Monthly Archives: January 2016

Hushpuppies

Despite never having tried or even heard of hushpuppies before this trip, I think I have come to know them quite well. They’re usually served as a side to something else (it can be anything in the South, from fried chicken to fish tacos), but I think they deserve their own post.

Wayside Takeout and Catering and Ole Virginia Fried Chicken
Charlottesville, VA
The first hushpuppies I ever tasted, and probably the worst, although I didn’t know that at the time. I thought they were good, but had to ask if they were traditionally eaten with ketchup, as they were a little bland. Also on the small side, only about an inch in diameter.

Clyde Cooper’s BBQ
Raleigh, NC
Unlike with the previous puppies, I could actually taste that they were made of cornmeal. They were also bigger, but not larger spheres. They were stangely extruded, in (I hate to say it) a form any three-year-old would immediately recognize. This made the surface to volume ratio a bit greater, which I think was good, despite the obvious flaws in the design.

Leon’s Fine Poultry and Oysters
Charleston, SC
Returned to round, but these were larger, about two inches in diameter instead of one. Definitely corny, though less so than Clyde Cooper’s. They also had peppers baked inside them, adding a dash of color and spice to an otherwise monochrome and occasionally bland food.
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Big G’s Barbecue and Catering
Allendale, GA
These had an interesting texture. Instead of having a thin crispy shell coating a mostly mealy inside, it was a bit more permeated. The two-inch spheres seemed more like small cornmeal balls wearing an almost crystalline coat of fried fat. It was full of little air pockets, making them much flakier than any other hushpuppies I’ve tried.P1060686

I think I’ve covered all the different variations upon hushpuppies, but if I find something new, it will definitely be added.

Charleston and the triumph of typology

A critical index for appreciating a city on our trip is the cuisine / architecture ratio;  when it gets too low, Greta is miserable.  Charleston is a place where we might have run into serious trouble, as the first day we were there I dragged her all over the historic district looking at housing.  (Housing is even worse in her view than Architecture, as Architecture might involve museums which will have exhibits or art that might interest her.)  Luckily the food quality in Charleston was very high, so it kept the whining to a minimum while I made her look at housing.  And the intellectual payoff is that Greta now has a deeper understanding of typology than most architecture students do. DSCF7810

As we moved deeper into the South, certain cultural characteristics become ever more evident.  The discussion of any place or building revolved ever more around the history of what happened there, or even the intricacies of the family histories of the people who lived there.  We toured the Edmonston-Alston House, and the docent spent most of her time elaborating the interconnections of the various families who had owned it.  We didn’t care – we just wanted to see the house.

Charleston does have a long and interesting history – most famously as the place the Civil War started, but perhaps more important, it was the largest port for the slave trade in the country, with probably 40% of the enslaved people moving though it.  That fact is not emphasized or very visible in the preserved fabric of the city, which as in most places, showcases the buildings of the rich.  There are magnificent churches and public buildings.  The pavilion at the end of the public market now serves a museum of the Confederacy.
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The main shopping street is King Street, which has fine commercial buildings from different eras and styles filled with boutiques for the well-off retirees who seem to form a lot of the populace.  (Charleston is also the best-dressed city we have visited, with the most men in suits and ties.) DSCF7756  DSCF7761

The street that organizes the map of Charleston is Broad:  the major east-west street.  Below it is the historic district, an almost perfectly-preserved area that is exclusively residential – no restaurants (and no public bathrooms).  DSCF8106

The churches of Charleston are widely varied in style too, and quite prominent.  There are not many cities I can think of where the dominant elements on the skyline are the spires – Charleston has a few tall hotels and office buildings, but they are mostly kept away from the historic core.  St. Philip’s Church is sited wonderfully – poking out into Church St., so it punctuates the vista from two directions.  DSCF7901

The Catholic cathedral is brownstone from Connecticut, something not seen often in the South. Fantastic masonry forms, I believe the spire was reconstructed later.  DSCF8071  DSCF8074

Most buildings are brick with stucco, which sometimes wears off.DSCF7889a

But for most architects, the main point of Charleston architecture is the housing – especially the single house, the type that was developed and used extensively in Charleston, being well-adapted to the hot, humid climate.  A narrow house built right out to the street.  Usually one room wide, with every room opening onto a porch, to facilitate cross-ventilation (an idea that probably migrated from the plantation house).  The porch almost always faces south, to shade the rooms, and opens to a side yard, which varies from minimal to grand.
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The entry from the street is into the porch zone, but there is usually a solid front door at this point for privacy.DSCF7788

Even when the porch itself might be open to the street.DSCF7989

The side yard is often screened with a high wall along the street, so it can function more as a private courtyard or garden (glimpsed here through the open carriage gate).  DSCF7790

That is the definition of the “type”, but as with all types, there are many variations on the theme, and for a typology geek such as me (and not Greta), the fun is in spotting the variants.  The basic type is fundamentally asymmetrical and skewed towards the southern orientation.  So what happens when architectural fashion favors symmetry?  You can add a bay on the north that balances the porch to the south:DSCF0088

or you could do that and disguise the porch altogether making the first bay in depth an enclosed room.DSCF7840

Or maybe enclose that bay without going symmetrical.
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A stair is sometimes added in the porch zone, which allows the type to transform into a multi-family building of flats.DSCF0044

The desire for more space led to some houses becoming two rooms wide.DSCF0058

At what point does it stop being a single house?  When it is two rooms wide such as above, or when you do that and add a street entry into the house, and modify the linear nature of the porch?DSCF7836

Sometimes the urbanistic demands of the site led to a shift in orientation, such as here where the porch faces west, as the house addresses Broad St.DSCF8060

We were chatting with a builder one afternoon (there are builders and groundskeepers everywhere in Charleston – I’m not sure we ever saw an actual resident) – who directed us to Legare St. which has the most beautiful streetscape and the biggest houses.  (And the most pickups belonging to the contractors.)DSCF8014

Along the Battery there is a beautiful park.
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And the houses facing this are not single houses.  Here the site demands change the type instead of the orientation (the porches still face south), and ventilation was probably adequate as the houses faced onto a large open space and waterfront.DSCF7973

The east side of the Battery has a seawall / promenade.DSCF7948

Lined with fantastic houses (such as this with a colossal order). DSCF7962and you can tour the Edmonston-Alston House, which shows an evolution in and out of type.  It started as a Federal style house, entered from the side yard into a central hall on the traverse axis.  However, an entry door off the street was a later modification (along with some truly ghastly pseudo-Empire interior detailing).  DSCF0139

The porch at the piano nobile level, however, is where I’d like to spend my retirement sitting.DSCF0110

The single house was not just for the rich – as you wander through other neighborhoods, you can see perfectly-preserved vernacular examples.DSCF9983

Which sometimes are modified to enclose more space;  this is always an issue for commodious porches – eventually someone decides to add another room, and the side porch is gone.  DSCF9987

This happens with rich folks too, and probably would have become more common in the air-conditioning era if it weren’t for historic preservation ordinances. DSCF7806

And just as there are mansions which tried to finesse the symmetry issue, there are more modest houses that engaged it also.  DSCF9997

We visited Charleston on our way south, but when we headed north after Christmas, we decided to return for another couple of days.  I wanted to spend more time strolling the streets of this elegant and beautiful city, and Greta read the Washington Post article on America’s Ten Best Food Cities, and realized there was a place she had missed.

 

Beaufort, S.C.

DSCF9932pLess well known than Charleston or Savannah, Beaufort is an extraordinary historic town.  It’s much smaller than those two cities, and harder to reach, so although it has been gentrified by what seem to be well-off retirees all reading Southern Living, it doesn’t feel as overrun by tourists.  The small downtown is very spiffy, and some of the adjoining residential areas clearly have been getting a lot of attention.DSCF9862p DSCF9968

Streets end at the bay or looking out onto the salt marshes.DSCF9900

But what really struck us was the district known as The Point.  Many of the houses are large and spectacular, but it doesn’t seem that hedge fund managers have been pumping a few million into each one.  Perhaps they still belong to old families, or perhaps they are just too big and would cost too much to renovate.  Or maybe there aren’t any good golf courses nearby.  For whatever reason, the neighborhood exudes that atmosphere of Southern decay that we all know from black and white movies.  I kept expecting to see a fat old guy in a Panama hat and suspenders sitting on the porch drinking bourbon.  DSCF9891  DSCF9931p  DSCF9943p

The growth is unbelievable.  Giant live oaks everywhere, and Spanish moss practically down to the ground.  DSCF9865p        DSCF9887DSCF9872DSCF9913p  DSCF9947p

As much as I loved Charleston, eventually you get tired of everything being so perfect.   Beaufort has some ruins and some neglect – it doesn’t have the armies of gardeners ready to pounce on every weed that appears, or painters with their three levels of trim paint ready to go.
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Traveling across the South, it’s been discouraging to see how much it has become like the rest of the country – every little town has five fast food places that have displaced the bbq joints and old diners.  The new houses look the same as in New Jersey or Texas.  Either things are really poor and dilapidated and depressing, or they are brand new and character-less.  Beaufort had a strong presence of the past, and it looked old.  It helped prepare us for New Orleans.

Savannah and the ascendancy of the Plan

DSCF9828Many of our readers have remarked that my blog posts are like architecture lectures.  Any of my students reading this can attest that what I have to say about Savannah already is a lecture.  I’ve been giving this lecture about Savannah for years, and on this trip we just returned there so I could get better photos.  Actually, we returned to Savannah four years after out last visit because it is one of our favorite cities – even Greta doesn’t get tired of walking through this beautiful and varied place.

If the character of Charleston depends largely on the building type of the single house, the character of Savannah is wholly dependent upon the brilliance of its plan.  It was laid out by James Oglethorpe in 1734 as a military camp, and it is incredible to think that his ideas on the hierarchy of a camp filled with huts could lead to perhaps the most sophisticated town plan in the country.  This is the famous print of Oglethorpe’s original layout:  Savannah-1734

The basic module of Savannah’s plan is the “ward” – the repeating arrangement of streets that surround a square.  Most planned American cities are based upon a simple grid, where every street is the conceptual equivalent of any other, but in Savannah there is a hierarchy of major streets, through streets, formal streets, residential streets, and alleys. Savannah-module

This hierarchy of streets dictates the qualities of the blocks and buildings, with the blocks to the east and west of the squares occupied by civic buildings and mansions.  The experience of being in the city is shaped by this hierarchy too – notice that the squares interrupt through traffic in both directions, so as a pedestrian you can stroll on these streets and though the squares, while the faster traffic moves on different streets.  DSCF9537

While the plan of each ward is the same, the development of the squares is very different.  Downtown squares, residential squares, rich neighborhoods, poor neighborhoods – they all have the same underlying pattern with an open space in the middle.  Most squares have a monument in the center, DSCF9769

and we noticed that the person memorialized in the center is never the same person after whom the square is named;  this is not Wesley Square.
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Some of the newer monuments are less formal, such as this statue of Savannah’s favorite son, the songwriter Johnny Mercer.DSCF9809

But it is really the spatial and experiential qualities of the squares that makes Savannah such a different place.  They are quiet and beautiful, and everyone in the center of the city is always with one block of an open space.  DSCF9514

This isn’t to say that the through-streets are awful – they too are gracious and welcoming, with the live oaks and Spanish moss giving much of the character.  DSCF9517

Savannah also has beautiful buildings surrounding these spaces.  There are a couple of squares that have been ruined by 1950s and 1960s buildings, but in reaction to these, Savannah was one of the birthplaces of the historic preservation movement, and the rest of the city core was spared the blight of bad buildings and bad city planning ideas.  There are excellent commercial buildings.DSCF9812warehouses by the river,DSCF9584

civic buildings (I don’t know the architect for this courthouse, but he was clearly influenced by Berlage and early European modernism).  DSCF9523  DSCF9524

and of course beautiful houses.  DSCF9748  DSCF9461   DSCF9478

including some tiny old ones.  DSCF9567

Our favorite building in Savannah is the Alex Raskin antique store.  Housed in one of the largest townhouses in the city, it is gorgeously unrestored, owned by a former New Yorker, packed with furniture and cool stuff, and gives you a free glimpse of what such a house is like inside.  Partial as I am to Southern decay, I like seeing a house that isn’t all tastefully tricked-out, and where you have to listen to a guide drone on about genealogy.  DSCF9706  DSCF9708

We also walked through many of the 19th-century neighborhoods which flank the large city park to the south of the historic core.  They don’t have the same ward system with squares, but they are good neighborhoods with a variety of styles of frame buildings.  DSCF9506  DSCF9485Older housing is being restored in these neighborhoods (for those priced out of the core), and new buildings are being built in historicist styles.DSCF9489

Savannah isn’t completely frozen in time.  SCAD, the Savannah College of Art and Design, has purchased many old buildings throughout the city to house its scattered-site school, and the presence of the school really contributes to the vitality of the city (especially compared to all the other beautiful southern cities which seem to be inhabited solely by affluent retirees).DSCF9839

And new transportation technologies are competing with the old.  DSCF9543

Having covered the core of the city on several trips, we ventured out to the coast this time, to Tybee Island, an interesting beachfront town that used to be a prominent resort area.  The lighthouse at the mouth of the Savannah River seemed very tall to us Northwesterners, used to short lighthouses on tall cliffs.  DSCF9654  DSCF9621  DSCF9603

Our march through beautiful old Southern cities continues, with several more yet to come.

UO grads

Visiting your former grad students is different from visiting friends you knew earlier in life.  High school friends were really just kids, so seeing those friends four decades later is somewhat hilarious – you can’t believe they’re really grown-up, with grandkids and such; you keep expecting them to burst out laughing that they’ve been putting you on.  College friends are not quite as unbelievable, as you knew them as they were starting to invent their grown-up personas.  But seeing my former students as grown-ups doesn’t seem weird at all – they were already young adults in grad school, and they often were pretty far into setting their life’s course.  So seeing them on this trip just feels like touching base with a more experienced version of the person you already knew.

DSCF5927I first met Neelab Mahmoud when she was a GTF in our big lecture class on Place and Culture.  She led undergraduate discussion sections, where she was a great teacher, and helped us think through assignments and directions for the course.  Neelab’s input always had a wisdom and thoughtfulness that belied her relatively young age – she was very open to everyone else’s perspectives, and was great at making connections amongst them.  As I got to know her better I started to understand where these traits came from – her family had been refugees from Afghanistan when she was a child, and settled near Washington DC.  Neelab had the insights that can come from being between two cultures, and the need to make your way in a very foreign place.  She understood the relativity of many things others take for granted, and was superb at getting her students (and professors) out of their comfortable boxes.  In the nicest way possible.

Neelab was in my housing thesis studio the next year, where her work was visionary.  Her background had been in biology – so it was clear the rational and analytical side of design would be taken care of – allowing her to focus on the more expressive and intuitive aspects.  She was willing to follow a train of thought without knowing where it would lead – a remarkably confident way to work.  In the end her project was beautiful, accommodating and appropriate.  Not exactly the kind of work that tends to get built, but the best kind to pursue in school, where you can explore ideas that you can later put into practice.  The only problem with having Neelab in studio was that she was just too interesting to talk with about many things, and it made focussing just on architecture difficult.

After school Neelab and her husband Ben moved to San Francisco, where she worked for Pyatok Architects, a leading housing design firm.  They then moved to Baltimore so Ben could attend engineering grad school at Johns Hopkins, and it’s there they’ve stayed.  Neelab has her own practice, Studio Marmalade, and has been teaching a wide range of courses as an adjunct at Morgan State University for six years.

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We stayed with Neelab and Ben in their classic Baltimore rowhouse, north of downtown towards Johns Hopkins.  It was interesting to hear about their decision to live in a central city location, their commitment to the city and to their neighborhood and schools.  I was a little apprehensive about parking the trailer in a big, tough, eastern city (as I’ve noted, most of my understanding of Baltimore comes from The Wire), but Neelab just said, In case you get there before me, I’ll leave the key in the mailbox, and don’t worry about the dog – he barks ferociously, but he’ll just lick you once you come in.  A somewhat crazy middle-aged Deadhead chatted with us about our trailer as we parked it, and the nice, very old man on the porch next door conversed with us about the weather as we fished out the key,  Jeti the dog did indeed lick us, and everything was copacetic.

The coolest thing about staying with Neelab and Ben was getting to meet their kids.  I’d watched Ava and Kai grow up on Facebook, so I thought they’d be great, but they were just a pleasure every minute.  Greta and Ava clicked in about two minutes, recognizing each other as members of that same sorority of cool smart girls who read all the time.  (Greta is keeping a scoreboard from this trip.)  And Kai is perhaps the sweetest five-year-old boy I’ve ever met (but I’m partial to little kids who want to hug me after knowing me for a couple of hours.)  Greta and I both seem to need a fix of little kids every once in a while – staying in campgrounds in the off-season, you are hanging with old people.DSCF5910We really enjoyed meeting even more of Neelab’s extended family.  Her cousin Rahiba was staying with them too as she settled in to Baltimore, and we spent an engaging evening drinking Manhattans and talking.  This was when the news about the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean was peaking, and I learned a lot from the perspective of two young women whose families had both been immigrants to this country, at different times.  The next night Rahiba’s parents came by, and we had supper with them all.  It was a lot like graduation, when you get to meet your students’ families, but a lot more fun and intense.  We had a great time with Neelab and all her family members, and were sorry to leave as winter pushed us southwards.

Chris Harnish graduated from the UO a couple of years before Neelab.  I never had him in studio, but he was in my housing course after I moved back to Eugene from Portland.   But more than in class, you got to know Chris from wandering Lawrence Hall.  There are some people who are just a presence in a place – outgoing personalities, rapid-fire thinking, a strong sense of humor, and into everything.  Chris was one of these, so getting to know him was more a series of chance encounters and random conversations.

My quintessential Chris story comes from when Linda and I were travelling through Scandinavia on a bus with students from the summer architecture program at the DIS in Copenhagen.  Chris was part of the group, an enjoyable companion for such events as sauna-sitting and lake-jumping in the middle of the night in Jyvaskyla. DIS104aThe tour visited Alvar Aalto’s summer house at Muuratsalo, and on our way to the house, we passed by the sauna, a simple vernacular structure, not a modernist icon.  As we continued on to the house, we heard a large splash, and turning back, found Chris in the lake.  He smiled up at us and said, Aalto swam here, I have to swim here.

After school Chris moved to New York and worked for Deborah Berke’s excellent firm for about five years.  He then joined up with Architecture for Humanity and went off to work in South Africa.  This started him on what has continued as a significant part of his career, and he has maintained his connections there and continued to visit and work on projects.  During this same time he moved to Philadelphia, and began teaching at Philadelphia University, with a focus on sustainable and community-focussed design.  He and his wife spend their time renovating an old townhouse in downtown, and we caught him for a quick couple of drinks as we breezed through Philadelphia.DSCF5681

It was fun hearing about his recent life, and his experiences in teaching.  Learning about your former students’ work in architecture is great, and it helps keep me in touch with what is happening in the profession.  But spending time with those such as Chris, Neelab and Lynne Dearborn, who have gone on to teaching careers, is a different experience.  (I guess this is how most professors feel about their grad students, who are all aiming at academic careers, but in architecture, very few students are.)  So talking with those who’ve somewhat followed in your footsteps is very gratifying, and I like to think that the experiences they had at the UO might have helped make them the teachers they are today.

Evan Goodwin is of a different generation from the previous two grads. Evan was in my housing thesis studio this past year, so while in Savannah we got to check up on his transition to the outside world.  Evan grew up in South Carolina and went to Clemson as an undergrad, where he developed some of the most remarkable graphic abilities I’ve seen in years.  The first thing I noticed about Evan (besides his charming personality) were his drawings, a predominantly pen-and-ink style that made me think he was the reincarnation of a 1970s architectural illustrator (all this is visible on his website at evanrgoodwin.com).  The second thing that struck me about Evan was the rigor of his thinking, as he applied these graphic skills in series of small-scale typological studies that systematically explored a range of spatial concepts.  Seeing clear thinking beautifully presented is one of the pleasures of being an architecture professor.

Evan did great work in my studio and elsewhere in the department (he was also in Linda’s furniture studio), but he didn’t neglect the social aspects of grad school life.  He lived with a large contingent of his classmates (I could never figure out exactly how many) in a big house right down the hill from ours, which seemed to become the center of social life for a large part of his cohort, both grad and undergrad.  I’ve gotten old enough that students don’t invite me to parties very often anymore, but Evan and his crew would, and I finally went to their graduation blow-out, which was a much better party than we ever had in grad school.

DSCF9838After graduation Evan decided to move back to South Carolina, and he lives and works in Bluffton, a town on the coast outside Savannah, near Hilton Head.  He’s enjoying the work with his firm, but we could tell he misses the good times in Eugene – social opportunities are minimal in a small town full of retirees.  We dragged Evan into Savannah for dinner at Treylor Park, Greta’s favorite restaurant, where we eventually found out that our waitress was a recent graduate in architecture from SCAD.  Greta and I both liked her, so before we departed, we tried to make sure that Evan had left enough intriguing contact information so that his chances for social interaction might be increased.

Treylor Park

Treylor Park in Savannah, GA has actually accomplished the spectacular feat of replacing Velvet Taco in Chicago as the best food I have eaten on this trip, and second only to Fish Sauce in Portland as my favorite restaurant.  Like VT, it puts a spin on classic foods, like wings or once again, tacos. Everything on the menu sounded so good that we intentionally ordered too much, so we could bring it back to our own trailer park for dinner. This place broke out of the bar food box so spectacularly that it deserved fireworks.

The first thing we tried was pigs in a blanket made with artisanal sausages and dipped in mustard sauce. The biscuit blanket was crispy on the outside, and soft around the meat, which was intensely flavored and delicious. The mustard was the best part in my opinion.

Pigs in a Blanket

Pigs in a Blanket

My second favorite dish was the chicken pancake tacos. Lightly fried chicken, slathered with pepper sauce and strawberry salsa, and wrapped in a soft but stable pancake. Sweet was countered with spice, and soft by crunch, all together in the perfectly balanced food.

The sloppy joe was more normal, but even that was made with venison instead of beef. I was honestly expecting bleu cheese or something on top, but it only contained normal cheddar. But, the fried onions it came with were actually placed inside the bun, adding crunch to slop in continuation of the theme of balance.

Sloppy Joe

Sloppy Joe

The PB&J chicken wings may have been the most delicious thing I have ever had the pure joy of eating. I know it sounds odd, but it came highly recommended on yelp, and being the strangest thing on a menu of weirdness I felt that it was my duty to try it. I did not regret this decision. Chicken cooked to perfection, coated in a sticky but smooth peanut butter sauce, with peach jam to dip it in. The peanut sauce was so good on its own, that I almost forgot the jelly, which would have been a travesty. The sauce was already pretty sweet, but the extra kick from the jelly pushed it into the realm of gods. I think ambrosia might actually be peanut and jelly sauce.

We literally stayed in Savannah for another day, just so we could come here again. We ordered the wings and the pancake tacos again, and they were just as fabulous as before.

Having seen the nachos last time, we decided we needed some. Instead of chips, they were made with waffle fries. I think this would have been better if they burnt them a little, adding a bit of extra crunch. Softer worked with the pancake tacos because the fried chicken supplied the crunch, but with nothing doing that job here, it felt a little soggy. They also were drizzled with a vinegar sauce. This made them a little too bitter for my taste, especially at the bottom where it pooled.

I got the Chupacabra, which I didn’t know was a burrito until it arrived. With something named after a goat-sucking cryptid, I probably should have guessed that this was a bit spicy. I didn’t particularly like it at first, and having already filled up on chicken, I ended up taking most of it back to the trailer. I discovered that it’s much better the next day, with the spices having cooled a little and leaving taste buds for the other flavors.

Chupacabra

Chupacabra

If you’re ever within a hundred miles of Savannah, COME HERE. Come once, and then be so wowed that you have to come back again and again and again. Seriously, I cannot stress this enough. Don’t fall into quaint little tourist trap restaurants like River House where you’ll pay too much for inferiority, go across the street to Treylor Park.

Fernandina Beach

DSCF9399Usually when a town is named “________ Beach”, it means there’s already a city named ________ nearby, and this _______ Beach place is the formerly unincorporated area where the residents of  _______ used to go swimming, and is now a random collection of former beach cottages being occupied permanently.  But there is no city of Fernandina near Fernandina Beach.  It is the city itself, and in fact, just to be confusing, it seems to be two distinct cities.

It is the northernmost city in Florida, on the north end of Amelia Island, which has seen a lot of resort development at the southern end in recent decades.  Fernandina Beach has an excellent harbor behind the barrier island, and this was the basis for its early existence.  DSCF9312

It is another one of those southern places that has confusing history of sovereignty – this time it is eight different flags (including Mexican rebels and pirates) which may be the record.  Fort Clinch was built here in the early 19th century, and it was one end of the first railroad across Florida.  The railroad brought trade and tourism, and in the late 19th century, it was one of the premier resorts in Florida.  The center of town is a national historic district, with some solid commercial buildings, DSCF9316     DSCF9317

institutions:  DSCF9374  DSCF9368

and many fine houses.  DSCF9348  DSCF9358  DSCF9364  DSCF9369  DSCF9385

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The really amusing thing about this historic district is that it is not the original town, which is located about three miles north.  But when the planning for the railroad was happening, the builder of the railroad, Senator Yulee, demanded that the town be moved to better serve the railroad, and so it was.  For what is largely a resort town, industry has played a very large role in determining its form, and can be seen in the tracks along the waterfront DSCF9314

and the plants nearby.  DSCF9433

Fernandina was also where the domestic shrimp fishing industry began, long before it shifted to the Gulf of Mexico.  They have a Shrimping Museum on the waterfront, which we had to visit, and where we learned of its history beyond shrimping.

The older town still exists – a bit of a backwater, with dirt streets, and an appealingly informal and sometimes decaying quality, compared to the spiffiness of the new town.  DSCF9442    DSCF9447  DSCF9448

It also houses the only piece of domestic modern architecture I spotted, probably by an architect who took Corbusier’s praise of ocean liners a little too literally.  DSCF9429

Jacksonville – Timucuan Reserve and Kingsley Plantation

DSCF8519Before taking the plunge into southern Florida, we spent some time around Jacksonville, which is part of the South in a way the area south of Orlando isn’t.  We focussed in on the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve, which is administered by the National Park Service, similar to our own Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve on Whidbey Island.  There are several parts to the Reserve, extending from Amelia Island through a few other islands and across the St. Johns River (which is the entry to the harbor at Jacksonville), and it is “one of the last unspoiled coastal wetlands on the Atlantic Coast”.   We stayed in an amazing campground in a city park, on a spit where the river meets the ocean.  Camping right on the beachDSCF8544

overlooking a bay where people were fishing with netsDSCF8562

and one of the few beaches in Florida where vehicles are still allowed to drive (when the tide is lower).DSCF8563

The channel to the harbor was full of large ship traffic, and across the mouth of the river is the Naval Station Mayport, the third largest naval facility in the country.  Here is a nice scale comparison between our trailer and the ships a mile beyond in the port:
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As we are finding across the southeast, the number of different cultures which have laid claim to this area in the past 500 years is very confusing to someone who comes from a place where the English displaced the natives, end of story.  The Reserve is named for the Timucuan people, the tribe who inhabited the area before colonization.  The visitors center has artifacts from their culture (some of disputed origin), but there is not a lot beyond that.  The Huguenots landed here in the 16th century, quickly gave up, came back a few years later, and then were all killed by the Spanish.  Under Spanish rule a widespread plantation system developed, part of which can be seen today at the Kingsley Plantation, settled in the early 19th century, and owned over time by a few different families.  The house is quite intactDSCF8489

with some late-19th century modifications.DSCF8485

opening onto the channel that connects to the present-day Intercoastal WaterwayDSCF8470

The grounds contain various outbuildings, most dating from the late 19th century.DSCF8504

The most interesting part of the history was learning how the legal status of different groups varied under the Spanish or American systems.  Kingsley bought a slave from Senegal, and married her.  When she turned 18, he freed her, and she could then own property herself – including her own plantations and slaves.  The Kingsleys prospered, eventually owning four major plantations of over 32,000 acres.  When Florida became a US territory, her rights, both as a freed slave and a woman, would have been greatly reduced, so the Kingsleys moved to Haiti to avoid this, but were involved in legal disputes over this fortune for decades after.

This history was remarkable, as are the remains of the slave quarters.  Whereas most slave houses in the south were wooden and so haven’t survived, the walls of the houses here were made of tabby – a kind of concrete made with oyster shells, where a catalytic reaction from the shells takes the place of Portland cement.  DSCF8528The roofs are gone, and the walls are slowly deteriorating, but seeing the 27 houses in an arc at the edge of the fields was amazing.
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The walls are tabby, while the brickwork shows the location of the fireplace.
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We had a few unusual experiences here – such as spending New Year’s Eve in the campground on the beach –  but the most bizarre was while driving on a dirt road in the Reserve, and Greta spotted a dead armadillo by the side of the road.  We got out to look at it, just as the owner of an adjacent house came over too.  It turns out that he lives in his obviously expensive and well-tended house out in the woods, but the armadillos come out and night and plow up his lawn, looking for bugs to eat.  So he sits up at night with his .22 and shoots the armadillos, and he had just come out to move the body of this one.  We couldn’t get the image of this out of our heads – an old guy with a rifle who decided to build his house in the middle of the woods on an island, and then spends his retirement fighting a losing war with the armadillos.

Passing back through the area at the end of the year, we spent some more time in Jacksonville, which has some of the weirdest office buildings I’ve ever seen, including this one from the heroic era of late modernism
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and this court building, which exhibits all the characteristics of a bad modern building in postmodern drag:DSCF9274

There is a waterfront food court / gathering spot, which was actually pretty good for a festival marketplace type of building,DSCF9290

and which was the site of a pep rally for Penn State and Georgia, the day before they were going to play in some bowl game.  We watched a full line-up of high school bands and cheerleaders, all performing in a cold downpour.
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The fantastic Georgia marching  band performed, which was fun until it suddenly became rather jarring.  Apparently, at some point in the past, the University of Georgia took the tune of the Battle Hymn of the Republic and turned it into their football fight song.  I looked around at the crowd to see if anyone else’s reaction was “huh?”, but they were all signing along.  No one but us seemed to think that turning an abolitionist hymn into a football song at a university in the former confederacy was weird.  Reflecting on this and the armadillos, this was when we started to feel we were in a very different part of the country.