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


On May 21, 2017 · 2 Comments

I didn’t intent to feature Gibraltar, the British Overseas Territory on the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula. I talked about that one before. For example, a major road crossed its airport runway. Fun stuff!

The Rock of Gibraltar
The Rock of Gibraltar. Photo by Stian Olsen on Flickr (cc)

One other little tidbit interested me too, its etymology. Gibraltar came from the name of an Arab or Berber military leader, a Muslim, who crossed the straight and invaded Visigothic Hispania sometime around the year 710. They called him Tariq ibn Ziyad and the place where he crossed into Europe became Jebel el Tarik, the mountain of Tarik. Somehow Spanish speakers converted Jebel el Tarik into Gibraltar.

Interesting tangent aside, I actually wanted to focus on places named Gibraltar other than the famous Gibraltar. Longtime Twelve Mile Circle readers probably noticed how one article often led to additional articles. That happened here too. Remember Borders of Lago de Maracaibo? Well, I noticed that the Sucre exclave in Venezuela’s Zulia state also contained a town called Gibraltar.

Gibraltar in Venezuela

Cristo Negro
Cristo Negro on Wikimedia Commons (cc)

Once this smallish town of 4,000 residents held an exalted position in Spain’s colonial dominion. The empire needed a trade route into the continental interior from the north. Lake Maracaibo provided a means to penetrate deep into South America from the proper direction. The southern tip of the lake offered the nearest access to the settlement of Mérida in the Andes Mountains. A harbor would be really useful right there, and that led to the founding of San Antonio de Gibraltar in 1592 (map). Spain sent Gonzalo Piña Ludueña to the New World to make it happen and he came from Gibraltar. Thus, he provided a name for the new port. Agricultural products could now be extracted from the area to help feed the rest of Spain’s Caribbean possessions.

That didn’t mean Gibraltar existed peacefully. Pirates attacked incessantly for much of the Seventeenth Century. They sacked and looted Gibraltar at least a half dozen times between 1642 and 1678.

Native inhabitants also took their toll on Gibraltar. They attacked several times, the worst occurring in 1600. In that raid they tried to burn a large crucifix hanging in the local church. It would not burn and it became a revered object, the Cristo Negro (Black Christ) of Gibraltar. Officials moved their relic to Maracaibo for safekeeping until Gibraltar could be rebuilt. Unfortunately for Gibraltar, the residents of Maracaibo took a liking to the Cristo Negro and didn’t want to return it. Then the local council decided on a solution. They placed the crucifix on a boat without a crew and let God’s will determine where it should go. The wind blew it back to Maracaibo where it remains in its cathedral to this day, now called the Cristo Negro de Maracaibo.

Gibraltar in Australia

Gibraltar Rocks
Gibraltar Rocks. Photo by jennofarc on Flickr (cc)

I saw Gibraltar in Australia too. First I noticed Gibraltar Peak near Canberra (map). I liked that it fell within the confines of the Australian Capital Territory. Nothing more. Lots of peaks in the ACT towered above its 1,038 metre (3,406 ft) summit. Given that, I wondered why they named it Gibraltar. It did include some cliffs and a geological feature called the "Gibraltar Rocks" near its summit. Maybe it had a slight resemblance to the original. I couldn’t tell. It seemed like a nice area to visit either way. Gibraltar and other parts of the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve hosted tons of hiking and climbing trails.

Australia also contained an entire Gibraltar Range of mountains (map) in New South Wales within a national park of the same name. However none of the individual peaks appeared to be named Gibraltar, just the collective. The Gibraltar Range summit reached 1,106 metres (3,600 feet).

Other Gibraltar promontories existed elsewhere in Australia.

Gibraltar in Canada

The Geographic Board of Canada said that Alberta’s Gibraltar Mountain got its name because of its "fancied resemblance to the famous rock." It reached an altitude of 2,665 meters (8,743 feet), a part of the Canadian Rockies. The bivouac.com website included a photograph and offered additional information,

It was named in 1928 because some thought it resembled the Rock of Gibraltar in the Mediterranean Sea. In the summer of 1918 three young men working at the Burns coal mine ascended the mountain. While on the summit one of them was near the edge of the cliff when wind gusts pushed one of them over the edge and the body was never found. 40 years later when the buildings of the old Burns mine were about to be razed, a trunk with some of the victims belongings was found.

I agreed, I could see a passing resemblance between the mountain in Alberta and the actual Gibraltar. Also, people should stay away from the edges of cliffs. Wind gusts and such.

Gibraltar in the United States

Gibraltar, Michigan
Gibraltar, Michigan. Photo by Ken Lund on Flickr (cc)

Lots of Gibraltar places and geographic features existed within the United States too. I chose to focus on the City of Gibraltar mostly because it seemed to have the best online presence (map). The name clearly referred to the original in Europe, however it didn’t have any meaningful promontories. No rock towered above the rest. In fact it looked basically featureless, almost completely flat. I guessed the name referred to the city’s geographic position on the Detroit River instead. At Gibraltar the river flowed into Lake Erie, directly across from Canada. It seemed to be something akin to the strategic placement of the more famous Gibraltar.

Too bad I didn’t notice this place when I posted Venice of Whatever. A book written for the Gibraltar Historical Museum described Gibraltar as the "Venice of Michigan." Several canals ringed the islands forming much of the eastern side of town. Many of its five thousand residents lived on those islands with instant access to lake Erie. Clearly the inhabitants of Michigan’s Gibraltar loved their European analogies.

Centers of Michigan

On December 8, 2016 · 2 Comments

For once I wasn’t looking for the geographic center of something, as problematic as that could be given various definitions. Not in Michigan. And for the record, the town of St. Louis claimed to be the "middle of the mitten." It moved to a spot a few miles north-northwest of Cadillac taking the Upper Peninsula into account. However, that was beside the point. Instead I came across two Michigan place names while searching for completely different things. Their similarities deserved closer scrutiny.

Center Line

Center Line, Michigan

Actually I started by investigating Warren, Michigan and I noticed a hole. A big one. A nice rectangle right in the middle of it (map). Naturally I drilled down and discovered the town of Center Line. The much larger city of Warren completely surrounded it. Center Line described itself as "a small close-knit community of 8,257 residents… nestled inside the state’s 3rd largest city"

Warren and Center Line both began as villages in a rural corner of Macomb County. However, Center Line incorporated first, becoming a city in 1936. Warren also started growing rapidly around that same time. Warren Township minus Center Line incorporated as a city in 1957. It simply exploded in population to the point that it completely overshadowed Center Line over the next couple of decades.

I also wondered about the name. There didn’t seem to be any line and it certainly didn’t seem to be the center of anything other than the city of Warren itself, which it predated anyway. The town’s website mentioned "several theories" which also meant nobody really knew the answer. The most plausible explanation seemed to be,

There were three Indian trails leading from the fort at Detroit to other trading posts in the northern wilderness. The first was the river trail which followed the river and ended at Port Huron; the second was the Saginaw trail and ended at Mackinaw at the Straits of Mackinaw. Through the center of the two trails, the Indians had beaten a trail which followed the "center line" [as observed] by the French.

The trail became Sherwood Avenue (map).

Michigan Center

Michigan Center, Michigan

Later I also discovered Michigan Center. Center Line and Michigan Center fell nowhere near each other. A good 85 miles (140 kilometres) separated them. Nonetheless finding a second Center in Michigan excited me. It doesn’t take much to get me going.

The name derived from the Michigan Meridian. Benjamin Hough surveyed the meridian in 1815, marking 84° 21′ 53″ west longitude. Settlers then moved into the area and platted Michigan Center a few years later in 1837. However, the meridian didn’t pass directly through Michigan Center. I measured it. The meridian ran between Michigan Center and the neighboring town of Jackson. I guess they figured it was close enough. Who would really know? Seriously.

Fort Defiance

Fort Defiance,  Defiance Ohio
Fort Defiance, Defiance Ohio. Photo by Tim Tonjes on Flickr (cc)

Then I went down a little tangent. I wondered why Hough followed such an odd longitude when he surveyed the Michigan Meridian. The line actually pointed farther south into a neighboring state. There stood Fort Defiance at the confluence of the Auglaize and Maumee Rivers (map). A town called Defiance, Ohio later grew up there.

General "Mad" Anthony Wayne built Fort Defiance in 1794.

Following the Battle of Fallen Timbers, Wayne utilized Fort Defiance as his base of operations. He ordered the destruction of all American Indian villages and crops within a fifty-mile radius of the fort… Until the War of 1812, Fort Defiance served as one of America’s western-most outposts in the Ohio Country and helped protect local citizens from American Indian attacks…

Fort Defiance also figured in the 1807 Treaty of Detroit. The United States negotiated the treaty with several Native American tribes, namely the Chippewa, Ottawa, Potawatomi and Wyandot. Land to the east of a line drawn due north of Fort Defiance came under American control. That’s why Hough needed to survey that line. It served briefly as an international boundary.

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