Archive for September, 2011

A Guided Tour of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel Which Connects Virginia’s Eastern Shore to Mainland Virginia

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

Tuesday, September 6, 2011, promised to be a memorable day what with the tour by our US Coast Guard Auxiliary Cape Charles 12-02 Unit of one of the great engineering marvels of the modern world,  the amazing  17 mile long  Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel complex. Our group gathered at the north end of this transportation wonder which  is so important to the economy of the Eastern Shore of Virginia as it connects our area,  which is the southern tip of the DELMARVA peninsula,  to the mother ship,   mainland Virginia.   There we all were ushered into the wood panelled meeting room of the complex’s Board of Directors and seated in plush leather swivel chairs at an immense, polished mahogany conference table where we were warmly greeted by Mr. Jeff Holland, the executive director of the complex and his assistant Paige Addison.  Jeff took great pains to explain to us the history of the Bridge-tunnel from its inception all the way through its construction, carefully illustrating with a slide show its ground-breaking engineering.  As well, we learned about its ongoing maintenance, its operation, considerations for future improvements, its funding and security issues. As one who has driven across this complex countless times, even during extreme weather events and electrical outages, and even having been rescued by their emergency personnel, I was amazed by the quality and quantity of new information I gathered.

Jeff Holland, Executive Director of the CBB-T, points out the Thimble Shoals Channel of the bridge-tunnel to Milton Hickman, son of a former longtime director of the complex.

Our group was then given toll passes to allow us to travel south over the bridges and through both tunnels to park on the first island near the restaurant and visitor’s center.  Jeff took time to point out the massive construction of the islands and the bridge trestles, and pointing out to us the shipping channels that the underground tunnels span. Observation points on the island afford visitors and travelers an incredible perspective of the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay where it meets the Atlantic Ocean. Also, there is a fishing pier that has special lighting underneath that attracts schools of bait fish to the surface, making the pier a great attraction for fishermen casting from the pier above them.  While we were observing this incredible scene, Jeff pointed out to us a very special ship making her way east through the Thimble Shoals Channel.  She is the USS New York, a US Navy warship, which was built with steel salvaged from the site of the World Trade Center after its destruction on September 11, 2001.  How poignant that we should be touring this facility just a few days before the tenth anniversary of that event  just as  she was passing by.

USS New York passes through the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel on her way to the tenth memorial anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

Next, our group was lead into the garage bay of the island’s ventilation and maintenance building where we were informed by the director of safety, Mr. Jim Davis, of  how the public is protected by their  extensive traffic safety procedures and response to breakdowns and accidents. It seemed that every conceivable emergency has been considered and planned for,  which spoke so highly of the professionalism and dedication of the employees of the Bridge-tunnel.


Traffic Safety Director Mr. Jim Davis, in front of fishing pier, explains the complex's focus on safety.Inside the ventilation and control b uilding on the first island.

After a most interesting, as well as reassuring, explanation of the Chespeake Bay Bridge-Tunnels traffic safety and engineering standards, our group was then ushered into the ventilation area where we got our exercise for the day by descending five stories down to the level of the underwater/underground tunnel crossing beneath the Thimble Shoals Channel.  It was explained to us that the tunnels were engineered to allow for open shipping channels into the world’s largest naval base in Norfolk, VA, which could be especially  critical in a time of war.  A bridge could be destroyed and thus block such channels, but not the underground tunnels which would always be open for the Navy’s ships.   Mr. Tee Wells, a superintendent of the facility, escorted us through a steel door in the thick concrete walls that lead us onto the sidewalk in the Thimble Shoals tunnel. The noise of the traffic was amplified and reflected by the tunnels walls,  especially loud when an eighteen wheeler passed by.

Standing on the walkway next to traffic in the Thimble Shoal tunnel.

Re-climbing and catching our breath, our group re-entered the ventilation building with a big sigh of relief.  And then we climbed one more story up where we could walk above the tunnel’s traffic lanes in the ventilation shafts. Ventilating the tunnels is essential to removing the carbon monoxide produced by the traffic and the huge fans exchange the air every few minutes.  Up in the ducts above the tunnels, the space is pitch black dark  but through the vents in the ceiling, we could watch the traffic passing below us!

Finishing our tour of the ventilation works, we then entered the secured control room where an experienced operator is on duty 24 hours a day, all year round.  The operator has at his command a dozen monitors that give him a view of all areas of the tunnel’s roadway,  the ventilation buildings and the parking lots on the island. There we were given an exciting overview about  the complex’s  very high security standards and abilities.  Let’s just say that the war on terror is being fought right here at home and that  this world class transportation facility is right in sync  with detailed guidelines and high standards of terrorism awareness and facility protection.  And after learning so much about the operations of the  Bridge-tunnel complex,  I shall  definitely feel  even more  safe each and every time I cross this increadible engineering achievement.

A Stroll Through The Vineyard, A Wine Tasting, A Pleasant Summer’s Afternoon At Chatham Vineyard

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

Owner Jon Wehner Explains Chatham Vineyard’s European Trellis System

A few weeks ago my daughter, a  friend and I spent a lovely few  hours touring Chatham Vineyards located in Machipongo, VA on the Eastern Shore, learning about the art of growing grapes and  sampling some of  Chatham’s  delicious wines.  Owner Jon Wehner started our afternoon off  with a leisurely stroll through the  vineyard itself,  explaining  the vineyard’s seasonal activities,  which was quite engaging.   I have been fortunate to have done  the  “Tour & Taste”  at a number of wonderful  wineries but this was my first extensive tour through a vineyard and I think everyone in attendence  found it  quite interesting.   Definitely the perfect time of year for it,  the colors were beautiful.  In sharp contrast to the deep green of the leaves, row after row of  compact bunches of  black and purple grapes glistened in the sun,  plump,  juicy, nearly ready for harvest to begin,  no doubt a vintner’s favorite time of year,  the sweet culmination of a great deal of work.

Merlot Grapes Nearly Ready For Harvest

The first thing one notices is that wine grapes are quite small,  much smaller than their kissing cousins, the  “eating grapes”  like Thompson seedless that one buys in a grocery store.   Chatham is currently growing  about 20 acres of grapes,  primarily Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay varieties grown on French rootstock  as well as  a small section of Petit Verdot  produced to provide  extra color and complexity in blendings.  ( Especially in their Cabernet Franc which contains  3 %  Petit Verdot.)  As we walked through the vineyard,  Jon invited everybody to taste the various grape varieties,  including different plantings of the same variety,  all planted in rows which are oriented north- to- south  for a more even ripening of the fruit.  Although I much perfer a Cabernet wine to a  Merlot,  surprisingly,  I that found that I preferred the flavor of the  Merlot grape to that  of the Cabernet grape.  We learned about the “chewiness” of the grape skins,  how to evaluate the ripeness of the grape seeds and how the immature tannins  found in unripe seeds can adversely effect the wine.  We admired the huge wind machine, very tall with long,  tilted blades which can rotate 360 degrees,  a newish  invention which helps  vineyards get through an early frost which could kill the new fruit buds by  pushing  the higher, warmer air down towards the cold air found near the ground, circulating  it so that the coldest air doesn’t settle on the vines.   Jon says  it works very well and has added a second wind machine  to his  official  “Wish List”.


Now For The Real Fun- Wine Tastings and Hor d’oeurves Inside The Winery Building

Part of a historic waterfront estate and started in 1999,  Chatham uses a high density European trellis growing method and is now harvesting about 80 tons of grapes  and  producing about  3000-5000 bottles of wine each year.   The moderate  maritime climate here on  Virginia’s  Eastern Shore is similar to the climate found in Bordeaux, one of France’s  most famous vineyard regions.  Our excellent climate,  combined with the well drained loamy soils here in Northampton County,  creates  a good environment for producing  top quality grapes needed for fine wines.  Chatham Vineyard has received a number of  awards for  various vintages and its wines are found in some of the finest Virginia restaurants and yes, I do know from personal experience that  its wines make a very nice gift.




After the stroll we all went back to the winery building to look at some of the equipment used there to de-stem the grapes, crush them for the juice, etc., etc.   But the highlights  of the day no doubt were the  barrel tastings and the hors d’oeurves (catered by the North Street Gourmet Market in Onancock)  which included aged Gouda cheeses,  a delicious  spinach dip and a pungent salami rolled with cream cheese and chives,  accompanied by several varieties of olives and a number of other items.   But my favorite  hors d’oeurve  was  a very ripe brie served with  quince paste.  I had never before had quince paste– it looks a little odd,  a very dark brown and is shaped into a small, dense block which is a bit difficult to slice.  But trust me, on a multi-grain cracker, balanced atop the brie,  served with the Cabernet Franc,  that hard dark quice paste tastes  like ambrosia !     The afternoon concluded on a very high note  with a  tasting of  Chatham’s  late harvest red desert wine served with some luscious chocolate truffles, an elegant pairing, truly a treat to remember.   ( P.S.   Try a Chatham wine for yourself,  shop on-line at their website,  )  (Posted by Marlene Cree, licensed Virginia agent with Blue Heron Realty Co., 7134  Wilsonia Neck Dr., Machipongo, VA)



Civil War Re-Inactment Camp Hosted By The Eastern Shore Town Of Parksley, VA. As Part Of The Sesquicentential

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

Re-inactment Camp In Parksley, VA Of The 2nd Delaware Volunteer Regiment Of The Union Army

Kudos to the Eastern Shore Public Library for  sponsoring last week-end what may be one of the Eastern Shore’s best events commemorating the Sesquicentennial, the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War.  Hosted as part of  Heritage Week by the small  Eastern Shore town  of Parksley, VA,  a re-inactment camp of  the  Union Army’s  2nd Regiment Delaware Volunteer Infantry, which has been an active re-inactment group since 1988,   was held on the grounds of  Parksley’s Town Park.  Led by Captain Glenn Layton of Wyoming, Delaware,  who became a member in 1996,  the Regiment’s  authentic period white tents were pitched in large green spaces ringed  by  sturdy hardwood trees,  their leafy branches providing much appreciated shade.  This was a three day event starting Friday evening September 9th and continuing through Sunday afternoon on September 11th,  with many planned activities including a short observance of  the 10th anniversary of  9-11.

Just About Ready For Mess Call, Featuring A Savory Brown Bean Stew & Corn Bread

The Saturday morning  schedule included a presentation of  general aspects of  day- to- day army life including  pay call, no doubt as important then as today.  My husband and I arrived  just before noon,  in time to see the demonstration of period cooking.  Lunch was being prepared in a large cast iron dutch oven centered over the glowing coals of a wood fire,  a fine smelling stew of  plump brown beans bubbling away in a sauce seasoned with  onion and  ham hocks to be served with  corn bread,  followed by  fresh apples for dessert.  Troop satisfaction with the  Company Cook seemed quite high and  anticipatory speculation was circulating that roasted venison would be served for dinner along with a traditional apple crisp for dessert.   Beverages consisted of  water from individual canteens  or  cups of coffee from the huge pot set at the edge of  the fire,  only  period messware  was used  ( tin cups, plates and utensils) ,  not a single  ice cold coke  in sight.


Capt. Glenn Layton (left) and Company Historian Prvt. Sean Protas of the 2nd Delaware Regiment

Shortly after lunch  some close order drill and firing demonstrations were scheduled but before they began we were fortunate  to be able to speak  to the Company Historian,  Private Sean Protas,  who has forgotten more than I will ever learn about the  2nd Delaware and its various campaigns during  the Civil War.   At  his day job,  Sean Protas is an MBA and trust administrator.   But by night,  Private Protas is a  diligent  researcher, winkling out all sorts of interesting info on this Volunteer Regiment whose nickname was the  ” Crazy Delaware’s”   because of its unbelievable bravery and efforts to advance  in the face of overwhelming odds at  the Battle of Antietam.  But some of the most interesting information about the  2nd Delaware to me was that the Regiment  was involved in the Invasion of Accomac and Northampton Counties in November, 1861.

Although  I am not a Civil War buff,   I was truly embarrassed that after all the years I have lived here that I had never learned  about the  Union Invasion  and subsequent Occupation of the Eastern Shore of Virginia.   Preserving Civil War history through education is one of the primary goals of re-inactors and I surely got an education about the Civil War as it played out on the Eastern Shore by speaking with Private Protas.   The  Invasion began mid- November , 1861 and lasted for nearly a week,  thereafter an occupation  force of  several thousand additional Volunteers from other newly trained units were moved to the Shore  to maintain the peace.  Union Regiments participating in the Invasion included  the 5th New York,  the 4th Wisconsin,  2nd Indiana and the  17th Massachusetts in addition to the 2nd Delaware.  These units were selected because they had already had previous battle experience,  being veterans of either the Battle of Bull Run or the Battle of Big Bethel.  Although no Confederate troops had been stationed here, apparently the  Shore  was important to the Union army as part of its efforts to prevent easy travel to the south and to  secure our many Atlantic Ocean and Chesapeake Bay inlets  in order to blockade supplies to the Confederacy.   So  Pacification and Occupation of the Eastern Shore of Virginia was  an important part of  Union Army strategy.  Makes sense,  but who knew ?

Two units from the 5th New York Regiment were even sent  as far south as  Cape Charles and beyond,  although  Camp Felicity, the Union Headquarters on the Eastern Shore,  was  located to the north on the  Royal Felicity Farm,  near what is now the town of Accomac,  then called Drummondtown,  relatively close to the Virginia-Maryland line.   A Proclamation sent from Army Headquarters in Baltimore,  Maryland,  signed by Major General John A. Dix,  was posted and read out in the Town Square,   asking for Shore residents to co-operate with the  Occupation,  stating in part that  unless the residents tried to repel the Army by  “hostile resistance or attack”  that  “there need be no fear that the quietude of any fireside will be disturbed unless the disturbance is caused by yourselves.”   Apparently it was obvious that the Occupation might  be a lengthy one.  Pvt. Protas gave me a copy of a letter written in December,  1861 from a  Pvt. Brumley to his friend Eckel detailing life at Camp Felicity which comments:  ” We shall soon have quite a society of ladies.  The wife and daughter of our Colonial and the wife of one of the Captains are now in Camp.  The Chaplain will soon have his family here.  Then, with the 1200 men in barracks around us we shall form quite a village.”   Apparently although  some acts of rebellion occured and some tainted food was sold to Union soldiers,  by and large,  the Shore’s Occupation was without major incident,  no doubt helping explain why the Eastern Shore still has so many historic homes dating back even to the 1700’s still standing .

Capt. Layton Questions & Releases His Rebel Prisoner, Lowell Wallace, Upon His Honor To Commit No Further Misdeeds

After the history lesson from Pvt. Protas,  we went over to observe the drill demonstration and then the arms inspection which included affixing bayonets and preparing  muskets for firing.  When watching these men tamp gunpowder into their muskets,  one quickly realizes that  many soldiers must have been shot during the extremely clumsy and slow process of  simply re-loading.  Just as the drill was being concluded,  an unexpected and impromptu opportunity presented itself in the form of  Confederate Commander Lowell Wallace of  General Wises’  Refugees,  a Son’s of Confederate Veterans  group,  which was staffing  an information tent on the other side of the Park.  He  came over and spoke  to Captain Layton about re-inacting the seizing  and handling of  a Rebel prisoner from the local populace,  the prisoner obviously being  Wallace.   So the prisoner Wallace was chastised for  his misdeeds  and then released by Captain Layton after swearing on his  honor  not do so again.  The entire Regiment,  as well as  Commander  Wallace,  then marched in close formation to the  Confederate  Monumont about three blocks away for a short ceremony honoring the dead on both sides  and a  3 gun salute to the fallen.

After marching back to the Park,  the next item on the Regiment’s agenda was re-inactment of  a Court Marshall proceeding,  to be presented  from information obtained  from official records of  the actual Court Marshall  of a  2nd Delaware  private who, in 1861,  had left his post without permission.   Unfortunately,  we had another engagement and  were  unable to stay longer so I’ll never know the fate of that unfortunate fellow but I did learn so, so  much else.  It seems really remarkable when one thinks about it,  that back in a period when most people,  over the course of  their entire lifetimes,  never even traveled beyond the borders of their own state,  many never even beyond the borders of  their own county,  to have young men,  Union soldiers,  sent  to  fight on the tiny Eastern Shore of Virginia  from such faraway states as Wisconsin and Indiana,  New York and Massachusetts.   And Delaware.   E  Pluribus  Unum.


P.S.  I was amazed at the uniforms which are wool,  worn year-round.   The uniform coat worn by Volunteers was called a “sack coat”,  falling  just  below  the hips and  made of very, very tightly woven wool,  lined with cotton or linen,  pants were woolen,  with headgear called  a forage hat.  Talk about hot,  I can’t imagine how soldiers stood it all summer long.   The regulation uniform coat worn by the Regular Army  was called a “frock coat”,  also wool and finished with decorative piping which matched the color of the cord on the  hat ( called a hardee hat) — Infantry hats  were decorated with  a horn emblem with blue cord,  yellow cord and a crossed sabers emblem for Cavalry and red cord with a crossed cannon emblem for Artillery units.  In winter, troops wore a heavy woollen great coat which weighed about 10 pounds and  reached below the knee, with a cape at the shoulders which could be pulled over the head in severe weather.   As Pvt. Protas put it, the troops were way too hot in summer and way too cold in winter.  And Pvt. Brumley’s letter to Eckel says: “Mittens are very much needed, so are stockings.” More information on the 2nd Delaware Regiment can be found on their website,

(Posted by Marlene Cree, licensed Virginia agent with Blue Heron Realty Co., 7134  Wilsonia Neck Dr., Machipongo, VA)