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 Cover of Tenant from Hell
The Tenant from Hell
Book 1 in the Realtor Mystery Series
Casey Clark, property manager, is just trying to evict a bad tenant. Instead she is over her head in murder and mayhem

 Cover of Double Duplicity
Double Duplicity
Book 2 in the Realtor Mystery Series
Trouble  follows Casey like a raging fire.

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Missing-- Gone but not Forgotten

Based on the unsolved abduction of a little girl in a rural  Florida Community.

coverof Under a Bloody Flag

Under a Bloody Flag

Kansas and Missouri were a "no man's land" in the days before the War between the States.

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Under a Black Flag
Kansas and Missouri heated to the boiling point during the War between the States. 

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For Want of a Ship
John Roy came to New Orleans looking  for peace instead he found war.

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Last Step
Last Step will keep you on the edge of your seat and leave you gasping in surprise at the ending

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Kudzu shows you a different part of the South, past and present. Mystery with a touch of romance and a smidgen of paranormal.

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Wild about Florida: South FL
The Everglades swarm with wildlife from birds,  to mammals, to reptiles.

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Wild about Florida: Central FL
Central Florida has the ocean and gulf beaches much like other parts of Florida but in many other ways it is distinct and unique. 

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Wild About Florida: North FL
Come explore caves, hills, whitewater falls and lots of other fun things you didn't expect to find in Florida.

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Georgia's Ghostly Getaways 

Who is not fascinated by mysterious things that go bump in the night? Are there some places where departed souls still linger?

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Hosts With Ghosts
The South has long been famous for its Southern Hospitality. Hotels throughout Dixie vie with one another to offer their guests more service and more amenities. Many have guests that never depart.

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Finding Florida's Phantoms
Florida! The land of sunshine and wide-open beaches. But even the Sunshine State has its dark secrets. Places where centuries old spirits remain tied to earth. Beneath the facade of fun and make believe lurks the real Florida.

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Color Saint Augustine
This is a way to virtually visit Saint Augustine. It's a coloring book for grown ups (but kids will love it too.)  with an actual photo of the attractions in Saint Augustine. The opposite page is the same photo converted into a black and white line image for you to to color. It's 64 pages with 30 photos and 30 pages for you to color. On each photo and each color page there is a little about the story of the image . 

Poplar Forest and Thomas Jefferson

Story by Tom Straka
Photographs by Pat Straka



Why a tree to lead this article? To start with, it is a tulip poplar, located at Poplar Forest. It is a very old tree, believed to be over 200 years old. Popular Forest was a Virginia tobacco plantation which included a plantation house, also known as Poplar Forest. Work began on the mansion, which is still there, in 1806. The tree is thought to predate the construction of the mansion. The person who owned Poplar Forest and built the mansion was an interesting fellow.

We recently traveled up U.S. Highway 29 through Virginia. At Charlottesville, we visited Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s primary residence. Most folks know about Monticello, but he had a second home, a “vacation home,” or retreat, which most people do not know about. His retreat is also just off U.S. 29, near Lynchburg, Virginia. The two related sites are about 80 miles, or an hour and a half, apart. Poplar Forest, like Monticello, shows the strong hand of Jefferson, giving the feeling of being a smaller Monticello. Visiting both on the same trip made sense, as it easier to see the connection between the two, and better understand Jefferson.

Poplar Forest

 North view, front of Poplar Forest, with carriage turnaround.


Poplar Forest

South view, back of Poplar Forest, with sunken south lawn, influenced by bowling greens
Jefferson had experienced in Europe. Notice the service wing to the east or right.

Thomas Jefferson and his wife Martha inherited the nearly 5,000 acres Poplar Forest plantation in 1773 from his father-in-law. The name was inherited with the land, based on the poplar forest that once thrived there. Jefferson was too busy with his law practice and government work to spend much of his early ownership years at Poplar Forest, and administered the tobacco plantation using an overseer. However, at the end of the Revolutionary War in 1781, his family needed to evade British troops hoping to capture him and spent two months in seclusion at Poplar Forest, probably utilizing the overseer’s house. During those two months he wrote Notes on the State of Virginia, his only published book.  

Poplar Forest view looking sout

View from the parlor looking south through the portico and across the sunken yard,
designed to focus the view on the landscape.


looking out  window at Poplar Forest

View of the top of the service wing, used as a patio of sorts and for entertaining. 

Just prior to his retirement, he began to build his retreat in 1806 using his own design, just like Monticello. By the end of his presidency in 1809, construction was nearly complete. Like Monticello, Jefferson would make the final form a long-term project, redesigning it as new inspirations arose. It would be smaller than Monticello, octagonal-shaped, and built of brick. The north and south facades included pedimented porticoes. Jefferson designed the interior as a central square surrounded by four elongated octagons. When inside, the visitor is very much reminded of Monticello, with classical and neo-classical European architectural ideas Jefferson developed from his time as Minister to France (this style came to be known as Jeffersonian classicism). Poplar Forest was America’s first octagonal house.

floor plan of  Poplar Forest

Floor plan of Poplar Forest, illustrating the geometry of Jefferson’s design.


workers renovating Poplar Forest

 Poplar Forest is being reconstructed and construction work was ongoing at places on the tour.
It is interesting seeing how craftpersons recreate the original rooms.


framing at Poplar Forest

One advantage of seeing the reconstruction is the ability to see the framework of Jefferson’s original design.


interior of roof at  Poplar Forest

The reconstruction unveils all kinds of interesting internal aspects of the building.


books at Poplar Forest

One central thing that seems to dominate Jefferson’s homes: books.


table and chairs at Poplar Forest

 Dining table in Poplar Forest.


fireplace at Poplar Forest

Inside Poplar Forest is much brickwork, like this fireplace.


early version of copy machine

Jefferson’s own invention, a copying machine, where he could make duplicate copies.

Jefferson situated the mansion as to act like a compass. It pointed due north. It could also serve as a sundial. To the north and south, the octagonal exterior protrudes, and to the east and west are porticos with stair pavilions. The yard is circular, like a compass. A service wing is attached to the house, built into the ground not to distract from the house.   

spinning wheel at Poplar Forest

The service wing has examples of activities performed at Poplar Forest, like making fabrics.


kitchen atPoplar Forest

The service wing has many innovations, like a kitchen with a “range”
allowing for three temperatures at the same time.


barrels at Poplar Forest

 One of the interesting things in the service wing was a batteau.
Jefferson sent his barrels of tobacco and flour to a warehouse in nearby Lynchburg on the James River. Then he hired a batteau with watermen to transport them to market in Richmond.

out house at Poplar Forest

What else would you expect? An octagonal necessary or privy, one of two that symmetrically flank the house. Jefferson designed these domed outhouses using the same rules
of architectural proportions as the main house.

Poplar Forest was Jefferson’s escape from the many visitors and distractions at Monticello, a perfect retirement home, and he made at least three trips annually there, describing it as “the best dwelling house in the state, except that of Monticello; perhaps preferable to that, as more proportioned to the faculties of a private citizen.” The trip from Monticello took three days, but once he got there, he wrote he was “comfortably fixed and attended, have a few good neighbors, and pass my time there in a tranquility and retirement much adapted to my age and indolence.” 

The trip today takes less than two hours. A visit to better-known Monticello is really incomplete without a side-trip to Poplar Forest. Or, Poplar Forest is interesting enough to be the main trip. The combination makes for a perfect historical destination.


Author/Photographer. Tom Straka is an emeritus professor of forestry at Clemson University. He has an interest in history, forestry and natural resources, natural history, and the American West. Pat Straka is a consulting forester and the photographer on most of their travel articles. They reside in South Carolina, but have also lived in Mississippi and Virginia.