Last Stand

On June 15, 2016 · 4 Comments

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
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.
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.

On June 15, 2016 · 4 Comments

New England, Part 6 (Roundup)

On June 12, 2016 · 1 Comments

I came home sooner than I would have wanted, the journey over, a feeling that always seemed to settle upon me after a trek through hidden rural corners. I decompressed and began to process a trove of memories, sharing many of them with the Twelve Mile Circle audience. Some of those thoughts didn’t fit neatly into bundles so I collected them into their own indiscriminate pile.

CTMQ


Millwright's

By now I’m sure everyone figured out that I finally got to see Steve from CTMQ in person again. We met for dinner at a well-regarded restaurant, Millwright’s in Simsbury, Connecticut (map). We caught-up on a lot of things since our epic Connecticut Road Trip of years ago and swapped a couple of rare bottles of craft beer to enjoy later.

Go read Steve’s blog. His writing and insight is much better than mine.


Satan’s Kingdom


Satan's Kingdom

Reader "Joel" sent a message last March about a place he’d seen on a map of Northfield, Massachusetts. It was called Satan’s Kingdom. Indeed it was a real place and clearly included in the US Geological Survey’s Geographic Names Information System. There was even a Satan’s Kingdom Wildlife Management Area with a nice trail that followed "an old logging road from Old Vernon Rd. to the top of the ridge" with a "view of the valley."

I tried my hardest to find the history of Satan’s Kingdom and how it earned its devilish name. The only real source I saw, such as it was, came from a segment aired on a local television station. A person who worked at the wildlife management area explained that the name traced back to colonial times. It wasn’t meant to reference anything truly satanic, rather it served as a warning to people long ago that they needed to be careful in an uncharted area. There might be hostile animals or other dangers. That explanation seemed a lot more plausible than legends of demons roaming the dark woods as I bet circulated around Northfield.

Of course I had to visit Satan’s Kingdom and sift through the evidence firsthand. First I had to find it. I’d seen photographs on the Intertubes although nobody specified the exact location. I took an educated guess and picked the right spot. It was time for me to do my good deed for the day — the sign was at the trailhead, specifically at latitude/longitude 42.705583,-72.492348. You’re welcome. Tell Beelzebub I said hello.


Breweries


Northampton Brewery

Well, at least I didn’t dedicate an entire article to brewery visits this time like I’ve done before. My philosophy remained the same, that I needed to eat somewhere so it might as well be a place with decent beer. I visited ten breweries and/or brewpubs during the excursion, all but Harpoon for the first time.

  • Old Forge Brewing; Danville, PA
  • Redhook Brewery; Portsmouth, NH
  • Harpoon Brewery; Windsor, VT
  • Rock Art Brewery; Morrisville, VT
  • Northampton Brewery; Northampton, MA
  • The People’s Pint; Greenfield, MA
  • Brutopia; Cranston, RI
  • Willimantic Brewing; Willimantic, CT
  • Mill House Brewing; Poughkeepsie, NY
  • Hyde Park Brewing; Hyde Park. NY

Dr. Seuss


Dr. Seuss Sculpture Garden

What a pleasure it was to stumble upon the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden at the Springfield Museums in Massachusetts (map).

The five bronze sculptures include Dr. Seuss busily working at his drawing board with the Cat in the Hat standing at his side as his muse, and lots of other favorite Dr. Seuss characters such as Horton the Elephant, Yertle the Turtle, the Grinch and his dog Max, the Lorax, Gertrude McFuzz, Things One and Two, and the lovable Thidwick the Moose.

The official website for the sculpture garden then went on to explain,

Theodor Seuss Geisel was born on Howard Street in Springfield in 1904 and grew up on Fairfield Street in the city’s Forest Park neighborhood. His father was a parks commissioner and was in charge of the Forest ParkZoo, a regular playground for young Theodor Geisel. Springfield imagery can be seen throughout his work in the names of streets, the drawings of buildings, the names of his characters, and numerous other references.

It’s been a long time since I read any Dr. Seuss tales although I remembered all of his characters fondly. The sculpture garden brought back a flood of pleasant memories from childhood. Someday I’ll have to see if I can find any of those Springfield references. There must have been some pretty odd places in town if buildings in Springfield influenced the architecture of Dr. Seuss books.


Oh Yeh, Natural Beauty


New England Marathon Series - Day 3

My whirlwind tour did little justice to an appreciation of the natural beauty of New England. We drove from race-to-race, touring each afternoon as we could, then going to bed tired and early so we would be ready for the next race starting at 6:00 am. That didn’t give us nearly enough time to really dig in and enjoy all that the scenery had to offer. Everything was a quick drive-by, a blur. Still, beauty sometimes appeared unexpectedly; a mountain view from a highway, a small town set deep within a hollow, a stream flowing through forest. The races were all held in very rural locations and sometimes the terrain provided wonderful backdrops, like these rapids in Vermont (map). I don’t think most of the runners noticed it though.

Then it was time to leave.


New England articles:

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

On June 12, 2016 · 1 Comments

New England, Part 5 (Yes, More Bridges)

Bridges? Not another article about bridges gasped a sizable portion of the Twelve Mile Circle audience. Yes, I decided to feature more bridges, all from my latest journey. This time I added a bit of a twist. The first two bridges were more interesting than usual. Then I segued back to my standard fare of covered bridges that one should feel free to read about or simply look at the pretty pictures and move along. I won’t take it personally.

Willimantic Footbridge


Willimantic Footbridge

Steve from CTMQ and I continued trading tweets as my path finally hit Connecticut and we approached our in-person visit. I’d made it as far as Willimantic for lunch at Willimantic Brewing and would see Steve that evening. He noticed my lunchtime tweet and suggested I see a nearby geo-oddity. It was a bridge. He cited a Wikipedia page on the subject:

Willimantic Footbridge: Willimantic is the home of the Willimantic Footbridge (established in 1907), which is the only footbridge in the United States to connect two state highways, as well as crossing all three major forms of transportation (road, rail, and river).

It sounded fascinating and it was an easy walk so I strolled there after lunch (map). Wikipedia didn’t have a completely accurate listing however, a billionth example of why one shouldn’t place complete confidence in its claims. A marker at the base of the bridge said,

A landmark since 1906, the 635-foot-long footbridge connects the city’s commercial core with a residential area to the south. It is the only such structure east of the Mississippi to span sidewalks, vehicle traffic, an active railroad and a river…

The Willimantic Footbridge represented something remarkable either for the United States or for some portion thereof, I supposed. I walked from one end and back, then headed to my car for the onward journey towards Hartford. I never figured out why Willimantic even had a pedestrian bridge. It didn’t seem like it offered much of a shortcut. Maybe the larger crossings came later.


Walkway Over the Hudson


Walkway Over the Hudson

I debunked the Willimantic Footbridge claim the very next day. The-Very-Next-Day. I hadn’t planned to poke a hole in the pride and joy of Willimantic, it just happened. The Walkway Over the Hudson first appeared on 12MC in an article I called Impressive Pedestrian Bridges. It began as a railroad bridge, fell into decay, and blossomed again when preservationists converted it to pedestrian use, a linear park over the Hudson River. Guinness World Records proclaimed its 1.28 mile (2.06 kilometre) span "the world’s longest pedestrian bridge." I’d hope to see this ever since I started planning my trip. I knew we’d go there once we got to Poughkeepsie, New York (map).

Thoughts of Willimantic came to mind as I walked over the mighty Hudson. I passed above streets, several residential and even a highway. I passed over two sets of train tracks on either side of the river including one that serviced Amtrak. Of course I passed over the Hudson River itself, considerably more imposing than the diminutive Willimantic River. I supposed the marker in Willimantic must have been posted before 2009 when the Walkway Over the Hudson opened as a pedestrian passage. They needed to change it to read "the only such structure east of the Hudson," or something like that, although it wasn’t nearly as impressive. Or maybe they could qualify it by calling it the only such structure designed as a pedestrian bridge. Or maybe they could just pretend the Walkway Over the Hudson didn’t exist, which is probably what actually happened.


Days fell into themes. There was a day of geo-oddities, a day of history, a day of county counting, and a day of breweries. Our drive between races in Maine and New Hampshire was particularly brief so we had plenty of extra time to explore the countryside. Ironically, there wasn’t much to see besides the scenery. There were plenty of covered bridges though, all in close alignment while our path seemed followed the Contoocook River. I’d never hear of the Contoocook. It flowed for about 70 mi (110 km) through an attractive stretch of southern New Hampshire popular with anglers and boaters, a perfect backdrop for covered bridges.



Four bridges could be visited easily in less than an hour.

Contoocook Railroad Bridge


Contoocook Railroad Bridge

With a river called Contoocook, one might naturally expect a town called Contoocook, and so it came to pass. A railroad came through that town and over that river, and it needed a bridge. This was the first time I’d seen a covered bridge built specifically for trains (map). An historic marker at the site explained,

Built in 1899 on the granite abutments of an older span, this is the world’s oldest surviving covered railroad bridge. It was probably designed by Boston & Maine Railroad engineer Jonathan Parker Snow (1848-1933) and built by carpenter David Hazelton (1832-1908). Under Snow, the Boston & Maine utilized wooden bridges on its branch lines until after 1900, longer than any other major railroad…

Remembering once again that Willimantic marker, I didn’t know whether I could trust the longevity claim or not. Who was I to doubt it though?


Rowell’s Bridge


Rowell's Bridge

Next came Hopkinton and Rowell’s Covered Bridge (map). This crossing was old, built in 1853, and still stood strong. We drove across it a couple of times and it seemed quite sturdy.


Henniker Bridge


Henniker Bridge

At the complete opposite end of history stood the Henniker Bridge, taking the name of the town where it stood (map). Its modern construction reflected traditional techniques so it was hard to tell that it dated only to 1972. This was more of an architectural statement than a utilitarian structure, a footpath between the main campus of New England College and nearby athletic fields on the other side of the Contoocook. It could be difficult to find parking on a busy campus although it wasn’t a problem here. The college dedicated a couple of 15-minute parking spots near the base of the bridge, behind Colby Hall, one of its residential buildings.


County Bridge


County Bridge

The final covered bridge on this brief excursion along the Contoocook River fell along our direct route without even a minor detour (map). We couldn’t have missed this bridge if we’d wanted to because we drove right across it on the way to our race at Greenfield State Park. Here the Contoocook marked the boundary between the towns of Hancock and Greenfield so that added slightly to my interest. This was a "newer" bridge too, albeit not quite as new as Henniker, being built in 1937.


New England articles:

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

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