Today is the first day of the new semester for me, so here’s my, “What I did on my summer vacation” post.
In June, I finally went to visit my mom in Illinois. We hadn’t seen each other since November 2019 when she visited here in Connecticut. Laura and I had planned to go to Chicago for two weeks in the summer of 2020, but the pandemic nixed that vacation. So this summer, while Laura stayed home with the dogs, I took a road trip to the midwest.
I chose a route with some literary destinations. I’d been reading Rebecca Harding Davis: A Life Among Writers by one of my favorite grad school professors, Sharon M. Harris. Davis was born in Washington, Pennsylvania and grew up in Wheeling, West Virginia. These two cities are very close to one another and made for an easy route. Professor Harris is responsible for turning me on to pre-twentieth century women writers for which I will always be grateful.
When I heard that my friend Shuly Cawood, who lives in Tennessee, would be in Yellow Springs, Ohio around the time I’d be driving west, I reached out to see if we could connect. We’d never met in person but have know each other for almost five years due to our mutual friend, Emily Fine, my podcast co-host.
Shuly has been a frequent guest on the Book Cougars (Episodes 22, 64, 100, and 125), so we’ve talked a bunch of times on the phone or via video chat. I’ve also take a few writing classes from Shuly. Click here to see what she has going on.
I love road trips and after sheltering in place for over a year, rarely even leaving my neighborhood, it truly felt like freedom to hit the road. I was a bit worried about conditions at rest stops and staying in hotels, but I had plenty of masks and hand-sanitizer with me and hoped people along the way would be following Covid guidelines.
Driving interstates is good if you have to get from A to B in a hurry. But I enjoy getting off them when possible and exploring state routes and county roads. One of the beautiful state roads I travelled on this trip was Route 31 in Pennsylvania. It’s just over 70 miles and follows the contours of some lovely rolling farm country, as you can see in the photo I took above.
I arrived in Washington around dinner time and was happy to see the hotel had signs on the door requiring masks. Statements on corporate websites aren’t always followed in real life, so I was happy to see staff and guests all wearing masks.
When I got to my room it was nice to see this extra sign of cleanliness. After dropping my bag I headed back out to find the Rebecca Harding Davis historic marker on the campus of Washington & Jefferson College that I’d read about.
I knew Washington & Jefferson is an old college but was still surprised by the beauty of its historic buildings. For those of you who’ve watched The Chair, staring Sandra Oh, you may have wondered about that stunning early shot when she walks up some stairs toward a gorgeous building. I was excited to know exactly where Oh’s character was standing as I’d taken a photo of the impressive entrance just months before.
The two towers of Old Main symbolize the joining of Washington College with Jefferson College to form one institution.
There are three libraries within a stones throw of Old Main. Stay tuned for a library post on them soon.
Campus was deserted as their semester had probably just ended. There were lawn signs around campus asking people to mask up even outside for the health of the whole community.
I found the historic marker for Rebecca Harding Davis (1831-1910). It says:
Journalist, editor, and literary pioneer, Davis was influential in the Realist movement. She wrote hundreds of works related to social issues, including the renowned Life in the Iron Mills. Born in the nearby Bradford House, she attended Washington Female Seminary, once on this site.Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commision 2013
The sign did not tell a lie. The Bradford House Museum is just a few blocks away. Rebecca was born here on June 24, 1831. It was closed when I was in town so I didn’t get to see inside. The museum’s focus is not on Rebecca Harding Davis, but rather on the Whiskey Rebellion in which the builder of the home, David Bradford, had been involved. You can read about that on the museum’s website.
Wheeling, West Virginia
The next morning I got up fairly early and hit the road for Wheeling, West Virginia. It was a quick drive, just about 30 miles. Davis’s home no longer stands in Wheeling, but I did find the block where it had been. Sharon Harris’s biography goes into some detail about the hustle and bustle of 19th-century Wheeling, how West Virginia split from Virginia during the Civil War, and Davis’s personal experience with the war.
Thanks to a blog post by Christina Fisanick, I was able to visit the street of one of Davis’s homes in Wheeling. I took the photo above of the green building formerly know as Arion Hall. The yellow arrow points to where a row of 19th-century homes once stood.
Below is a historic photo that Christina shared in her post. Davis had long left Wheeling by 1906 and was living in New York when this photo was taken. The blue arrow points to the actual home.
There is some fabulous architecture in Wheeling. The city isn’t as bustling as it was in the 19th-century, but there are signs of investment in the health of the historic downtown area. I noticed recent renovations on several buildings and new businesses.
I’d like to make it back to Wheeling some day for a longer visit. My plan was to spend an hour in town as I had a date to meet Shuly in Yellow Springs and then wanted to get to mom’s in Illinois at a decent time.
However, I made the mistake of going into the Ohio County Public Library. My intention was to just check out their unique front door, but then I couldn’t resist going in. Stay tuned for a post about this library soon.
Yellow Springs, Ohio
The drive from Wheeling to Yellow Springs was under three hours. I met Shuly at her parent’s house. She was taller than I thought she’d be. To be honest, most adults are taller than me. I’ve recently heard others talking about the experience of meeting people in real life that they’ve been zooming with for a year. It’s surprising to realize we are not all the same height.
We walked over to one of Shuly’s favorite coffee shops and chatted over yummy baked goods, then she took me on a quick walking tour of Yellow Springs. I had the honor of experiencing the first ever Emily Fine Tour. Emily was born and raised in Yellow Springs so it was fun to see some of her old haunts.
Of course one of these places was the local library. It was closed so I didn’t get to see the inside, but you know I took lots of external photos. Stay tuned for a post on it soon. (That’s at least three library posts born from this trip!)
For now, check out this fantastic book sculpture in the library’s garden.
It was a quick but fun visit with Shuly. After this, I headed north to Chicago. It goes without saying but I’ll say it anyway: it was so good and such a relief to see my mom after the stress of the first year of the pandemic (which could have been licked by now if everyone would get vaccinated).
We spent a day bumming around the city. We visited Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus where I was a student back in the 1990s. Mom hadn’t been back in a long time and was amazed by the changes. She was the supervisor of Loyola’s employee credit union prior to retiring about 25 years ago. Her office was at the Medical Center in Maywood, but business often took her to Loyola’s other campuses.
It had also been a few years since I’d been back and they’ve done a great job making the grounds feel more like a unified campus than the hodgepodge it had become by the early twenty-first century. (Here’s a link to a library post with photos from 2013.)
We went to a local burger joint for lunch. It was my first time eating at a restaurant since the beginning of the pandemic. We ate outside on their patio. The burger and onion rings were the most delicious things I’d eaten in months.
After Loyola, we headed to the Newberry Library, one of our favorite places. Their exhibitions are always interesting and they have a well-curated bookstore.
“¡Viva la Libertad! Latin America and the Age of Revolutions” was the main exhibit. It focused on the struggles for independence in Latin American from 1780 to the 1830s, but also stretching further back to the 16th-century and also showed how ideas are still being grappled with today. You can watch a tour of the exhibition by curator Will Hansen on the Newberry’s YouTube channel.
The rest of my visit was pretty chill. I saw a few old family friends. Mom and I spent time talking, reading, and eating all the food I miss here on the East Coast.
The drive home was straight interstate and a more northernly route. I had looked at stopping at literary or historic places on the return trip, but they were closed due to Covid or had limited summer hours.
So, this was my one-week summer vacation. Thanks for checking it out. I hope you got to reconnect with loved ones this summer (or winter, depending on where you are in the world).