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.
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
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
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
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.
I discovered distant relatives during my ongoing family research who lived in Angola, New York about a century ago. That seemed like an odd location for a town to carry such a name. I wondered if it could have been a coincidence, perhaps Angola was a corruption of a Native American word bestowed by the Iroquois who were known to inhabit the area. Certainly it couldn’t pertain to the Angola in Africa, I thought. What possible connection could it have to Africa?
That made me turn to the Geographic Names Information System where I discovered several other places named Angola. Some were located in the southern United States and I suspected those traced back to slavery associations. However that seemed far-fetched for a town on the western extremity of New York just outside of Buffalo (map).
"ANGOLA" …everyone asks where did the "Name" come from… Many years ago when the trains came through this area, it was called Evans Station. The people applied to the Federal Government to put a post office in this area. The Quakers had started a Colony this side of Gowanda in the Collins area and were known to help many in need. The same Quakers also helped people of Angola, Africa. In 1855, when the Angola Post Office located in Taylor Hollow (used by the Quakers) closed, the Federal Government offered it to this area and said "here is your post office" and authorities thought it best to move the post office to this area… hence the name "Angola."
That seemed plausible. The Religious Society of Friends — Quakers — had indeed settled in western New York, including within the vicinity of Gowanda during the very earliest part of the 19th Century in Collins Township. The Quakers were staunch abolitionists by this time so it would seem likely that they selected Angola as a name in solidarity with Africans rather than as an endorsement of enslavement.
The mound in Angola, Indiana
Another noteworthy Angola existed in northeastern Indiana (map), practically on top of the Indiana-Michigan-Ohio tripoint. Information was scant however one source claimed, "In 1838 when the peoples from New York migrated west to the Vermont Settlement they created the town of Angola, named after Angola, New York." If that were the case it must have been named for the original Quaker settlement because the later village of Angola, New York wasn’t named until 1855.
The Local History Department of the Carnegie Library of Steuben County offered another theory, most simply,
Angola received it’s name about the time the place was chosen as the county seat and it is said, before there was no other known place called Angola in this country or anywhere else, save in Africa. The name is supposed to have been chosen simply as being new and uncommon and one that pleased the chooser of it.
Judge Thomas Gale, the man who selected the name, was a known abolitionist. Indiana had banned slavery in its Constitution when it became a state in 1816. Additionally, the town of Angola was firmly entrenched in Northern sentiments during the Civil War and constructed a large monument known locally as "The Mound" to commemorate its Union soldiers from Steuben County. It honored all four military branches that fought in the war (infantry, artillery, cavalry and navy). While the original inspiration for the Angola name may never be understood completely, it seemed highly unlikely to have derived from any pro-slavery sentiment.
Angola in Louisiana presented the exact opposite condition. Isaac Franklin made his fortune selling slaves, establishing one of the largest slave trading firms in the nation, Armfield & Franklin. Money in hand, he pivoted from wealthy slave trader to wealthy plantation owner, controlling several hundred slaves and large plantations in Tennessee and Louisiana. His Louisiana holdings, which weren’t even his regular home, consisted of four contiguous plantations that he’d purchased: Panola, Belle View, Killarney and Angola. Franklin died in 1846 and his wife joined the properties and later sold them. The united property assumed the Angola name, inspired originally by the African people who had been subjugated and forced to toil there in the fields. The state of Louisiana acquired the Angola property in 1901 and built a prison on the site, becoming known as Louisiana State Penitentiary or simply Angola.
I was under the impression that slaves taken from Angola all went to Brazil because they were both under the colonial domination of Portugal. Most did, however some went elsewhere.
One of the biggest surprises about the history of the slave trade to the United States is the high percentage of our ancestors who were shipped to this country from Angola. African Americans have traditionally thought of Ghana and Senegal as our most common ancestral homes on the African continent, but almost half of all of the slaves arriving in this country were shipped here from two sources: Senegambia, yes, but also, Angola.
It is thought that about a quarter of African-American ancestry came from Angola. Many of those leaving Angola passed through Morro da Cruz near Luanda (map), where they were baptized before they were packed onto ships for the notorious journey through the middle passage. The site has been preserved as the Museu Nacional da Escravatura, the National Museum of Slavery.
Of the three Angola locations large enough to have histories readily available, one was an artifact of slavery nostalgia, one was not, and one might have been named simply because it sounded interesting.
The rich history of the Lower Mississippi valley didn’t start with the Europeans. What they left behind however became an indelible legacy along the banks of a river that mirrored the growing pains of a nascent nation and continued to reverberate into modern times. We attempted to immerse ourselves in various facets spanning multiple centuries. I wouldn’t even pretend that this 12MC summary was at all comprehensive; numerous scholarly works written by professionals over their lifetimes and presented in exacting detail have been devoted to these subjects. I had space only for a few words.
Europeans first settled along the Lower Mississippi in 1686, having pushed inland from the Gulf of Mexico. Explorers stopped at the banks of the Arkansas River near its confluence with the Mississippi, a place that came to be known as the Arkansas Post. The French established the first post there under the command of Henri de Tonti and used it as a base to trade for furs with Native Americans from nearby Quapaw villages. They later used Arkansas Post as a military garrison to defend French claims in the Lower Mississippi valley. The exact location oscillated over the years as hostilities, flooding and various other uncertainties dictated.
France ceded land west of the Mississippi River to Spain in 1763 as part of a series of complicated land transactions at the conclusion of the Seven Years’ War. Arkansas Post became a Spanish possession. It later returned to French control briefly at the beginning of the 19th Century, and then conveyed to the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.
Arkansas Post became the first capital of the Arkansas Territory in 1819. It began a long spiral towards irrelevance when Little Rock became the capital in 1821, and of course Little Rock never relinquished the title. I tried to envision what Arkansas Post would have looked like today if it had remained the capital. That was hard to imagine with only a handful of houses set deep in the countryside.
Cotton cultivation underpinned much of the Lower Mississippi as we continued farther south and downstream into Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. Cotton defined the history of this area and extended deep into the larger narrative of the United States. It was cotton that delivered extreme wealth to a small segment of the population, an economic windfall built on the sweat of enslaved Africans and their descendants. This was a crop characterized by intense, backbreaking toil, with unimaginable riches going to white slaveholders at the expense of those who labored in the fields. Eventually this immense inequality would rip a nation apart and spark a civil war.
The Louisiana State Cotton Museum in Lake Providence (map) brought this story to life from the earliest antebellum days through the present. Cotton continues to remain an important crop within the Lower Mississippi watershed albeit now largely mechanized.
Anchor and Chain
Columbus-Belmont Park (map) marked the site of a Confederate fortification that existed during the early part of the Civil War circa late 1861 – early 1862. The riverbank formed a high bluff on the Kentucky side of the shore, an excellent defensive position for cannons to fire upon enemy gunboats passing below. The Lower Mississippi was a vital commercial highway and each side fought hard to control it.
Confederate General Leonidas Polk fortified the bluff with artillery and called it Fort DeRussey. He then took an additional step, a rather unusual one. He stretched a mile-long chain across the width of the Mississippi River to slow his adversaries and make them even easier targets for his guns. The anchor and chain spanned the border between Kentucky and Missouri, on the eastern and western banks. The plan didn’t work as intended. Instead, Ulysses S. Grant took a path of lesser resistance. He moved his Union forces overland on the side not protected by artillery. The Confederate army abandoned its "Gibraltar of the West" without firing a single shot to defend it.
The anchor and a portion of chain survived the war and are preserved within the park.
National Civil Rights Museum
African Americans continued to suffer deprivation and repression, a troubling story recounted as we walked slowly through sequential exhibits at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee (map). The museum had just finished a multimillion dollar renovation only ten days prior to our visit and it was at the top of its form. The story hit with an emotional punch, a journey of suffering, struggle and ultimately hope.
The entire set of exhibits built to a final crescendo of immense historical significance, the Lorraine Motel, the site where Rev. Martin Luther King was assassinated on April 4, 1968. He’d been staying at the motel since arriving in Memphis several days earlier to support a sanitation workers strike. James Earl Ray fired a shot from a rooming house across the street, striking King and killing him as he stood on the second-floor balcony outside of his room.
The museum was built around the old Lorraine Motel, preserving its façade and rooms. A path led through the museum, climbing uphill gradually while offering context to the Civil Rights struggle, delivering visitors ultimately to King’s Room 306, preserved as it appeared in 1968 and protected behind plexiglass. From there, the story led across the street to the rooming house and a view from the assassin’s perch. Chilling. Go up to the photo above and select the right arrow to scroll through entire set.
This museum should be placed high on anyone’s "must see" list when traveling through Memphis.