You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.
The subtle joys of Greensboro, NC
When the temperature hovers at 30°C (86°F) for a week, it's time to greet the summer with a road trip.
But farther south?!
Why Greensboro, NC, after all? Not sure, to be honest. But we've been informed that it's got a 'Bog Garden' that's simply not be missed. (3 May 2021)
That's our little boutique hotel for the nonce, the Biltmore Greensboro Hotel in the central downtown. The building was built in 1903 as offices for two enterprising mill owning brothers from Baltimore, who then sold it off in 1926 as an office building for other companies. In 1934 a Mrs Taylor took over the building and rented out furnished rooms as The Greenwich Apartments; since all of her tenants were young single women, the building acquired a certain reputation for putative improprieties.
After a fire closed the building in the 1960s, a decorator named Mr Zenke redid the place 'in an English hunting lodge style', with walnut paneling in the lobby and a 'electric elevator', and it became The Greenwich Inn. In 1992, new owners revived it and the name was changed to its present one, and the current owners have been in place since 2007. They point out on their website that, though they strive to please in many ways, they cannot guarantee requests for particular rooms where the ghosts can be found, because they believe that those 'are nothing more than just stories that have been passed down'.
An elegant little library, though the books are random and probably just for show. The staff, by the way, are exceptionally friendly and helpful.
We're off on a preprandial jaunt, circling in on Natty Greene's Downtown pub-style restaurant.
Some of our party are not a huge fan of large buildings, nor of modern cities in general, but some of these things insist on being noticed.
Like that monster -- many people work happily in such a corporate monument, it's been suggested, but for many of us it would be hard to imagine what that would be like. (Preferring to work in two-story converted family homes, mostly)
But even still more noticeable is the fact that these centre-city boulevards have no traffic on them -- you could spend a pleasant couple of hours just jaywalking for sport, and never feel in the least anxious.
That dominating classic belongs to the 'Lincoln Financial Group'. Of course it does. (It looks a bit like Clark Kent's Daily Planet in the old comic books.)
First things first -- we stop by to check out the county courthouse, just in case.
Outside the courthouse, a small excursion into the world of inexplicable symbolic messages.
Nice parks downtown. Flowers are coming out now.
We've gone off in the wrong direction and are strolling back past our block on our way to our dinnertime destination. That's our little hotel on the left.
And that's our target, Natty Greene's Brewhouse and Pub. Two brief explanations: 1) it's named for Gen. Nathaniel Greene, the Revolutionary War commander of Washington's army in the south in 1781, and 2) it's not a brewhouse. The brewery was much prized for its craft beers since 2004, but in 2020, pummeled by the covid downturn, it filed for Chap. 7 bankruptcy (two other local breweries also went under at the time), and all of the brewing equipment (huge vats and what not) were sold off at auction in March 2021 (apparently for something like $200,000).
Happily, the restaurant was separated out by the owners and continues in business, and a very nice place it is. Lots of craft beers, too, just not their own. The place looks empty at the late-covid dinnertime, but that's because the patio tables are all full up.
So it's back to the Biltmore to rest up for tomorrow's Bog Garden. (The name Biltmore was chosen, BTW, because the new owners in 1992 thought it sounded elegant. Classy, as it were.)
First, the Bicentennial Garden, with . . .
. . . a pretty good early-season load of botanical things to marvel at, and try to smell.
The Tanger Family Bicentennial Garden is a 7.5-acre tract that belongs to the city's Parks and Recreation Dept and was created in 1976 to celebrate the national bicentennial; it's located about 3 miles as the crow flies northwest of our downtown hotel.
This is entitled 'On the Fence', which may or may not have metaphorical undercurrents.
Botanical wonders -- probably more to come as the season progresses. There's also a gazebo that's popular for seasonal weddings.
Wandering about idly, as if waiting for more stuff to bloom before we have to leave
The wielder of this little camera has been specifically requested to include this strange little charmer.
'The Student' (arrogant spiv, more likely)
A didactical old mill -- the inside is festooned with info plaques identifying all the working parts and explaining them.
It's interesting, really. Now we move on to . . .
. . . the adjacent 'Bog Garden', just across the road. We've been told that all of Greensboro, except for a few little hilly bits mainly downtown, was a huge marsh, and that this is virtually the last surviving memory of all that.
We cast aside our fears of walking these boggy paths by ourselves, having seen the precautions the authorities have taken on our behalf. (I don't think that 'and/or' works any better than 'or'.)
That's a life-size bronze of 'Dr Joe', a local physician named Joe Christian who, after the Starmount Farms company donated the site to the Parks and Recreation Dept. in 1987, organized volunteers, city staff, and local nurseries to rehabilitate the park as a model wetland. Admission to both of these parks is free.
A happy 'cardinal' (I've been informed)
Two geese with a dynamic and curious chick about two minutes old, by the look of it
Lots of boardwalks, which frequently come in handy in any bog worth the name
We've just been told about 'Melvin's Mountain' over this way somewhere, and we're going for it.
Not Alpine, precisely, but evidently the highest peak in the vicinity
We're scampering along ourselves now, to see Melvin's Mountain.
And there it is -- certainly there's a back story there somewhere (in fact, it's named for Lionel Melvin, a local nurseryman who contributed plants for the project), but we'll invent our own story for Melvin when we get back to the hotel.
A memento for our Melvin the Doge, though he won't get the point -- if we point at the photo, he'll just stare at the tip of our finger.
After twenty years toiling singlemindedly to protect the world's wetlands from the depredations of developers and negligent authorities, I still find it difficult to confess that I've always hated wetlands. The only kind of terrain that you can't reasonably run across.
But we do like our little herons, and the little crowds of turtles sunning themselves on anything that sticks out of the lake.
Farther along the lake shore, that fallen log was populated entirely by about twenty turtles, all but one of which plopped into the water when they heard us approaching. Guess which one remained on the log -- the one who's now first in the line of turtles trying to clamber back up onto the log behind him, and he's refusing to let them pass. There's always at least one turtle that won't let any of the others pass -- like in the Senate.
It's time for us to leave now, bound for a famous war memorial.
But we vow that, as the season soon fully blooms, we'll return here, or to some other botanical garden somewhere.
This is the museum devoted to a local battle fought on this site in March 1781 -- in short, as the American Revolutionary War theatre shifted increasingly to the south, Nathaniel Greene was appointed to command the rather small American army in preventing the British general Cornwallis and his redcoats and German mercenaries from gaining control of what are now Georgia, South and North Carolina, and potentially Virginia.
The two armies chased each other all round, both waiting for reinforcements or whatever, after Greene's pal Daniel Morgan won a notable victory at Cowpens in South Carolina, but finally the two forces met up here. The big problem was the Cornwall's troops were experienced professional soldiers, whilst most of the Americans were enthusastic local militias. The battle was small by Napoleonic-era standards but, though the Americans were driven to retreat, it was considered to have been a classic Pyrrhic victory for the royalists.
Greene's forces retreated to the south to protect Charleston on the coast, whilst Cornwallis scurried north into Virginia in hopes of meeting up with reinforcements, and ended up having to surrender in October 1781 to Washington and Lafayette, and Rochambeau's French troops, in the last serious military engagement of the war, at Yorktown.
You can walk or drive a marked route round the battlefield and follow events with periodic interpretation panels. We chose to drive (things to do, museums still to see).
[A readable short history is Thomas Baker, Another such victory: the story of the American defeat at Guilford Courthouse that helped win the War of Independence (1981, rpt. 2013), with good graphics. There are several longer, more scholarly books available.]
How brave we are -- the sky's clearly working itself up to a proper storm, but . . .
. . . we're headed for the Greensboro History Museum anyway.
Reflections of life in the city
The rain is hovering, threatening, as we proceed past LeBauer Park on a half-mile journey north up to Summit Avenue.
The History Museum -- in a view that's reminiscent of the Unterlinden Museum in Colmar. That wonderful place, home of the Isenheim Altarpiece, was converted from a 13th century Dominican sisters' convent, and similarly this museum occupies the former First Presbyterian Church, an 1892 Romanesque Revival church that was connected in 1938 to the Smith Memorial Building, which dated from 1903. The church moved out in 1929, and after the 1938 renovations the complex was donated to the city. After service as a public library and then an art centre, it became the city's History Museum.
But we can't get in this way.
Just round the drizzly corner, we've discovered the real entrance. And it, too, is free.
Here's a murky representation of the interior layout.
Lots of period interior recreations -- and there are associations with Dolley Madison, who was born here in Guilford County in 1768 (40 years before Greensboro was incorporated as a town).
And vintage cars
And a fire engine. All very exciting, but we need to cut this short . . .
. . . if we're going to beat the rain. Oh too late. (The electric scooter is part of the city's rental public transportation programme; the pair of trousers must be somebody's idea of a joke.)
This is one side of an illustrated atrium of the Piedmont building, offices and shops on N. Elm St.
Another panel of the same
Such determined patriotism (useful for a realty chain that was the subject of boycotts, 2013-2016, after UN Special Rapporteur Falk reported that Re/Max was promoting the sale of properties in the illegally-occupied Israeli settlements of Palestine)
Reflections of city life
This is our destination for dinner tonight, the Liberty Oak, across the street from our hotel. We'll just step in and make a reservation.
Good thing we made that reservation
Social distancing 'with a wanion', as it were -- we dined alone, but well, and inexpensively.
It's 5 May 2021, and according to our scribbled notes on an envelope we need to be heading out for South Carolina now.