I wrote several articles about my Michigan trip and I still had a pile of ideas I hadn’t touched yet. They didn’t fall into common themes so I lumped all those leftover scraps together to finish the series. I hope everyone enjoyed — or at least tolerated — my ramblings from the latest journey. We’ll return to regular programming in a couple of days.
Concurrent 96/69 in Lansing, Michigan
via Google Street View, September 2015
Highway officials defined a "concurrency" as a single stretch of road with two or more route designations. This happens all of the time on Interstate highways in the United States. Roads heading between different places converge, often near a city, and both numbers remain so drivers passing through don’t get confused. I noticed an oddity in the pattern in Lansing, Michigan. Interstate 96 ran across southern Michigan. Interstate 69 ran through the middle of the United States in several segments, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian border. They joined briefly on the western side of a loop bypassing Lansing.
That portion created a concurrency for Interstates 96 and 69, each number the reverse of the other (map). I didn’t know if any other examples existed elsewhere, probably because I didn’t bother to look. Please let me know if anyone can find another one. It didn’t mean much although I still enjoyed doing a double-take when I spotted it.
Gerald Ford Museum
I went to another Presidential Library & Museum. It probably won’t become one of my regular lists although I’ll visit one if it falls along my route. I saw Woodrow Wilson‘s museum in March and Franklin Roosevelt‘s in May. Why not Gerald Ford?
I wondered what treasures might fill a museum dedicated to the presidential administration of Gerald Ford (map). He served as President for barely two years. Wilson guided the nation through the First World War, and Roosevelt brought the country out of a Great Depression and then the Second World War. They had plenty of material for a museum. Ford, well, he seemed like a nice guy from Grand Rapids who happened to be tapped as Vice President and became President unexpectedly when Richard Nixon resigned. His museum featured the expected Nixon connection and topics of the times such as the end of the Vietnam War. That still left a lot of space to fill. That’s probably why it included life-sized replicas of the White House’s Oval Office and Cabinet Room as they appeared while Ford served as President.
On the other hand, I continued to count lighthouse visits. I placed a couple more sightings on my lifetime list. I hadn’t really been thinking about lighthouses as I prepared for the trip so these were a nice surprise. We took a day trip to Muskegon to see the USS Silversides and the two lighthouses loomed over the harbor entrance. Certainly I could take a few moments to examine them a little closer.
The more impressive structure, and by that I mean the one that looked more like a traditional lighthouse, stood on the south pierhead. They called it the South Pierhead Light, not too creatively (map). See how that worked? Several versions stood there over the years and the current one began its service in 1903. It wasn’t open to the public most of the time, having fallen into a state of disrepair. Nonetheless it continued to remain an active light for navigation purposes. The Federal government transferred ownership to the Michigan Lighthouse Conservancy in 2010, a nonprofit organization that hoped to restore the structure. We only saw this lighthouse from a distance and moved on.
We got a much better view of the nearby South Breakwater Light (map). This required a little hike of about a half-mile (0.8 km) from the parking lot at Pere Marquette Park to the tip of the breakwater. The kids complained the whole time although they needed a little exercise. They couldn’t spend the entire trip playing Minecraft and watching YouTube (simultaneously) so I dragged them down the concrete breakwater for a close-up view of a pretty ugly lighthouse. They’ll thank me someday. The Michigan Lighthouse Conservancy owned this one too, and also placed it on its restoration list. South Breakwater Light came much later, 1931, long after the glory days of lighthouse construction. It filled a basic utilitarian purpose although it lacked a certain grandeur and elegance.
Glaciers covered much of North America during the most recent Ice Age, some 16,000 years ago. Relentless pressure from accumulated ice ground into the underlying bedrock as glaciers advanced and retreated, creating fine sand and a rocky till. Winds blowing predominantly from the west pushed waves across Lake Michigan after the glaciers retreated, carrying this sand to its eastern shore. These natural forces created the "largest collection of freshwater dunes in the world" along Michigan’s shoreline.
Michigan had more sandy beaches than just about anywhere I’d been before. Some of the dunes reached hundreds of feet high. We didn’t make it to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on this trip, although the Saugatuck Dunes (map) offered a nice proxy closer to our temporary home.
Keeping the peace on a family trip meant taking time for activities I might otherwise overlook. I enjoyed zoos as much as anyone I supposed, although I didn’t feel any great need to go out of my way to see them either. We visited two, the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo (map) in Ohio and the John Ball Zoo (map) in Grand Rapids, Michigan. That’s what my older son enjoyed so that’s how they found their way onto our itinerary. He wants to visit every zoo in the United States. He also wants to collect a map at each zoo he visits.
I can’t imagine where he inherited that relentless need to create lists and collect maps.
Articles in the Michigan Journey Series:
- County Adventures
- Rambling and Wandering
- Above and Below
- Do Overs
- Parting Shots
See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr
I came across the escape route used by John Wilkes Booth in the immediate aftermath of the Abraham Lincoln assassination while I researched By George. Every student in the United States likely learned all about the assassination multiple times starting from elementary school and every year thereafter. Fewer probably knew much about the attempted escape. I confess to understanding no more than a few basic details of Booth’s brief flight from justice. Then I started to wonder if I could find the exact spot where Booth died, a rather macabre subject for sure, although certainly a legitimate topic for a geo-oddity blog.
John Wilkes Booth’s Foiled Escape
Garrett Farm on Wikimedia Commons, in the public domain
For example, I knew all about Ford’s Theater where Booth shot Lincoln. It’s still there, an active home to the performing arts, and I’ve been to it a bunch of times. I’d never heard of Richard H. Garrett’s farm, though. That’s where Booth died.
John Wilkes Booth fled south from the city into Maryland after he committed his horrendous crime. He stopped at Surratt’s Tavern for guns and supplies he’d stashed there earlier. Then he traveled to to the home of Dr. Samuel Mudd who set his broken leg. Mudd later went to prison for four years at remote Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas for doing that (I saw his jail cell!).
Booth then stayed with various Confederate sympathizers, hid in the woods, and crossed the Potomac River into Virginia. Eventually he found his way to Garrett’s farm. Garrett apparently had no idea who he was dealing with and in fact hadn’t even heard about Lincoln’s assassination. Lines of communication had been decimated in Virginia during those final months of the war and word hadn’t spread that far yet.
Union soldiers tracked Booth down to the farm and trapped him in a tobacco barn on Garrett’s property. Booth refused to surrender so they set the barn on fire. One of the soldiers shot Booth — some say in cold blood — and Booth was carried to Garrett’s front porch where he died several hours later. That would seem to be a rather historic spot yet it no longer exists. The house fell into disrepair in spite of its notoriety, eventually collapsing upon itself.
The place where Booth died is as unsung as modernity can make it, a forgotten median, sandwiched between the north and southbound lanes of a divided, four-lane highway. Commuters and truckers speed by, wholly unaware that they’ve passed the location where the most famous manhunt in United States history came to a violent end.
The road that passed by Garrett’s home eventually became U.S. Route 301, later expanded to four lanes (map), obliterating what little was left of the farm.
Fort A.P. Hill
Va. Guard aviators support Marines at Fort A.P. Hill by Virginia Guard Public Affairs on Flickr (cc)
That wasn’t the only indignity. The United States Army began to expand rapidly in the years leading up to World War II. It searched around the country for out-of-the-way spaces suitable for stashing military functions away from prying eyes. Eastern Virginia looked particularly good, a quite rural hideaway just steps from the nation’s capital, with sixty thousand acres available for the government to seize.
Fort A.P. Hill was established as an Army training facility on June 11, 1941, pursuant to War Department General Order No. 5. In its 1st year, the installation was used as a maneuver area for the II Army Corps and for three activated National Guard divisions from Mid-Atlantic states. In the autumn of 1942, Fort A.P. Hill was the staging area for the headquarters and corps troops of Major General Patton’s Task Force A, which invaded French Morocco in North Africa.
The old Garrett farm fell within the original northern boundary of Fort A.P. Hill. Who exactly was A.P. Hill? He was a Confederate general who fought the Union armies of Abraham Lincoln and died in combat during the Third Battle of Petersburg. It seemed a little ironic that the US Army named a fort for someone who fought against it. Similarly, it seemed strange that the place where Lincoln’s assassin died happened on land that would later be named for a Confederate officer. Yet there it was, and largely forgotten.
New England, with some of the earliest colonies in a place that would later become the United States, harbored hundreds of years of history along with a people who appreciated their ties to the past. Most of my previous trips through the region hugged the coast. I relished an opportunity to wander inland to places less tread by tourists. The history there may not have been as memorable as its coastal cousins although it had been continuous and intense since colonial times.
Every little rural town oozed Eighteenth Century charm. We must have driven through hundreds of hamlets on backcountry roads taking the straightest line between races, although the lines were never truly straight. They all seemed to follow old colonial paths that followed ancient Native American trails that followed tracks through the forest blazed by animals millennia ago.
Hancock, New Hampshire (map) seemed to follow the typical model of a New England settlement with its town square, gazebo and a protestant church with requisite steeple. This place was settled by Revolutionary War veterans who named it for John Hancock, "signer of the Declaration of Independence (who happened to own nearly a thousand acres within the town boundaries), [although] there is no evidence that Governor Hancock ever visited or benefited the community in any way."
We stayed overnight in Hancock because our race took place in a nearby state park the next morning. I got to walk around and take a few photos. Otherwise we would have driven through Hancock without stopping to appreciate it, like we did with countless other Hancock equivalents, similarly attractive and historic.
I’d gotten in the habit of looking for National Park Service properties before each trip because there were often hidden gems to be found. NPS listed scores of options in New England although they tended to congregate along the coast. Pickings were slim farther inland. The Springfield Armory National Historic Site in Springfield, Massachusetts looked interesting though, and caught my eye (map). It wasn’t far from our route either. The Armory became a new nation’s primary arsenal during the Revolutionary War and "for nearly two centuries, the US Armed Forces and American industry looked to Springfield Armory for innovative engineering and superior firearms." It also included the "world’s largest historic US military small arms collection." Too bad I didn’t get to see it.
If I collected National Park Service passport stamps, a hobby I know some 12MC readers enjoy, I probably would have paid closer attention to the website. The armory closed on Tuesdays before Memorial Day. It never dawned on me that a park would be closed on a Tuesday. So there we stood outside of this large edifice and took a few photos because we were already there and what else were we supposed to do, and then moved on to other activities we’d planned for Springfield. The whole setup was kind-of weird too. The armory shared a campus with a local community college so visitors had to wind their way around the school to the back, and past people directing traffic who made sure everyone parked in the right spot.
I probably don’t care enough about firearms to go back although I certainly enjoy wandering outside for a few moments on a beautiful day.
Mark Twain House
I guess I knew somewhere in the back of my mind that Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), lived in Connecticut for many years although his writing drew more inspiration from his formative years in Missouri, growing up along the Mississippi River. Still, themes of New England crept into books occasionally such as in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. He lived in a fancy house in Hartford for seventeen years, 1874 to 1891 (map). The home has since been preserved as the Mark Twain House and Museum. Some of his most influential and best-known works were penned within his upper-floor study on that property, including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Life on the Mississippi, and of course the aforementioned Connecticut Yankee.
The tour wound through the interior of Twain’s home although it was one of those places that didn’t allow indoor photographs. The 12MC audience will have to take my word that it was pretty impressive inside, or simply examine the many photos plainly visible on the Intertubes. The docent explained that Twain was a lousy businessman in spite of his success as an author. The house actually belonged to his wife who came from a very wealthy family. She owned it outright in her name. Otherwise Twain would have lost the house during bankruptcy.
Air Line Trail
I mentioned the Air Line Trail, its proximity to the Connecticut-Massachusetts-Rhode Island Tripoint and the infamous 4-train collision that happened there in Of Course Geo-Oddities. It began as the New Haven, Middletown and Willimantic Railroad (NHM&W) in 1873 as a high speed corridor between Boston and New York City. According to the Air Line State Park Trail site, the name came from an imaginary shortest distance "through the air" between those two cities. While completing that theoretical line proved impossible, portions did adhere to the standard and requiring great cuts, fills and bridges to tame the terrain. This railroad was quite profitable for awhile.
Successful businessmen and prominent citizens, including President Benjamin Harrison, rode this increasingly well known line that had gained its name as it sped across Eastern Connecticut with its seemingly luminescent cars being easily recognized – especially at twilight.
The Air Line was a marvel of the Industrial Revolution, like so many other endeavors that took root in 19th century New England. Gradually technology overcame the usefulness of the Air Line and now the former rail bed has been converted into a linear park, for walkers, bikers and equestrians to enjoy.
Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum
I had so much fun at the Woodrow Wilson birthplace a few months ago that I decided to check out the lifelong home of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Hyde Park, New York (map). Technically this wasn’t New England although it seemed close enough so I kept it on the list.
The residence had been preserved as part of his Presidential Library and Museum. There were distinct differences between Wilson’s home and Roosevelt’s abode. Woodrow Wilson was the son of a minister and his home reflected a certain modesty. FDR lived on what would accurately be described as an "estate" called Springwood occupying an entire square mile of land (2.6 square kilometres). He came from a distinguished family and his father increased the family fortune even farther through coal and railroad interests.
Roosevelt became the first president to designate a presidential library to hold his records. He built the library on his estate and kept an office there that he used during trips to Hyde Park while president. Some of his Fireside Chat radio broadcasts took place in the library. His original office remained untouched after he passed away in 1945 and it became a permanent exhibit, an integral part of the museum. Prior to FDR, presidential papers didn’t necessarily have a permanent home. They were personal property of each president and many records became lost over time. He set a precedent by donating his papers to the American people along with a means for public access by designating a permanent library. He then went a step further by donated his entire estate to the government with the understanding that he and his immediate family could remain there indefinitely. The family relinquished the property soon after his death.
Reminders of the Past Everywhere
The past always lurked around the corner wherever we traveled through New England, sometimes in unexpected ways. I was reminded of that as we checked into our hotel in Rochester, New Hampshire (map). There, beside the parking lot and next to the highway stood a small cemetery. It reminded me of the impermanence of people who came before. I doubted that families who established a cemetery a century and a half ago in what was probably a rustic setting ever imagined their loved ones would end up sandwiched between a noisy road and a strip mall. Nothing lasts forever.
New England articles:
See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr