Heartland, Part 6 (Americana)

On June 25, 2017 · 1 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.


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).


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).


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.


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 4 (Beyond Covered)

On June 18, 2017 · 2 Comments

I couldn’t seem to shake my ever-growing fascination with bridges during my recent Heartland excursion. It started a few years ago, specifically with covered bridges, and expanded to various other styles for some unknown reason. I wouldn’t put this particular fascination at the same level as my county counting or my brewery obsessions although it always seemed to lurk in the background. By that, it meant I probably wouldn’t travel too far out of the way to see a bridge. I didn’t feel any special need to map any of my individual visits either. Nonetheless, certain particularly peculiar bridges might merit a minor detour. A few made the grade this time around too.

Dromedary – Bactrian – Mottville

Mottville Bridge

As an example, an obsolete bridge over the St. Joseph River at Mottville, Michigan might seem like an unlikely place of pilgrimage. However I stopped there anyway. Last summer I couldn’t get to Cass and St. Joseph Counties on my Michigan trip and it left an ugly empty doughnut hole on my map. Little Mottville sat practically astride the two as did its lovely camelback bridge, just on the St. Joseph side. I left my car at a little park at the edge of the bridge and strolled into Cass. This became an extremely rare "walk only" county capture (photo). That’s right, I crossed into Cass on foot! I’ve done that only one time previously, maybe twice, as I noted a couple of years ago.

I was there in Mottville, the bridge was there too, and I figured I might as well look around (map).

Mottville’s camelback bridge actually demonstrated genuine historical significance and architectural grace. The website HistoricBridges.org practically gushed about it being the "longest example of a curved chord through girder bridge" and "the maximum potential of the bridge type." The town also showed abundant pride in its engineering marvel.

Michigan served as the epicenter of the camelback style during the 1920’s. The state even took it a step further by increasing the prevailing standard 60-foot spans to 90-foot spans. The bridge at Mottville was truly unique because it included three spans, extending to 270 feet (82 metres), perhaps the only remaining example of this type. That significance led to its preservation even after it needed to be replaced. It also led to the creation of the little park where I left my car to visit Cass County on foot. They built a new bridge a few feet away.

East LaPorte Street Footbridge

East LaPorte Footbridge

As hard as I looked and as hard as I tried, I couldn’t find a lot of interesting things in north-eastern Indiana. Farms sprouted out there after settlers chased away the remaining Native Americans. Then nobody did anything and nothing else happened, or so it seemed. I apologize for making it sound boring because, in fact, I enjoyed the scenery. Nonetheless I found little to captivate a geo-geek who enjoyed oddball attractions.

Our route departed Fort Wayne on U.S. Route 30, heading diagonally northwest towards the bottom of Lake Michigan. That took us through Plymouth. Rather than bypass it, I noticed I could drive into town and visit an old footbridge (map). Granted, it didn’t offer much of significance beyond the local community although it fell along our path and it seemed like a nice place to stretch our legs. That’s how we found ourselves on the dead-end of E. LaPorte Street at a rickety bridge only six feet (two metres) wide. I hoped to sneak in-and-out quickly, unnoticed, and of course the nearest neighbors happened to be working in their yard. They looked at me with weird stares. I deserved it because after all I was walking under, around, and over this not particularly spectacular iron-and-wood bridge taking a bunch of photos like I’d discovered El Dorado.

The footbridge crossed the Yellow River, connecting Plymouth’s commercial district to a residential area. It seemed superfluous today although it probably mattered more in 1898 when automobiles barely existed. HistoricBridges.org liked this one too. As the site said, "This extremely rare and highly unusual bridge is the only one of its kind in Indiana." Then it went into excruciating detail describing its unique features.

Red Covered Bridge

Red Covered Bridge

Then I returned to my more traditional interest in covered bridges. Two examples crossed above Big Bureau Creek in close proximity to Princeton, Illinois. The first one took an appropriately descriptive name, the Red Covered Bridge (map). It included an amusing sign above the entryway, an obvious nod to tourists.

Five dollar fine for driving more than twelve horses, mules or cattle at one time or for leading any beast faster than a walk on or across the bridge.

It reminded me of a similar sign I saw on the Cornish-Windsor Bridge between New Hampshire and Vermont a few years ago. That one seemed to be a bargain by comparison. It levied a fine of only two dollars and it applied solely to horses.

The Red Covered Bridge dated to 1863. It was once formed part of the old Galena Trail coach road. One would hardly know that today. Newer roads turned this into a sleepy stretch in the middle of nowhere long ago. That made it great for visiting, though. I could walk right across it and not worry about getting squished. Still, I paid attention because an actual road ran through it.

Captain Swift Covered Bridge

Captain Swift Bridge

The second covered bridge didn’t have the same pedigree. I’m pretty sure few would consider a bridge built in 2006 to be "historical." Still, I didn’t need to drive out of my way to see the Captain Swift bridge so I stopped for a few moments (map). It looked old because its design included a lot of traditional features. However, it conformed to modern traffic and safety codes. The deck carried two lanes of vehicles just like any other 21st Century bridge, the only difference being its wooden cover.

I found an article that offered a simple explanation. Tourism. The earlier Captain Swift bridge — not covered — was "simply rusting away." Local officials thought a modern covered bridge might pay for itself. It would attract visitors who would then spend money in town. It worked for me. I bought gas in Princeton on the return trip to the Interstate after I visited the bridge. Bureau County could chalk me up as a success, albeit a sample size of one.

This wasn’t the only time a pit stop played a role in my trip. I captured a county that way too. Illinois’ Kendall County fell just a few feet north of Interstate 80. I noticed I could take an easy exit and drive just across the county line to a gas station, and return to the highway without minimal effort (map). These things really did figure into my driving calculations.

Oh, and I found Captain Swift. Apparently he really was an actual seafarer. Eventually he left the sea and wandered into the Midwest to became an early pioneer in Princeton, Illinois.

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

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