New England, Part 1 (Give me a Sign)

I returned recently from another one of my hurried trips, this one to the New England states. All of them. Plus New York for good measure. Those of you who followed Twelve Mile Circle’s Twitter account knew that already. The rest of the 12MC audience may not have noticed anything at all. I wrote a bunch of articles in advance and they posted automatically, quite happily, as I cruised backcountry roads for a week.


New England Marathon Series - Packet Pickup

Once again, I chauffeured my favorite runner through small town America as part of a Mainly Marathons event, this time to the New England Series. This group catered specifically to people hoping to run marathons or half-marathons in all 50 U.S. States (my favorite runner focused on half-marathons), stringing together back-to-back races. The 2016 New England series stopped at Sanford, Maine; Greenfield, New Hampshire; Springfield, Vermont; Northfield, Massachusetts; Coventry, Rhode Island; Simsbury, Connecticut; and New Paltz, New York, on succeeding days, May 15-21. A race happened at dawn, then the circus packed up and moved on to the next state, and the cycle repeated itself. Seven races, seven states, seven days.



This was the fourth time I’ve attended a Mainly Marathons series, with my runner completing the Dust Bowl, Riverboat and Center of the Nation series previously. That was a lot of states. With New England now done, I’ve attended their races in obscure corners of 23 different states. Recently the Mainly Marathons group added a five kilometre option mostly for those of us who attended along with the longer-distance runners. I actually ran the 5K each day mostly so I wouldn’t stand next to the snack table for a couple of hours and stuff myself silly. I don’t have any intention of moving up to the half-marathon or marathon distances though. 5K each day was plenty enough for me.

We made time, as usual, for touring during the afternoon as we traveled between races. I’ll get into all of the details in the next batch of articles. I thought I’d start things off more scattershot with a few signs I noticed along the way. I’ve had a thing for unusual signs and this trip was no different. Ordinarily I’d present these at the end of a series although I thought I’d use them to whet the 12MC appetite. Think of today as an appetizer.


Welcome to Vermont


Welcome to Vermont

Surprisingly, I stopped at only one state border to record my crossing. This one occurred on U.S. Route 5 / Vermont Route 11 just after we passed the Connecticut River, as we left New Hampshire (map). This photo was particularly notable for my lack of skills as I managed to capture the top of the side-view mirror at the bottom of the image. That happened because I was too lazy to get out of the car when we stopped, and too incompetent to hold a camera high enough to get a decent picture. That was also the only photo I took of the car, now as I considered it, although I probably should have taken more. We rented a compact car because it was just the two of us. We figured it would be fine and we’d save some gas money. The rental agency must have given away all of the compacts on the lot though, because we ended up with a black, two-door Ford Mustang with only 500 miles on the odometer. We cruised around New England for a week in a sweet ride.


Think of the Children


New England Marathon Series - Day 3

I still wasn’t sure why the Toonerville Trail in Springfield, Vermont (map) felt it was necessary to ask us politely with a please and a thank you to think about our children in ALL CAPS. So I thought of the children. Unfortunately my only thought was a sign invoking the overworn and pandering expression "Think of the Children."


School Bus?


School Bus

While fixated on thinking of the children, or so I thought, I began to notice strange minivan school buses in multiple New England states. I’d never seen anything like them before. Were they used by private schools with far-flung pupils? Or for select children in special programs? I could definitely consider a role for these non-bus buses, and wondered if this was a common solution in New England (or elsewhere) or if I’d focused on them simply because they were unusual. I spotted this example on Interstate 91 near Deerfield, Massachusetts (map).

Also, before anyone becomes too concerned with my driving skills and posts a disapproving comment, let it be known that my passenger took this photograph. I kept both hands on the wheel and maintained a safe distance.


Marginal Way


New England Marathon Series - Day 1

I’ve often featured street names on 12MC, the more unusual the better. Generally I’ve only observed them on a map. That’s why I was so pleased to find Marginal Way in Sanford, Maine in the wild (map). It was right on the race course! Runners actually plodded directly down Marginal Way. I wondered about the name. How should a homeowner feel about property considered marginal? Would it affect its resale value? It ran along the edge — maybe the margin? — of a nearby pond. Was that how it earned its weird designation?


Don’t Jump!


Henniker Bridge

This was an instance where I thought a sign might be overkill. Certainly people have jumped from bridges, although generally very high ones and often quite tragically. That wouldn’t be the case here at the Henniker Bridge in Henniker, New Hampshire (map), only a few feet above the water. This was a covered bridge of recent vintage constructed as a pedestrian pathway over the Contoocook River. It served as a footpath between the main campus of New England College and various athletic fields.

College students do seem to get into all kinds of antics. Maybe the sign was necessary after all.


Road Trip


New England Marathon Series - Day 4

The driving force, the entire premise of this series, were races held in different states. Travel distances ranked higher in important than sightseeing for most participants. As a result, races generally fell within rural, out-of-the-way places near state borders. Sometimes this took us onto America’s Byways, for example the beautiful Connecticut River Byway extending through several states including this spot in Northfield, Massachusetts (map). We ended up putting a little over 2,000 miles (3,200 km) on that Mustang, many of them on winding country roads through quiet scenery.

Rotonda Elsewhere

The Italian word rotonda meant the same as the English word rotunda, and both derived from the Latin word rotundus meaning round. I’d tugged that etymological thread in Rotonda West. However, Rotonda West wasn’t the only Rotonda. Far from it. Many more existed although usually in Italy as one would expect, or in places where Italian and Roman influences found a home.

Rotonda, Basilicata, Italy


Rotonda
Rotonda by Basilicata Turistica on Flickr (cc)

I discovered an entire town of Rotonda and it was a descent size too (map). Perhaps 3,500 people lived there. According to the Italian version of Wikipedia, the name first appeared in a document in 1083. A castle sat atop a knob hill and a town formed around it in a circular pattern. This physical appearance described the town and gave it a name. The castle fell to ruin long ago and the town grew imprecisely over generations so nothing remained of its roundness other than the name.


Villa Almerico Capra "La Rotonda"


Villa Capra "La Rotonda"
Villa Capra "La Rotonda" by Hilde Kari on Flickr (cc)

Outside of Vicenza in northeast Italy rose a magnificent villa from the Sixteenth Century. It came to be known as Villa Almerico Capra in its official capacity although it was more commonly called "La Rotonda" (map). The masterful architect Andrea Palladio designed this structure for bishop Paolo Almerico "who after leaving his brilliant career at the papal court, comes back to his birthplace and prefers the quiet countryside to the family palace." Being closely connected to the papal court during the Renaissance wasn’t such a bad deal, I supposed. Forty years would pass before the villa reached its final perfection, well after Palladio and Almerico both passed away. By then it was in the possession of the Capra family.

It is no coincidence that the villa stands on top of a hill, in the countryside that stretches out from the banks of the river Bacchiglione to the Colli Berici. The image is the image of a temple-villa, almost cubical, with façades bearing a pronaos with majestic Ionic colonnades and triangular tympanums, topped by a dome which at the beginning was planned like the Roman Pantheon, and should be opened by an oeil-de-boeuf, but then was squashed and closed.

The property passed to Count Valmarana in the early Twentieth Century and it still remains in the family. Maintaining a facility of that grandeur must be expensive because it’s been open to the public since 1986. People can tour its grounds and interior on a regular schedule, or they can rent it out for cultural events, corporate gatherings or even parties. It remains one of the most significant contributing structures to the surrounding UNESCO World Heritage Site, the City of Vicenza and the Palladian Villas of the Veneto.


The Rotonda in Thessaloniki, Greece


The Rotonda
The Rotonda by Daniel Tellman on Flickr (cc)

Located physically in Greece, this Rotonda was a Roman structure commissioned by the emperor Galerius in the early Fourth Century. It was built at the same time as, and adjoined with, another feature known as the Arch of Galerius intending to celebrate a military victory over the Persians. Both were part of a larger palace complex. Thessaloniki became an important trading center and political power during this period and it made sense to locate imposing structures like these in the city (map). The site Sacred Destinations described the evolving purpose of the Rotonda over the centuries:

The Rotunda of Galerius was converted into a Christian church in the late 4th century or mid-5th century… The Ottoman Turks ruled Thessaloniki from 1430, and in 1591, Agios Georgios was converted into a mosque… After serving three religions, the Rotunda is now a deconsecrated museum. It has been undergoing extensive restorations ever since the destructive earthquake of 1978. The Rotunda reopened in 1999.

A minaret still stands outside of the Rotonda from the period when it served as a mosque.


Spanish for Roundabout


Rotonda
Rotonda by Núria on Flickr (cc)

The Spanish word for round was redondo, yet they adopted the Italian word rotonda for roundabouts. That made it difficult to search other uses of rotonda. I kept bumping into images of roundabouts. I felt it would be appropriate for me to select one of those Spanish roundabouts at random and take a closer look. I chose the Plaça d’Ildefons Cerdà (map) in Barcelona primarily because I found a nice photograph of it with a creative commons license.

The choice came with a heavy dose of irony. Ildefons Cerdà (1815-1876), was "considered to be one of the fathers of ‘comprehensive city improvements through physical planning’ and, essentially, modern-day planning itself." He designed an extension beyond the original city of Barcelona called the Eixample.

Here’s how El Periódico Barcelona described the roundabout named for him (the original was in Spanish; I cleaned it up from a mangled Google Translate rendition):

He designed a grid, but the square is a perfect circle. He thought of rectangles and octagons, but they put his name to .. a roundabout. He envisioned a city of quiet, peace and pedestrians, but the place is the territory of noisy engines. He dreamed of green, with more gardens than buildings, but the beautiful meadow that lies at the center of the square is only achievable for pigeons, provided they fly to it.

In other words, city officials put his name on something he would have hated.

Rotonda West

Rotonda West looked like a two-dimensional rendering of the Death Star transformed into a planned community along Florida’s southern Gulf Coast.



Rotonda West, Florida

It also had an air of familiarity, like I’d seen it somewhere before although I stumbled across it quite by accident just recently. My recollection gets a little hazy now that I’ve posted more than 1,200 of these Twelve Mile Circle articles. It’s never gotten so bad that I’ve written the same article twice although I came close a couple of times. I’ve made it a habit to always double-check. Indeed, Rotonda West made a guest appearance once before although not in an article. Reader "Joshua" included it in a comment on Corona’s Corona all the way back in 2009. He described it then as, "about 7/8th of a circle. It’s almost like missing one category pie piece in Trivial Pursuit."

I must have tucked Rotonda West somewhere within the deep crevices of my mind although I never pursued it farther. Maybe its "rediscovery" offered an opportunity for me to undertake a proper examination of the situation. Clearly someone needed to check the facts further.

The Rotonda West Association maintained a comprehensive website with more details that I’ve seen for some actual cities much larger, devoting an entire section and multiple articles to its history. Salient details flowed freely from that definitive source.

The land on which Rotonda sits was owned originally by brothers William and Alfred Vanderbilt. William was a former Governor of Rhode Island, and both brothers were direct descendants of the renowned Cornelius Vanderbilt…. The brothers acquired the Rotonda land (36,000 acres) in 1952… Eventually, Alfred owned most of it and sold it to Cavanagh Leasing Corporation of Miami in 1969 for $19.5 million, when ranching became uneconomical.


Rotonda West
Rotonda West by Mark Mathosian on Flickr (cc)

Like much of South Florida, the community of Rotonda West didn’t have particularly deep roots. Nonetheless it began to grow rapidly especially with those of a certain senior age who had plenty of time for leisure activities. That’s probably why Trip Advisor listed golf courses as two of the Top 5 things to do there. It also had an odd connection to Ed McMahon, the longtime sidekick to Johnny Carson of the Tonight Show. The owners of Rotonda West hired McMahon to promote the community pretty much everywhere he went using any means available to him. They paid him off with property and a house in Rotonda West. He also became a vice president of the development corporation. The arrangement must have worked because now almost nine thousand people live there.

Assuming the existence of a Rotonda West, it seemed natural that there should be another Rotonda community elsewhere acting as its namesake. There wasn’t. The community offered an explanation for that too.

Yes, there was a Rotonda East. It straddled Florida’s Palm Beach and Martin Counties. In the 1960s, Cavanagh reportedly sold about 18,000 acres of mostly swampy land there for up to $6,000 an acre. But suddenly the new ecology awareness took hold, bringing tougher country building and zoning codes… Rotonda East died stillborn.

I loved that crack about the "new ecology awareness" killing Rotonda East before it could be born. Another article offered similar views about Rotonda West,

The environment was another problem for developers."Ecology" became a new buzz word, as did "wetlands." The newly-found interests of eagles, scrub jays, gopher tortoises, sea turtles and certain snakes now had to be addressed. This retarded construction in Rotonda West.

I’m sure this was a fine community and I didn’t intend to cast aspersions, I just found it amusing to see such a nakedly pro-development slant: darn ecology and wetlands and animals and such standing in the way of draining swamps and blocking plans for all those lovely houses. Feel free to throw in a "get off my lawn" if you like, too.

So, that was that. It was a fairly typical South Florida story except for the community’s circular shape which was chosen because it was believed to be "softer and more romantic."


Wait, What’s a Rotonda?


Rotunda
Rotunda. My own photo..

I was certainly aware of Rotunda (with a "u") — after all I was an alumnus of the University of Virginia with its rather distinctive Rotunda designed by Thomas Jefferson — and I figured Rotonda must have had a similar derivation. Was it an accepted version, however, or was it a clever marketing ploy used by the developers of Rotonda West? I turned to a dictionary "1. a round building, especially one with a dome. 2. a large and high circular hall or room in a building, especially one surmounted by a dome." It derived from the Italian rotonda (aha!) which in turn came from the Latin rotundus, meaning round. The usage was entirely proper — perhaps a little pretentious that they went with Italian instead of English — although it was perfectly suitable for a circular community.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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