Tag Archives: family travel

Favorite Places to Spend the Winter Holidays

Mrs. Shapiro talks about preparing for Hanukah at Strawbery Banke, the living history museum in Portsmouth NH © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Mrs. Shapiro talks about preparing for Hanukah at Strawbery Banke, the living history museum in Portsmouth NH © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

(Our review of our favorite places for families to spend the winter holidays continues from Favorite Places for Family Winter Holiday Travel).

Portsmouth, NH: Strawbery Banke Museum, in the heart of historic downtown Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is an authentic 10-acre outdoor history museum dedicated to bringing 300+ years of American history in the same waterfront neighborhood to life.

Candlelight Stroll, an annual holiday tradition at Strawbery Banke since 1979 showcases 350 years of seasonal and holiday traditions against the backdrop of the Museum’s furnished historic houses. On these weekend evenings, the Museum grounds glow with hundreds of lighted candle lanterns, the houses are adorned with thousands of hand-made decorations crafted from live greens and dried flowers and herbs collected from the Museum gardens, and the air is filled with the sound of holiday music and scent of woodsmoke from the bonfire. Its authenticity is the foundation for the claim that the Vintage Christmas in Portsmouth holiday celebration, echoed by Travel + Leisure magazine, makes Portsmouth ‘the Christmas capital of North America.’

Visitors stroll from house to historic house, greeted by costumed role players and performers who recreate the traditions of times past, rediscovering the joys of simpler times. Mrs. Shapiro prepares a Hanukah celebration her 1919 Russian Jewish kitchen. Mrs. Goodwin, her family and servants prepare a Victorian Christmas. Father Christmas, the night watchman, “Mayor Frank Jones” and other role-players make their rounds along the dirt lanes; and the Abbotts await news of their soldier fighting in Europe in the Second World War. Carolers, chestnuts and holiday crafts bring all the sounds, scents and moments for family ‘stopfulness’ to this event that is a cherished New Hampshire tradition.  Complimentary refreshments and hot apple cider are offered at the Cider Shed. Traditional hearth-cooking demonstrations, crafts demonstrations, and winter projects for kids provide interactive fun for multiple generations. (December 3, 4, 10, 11, 16, 17, 18; Saturdays, 5-9 pm. Sundays, 4-8 pm. Friday Dec 16, 5-9 pm). Purchase tickets in advance at the Strawbery Banke Visitors Center at 14 Hancock Street and online, www.strawberybanke.org.

There are also Guided Holiday House Tours, weekdays, Dec 26-31 of five decorated historic houses at Strawbery Banke Museum offered on the hour, 10 am to 2 pm. Adults $15, children 5-17 $10, children under 5 free.

For more information on Vintage Christmas in Portsmouth sactivities and participating hotels, visit www.VintageChristmasNH.org.

Wentworth By-the-Sea, a grand historic resort in Portsmouth, NH © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Wentworth By-the-Sea, a grand historic resort in Portsmouth, NH © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Complete the experience with a stay at Wentworth by the Sea, an AAA Four-Diamond resort and member of Historic Hotels of America, delightfully set on an island just across from historic Portsmouth, NH. Ask just about anyone who grew up in New Hampshire and they wax nostalgic about spending holidays at this grand resort hotel that has graced the shore since 1888. Among its amenities: an 8,500 sq. ft. spa, magnificent indoor pool, Wentworth Dining Room with original hand-painted ceiling mural. Check the website for special packages including Romance, Golf, Dining, and Spa, and holiday programs. Wentworth By the Sea, 588 Wentworth Road, New Castle NH  03854, 603-422-7322, 888-252-6888, info@wentworth.com, www.wentworth.com.

Victorian Cape May Christmas 

Victorian Cape May at Christmas offers six weeks of festive tours and events sponsored by the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities (MAC), from Nov. 18 through Jan. 1, 2017.

The wonders of the season are on display at “An Old-Fashioned Christmas Exhibit: Holiday Traditions through the Years,” at the Carroll Gallery located in the Estate Carriage House, 1048 Washington St. Here you can experience an exhibit of holiday traditions complete with a giant Christmas tree, a Dept. 56 Dickens Village, model trains, nostalgic photos from Christmas past, toys and much more! Friday, Nov. 18-Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017. The Gallery is open daily (except Thanksgiving and Christmas); hours vary. Admission is free and free parking is available.

Take a guided, tour of the 1879 Physick Estate, Cape May’s only Victorian house museum, decorated in authentic Victorian style for Christmas, during Physick Family Christmas House Tours © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The 1879 Physick Estate, Cape May’s only Victorian house museum © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Take a guided, daytime, living history tour of the magnificent 1879 Physick Estate, Cape May’s only Victorian house museum, decorated in authentic Victorian style for Christmas, during Physick Family Christmas House Tours, presented from the viewpoint of a member of the Physick family in the early 1900s. The tour also includes a visit to the Carroll Gallery at the Emlen Physick Estate where you can see “An Old-fashioned Christmas” exhibit. Offered daily (except Thanksgiving and Christmas) through Jan. 1, 2017; hours vary. Adults $12; children (3-12) $8.

During the Historic District Trolley Tour, you’ll get acquainted with Cape May on a trolley tour as knowledgeable guides present entertaining and educational stories about the nation’s oldest seashore resort. $12 for adults and $8 for children (ages 3-12). Offered daily (except Thanksgiving and Christmas); tour times vary.

Enjoy a guided trolley tour of Cape May’s Historic District, followed by a guided tour of Cape May’s only Victorian house museum, the Emlen Physick Estate, 1048 Washington St., decorated in true Victorian style for Christmas and presented through the eyes of a member of the Physick family in the early 1900s, during the Combination Trolley/Physick Family Christmas House Tours. $22 for adults, $14 for children (ages 3-12). Tours are offered daily (except Thanksgiving and Christmas.) Hours vary.

Relive the memories of Christmas past on Lamplighter Christmas Tours, self-guided evening tours of Cape May’s inns or private homes specially decorated for the holidays. Hear a holiday presentation by the owner at each location. The tour also includes a visit to the Carroll Gallery at the Emlen Physick Estate where you can see “An Old-fashioned Christmas” exhibit and enjoy warm beverages and holiday treats. Adults $20; children (3-12) $15. Offered 7 p.m.-9 p.m. on Fridays, Dec. 2-23; Saturday, Nov. 26 and Wednesday, Dec. 28, and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 31. 

Ghosts of Christmas Past Trolley Rides feature a member of the East Lynne Theater Company who will regale you with a Victorian holiday ghost tale as you ride through Cape May’s festively decorated Historic District. Adults $12; children (3-12) $8. Tour begins and ends at Washington Street Mall at Ocean Street except for the Nov. 19 tour which leaves from the Emlen Physick Estate, 1048 Washington Street. Offered Fridays, Dec. 2-Dec. 23, Saturdays, Nov. 19-26; Sundays, Nov. 27-Dec. 18; and Monday, Dec. 26-Saturday, Dec. 31). Hours vary. Advance reservation strongly recommended.

Thousands of Christmas lights and holly transform Cape May during the holiday season. Take one of the many Holiday Lights Trolley Rides through Cape May’s Historic District to see cheerfully decorated inns and homes as guides talk about Victorian Christmas traditions, lead sing-alongs, and play Christmas music. Rides last about 30 minutes and admission is $12 Adults; $10 children (ages 3-12). Offered nightly, Nov. 25-Dec. 31. Hours vary. (No tours Dec. 3, 10, 12, 17, 24 25) Trolley rides leave from the Washington Street Mall Information Booth, Washington Street at Ocean (except for Nov. 19 trolley rides, which leave from the Physick Estate, 1048 Washington St.)

Revel in the sparkly lights of Cape May’s beautiful Victorian homes decorated for Christmas on a trolley ride through town, then take a guided tour of the first floor rooms of the 1879 Emlen Physick Estate, authentically decorated for a Victorian Christmas during the Evening Yuletide Tour. See how the Physick family would have entertained for the holidays. Afterwards, visit the Carriage House for holiday refreshments and a visit to “An Old-fashioned Christmas” exhibit. Tour begins and ends at the Ocean Street trolley stop. Adults $22; children (3-12) $14. You can also take just the house tour portion, the Evening Physick Estate Tour, a 30-minute guided tour of Cape May’s 1879 Emlen Physick Estate, 1048 Washington St., decorated in authentic style for a Victorian Christmas. Included is a visit the Carriage House for holiday refreshments and a visit to “An Old-Fashioned Christmas” exhibit. Adults $12; children (3-12) $8. Both tours offered every evening, Nov. 25 through Dec. 30, except Dec. 3, 10, 12, 17, 24 and 25. Hours vary.

MAC also offers holiday-themed food and wine tours and events.

For more information. Contact Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities (MAC), 609-884-5404 or 800-275-4278 or visit www.capemaymac.org.

Chattanooga Choo Choo 

Chattanooga, Tennessee offers a surprising array of extraordinary experiences: walk through a secret underground ice cave  and see Rock City’s Enchanted Garden of Lights, explore a nocturnal fantasyland with more than one million star-bright twinkling lights high atop Lookout Mountain; hop on board a train for a North Pole adventure; sing Christmas carols and dance with Santa on a river cruise; meet coral reef Santa divers; build creative gingerbread houses; watch animals open their own Christmas presents, visit the Children’s Discovery Museum and the Tennessee Aquarium. Get the full scoop on planning a holiday getaway in Chattanooga at www.chattanoogafun.com/winter.

Historic train car turned into an enchanting sleeping room at the Chattanooga Choo Choo, Chattanooga, Tennessee © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Historic train car turned into an enchanting sleeping room at the Chattanooga Choo Choo, Chattanooga, Tennessee © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Chattanooga Choo Choo offers an absolutely magical experience. The historic hotel (and member of Historic Hotels of America) is literally created out of the historic railroad station, where you can stay in one of 48 Victorian train cars converted to the most delightful rooms, wonderfully furnished in period pieces (but with modern amenities like high-speed wireless Internet access).

The train station offers marvelous dining places (including a saloon-style restaurant where the waiters take turns singing), and cute shops. You can climb aboard the historic locomotive, and dine in the dining car as well. The music of “Chattanooga Choo Choo” immediately rings in your ears (it plays fairly constantly).

The original motel, which is still used, offers an indoor and outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts, gardens. There is even a historic train ride on a trolley. Also, a free electric shuttle from the bus terminal next door takes you downtown.  I don’t know when I have had a more enjoyable and interesting stay. Chattanooga Choo Choo, 400 Market St., Chattanooga, TN 37402, 800-TRACK-29 (872-2529), www.choochoo.com.

Grand, Glorious & Historic Hotels

You can’t go wrong in choosing a Historic Hotels of America member hotel or resort for personality, character, connection to place, authenticity and overall aura that makes for a unique experience so perfectly fitting for your own family tradition. Here are just a few of our favorites for the holidays:

Mohonk Mountain House, New York © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Mohonk Mountain House, New York © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Mohonk Mountain House, located 90 miles north of New York City in the Catskills,- is the very definition of a getaway-from-it-all retreat. From festive décor and favorite traditions to cozy wood-burning fires and a wealth of outdoor recreation, the historic Mohonk Mountain House exemplifies a quintessential holiday getaway.

The atmosphere at Mohonk is exceptional any time of the year, but is absolutely breathtaking for the holidays: spectacular hand-made swags, Victorian decorations, and beautifully decorated Christmas trees on display throughout the House. Families who want to create a festive atmosphere in-room can inquire about holiday decorations, including an ornamented ‘eco-tree’ and stockings hung above their fireplace, filled with goodies. Cozy wood-burning fireplaces can also be found in 124 out of 259 guest rooms –more than any resort in the nation.

The spirit of the season fills Mohonk Mountain House, National Historic Landmark resort, throughout December with many cherished traditions, including the family Yule Log Hunt, a Trim-A-Tree Party, the nightly lighting of the Menorah, holiday craft-making and caroling. Workshops on wreath making, cookie decorating, seasonal tablescapes and more are also offered. Outdoor recreation options abound, including cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snow tubing (weather permitting), along with ice-skating at the resort’s stunning open-air Pavilion.

Mohonk also offers an award-winning, eco-friendly Spa (it was named the Number One Resort Spa in the United States by CondéNast Traveler). Spa amenities include an outdoor heated mineral pool, an indoor heated swimming pool with underwater sound system, a yoga/motion studio, comprehensive fitness center and solarium. For reservations, call 855.274.4020 or visit Mohonk.com.

Other Historic Hotels of America favorites:

Cranwell Resort & Spa, in the Berkshires – like being on a grand estate – equipped with every luxurious amenity – world class spa, indoor pool, cross-country skiing, and about half-hour up the road, downhilling at Jiminy Peak (www.cranwell.com).

Omni Mount Washington at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire: A grand masterpiece of Spanish Renaissance architecture, conceived by industrialist Joseph Stickney, this National Historic Landmark opened in 1902 and has been attracting generations of families ever since. It’s located literally across the street from Bretton Woods, a marvelous ski resort, and also offers a spa and cross-country skiing. It’s also close by to the outlet shopping town of North Conway, NH (www.omnihotels.com/hotels/bretton-woods-mount-washington)

The Sagamore, Bolton Landing: Situated in the unspoiled Adirondack Mountains on its own island on Lake George, the Sagamore opened in 1883 and was a social center for the wealthy visiting Lake George. It’s a magical place. Nearby, go sledding or cross-country skiing on The Sagamore’s golf course, or hop its shuttle bus to ski at Gore Mountain, about 45 minutes away.

The Jekyll Island Club, Georgia © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Jekyll Island Club, Georgia © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We have scores of favorite Historic Hotels – there are 275 members in just about every state and territory. Those that offer a grand resort experience include The Hotel Hershey, in Hershey, Pennsylvania; Jekyll Island Club Hotel, Jekyll Island, Georgia; Colony Hotel & Cabana Club, Delray Beach, Florida; The Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club, and the Don CeSar (www.loewshotels.com/don-cesar), both in St. Petersburg, Florida. Each offers exquisite atmosphere, service, amenities and each has its own personality, character, and special connection with the people and place. For more information, visit HistoricHotels.org.

The Loews Don CeSar, on St. Petersburg Beach, Florida © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Loews Don CeSar, on St. Petersburg Beach, Florida © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Hey Dude!

We had an entirely different holiday experience at the Pinegrove dude ranch, an old-fashioned all-inclusive Catskills Mountains family resort with horses and a “Toy Story” cowboy vibe. So festive, warm, friendly and utterly delightful.  It’s a nonstop giggle for children of all ages. Parents will slip back into their own childhoods while making new childhood memories for their own kids. There are activities galore, indoor pool, even laser tag, plus nightly shows and entertainment, three meals daily plus snacks and the holiday atmosphere is so special. They regularly offer specials for Christmas and holiday times. Check the site for specials on February Recess, Mothers Day, Fathers Day and school vacations. Pinegrove Ranch, 30 Cherrytown Road, Kerhonkson N.Y. 12446, Ulster County, Reservations: 800-346-4626, email info@pinegroveranch.com, www.pinegroveranch.com. 

Gift of Travel 

Norwegian Breakaway. Consider giving a gift card or travel certificate. Norwegian Cruise Lines, which operates the Breakaway from New York, lets you purchase a denomination that can be applied to the cruise or to onboard experiences © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Norwegian Breakaway. Consider giving a gift card or travel certificate. Norwegian Cruise Lines, which operates the Breakaway from New York, lets you purchase a denomination that can be applied to the cruise or to onboard experiences © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Consider giving a gift card or gift certificate for a travel or vacation experience. Many cruiselines (for example Norwegian Cruise Line’s gift cards can be used toward the cruise vacation or onboard experiences, like a massage or specialty dining), hotel companies (for example, Catania Hospitality Group which has the Dan’l Webster Inn & Spa in Sandwich on Cape Cod, the Cape Codder Resort & Spa, Cape Codder Water Park, John Carver Inn & Spa in Plymouth, the Hearth ‘n Kettle Restaurants, Grand Cru Wine Bar and WaterFire Tavern, as well as gift shops, not only has gift cards, but offers special bonuses, www.cataniahospitalitygroup.com), even tour operators (for example Globus, www.globusjourneys.com/Gift/, Apple Vacations, www.applevacations.com/gift-certificates/,  and Southwest Vacations, and offer gift cards where you can purchase a denomination that can be applied to the trip or upgrade or some special activity or experience. One of our favorites for gift cards is spafinders.com.  Check the terms and how the cards or certificates can be applied. Best to choose an entity that offers lots of choices.

See also:

Favorite Places for Family Winter Holiday Travel

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Favorite Places for Family Winter Holiday Travel

 

Christmas carolers at Longwood Gardens, in the Brandywine Region © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Christmas carolers at Longwood Gardens, in the Brandywine Region © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Travel brings family together, forging relationships and bonds – whether it is siblings, parents with children, multi-generations – in a way that the everyday does not. Holiday travel is that much more special, building those lifelong memories as surely as the aromas of a holiday meal.

That’s because travel encompasses not just place, but activities and experiences that families share together, and perhaps even more significant, the luxury of spending time together.

Northstar, Lake Tahoe, California: Ski holiday brings the whole family together for Christmas © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Northstar, Lake Tahoe, California: Ski holiday brings the whole family together for Christmas © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Consider: a ski holiday is a superb activity to bring everyone together, not to mention getting cozy around a roaring fire– some of our favorite ski resorts include Okemo, Stratton Mountain, Smugglers Notch in Vermont; Heavenly and Northstar in Lake Tahoe; Keystone, Breckenridge, Copper Mountain and Winter Park in Colorado (check out Ski Colorado, www.ColoradoSki.com; Vail Resorts, snow.com; Ski Vermont, skivermont.com;  Ski New York, www.iskiny.com; Ski.com); cruising is a great way for families to travel together (check out www.cruisecritic.com, www.dunhilltraveldeals.com, cruisecompete.com, www.crowncruisevacations.com, cruising.org); a resort stay; dude ranch;  or a themepark resort holiday are essential to childhood (DisneyWorld, Universal, SeaWorld are among our favorites for the winter holidays). Historic Hotels of America are wonderful venues – they are stewards of tradition and heritage, after all, that provide just the right atmosphere to knit your own family tradition.

Or think about experiential, active, or adventure travel:  a family safari; London in search of Harry Potter; cycle on the Danube Bike Trail (great for families).

The best holiday destinations offer plenty of activities indoor and out, so no matter the weather, there is something enchanting to do. But there is more: they manage to create an entire atmosphere that leave everyone in the family with lifelong memories. Over the years, we have had magical winter holidays in such places. Here are some of our family’s favorites.

Gilded Age Holiday in Newport, RI

Newport, Rhode Island is such a charming place any time of the year, but especially at Christmas. There is so much to do throughout the city, eminently walkable – ice skating on the harbor rink, boat rides to see seals, walking along the Cliff Walk, but the essence are visiting the Gilded Age mansions when you really feel yourself transported in time.

Beginning November 19, 2016 and running through January 2, 2017, The Preservation Society of Newport County offers music, tours,  visits from Santa Claus, model trains, antique toys and shopping at three of America’s most outstanding historic houses: The Breakers, Marble House and The Elms.

Each year new themes, ornaments and decorations are added to keep the experience fresh for returning visitors.  For 2016, there will be a total of 28 decorated Christmas trees throughout the three houses each decorated to coordinate with its setting.

New this year at The Breakers, the toy train display in the second floor loggia will focus on the Vanderbilts’ New York Central Railroad. Three model train sets, each different vintage reproductions of New York Central rail lines, will run through a grove of decorated Christmas trees. Nearby, display cases will exhibit memorabilia from the New York Central Railroad from the Preservation Society’s collection.

The Breakers, a 70-room Italian Renaissance-style palazzo, was designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt and completed in 1895 for Cornelius Vanderbilt II, President and Chairman of the New York Central Railroad.  Its interiors include rich marbles and gilded rooms, a 50-foot high Great Hall, mosaic tile floors and ceilings, and open-air terraces with magnificent ocean views.

At The Elms, a Gilded Age streetscape theme in the ballroom will feature period sleighs and lanterns, mannequins wearing vintage clothing, trees and a topiary horse. Also on display in the house will be a collection of antique decorations and toys donated by Berwind family descendants.

The Elms is an elegant French-style chateau built in 1901 for Philadelphia coal magnate Edward J. Berwind.  It serves as a backdrop for monumental artworks, including wall-sized 18th century Venetian paintings and Chinese lacquer panels.  The Elms is situated on a 10-acre park with an elaborate sunken garden.

Marble House, a grand stage for Alva Vanderbilt's climb to social and political power, first as a leading society hostess and later as a leader of the "Votes for Women" campaign, is one of the special venues for Newport Christmas © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Marble House, a grand stage for Alva Vanderbilt’s climb to social and political power, first as a leading society hostess and later as a leader of the “Votes for Women” campaign, is one of the special venues for Newport Christmas © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Marble House was the summer home of Mr. and Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt. Built and furnished at a reported cost of $11 million, it was the most lavish house in America when it opened in 1892.  It became a grand stage for Alva Vanderbilt’s climb to social and political power, first as a leading society hostess and later as a leader of the “Votes for Women” campaign.   

Holiday Evenings at the Newport Mansions recreate the ambience of an evening soirée during the Gilded Age.  These open house evenings allow guests to stroll at their leisure through the decorated house, listening to live holiday music and enjoying cookies, eggnog and cider.  Holiday Evenings at The Breakers are scheduled for Saturdays, November 26, December 3 and December 10, and new this year, two Friday evenings, December 23 and 30, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. On December 17, guests can enjoy a Holiday Evening DuetThe Elms and Marble House, and see both of those houses for the price of one, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Admission to Holiday Evenings is $35 in advance, $45 day-of the event.  Children 6-17 are admitted for $10 in advance, $15 day-of. Children under the age of 6 are admitted free.  Preservation Society members enjoy reduced admission, $30 in advance, $35 day-of. More information, including the schedule of Holiday Evening entertainment, and advance tickets are available online at www.NewportMansions.org, or call (401) 847-1000.

A grand choice for accommodations is The Hotel Viking, nestled in the Historic Hill district on famed Bellevue Avenue. Once the summering destination of America’s wealthiest, the Hotel was opened in 1926 to accommodate their haute monde guests. With the most recent multi-million dollar renovation finished in 2007 this hotel is the perfect choice for a historic stay in the heart of Upscale Historic Newport Rhode Island. Hotel Viking is a member of Historic Hotels of America (historichotels.org).

Another is the Vanderbilt Grace Hotel, a boutique hotel originally built by Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, a scion of the wealthy Vanderbilt family. The 1909 property is a vintage Newport mansion that has been restored to its former glory and is one of the few private homes of the era to operate for guests as a fully functioning and top luxury hotel in Rhode Island. Today, as The Vanderbilt Grace, the mansion comprises a luxurious hotel with 33 rooms and luxury suites and a lavish spa and fitness center with indoor and outdoor pools. The hotel features two restaurants including Muse (www.gracehotels.com/vanderbilt).

For a complete line-up of holiday and winter events, travel packages and last minute deals, visit Discover Newport, 800-326-6030, DiscoverNewport.org.

Quintessential New England

Manchester, Vermont, a delightful New England village, hosts six weeks of holiday merriment, across the Manchester and the Mountains Region (a whole village of outlet shops, too!). There are tours of decorated inns, pub crawls with local restaurants offering special pairings, a Lighted Tractor Parade, and the Elf Express Train ride. Some events charge admission. (visitmanchestervt.com/merriment).

Skiing at Stratton Mountain Resort, Vt. © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Skiing at Stratton Mountain Resort, Vt. © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of our favorite places to stay for the holidays in Manchester is the historic Equinox, where Mary Todd Lincoln would spend summers. The Equinox has since become a four-season luxury resort with every imaginable amenity including world-class spa, indoor pool, Orvis fly fishing school, a falconry school, Range Rover driving school. The Equinox is near fabulous outlet shopping and historic sites such as Todd Lincoln’s home, Hildene, which hosts holiday tours and cross-country skiing. Equinox is also a short drive to superb downhill skiing and riding at Stratton Mountain, Bromley Mountain and Magic Mountain (www.equinoxresort.com, 800-362-4747).

Woodstock, Vermont is the quintessential New England village, oozing charm and its centerpiece is the historic Woodstock Inn. An AAA Four Diamond resort, it is decked out in holiday finery and activities galore (Tubbs Snowshoe Adventure Center, crosscountry skiing, luxurious spa and indoor recreation center with tennis, visits to the fascinating Billings Farm & Museum, downhill skiing at the resort’s own Suicide Six ski hill, with Killington just 25 minutes away and Okemo 40 minutes away. Founded by the Rockefellers, the Woodstock Inn & Resort is owned and operated by The Woodstock Foundation, Inc.  Proceeds from Resort operations support The Woodstock Foundation and Billings Farm & Museum education and conservation programs. Find vacation packages and specials at www.woodstockinn.com.

A Capital Christmas

Washington DC is an ideal winter destination – so much that is fascinating to see inside, as well as enchanting places outside, and easy walks between the attractions that line the mall – National Air and Space Museum, National Museum of Natural History, National Museum of American History, Museum of the American Indian, to list but a few. Break up museum visits with ice skating on the mall, a ride on the carousel and a visit to the National Zoo (reachable by metro).

Holiday Displays and Lights Galore: Among the elaborate displays:

  • ZooLights returns to brighten the paths throughout the National Zoo (Thru Jan. 1, closed December 24, 25, 31). More than 40 animated light installations as well as Panda Claus delight visitors (nationalzoo.si.edu/events/zoolights)
  • Character-guided candlelit tours of George Washington’s Mount Vernon welcome visitors to walk through the founding farmer’s mansion and try 18th century dancing and fireside caroling. Aladdin the Christmas camel, a nod to General Washington’s tradition of bringing a camel to his farm for the delight of his guests, will be in the barn. Christmas festivities November 25 – January 6. (Open 365 days of the year including Christmas and New Year’s, www.mountvernon.org/plan-your-visit/activities-tours/christmas-at-mount-vernon)
  • The National Christmas tree in President’s Park on the Ellipse kicks off a month of nightly musical performances at the site at dusk (through Jan. 1).
  • Georgetown Glow, the city’s only curated exhibition of contemporary light-art installations dot the historic riverfront neighborhood, Dec. 2-Jan 1, 6-10 pm nightly. (www.georgetownglowdc.com)

For details and assistance planning a trip, go to Destination DC, www.washington.org. There’s also a real-time concierge service (800-422-8644 between 9am-5pm) and lively social channels for tailored suggestions and inspiration.

Historic hotels in Washington include Willard Intercontinental Hotel, offering themed packages;  The Morrison-Clark Inn, The Jefferson, The Churchill, Henley Park Hotel, The Fairfax at Embassy Row, The Mayflower Hotel, Autograph Collection, The Capital Hilton,  and Omni Shoreham Hotel, Washington DC (see historichotels.org). For an extraordinary bed-and-breakfast in a historic mansion home, Swann House, 1808 New Hampshire Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20009, tel. 202-265-4414,  E-mail stay@swannhouse.com, www.swannhouse.com.

Christmas on the Potomac

A resort stay: Gaylord National Resort just outside Washington DC offers a spectacular Christmas on the Potomac festival including ICE! where you get to go down an ice slide © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
A resort stay: Gaylord National Resort just outside Washington DC offers a spectacular Christmas on the Potomac festival including ICE! where you get to go down an ice slide © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Get a full family resort experience (and still enjoy easy access to DC) with a stay at Gaylord National Resort which offers a dazzling array of holiday activities during its annual “Christmas on the Potomac” festival, including ICE! (Nov. 19, 2016-Jan. 1, 2017), this year with the theme, Christmas Around the World to showcase different cultures and their Christmas festivities.

Artisans from Harbin, China travel more than 6,000 miles to hand-carve more than two million pounds of colorful ice into larger-than-life ice sculptures to illustrate scenes celebrating the world’s diverse cultural traditions. Adults and kids alike also can enjoy two-story ice slides, an enchanting Parade of Toys, and larger-than-life ornaments. The 9 degrees attraction brings back The Frostbite Factory for its third year, allowing visitors to learn how the attraction is made through colorful sculptures, as well as to see an artisan carve live using chainsaws, ice picks. Pricing, advance purchase of tickets and hours can be found at  www.ChristmasOnThePotomac.com.

In addition to ICE!Gaylord National offers a variety of other holiday attractions, dining events and more during its Christmas on the Potomac celebration.

New this year, guests can dine with their favorite Peanuts characters at Breakfast with Charlie Brown and Friends holiday meal. This one-of-a-kind, interactive character breakfast includes a delicious breakfast with Peanuts-themed dishes and tableside visits from Peanuts characters. During the meal, guests can pose for a photo with Charlie Brown and the Gang as a keepsake from the experience (extra fee).

Guests also can enjoy the return of The Elf on the Shelf® Scavenger Hunt. By finding all the scout elves hiding in the resort and solving the puzzles in the scavenger hunt booklet, families will reveal the elves’ names so they can get their Christmas magic. Guests who help the scout elves will receive a special prize.

New for 2016, Gaylord National Resort has an exclusive Build-A-Bear Workshop experience that lets guests build their very own furry winter friend—a cuddly, cute polar bear plush, designed for Gaylord Hotels, which can be personalized with cozy winter clothing and accessories.

Dancing Fountains are part of the Christmas on the Potomac festival at Gaylord National Resort just outside Washington DC © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Dancing Fountains are part of the Christmas on the Potomac festival at Gaylord National Resort just outside Washington DC © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Additional holiday entertainment includes nightly holiday fountain shows with lasers and indoor snowfall, photos with Santa, an indoor train ride and attractions, gourmet holiday food and beverage offerings including a new Christmas Cookies Around the World class, winter spa treatments, gingerbread decorating and more.

Overnight packages are available that include unlimited priority entry to ICE!  priced from $199; and a Christmas on the Potomac Package, which includes one night room accommodations, tickets to ICE!  with unlimited, priority entry, $100 resort credit per night for hotel dining and Relâche Spa services; and souvenir ICE! photo, priced from $259.

For more information on Christmas on the Potomac at Gaylord National Resort or to book a package, visit www.ChristmasOnThePotomac.com or call 301-965-4000 (201 Waterfront Street, National Harbor, Maryland 20745, www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/wasgn-gaylord-national-resort-and-convention-center).

Celebrate with the DuPonts in Wilmington DE and the Brandywine

Spectacular lighting displays at Longwood Gardens, in the Brandywine Region © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Spectacular lighting displays at Longwood Gardens, in the Brandywine Region © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of my most memorable Christmases was spent in Wilmington, Delaware, nearby historic Newcastle and the whole Brandywine Region. There are scores of holiday attractions and activities – the DuPont Mansion all decorated, Longworth Gardens, famous for its holiday decorations and enchanting Dancing Fountains (open even on Christmas Day). Staying at the historic Hotel DuPont, makes it all the more special.

Highlights include:

Yuletide at Winterthur (Nov 19, 2016 – Jan 8, 2017): Be dazzled by Henry du Pont’s 175-room home, decorated in holiday style. Tour the house and enchanting gardens (Winterthur.org).

Winterthur Galleries (thru Jan 8, 2017): The featured exhibit, “The Artists of Currier & Ives” lets you discover the extraordinary art of Fanny Palmer and Arthur Tait, two of the most prolific artists of Currier & Ives. Winterthur presents an unparalleled collection of nearly 90,000 objects of decorative and fine arts made or used in America from 1630 to 1860 (winterthur.org).

A Longwood Christmas (Nov 24, 2016 – Jan 8, 2017): Wander through half a million twinkling lights, thousands of poinsettias and magnificent Christmas trees. Listen as carolers share the sounds of the season. (Buy before you arrive; timed admission tickets required and are limited. 1001 Longwood Road, Kennett Square,  PA 19348, longwoodgardens.org)

A Brandywine Christmas 2016 (Fri, Nov 25, 2016 – Sun, Jan 8, 2017) The museum celebrates the season with fabulous holiday displays including an extensive O-gauge model railroad, antique dolls from the collection of Ann Wyeth McCoy and thousands of whimsical “critter” ornaments on holiday trees.

Holidays at Hagley (Fri, Nov 25, 2016 – Sat, Jan 21, 2017): Lace decorations add to the ambiance of Hagley’s annual holiday exhibition. The theme this year at Eleutherian Mills residence is “A Feminine Touch.” Well-loved displays returning include the elaborate Twelfth Night celebration in the dining room and the Victorian library’s Christmas for children with its table-top tree surrounded by toys and games. (200 Hagley Creek Road, Wilmington, DE 19807, 302-658-2400, www.hagley.org)

Herr’s Lights Up the Holiday Season (Nov 24, 2016-Jan 1, 2017): Ring in the holiday season with Herr’s celebrated annual holiday lights display. A family favorite, the free driving tour incorporates more than 400,000 sparkling lights. Classic family favorites include oversized falling snowflakes, delightfully hung Christmas balls, a nativity scene and the famous 12-foot wreath and giant bow adorning the snack factory warehouse. (271 Old Baltimore Pike, Nottingham, PA 19362, 800-284-7488, www.herrs.com)

Brandywine River Museum of Art Presents: Rural Modern (thru Jan 22, 2017): Rural Modern explores the adaptation of modernist styles to subject matter associated with the American countryside (www.brandywine.org/museum)

More details at www.brandywinevalley.com/events

Christmas Tours in Odessa and Old New Castle (December): In Old New Castle, the annual “Spirit of Christmas & A Dickens Experience” events feature carolers, street vendors and actors recreating street scenes straight out of “A Christmas Carol,” as private homes and historic sites open their decorated doors to sightseers. “Christmas in Odessa” features private house tours, craft sales, holiday concerts and a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus. (See details at www.visitwilmingtonde.com/events/holiday.)

Gift of Travel

A cruise offers delightful experiences and logistics for a family reunion Christmas holiday, © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
A cruise offers delightful experiences and logistics for a family reunion Christmas holiday, © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Can’t get away for the holidays? Gifting a future trip is a dream come true for many on your list. Consider a spa getaway (spafinders.com), an adventure tour (see moralcompasstravel.info for ideas), a fantasy camp (baseball, Rock n Roll, Broadway), Outward Bound adventure, a chance to join a research expedition (Earthwatch), a river cruise, a cycling trip (see biketours.com). Many hotels and resorts have gift card and gift certificate programs that you pay for a certain dollar denomination that your recipient can use to pay for meals or activities; cruiselines (like Norwegian Cruises) make it easy to purchase gift cards in customizable denominations ($25 to $1000) that can be used for onboard experiences or even shore excursions. If you know of someone who is planning a trip, you can gift a sightseeing tour or some special experience.

At this time of year, keep in mind that many travel entities (Vail Resorts, hotel companies, cruiselines, tour operators) run Black Friday and Cyber Monday specials.

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© 2016 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

$15 Million Renovation Transforms Sea Crest Beach Hotel into Major Cape Cod Resort

Seacrest Beach Resort occupies 700 feet of Cape Cod’s Old Silver Beach on Buzzard Bay © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Sea Crest Beach Hotel occupies 700 feet of Cape Cod’s Old Silver Beach on Buzzard Bay © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate

Normally, it would be extremely difficult to pull yourself away from Sea Crest Beach Hotel’s substantial private section of on Cape Cod’s Old Silver Beach on Buzzard Bay, wonderfully set with a west-ward facing view (perfect for watching the sunset). But on this day, unusually strong winds and chilly temps (but still clear, sunny skies) make it an ideal day to bike the Shining Sea Trail.

Taking advantage of Seacrest Beach Resort’s new biking package to ride the lovely Shining Sea Trail © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Taking advantage of Sea Crest Beach Hotel’s new biking package to ride the lovely Shining Sea Trail © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Cape Cod is one of the best destinations anywhere to bike – there is the Cape Cod Rail Trail that goes for miles throughout the interior; the Cape Cod Canal trail that stretches more than six miles on both sides, and the Shining Sea Trail which for its variety and scenery and points of interest is my favorite of all.

Sea Crest now has a bike rental program (as well as a biking package, new this year), and is just about a half-mile from an entrance to the Shining Sea trail at the 9.5 mile mark – almost to the very end of the 10.1 mile long bikeway. The trail is named for Katharine Lee Bates, most famous for writing the lyrics to “America the Beautiful…. From Sea to Shining Sea” (whose home you can visit in Falmouth, along the way).

Gorgeous views abound along the Shining Sea Trail on Cape Cod © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Gorgeous views abound along the Shining Sea Trail on Cape Cod © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

This is one of my favorite dedicated biking trails anywhere. The Shining Sea Bike Trail hugs the shoreline from Falmouth to Woods Hole.  It offers the best of Cape Cod: for a time you are in woods, but can see the charming Cape Cod homes; you ride past the historic Bourne Farm (stop to visit if you have time), passed cranberry bogs, through Falmouth Center (definitely visit Katharine Lee Bates’ house which is now a museum and learn more about this fascinating pioneering woman), and along the beach, into Woods Hole, where the trail ends at the ferry (if you have time, you can take your bike onto the ferry for a 45 minute trip (about $25 r/t) to Martha’s Vineyard, where there is a 25-mile bike loop.  On our return ride from Wood’s Hole, we take a slight detour in order to ride past the picturesque and historic Nobska Lighthouse.

Dive, dive, dive: pretending to pilot ALVIN at the WHOI exhibit center in Woods Hole © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Dive, dive, dive: pretending to pilot ALVIN at the WHOI exhibit center in Woods Hole © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

It’s lunch time when we ride into Woods Hole, which is a charming seaside village that has become a research center, with the Marine Research Laboratories, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), where you can visit the Aquarium, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI), where you can tour a superb exhibit featuring ALVIN, the submersible that helped find and salvage the Titanic (as Eric was at the controls, pretending to captain ALVIN,

Barry Walden, ALVIN’s actual expedition leader spoke about how ALVIN was used in expeditions © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Barry Walden, ALVIN’s actual expedition leader spoke about how ALVIN was used in expeditions © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

a man looked on bemused, Barry Walden, turned out to be ALVIN’s actual expedition leader who spoke with us about how ALVIN was used in expeditions) and learn about ocean research.

(Starting at $174 per night (based on a two night minimum), the Shining Sea Bike Package includes an overnight stay for two at Sea Crest Beach Hotel, one day’s bike rental for two, bottled waters and a map of the Shining Sea Bike Trail. For reservations or for more information on Sea Crest Beach Hotel, visit www.seacrestbeachhotel.com or call 800-225-3110.)

Colorful History

Seacrest Beach Resort occupies 700 feet of Cape Cod’s Old Silver Beach on Buzzard Bay © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Sea Crest Beach Hotel occupies 700 feet of Cape Cod’s Old Silver Beach on Buzzard Bay © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Sea Crest Beach Resort has such a contemporary appearance and ambiance – owing to a recent $15 million renovation – I am surprised to learn that it has been a fixture on Cape Cod for generations.

The Sea Crest Beach Hotel has a colorful history, populated with fascinating people including Henry Fonda, Latin Quarter owner Lou Walters ((father of broadcast journalist Barbara Walters) and Boston Celtics’ coach Red Auerbach.

Its story begins in 1927, when The University Players Guild (among them a young Henry Fonda, Margaret Sullivan, James Stewart and Barbara O’Neill), created a summer playhouse and tea room on Old Silver Beach, where the hotel stands today.  After the playhouse was damaged in a fire in1936, it was replaced and reopened as the Old Silver Beach Club, a Prohibition-era speakeasy. But this structure also was destroyed just two years later in the hurricane of 1938. The Latin Quarter, a club managed by Lou Walters, opened on the site in 1942. After a brief hiatus in World War II, the property reopened as a summer resort.

Red Auerbach, the famed Boston Celtics President, coach, and GM, along with partners Kenneth Battles and Steve Hill, purchased Sea Crest in 1963 and converted it from a summer destination to a multi-season hotel in 1971. After another change of ownership, Scout Hotels, which also owns or manages the Harborview and the Kelly House in Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard, the Harborview on Nantucket, and Plantation on Crystal River on Florida’s Nature Coast, as well as manages the Cape Wind (also in Falmouth on Cape Cod), acquired the Sea Crest  in February 2010, launching a new era for the family resort.

Seacrest Beach Resort on Cape Cod offers indoor and outdoor pools © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Sea Crest Beach Hotel on Cape Cod offers indoor and outdoor pools © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Committed to preserving its heritage and appeal as a family-friendly destination resort while adding amenities and improvements ideal for contemporary guests, Scout Hotels invested $15 million in renovations. Completed in 2013, the renovations transformed the hotel into a full-fledged resort, including Red’s Restaurant and Lounge, the whimsical, nautical décor in the guestrooms and throughout the hotel, upgraded indoor and outdoor swimming pools, and the largest meeting and events space on the Cape, the Nauset Center. 

A Full-Service Beach Resort

The Sea Crest Beach Hotel occupies an expansive, 700-foot long private section of Old Silver Beach along Buzzards Bay in what is otherwise a residential neighborhood  distinguished by the shingle-styled architecture of traditional New England cottages

There are 264 guestrooms housed in eight low-rise buildings, each named for a winning boat from the Buzzard’s Bay Regatta. Woven sea-grass headboards and a color scheme of crisp whites and sea-glass blues and greens reflect the hotel’s beachfront setting, while thoughtfully placed sea shells and objects d’art add touches of whimsy.

The hotel’s 264 guest rooms and suites, some with fireplaces and many with water view private balconies, makes it appealing   for families who seek a beachfront setting, couples drawn by the romance of the Cape, and meeting or wedding planners seeking expansive function space combined with superb dining and warm, personalized service. And the resort’s proximity to Cape Cod’s attractions makes it a great hub for longer stays.

There is also a three-bedroom/three bathroom cottage that sleeps up to eight and provides plenty of indoor and outdoor space for entertaining. it features a spacious living room, open kitchenette, washer and dryer, expansive deck, and a private backyard.

The hotel is loaded with amenities –the 700-foot private, white-sand beach; outdoor saline pool shielded from the wind, with pool deck and poolside bar (live entertainment, too); beautiful indoor, heated saline pool, kiddie pool and indoor/outdoor Jacuzzis; fitness center and a Pilates/Yoga room; Tween Room; outdoor movies on the hotel’s 16-foot screen during the summer months; Windsurfing lessons and water sports rentals; Beach volleyball; Bike rentals; Video arcade. In addition, tee times can be arranged at five 18-hole nearby golf courses.

Sea Crest Beach Hotel offers a variety of new and renovated dining environments: Red’s Restaurant & Lounge, a casual eatery named for former Sea Crest Beach Hotel owner Red Auerbach, the legendary Boston Celtics president and coach, showcases fresh takes on American Cape cuisine in seven distinct indoor and outdoor dining spaces, ranging from a family-friendly Main Dining Room to RED’S Room, filled with Red Auerbach memorabilia, for private events. It also includes a breezy Three Seasons Porch with wicker seating; outdoor seating for beachwear-friendly dining; a New England neighborhood-style indoor bar with television screens; and an outdoor poolside bar. Red’s Take Out provides guests the option of ordering selections to enjoy in their guestrooms; Ocean View Room, a more formal room, takes full advantage of the spectacular views through its wraparound windows; I-Café serves up fresh-brewed coffee and treats along with wireless Internet access and cable news.

Sea Crest offers a festive Shore Dinner Series where hotel guests and local residents alike can dig into traditional Cape favorites Tuesday nights at 6 p.m. through Sept. 6. Priced at $65 per person, the Shore Dinner includes: a 1 ½ pound Maine lobster; ½ pound of local steamer clams; ½ pound of East Coast mussels; Chorizo sausage; and native sweet corn on the cob with poached baby potatoes served with drawn butter, lemon and hot sauce. For $45 per person and $25 for children ages 12 and under, the meal includes a menu option without lobster and shellfish and features fresh-baked corn bread, Cape clam chowder, Angus burgers and jumbo beef hot dogs with all the fixings, garden salads and BBQ-roasted free-range chicken. Sliced summer fruit platters and warm just-baked cookies will follow the meal, and iced tea and lemonade will be served throughout the evening. Guests can end the experience by watching the most spectacular sunset on Cape Cod.  A full bar is available at an additional cost. Prices include tax and gratuity. Reservations are required and include a full-day parking pass. Reservations are available at Shore Dinner Tickets online, by calling 508-356-2111 or via email at shoredinner@seacrestbeachotel.com.

This year, the Sea Crest debuted a new “toes-in-the-sand” dining experience, Jamaican BBQ Night, for guests looking for a Caribbean-inspired night out. Every Thursday from through Aug. 25, guests can dive into a Jamaican-inspired buffet accompanied by Caribbean-themed live music. Priced at $35 per person and $18 for children ages 12 and under, the buffet selections include Jamaica’s national dish of ackee and saltfish, as well as island slaw, jerk chicken, jerk pork and traditional red beans and rice. Ice-cold tropical fruit punch and ginger beer fried plantains, banana pudding and sweet potato pudding will be available for dessert. A full bar will be available at an additional cost. Prices include tax, gratuity and a full-day parking pass. (Reservations are required. Visit Jamaican Night Tickets online or call 508-540-9400.)

Both weekly events feature the Cape’s freshest finds prepared by Executive Chef Glenn MacNayr.

Cape Cod’s Largest Event Space

With more than 30,000 square feet of event space, Sea Crest Beach Hotel boasts the largest conference facilities under one roof on Cape Cod. All feature sophisticated audio-visual technology, high-speed Internet access, complimentary Wi-Fi, and a full range of business services. Function spaces include:

Nauset Conference Center, an 11,800-square-foot, newly renovated meeting space that accommodates up to 650 guests and divides into five flexible rooms. The space has been completely redesigned to incorporate its waterfront surroundings, including updated breakout rooms and bathrooms, earth-toned carpeting, wall coverings with driftwood accents and air walls, lighting including unique “wave” chandeliers, upgraded audio/visual capabilities, new banquet chairs and group check-in desk, and new catering and dining options for event participants.

Sea Crest Ballroom is a newly renovated, this 6,450-square-foot space that accommodates up to 800 guests. It can be divided into three separate rooms and connects to the adjacent Ocean View Room and its outdoor deck.

Courtyard accommodates al fresco meeting breaks and cocktail receptions, as well as banquets for up to 150.

Sea Crest Beach Hotel offers superb settings for weddings, from barefoot-on-the-beach affairs to more formal ceremonies in the Sea Crest Ballroom. There are indoor and outdoor venues ideal for receptions, rehearsal dinners and bridal luncheons. Menus range from gourmet fare to New England clambakes and barbeques.

Sea Crest Beach Hotel is within an easy drive of the region’s largest cities: New York, Boston, and Providence. Boston’s Logan International Airport and Providence’s T.F. Green International Airport are both just over an hour’s drive away.

Biking to the Nobska Lighthouse on Cape Cod © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Biking to the Nobska Lighthouse on Cape Cod © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

For more information or reservations visit www.seacrestbeachhotel.com or call 800-225-3110.

For more information and trip planning, Falmouth Chamber of Commerce
20 Academy Lane, Falmouth, MA, 02540, 508-548-8500,
info@falmouthchamber.com, www.famouthchamber.com.

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© 2016 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.comwww.examiner.com/eclectic-travel-in-national/karen-rubin,www.examiner.com/eclectic-traveler-in-long-island/karen-rubin, www.examiner.com/international-travel-in-national/karen-rubin  and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

 

Heritage Museum & Gardens is World-Class Destination Attraction on Cape Cod

Antique Cars, Adventure Park, Gardens, Hollywood Costumes and Hidden Hollow

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate

 

Sandwich, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
The gorgeous lily pond at Heritage Museum & Gardens in Sandwich, Cape Cod © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Heritage Museum & Gardens in Sandwich, Cape Cod’s first settled village, is a world-class destination attraction that on its own qualifies to bring people to Sandwich, even if the village did not offer as many unique attractions as it does or Cape Cod did not have its magnificent beaches and bike trails (see story).

Heritage Museum hits on a spectrum of cylinders -the vast, stunning and notable gardens, the historic collections of rare automobiles, the art inside and out, the way the entire place engages people of all ages – such as at the Hidden Hollow, a giant tree house in a hollow where you are invited to participate in planting and other activities (you feel like an elf or those tiny creatures in the EPIC animated movie). There is also – imagine this – an adventure center where you can see the forest “from a squirrel’s point of view.”

The gorgeous lily pond at Heritage Museum & Gardens in Sandwich, Cape Cod © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
The gorgeous lily pond at Heritage Museum & Gardens in Sandwich, Cape Cod © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Set on 100 acres of magnificent grounds and trails on the banks of Shawme Pond in Historic Sandwich. Heritage Museums & Gardens is the largest public garden in Southern New England..Heritage is especially famous for its Dexter Rhododendrons as well as an encyclopedic collections of daylilies, hostas and hydrangeas. Heritage also holds a nationally-significant collection of specialty gardens, water features and sculpture.

It is a place where kids have space to really explore, where parents and children can engage in activities together, where parents can feel like kids again riding a carousel, and where children of all ages can feel that sense of wonder and delight, where the best of Mother Nature and man’s inventiveness achieve a harmony.

CUT! Costume and the Cinema  

There are always special exhibits and this year’s is a blockbuster: “CUT! Costume and the Cinema,” which also provides a theme for many of the performances and special events throughout the season.

“CUT! Costume and the Cinema” on view at Heritage Museum & Gardens, Sandwich, features  43 costumes from the movies © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
“CUT! Costume and the Cinema” on view at Heritage Museum & Gardens, Sandwich, features 43 costumes from the movies © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Forty-three costumes represent five centuries of fashion and style as interpreted by award-winning costume designers and worn by favorite stars are on display along with props, movie clips and photos and movie memorabilia. You actually get to see the scene where the actor is wearing the costume. But unlike seeing the costumes on film (where you might only get a view from the front), you get to see them in 360-degrees around, in very close proximity, and can appreciate the texture, the sumptuous fabrics, the lavish lace and embroidery and unparalleled craftsmanship and creativity the detail,

Costume is the essential ingredient in the authenticity of a period film..They set the scene and help create the ambience. They also reveal clues about a character’s status, age, class and wealth as well as his or her role in the story. And in this exhibit, you also get to appreciate changing cultural mores over time and place. More than 30 characters from some 25 films are displayed.

You can see Keira Knightley’s and Johnny Depp’s costumes from “Pirates of the Caribbean”;  Kate Winslet’s from “Sense and Sensibiility”, Robert Downey Jr. from “Sherlock Holmes”, Minnie Driver and Emmy Rossum’s from “Phantom of the Opera”, Renee Zellweger from “Miss Potter.” Also, there are costumes that have been worn by Scarlett Johansson, Julie Christie, Maggie Smith, Heath Ledger, Ralph Fiennes Randy Quaid, Jude Law, Robert Downey, Jr.,

Anjelica Huston’s dress from “Ever After” provides an example of the technique of “slashing” – which was started by peasants who salvaged worn garments, and then was expropriated by the rich who embellished their sleeves with decoration.

Many of these costumes and their designers have won major awards including Oscars from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and BAFTAs from the British Association of Film and Television Arts (my only complaint is that the displays don’t credit the designers names or whether they won an Academy award for it).. The exhibition tour is organized by Exhibits Development Group, USA in cooperation with Cosprop, Ltd., London, England.

There are docents at the exhibit who field questions and respond to visitor requests – so, in response to visitors, they created a “cue sheet” of the movies, and a docent has swatches of comparable textiles so you can feel what they are like (do not touch the actual costumes). (I would have liked if they also would have provided the names of the costume designers and whether it won an award).

Many of these themes also animate weekly performances in an outdoor space where families like to bring picnics- especially the “Finding Neverland” and Beatrix Potter (“Miss Potter” who wrote the Peter Rabbit stories).,

Driven to Collect Antique Autos

One of the eternal delights at Heritage Museum is Driven to Collect, showcasing Heritage’s permanent collection of antique and classic automobiles, housed in a fantastic two-story building that is a reproduction of the Round Stone Barn at Hancock Shaker Village.

1915 Milburn Light Electric, one of the first cars specifically designed for women is displayed at Heritage Museum & Gardens, Sandwich © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
1915 Milburn Light Electric, one of the first cars specifically designed for women is displayed at Heritage Museum & Gardens, Sandwich © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The JK Lilly III collection includes antique cars going back to the earliest models, most notably that are not just rare but also are in superb condition. You can see the model of the car that Amelia Earhart owned, the 1932 Auburn boattail speedster like Errol Flynn owned. Most interesting to me is a 1915 Milkin Light Electric Car, one of the first specifically designed for women: it did not require a crank, was elegant looking, with big windows.

New this year are a 1934 Derby Bentley reminiscent of the cars, time periods, and luxury represented in the 2016 special exhibition CUT! Costume and the Cinema, and a special display of maps made from recycled license plates, created by artist Stephen Blyth.

1932 Auburn Boattail Speedster is part of the JK Lilly III collection on view at Heritage Museum & Gardens, Sandwich © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
1932 Auburn Boattail Speedster is part of the JK Lilly III collection on view at Heritage Museum & Gardens, Sandwich © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

This collection includes some extraordinarily rare cars, like the Dusenberg that was specially built for Gary Cooper in 1931 (at a cost of $14,000-imagine that, in 1931). There is a 1919 Pierce Arrow, (original price, $7,750), built by the company, founded in 1901, by George N. Pierce of Buffalo, who built bicycles and bird cages, and turned his latent genius to automobiles. Also notable in the collection is the 1909 White Steam Car Model M, the first “Presidential” automobile, complete with Presidential seal, used by President Taft.

The descriptions are wonderfully “user friendly” that will delight true automobile collectors and aficionados, as well as neophytes. The commentary discusses the innovations made in the car, such as how the 1932 Auburn “boattail speedster” has a hidden convertible top (an awesomely exquisite car purchased, originally, for $975). Children are invited to hunt for clues and there are interesting kid-friendly descriptions. And there is a Model T that you can pack into and pose for pictures.

Each month from May to October, there is an opportunity to go behind the scenes with curator Jennifer Madden for a tour of the antique auto collection storage. Jennifer shares little-known facts and stories about the 20 cars in this area, while participants have the opportunity to closely examine the vehicles. Participants will also learn how the collection was formed, the original purchase price of each vehicle, the work that goes into maintaining this world-class collection, and the ins and outs of moving the cars and preparing them for exhibit. Advance registration is recommended as space is limited.

Lilly, of the Indianapolis pharmaceutical company (he came to sail in Cape Cod and stayed), was a phenomenal collector. Indeed, you see local and folk art and a range of items on display (the exhibit changes) that rivals the Smithsonian in Washington DC.

J.K. Lilly, III founded Heritage Museums & Gardens in honor of his father, J.K. Lilly, Jr., who spent a lifetime amassing great collections of rare books, coins and stamps, as well as American firearms and military miniatures. A private man, his father built a museum behind his home and shared his collections with few others.

But JK Lilly III took a different approach when establishing Heritage Museums & Gardens. He hoped that his museum would provide a range of educational and enjoyable experiences for many visitors “beyond Sandwich and beyond Cape Cod.” In order to augment the collection he acquired from his father’s estate, Lilly collected thousands of items in a short amount of time. This allowed him to present a broad overview of his ideas about the “excellence and ingenuity of American craftsmen.”

Heritage Collection Showcases Americana

Children of all ages delight riding the 1908 carousel at Heritage Museum & Gardens, Sandwich © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Children of all ages delight riding the 1908 carousel at Heritage Museum & Gardens, Sandwich © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The Heritage Collection, in a separate building (where there is also the historic carousel you can ride) highlights art and artifacts from Heritage’s collection of more than 12,000 items. Beautiful paintings, rare objects, and the famed military miniatures offer examples of American ingenuity and excellence, and collectively, provide a revealing portrait of American culture over time.

The Heritage Collection presents Heritage’s permanent collection in four themes that permeate American history – sense of place, home, work and conflict of ideas. Each object seen here, pivotal or humble, tells a story about our history, about ourselves, and like all good history, about our future. Exhibit highlights include: beautiful paintings, rare objects, carved birds by A. Elmer Crowell, and the famed military miniatures offer examples of American ingenuity and excellence. . Indeed, it is very much like the experience you have when you visit the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC.

Children of all ages will enjoy taking a whirl on the carousel in the building housing the Art collection (you can pretty ride as many times as you like).

Made by Charles Looff in 1908, the antique hand-carved carousel has been thrilling riders for a hundred years.

Gardens of Delights

The Fringe Tree at Heritage Museum & Gardens in Sandwich, Cape Cod © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
The Fringe Tree at Heritage Museum & Gardens in Sandwich, Cape Cod © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The grounds are simply breathtaking – magical even. I watch as a new garden is being created: it is a test garden for North American Hydrangeas – varieties not seen before on the market –to see how the varieties grow. We come upon a Fringe Tree – massive and delicate, like nothing I’ve seen before.

Most fun is how you come upon visual delights, from the Old East Wndmill, to the Labyrinth, to the Garden Maze, to Hidden Hollow, to a series of outdoor art-installations which connect to the natural world.

There is the most magnificent lily pond with a flume that creates a sculpted waterfall, outdoor art installations (that are like a scavenger hunt).

As you walk about the grounds, you come upon the Old East Windmill, built in 1800 in Orleans, Massachusetts, served that community for 93 years grinding wheat, rye, barley and salt from the local salt works. During the Civil War, the windmill also ground corn meal to be used as field rations for Union soldiers. In 1968, the windmill was sold to Heritage’s founder and moved to its present location.

Opened in 2004, the Hart Family Maze Garden was designed to capture the mystery and intrigue of exploration that characterizes a classical maze while providing a format for display of Heritage’s vine collection. Inspired by the site’s views of the surrounding landscape, the New England climate and the vines themselves, the maze uses a range of materials. A combination of evergreen and deciduous vines and hedges alternately create opaque walls and transparent windows the outside depending on the season. Throughout the season, the maze will feature such flowering vines as wisteria, clematis, honeysuckle, silvervine fleeceflower, Japanese hydrangea vine and five-leaf akebia.

Throughout the grounds, you will come upon these marvelous art installations – 10 in all – that have connection to the natural world and the environment – like a scavenger hunt for kids to find them all. Each year there is a similar, juried outdoor art show. This year’s is titled, “Natural Threads”.

Hidden Hollow

Hidden Hollow at Heritage Museum & Gardens is more than a tree house, but an outdoor education center © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Hidden Hollow at Heritage Museum & Gardens is more than a tree house, but an outdoor education center © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Relatively new is Hidden Hollow – a giant tree house in a hollow in the woods where kids and adults engage in outdoor discovery activities like planting and STEM activities.

Hidden Hollow is a place for families to play in and explore the natural world. Hidden Hollow features a wide range of activity areas in which families can enjoy the outdoors together. Nestled in a two-acre dry kettle hole, its unique topography offers a stimulating and beautiful outdoor setting for discovery and learning.

Children can climb stepping stumps, navigate log balance beams, construct forts, create nature-inspired art, build with blocks, dig in sand, experiment with water, make music, engage in sensory investigation with plants, and more.

Children and parents engage in activities in the Hidden Hollow at Heritage Museum & Gardens  © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Children and parents engage in activities in the Hidden Hollow at Heritage Museum & Gardens
© 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Hidden Hollow is one of New England’s first certified Nature Explore Classrooms, a joint program of National Arbor Day Foundation and Dimensions Educational Research Foundation.

This national initiative was developed to advance the understanding and appreciation of the natural world and to provide children with meaningful and positive experiences with nature.

Indeed, you may well come upon the children from Heritage Museum’s new Relatively new: 100 Acres School, a private pre-school focused on STEM education, where the 100 acres of the museum and gardens are the outdoor classroom where kids get to experiment, learn about plants, etc. The curriculum is being tested for use in other cities and the plan is to develop an online curriculum that can be adopted more broadly.

Adventure Park: See Forest from ‘Squirrel’s Perspective’

There is also a new adventure park where you can see the forest from “a squirrel’s perspective”.

Located on four wooded acres on Heritage-owned land that has not been previously open to visitors, The focus of the Adventure Park is to provide a forest experience – in the air and on the ground -, with many opportunities for learning about forest formation, history, workings of a forest ecosystem, interdependence and interactions within forest ecosystems, forest succession and human impact on ecosystems

There are five aerial trails through the treetops.  Over 60 tree to tree bridges and 7 zip lines challenge your strength, strategy and balance.   Like a ski mountain, each trail is color coded for difficulty, allowing beginners to experts to select their own challenges.  Climbers as well as non-climbing observers will also enjoy the interpretive pathways on the ground, filled with educational information about the forest ecosystem.

The aerial trails afford views of some of the nicest Rhododendrons on the property. You get to see a typical New England forest ecosystem that includes several tree species, high bush and low bush blueberries, mountain laurel and other shrubs and may well see squirrels and chipmunks and a variety of local birds, including chickadees and finches, and if you are lucky, Heritage’s resident red-tailed hawk.

The Adventure Park is so popular, you need to buy a timed ticket (which you can do in advance).

Heritage’s history Goes Back to Early Settlement

The tract of land now known as Heritage Museums & Gardens played an important role in the history of the town of Sandwich. In 1677, Lydia Wing Hamilton Abbott was the first resident to live on the land. As the widow Hamilton, she resided with her two sons on a spot near what is now the Special Exhibitions Gallery just south of Upper Shawme Pond. She lived there in great poverty despite a second marriage and assistance from her family and the Quakers of the town. After her death, Lydia’s brother Daniel Wing, Jr., and his two sons, Samuel and Zeccheus, bought Lydia’s little house, now known as Orchard House. Samuel, his wife and six children lived in the house until the children married and moved away. Much of the Wing family farm remains part of the grounds of Heritage. Although members of the Wing family have not lived on the property for years, their heritage remains a vital part of our history.

The internationally-known Charles Owen Dexter, a successful textile manufacturer in New Bedford, was the next owner of the land. He bought the property, then known as Shawme Farm, in 1921. A true renaissance man, he was active in civic affairs as well as a photographer, violinist and yachtsman. At the age of 59, Dexter was told that he wouldn’t have long to live which led him to purchase Shawme Farm. However, despite the warning, he lived for another 22 years. Beginning in 1921, Mr. Dexter and his wife spent summers at the farm and for the next 15 years he worked in his garden hybridizing plants. He started with vegetables and expanded his interests to rhododendrons.

The Lilly family, originally from Indianapolis, Indiana, spent their summer vacations in Falmouth, so when Josiah Kirby Lilly wanted to found a museum dedicated to his father, he chose Cape Cod.

Lilly first thought that he would create an automobile museum, but after researching other institutions, he decided that it would not have a broad enough appeal. It was after his father’s death in 1966 that the idea of creating a public place to house several of the Lilly family collections began to take shape.

Driven to Collect is housed in a recreation of the Round Stone Barn from Hancock Shaker Village, at Heritage Museum & Gardens © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Driven to Collect is housed in a recreation of the Round Stone Barn from Hancock Shaker Village, at Heritage Museum & Gardens © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

After J. K. Lilly, Jr. died, his son bought the antique firearms and military miniature collections from his father’s estate. With architect Merton Stuart Barrows and landscape architect Philip Ansell, he planned the buildings and grounds to be a suitable background to showcase the collections. They decided on a replica of the Round Barn from the Shakers of Hancock Village in Pittsfield, Massachusetts for the cars. A replica of the Temple of Virtue from New Windsor, New York, where George Washington awarded the first Purple Heart to a soldier, was selected to hold the antique firearms and the military miniatures. Plans were made to add the gatehouse (ticket office and museum store) and the Old East Mill, from Orleans. In 1971, to entice more women to the museum, Mr. Lilly bought the Charles I. D. Looff carousel. Housed in a building built especially for its display, the carousel would be joined by three galleries holding American art.

Today the Museum serves more than 100,000 visitors annually who come from around the world to visit.

An an outdoor stage, family friendly concerts are presented Fridays 9-5, offering an entire day of activity. The theme this year is movies, such as “Cinderella,” “Neverland,” and “Beatrix Potter Day.”  (And check out the schedule for special evening activities and lectures).

Bring a picnic or purchase food from the bistro-style Magnolia Café.

It is easy to spend a full day (or more) at Heritage Museums & Gardens, enjoying both The Adventure Park and the main museum grounds including the Auto Gallery, the Carousel, the Windmill, and the various gardens and indoor exhibits. You’ll need at least 2.5 hours for The Adventure Park and at least 2 hours for the museum (and you need a timed ticket to visit the Adventure Park). Save time and pre-purchase tickets.

And if you are planning to visit more than one time during the season, it is really worthwhile to purchase a family membership. (Open daily, mid-April to mid-October, 9 am-5pm).

Heritage Museums & Gardens, 67 Grove Street, Sandwich, MA 02563, 508-888-3300, info@heritagemuseums.org, www.heritagemuseumsandgardens.org.

See:

Time Traveling in Sandwich, Cape Cod’s First VillageDan’l Webster Inn & Spa is Perfect Time Capsule to Cocoon Visit

____________________

© 2016 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.comwww.examiner.com/eclectic-travel-in-national/karen-rubin,www.examiner.com/eclectic-traveler-in-long-island/karen-rubin, www.examiner.com/international-travel-in-national/karen-rubin  and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Erie Canal Cruises, Gems Along Mohawk Round Out Stay at Herkimer Diamond Mines KOA

Excitement entering Lock 18 on the Erie Canal, on the cruise from Gems Along the Mohawk © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Excitement entering Lock 18 on the Erie Canal, on the cruise from Gems Along the Mohawk © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

I’ve already had some extraordinary experiences during my all-too-brief stay at the Herkimer Diamond Mines KOA, a camping resort that prides itself on “edutainment”. I’ve tried my hand at mining for Herkimer Diamonds in the quarry – these magnificent quartz crystals that almost pop out of their rocky prison as if cut and polished by Mother Nature. I’ve done sluicing and had the delight in finding gemstones, diamonds and fossils, and explored the massive retail store and museum with its fine display of rocks, gemstones and fossils – including the large Herkimer diamond cluster in the shape of a cross that was discovered the morning of September 11, 2001, and the skull of a triceratops. And I’ve enjoyed the special atmosphere of a campground – or rather, a camping resort – the peaceful sounds of the flowing West Canada Creek, the smells of campfires, and the giggles of kids riding bikes passed my creekside cabin, themed for dinosaurs.

But there is more to do: the Herkimer KOA is but seven miles away from the Erie Canal, that marvel of human ingenuity and engineering which helped unify the fledgling nation and propel it into the Industrial Revolution. There, Dr. Renee Shevat, who owns the Herkimer Diamond Mines KOA, has turned a building that used to warehouse buoys into a gigantic indoor “mall” showcasing artists, artisans, writers, and companies, in a most pleasant environment (come on Saturdays, when there are free tastings), a marina where you can take a delightful 90-minute narrated cruise on the Erie Canal, climaxed with going through a lock that lifts (or drops) the boat 20 feet, and an excellent restaurant, the Waterfront Grille, with a lovely setting on the canal.

Cruising the Erie Canal

Captain Jerry Gertz welcomes passengers aboard the Lil Diamond II for the 90-minute narrated Erie Canal cruise © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Captain Jerry Gertz welcomes passengers aboard the Lil Diamond II for the 90-minute narrated Erie Canal cruise © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Captain Jerry Gertz delivers a delightful narration (part on tape, but he interjects and takes questions) which is interesting, engaging, and very entertaining, delivered with wonderful humor. The climax of the 90-minute cruise comes when you go through Lock 18.

Along the way, he points out interesting sights and fascinating (and I mean fascinating) details about the history and the remarkable engineering of the Erie Canal, and why the Erie Canal was so crucial to opening the West, unifying the fledgling nation, making New York the Empire State and New York City the financial capital of the world. Captain Jerry came to the Erie Canal in his “retirement” – after operating one of the largest tour boat companies in Florida.

I am surprised to learn that the peak use of the Erie Canal (this is actually the third “incarnation” of the canal – the first was Governor DeWitt Clinton’s Ditch, built 1817-1825 despite enormous skepticism and opposition and was so successful, it had to be enlarged just 10 years later and this, the third, is the Barge Canal) was not in the 1920s but in the 1950s, when over 5 million tons of cargo came through. And the canal’s undoing wasn’t even the Transcontinental Railroad (though that helped), but Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway (and volume on the canal tracks with fuel prices), which did not close down, as the Erie Canal did, from November to April, and even more devastating, the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway, which could carry much larger ships.

Since the 1980s, the Erie Canal has been “re-purposed” from commercial use to almost entirely recreational. And while people like Dr. Shevat and her husband who grew up in the 1950s near the canal would have never thought to boat on it – it was regarded as little better than a sewer with the pollution and smell – now it is this bucolic place, with the canal towns finding new life and new quaint housing cropping up along the canal, and the original towpath used by boys leading mules to pull the boats, is now a multi-use path extending almost the entire 363-mile length, from Buffalo to Albany (30% of the trail still needs to be completed; when it is completed, it will be longest multi-use trailway in US, and then can be combined with the Hudson Greenway down to New York City.).

Approaching Lock 18 on the Erie Canal, on the cruise from Gems Along the Mohawk © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Approaching Lock 18 on the Erie Canal, on the cruise from Gems Along the Mohawk © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Today’s Barge Canal extends 524 miles with 57 locks, each lock chamber made 328 feet long, 45 ft wide (and using the same century-old motors, manufactured by General Electric). This canal was completed in 1918 at a cost of $151 million (would cost $2.5-$3 billion in today’s dollars), but it could not be built today because of environmental restrictions (while the earlier canals probably could not be built either because of environmental and labor protections).

“The Erie Canal was the most important economic, transportation structure; only the Intercontinental railway had the same impact,” he tells us. “It was more than trade – it was about religion (7th Day Adventist), women’s suffrage, abolition. The underground railroad used the canal.

“It was the Internet of its day – the first attempt at networking and globalization,” he declares.

For the original 13 states to prosper, he tells us, they needed to open the West in order to tap those natural resources, such as lumber, as well as access to the inland waterways like the Mississippi River. “But the Appalachians were hard to get over. The route was impossible to cross –they couldn’t blast mountains then – they only had black powder.”

President Madison, a Jeffersonian, didn’t see the benefit to the nation of such a canal, so it was left o New York State to finance the project on its own.

“DeWitt Clinton worked tirelessly.” There was tremendous skepticism – no one actually had the technical expertise to build such a canal. But a “New York Memorial” speech Clinton delivered as a State Senator ignited the Legislature which authorized $7 million in bonding.

Of the three men overseeing construction, only one had any engineering background. They had to invent new methods and tools – the breakthrough was inventing hydraulic cement that hardens under water.

Now where to build? DeWitt Clinton realizes that $7 million may not be enough money to finish the project, so he has the construction start where it is easiest – in soft, flat farmland – and in the middle of the state, in Rome, and tells them to dig east and west from there. “It starts in the middle of nowhere, goes nowhere, so the state would have to give them more money.” Captain Jerry relates.

The original canal was built by 350 workers who were being paid 80c/day – they carved the ditch 40 feet wide and just four feet deep, 363 miles, from Albany-Buffalo, 83 locks, which take a boat the 565 feet difference in elevation. In the first year, was a huge success, as the cost of commerce dropped from $125/ton; one year after canal opened, to $5/ton to transport.

By now, we have cruised to Lock 18, which Captain Jerry says is still powered by the original GE motors from 1912 (the earlier canals were not motorized, but were opened and closed manually). The lock will lower us 20 feet, emptying 2.5 million gallons of water in just 7 1/2 minutes (and reversing the process when we return).

As we pass Fort Herkimer Church, the second oldest surviving church, dating from 1767, Captain Jerry tells the story of General Herkimer - probably the most important Revolutionary War hero few have heard of © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
As we pass Fort Herkimer Church, the second oldest surviving church, dating from 1767, Captain Jerry tells the story of General Herkimer – probably the most important Revolutionary War hero few have heard of © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

As we pass Fort Herkimer Church, which he says is the second oldest surviving church, dating from 1767, Captain Jerry also tells the story of General Herkimer – probably the most important Revolutionary War hero few have heard of:

General George Washington commissioned Herkimer as a general but he had no army. But when Herkimer learned that the British had taken Fort Stanwix in July 1777, he gathered up a militia formed mainly of German immigrants to gather at Fort Dayton (now Herkimer, New York), to begin the 40-mile westward march to the besieged Stanwix.

Herkimer was betrayed by Molly Brant, who sent word of their march to her brother, Joseph Brant, the Mohawk leader.

On August 6, Herkimer and his men were ambushed by a group of Loyalists and Mohawk Indians at a bloody battle that came to be known as the Battle of Oriskany, during which Herkimer was mortally wounded – he died 10 days later.

it is one of bloodiest encounters of War – 400 were killed in just 6 hours.

But the British blockading Fort Stanwix believed reinforcements were on their way and retreat – giving the Patriots their first victory of sorts. And the British General John Burgoyne went on to a major defeat at Saratoga (at the hands of General Benedict Arnold), turning the tide of the war for the Patriots.

“Herkimer was one of saviors of American Revolution,” Captain Jerry says, no doubt introducing most of us to a historic figure we had never heard of before.

Near here, is the Herkimer Homestead, which during the Revolutionary War consisted of 7 building on 3000 acres. The Historic Herkimer House, a 1762 mansion, can be visited in Little Falls. And you can easily reach the Fort Herkimer Church, on Rte. 5S.

Captain Jerry Gertz gives over the wheel to a young passenger  © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Captain Jerry Gertz gives over the wheel to a young passenger © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

This day we are on a small, 36-passenger boat, the Lil Diamond II (he even lets a couple of the kids drive it for awhile), but he also has a large boat, the Lil Diamond III, that is utilized by groups (including weddings).

($19/adults, $12/3-10; reservations recommended, departs 1 & 3 pm daily, mid-May through mid-October, rain or shine. Erie Canal Cruises, 315-717-0077, www.eriecanalcruises.com.)

Gems Along the Mohawk

Gems Along the Mohawk is one of the most interesting shops you will ever encounter.

It serves as a Visitor Center for travelers coming off of I-90 (it is directly across from the ramp at Exit 30), and staff cheerfully greet guests and provide travel information (and rest rooms) for weary travelers. It offers a wonderful restaurant with stunning views of the canal, and a marina from which you can take the 90-minute Erie Canal Cruise.

But it is so much more. The shop is a showcase for New York and the Mohawk Valley producers – actually 70 different merchants whose items are displayed, like Mele jewelry boxes (based in Utica since 1912, which you have probably seen in major department stores), and Salida Tea (check out the collection of Red Rose figurines and the giant porcelain tea set); Also, Jim Parker Folk Art. And it also heralds the region’s legacy companies, like Revere Copper Products, started by Paul Revere, 1801), and Remington Arms (200 years old, the same company as produced the iconic typewriter and other items like sewing machines and even a bridge – you can even visit the Remington Museum nearby); HM Quakenbush, founded in 1871 in Ilion, which is America’s largest and oldest manufacturer of nutcrackers; Beech Nut, founded in 1931 in Amsterdam, the baby-food company

“This is what created Mohawk Valley,” Melody Milewski, General Manager, tells me as she gives me a tour.

“We don’t just take anybody,” she says. “All the associates want to show their story, their connection to the Mohawk Valley.”

Come on Saturdays and Sundays, and you can enjoy tastings (and free coffee and tea) at about 17 of the 70 shops.

But when you peruse the shop, it is astonishing how much you learn.

Gems Along the Mohawk, an unusual shop showcasing local artisans and producers, features a children's play area themed for the Wizard of Oz © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Gems Along the Mohawk, an unusual shop showcasing local artisans and producers, features a children’s play area themed for the Wizard of Oz © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

NYS-HerkimerKOA_071015_225(c) Karen RubinThe kids can play in an area devoted to the Wizard of Oz. Why the Wizard of Oz, I ask? The famous author, L. Frank Baum, lived not far from here (you can visit the All Things Oz Museum, in Chittenango), but his mother-in-law, Matilda Joslyn Gage, had an even greater connection and for the first time, I learn that she was instrumental in the Women’s Rights movement. She had connections to the Oneida women and incorporated their ideas of a woman’s right to property and child custody and selecting the chief at a time when women had rights to none of these. (I take this basic knowledge with me to Seneca Falls, to the Women’s Rights National Park, and to Fort Stanwix which picks up on the themes of the “clash of cultures” between Europeans and Indians).

Indeed, the Mohawk Valley was The West, a vast wilderness. James Fennimore Cooper’s “Last of the Mohicans: was set in part in Glens Falls). This was the land of the Mohawk, the Oneida and the 6 Nations.

The shop features a bookstore stocked by Ganesvoort House Books (who also operates a bed-and-breakfast in Little Falls), which offers books about Gage, and the native American influence on Women’s Rights movement, “Sisters in Spirit,” by Sally Roesch Wagner as well as scores of other local writers.

This is all news to me. Just walking around introduces me to people and places I had never heard of before – like Fort Stanwix which I will later visit in Rome, when I take the 400-mile Cycle the Erie Canal tour (I will get to camp out at the Fort, where Melody says she participated in excavations before the National Park Service rebuilt it.)

Gems Along the Mohawk (800 Mohawk Street, Herkimer NY 11350, 315-717-0077, 866-716-GEMS, info@gemsalongthemohawk.com, www.gemsalongthemohawk.com).

Waterfront Grille

Today, cruising the Erie Canal and dining at the Waterfront Grille, we see a bucolic scene, but when Dr. Renee Shevat and her husband, Sam, were growing up, during the peak of commercial traffic on the Erie Canal, it was a noxious sewer.

The canal has gone through a major re-purposing – it carries very little commercial traffic but is almost exclusively used for recreation – and so have the canal towns the grew up because of the canal, then went into a tailspin with its decline.

The complex that is now a retail store, visitors center, restaurant and marina was originally a terminal building for tending buoys for the Barge Canal, before Dr. Shevat convinced the state to let her build a private enterprise on the canal, which is part of the Heritage Corridor.

Dr. Renee Shevat has put her PhD in finance and strategic planning to good use in developing four business units for the Herkimer Diamond Mines KOA, mining attraction, Gems Over the Mohawk and retailing Herkimer Diamonds worldwide © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Dr. Renee Shevat has put her PhD in finance and strategic planning to good use in developing four business units for the Herkimer Diamond Mines KOA, mining attraction, Gems Over the Mohawk and retailing Herkimer Diamonds worldwide © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Dr. Shevat, who has her PhD in finance and strategic planning, and was the vice president of a college (with ambition of becoming a president someday) utilized all of her skills and experience when she took over running the campground and mining attraction from her father – developing four distinct business units.

She also clearly has not left her academic credentials behind, but manages to incorporate “edutainment” into every aspect of the experience – and not just for the young campers, but for the adult campers and the young people who work as counselors, as well.

“I like making science fun,” she says. The activities that are offered daily incorporate gemology, paleontology, robotics, geology. Many of the lodges are themed around science – solar powered lodges, dinosaurs, a fossil pit, an astronomy lodge (with a real computer-operated telescope for the exclusive use of that cabin), and a robotics lodge.

“I don’t want them just to have a summer job but a resume,” she says of her counselors. “I encourage them to do projects.” So Blair and Josh, both student teachers, created the catalog of gems and fossils and a curriculum to teach their colleagues, and counselors will be helping campers build a robot and a crystal radio.

That philosophy was genesis of Professor Gadget’s Lodge.

The Robotics Lodge was designed by the 2013-2014 graduating senior class of engineers from Binghamton University’s Watson School of Engineering and Applied Science. At the Herkimer Diamond Mines, there are K-12 projects and programs offered throughout the year, but this was the first project at the collegiate level, giving students a the opportunity to design a commercial project from the ground up.

This process involved five interdisciplinary projects which were completed by two teams of 12 students. Each project allowed not only for the education of the students who created it, but also for the continued education of KOA guests. Campers of all ages learn about motors, motion sensors, battery power, chain machines, vectors and inertia.

A Rube Goldberg-like sculpture, designed by Binghamton University grad students, decorates the Professor Gadget's Robotics Lodge at Herkimer Diamond Mines KOA © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
A Rube Goldberg-like sculpture, designed by Binghamton University grad students, decorates the Professor Gadget’s Robotics Lodge at Herkimer Diamond Mines KOA © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

When you walk by the lodge, the first thing you notice is the 6’ tall weatherproof case engineered by Danielle Brogna, which contains a prototype of a Rube Goldberg rolling ball sculpture. Inside, the lodge utilizes an innovative and interactive lighting system designed and programmed by computer engineering major Elan Ashendorf; a mechanical lift system and hammock which lets guests practice their own engineering skills, and has robotic display boxes lining the wall.

“What is special about this project,” says Shevat, “is that each student was allowed the freedom to design to their strengths, which they believed would be enjoyed by many campers.

“The partnership with Binghamton University and campers, as consumer consultants, was very rewarding. And, yes, we would do it again with another scientific theme!.”

Also, during the season, the KOA offers a Rock and Gem Camp for about 100 kids (26 had to be turned away for the first camp) as well as Geology weekends for Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts (conferring a Geology badge).

“Diamonds and the Erie Canal – two unique attractions – I want to be the centerpiece for dinner conversation: ‘Do you remember when we….?’” Dr. Shevat says.

The Herkimer Diamond KOA is open April through October (peak season rates apply July and August.) Weekends have special themes.

Herkimer Diamond Mines KOA was recognized as KOA’s “Kampground of the Year” on the North American continent in 2010. I would rate the Herkimer Diamond KOA 5 diamonds – and then some.

Herkimer Diamond KOA, 4626 State Route 28, Herkimer, NY 13350, 315-891-7355, E-mail: hdmkoa@ntcnet.com, www.herkimerdiamond.com; mining info at 315-717-0175, diamonds@ntcnet.com. Erie Canal Cruises, 315-717-0077, www.eriecanalcruises.com; Gems Along the Mohawk, 315-717-0077, www.gemsalongthemohawk.com; Waterfront Grille, 315-717-0700, www.waterfrontgrille.net

More to Explore

There is much to do in the area:

Cooperstown (half hour away)

Howe Caverns (1 hour away)

Remington Gun Museum (on Catherine Street off Route 5S, Ilion, NY 13357, 315-895-3200, 800-243-9700, www.remington.com).

Fort Herkimer Church, on 5S

Historic Herkimer Mansion

Fort Stanwix, Rome

Erie Canal Museum (318 Erie Boulevard East Syracuse, NY 13202, eriecanalmuseum.org

All Things Oz Museum, which opened in 2011 and is run by volunteers, is the house where L. Frank Baum, who wrote “The Wizard of Oz,” was born in 1856. The museum claims to have over 1000 Baum- and Oz-related items in its collection (219 Genesee St., Chittenango, NY, Wed-Sun., 315-333-2286, $5.)

I get to experience many of these sites when I continue my travels, biking 400-miles on the Erie Canal Trail, along with 600 others in the 17th annual Cycle the Erie Buffalo-Albany bike tour (ptny.org).

See also:

Diamond Mining, Robotics, Erie Canal Cruises Top List of Special Experiences at Herkimer KOA Camping Resort

_______________________________

© 2015 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit www.examiner.com/eclectic-travel-in-national/karen-rubin,www.examiner.com/eclectic-traveler-in-long-island/karen-rubin, www.examiner.com/international-travel-in-national/karen-rubin, goingplacesfarandnear.com and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

 

Diamond Mining, Robotics, Erie Canal Cruises Top List of Special Experiences at Herkimer KOA Camping Resort

The Herkimer Diamond, actually a special kind of quartz crystal, is found crystal clear and faceted in the dolomite rock, as if cut and polished by Mother Nature © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
The Herkimer Diamond, actually a special kind of quartz crystal, is found crystal clear and faceted in the dolomite rock, as if cut and polished by Mother Nature © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

There I am, swinging a small sledgehammer, quarrying for diamonds – Herkimer Diamonds, that is, extraordinary quartz crystal nuggets that emerge (even pop right out) of their rocky prison with 18 facets, as if they had been cut by a jeweler.

You never know what you will find, what the next smashing, crushing blow will reveal and it is thrilling when you crack the rock to expose the diamond. A treasure hunt, to be sure. But it is also remarkably satisfying to be smashing rock.

This is just one of the – dare I say – unique attractions when you come to Herkimer Diamond Mines KOA, a true camping resort, in upstate New York. An altogether different experience – certainly, not your father’s camping experience.

Bucolic setting - the newest themed Herkimer Diamond KOA cabins hug the West Canada Creek © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Bucolic setting – the newest themed Herkimer Diamond KOA cabins hug the West Canada Creek © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

To begin with, I am in one of the Herkimer Diamond KOA’s new themed cabins, set right on a rushing creek, which campers use for tubing (a whole mile from beginning to end, for a 20-minute ride!), and others use for some of the best trout and bass fishing in New York.

Mine is called Randy’s, named for the triceratops skull that is on view in Herkimer Diamond Mines’ gems and fossil museum (yes, it has its own museum), and is themed for dinosaurs.

The first emotion I feel when I enter is sheer delight that manifests as an ear-to-ear smile when I see all the dinosaur accoutrements – including a two-foot high (plastic) raptor that whenever I see it in the corner of my eye, makes me jump. The bedding, shower curtain, wall hangings are all themed for dinosaurs, and it is complete fun (informative, also).

The cabin is outfitted with every creature comfort you could possibly want – a well equipped kitchenette, bath items, flat-screen TV, sofa in the living room, table with four chairs, air conditioning and heater, linens and towels – all cleverly laid out to maximize space. The porch has a rocking chair and there is even a patio, right beside the creek, with patio furniture, BBQ and firepit.  And WiFi, which has become such an essential feature.

Ideal for pet lovers: Caesar's Cabin at Herkimer Diamond Mines KOA has its own doggie run, just for that cabin © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Ideal for pet lovers: Caesar’s Cabin at Herkimer Diamond Mines KOA has its own doggie run, just for that cabin © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Other cabins and lodges are also themed: there is Caesar’s Place (Woof), which has its very own doggie-park; Another is themed for fossils and even has its own pit where you can dig to find your own fossils.

There are even more elaborate lodges (I really would have trouble choosing): one is themed for astronomy and actually has its own “planetarium” with a sophisticated, computer-operated telescope as well as photos taken from the Hubble telescope; another is Professor Gadget’s Robotics Lodge that features working robotic components (“to educate and entertain”) devised by Binghamton University grad students.

Then there are three lodges that operate on solar energy – just part of the initiative to demonstrate renewable energy and model eco-friendly living.

In another delightful socially-conscious and community-building initiative, there are 40 bins where they grow fresh vegetables, and campers are welcome to help themselves. There is also a Japanese garden which is a tribute to the victims of Japan’s tsunami.

There is so much about the Herkimer Diamond KOA that is special – and I haven’t even begun to describe the diamond mining, jewelry making. and Erie Canal cruising.

There is an atmosphere here – it’s true of camping in general, but there is something very special about this place.

To begin with, its Edutainment – that is, a healthy mixture of education (or actually, enrichment) with entertainment, that is woven into the architecture, the landscape and programming.

The playground and basketball court at Herkimer Diamond Mines KOA © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
The playground and basketball court at Herkimer Diamond Mines KOA © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

There are daily activities – jewelry making, science experiment (static electricity, make a volcano, make a balloon rocket), badminton, flag football, cray fishing, basketball, chess and checkers tournament, volleyball, dodgeball, water balloon toss, table tennis, scavenger hunt, relay races, hula hoop contest – as well as nightly movies (outside on nice evenings, under the pavilion when it rains), and gatherings around the firepit (S’mores on Saturday nights).

There is a huge playground area –  separate playground equipment for youngest kids and older kids, and basketball court.

A volleyball court which is next to a gigantic firepit which is a gathering area (s’mores on Saturday nights); and a pavilion where there are games, a snack bar (ever try  a breakfast pizza? It’s made with bacon and egg; and a Herkimer Diamond pizza for evening).

There is a gorgeous swimming pool (next year, the plan is to have it solar heated).

If you forgot your tube or fishing rod, you can buy these in the Herkimer Diamond KOA general store; in fact, probably everything you need, forgot, wish you brought, can be had there, so if you wanted to travel light, no problem.

And if you don’t feel like cooking, there is the Rock n’ Roll Cafe, as well as Crystal Chandelier Restaurant, a very pleasant pub-style restaurant located a short walk across the road from the campground (KOA guests get a discount and $9.95 nightly specials, 4579 State Rt. 28N,, 315-891-3366, crystalchandelier.net).

You can easily fill out a two or three-day getaway with just the activities right at the resort: directly across the tiny road (Rte 28), from the camping resort  is the Herkimer Diamond Mine – an attraction that brings people from far and wide, including many who come back time and again (more on that to come). There is mile-long tubing along the West Canada Creek, which also affords some of the best trout and bass fishing in New York State.

Just about five miles away – bikeable on the bike lane on Rte 28 – is the uniquely appealing Erie Canal, where you can enjoy Gems Along the Mohawk (owned by the Herkimer Diamond KOA people) a combination visitor center, specialty shops showcasing regional artisans and artists, Waterfront Grille for dining, and a marvelous 90-minute narrated Erie Canal Cruise which climaxes with the experience of going through Lock 18, as well as biking along the Erie Canal.  Not to mention that Cooperstown is about 30-minutes drive away.

Mining for Diamonds!

Prospecting for treasure in the Herkimer Diamond Mines quarry © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Prospecting for treasure in the Herkimer Diamond Mines quarry © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Mining for the Herkimer diamonds isn’t a fantastical thing – it is more unlikely that you will leave without finding one than it is to find one. And there are many people who come and merely gather diamonds from the ground, without even swinging a hammer.

The kind of mining we get to do is “quarry” mining, rather than going into a cave. An outcrop of rock of this giant crystal-laden mountain has been exposed, and the idea is to basically look for rocks with black holes or a black vein – sometimes pulling down rock using crowbars and chisels, and 6 to 20 lb. sledge hammers. Then whacking at the pieces of rock with a 2 or 3 lb. crack hammer.

Jordan, Herkimer’s resident miner (your image would be of a grizzled, fossilized old man, but Jordan is a young strapping fellow who grew up nearby but learned his mining skills on the job), guides me in what to look for: a dark pocked hole in a rock that makes it a good candidate for housing a diamond. Then he shows me how to set it down on flat ground and whack across a line (being careful not to smash your hand, finger or foot). Sometimes, you don’t want to release the diamond, but let it show itself off in the rock.

Most Herkimer Diamonds, no matter how small, have 18 facets – all you do is wash off the mud and there you have it: a jewel.

Jordan tells me that each Herkimer diamond stone is unique. “To a collector, a certain stone ‘speaks to him’ because of its shape, inclusion, anthraxolite (ancient carbon) inside, presence of a water bubble, or another distinctive feature like a negative crystal (another stone) inside.”

Jordan displays how the Herkimer diamonds are found embedded in the rock, at the Herkimer Diamond Mines © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Jordan displays how the Herkimer diamonds are found embedded in the rock, at the Herkimer Diamond Mines © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Often you see the rock not with a single stone, but with “druzy” – thousands, even millions of sparkling Herkimers, that form a vein or fill one of those black holes. “We don’t know why – perhaps it is a phase of growth,” Jordan tells me. Rocks with druzy can be even more valuable because of how beautiful and unusual they are.

He says that often, the stone is even more valuable when it is kept in the rock, where the black-hole background enhances the visual display – makes it “pop”  (you have to put felt on the bottom or the rock will ruin wood or glass).

I find a fairly large Herkimer diamond, which Jordan estimates to be valued at $25.

The most perfect crystals are usually less than half-inch long, but occasionally much larger crystals are found. Crystals are also common that are intertwined or clustered, with perfect crystals attached to the backs of larger ones. And you can bring your day’s find into the shop for an appraisal. (The most valuable stone a tourist found was valued at $2000).

You can watch a video in the museum which explains the process.

(The admission pass, $11/adult, $1 less for KOA campers and veterans, $9/ages 5-12 – includes all day prospecting, use of rock hammer, all day museum entrance, zip lock bags, mining information. You should bring protective eye wear and closed-toed shoes, though they sell goggles. Some people bring their own chairs, umbrellas, chisels, screens. and when you get hungry, you can visit the Rocks n’ Roll Cafe, right by the quarry.)

Polished by Mother Nature

It doesn’t matter to me that the Herkimer diamonds are not actually diamonds – they are marvels in their own right in that they literally pop out of the dolomite rock that holds them, coming out polished and faceted by Mother Nature. (And many attach healing powers to them.)

They look like actual diamonds, but in actuality, they are “doubly terminated” quartz crystals. They have a hardness of 7.5, comparable to emeralds and aquamarines, whereas diamonds, which are formed from carbon, have a hardness of 10 (one of the hardest substance known to man). Most interestingly, by quirk of how the earth formed, they are found mainly in Herkimer County and the Mohawk Valley of New York.

The dolomite bedrock in which the crystals are found – a sedimentary carbonate rock, closely related to limestone – began forming 500 million years ago in a shallow Cambrian sea on the southern shores of what became the Adirondack Mountains. The limy sediments (calcium magnesium carbonate) which had slowly accumulated beneath the sea’s saltwater were gradually compacted under the weight of thousands of feet of sediment, forming the rock strata Dolostones (interestingly, it is also in this layer of Early Ordivician rock that the first evidence of marine life can be found).

It is believed that while still beneath the sea, water seeped through the pores of the rock, often creating “vugs” by dissolving part of the rock. Millions of years later, water rich with silica  filled these vugs and eventually evaporated or drained away, leaving the silica which had grown by precipitation to form the quartz crystals.

One theory that explains the source of the silica material is that hundreds of millions of years ago, there were micro-sized simple-cell sea organisms that lived in colonies and secreted silica in glass-like geometrical shapes, and that they were trapped under the sediments.

A series of evolutionary geographical events continued through the Ice Age – the Pleistocene Epoch. A giant continental ice sheet covered the region. Rushing waters caused by the melting glacier eroded away thousands of feet of sedimentary rock, eventually uncovering the dolomite rock layer.

Often you see the rock not with a single stone, but with “druzy” – thousands, even millions of sparkling Herkimers, that form a vein or fill one of those black holes © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Often you see the rock not with a single stone, but with “druzy” – thousands, even millions of sparkling Herkimers, that form a vein or fill one of those black holes © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

What is remarkable about the Herkimer diamonds is that most have 18 facets – six triangular faces form the termination points on each end of the crystal – regardless of how small they are. These are separated by a group of six square or rectangular faces that form a diamond shape, with such precision that it would be hard to reproduce by hand.

“Most limestone doesn’t throw quartz crystal like here,” Jordan tells me.

A “curiosity” of some Herkimer Diamonds is that many of the crystals have liquid trapped inside, which can be seen with the naked eye because of the clarity.

The liquid  inside the inclusion is mostly saltwater, confirming that seawater was present when they were forming. Many of the liquid inclusions have bubbles which float about in the liquid – some are carbon dioxide gas, but most are water vapor.

Some Herkimer Diamonds have solid inclusions – most commonly a coal-like substance called “anthraxolite,” which give the pockets a solid black appearance. The anthraxolite could be the result of decomposition of plant life that inhabited the sediments.

Another theory is offered to explain the source of the silica material – that hundreds of millions of years ago, there were micro-sized simple-cell sea organisms that lived in colonies and secreted silica in glass-like geometrical shapes, and that they were trapped under the sediments.

As for the discovery of the Herkimer diamonds: Local lore has it that two Revolutionary War soldiers happened on the diamonds and believed they were real. Their commanding officer, General Herkimer (who went on to become a genuine hero of the Revolutionary War), was said to want to use the diamonds to help finance the war, but that when the minerals were assayed, they were found not to be actual diamonds.

“General Herkimer is legend in the valley,” Dr. Renee Scialdo Shevat, who owns the property, tells me later.  “They named the county, the village for him. He led troops to Battle of Oriskany – a turning point for the Revolution.”  (He mustered 800 locals for a militia to save Fort Stanwix which was being blockaded by British, and when the British retreated, that gave the patriots their first victory.)

“But it is a myth that Herkimer financed artillery with Herkimer diamonds. The Native Americans were first to find the diamonds. The Mohawk Valley was called the land of crystal. Iroquois arrowheads have been found that used Herkimer diamonds.”

Awareness of the Herkimer diamonds goes back to at least 1819 but James Hadley is credited with being the first to bring the diamonds to public attention, in 1823. Prospectors were blasting the hard dolomite rock earlier than 1879. But what really exposed the diamonds was cutting the road for Route 28 which passes directly in front of the Herkimer Diamond Mines.

Miners come with their equipment for a day in the Herkimer Diamond Mines quarry © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Miners come with their equipment for a day in the Herkimer Diamond Mines quarry © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The Herkimer Diamond Mines was first opened to the public in 1955 for prospecting by the farmer who owned the property. Eventually the property was sold to investors headed by Van Atty, who developed the mine, the rock shop and a public campground for the prospectors. In 1981, Rena and Rudy Scialdo purchased the property, today, it is owned and operated by their daughter, Dr. Renee Scialdo Shevat.

Dr. Shevat, who has a PhD in finance and strategic, took over the operation in 1997 and really boosted the Diamond Mines as an attraction and the Herkimer diamonds in jewelry, and has carefully guarded against over-saturating the market. The mountain that is rich in Herkimer diamonds spans 300 acres, but in all these years, they have only opened 6 acres for prospecting.

As many as 500 people a day from all around the world come here to prospect.

People who aren’t physically inclined to smash rocks with a hammer can do very well just hunting for the Herkimer diamonds on the ground – Dr. Shevat relates how a 98-year old woman found $400 worth of diamonds loose in the soil.

If quarrying isn’t your thing, you can do sluicing – you can purchase a bag and do like the California gold miners, and run water over a sieve to find your treasure – which has its own Zen quality to it. You can purchase a bag that has Herkimer diamonds, or a bag that has various gemstones, or a bag that contains fossils (these are $11), or a “megabag” (it is giant), that has all three ($29).

Ambitious interns Blair and Josh, who are student teachers  have produced a guide to what you find and are on hang to help people not just identify their finds, but to learn about what they are.

Edutainment: Blair and Josh, student teachers, created a guide for people to identify the rocks, gems and fossils they find when they sluice © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Edutainment: Blair and Josh, student teachers, created a guide for people to identify the rocks, gems and fossils they find when they sluice © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

I did the mixed bag – and yes indeed, there were the Herkimer diamonds, nice chunks of amethyst, gemstones and fossils galore which Josh and Blair helped me identify: a blue stone (sodalite), rose quartz, a fossil with the imprint of a sea clam; petrified wood; agate; ammonite; ammulite (which they tell me could grow up to 3 feet long, and like an octopus, pull water in the shell, and squirt it out to propel motion); sand shark teeth; a crinoid (which I am told, was a free-floating animal that went extinct 65 million years ago), and a piece of coral.

Yet another activity at the Herkimer Diamond Mine: you can even get your picture taken via drone.

And if you get hungry from all your mining, you can stop into the Rock & Rolls Cafe.

Jewelry Shop and Museum

On the morning of September 11, 2001, the largest cluster ever found of Herkimer diamonds, in the shape of a cross, was unearthed. It is on view in the museum © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
On the morning of September 11, 2001, the largest cluster ever found of Herkimer diamonds, in the shape of a cross, was unearthed. It is on view in the museum © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The Herkimer Jewelry Shop is an attraction in itself – not just items made from the Herkimer diamonds (which are actually sold on the Home Shopping Network, and similar shopping networks around the world, including Germany and Japan) – but gems collected and turned into jewelry by designers from around the world – Istanbul, Bali, Egypt, Rio, Hong Kong. It boasts being the largest jewelry, rock and gem store in the Northeast.

The second floor of the shop offers an extensive, really well-done museum with gemstones, rocks and minerals, as well as fossils, a Herkimer Diamond Hall of Fame, a Children’s reaching room, and an exhibit of the largest and finest cut Herkimer Diamonds.

One of the most remarkable exhibits is a massive cluster of Herkimer Diamonds, 17 x 12 inches (one of the largest ever found) in the shape of a cross, which Dr. Shevat tells me, was unearthed on September 11, 2001 at almost the exact time as the terror planes hit the Twin Towers in New York City. It seems to bolster the belief in such quartz crystals for their mystical properties.

The skull of a triceratops, Randy, excavated in Madagascar,  is on view in the Herkimer Diamond Mines museum © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
The skull of a triceratops, Randy, excavated in Madagascar, is on view in the Herkimer Diamond Mines museum © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Another key attraction is Randy, a dinosaur skull from Madagascar (most likely a triceratops), found two years ago. Jordan points out that inside his mouth is another dinosaur bone, suggesting that the dinosaur died choking on its meal.

The building was originally an 1880 barn, and upstairs, you can see the original wood floor; and sit in chairs from the oldest movie theater in town to watch a video about prospecting the Herkimer Diamonds.

Herkimer Diamond KOA: An Edutaining Experience

A family poses for a photo at their campfire at the Herkimer Diamond Mines KOA © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
A family poses for a photo at their campfire at the Herkimer Diamond Mines KOA © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

In the morning, I wander around as this camping community comes to life – kids on bikes, parents walking dogs or pulling their kids , kids on the basketball court,  people sitting by the creek with a cup of coffee, others sitting around a fire. A neighborhood that ebbs and flows daily, but a neighborhood, nonetheless.

There are all manner of RVs – some bigger than a bus – and I am always amazed at how people outfit them (one has its own bike rack, plastic bins all neatly organized, another has a TV and its own homecoming sign, “The Dennies”).

There are also many sites for tents.

“When I was 18, I might have tented, but not so much now,” Dr. Shevat tells me later when we go about the campground. “And people of all ages want to be able to charge their mobiles and computers and access WiFi. Kids like to tent but they want to charge cell phone,” so now they provide 30 amp connections at the tent sites.

There may be all these comforts added to the “camping” experience, but what is still true, is being outdoors. And together.

We see a steady stream of people returning from the creek with their tubes – you can float a mile, about 20 minutes worth, from one end of the resort to the other.

The Astronomy Lodge at Herkimer Diamond Mines KOA features its own planetarium and electronic telescope, and is decorated with photos from the Hubble © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
The Astronomy Lodge at Herkimer Diamond Mines KOA features its own planetarium and electronic telescope, and is decorated with photos from the Hubble © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

We meet people from all over the country – a family from West Texas, sitting around their campfire – and many who have been coming back year after year; the fellow who has rented the Astronomy Cabin (who turns out to be an astronomy hobbyist), who delightedly shows me the telescope, is part of a big group that comes to the campground every year for the Boilermaker Race that takes place in Utica.

Shevat, who earned a PhD in finance and strategic planning, was a vice president of a college with hopes of eventually becoming a college president, when, in 1997, she took over running the Herkimer Diamond KOA for her father, expecting it to be a temporary arrangement.

Dr. Renee Shevat, who owns the Herkimer Diamond Mines KOA, expanded the retail operation. Herkimer diamond jewelry is now sold on Home Shopping Network © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Dr. Renee Shevat, who owns the Herkimer Diamond Mines KOA, expanded the retail operation. Herkimer diamond jewelry is now sold on Home Shopping Network © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

She went on to develop the four major business units – the campground, turning it into a camping resort with themed lodges; the Herkimer Diamond mine attraction; the retail shop; and now the Gems on the Mohawk complex with the Erie Canal Cruise. Her retail jewelry operation is global – selling on Home Shopping Networks around the world – and the Herkimer Diamonds have some novel uses, including being used in the making of vodka (Crystal Skull Vodka, with a bottle in shape of crystal skull from Indiana Jones, and 46 Peaks in Adirondacks, are filtered through Herkimer diamonds), and the Dalai Lama, she tells me, is purchasing Herkimer diamonds to decorate Buddhas.)

In the days of quartz watches, these diamonds were used for their precision with which they would release their pulse, and there is some research being done to see if there are new uses for the Herkimer crystals in telecommunications.

But she is an educator at heart, and interweaves “edutainment” in every aspect of the resort.

They offer two sessions of week-long science camps, accommodating 100 kids at a time (they had to turn away 26 for the first camp), where kids get to take part in activities like  exploding volcano, dissecting a frog, building a robot, flying drones, and learning about geology, paleontology, gemology. (Activities for parents are organized, as well, such as trips to nearby Cooperstown.)

And there are weekend sessions for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts to earn a Gemology badge.

A Rube Goldberg-like sculpture, designed by Binghamton University grad students, decorates the Professor Gadget's Robotics Lodge at Herkimer Diamond Mines KOA © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
A Rube Goldberg-like sculpture, designed by Binghamton University grad students, decorates the Professor Gadget’s Robotics Lodge at Herkimer Diamond Mines KOA © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

About inviting Binghamton University graduate students to help design the Robotics Lodge, she says, “What is unique about this project is that each student was allowed the freedom to design to their strengths, which they believed would be enjoyed by many campers. What better sense of accomplishment can one have when you build something unusual with high energy collegiate talent for campers to experience an all-inclusive scientific theme…The partnership with Binghamton University and campers, as consumer consultants, was very rewarding.  And, yes, we would do it again with another scientific theme!”

Herkimer Diamond KOA was recognized in 2010 as KOA’s Kampground of the Year on the North American continent for its innovative lodgings and programming . Kampgrounds of America, with 485 locations in North America, is celebrating its 53rd Anniversary in 2015. (For more information and trip-planning tools, go to www.KOA.com.)

A stay at Herkimer Diamond KOA offers so much more to do, such as a canal boat ride with Lil’ Diamond III at the Herkimer Marina that takes you through a lock that lifts you up and down 20 feet on the Erie Canal (see next).

“Diamonds and the Erie Canal – two unique attractions,” Dr. Shevat tells me. “I want to be the centerpiece for dinner conversation: ‘Do you remember when we….?’”

The Herkimer Diamond KOA is open April through October (peak season rates apply July and August.) Weekends have special themes.

Herkimer Diamond KOA, 4626 State Route 28, Herkimer, NY 13350, 315-891-7355, E-mail: hdmkoa@ntcnet.com, www.herkimerdiamond.com; mining info at 315-717-0175, diamonds@ntcnet.com

Next: More to Do at Herkimer Diamond KOA: Gems Along the Mohawk, Eric Canal Cruise

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