The National Howl-iday Scene, Part V: The Biltmore


Being there: Intrepid Pup Tavish heads to North Carolina’s Biltmore Estate to see how America’s largest home–and also among the most dog-friendly–prepares for the holidays.

Tavish and the Biltmore lion

Tavish cozies up to one of the lions flanking the entrance to the Biltmore.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, so it’s high time for Tavish the Intrepid Pup to resume his series on the national “howl-iday” scene, scoping out what are arguably among the country’s most iconic—and dog-friendly—holiday spots. (Visit the index to find the four other venues that have made Tavish’s list to date!)

The Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina, defines elegance and hospitality on the grandest of scales. George Vanderbilt II—grandson of renowned American industrialist Cornelius Vanderbilt—was a prominent art collector who carved out his own considerable legacy in taking six years to build his magnificent country retreat on 125,000 acres with views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. With Richard Morris Hunt designing the house and preeminent landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted masterfully curating the grounds, Biltmore’s châteauesque appearance is reminiscent of fine European estates and stands as a testament to the sumptuousness of the Gilded Age. Vanderbilt debuted his home on Christmas Eve of 1895, so it’s especially fitting to make a visit during the holiday season. The annual “Christmas at Biltmore” festivities run from early November to mid January, and although most of the outdoor formal gardens have gone dormant for the winter, the home itself is arguably at its most splendid.

Antler Hill Village

Tavish extended his Biltmore experience at Antler Hill Village, five miles from the main house but still on the grounds of the estate! There you’ll find the winery, an exhibition gallery, a farmstead, trailheads, and (weather-permitting) ample dog-friendly patio dining.

The transformation of Biltmore to its opulent yuletide finest is a highly orchestrated affair involving legions of designers, florists and staff. There’s different themed décor each Christmas, and preparations are well underway by September. According to one of the guides we met, the final two weeks of October are when things really hit a fever pitch. A giant live tree (always at least 35 feet tall!) is carefully installed in the Banquet Hall and adorned with hundreds of ornaments. Garlands are hung, and pastry chefs put the finishing touches on the signature gingerbread house. Unfortunately, photography isn’t permitted inside Biltmore, so you’ll just have to take our word for it that everything is as magnificent as you’d hope!

The tickets required for entry to the grounds  include parking, shuttle service, a brochure-guided tour of the house, and access to the estate’s Antler Hill Village. Don’t miss the winery, where you’ll receive a complimentary tasting. Special Candlelight Christmas Evening tours are also available. Plan on spending a minimum of 90 minutes on the house tour—longer if you partake of the recorded audio guide (an extra fee applies). You’ll traverse three floors of living space—plus the basement kitchens, servants’ quarters and recreation areas. With 250 rooms, you can readily see why Biltmore is the largest private residence in America!

Leashed dogs are welcome at Biltmore, and while they can’t go in the house, there’s plenty of room to roam outside. You’re expected to clean up after your pet, and receptacles are conveniently located throughout the grounds. Biltmore offers a few outdoor self-service kennels, but we recommend savoring the Biltmore wonderland by exploring with your pup!

Dogging the Details

Click to see what a 3 on the Wag-A-Meter means35°32′26.02″N,  82°33′8.35″W
Biltmore, Asheville, NC

Biltmore earns an enthusiastic “3” on the Intrepid Pup wag-a-meter for its unique offerings, canine heritage, and dog-friendly experiences.

Asheville is a refreshingly dog-friendly destination with—at last count—more than 30 accommodations for those traveling with pets. Team Tavish stayed at the Days Inn Biltmore East on Tunnel Road, just a 15-minute drive along I-40 to the Biltmore. Like many area hotels, ours offered the convenience of purchasing Biltmore passes directly from them at no markup. We visited Biltmore on the Saturday after Thanksgiving (one of the estate’s busiest days of the year) and even though we arrived shortly after the grounds opened for the day, parking spaces were already filling rapidly. Shuttles chauffeur guests from the various lots right to the front door. Dogs aren’t allowed on the shuttle, but when we let the parking attendant know we were traveling with a dog, he radioed ahead and kindly directed us to a parking area within easy walking distance instead.

Deer Park Trail

Tavish ran the Deer Park Trail, which offers varied terrain, panoramic mountain vistas, and great views of the house. The trailhead for this 2.6-mile round trip hike is adjacent to Biltmore’s South Terrace. It feels like the backdrop for a movie set, and indeed portions of the films Being There, Last of the Mohicans and Forrest Gump featured these very grounds!

Tavish was eager to burn off some energy, so we checked out our hiking options. After George Vanderbilt’s death in 1914, his wife Edith “downsized,” selling off 87,000 acres to the U.S. Forest Service. Not to worry:  8,000 glorious acres remain with some 22 miles of trails from which to choose. A series of short loop routes (each under a 1/2 mile) total 2.5  miles in just the gardens alone. Longer trails of up to 4 miles round trip originate from the main house and also from the Antler Hill Barn near the winery, a 15-minute drive from the main parking lots. Since we were taking turns going on the house tour and walking Tavish, we selected the Deer Park Trail which begins at the house’s South Terrace and meanders through a hilly landscape down to the Lagoon. Racing through the tall grass, catching fleeting scents of various wildlife that consider Biltmore’s grounds their home, Tavish was following in the paw prints of the many dogs who’ve gone before.

Dogs have historically been numerous and well-loved at Biltmore. George and Edith Vanderbilt had a kennel of Collies and owned Borzois/Russian Wolfhounds and St. Bernards. The dogs purportedly had run of Biltmore’s first floor. Imagine that! The Vanderbilts’ only child Cornelia shared their affection for canines. As an adult, Cornelia maintained a kennel of Llewellin Setters and later, with her husband John Amherst Francis Cecil, had Salukis. And it seems the tradition continues; upstairs in the main house, we spotted a circa 1990 Cecil family portrait complete with a regal looking standard poodle named Blackberry.

The Biltmore's dog-friendly legacy

This circa 1910 photograph (inset) depicting Cornelia Vanderbilt and beloved St. Bernard, Cedric, was replicated on Biltmore’s grounds in a 2010 sculpture by Vadim Bora (1954-2011). It was the artist’s final commission.

But of all Biltmore’s dogs, it’s Cedric that represents the pack. Cedric was the pet St. Bernard who appears in several vintage photographs held in Biltmore’s Archives. The Vanderbilts even gave Cedric’s progeny to family and friends. He lives on as the “voice” of the home’s audio tour for children. And if you head over to the estate’s Antler Hill Village, you can’t miss Cedric’s visage on the sign of his namesake tavern.  If the weather is nice, sit out on the dog-friendly patio and raise a glass of Cedric’s Pale Ale or Brown Ale in his honor. A charming statue of Cedric playing with young Cornelia is out front (see photo above). While you’re there, you’ll also want to pop into the neighboring Outdoor Adventure Center and the Mercantile—Tavish discovered that the shopkeepers offered a complimentary treat to visiting pups! Biltmore’s staff members seem to genuinely embrace the pet-friendly ethic, making this historic home a great place to visit at Christmas or in any season.

Summer Fun: 5 Dog-Friendly OBX Destinations

Tavish on the beach by Jennette's Pier

OBX:  three little letters stand for North Carolina’s Outer Banks and a summer full of fun for dogs and people alike. Many locations along the Outer Banks are denoted simply by their milepost number along U.S. Highway 158.  At Whalebone Junction, the road becomes a decidedly less-congested N.C. Route 12 and is the gateway to Cape Hatteras, designated the country’s first national seashore in 1953. Beaches are dog-friendly, with regulations varying by town and season. Here are the Intrepid Pup’s picks for the top five scenic and sandy spots at this east coast playground:

Bodie Island Light Station

After wandering the grounds, be sure to follow the 1/8-mile boardwalk through the marsh for a picture-perfect view.

35° 49′ 5.30″ N,  75° 33′ 51.53″ W
Bodie Island Light Station
, Bodie Island, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, North Carolina
Open March – December

Throughout the centuries, the storms and shoals defining this stretch of coastline have wrecked more than 600 ships. Were it not for the area’s lighthouses and lifesaving services, this Graveyard of the Atlantic would have claimed even more. Don’t miss Bodie Island Light Station, the 164.4-foot black and white striped beacon whose light is visible from 19 miles at sea. Constructed in 1872, it’s actually the third light station to occupy that approximate location. Since 2000, it’s been maintained by the National Park Service, and you can even take a ranger-led tour up the tower.  While dogs aren’t currently allowed inside the light station, that wasn’t always the case. A Chesapeake Bay Retriever named Chess used to climb the tower every day, accompanying his master Vernon Gaskill who served as Bodie Island’s last civilian-era keeper (1919-1939).  According to Elinor De Wire’s book, The Lightkeepers’ Menagerie—on sale in the light station’s gift shopChess had no problem with the heights but apparently drew the line at entering the lantern room, because he didn’t like the odor of kerosene!

Tavish at the Lost Colony

The emptiness here adds to the mystery and kind of proves a point. After all, it is the Lost Colony.

35° 56′ 9.79″ N,  75° 42′ 35.35″ W
Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, Roanoke Island, North Carolina
Open year-round

A newly renovated visitor center at this National Park Service site interprets the history of Roanoke Island, from Algonquian homeland in the 1500s to a refuge for runaway slaves during the Civil War. But the spot is perhaps best known for what it wasn’t, namely a successful English colony. In fact, no one knows for certain what became of the English settlers who’d arrived in 1587.  When Governor John White returned to check on his transplants to the New World three years later, the 117 colonists plus White’s ill-fated granddaughter Virginia Dare (the first Christian baby born in Virginia) seemed to have vanished into thin air.  An abandoned fort and the word “CROATOAN” carved into a post are the scant clues in this unsolved mystery.

You, too, can explore the grounds of the lost colony. Pass a reconstructed version of the original earthen fort and join up with the Hariot Nature Trail for what amounts to about a 20-minute walk. We came upon a flock of ibises unhurriedly picking their way through the clearing. The wooded trail is slightly overgrown in spots and is punctuated by markers identifying types of trees and habitats. Sprinkled in are quotes drawn from accounts in Old English affirming the myriad challenges that the colonists faced. The trail provides a  picturesque view of Albemarle Sound before circling back to the Visitor Center.  Let us know if you happen to make the separate 2.5-mile round-trip hike on the Freedom Trail out to Croatan Sound—we were unfortunately thwarted in our attempt by a severe thunderstorm!


The Intrepid Pup officially “off duty” on the beaches of Nags Head.

35° 54′ 36.32″ N,  75° 35′ 43.77″ W
Nags Head Beaches & Jennette’s Pier, Nags Head, North Carolina (milepost 16.5)

Cape Hatteras National Seashore and the towns of Duck, Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk, Nags Head, and Southern Shores all permit dogs on their beaches with varying degrees of seasonal access and leash laws. Team Tavish and the Intrepid Pup particularly like the beaches in Nags Head, because dogs are allowed on the beach year-round and at any time of day so long as they are on a maximum 10-ft leash and owners clean up.

Jennette's Pier

A bronze sea turtle stands watch by the pier house on Jeannette’s Pier.

While Tavish loves the water, he isn’t big on swimming, and that’s actually just fine here, because one does have to be mindful of the dangerous rip currents that can lurk offshore. But the beaches are clean and wide…perfect for an Intrepid Pup to snuffle the sand, poke at shells, crabs and seaweed, and skitter through the foamy surf. Walk the beach at sunrise and you’re sure to catch glimpses of skimming pelicans and playful porpoises offshore. Hard to miss at the heart of the beach’s Whalebone District is Jennette’s Pier (see photo at top). It’s been at this location since 1939, and  its current iteration is all concrete and extends 1,000 feet  into the Atlantic Ocean. Dogs aren’t permitted in or beyond the pier house, but you can get as far as the oversize bronze sculpture of a sea turtle. From that vantage point you can watch all the anglers heading out onto the pier to catch bluefish, cobia, skate, pigfish, mackerel, sea mullet, and more.

Tavish at Jockey's Ridge

The dunes at this state park are very cool…just be mindful of your dog’s paws, because the sand can get hot, hot, HOT!

35° 57′ 50.37″ N,  75° 37′ 59.38″ W
Jockey’s Ridge State Park
, Nags Head, North Carolina (milepost 12)
Open year-round

Did you know that this 420-acre state park represents the eastern United States’ largest natural dune system? It’s open to the public year-round, though park hours vary by season. Parking and general access are free. Dogs are allowed, so long as they remain on 6-foot leashes. From the visitor center, you can stroll a 360-foot boardwalk to a dune overlook, set out on the 1.5-mile “Tracks in the Sand” interpretive trail, take a mile-long walk on the “Soundside” nature trail…or simply scale the dunes. The shifting sands create a ridge that varies in height from 80 to 100 feet, providing spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean and Roanoke Sound. With fairly steady prevailing winds, Jockey’s Ridge is a favorite destination for kiteboarders and sandboarders. On the morning of our visit, hang gliding lessons were just getting underway, and the park was also gearing up for a big kite festival. We’d been forewarned that the sand at Jockey’s Ridge can get anywhere from 10 to 30 degrees hotter than the air temperature, so Tavish came prepared wearing his Ruffwear Swamp Cooler™ vest (a real godsend that made all the difference in his comfort in the dry heat), and he had his protective paw booties at the ready.  A word to the wise:  try taking off your shoes. If it’s too hot to walk on the dunes barefoot, it’ll definitely be too hot for your pup!  When we reached the ridge, the radio announcer for the kite festival approached us to pet  Tavish. Taking stock of all of our water bottles and gear, he remarked, “Wow, I can’t tell you how many people I see come up here with no water for themselves, let alone for their dogs. Big mistake.”

Tavish Wright Brothers National Memorial

The sky’s the limit at the Wright Brothers National Memorial!

36° 0′ 51.20″ N,  75° 40′ 4.40″ W
Wright Brothers National Memorial
, Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina (milepost 7.5)
Open year-round

Modern aviation is indebted to two Ohio brothers who journeyed to what at the turn-of-the 20th century was a remote patch of dunes. Carefully chosen for the winds, lack of distractions, and sandy landings, Kill Devil Hills was where Orville and Wilbur Wright first achieved powered, controlled, and sustained human flight on December 17, 1903.  You can follow in the brothers’ flight path with a visit to this National Park Service memorial. With Tavish in tow, we covered a total of approximately 1.5 miles walking the grounds. A pathway with stone markers traces the trajectories and landings of the Wrights’ first four powered flights. Trek uphill to get a panorama of the site, topped by a 60-foot granite memorial; it’s the same promontory from which the Wrights had earlier experimented with glider flights. Before turning back to further explore the informative Visitor Center, head downhill beyond the memorial. At the apex of the trail loop is a bronze and stainless steel sculpture group entitled, December 17, 1903. It captures the same instant of first flight as the iconic photograph and makes for a pretty nifty photo opp all its own!

Dogging the Details

Click to see what 2 on the Wag-A-Meter meansYou see a lot of dogs on the Outer Banks enjoying outdoor activities a-plenty. So at first we were puzzled by the fact that dog-friendly lodging and dining weren’t as abundant. It turns out that many dog-owning OBX vacationers rent beach houses by the week (Sunday to Saturday) so they’re not needing as many hotels and always have the option of cooking in.  That being said, there are approximately a dozen pet-friendly overnight accommodations. We stayed at the Dolphin Oceanfront Motel (milepost 16.5), finding it to be minimalist but functional, with its key attribute being that it had a primo location right on the beach. By no means inexpensive, it was still comparatively less pricey than the pet-friendly rooms at the national hotel chains and some of the local B&Bs.

Tavish at the Front Porch Cafe

Chillaxing at the Front Porch Cafe

Foodwise, we stopped at a couple places with patio dining only to discover that dogs weren’t allowed.  We hit the jackpot, though, in finding the Front Porch Cafe for breakfast. We ate at their locations in Nags Head (milepost 10.5) and Kill Devil Hills (milepost 6). In addition to making a good cup o’ joe, they have a wide assortment of muffins, pastries, and breakfast sandwiches. We sat outside in roomy Adirondack chairs, and the staff was quick to offer Tavish dog biscuits and a bowl of water.  Pigman’s Bar-B-Que was our other find. We took our order out to their picnic tables, and Tavish happily sampled our Carolina-style Que, hush puppies, fries, slaw, baked beans, and cornbread. OBX ranks a “2” on the Intrepid Pup’s wag-a-meter for providing enough canine fun in the sun, sand and surf to blow Tavish’s ears back! Grab a leash and go!

Canine Connections with the Interior

U.S. Department of the Interior

Tavish checks out the view from 1849 C Street, NW. While the U.S. Department of the Interior dates to 1849 (easy to remember because it’s also the street address!), this headquarters building opened in 1937.

Given the Intrepid Pup and Team Tavish‘s affinity for national parks, it should come as no surprise that making a stop at the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) has been on the “to do” list for awhile now. The Department’s 70,000+ employees are scattered far and wide—all throughout the United States, U.S. territories, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Palau. DOI’s main headquarters building located just north of the National Mall in Washington, DC, contains offices for some 2,000 of them.

Simply put, DOI is a huge agency with huge responsibilities concomitant with being the steward of approximately 20% of U.S. lands. The National Park Service? DOI. Bureau of Land Management? Also DOI. Indian Affairs, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, Reclamation, Surface Mining, Ocean Energy Management: all DOI.

If you imagine a federal building encompassing two full city blocks to be pretty imposing, you’d be right. Portions of DOI are open to the general public, however, including an extensive research library, a cafeteria, the Indian Craft Shop and the Interior Museum.

Pet-friendly walking tours

“Pups and Petals”–especially timed for the National Cherry Blossom Festival– is just one of several pet-friendly ranger talks presented within the National Mall and Memorial Parks.

As you might have guessed, the “general public” gaining admittance to DOI doesn’t include the canine variety, so Tavish the Intrepid Pup had to be content with seeing the exterior of Interior. But just because dogs can’t enter the building doesn’t mean dogs aren’t well represented within its halls and walls. Case in point:  the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service has expanded upon an initiative first piloted in the 1990s by newly training four retrievers—Butter, Lancer, Locket, and Viper—as “wildlife detector dogs” stationed at various ports throughout the country. The dogs can sniff out protected species as well as smuggled wildlife products like ivory, canvassing as many containers in a few minutes as a person working unassisted can inspect in a single workday.

Within the National Park Service, Denali National Park & Preserve is the only national park in America with historic, working kennels. A corps of approximately 30 sled dogs performs an integral role in the ongoing management of the park, especially during Alaska’s winter months. You can even track new litters of pups on the park’s puppy cam. And clear across the country, the National Mall and Memorial Parks has integrated dog-friendly, ranger-led walks into its roster of interpretive programming. What a fun, healthy way for people and their pets to get out and enjoy the parks!

Details from DOI murals with dogs

Finally, there are the DOI building’s murals. With more than 50 of them embedded throughout the 1.3 million square-foot structure, there is more Public Works Administration artwork here than in any other U.S. government building. And the icing on the cake? Four of these murals feature dogs. Let’s take a closer look…

Click to see what a "1" on the Wag-a-meter means

Dogging the Details

38°53′36.86″ N,  77°02′33.21″ W
Stewart Lee Udall Department of the Interior Building, Washington, DC

Murals tours at the U.S. Department of the Interior are offered to the public free of charge. Check here for times and reservation information. Tours last approximately one hour.

North County by Gifford Beal

North Country by Gifford Beal (1879-1956).Oil on canvas, 1941,
104.5″ h x 224.5″ w

When the current DOI headquarters started being built in 1935, 1% of the construction budget was expressly earmarked for art. Interestingly enough, that concept continues to this day via the  U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) Art in Architecture Program, through which GSA “reserves one-half of one percent of the estimated construction cost of each new federal building” for commissioning artwork.

DOI’s murals thus technically belong to GSA, but staff of the U.S. Department of the Interior Museum are the ones who provide murals tours to the public. There’s not enough time to visit every mural in the building, but the guided tour takes you past dozens and gives you a good workout to boot; there are nearly three miles of corridors!

Alaska mural by James Michael Newell

Alaska by James Michael Newell (1900-1985). Fresco, 1939, 114.5″ h x 234.5″ w

Some of the most illustrious artists of the 1930s were commissioned to paint these murals. You’ll find that some are oils on canvas while others are frescoes (painted onto wet plaster) or seccos (painted onto dry plaster). The murals portray the work and salient themes of DOI’s bureaus contemporary to 1935, making them both artistically and historically significant for today’s viewers.

So, it’s a particular delight to discover the dogs in four of the murals. It’s akin to Forrest Gump showing up at seminal moments in American history, except here it’s dogs at the Oklahoma Land Rush,  homesteading, and the opening of Alaska.

The Alaska fresco by James Michael Newell is up on the 6th floor. There are three huskies in a panorama which also contains narrative elements about Eskimos, fishing, and prospecting for gold. The remaining three dog murals are on the 5th floor. Gifford Beal’s North Country is also set in Alaska, with a team of seven sled dogs in the foreground as the focal point.  Finally, both of John Steuart Curry’s massive 19-foot murals (see below) include canines.  In Rush for the Oklahoma Land – 1894, a black whippet races along, caught up in the melee of people, horses, wagons, and even a  train all streaming westward.  Curry’s other painting across the corridor, The Homesteading and the Building of Barbed Wire Fences, shows a far more tranquil scene. A shepherd-like dog in the background keenly follows along behind two men pounding fence posts into their newly claimed land.

If these works have inspired you to take the murals tour at DOI, tell them the Intrepid Pup sent you! This excursion earns a “1” on the Intrepid Pup wag-a-meter for packing art and exercise into the same visit.

Rush for the Oklahoma Land - 1894 by John Steuart Curry

Rush for the Oklahoma Land – 1889 by John Steuart Curry (1897-1946). Oil on canvas, 1939, 109.5″ h x 235″ w

Homesteading and the Building of Barbed Wire Fences by John Steuart Curry

The Homesteading and the Building of Barbed Wire Fences by John Steuart Curry (1897-1946). Oil on canvas, 1939,109.5″ h x 235″






O Say Can You Sailabrate?

Sailabration 2012

Tavish gazes at Baltimore’s Sailabration festivities and the visiting ARM Cuauhtémoc, a Mexican Navy tall ship whose home port is Acapulco.

From June 16 through June 19, 2012, Baltimore put the “charm” in Charm City by rolling out the welcome mat, inviting more than 40 tall ships and navy vessels, and dialing in some stellar low-humidity “Chamber of Commerce” weather…all in the name of a Star-Spangled Sailabration commemorating the bicentennial of the War of 1812.

Not one to miss an historic event, Tavish the Intrepid Pup joined the throngs last Saturday. With activities happening citywide at five separate locations, this had the makings of being a logistical and traffic nightmare, so we were pleasantly surprised at how easy it actually was to get downtown. We decided to forgo parking at M&T Bank Stadium when we saw people lined up to park and catch shuttle buses to the various venues and opted instead to park a little further north in Redwood Garage on South Eutaw Street for a reasonable $16 daily rate.  Turns out that this parking garage is a neighbor of the historic Bromo Seltzer Tower and the Baltimore City Fire Department. A few of the firemen standing in the open bay for Engine 23 offered up dog biscuits and a head pat to Tavish as we walked back by. What a nice welcome! It was just a few more blocks down to the heart of the Inner Harbor area. To take it all in, we headed all the way over to the south side and up the embankment of Federal Hill. It offers a  pretty spectacular panoramic overlook of the Inner Harbor, even when there aren’t performance stages, food pavilions, an Adventure Zone, and all those visiting ships!

There were Class B tall ships hailing from ports throughout the country, Class A tall ships (square-rigged, over 40 meters) from as far away as Indonesia and Brazil, and research vessels and gray hulls representing Canada, Denmark, Japan, Mexico, Norway, the UK and the USA. Bedecked with signal flags, they were a colorful sight to behold. All the ships were open for free public tours, but Intrepid Pup was content to skip the lines and take in the views dockside.  We even caught a few glimpses of the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels doing their precision flyover formations as part of the afternoon airshow.

Just because Sailabration has now concluded doesn’t mean that the official celebration has. Four historic ships are permanently berthed in the Inner Harbor and open for tours:  USCGC Taney (the last surviving warship of Pearl Harbor), the submarine USS Torsk, the Lightship Chesapeake and the sloop USS Constellation. And what’s more, with the War of 1812 so firmly embedded in Baltimore’s cultural identity, its related must-see attractions (Fort McHenry and the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House) are open year round.

Star-Spangled Banner Flag House

Tavish stands watch outside the historic Star-Spangled Banner Flag House.

With its proximity two blocks east of the Inner Harbor, we viewed a walk over to visit the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House as a good chance to temporarily escape the growing congestion on the piers.

The red brick Star-Spangled Banner Flag House dates to 1793 and is a registered National Historic Landmark for good reason:  it was here in 1813 that flagmaker Mary Young Pickersgill and eight other women took six weeks to fulfill a purchase order from Fort McHenry’s commanding officer Major George Armistead for an enormous 30′ x 42′ garrison flag. It was this same flag—still flying after British bombardment of the fort on September 13-14, 1814—that inspired attorney Francis Scott Key to pen the poem that would become the U.S. national anthem. What’s striking about the building is its size. Though relatively roomy by 19th-century standards, you have to keep in mind that this was not only Pickersgill’s house but also her office and “factory.” Most of the flags she sewed or painted for vessels in the Port of Baltimore were far smaller in scale. The soon-famous “star-spangled banner” was fashioned from approximately 400 yards of (ironically) British wool bunting. Each of the 15 stars measured two feet tip to tip, and each of the 15 stripes was two feet wide. In short, this meant that the nearly 100-pound flag was far too cumbersome to piece together in her house, so Pickersgill secured permission to finish it on the malthouse floor of Brown’s Brewery a block away! Amazingly enough, the signed receipt for the flag is retained in the museum’s archival collections. The total bill came to $405.90 for the labor and materials to create the star-spangled banner and a slightly smaller storm flag for the fort to use in inclement weather.


Dogging the Details

Click to see what 2 on the Wag-A-Meter means
39°16′49.01″N, 76°36′31.27″W
Inner Harbor, Baltimore, Maryland

39°17′14.89″N, 76°36′12.57″W
Star-Spangled Banner Flag House, Baltimore, Maryland


Dog-shaped nutcracker

Check out this dog-shaped nutcracker! Intrepid Pup approves. It’s one of many typical 19th-century household implements displayed in the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House. Look for it on the mantel above the hearth in the kitchen when you visit!

As always, we had plenty of water on hand. And, ever mindful of the heat of the midday sun, we made frequent stops for our shade-mongering Intrepid Pup. Fortunately, Baltimore’s Inner Harbor is pedestrian-friendly and well equipped with watering holes, benches, and scenic views for the two- and four-legged alike.

As one might guess, the historic Star-Spangled Banner Flag House isn’t pet friendly, but the exceptionally helpful visitor services staff did allow our Intrepid Pup a brief respite in the adjoining modern, air-conditioned visitors center where we watched a 10-minute introductory film. In fact, all this hospitality is what earned our Sailabration excursion an enthusiastic “2” on the Intrepid Pup wag-a-meter! While half of Team Tavish then went on the approximately 30-minute tour of the house (you can choose between docent-led or self-guided via cell phone), the other half of Team Tavish stayed outside with Tavish.

Tavish at the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House

Outside the Flag House, there’s a spacious courtyard. Tavish is sitting on a clever outline map of the U.S. where each “state” is made of the official state stone (i.e. Petoskey stone for Michigan, granite for New Hampshire, etc.). The flag in the background is the same size as Mary Pickersgill’s 1813 star-spangled original. What Tavish didn’t get to experience was the house tour and the museum gallery and kids’ discovery center on the first floor of the visitors center…but he did see the film!



A Synagogue’s Moving Story


Tavish at the Adas Israel SynagogueNow that the calendar has flipped to May, the national observance of Jewish American Heritage Month has begun. President George W. Bush first enacted it in April 2006, and it’s been an annual celebration ever since.

Apropos of the month, Tavish the Intrepid Pup recently visited Washington, DC’s first Adas Israel Synagogue, now home to the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington‘s (JHSGW) Lillian and Albert Small Jewish Museum. The next time you’re zipping along (or sitting in traffic?) on I-395 near Massachusetts Avenue in the District, cast a glance high up on the west side of the interstate to catch a glimpse of it. Better yet, go visit!

This just so happens to be the oldest synagogue building in the nation’s capital. On the day we stopped by, both JHSGW’s education specialist Lisa and long-time archivist Wendy were on hand, and it was clear from conversing with them that the story of this synagogue is relevant to Jewish and non-Jewish audiences alike.

On one level, it’s an immigrant saga that has played out in countless cities throughout the country. In this case, the year is 1873, and 38 families among a rapidly growing Jewish community yearn for a permanent home for their Adas Israel congregation, which had split from Washington Hebrew in 1869. They enlist Max Kleinman and J. William & Co. to design and build a two-story brick synagogue at the corner of Sixth & G Streets, NW.

But here’s where an otherwise very local story intersects with the national stage. After years of planning and construction, the Adas Israel Synagogue’s completion is celebrated in 1876 with a three-hour Orthodox service. President Ulysses S. Grant is there, making him the first U.S. president to attend a synagogue service. While having a sitting president at a grand opening is a coup by any standard, Grant’s presence in particular is both significant and highly intentional on the part of the synagogue’s founders. Back in December 1862, while still serving as Union general in the Civil War, Grant issues “General Orders #11” calling for the expulsion of Jews from all territories under his command as a means of cracking down on black marketeers. President Abraham Lincoln quickly intervenes to overrule Grant’s astonishingly ill-conceived order, and Grant is scathingly criticized for anti-Semitism. The scandal festers throughout Grant’s 1868 presidential campaign and presidency (1869-1877). Through his many conciliatory actions, Grant eventually restores much of his integrity with the Jewish community nationally, and his attendance at Adas Israel in 1876 is met favorably. (Note: Historian Jonathan D. Sarna has just come out with a book on the subject entitled, When Grant Expelled the Jews and will be presenting a lecture and book signing with JHSGW later this week.)

On another level, the synagogue’s story reflects the changes in a congregation and in a neighborhood. The congregation ends up outgrowing the synagogue in less than 30 years and by 1906 sells the building. As part of an ethnically diverse neighborhood full of row houses and small businesses owned by African American, Chinese, Irish, Italian, German, Greek, Jewish and Russian families, it’s little wonder that the synagogue structure gets redefined in myriad ways throughout the 20th century. Other religious denominations use the space and, ironically, for a time there’s even a pork BBQ joint on the first floor!

Ultimately, though, the synagogue’s legacy is one of successful historic preservation. When the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (aka Metro) bought the land at Sixth & G Streets for building its headquarters, the Adas Israel Synagogue building seemed destined for a wrecking ball. The JHSGW, formed by volunteers in 1960, recognized the synagogue’s importance as a designated DC historic landmark and sprang into action to save it. In 1969, JHSGW had the synagogue moved in its entirety to its current site three blocks away at Third & G Streets, NW. The synagogue was added to the National Register of Historic Places that same year and, after extensive renovations, opened as the JHSGW’s museum in 1975.

With a number of JHSGW events specifically planned for this May’s Jewish American Heritage Month—from a challah sale (a traditional, braided egg bread…yum!) to a guided walking tour of Jewish sites at Arlington National Cemetery—there are plenty of reasons to put JHSGW on your agenda.

Dogging the Details

38°53’54.25″N,   77° 0’54.37″W
Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington (JHSGW), Adas Israel Synagogue, Washington, DC

Click to see what a "1" on the Wag-a-meter meansLike most museums, JHSGW doesn’t permit pet dogs inside the synagogue building, but that shouldn’t stop you and your pup from visiting the museum’s small but nicely landscaped grounds. Getting there on foot is easiest as there’s limited public parking nearby. Additional points of interest within the vicinity include the Judiciary Square complex, the National Building Museum, and the National Law Enforcement Memorial.

However, the best way to extend the JHSGW experience with your dog is to pick up two of the museum’s informative (and free!) tri-fold brochures. One is for a self-guided walking tour throughout the synagogue’s immediate neighborhood, highlighting a dozen buildings with various connections to Jewish heritage in DC. The other pamphlet is similar but provides a walking tour of Jewish sites within Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, just 8.5 miles south. Learn a little local history and get your dog (and yourself!) out for some exercise! For the compelling history and pleasant strolls, visiting JHSGW scores a “1” on the Intrepid Pup Wag-A-Meter.