Heartland, Part 6 (Americana)

On June 25, 2017 · 0 Comments

All things must come to an end and eventually the Heartland adventure approached its natural conclusion. I enjoyed my brief sojourn through the American Midwest, captured some new counties, ran a few races, viewed some sand dunes and canyons, and drove through more miles of farmland than I could count. I still had a few things to talk about though. They didn’t fit neatly into my other categories so I collected them here at the end.

Mid-America Windmill Museum


Mid-America Windmill Museum

I mentioned the lack of attractions in northern Indiana that led me to the East LaPorte Street Footbridge in Plymouth. My search also uncovered the Mid-America Windmill Museum. This prompted a stop in Kendallville (map), which the docent at the museum pronounced as Kendaville. The first set of double-l’s seemed optional.

I didn’t know quite what to expect. How fascinating could a bunch of antique water-pumping windmills be? Actually I rather enjoyed it. Premium models filled a restored barn. Others stood sentinel in a field behind the barn, whirling in the wind as they’d done on farms decades ago. It was both hypnotic and wonderful. Windmills manufactured by the Flint and Walling company dominated the collection. In fact, the museum preserved an example of every Flint and Walling model ever produced. This company started making its windmills in Kendallville in 1866 and sold them for nearly a century. Amazingly, the company still existed and celebrated its 150th anniversary recently. It anticipated the drop in demand for windmills and switched to electric pumps.


Speaking of Windmills


Heartland Marathon Series - Day 4

Two days later we came across another windmill, a more traditional version like ones seen in the Netherlands. I saw a different windmill called De Zwaan last year in Holland, Michigan — which made sense — after all, they called the city Holland. It seemed rather out of place in Fulton, Illinois. However, I learned afterwards that a lot of Dutch settlers came to Fulton in the latter half of the 19th Century. A windmill fit within that cultural heritage. By the way, just because I’ve seen a few windmills lately doesn’t mean I’ve found another object to count compulsively. I don’t need any more lists.

This one had a name too, De Immigrant. It differed from the windmill in Michigan because of its contemporary nature. While authentic, it wasn’t old at all, having been dedicated in 2000. Artisans crafted the windmill in the Netherlands and shipped it in pieces to Fulton. Then they assembled the windmill on-site, atop a levee overlooking the Mississippi River (map). De Immigrant ran exactly like a vintage windmill. Visitors could purchase flour ground by the windmill in a nearby visitors center.


Thriller!


Michael Jackson House

I try to visit at least one place mentioned in Twelve Mile Circle during every trip I take. One article, Where They Lived as Children, featured the home where Michael Jackson grew up. It fell directly along our route. I had to stop there.

Gary, Indiana might lag only behind Detroit for urban decay. The United States Steel Corporation founded Gary in 1906 as a home for its workers. Gary thrived for decades until the steel factories started closing in the 1960’s. Nearly 200,000 people lived there then. Only 75,000 people live there now. We drove into Gary and it looked like a disaster site, with abandoned buildings collapsed upon themselves, empty lots filled with weeds and trash, and car-rattling potholes on terribly rutted roads. Even so, it seemed perfectly safe to stop at Michael Jackson childhood home and pay my respects. I couldn’t imagine how the Jackson parents and their ten children fit into that tiny house (map).


Presidential



I noticed the Jackson house sat on Jackson Street. That seemed to be a fitting tribute, however it turned out to be just a coincidence. The Gary street grid aligned to Presidents of the United States in order of their administrations. This particular Jackson got its name from Andrew Jackson, not from Michael or any of the other musical Jacksons. Right around this same time I got an email from reader "Steve" curious about presidential street names so I took it as a good omen. He also wondered if any street had been named for Donald Trump yet. Oddly, I’d encountered a Trump Avenue in Canton, Ohio only a few days earlier even though I doubted it correlated directly to The Donald’s time as president. It seemed to predated his nascent Administration.


American Pickers


American Pickers

Do any 12MC readers watch American Pickers on the History Channel? The premise is pretty simple. Two guys drove around rural America from their home base in Le Claire, Iowa in search of antiques. They hunted through basements, barns, abandoned buildings, and any other place where valuables might be hiding within junk and debris. Gary, Indiana might be a good place to try. They haggled with owners over a price and hopefully got a few treasures to sell through their company, Antique Archaeology. I noticed we could get to Le Claire in about a half hour from Clinton, Iowa where we’d raced earlier that morning.

Those of you familiar with the show probably recognized the derelict Nash Statesman automobile and the shop behind it. Those appeared on the show fairly regularly. Of course we stopped for awhile (map); that’s how I got the photo. One thing surprised me. The magic of television made it seem like the shop must be located way outside of town all by itself, maybe surrounded by cornfields or something. That wasn’t the case. It sat right in the middle of Le Claire just a short block away from the main road. I could walk to a brewery, a distillery and at least a dozen shops in about two minutes from there.


Buffalo Bill


Buffalo Bill Cody

Le Claire included other surprises such as the Buffalo Bill Museum. I didn’t know that Buffalo Bill Cody hailed from Iowa. I figured he must have come from somewhere much further west. No, indeed, he came from Iowa. The museum included an exhibit on Buffalo Bill, as one would expect, although the largest space featured a ship called the Lone Star. This paddle-wheeled towboat operated under steam power on the Mississippi River for a century. The Coast Guard finally forced it out of service in 1968 when it couldn’t meet safety standards anymore. Fortunately preservationists managed to save the Lone Star and constructed an entire building to show it off.

Le Claire and surrounding Scott County thought highly of its most famous son. In addition to the museum, we visited the Buffalo Bill Homestead a few miles outside of town (map). He grew up there from the time of his birth in 1846 until about the age of seven.


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 5 (Not Just Farmland)

On June 22, 2017 · 1 Comments

A previous article in this series noted the abundance of farmland with little else to be seen during my Heartland excursion. That didn’t provide a completely accurate picture. Variations appeared in unexpected ways although I needed to travel to the margins to find them. We charted our course purposefully. It allowed us to experience a few geological features that maybe didn’t fit cleanly into notional images of the American Midwest. Not everything out there fell within endless fields to the horizon.

Lots of Farmland, Of Course


Rural Iowa

Even the endless farmland offered scenic beauty although its prevalence sometimes made me wish for something else. I began to take it for granted. At some point towards the end of the trip I realized I hadn’t done much to capture its simple elegance. Then I had trouble finding a good subject. Suddenly this barn appeared along a quiet rural byway. It embodied what I’d been sensing all along in thousands of different places throughout the journey. The architecture seemed peculiar to eastern Iowa where I spotted it, and to adjoining western Illinois. The barn itself appeared fairly standard. However I couldn’t recall seeing a similar cupola — or whatever one might call it — quite like it in other parts of the country. I guessed it helped lift hay bales into the loft.


The Beach


Michigan City

Our journey reminded me once again of the magnificent sand dunes on the eastern and southern flanks of Lake Michigan. I recounted the geology last summer when I explored outside of Grand Rapids. Essentially, glaciers melting at the end of the last Ice Age left a lot of debris behind. Winds and waves pushed glacial drift eastward, forming those wonderful sandy beaches of Indiana and Michigan.

Back home, I would never try to drive to the beach during Memorial Day weekend even though the Atlantic Ocean beckoned only a couple of hours away. I’d pick a more obscure day to miss the crowds and traffic. Somehow, even though I should have known better, I failed to grasp that Lake Michigan served a similar purpose for ten million people living in the Chicago metropolitan area. The lake, with its massive size, looked a lot like an ocean with smaller waves and fresh water. Throw in sand dunes and pristine beaches, and it completed the illusion. Feel free to insert sarcastic remarks about Easterners and their ignorance of places beyond their noses if you like.

Thank goodness for Waze. It took us around the worst of the traffic heading into Michigan City, Indiana and saved us at least an hour. I still carried my trusty paper map as a backup although technology certainly saved the day this time. It allowed us to visit the beach at Washington Park (map).


Lighthouses


Michigan City Lighthouse

Actually, I targeted Michigan City for its lighthouses. The combination of Indiana and lighthouses seemed odd, and yet a few lighthouses actually existed along its Lake Michigan shoreline. I collected lighthouse visits, another one of those things I counted compulsively, so it led us that way. Michigan City included two lighthouses, one a museum and one a functioning navigational aid. The beach was just a nice bonus.

A land speculator wanted to create Indiana’s first harbor in the 1830’s. He purchased a site where Trail Creek fed into the lake and he platted a town there. A proper harbor needed a lighthouse to guide ships into its port so he set aside room for that too. The first one didn’t work out as planned so another one came along in 1858 (map) and it came to be known as the Michigan City Lighthouse.

As shipping in Michigan City increased, primarily grain and lumber, a brighter light was needed to guide ships into the busy port. In 1858, the U.S. Government constructed a lighthouse using Joliet stone for the foundation and Milwaukee or "Cream City" bricks for the superstructure.

That’s the one in the photograph, above, the current home of the Michigan City Historical Society’s Old Lighthouse Museum.


East Pierhead Lighthouse

Then came the East Pierhead Lighthouse (map), also known as the Michigan City Breakwater lighthouse, built in 1904. The lens and lantern moved from the old lighthouse to the new one at that time, too. Lighthouse keepers continued to live in the earlier structure while tending the light at the end of the pier. Sometimes ferocious storms pummeled the lake. I imagined what it must have been like trying to scoot along that narrow catwalk from shore to tower as icy waves crashed across the pier. We visited on a day with a light chop and even then a little water pushed onto the concrete.


Canyons


Starved Rock

Canyons seemed unlikely as we drove across the flatness of central Illinois. Yet, Starved Rock State Park included them with abundance. Many features resulted from a cataclysmic event and an unusual geology. The Illinois River ran along the park’s northern edge. A great flood tore through there sometime around 15,000 years ago, an event called the Kankakee Torrent. Melting glaciers had formed a lake and it burst, scouring limestone along the riverbank. It carved huge bluffs in a matter of days. Wonderful scenic vistas crowned those same bluffs today (photo).

The park got its name from one of those bluffs. The explanation tied back to a legend, probably untrue although the story persisted. Supposedly, in some sort of dispute, a tribe of Native Americans besieged members of the Illini tribe who then sought refuge on a bluff. Surrounded, and unwilling to surrender, they died of starvation. The place became Starved Rock.

The park also contained several canyons behind the bluffs. Small streams carved into the limestone in wonderful terraces accompanied by waterfalls. French Canyon, named for the early European explorers of this area, became its most iconic feature (map). That’s the one in the photograph, above. Lots of people traveled to the park just to see that one attraction. It wasn’t much more than an hour away from Chicago, making Starved Rock the most visited state park in Illinois, with two million visitors per year.


Mighty Rivers


Heartland Marathon Series - Day 4

Of course I couldn’t fail to mention the Mississippi River, and the Illinois River was pretty impressive too. I’ve visited the Mississippi several different times in recent years including just a little farther downstream in April. I won’t bother to elaborate on its power again although I’ll note that I’ve always enjoy gazing upon it. Two of our races happened along the river on opposite banks. On one day the course went along a levee in Fulton, Illinois and the next day it did the same in Clinton, Iowa. I took this photo from the Illinois side (map).


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 2 (How Not to See a City)

On June 11, 2017 · 3 Comments

Undoubtedly we’ve all seen articles in print or online with titles like “Three Perfect Days in [whatever city].” They highlight the virtues of a given place with all sorts of supposed insider tips that push beyond the usual tourist hangouts. This won’t be one of those articles. In fact I’m pretty sure this could be the worst city guide ever. Why would I even include Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in a series of articles on the American Heartland? Even though the geographic footprint of the "Heartland" varied somewhat from person-to-person, undoubtedly little if anything in Pittsburgh met even the most generous definition.

That highlighted my situation. I never made Pittsburgh my destination. It always served as a waypoint on some other adventure, a perpetual bridesmaid of Twelve Mile Circle travels. That was a shame because it offered a lot. Nonetheless, I began to nibble around its edges on three separate visits in the last two years. Let’s take a closer look.


Great Allegheny Passage


Hot Metal Bridge

It shouldn’t take much effort for someone living in the Washington, DC area like I do to visit Pittsburgh. I could get there in about four hours if traffic cooperated. Sure, I’ve connected to flights through its airport and clipped past it many times before on the Pennsylvania Turnpike although those didn’t count. Oddly, I’d never actually set foot within its city limits until April 2015. I didn’t stay there very long, either.

Pittsburgh’s historic Point State Park (map), a tip of land where the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers joined together to form the Ohio River, marked the starting point of the Great Allegheny Passage. I hopped from of a shuttle with my bicycle and followed its path for the next 150 miles (240 kilometres) to Cumberland, Maryland. Leaving the park, we took surface streets through the city for about a mile, merged onto a dedicated trail, crossed the Hot Metal Bridge and pedaled past abandoned industrial sites too numerous to count, in a steady rain. Thus ended my first trip to Pittsburgh. It lasted as long as it took to bike beyond its city limits.


Pittsburgh Zoo & Aquarium


Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium

I returned to Pittsburgh about a year-and-a-half later. This time I stayed a bit longer, my first overnight trip to the city. My real purpose centered on capturing previously unvisited counties in West Virginia’s northern panhandle. Pittsburgh put me close enough to my target to serve as a good staging ground. Plus I had my son with me and I needed to bribe him. He loved zoos so we spent a full morning at the Pittsburgh Zoo & Aquarium (map).

When my son visits a zoo he does it thoroughly. We saw every single animal and exhibit in excruciating detail. That seemed fair enough. I made him go to a brewery inside of a former church in Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood. Then I dragged him around to increasingly obscure geo-oddities for the next couple of days.


Rivers and Hills

That brought me to the latest adventure. I wanted to capture a bunch of rural counties in Ohio so Pittsburgh, once again, served as a great launching point. I noted in that earlier Zoo article that I really wanted to visit the city’s famous inclines. It became my singular fixation this time around. I had to ride the inclines. Nothing else mattered.

That, geographically, placed me on the South Shore of Pittsburgh across the Monongahela River from downtown. Station Square provided the best access to the inclines. It had a little bit of history too, with roots as a terminal for the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad and as a freight yard well into the 20th Century. Unfortunately it declined over time along with many of the rust belt industries.

Developers turned Station Square into an entertainment district in the late 1970’s, focusing on the tourist market with plenty of chain restaurants and sightseer kitsch. The Pittsburgh skyline added some colorful scenery as a backdrop. However, Station Square still presented all the ambiance of a generic mall, a place where busloads of middle school kids on their first overnight field trip might enjoy. It certainly didn’t represent the essence of Pittsburgh although I’d made that decision knowingly so I could get closer to the inclines. We all make our choices.

Ducks


Point State Park

I didn’t intend to ride the Ducks. Nonetheless, as we walked towards one of the inclines, I spotted a Duck filling-up and saw that the next tour started in only ten minutes. I guess I felt a little guilty for completely ignoring an entire city to climb a hill on a glorified escalator so it hit me at a vulnerable moment. Ducks, for those unfamiliar with them (photo), were used by the United States Army during the Second World War as amphibious landing vehicles. They could function either as trucks or as boats with the pull of a few levers. Various sightseeing companies purchased surplus Ducks and converted them for land/water tours. Pittsburgh had them too.

It was every bit as touristy as I imagined. Even so, it offered a decent orientation of the downtown area and I certainly enjoyed floating along the river for a unique perspective on the city. The inclines would still be waiting for us.

Inclines


Monongahela Incline

Only so many people could fit within a valley carved by the three rivers. Pittsburgh expanded greatly during the Industrial Revolution and pushed people onto the hills. Its mills and factories needed labor so many of the workers lived atop a ridge directly across from downtown called Coal Hill. Workers descended rickety stairways several hundred feet down to their jobs in the morning, and trudged back uphill again in the evenings. Many of them had immigrated from Germany and they remembered “steilbahns” (inclined railroads) from their homeland. Those would work great in Pittsburgh too. Nearly a score opened in the city during the second half of the Nineteenth Century. Only two survived, the Monongahela Incline and the Duquesne Incline, opened in 1870 and 1877 respectively.

We took the Monongahela Incline on a slow, relaxing ride up the steep embankment. A man who rode the incline as part of his daily commute gave us a tip: a tourist could save a few bucks by purchasing a single ticket with a transfer rather than two individual tickets. Transfers lasted a couple of hours; more than enough time to ride up, look around and ride back down. Now you know too.

Mt. Washington Neighborhood


Pittsburgh Skyline

Coal Hill later got a more attractive name, Mount Washington, and a reputation for spectacular views of downtown Pittsburgh. We lucked out. It rained intermittently all day and then the clouds parted as we rode up the Monongahela Incline (map). From there we walked along the appropriately named Grandview Avenue. The path took us from the upper Monongahela station to the upper Duquesne station. I would recommend the same route for anyone visiting. It offered a nice scenic stroll of about eight-tenths of a mile (1.3 km).

The city placed frequent viewing platforms along the ridge too. We even stumbled upon a wedding taking place on one of the platforms. The best views of the city — the most iconic images — occurred at the upper Duquesne station. That station also offered a unusual opportunity, a chance to see the inner workings of the incline. Visitors could pop a couple of quarters into a turnstile and take a self-guided tour of the machinery beneath the station (photo). We watched ancient gears turn and cables roll as cars climbed and descended Mt. Washington.


Wrap Up

So far my incomplete city guide to Pittsburgh includes:

  • Point State Park
  • Great Allegheny Passage Bicycle Trail
  • Church Brew Works
  • Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium
  • Station Square
  • Just Ducky Tours
  • Monongahela Incline
  • Duquesne Incline
  • Mt. Washington Neighborhood

Someday I would like to return and see the city properly, not as an afterthought. Twelve Mile Circle readers should feel free to suggest attractions I should visit when I come back in a few months or years from now. You know what I like.


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

Purpose
12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
Subscribe
Don't miss an article -
Subscribe to the feed!

RSS G+ Twitter
RSS Twelve Mile Circle Google Plus Twitter
Categories
Monthly Archives
Days with Posts
June 2017
S M T W T F S
« May    
 123
45678910
11121314151617
18192021222324
252627282930