Murals at Spencer Penn Center

One of the nice things about living on the west side of Henry County is that it is very close to the Spencer Penn Center.  The Spencer Penn Center was an area school until sometime around 2004 when it was slated to be closed and was instead converted into a community center by local residents and alumni.

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The Spencer Penn Center

It really is a beautiful place with a baseball field out back, a paved walking trail, a “wild” walking trail, pretty gardens, lots of arts and exercise classes and a library.

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The Garden in front of Spencer Penn Center

There’s even a little free library out back by the playground and the baseball bleachers.

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Free Little Library, Playground and Bleachers at Spencer Penn

The walking path runs around the Mary Jordan Ball Field and is a good, level path.  This is a safe area where anyone can walk without fear and the quiet country surroundings mean that you are more likely to hear birdsong than cars.

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The Mary Jordan Ball Field

I’ve already blogged about the Charles & Rose Hylton Library there, though I didn’t mention that it has a active reading program for kids.

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The Charles & Rose Hylton Library

And something else that rarely gets mentioned is their collection of beautiful murals.  Per Mary Jordan, Director of Spencer Penn, the murals are the work of Mt. Airy muralist Roger Carroll. The longest stretch of murals is a chronological storyboard that begins shortly before the office and ends at the end of the hallway just outside the auditorium.

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Hallway Mural at Spencer Penn

Light conditions in the hallway are not optimal for photography, so I’ve brightened these photos considerably.

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Hallway Mural and Spencer Penn

If there is a trick to getting better photos in a hallway with light constraints, I’m all ears.  I wouldn’t mind taking these photos over and over until I do them some justice.

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Hallway Mural at Spencer Penn

I don’t remember what was on the walls of the schools that I attended.  I grew up in Texas and I’m fairly certain that we just had single color brandings of our football team’s logo.

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Hallway Mural at Spencer Penn

The history does end at the Civil War but, in fairness to Spencer Penn, the wall space ends there too.  I love the idea of the murals and I wonder what pieces of our history would have been selected if there had been room for more.  The Spanish American War, maybe.  Henry Ford, almost undoubtedly.  The moon landing. Would they have nodded to the tobacco industry? The textile or furniture industry? Which wars … WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Gulf Storm, Iraq? Which people? Martin Luther King, Jr. is an easy choice.  What about Jonas Salk? The Suffragettes? Hemingway and the Lost Generation? It’s fascinating to me to think about. What and who contributes to the definition of “American” after 1864?

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Hallway Mural at Spencer Penn

But there is one mural at Spencer Penn that is my absolute favorite. The mural below of Spencer Penn “back in the day” is in what they call Alumni Hall.  Mary tells me that this is from a photo in the 1940 school annual.  The school kids and cars were possibly added. There is a lot of love in this painting and you can feel it. This is a big mural – maybe, say, eight feet tall or more.

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Gymnasium Mural at Spencer Penn

Spencer Penn is a vital community center and I hope that you give it a visit, even if it is just to their website.  There is always a membership drive on and they can always use funds.

For more information, please see the following links:

 

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Most Photographed Mabry Mill

If you are sitting at a desk in Dallas looking up photos of the Blue Ridge Parkway, there’s a good chance that the majority of the photos that you are seeing are from the North Carolina stretch.  I don’t know if they just do a better job of Internet marketing or what the deal is there but there is one site along Virginia’s Blue Ridge Parkway that is touted as the most photographed. That is Mabry Mill.  It’s about an hour from Henry County, maybe a little less, just north of where the Parkway passes Meadows of Dan.  Part of the National Parks System, Mabry Mill is a perfect blend of natural beauty, history, and local fare.  The Mabry Mill Restaurant is lauded for its  sweet potato, blueberry, and apple pancakes made from buckwheat and corn meal ground at the mill.  Continue reading “Most Photographed Mabry Mill”

A Monument to Booker T. Washington

Virginia has been in the news this year for a violent alt-right rally centered around a statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville.  Public opinion is mixed about how to respond. In fact, public opinion is mixed about exactly what is or what are the problem(s) that need to be addressed.  We have yet to be able to have a responsible dialog as thoughtful adults. Maybe we’ll get there. I hope so.

I don’t have an opinion on the statues so I am not going to offer one.  I do have an observation, however.  In the rural areas of Virginia, there are precious few monuments to anything other than the Civil War and that seems like an oddity to me.  Roanoke is not so bad.  It’s got some great monuments – like the firefighter monument at the Museum of Transportation and the monument to fallen officers in front of the police station.  Greensboro has the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park commemorating the Revolutionary War.  When you get into rural Virginia, however, there are pretty much only Civil War monuments.  It’s as if there have been no notable people or events in the past 150 years, although I am absolutely sure that that is not true.

One notable exception to this is the Booker T. Washington National Monument about an hour north of Henry County on the way to Smith Mountain Lake.  Continue reading “A Monument to Booker T. Washington”

The Other War

You have to understand that, when a Texan hears the words “the war for independence”,  the first thing that comes to mind is the Battle of San Jacinto,  the Alamo and Goliad, Santa Anna, and all that. For a Texan, “history” begins in 1836.  It takes a while for it to sink in, after moving to Virginia, that history does NOT start in 1836 and there was a bigger, much more important war well before that.

And so it’s understandable, when we recently took Mother down to see the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park in Greensboro, North Carolina, that she assumed that it was related to the Civil War. It took a little while of wandering through the exhibits in the Visitor Center, seeing the red uniforms and the references to Generals Washington and Cornwallis, that she said, “Oh, this is that other war.” She has a way of dramatically understating things.  She was nonetheless quite impressed.

The Guilford Courthouse National Military Park is impressive.  There are two films in the Visitor’s Center, they have some fantastic exhibits, there is a walking tour and a driving tour to see the many monuments,  tour narrations on CD and via smartphone, and there are paths throughout the park that were virtually thronged with people on a hot September afternoon.  You could easily spend hours here.

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Monument to Major General Nathanael Greene at the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park in Greensboro, NC

When I first got to Henry County, Virginia, I wondered if there had ever been any British soldiers this far inland. We are, after all, around a five hour car ride away from the coast. What would that be on horseback through dense woods?

Guilford Courthouse pretty much answers that question. There were, at one time, quite a lot of them not far away at all. This battle was important to the American Revolution because, although the British won the battle, they lost so many men that it is seen as the turning point in the war.

One of the monuments there is to mark the spot where Brigadier General Edward Stevens was wounded during the battle while leading the Virginia Militia. There is remarkably little on the Internet specifically about this battle apart from the Wikipedia entry. Apparently, it wasn’t even named in the movie, “The Patriot”, even though it was a pivotal battle. I know that we shouldn’t use a Hollywood film to tell us about history but some things you just don’t expect them to get wrong or misrepresent.  It’s a shame, really.  A little more historical accuracy could have gone a long way.

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Monument to Brigadier General Stevens at Guilford Courthouse National Military Park in Greensboro, North Carolina

A British “Red Coat” would seem pretty anachronistic at just about any event that I can think of in Texas, except for a 4th of July event.  Here, Revolutionary War reenactors are a common sight at even small community festivals.

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Revolutionary War Reenactors at Spencer Penn Pig Cooking Contest, April 2015

I love the connection to the colonial past that pervades life here on the East Coast.  It’s truly humbling for it to be pointed out that the USA was not a given; that there was ever any doubt that we, as a nation, would even exist.

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Revolutionary War Reenactors at Fieldale Heritage Festival, April 2015

I’d love to learn more about this specific area’s involvement in the Revolution as well as the Revolution itself. I’ve tried various books but keep getting bogged down in high-minded minutiae about the founding fathers.  My favorite history book, so far, has been “Lone Star: A History of Texas and The Texans” by T.R. Fehrenbach.  Does anyone have any suggestions for a good book (or books) on Virginia and its involvement in the American Revolution?