Old-style church reminiscent of English country parish chapel

The Episcopal Church of the Nativity, located in small-town Union, SC, reminds one of a rural English parish church.

Built in Gothic Revival style, its cornerstone was laid in 1855 but construction was halted during the War Between the States. Featuring rusticated granite, the church was completed shortly after the war and features diagonal buttresses, steep gabled roofs and a Louis Tiffany stained glass chancel triplet window.

There is even a good-sized bell in its tower that can be rung from the ground by pulling on the old-fashioned rope that extends to the ground.

The church’s characteristics – its small size and “intimate relationship between the building and surrounding landscape, in particular – are said to derive from English parish-church architecture of the 1300s, which was a model for small churches built in the US in 1840s and 1850s, according to National Register records.

Stained glass window, Episcopal Church of the Nativity, Union, SC.

The English influence isn’t surprising given that two of the key individuals behind the construction of the Church of the Nativity were sisters Charlotte Poulton and Mary Poulton Dawkins, recently arrived in antebellum South Carolina from England.

The Tiffany triple window is behind the altar and features shades of green, gold, crimson, blue and purple. In the central bay of the window is the Good Shepherd, while Sts. John and Peter are shown in the right and left windows.

The church’s white Carrara marble font was carved by noted sculptor Hiram Powers and ordered by Mary Cantey Hampton, the wife of Revolutionary War hero Wade Hampton I, for Columbia’s Trinity Church. It proved too small and was given to the Church of the Nativity, according to National Register records.

Powers divided the font into three design units – the base, column shaft and font itself. All are octagonal and each is filled with carved sacred motifs.

The church cemetery contains the graves of many veterans, including one from the War of 1812, several Confederate soldiers, and some from World War I, World War II and the Korean War.

Among Confederates in the graveyard is William Munro, an infantry and artillery officer who was wounded at least four times but survived to go on to serve as a bank president and several terms in the state legislature following Reconstruction.

Also buried at the church is Pvt. Alpheus Cushman, a New Yorker who served with Co. B of the 7th US Cavalry Regiment. The 7th US Cavalry was among military units sent to Upstate South Carolina during Reconstruction following the declaration of martial law in response to Ku Klux Klan violence in the late 1860s and early 1870s.

Cushman, a farrier, was said to have fallen in love with a Union County girl, but grew ill, and his illness prevented him from marrying her, though it could also have been possible that the girl’s parents weren’t keen on their daughter being betrothed to a Yankee so soon after the war.

Whatever the case, Cushman is said to have taken his own life out of despair, on May 20, 1871.

After his death, the members of his company asked that they be allowed to give their compatriot a Christian burial. Locals agreed, but stipulated that they would choose the plot.

Cushman was not only buried in the far corner of the cemetery, but his grave was placed north-south, unlike typical Christian burials, and every other one at the Episcopal Church of the Nativity, which is east-west.

Of course, the 7th US Cavalry would gain notoriety a little more than five years later, when more than 260 members of the unit were wiped out at Little Bighorn.

Family finds gold in piano; government looks to muscle in

The recent discovery of a UK gold cache raises the specter of every-hungry leviathan ruthlessly employing the law to gobble up assets for its own benefit.

Late last year a hoard of gold coins, English sovereigns minted between 1847 and 1915, was found in old upright piano in Shropshire, in the United Kingdom, after the piano’s new owners had it retuned and repaired.

Under the UK’s Treasure Act of 1996, such discoveries are legally obligated to be reported to the local coroner within 14 days, which was done.

The piano was made by a London firm and initially sold in Essex, near London, in 1906. But its ownership from then until 1983 – when it was purchased by a family in the area who later moved to Shropshire – is unknown, according to the BBC. The new owners were recently given the instrument.

The Shrewsbury Coroner’s Court is currently seeking information about the piano’s whereabouts between 1906 and 1983.

There is a great deal at stake as the objects will qualify as “treasure” and be the property of the Crown if the coroner finds they have been hidden with the intent of future recovery, according to the BBC.

However, if the original owner or their heirs can establish their title to the find, the Crown’s claim will be void.

Under the Treasure Act of 1996, ‘Treasure’ is defined as:

  • All coins from the same hoard, with a hoard is defined as two or more coins, as long as they are at least 300 years old when found;
  • Two or more prehistoric base metal objects in association with one another;
  • Any individual (non-coin) find that is at least 300 years old and contains at least 10% gold or silver;
  • Associated finds: any object of any material found in the same place as (or which had previously been together with) another object which is deemed treasure; and
  • Objects substantially made from gold or silver but are less than 300 years old, that have been deliberately hidden with the intention of recovery and whose owners or heirs are unknown.

The government has not detailed just how many coins were uncovered in the piano or their value, but Peter Reavill, Finds Liaison Officer for the British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme at Shropshire Museums said, “It is a lifetime of savings and it’s beyond most people.”

I’d be curious to hear what British citizens think about this law. I understand the government’s interest in unique treasures such as the Irish Crown Jewels, spectacular Viking hoards or Anglo-Saxon gold and silver metalwork, when and if they are uncovered.

But what we have here are simple gold coins – even if in a very substantial quantity.

It would be nice to find the individuals or their heirs who secreted the money away inside the piano; the government, meanwhile is threatening, per usual, to overstep its original purpose and strong-arm the family who, through a bit of blind luck, managed to come into possession of the coins.

Government, which already pockets a considerable sum of the average individual’s wages, has no business confiscating a collection of gold coins simply because it’s forever on the lookout for additional ways to line its coffers.

(Top: Some of the gold coins found inside an old upright piano in the United Kingdom late last year.)

Trying to recollect memories of fabled Milk Farm Restaurant

davis-1-23-2017-015For more than 50 years I’ve passed the old Milk Farm Restaurant sign near Dixon, Calif. The visits are less frequent these days, occurring on trips West when I visit family, but each time as I head along Interstate 80 south of Sacramento I see the venerable marker, all that remains of the once-famous eatery.

Those not conversant with area history have no way of knowing that the site was once one of the busiest stops between the state capital and San Francisco, where thousands were served weekly.

The 100-foot sign, topped with a cow jumping over a moon, once lit up with neon so vivid that it pierced the thick winter fog of the Sacramento Valley.

In my memory, I couldn’t recall the restaurant ever being open, and supposed that it had closed sometime in the 1960s. My parents said they had taken me there when I was around 18 months old, which would have been around the start of 1966. Yet, I would pass the site dozens of times in later years and could not remember the restaurant in operation, or even what it looked like.

So it was somewhat startling to find out that the Milk Farm, which began serving customers in 1919, remained in business until 1986.

Old Milk Farm Restaurant sign, Dixon, Calif.

Old Milk Farm Restaurant sign, Dixon, Calif.

Just down the road was another famous restaurant, the Nut Tree, in Vacaville, which operated from 1921 through 1996. I clearly recall that location and stopping there on more than one occasion. But the Milk Farm remains a void, except for driving past its iconic sign each time I headed north to such places as Davis, Sacramento or Lake Tahoe.

Fortunately, the world does not base historical judgment on what this author does or does not remember.

The Milk Farm began in 1919 as Hess Station, named for local rancher Karl Hess, who rented cabins to travelers in the days before motels.

The site was beside the old Lincoln Highway – Highway 40 – which was later expanded and renamed I-80.

Hess was apparently quite a promoter: he held milk-drinking contests, sold inexpensive chicken dinners and offered “all-you-can-drink” milk for 10 cents. He also helped make a named for the town of Dixon, where my grandfather and other family members attended high school, as the heart of the California dairy industry.

In 1938, Homer Henderson and his wife bought Hess Station and renamed it the Milk Farm. They added the cow logo which can be seen on the sign today.

“Stables, gas stations, an orange juice stand and a new restaurant all contributed to the Milk Farm being labeled ‘America’s Most Unique Highway Restaurant’ and to features on the radio and in such national publications as the Saturday Evening Post,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Celebrity visitors including crooner Bing Crosby, boxer Jack Dempsey and California Gov. and future US Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren.

The sign still visible today was erected in 1963 at a cost of $78,000, no mean sum more than 50 years ago.

The restaurant was eventually done in by rising food prices and increased competition, particularly from fast-food chains.

It closed in 1986 following damage from a violent windstorm and never reopened. In time, vagrants began inhabiting the structure, and in 2000 what remained of the building was razed.

Only the sign remains, a witness to the pre-chain-restaurant era, when part of the fun of vacationing involved the journey itself, and eateries put more emphasis on the quality of their food than on gimmicks used to lure travelers inside.

Photographer captures fury of Pacific Coast storm

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The above photograph, taken by photographer Larry Gerbrandt, shows Santa Cruz Lighthouse during a California winter storm earlier this year.

The spectacular image was named the best photo of 2016 by the National Weather Service Forecast Office for the San Francisco Bay Area/Monterey area.

Gerbrandt, of San Juan Bautista, Calif., said he checked the tide tables and learned not only when high tide would take place along the Monterey Bay, but that a so-called “king tide,” or very high tide, would occur. In addition, the tide was likely to be enhanced by a winter storm passing through the area.

Gerbrandt, an experienced photographer, was able to shoot at 1/4000th of a second, freezing the water in way most cameras can’t capture.

Despite the preparation, it still took Gerbrandt more than 1200 shots to capture the winning photo.

Santa Cruz is where your intrepid blogger attended high school, and where I still go every so often to visit Madre y Padre Cotton Boll.

I remember occasional storms of this magnitude. The tremendous roar of pounding surf, cascading whitewater rushing over cliffs and rocks, and salt spray being blown hundreds of feet off the water always left one awe-struck by the mighty fury of the ocean.

Fighting the good fight for those who love the ‘Muh-Crib’

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The basis of the First Amendment to the US Constitution is the right to petition; specifically, it prohibits Congress from abridging “the right of the people … to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

In other words, if folks have issues, they have a right to take them before their elected officials, no matter how petty those issues.

A recent local government meeting in a Los Angeles suburb might have left one wondering if the Founding Fathers knew just what they were doing when they embarked upon the American experiment 240 years ago.

During a Nov. 24 city council meeting in Santa Clarita, Calif., about 35 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles, a college-age woman (seen above) stepped to the microphone during the public comment segment and proceeded to take three minutes of elected officials’ time to implore council members to do something about the dearth of McDonald’s McRib sandwiches in the area.

The video, in all its lustrous glory, can be seen here.

I’ve enjoyed it several times and have a few thoughts:

First, my BS detector was on high alert. Most people can’t whip up this kind of passion to save their own kinfolk, never mind stand up for a fast-food dish made from obscure parts of what may or may not be a living creature.

Second, if you watch the video you’ll notice that not once does the “petitioner” pronounce the sandwich’s name correctly. Rather than “McRib,” it’s “Muh-Crib.” This could be comedic genius or stage fright or ignorance. Again, I leaned toward the first; if someone has this much zeal for a sandwich, one would think they would know how to pronounce it correctly.

Third, because WordPress no longer allows bloggers to post videos without paying an annual fee, I’ve included a transcript of the young lady’s performance below. It doesn’t do her justice, but it gives you an idea about the earnestness of her appeal. It’s mostly a long run-on sentence, and I’ve replaced “McRib” with “Muh-Crib” to give readers a better appreciation of the tone.

She begins by stating that she’s with the Santa Clarita Food Committee, then launches into a history of the “Muh-Crib”:

In 1982 a boneless barbecue pork sandwich was introduced to the United States and it was available for only during a limited time during the fall, which is called the Muh-Crib, but this year McDonald’s, they decided to give regional managers the power to decide whether to sell the Muh-Crib at their locations, and apparently only 55 percent of McDonald’s franchises nationwide have chosen to sell the Muh-Crib, which means 45 percent have decided to skip it, including the Santa Clarita area. And there are 10 McDonald’s here in Santa Clarita and none of them are selling the Muh-Crib. Specifically, the McDonald’s on Chiquella Lane next to In and Out (Burger) is not selling it and it has been replaced by an all-day breakfast, which I think is a really poor substitute. And consumers have had to resort to the mcriblocator.com, which gives disappointing results if you use it because the nearest sandwich was seen in the Bay Area. And to be honest, the removal of the Muh-Crib from the menu has affected my family because every Thanksgiving my family would, like, order a 50-piece chicken McNugget (sic) and, like, 10 Muh-Crib, it was, like, a tradition in our family. And now it’s, like … my family’s holiday spirit is kind of messed up and broken. So basically what I’m trying to say is, like, I come to you in this matter that I hope you members of the council can help and speak to these McDonald’s managers because I tried calling the hotline and they, like, don’t take me seriously. To me, Thanksgiving for my family without this Muh-Crib is like Christmas with snow. It just doesn’t make sense. So, thank you for your time and listening, and happy Thanksgiving.

How the council didn’t break out in laughter is beyond me, and it’s just further evidence of why I’m utterly unqualified to hold elected office.

After a bit of research, it turns out the “petitioner” is an individual named Xanthe Pajarillo, a California comedian. I applaud her and wish her well in her quest for a “Muh-Crib.”

Famed California Impressionist collection to get new home

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Joan Irvine Smith, an arts patron and the great-granddaughter of James Irvine, founder of the Irvine Co. real estate and development firm, announced late last month that she will donate her entire California Impressionist painting collection to the University of California-Irvine campus

The collection, valued at $17 million, is composed of approximately 1,200 works and is currently housed in the Irvine Museum.

It was established by Smith in 1993 to exhibit California Impressionist works that reminded her of the undeveloped Orange County of her youth, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The Irvine Museum is dedicated to the preservation and display of California art representative of the state prior to its heavy growth (1890-1930),

“The Irvine Museum is embracing a principal role in the education and furtherance of this beautiful and important regional variant of American Impressionism that has come to be associated with California and its remarkable landscape,” according to information found on the museum’s website.

Balboa Park, Colin Campbell Cooper, Irvine Muesum.

Balboa Park, Colin Campbell Cooper, Irvine Museum.

The museum has sent portions of its collection on numerous displays around the world over the past two-plus decades and published 16 books featuring California’s Impressionist paintings done during the 40-year period beginning in 1890.

A new museum is expected to be built on the UC Irvine campus to house the collection, which includes works by Guy Rose, William Wendt, Granville Redmond, Arthur Mathews and Edgar Payne.

Smith’s goal wasn’t simply to build a new museum, but to highlight issues related to the environment, particularly those facing southern California, according to her son, James Irvine Swinden, president of the Irvine museum.

(Top: Flowers Under the Oaks, Granville Redmond, Irvine Museum.)

 

Works of famed Lowcountry artist go on display in Charleston

mending-a-break

Artist Alice Ravenel Huger Smith was both enigmatic and straightforward.

The famed Carolina Lowcountry painter (1876-1958) took classes at the Carolina Art Association in the 1890s but otherwise was largely self-taught. She disdained travel and few outside influences are evident in her work.

She has been criticized in recent years for presenting images of an idealized antebellum South, featuring “happy ‘darkies’ and benevolent masters,” according to one modern historian.

But she was also critical in helping raise the consciousness of indigenous Carolina Lowcountry culture and was at the forefront of the preservation movement in Charleston.

While Smith is best known for 29 watercolors included in A Carolina Rice Plantation of the Fifties, she painted all sorts of pictures, from portraits early in her career to simple landscapes of long-leaf pine or swamp cypress.

Beginning this week, a collection of more than four dozen of Smith’s works will be on display through next summer in Charleston, including watercolors, oil paintings on mahogany panels and several sketches.

The artwork will be on display at both the Edmonston-Alston House and in the house museum at Middleton Place, both in Charleston.

The rice plantation watercolors belong to the Gibbes Museum of Art; numerous other paintings are in private collections and rarely seen by the public, according to the Charleston Post and Courier.

To be certain, Smith was a product of her times. The daughter of a former Confederate artilleryman, she sought to highlight the remembrances of the simpler pre-Civil War era that wealthy South Carolinians recalled in the decades after the war. Smith preferred to capture Lowcountry rural landscape to urban cityscapes of Charleston and enjoyed recording vanishing ways of life.

Those included the scenes from rural salt marshes, areas which had once been used for tidal rice cultivation but had been abandoned as the rice economy moved west and the land had fallen into disuse, to be reclaimed by salt water.

In addition, a small amount of rice was still being grown in the Lowcountry through the 1920s, giving Smith a glimpse of the industry that dated back to the late 17th century in South Carolina and had made many white planters wealthy and broken many enslaved blacks.

She worked with her father, Daniel Elliott Huger Smith, a historian, on The Dwelling Houses of Charleston (1917), a biography of the Charleston miniaturist and portrait painter, Charles Fraser (1924), A Carolina Rice Plantation of the Fifties (1936), and A Charlestonian’s Recollections, 1846-1913 (1950), the last two completed after her father’s death in 1932.

Smith’s works, like the artist herself, are unique and worth taking the time to visit.

(Top: Mending a Break in a Rice-Field Bank, by Alice Ravenel Huger Smith.)