Thursday, March 28, 2024

Armstrong Redwoods State Nature Reserve. Guerneville, CA


No trip to northern California is truly complete without seeing the magnificent redwoods in that part of the state. If you are visiting the Sonoma area, that is best done with a trip to the Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, in Guerneville. Guerneville, California, is an old logging town, that now survives supporting tourism along the Russian River.


The entrance to the park is a 23 mile drive from Santa Rosa. The prettiest route is along River Road, which follows the Russian River. This is one of the most beautiful drives in the area. On this route you will also pass some of the Russian River Valley’s many vineyards.


In the early 1870’s, American settlers in the area were harvesting the coastal redwoods, both for the wood, and to create farmland in the area. Colonel James Armstrong moved his family to this area from Ohio in 1874, investing in the Guerneville lumber industry, along with real estate in Santa Rosa. In 1878 Armstrong gifted 440 acres of the redwood forest to his daughter Kate, who wanted to turn it into a park. Today, this gift represents about half of the area that makes up the state park.


Inside the park, the paths are well developed, In fact, walking off of the main trails is not allowed. Most of them are relatively flat, and ADA accessible. One easy walk takes you from the park entrance to the Armstrong Tree, and then on to the picnic area, a distance of about one mile, with a gain in elevation of only 50 feet.


The path through the woods is lovely, with giant redwoods all around. The first significant tree you reach, about 200 meters in, is the Parson James Tree. At 310 feet tall, it is the tallest in the park. 


Further along is the Colonel Armstrong Tree, the oldest in the park, at over 1400 years old. 


Walking through the redwood forest is a singular experience. One advantage of the Armstrong Reserve, over the Muir Woods say, is that it draws much smaller crowds. This was especially true on a Friday morning in early November. I pretty much had the place to myself, encountering only 2 families of deer along my hike. The early morning mist filled the trees until nearly 10 o’clock, when the sun finally made it over the mountain ridge, and into the valley below. I had an amazing experience, feeling as if I had seen the grove as it has been for hundreds of years.


Thursday, March 21, 2024



The Hunterfly Road Houses


In the heart of the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, is a tribute to one of the largest communities of free African-Americans that existed in the United States prior to the Civil War. Today, the Weeksville Heritage and Cultural Center serves as a historical memorial and current cultural center celebrating the past, present and future of African-American life in New York City.

Weeksville Heritage Center


In 1838, a year after a major economic crash in the United States, a group of Black families decided to buy land in central Brooklyn. The borough was becoming more industrial, and the old European families were no longer interested in running their large farms. Land was cheap, so the Black families bought large parcels to live on, rent and resell. This created economic freedom, and also political influence, as owning land was a requirement for Black men to qualify to vote in New York at that time. Named after James Weeks, one of the larger land buyers at the time, Weeksville eventually grew to include 500 residents. It had four churches, a school, and old age home and cemetery, and its own newspaper. Weeksville flourished until the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge, after which, it was slowly subsumed into the growth of the Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhoods. 


Models of the Hunterfly Houses

Residents of Weeksville continued to live in the area, but over the years their houses were bought by developers or taken over by the city, and replaced with apartment houses. By 1968, only four houses were left, sitting in the middle of a block, facing a dirt lane that was the remnants of an old path called Hunterfly Road. A committee was formed to preserve the houses and other neighborhood history. In 1970, the houses were declared to be landmarks, and in 1972, they were sold to the Society for the Preservation of Weeksville and Bedford-Stuyvesant History. In 2005 three of the houses were restored (one had burnt down, and a replica was built), and in 2014 the Weeksville Heritage Center opened with space for education and cultural activities.


1860's House

The three original houses are set up to show life during different eras of the Weeksville community. On the center’s tour, we first visited the 1860’s double home. This small house has two apartments that were rented to families. Each apartment had one main room and two bedrooms. Their kitchen and privy was located outside.

Johnson House

Next, was the Johnson House, set up to show life in the early 1900’s. A two story home, it consisted of a living room and kitchen on the first floor, complete with an ice-box, but still using a coal stove and without indoor plumbing. The bedrooms were on the second floor.

Williams House

Our final stop was the Williams House, representing the 1930’s. The Williams family lived in this two story house until 1968, when one of the daughters, who still lived there, sold it to the preservation society. This was a much larger home, with a full kitchen and bathroom and several bedrooms upstairs.

The Weeksville Center was also hosting three art exhibitions. One, in the gallery, was commemoration of a July 2023 event. A skywriter was hired to mark the original boundaries of the neighborhood in the sky, and the local community was invited to the Center to celebrate its history.


The second exhibit is titled Past, Present, Future. I shows twelve photographs of African-Americans by Barron Claibourne representing spiritual, physical, and psychological aspects of the African-American experience. 


The final exhibition is part of a Brooklyn-wide project called In Pursuit of Freedom. It explores the anti-slavery movement in Brooklyn, from the end of the American Revolution through Reconstruction. It includes exhibits and walking tours in five neighborhoods.


Weeksville is not well known. But it represents am important part of Brooklyn’s, the city’s and the country’s history, and it should be visited by everyone.