Heartland, Part 4 (Beyond Covered)

On June 18, 2017 · 2 Comments

I couldn’t seem to shake my ever-growing fascination with bridges during my recent Heartland excursion. It started a few years ago, specifically with covered bridges, and expanded to various other styles for some unknown reason. I wouldn’t put this particular fascination at the same level as my county counting or my brewery obsessions although it always seemed to lurk in the background. By that, it meant I probably wouldn’t travel too far out of the way to see a bridge. I didn’t feel any special need to map any of my individual visits either. Nonetheless, certain particularly peculiar bridges might merit a minor detour. A few made the grade this time around too.

Dromedary – Bactrian – Mottville

Mottville Bridge

As an example, an obsolete bridge over the St. Joseph River at Mottville, Michigan might seem like an unlikely place of pilgrimage. However I stopped there anyway. Last summer I couldn’t get to Cass and St. Joseph Counties on my Michigan trip and it left an ugly empty doughnut hole on my map. Little Mottville sat practically astride the two as did its lovely camelback bridge, just on the St. Joseph side. I left my car at a little park at the edge of the bridge and strolled into Cass. This became an extremely rare "walk only" county capture (photo). That’s right, I crossed into Cass on foot! I’ve done that only one time previously, maybe twice, as I noted a couple of years ago.

I was there in Mottville, the bridge was there too, and I figured I might as well look around (map).

Mottville’s camelback bridge actually demonstrated genuine historical significance and architectural grace. The website HistoricBridges.org practically gushed about it being the "longest example of a curved chord through girder bridge" and "the maximum potential of the bridge type." The town also showed abundant pride in its engineering marvel.

Michigan served as the epicenter of the camelback style during the 1920’s. The state even took it a step further by increasing the prevailing standard 60-foot spans to 90-foot spans. The bridge at Mottville was truly unique because it included three spans, extending to 270 feet (82 metres), perhaps the only remaining example of this type. That significance led to its preservation even after it needed to be replaced. It also led to the creation of the little park where I left my car to visit Cass County on foot. They built a new bridge a few feet away.

East LaPorte Street Footbridge

East LaPorte Footbridge

As hard as I looked and as hard as I tried, I couldn’t find a lot of interesting things in north-eastern Indiana. Farms sprouted out there after settlers chased away the remaining Native Americans. Then nobody did anything and nothing else happened, or so it seemed. I apologize for making it sound boring because, in fact, I enjoyed the scenery. Nonetheless I found little to captivate a geo-geek who enjoyed oddball attractions.

Our route departed Fort Wayne on U.S. Route 30, heading diagonally northwest towards the bottom of Lake Michigan. That took us through Plymouth. Rather than bypass it, I noticed I could drive into town and visit an old footbridge (map). Granted, it didn’t offer much of significance beyond the local community although it fell along our path and it seemed like a nice place to stretch our legs. That’s how we found ourselves on the dead-end of E. LaPorte Street at a rickety bridge only six feet (two metres) wide. I hoped to sneak in-and-out quickly, unnoticed, and of course the nearest neighbors happened to be working in their yard. They looked at me with weird stares. I deserved it because after all I was walking under, around, and over this not particularly spectacular iron-and-wood bridge taking a bunch of photos like I’d discovered El Dorado.

The footbridge crossed the Yellow River, connecting Plymouth’s commercial district to a residential area. It seemed superfluous today although it probably mattered more in 1898 when automobiles barely existed. HistoricBridges.org liked this one too. As the site said, "This extremely rare and highly unusual bridge is the only one of its kind in Indiana." Then it went into excruciating detail describing its unique features.

Red Covered Bridge

Red Covered Bridge

Then I returned to my more traditional interest in covered bridges. Two examples crossed above Big Bureau Creek in close proximity to Princeton, Illinois. The first one took an appropriately descriptive name, the Red Covered Bridge (map). It included an amusing sign above the entryway, an obvious nod to tourists.

Five dollar fine for driving more than twelve horses, mules or cattle at one time or for leading any beast faster than a walk on or across the bridge.

It reminded me of a similar sign I saw on the Cornish-Windsor Bridge between New Hampshire and Vermont a few years ago. That one seemed to be a bargain by comparison. It levied a fine of only two dollars and it applied solely to horses.

The Red Covered Bridge dated to 1863. It was once formed part of the old Galena Trail coach road. One would hardly know that today. Newer roads turned this into a sleepy stretch in the middle of nowhere long ago. That made it great for visiting, though. I could walk right across it and not worry about getting squished. Still, I paid attention because an actual road ran through it.

Captain Swift Covered Bridge

Captain Swift Bridge

The second covered bridge didn’t have the same pedigree. I’m pretty sure few would consider a bridge built in 2006 to be "historical." Still, I didn’t need to drive out of my way to see the Captain Swift bridge so I stopped for a few moments (map). It looked old because its design included a lot of traditional features. However, it conformed to modern traffic and safety codes. The deck carried two lanes of vehicles just like any other 21st Century bridge, the only difference being its wooden cover.

I found an article that offered a simple explanation. Tourism. The earlier Captain Swift bridge — not covered — was "simply rusting away." Local officials thought a modern covered bridge might pay for itself. It would attract visitors who would then spend money in town. It worked for me. I bought gas in Princeton on the return trip to the Interstate after I visited the bridge. Bureau County could chalk me up as a success, albeit a sample size of one.

This wasn’t the only time a pit stop played a role in my trip. I captured a county that way too. Illinois’ Kendall County fell just a few feet north of Interstate 80. I noticed I could take an easy exit and drive just across the county line to a gas station, and return to the highway without minimal effort (map). These things really did figure into my driving calculations.

Oh, and I found Captain Swift. Apparently he really was an actual seafarer. Eventually he left the sea and wandered into the Midwest to became an early pioneer in Princeton, Illinois.

Articles in the Heartland Series:

  1. Why, oh Why?
  2. How Not to See a City
  3. Foiled by Memorial Day
  4. Beyond Covered
  5. Not Just Farmland
  6. Americana

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

Heartland, Part 1 (Why, oh Why?)

On June 8, 2017 · 2 Comments

Here we go again! I just finished a drive through the Midwest, all the way out to Iowa and back, and returned on Saturday. We didn’t stay anywhere for very long and kept moving most of the time. We also stayed in different hotels seven of the eight nights, and covered about 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometres) all told. Readers who enjoy Twelve Mile Circle’s road trip adventures will like the next several articles. The rest of you may want to return in a couple of weeks instead.

The Route and the Count

Route Into the Heartland
The Route. New Counties in Dark Blue

A simple map might be the easiest way to describe my trip. It seemed like a fairly straightforward route although I threw in a few twists to increase county counting opportunities. Light blue counties represented those I’d visited before. Readers with discerning eyes probably figured out the rationale of those earlier visits already. Major interstate highways ran through them, specifically the Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana turnpikes. My new captures, those marked in dark blue, represented efforts to shave off the next level of counties towards the south as well as fill in a couple of troublesome doughnut holes.

The revised tally reached 1,416 counties as I finished the trip. I also broke the 45% barrier of United States counties visited. I’m not sure if the results encouraged or depressed me though. I started doing a little math. My 1,000th county visit happened in June 2009 during a trip along the Great River Road. That’s when I crossed the border into Crawford County, Wisconsin. I should finish in about 35 years if I keep going at that pace. It’s doable although I’ll be really old when I’m done. I think I need to speed it up. Nonetheless, I managed to pick up 26 new counties on this trip and I’m proud of my effort.

There for the Races

Heartland Marathon Series - Day 4

New county captures served as a nice side benefit although they weren’t the primary purpose of my drive. Once again, the trip involved a Mainly Marathons event, this time the Heartland Series. We’ve done several of these before as I’ve recounted in previous 12MC articles (i.e., Dust Bowl, Riverboat, Center of the Nation, New England). This time things went a little differently. We participated in only four of the seven races because my runner didn’t need the other three states on a quest to finish a race in all 50. That’s how we found ourselves in Bryan, Ohio; Portage, Indiana; Fulton, Illinois; and Clinton, Iowa. We skipped the Michigan race and headed into Indiana to capture more counties instead, and later went home after the Iowa race, missing events in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

I did things a little differently too. In the past I’d often been happy to stand on the sidelines while my runner finished a half-marathon each day. Most people selected the full marathon option and a few hearty soles selected the ultra-marathon. That made me feel downright lazy so I started doing some of the 5k’s. I did that again during most of the Heartland series. However, I also got talked into running a half-marathon for the Illinois race. I did pretty good for an old guy and I finished my first ever half-marathon at 1:53:29.

Now, however, I knew I could do better because I used all of the excuses. I’d never run that distance before, I had tired legs from races over several previous days, the course included a lot of hills, the wind blew pretty hard, and so on. Is this how addictions begin? I may try the occasional half-marathon in the future although I don’t have any plans to go overboard with the seven races in seven states in seven days thing.

Experiencing Nowhere

The drive didn’t follow a straight line all of the time. I also deviated for specific geo-oddities. For example I got to experience the Highway to Nowhere in person. I stumbled across a reference to it several years ago and featured it in a 12MC article. Feel free to check that one out if you want to learn how a town with fewer than 800 residents got its own interstate highway to its doorstep. The map showed it clearly; Interstate 180 appeared as an L-shaped spur south of Interstate 80 in central Illinois. Supposedly fewer than 2,000 vehicles per day used this highway. I drove its full length of course.

On my side of the road, along the entire distance, I saw only one car and one truck. The car passed me, doing something considerably faster than the posted 70 miles per hour.

A Tripoint Too

I also wanted to go a little out of my way for a state tripoint. It would be such a tragedy to drive within a few miles of such a spot and fail to reach it. So we deviated down a gravel road for this important oddity and stopped there for a few moments. It seemed only fitting to stand upon the singular spot where Indiana, Michigan and Ohio all joined together (map). Tripointers called the marker INMIOH in the naming shorthand they liked to use.

Although where might it be, exactly?

INMIOH Tripoint

There seemed to be some controversy on the Intertubes. Did it fall within the middle of the road or off to the side a few feet farther east? Adherents seemed to take sides. I decided to go with Jack Parsell’s Tri State Corners in the United States. I’ve used that source plenty of times before and it generally seemed to be the most accurate. It stated that surveyors in 1999 placed a commemorative metal plate within a small crypt about a foot below the road surface, covered by a protective steel cover. Dutifully, I put my foot up to the cover to touch all three states simultaneously.

INMIOH Tripoint

Then, to hedge my bets, I also found the broken stone marker on the downward-sloping eastern embankment. Some people said that this spot actually marked INMIOH. However Parsell and others claimed that it was merely a witness post. Before something cut it down to a nub it once said something like, hey the tripoint is in the middle of the road. Anyway that’s what the old-timers said. I found those explanation more convincing than the counterarguments. That didn’t stop my from taking a picture of it anyway "just in case."

This seemed to be one of the lamer tripoint I’ve seen during my wanderings. I’ve hiked to other tripoints in much more obscure locations that put this one to shame. Sure, it fell within the middle of the road although someone should make a nice roundabout there with a better marker as its centerpiece.

Articles in the Heartland Series:

  1. Why, oh Why?
  2. How Not to See a City
  3. Foiled by Memorial Day
  4. Beyond Covered
  5. Not Just Farmland
  6. Americana

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

Major Basilicas

On June 1, 2017 · 2 Comments

The Basilica of Sacré-Cœur sat high atop Montmartre, as noted recently in Select City Highpoints, becoming a memorable landmark on the Parisian skyline. Setting that aside, I wondered what made a church a basilica. In the course of investigating that I learned that a basilica could be classified into one of several levels of significance within the Roman Catholic Church. I also pondered the plural of basilica. Should it be Basilicae (Latin) or Basilicas (Italian). Basilicas seemed fine. However only four structures fit within the highest category of Major Basilicas so I decided to focus on them exclusively. Four seemed a manageable number. I thought a limited set would make for an easy article. Nope.

It dawned on my that the sheer level of complexity would undoubtedly result in me messing up the details somewhere. I apologize in advance if I misinterpreted or simplified things to the point of annoying any of 12MC’s Roman Catholic readers. That wasn’t my intent.

Only the Pope could decree that something should qualify as a basilica. He can bestow the title for reasons of "antiquity, dignity, historical importance or significance as centres of worship." Many hundreds of sites earned this honor. The vast preponderance qualified as straight-up Minor Basilicas, with a tiny handful recognized either as Papal or Pontifical Minor Basilicas. As noted, only four qualified as Major Basilicas, with all four located inside the diocese of Rome. Penitents that visited each of the Major Basilicas during a declared year of Jubilee gained additional absolution of sins. Special doors — sealed at all other times — were used during those particularly holy periods.

Papal Archbasilica of St. John in the Lateran

St. John Lateran - 1
St. John Lateran. Photo by Grant Bishop on Flickr (cc)

Even within Major Basilicas, one stood above the rest. I would have assumed St. Peter’s located in the Vatican would have been the one, and I would have been wrong. The honor actually went to the only one of the bunch with "arch" affixed to its name, the Archbasilica of St. John in the Lateran (map). The Bishop of Rome kept his cathedra (Latin for "seat") there. The bishop went by another name too, the universally-recognized title of Pope. Thus, St. John in the Lateran served as the Pope’s cathedral. That made it the mother church for the entire Roman Catholic religion. It was also the oldest of all Roman Catholic churches. St. John in the Lateran dated back to the early 4th Century, albeit renovated and reconstructed several times since them.

The Lateran part of the name referred to a time before the basilica existed. A wealthy and influential Roman family, the Laternos, owned the site for generations during pre-Christian times. Its patriarch angered Emperor Nero in the first century and he seized it from them. Much later, Emperor Constantine the Great converted to Christianity and gifted the property to the Bishop of Rome sometime around the year 313.

Interesting relics within the archbasilica included a cedar table claimed to have been used at the Last Supper, and Holy Stairs reputed to have been walked by Jesus during the Passion on his way to be tried by Pontius Pilate.

Papal Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican

Italy-0177 - St. Peter's Square
St. Peter's Square. Photo by Dennis Jarvis on Flickr (cc)

While the Basilica of St. Peter (map) didn’t qualify as an Archbasilica, it certainly ranked as one of the holiest of all Catholic sites. St. Peter, the apostle and first Pope, became a martyr at this location sometime around the year 64. Nero used the pretext of the Great Fire of Rome to blame and persecute Christians. He ordered Peter crucified. Constantine the Great authorized the building of a church on the spot of St. Peter’s martyrdom centuries later, and its consecration occurred in 329. The basilica’s high alter was built directly above the tomb of St. Peter.

The Basilica of St. Peter occupied a central position within Vatican City. The personal residence of the Pope also fell within the Vatican boundaries. However, no bishop maintained a cathedra at St. Peter’s so it didn’t qualify as a cathedral. That didn’t diminish either its religious or historical significance in any way.

Papal Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls

Saint Paul's Basilica
Saint Paul's Basilica. Photo by Lawrence OP on Flickr (cc)

The emperors Nero and Constantine the Great also figured in the history of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls (map). Nero ordered the execution of the St. Paul the Apostle. The history was a little sketchy although St. Paul was probably beheaded sometime around the years 65-57. His burial, according to tradition, took place on the second mile of the Via Ostiensis, a major road between Rome and the sea. People began to venerate the spot over time. Constantine, after he relaxed restrictions on Christian worship, authorized construction of a church above the tomb. Its consecration took place in the year 324.

"Outside the Walls" referred to the Aurelian Walls, a new set of perimeter walls built around a growing Rome circa the year 272. The Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls fell, as the name implied, outside of the Aurelian Walls.

Basilica of St. Mary Major

Day 2- Rome. Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore
Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. Photo by april on Flickr (cc)

The Basilica of St. Mary Major came a little later than the others (map). The Council of Ephesus of 431 declared the Virgin Mary to be the Mother of God. In commemoration, the Pope ordered the construction of one of the first churches dedicated to Mary, and in honor of the recent declaration. The photograph shows the original Paleo-Christian portion of the structure that was preserved since the 5th Century (the middle section). This was the only one of the Major Basilicas to retain a significant part of its original design.

Two legends existed at the site. The first one involved the location, supposedly designated by Mary herself in a dream that came to the Pope. The second involved a relic. The faithful believed that St. Mary Major contained a piece of Jesus’ crib from the time of his birth, kept in a special crypt below the high altar.

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