by bill at February 14, 2008 05:10 PM

Betty, I ran into Sandy Ellis the other day at Home Depot. She was disappointed that you weren't at the precinct caucuses, but we figured you were probably off traveling as usual. Some day, if you ever stay home for a few days, we should get together for coffee.

Posted by: Rochelle at February 15, 2008 02:14 PM