Bridges of Frederick County

On September 2, 2015 · 0 Comments

There was a book, then a movie called "The Bridges of Madison County." The story was set in Iowa and the bridges refrenced were covered. The plot involved a love affair or so I’ve inferred from summaries. I neither read the novel nor saw the film because I never felt I was part of the target audience I supposed. Nonetheless I thought about the title and stole it for today’s Twelve Mile Circle. The rest of the article had no relation whatsoever.

I felt a bit skeptical when a friend invited me on a 50-mile bike ride through northern Frederick County, Maryland one recent Saturday morning. I’m an urban biker primarily — with one notable recent exception — and I try to stick to paved off-road trails. I tend to stay away from actual roads unless they have dedicated bicycle lanes for fear that someone might plow into me while texting behind the wheel or something. Traffic is heavy and dangerous where I live so I wasn’t sure how I felt about an extended ride on streets, even rural ones. I’ve been converted, though. The roads east of Thurmont were exceptionally well maintained with minimal traffic. They were better than my local trails. I think I saw more bikes than cars during the ride.



My friend chose a route that featured four of Frederick’s historic bridges. The map above showed their relative placement although that wasn’t the actual route we biked. I’m not sure where we went exactly, to tell the truth. We meandered around until we hit the desired distance; I simply played follow-the-leader. The course involved a roughly counterclockwise oval north of the City of Frederick and east of U.S. Route 15, crossing paths with the bridges in succession as the morning unfolded.


LeGore Bridge


Frederick County Bike Ride

We first encountered the LeGore Bridge over the Monocacy River (map). A steep downhill led to a pull-off where I stopped for photos. The website Historic Bridges noted that James LeGore built this bridge around 1900 to provide a convenient path to his nearby stone quarry. Naturally, owning a quarry, he favored stone construction for his imposing five-arch structure. There was also one horrible twist of fate involved. His son George jumped from the bridge, committing suicide in 1930.

Had I taken this photo maybe 3 or 4 seconds later, I would have captured a scary bicycle wreck. Some guy barreled way too fast down the steep rightward slope approaching the bridge and couldn’t hold the curve. He flew across the opposite lane and whacked into a guardrail immediately behind me as I stood there taking pictures. He spilled onto the deck, tumbled a couple of times and somehow suffered only a bent wheel plus an unpleasant scrape on his forearm and damage to his pride. His fancy multi-thousand dollar bike might have been toast too. We didn’t stick around long enough to find out after making sure he was okay. It was entirely his own fault. He ignored the ominous road signs leading up to the bridge.


Roddy Road Bridge


Frederick County Bike Ride

We rambled on for awhile until we approached the Roddy Road bridge over Owen’s Creek (map). This marked the first of three covered bridges in Frederick County, with only three or five other bridges like that in the entire state of Maryland (sources vary). The most direct automobile route could be found on the county’s Historic Covered Bridges Driving Tour if one wanted to take the easy way out.

The Roddy family built their bridge across Owens Creek circa 1856. It was the smallest of the three covered bridges in Frederick, only 40 feet long. Rumor had it that "Confederate General JEB Stuart and his cavalry crossed Roddy Road Covered Bridge on July 5, 1863 during the Gettysburg campaign of the Civil War." Of course, just about every spot in this corner of Maryland had a Civil War connection. Troops routinely traipsed through here between major campaigns like Antietam and Gettysburg. I imagine I could draw a mile-wide circle anywhere in the county and find something of Civil War significance there.


Loy’s Station Bridge


Frederick County Bike Ride

If JEB Stuart crossed the Roddy Road bridge then one shouldn’t be surprised that Union general George Meade allegedly crossed Loy’s Station Bridge over Owen’s Creek a few days later in pursuit of fleeing Confederates after the battle (map). This would have been a new bridge at the time, having been constructed circa 1860. Unfortunately an arsonist torched the structure in 1991. The rebuilt bridge incorporated as many elements as possible from the original bridge, including "hardware, rafters and braces."

This was probably the most impressive of the bridges we saw during our ride. It looked like what would be expect of a covered bridge, and placed in a beautiful setting with an adjacent park.


Utica Mills Bridge


Frederick County Bike Ride

Near the end of the ride we rumbled through the Utica Mills bridge over Fishing Creek (map). This structure had an interesting history. A bridge had been built nearby on the Monocacy River sometime around 1850, however it washed away during the same deluge responsible for the horrific Johnstown Flood of 1889. Wood salvaged from that earlier bridge was recycled to form the Utica Mills crossing. It was getting a fresh coat of red paint the day we cycled over its planks.

I think I’ll have to return to northern Frederick County for further biking adventures sometime soon.

Where They Lived as Children

On August 30, 2015 · 2 Comments

My recent trip to western North Carolina was like the gift that kept on giving of Twelve Mile Circle article ideas. Sadly I’ve reached the end of the line on that thread so this will be the last article that contains a connection to that earlier adventure. As noted in a prior installment, I enjoyed walking around Asheville in the early morning before the town woke up. I discovered all sorts of interesting nooks as I wandered aimlessly down deserted streets. One was the Thomas Wolfe House on Spruce Street, included as part of the museum complex at 52 N. Market Street (map).


Thomas Wolfe Memorial
Thomas Wolfe Memorial (my own photo)

This inviting structure has been designated as the Thomas Wolfe Memorial State Historic Site, the childhood home of the author. The Queen Anne style home served as a boardinghouse operated by Wolfe’s mother. He used it as a backdrop for his thinly veiled 1929 autobiographical novel, "Look Homeward, Angel." That distinction certainly made it a property worth preserving. It occurred to me that oftentimes a famous person’s adult home might be preserved while his or her childhood home might be neglected, with notable exceptions of course. Certainly preservation made sense here.


Mark Twain


Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum Properties
Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum Properties by Missouri Division of Tourism (cc)

Another place where I thought preservation made sense was the Mark Twain Boyhood Home at 206-208 Hill Street, in Hannibal, Missouri (map). Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain, drew upon his youthful memories from Hannibal for some of his novels. These included actual locations associated with people who inspired major fictional characters such as Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and Becky Thatcher.

That was all fine and appropriate. However I wanted to bring the concept into the present. I wondered if there were people of more recent vintage whose childhood homes might someday become national historic landmarks. Where would tourists flock and stand in line to walk through rooms where a notable person once lived as a child? The big one of course was Elvis Presley, and for him that distinction had already been achieved. I wrote about Elvis’ early childhood shotgun-shack in Tupelo, Mississippi in The Cult of Elvis back in 2009. After Elvis, then the next logical choice might have to be…


Michael Jackson


Michael Jackson first house
Michael Jackson first house by Paolo Rosa on Flicker (cc)

What would be a bigger Thriller than driving down to the corner of 23rd and Jackson Street in Gary, Indiana (map)? The Michael Jackson house probably stood a solid chance of becoming an historic landmark to rival anything from Elvis. It already seemed to be generating cult-like status barely five years after Jackson’s death judging by the numerous photos I saw on the Intertubes. Invariably images showed throngs of people, piles of tributes, a large granite marker and a generally celebratory environment courtesy of pilgrims and devotee that converged there.

Another question remained. Will tourists ever be able to visit Neverland Ranch like they can Graceland?


Kurt Cobain


Kurt Cobain's Childhood Home
Kurt Cobain’s Childhood Home; Aberdeen, WA
via Google Street View, October 2012

I moved on to another music icon, albeit from a different genre. Kurt Cobain passed away at the height of success while fronting the band Nirvana, in 1994. One would think that his childhood home might attract the attention of some of his fans, and yet it didn’t seem to resonate much. The real estate website Redfin featured his mother’s property at 1210 East 1st St., Aberdeen, Washington (map) in August 2015, "Kurt Cobain’s Childhood Home Drops in Price, Again."

Kurt Cobain’s mother, Wendy O’Connor, just shaved off $71,000 from the price of his childhood home, bringing the new price tag to $329,000… His bedroom, which looks like a converted attic, still has Iron Maiden and Led Zeppelin logos that he stenciled on the walls, and holes from where he punched the walls as a teen.

It would seem to demonstrate great provenance and even some residual historic significance given the doodles and damage. It remained unsold as of a few days ago.


Sandra Bullock


Sandra Bullock's Childhood Home
Sandra Bullock’s Childhood Home; Arlington, VA
via Google Street View, July 2014

A childhood home might have historical significance even if the celebrity who lived there happened to still be living, right? I selected Sandra Bullock solely because she lived fairly close to where I live today in Arlington, Virginia. In fact my children will someday attend the same high school that she attended during her formative years, Washington-Lee. Bullock spent most of her childhood at 2925 26th Street North in the Woodmont neighborhood (map). The Arlington County property search website valued the home at $1,241,900 for the 2015 tax year. It also noted that "Bullock John W & Helga M" purchased the property originally in 1966 for $40,000 (and it sold for $1,115,000 in 2005).

Kurt Cobain’s childhood home would be a lot more cost effective for, you know, creepy people who need to own one of those kinds of places.

Of Of

On August 19, 2015 · 8 Comments

Mouth of Wilson. I used it as a waypoint during my recent county counting quest and otherwise put it out of mind as I drove through an expansive rural corner of Virginia. It came to mind once again as I passed a sign for another town about an hour farther north and east, Meadows of Dan. How unusual, I thought, to encounter two locations in relatively close proximity to each other with the word "of" embedded in their names. I remembered a similarly concocted town a few miles away from my childhood home called Point of Rocks, sitting just across the Potomac River in Maryland. I tucked the notion away until my return. Interestingly, all of them became known predominantly for something other than the piece-parts of their oddly constructed names.

Mouth of Wilson


Waterfall in Mouth of Wilson Virginia
Waterfall in Mouth of Wilson Virginia by Jimmy Emerson, DVM on Flickr (cc)

Mouth of Wilson presented a couple of obvious questions. Who was Wilson and why the preoccupation with his mouth? Fortunately answers revealed themselves quite conveniently in Grayson County: A History in Words and Pictures.

When the Frye [sic.]-Jefferson party surveyed the line between Virginia and North Carolina in 1749, a young surveyor named Wilson died. His body was carried to the bank of a nearby creek for burial, hence the name Wilson’s Creek.

Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson surveyed uncharted corners of Virginia including its border with North Carolina, resulting in the definitive map of the colony from that era. Apparently Wilson, whoever he was, never got to see the fruits of his labor. He lived-on in a way many years later when a town grew at the confluence of Wilson’s Creek and the New River. That spot marked the mouth of Wilson’s Creek and the name shortened nicely to Mouth of Wilson.

Nobody much remembered Fry or Jefferson or especially Wilson, although maybe some people had heard of Peter’s son Thomas Jefferson. If by chance people ever caught wind of Mouth of Wilson it had nothing to do with 18th century cartographers. It was for basketball. Here, nearby Oak Hill Academy (map) built a basketball dynasty over three decades. The school never had more than about 150 students at a time and yet it produced a crazy number of professional basketball players. The school’s utter domination of the sport at the high school level continues today (e.g., "The Middle of Nowhere: Oak Hill Academy, the Best Basketball Program on the Planet").


Meadows of Dan


Mabry Mill in Winter
Mabry Mill in Winter by Sheila C. on Flickr (cc)

Flowing waters also underpinned the etymology of Meadows of Dan although there wasn’t ever some guy named Dan to serve as an inspiration. There were beautiful meadows however, and they were found near the upper reaches of the Dan River. One part of the name derived from a 1728 expedition mapping the boundary between Virginia and North Carolina (prior to Fry and Jefferson who improved and extended the line) led by William Byrd. According to the Danville Historical Society,

The surveying party began marking the line at the mouth of the Currituck River on the coast of Virginia, and went westward toward the mountains. When they reached this area, Colonel Byrd and his party encountered "the South Branch of the Roanoak River the first time, which we call’d the Dan."… Colonel Byrd never explained his choice of name for the river. However, the biblical limits of Canaan were "From the Dan to Beersheba." Because the northern limit of North Carolina was in question, "Dan" seemed to be an appropriate name for the river which at that time fixed the boundary in this area between the two colonies.

That likely explained Dan. The meadows portion joined the name much later, as explained by the community of Meadows of Dan,

This broad high mountainous area was settled in the early 1800s, mostly by German and Scotch-Irish settlers that traveled down from Pennsylvania… The Langhorne family, one of the few of English descent in the community, held a land grant that contained much of what is now considered Meadows of Dan… The Langhorne patriarch is credited with giving the area the name "Meadows of Dan". He settled on the headwaters of the Dan River, and grist mills in the Langhorne name were built along the stream.

Few people would know much about Meadows of Dan if it weren’t for two fortunate happenstances. First, Edwin Boston Mabry, a local resident built a wonderfully iconic mill in 1903 (map). Second, the Blue Ridge Parkway ran directly past the mill after its construction as a Depression-era jobs project in the 1930’s. Maybry’s Mill quickly became one of the most heavily visited and photographed spots along the entire parkway.


Point of Rocks


Point of Rocks, Maryland
Point of Rocks, Maryland by Bob Wilcox, on Flickr (cc)

I didn’t need to conduct any research to determine the source of the rocky point inspiring a town called Point of Rocks in Maryland. Literally, just west of town stood a point of rocks that I’d seen many times with my own eyes. The cliff might be a notable landmark for bikers on the C&O Canal trail, or to boaters on the Potomac River. Most everyone else would remember Point of Rocks for its nostalgic train station (map), built in 1873 at an important junction where trains routed either to Baltimore or Washington. Of course I’ll always remember Point of Rocks more for the drive-through liquor store of my youth.


Upon Further Consideration

It occurred to me that there may be many more "of" towns. Yet, I couldn’t find them using my usual search techniques and I couldn’t recall any others from memory. Sure, there were a billion examples tied to geographic units, for instance the City of London, District of Columbia, Commonwealth of Virginia, United States of America and the like. Those were all too mundane even to mention. I wasn’t interested in finding more of those. I wanted additional mouths and meadows and points and other strange yet appropriate descriptions of things. I imagined there were probably many very obvious instance that somehow fell into my mental blind spot. What am I missing?

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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