Monday, October 10, 2011

Shirley Plantation

On Fridays, my ten year old (Gracie) and I join our friends the Firestones (Mom Tiffany and kids Madeline and Will) for Friday Fun Days. An informal mix of education and fun, it's a great way to end our homeschooling week. Already, we've studied Italy- its geography, its customs and a little of the language. We finished that day with homemade pizza and 'kid's wine', i.e. sparkling apple cider.

We recently visited Shirley Plantation, located in Charles City, VA and founded in 1613, six years after the establishment of Jamestown. Still operated by an 11th generation descendant of the first owner and listed on the National register of historic places, it's an artful blending of the old and new. How was our trip? 'Awesome sauce', as my 14 year old would say. In middle-aged speak: It was very nice.  

This is what middle-aged looks like to a 14 year old...

Here's the welcome sign just off the visitor's parking lot, before heading into the compound. A descendant of the original owner lives on the second floor of the house. The first floor contains the original furnishings and artifacts dating back centuries.

Here's our Friday Fun Day (hereafter known as "FFD") crew: my Gracie, with Will and Madeline. Tiff was probably in the van giving the GPS a stern talking to after the crappy directions it gave. Seriously. Shirley Plantation offers homeschool days twice a year. Drizzles and the forecast of later showers must've changed the plans of some. I expected throngs (you know how we homeschoolers roll...;P), but there was a manageable crowd. Crowd is probably too strong a word. Group is more accurate. Anyhoo, on with our tour.....

Shirley Plantation's great house. Beautiful. Situated on the James River, the house has survived the American Revolution, the Civil War and the Great Depression. I  LOVE,LOVE,LOVE, old houses and history and this one combines both admirably. Photo-taking isn't allowed inside. Great stories told by a knowledgeable, engaging guide. Three of my fave: the engagement ring and window custom, the Robert E. Lee connection and an artist's rendering of the deceased son of  the plantation's first owners. 

The plantation contains a storehouse, ice house, laundry, kitchen, gardens, root cellar and pump house. While I was disappointed that there wasn't a slave quarters (recreated or original), I was more disappointed at our guide's answer to the query. Gracie really wanted to see that. (I'll share a post on the whole "ashamed of history/let's rewrite it" phenomenon later.)  To be fair, there was  a lecture on slave life at the plantation, but it wasn't recommended for those under 12. I spoke very briefly with the gentleman giving the talk (in between sessions, with the kids in tow) and I'm certain it was an informative session as he was very engaging, but still.....

The day included great activities that stimulated the kids' interest while teaching about the period: take-home art, 18th and 19th century games, history detectives, a comparison of long-ago courtesies and today's social customs and more.  Here, Maddie and Will learn to write with a quill. Mom Tiffany is in the blue shirt.

We also got a primer on picking cotton (not in the field, thank heavens.) It's harder than it looks. After picking away the debris, one had to remove the kernel inside so that it could be planted for the next season. We visited Shirley the beginning of September- usually too early for cotton to be picked- but the mile or so of private road leading to the house contained a field brimming with cotton. The same gentleman who lectured on slave life at the plantation explained that the increase in rain was the culprit, as cotton in that amount usually doesn't show up until October. It's also harvested by machine nowadays.

My Gracie standing in front of the history wall, which tracks plantation events at the top of the wall with national news from the same time period just below. It starts with the original land grant and continues to a few years ago. Fascinating.

I think this may have been the kid's favorite. Known as the chicken whisperer, Shirley's animal expert gave an interactive lecture on animals and nutrition. Yep, that's a real chicken she's holding; her pet. It wasn't part of the lecture, but when asked if she were a vegetarian, she answered 'yes' and gave the reasons she felt compelled to adopt that lifestyle in a way that didn't shame those who don't share the same view. She really made an impact on Tiffany, as she's considering removing meat from her diet. I'm not far behind her, I must say.

The kids (ours and others) enjoyed the stables. Here they look in on the goats.

Five minutes after this photo, the sky opened up. No bother, though. We'd finished our tour and all that remained was lunch in the van. 

If you're in or close to Hampton Roads or the Peninsula, schedule a visit. Homeschool days are held in September and May. Those tickets are $7.50 each, free for kids under six.  Regular prices are $11 for adults, $10 for seniors over 60, $7.50 for kids 6-18 and free for those five and under. Discounts available for AAA members, active duty military and their dependants, retired military and U.S. veterans.

Visit the website for more info.  Enjoy the trip. It's awesome sauce!

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