The 2015 Florida Tropical Weavers’ Guild Conference was held at Lake Yale Baptist Conference Center in Leesburg, Florida from March 19-22. One of the 2½ day work-shops was Nantucket Lightship Basket Weaving. Here’s what the brochure said:
Create a Classic Nantucket Basket — Don Ferris, Instructor. Nantuckets are beautiful, intricate heirlooms. Help preserve the history of these treasures by experiencing every critical step in the process and creating an authentic classic. You’ll craft and set up the staves, weave the entire basket, complete the rim, do the finishing steps and dress it with “scrimshaw”. Students also receive an exclusive, take-home review manual to help complete future projects. It’s an enriched learning environment with both student-to-student and student-to-teacher reinforcement.
It was a touch-and-go as to whether I’d be able to make it. I’d signed the contract in the Spring of 2013, too late for the 2014 roster. Like the Campbell School, they book teachers a year ahead.
The problem, if you haven’t picked it up in another story, is that the over-exertion of remodeling our Florida house during the preceding five months caused my right leg to start buckling without notice. It was a combination of my already compromised back and a pinched nerve. I started exercises to rebuild the quadriceps, but I was still not very mobile.
The Lake Yale Baptist Conference Center is a 300 acre facility with a mile of lakefront, about half way between us and Orlando. It was founded in the 1960’s as a retreat and youth ministry center. Starting with two camps and an administration building, it has grown exponentially to include adult accommodations, full food service, multiple conference rooms . . . and a campground! I drove the Big Horn over there on Thursday. Dot and friends Keith and Cherie followed and took care of setup and unloading all of my supplies into the classroom.
With a cane and a lot of care, I was able to make it back and forth to my classroom and meals. Rather than walk around the studio, I gathered my eight students around me for instruction. They were very gracious about bringing their problems to my central station rather than make me hop around.
I can normally teach the course in 15 hours. In this case, we were pinched for time, because the time frame was condensed, leaving no room for the “overtime” that most students put in. As a result, some of them were unable to complete the last step. I was prepared, however to send them home with the necessary finish, brush and plastic gloves.
Dot and my dear friends came back at the end to rescue me. I really enjoyed the experience, but it’s much easier to teach here at Sandy Oaks. I can spread out the classes and don’t have to transport a dozen big tubs of equipment and supplies!
After completing our five month western swing in October, 2013, we settled down at Sandy Oaks in Beverly Hills, Florida for our second winter of snowbirding. This stay was twice as long — from mid October to mid April. We got much more involved in campground activities; there was something going on every day. I had an expanded student base for teaching Nantucket Lightship Baskets. And we started to call more and more people our friends.
We headed directly to our home in Churchton, Maryland in April. It wasn’t a matter of wanting to be off the road. It was a matter of wanting to re-examine our life there. So far we’d been home just 85 days since the beginning of our journey in October of 2009. We had neighbors and neighborhoods and medical people to reconnect with and long term associations to cherish — especially with the kids and grandkids in nearby northern Virginia. Schip-Dude and Allie were familiar with the yard and their homey routines, but Melody only spent a week here last fall and Tom was new to the territory. So they, too, had learning and adapting to do as well.
On top of that, we realized how much the house and yard were crying for our attention. While our tenant had done her best to keep it up, no one treats your property the way you do! So we backed the Big Horn into its side yard driveway, plugged it in and completely unloaded it. Whatever the next step was, it needed a thorough cleaning. And those short-dated cans in the back of the pantry closet needed to be consumed! Then we got to work — Dot on the yard and I on the house — taking lots of breaks to rekindle relationships.
It wasn’t too long before we realized that our situation wasn’t going to go exactly as expected. It wasn’t a “pick up where you left off” situation. Don made a run at renewing his relationship with the Summer Garden Theatre but felt very out of the loop. Things were great with the family, but so much else had changed — or moved on. The house was comfortable — after all, we’d lovingly created it out of a sixty year old Sears Roebuck cottage fifteen years earlier. And what a view (above)! But we didn’t remember how much upkeep was involved.
We had a saying about the dogs on travel. “They didn’t mind their yard changing from time to time as long as their house remained the same.” We started feeling a corollary to that — we loved it when our yard changed, because there was always so much more to see! The bottom line was that it wouldn’t be too long before we hit the road again. And with the prospect of spending up to half the year at Sandy Oaks and up to the other half on the road, the value of a Churchton “base camp” began to diminish. Within thirty days, we started outlining “Plan B.”
When the ball started rolling, it gathered momentum. First decision: We wanted to still have roots down somewhere. I asked Dot where else she’d like to live, and she quickly said “Sandy Oaks.” In addition to a couple hundred RV sites, there were about 40 mobile homes in the park. Some were rentals; others were snowbird-owned. A dozen or so were occupied year ’round. Florida was also an excellent state for retirees, and the west-central location actually had seasons. We thought it could be perfect for spending six months there and beating it out of state for the hot summer.
So we got on the phone to see if any houses were for sale. Rosemary, the office manager and a good friend, sent us pictures of the one she knew about — a singe wide, old, and with almost no improvements. Wee said no.
Rosemary mentioned our interest to Anne Melanson, the resort’s General Manager. Anne and her husband Doug had purchased a number of the houses from foreclosures and abandonment. Doug and his brother did the work to flip them over to new ownership. Sadly, Doug succumbed to a vehicle accident in early 2014. A large unit was unimproved, and Anne relayed to us that she’d kick out the tenants and sell it to us for a very modest price.
I flew down in early July to see it and take copious pictures for Dot’s review. We recognized that it would take many hours and many dollars to make it livable for us. But we saw potential, and we liked the fact that it had enough property to insure privacy. Living there offered an additional benefit: we could park the RV in field storage for a gentle price when it wasn’t in use. After three days of negotiation, we signed up.
The next two months were a whirlwind. We listed our house with the broker who’d handled our rental. We had seven lookers in seven days, at which time the second couple contracted for it at our asking price. We negotiated a closing date for August 15. We couldn’t take possession of the new place until 9/1, so we decided to spend the two weeks camping out and visiting family. We hired U-Haul to provide storage containers and deliver them to Florida — worked out okay except for the fact that the need for a sixth container sent the price spiraling by one third. After the closing, we parked our car at a son’s house and headed to Pennsylvania, where we spent a week with Dot’s mom (91) and stepfather (90). Then we headed to Virginia, camping near the boys and their families while we took advantage of Labor Day sale prices by.dropping a bundle at Home Depot for five new appliances.
On the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, we started for “home.” Then a near disaster: the front of the Big Horn started opening up from a frame failure. We drove the last lap on Monday with trepidation and made it, parking in an assigned site and looking forward to staying put in the trailer while we began renovating our new digs.
much less keeping it up. When I asked Dot where else she’d like to live, she said, “Sandy Oaks, of course.” Thus, our snowbird home became our permanent address with the acquisition of a large, 34 year old “double-wide” in the Resort, which we have since converted to a traditional home. The story of this, our second total renovation, is covered elsewhere in this site.
For all intents and purposes, Springfield was the last stop on our 2013 Journey. We had gotten off to a rough start, having lost our dear Gracie and experienced so many problems with the Big Horn. But it settled down to a relatively carefree trip after that. We took plenty of time to bring Melody into the fold, and she responded and acclimated well. We got to spend time with some very good friends that we don’t see very often. We re-visited our favorite city. And we found a treasure trove of new stops to share with you.
We were running a bit longer than expected and were anxious to find our way to winter quarters. Our final destination was Sandy Oaks RV Resort for our second annual stay — this time a full six months. So three whistle stops later, in Paducah, KY, Chattanooga, TN and Tifton, GA, we pulled in to a warm welcome and found the same site waiting for us.
The heating system continued its funky ways, but we now had adequate warmth to postpone getting it fixed before the Florida winter settled in.
We were heading for Davenport, IA next. But our central propane heating system quit working. We figured that the subsequent destination – Springfield, IL – would offer more opportunity for mobile repair. So we made it to Illinois State Fairgrounds seven hours later and met a wonderful couple who were the caretakers every year. They not only fixed us up with a nice spot but called the local guy who could “fix anything.” We settled in. Suddenly the heating system was working fine!
There was certainly plenty to see. And it wasn’t all Lincoln stuff. That weekend at the fairground featured a Junior Horse Show, which we planned to take in. Even better, the following weekend included an all-breed dog show. We contacted our dear friend, Michele Kasten, who lives about 90 miles south, to see if she’d be there. Not only was she coming to show her Schips, but she was setting up the fund raising booth for her non-profit, Midwest Schipperke Rescue (MSR). Michele is the Schipperke’s best friend; in addition to being both a champion breeder and rescuer, she is president of MSR, an officeer of the Greater St. Louis Schip Club, and actively on the board of more than a half dozen other clubs, including the Schipperke Club of America. She’s responsible for two members of our current rescue family, and all of our personal fund raising efforts earn money for MSR.
Our first stop downtown was the Visitors Center. We learned, to our relief, that most of the exhibits were state or privately funded and open. Only Lincoln’s home was closed by the Federal shutdown. Another nice thing we discovered was that our handicap sticker entitled us to free parking at all meters.
Just around the corner, we started out at the Lincoln Presidential Museum and the Presidential Library across the street. Upon entering the Museum, you’re confronted by a circular atrium the Lincoln family standing proudly in the center. Unfortunately, this is the point at which you had to put your camera away. Five entrances around the atrium led to a variety of exhibits. The two main galleries are designated with a replica of Abe’s boyhood home (we’ve been there!) and the façade of the White House. The third gallery is an outstanding multi-media presentation led by a live host and featuring holographic overlays on backgrounds of many experiences, beginning in the archives and morphing to a Civil War battlefield. Next is a replication of the Union Theater with another state-of-the-art presentation called Lincoln’s Eyes. Through them, we visualize key personal and political dramas confronting Lincoln throughout his life – especially slavery. The Treasures Gallery quickly rounds out one’s visit.
The Old State Capitol building was built between 1837 and 1840. It was the fifth capitol building in the state, but by the end of the Civil War, it was inadequate. The current Capitol, inaugurated in 1868, is the last – to date, at least.
In its brief tenure, the Old State Capitol building saw Lincoln’s final service in the state legislature. He tried hundreds of cases in its Supreme Court, made his “House Divided” speech, and laid in state after his death before 75,000 mourners. We had a tour conducted by a woman who was a professional history interpreter; she rotated among state venues. She guided us through the governor’s suite, law library, legislative facilities and Supreme Court chambers. She’s pictured at right describing a grandfather’s clock in the Governor’s office.
In the second floor rotunda, outside the House chamber, stands a statue of Stephen A. Douglas, Lincoln’s opposition both for Senate (Abe lost) and the Presidency (Abe won). The statue, by Leonard Volk, stands eight foot tall, almost three feet taller than its subject! Dubbed The Little Giant, Douglas, at 5’ 4”, he made up for lack of stature with brilliance and determination. It is fun to visualize his series of debates with Lincoln, a foot taller than he. Their debates in 1858 drew them to every one of the state’s seven Congressional districts, but only one of the locations has been preserved.
Another exhibit of note is a flag that’s identified as the Minnesota Constitutional State Flag. It was captured in 1861 in northern Missouri by by the 16th Illinois Infantry. It was the first of many such trophies, all of which were displayed in this building. In 1891, a Missourian clarified the flag’s origin and identified that it featured the palmetto tree and landscape of South Carolina, the first state to secede after Lincoln was elected president. This flag remains on exhibit in the Old State Capitol, while the others have been relocated to the state Military Museum. (Sound familiar? That’s where Iowa holds its own Civil War battle flags!)
I can’t leave the Old Capitol without presenting the rotunda to you. The staircases are a treasure to behold.
Directly across the street, where one finds the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices, there’s a brick esplanade that features a wonderful statue of the Lincoln family and a young passer-by tipping his hat to them.
When Lincoln opened his office in this building in 1843, his partner was Stephen Logan, a cousin of Mary Todd. A year later, they dissolved their partnership and Lincoln took on William Herndon as his junior partner. The firm of Lincoln-Herndon moved to another location in 1852 and survived until the President’s death in 1865. The lawyers occupied the third floor, while the state occupied the first and second with a post office and courtroom respectively. Today, the ground floor is its visitors center, It’s as far as we got.
Our next stops were two non-Lincoln (and non-governmental) exhibits. In my college days, I did extensive research and essaying on the era of the Pullman Strike and Illinois Governor John Philip Altgeld. Altgeld was the Progressive (some say anarchist) governor from 1893-1897. During his tenure, he pardoned three of the eight alleged leaders of the Haymarket Square Riot of 1888 — of the others, one had committed suicide and four had already been executed. He later refused to call in federal military support against the Pullman Strikes led by Eugene Debs in 1894. Debs is remembered for his efforts to revise labor laws, especially those involving child labor.
Lindsay was memorialized with a poem called The Eagle That is Forgotten, written by Vachel Lindsay. I was taken by the poem and could quote it for a long time. And I thought I knew a lot about its author . . . until Dot and I visited his home in Springfield, where our favorite interpreter — the young woman from the Old State House — led us through the history of Lindsay, his home and the considerably larger body of his work.
Nicholas Vachel Lindsay was well known for his artwork as well as his prodigious poetry. Born in 1879, he did well in high school and moved on to Hillman College to follow in his father’s medical footsteps. For three years, he excelled in literature and philosophy and failed pre-med and foreign languages. He moved on — first to the Chicago Art Institute and then to the New York School of Art, where his mentor advised him to concentrate more on his poetry than his art. The die was cast.
Lindsay’s dominant calling for his entire life was as a traveling poet. From New York, he hopped a tramp steamer to Florida and then worked his way back to Illinois by bartering his poetry for meals. He set off on other sojourns and returned to Springfield on the eve of the Race Riots of 1908. Aghast that such a thing would happen not only in Lincoln’s home town but on the 100th anniversary of his birth, Lindsay gave a series of lectures on race, encouraging his fellow citizens to make the city a model of civility and decorum.
By 1913, having received recognition on both sides of the Atlantic and having several published volumes, his tramping days were over. He was the first American poet to be invited to speak at Oxford University. He courted Sara Teasdale, but she rejected him for a shoe manufacturer. Ten years later, he married a much younger Elizabeth Conner, and she bore two children. While he accepted numerous assignments, he always adopted the performance mode; he became known for actually singing, rather than reciting, some of his works.
Sickly from his youth, his health began a downward spiral in the late 1920s. While he still traveled to performances, he yearned for his beloved family and city. In desperation, he committed suicide in 1931. Today, the state is supplemented by the Vachel Lindsay Association, dedicated to preserving his heritage and furthering it by holding readings and exhibits in his home.
Again, no photos were allowed. I believe there are two dominant reasons: the fact that there is a great deal of copyrighted materials at these exhibits, and photos could be used by unsavory sorts to “case the joint.” For the pictures above of Lindsay and his home, I am indebted to Job Conger, creator of The Vachel Pages, who allows copying from his site.
Wow. Maybe I can be briefer from here on. We moved next to the Dana Thomas House, one of the premier examples of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie period. Designed in 1902, the 12,000 square foot dwelling was Wright’s first spare-no-expense commission. It was built for Susan Lawrence Dana (1862-1942), heiress to her father’s estate in 1901. Susan hired Wright to “remodel” the family’s Italianate homestead, but by the time it was finished, only one room of the original remained. The remodeled house was built on three levels, with an additional 13 interim levels. The architect worked diligently to keep eyes traveling outside, as was his wont. To help accomplish this, he developed the largest collection of furniture, art glass and accessories in any FLW property including the chandelier below.
Susan was a tragic figure who compensated by sharing her wealth with others. Her first husband died less than two decades after their marriage, and she suffered two miscarriages. Her second husband died within a year after their marriage, and her third union ended in divorce. She took on responsibility for her mother and her cousin Flora. Mother died suddenly while they were on an adventurous trip in 1905, and when Flora, who shared the house with her, died in 1928, Flora, Susan was left entirely alone.
Nonetheless, she continued in a whirlwind of social and political activities. But her finances suffered. Overextended, her wealth was tied up in nonconvertible assets, and she was forced to move from the house. By 1942, she became incompetent, and as soon as she was institutionalized, the gavel fell on her properties. Fortunately, the house was purchased by Charles C. Thomas, founder of the Thomas Register, who personally assured Wright that the house, while becoming the firm’s office, would be preserved. In 1981, the company sold the house to the state, and a second stroke of luck occurred. Jim Thompson, governor at the time and a strong advocate for Wright, filed a preservation bill that brought the house back to its original 1910 grandeur.
Not very brief, I know. But pictures were again verboten, as they have been in all the FLW properties we’ve toured. Trust us – it was exquisite, as were the anecdotes about its occupants.
Our visit to the current State Capitol was right on the heels of our visit to the Iowa version in Des Moines, Here, I’ll spare you a lot of words. But there are a couple of things of unique interest.
You may note that the newels at the foot of the Grand Stairway are a pair of female statues that might look familiar. Here’s the story. Iowa first commissioned them. They were considered too racy, so they were sold to Illinois. Later, uncomfortable with that decision, Des Moines commissioned replicas. The art is beautiful and an appropriate reproduction in bronze of a statue that was featured at the 1893 Columbian Exposition. It is titled Illinois Welcomes The World.
A giant painting, measuring 40 x 20 feet, depicts George Rogers Clark, leader of the Kentucky Long Knives, negotiating with Native Americans at Fort Kaskaskia. Therein lies another story (of course!). The Illinois Territory was inaugurated at Kaskaskia. On July 4, 1778, Clark and his band captured Kaskaskia from the British. Illinois became a western county of . . . Virginia! Clark was instrumental in securing the entire Northwest Territories during the American Revolution.
At the other end of the Capitol grounds was the State Museum. It held many fine exhibits. The feature of the week was geology, and I was met by an educator who would have spent an hour teaching me about fossils until I begged to move on. There were very comprehensive exhibits portraying Illinois through the ages — and prior to being Illinois. Other large exhibits explored industry and Native Americans. Another highlighted “contemporary” living. Snippets of several are displayed below.
A temporary exhibit was a six-month presentation entitled Figurism. It’s not only an exhibit featuring 2D and 3D artwork but a series of lectures about the subject of figure art. I think the thing that most drew me to it is the fact that one of the artists is Mike Ferris, and Eleanor Speiss-Ferris is one of the lecturers! Wonder where they are on the family tree!
Our last city visit was to the Oak Ridge Cemetery, final resting place of The Lincoln Family. There was a holding facility in the cemetery for deceased whose graves were not ready. A Monument Association grew out of the Memorial Committee that planned his return to Springfield. Recognizing how long it would take to construct the President’s mausoleum, a separate building was erected to contain both Lincoln and the two sons who predeceased him. The family selected the site, and the Monument Committee raised the funds to erect the shrine. Ground was broken in 1869, and dedication ceremonies were held in 1874. At that time, three Lincoln sons and the president were interred. The Monument was subsequently rebuilt twice, in 1899-01 and the 1930s. The first added 15 feet to the spire and lowered the remains to an underground crypt. The second rebuilt the interior out of granite and marble, added the red marble memorial stone, and installed the interior statuary that depicts the multiple roles played by the Great Emancipator during his lifetime. Outside, there is a bust of Lincoln by Gutzon Borglum, sculptor of Mt. Rushmore, its nose polished to a bright gold from the hands of visitors seeking good luck. Around the base are statues of the four key military forces: Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery and Navy. The statues below are two of a dozen, about two-thirds life size, that rim the crypt.
Oak Ridge contains the remains of many other important citizens, from early settlers to politicians to war heroes.
Our on-campus adventures were fun. The 30th Annual Youth Charity Horse Show offered a hundred or so events, all ranged by age from the littlest (who rode hobby horses!) to the seniors, who were mid-teens. It was polished and professional and brings in mid-five figure reward for its efforts.
Dot went over on Wednesday evening to the Exhibitor Building to help Michele unload the mountain of stuff she had for sale at the Prairieland Classic, a cluster of eight separate all-breed specialty dog shows over a four day period. We both arrived early on Thursday to help the setup and cover for her when she was scheduled to be in the show rings.
We headed out on Friday morning, even though the heating system quit again. We were now heading south and hoped it didn’t matter!
We spend a couple of weeks in Iowa during The Journey, but we never made it to the Capitol. Our friends, Martha and Jim Rowland, live in Alden, about sixty miles north of the city. Alden was founded in 1855 by a Massachusetts cousin of mine, Henry Alden. We’ve been there, and we sat in the graveyard next to old Henry’s stone while the Town Historian told us the “rest of the story.”
We had a really cheap site reserved at a National Park between Des Moines and Alden – only to have the Federal shutdown cancel it. Si instead, settled for a nice site in the Des Moines Fairgrounds and made a date to meet Martha and Jim at a locally famous eatery, The Hickory Park Restaurant in Ames — which is also the home of the University of Iowa.
We set out to see as much of the City’s sights as we could in the remaining time. The list was a dozen items long, and we did less than half of it. So there’s good reason to come back.
Our first stop was The Capitol. You’ll not be surprised to learn that it has a dome, a rotunda, a grand staircase, governor’s suite, law library, old Supreme Court quarters, and both Senate and House chambers! The dome is covered with gold leaf and was re-gilded in 1998-99. The leaf is so thin that 250,000 sheets would measure only one inch thick. Construction was started in 1871, but it wasn’t completed until 1886. Unlike most Capitols we’ve visited, no additions have been required, and except for the ceiling of the House Chamber, redone after a fire in 1904, everything is original.
We had an excellent tour guide and a large contingent, most of which was a high-school class from Russia. Nice kids. After visiting the Governor’s Reception Room, we were introduced to a doll collection that consists of all the State’s first ladies in their inauguration gowns. Above it is a reproduction photograph showing a division returning home from W.W. I. At 26 feet x 6 feet, it’s one of the largest in the world. Additional artifacts on this level are an 18 foot long, scale model of the U.S.S. Iowa and the original of Iowa’s Constitution, restored and preserved in 1988. Not present was a collection of 140 Civil War battle flags, currently offsite and being stabilized by the State Historical Museum.
Climbing the Grand Stairway, art abounds. A wall sized painting, Westward, depicts the arrival of pioneers in Iowa. Above it, on the balcony, are a set of six mosaics, designed by Frederick Dielman of New York and made in Venice of small colored stones. They depict the functions of government: Defense, Charities, Executive, Legislative, Judiciary and Education. Opposite the stairway is the Law Library, with unique iron spiral stairways to access its multiple levels with matching balconies. The south wing belongs to the 50 state senators. Both they and the 100 representatives are citizen legislators, spending just over three months in session and pursuing other occupations for the rest of the year. Both chambers are elegantly fitted but less decorative than some we’ve seen.
Below the dome, a series of 8 half-moon paintings and 12 statues represent the values and tools of civilization: herding, agriculture, the forge, commerce, education, science, art, history, law, literature, fame, industry, peace, victory, truth and progress. At the top of the dome is the Grand Army of the Republic symbol, heralding the efforts of Iowa to preserve the Union during the Civil War. We were invited to hike the additional dozens of narrow steps up into the dome; while the kids were eager to do so, we passed.
With the Des Moines River bisecting the city, there are dozens of bridges that cross it. Of special significance is the Principal Riverwalk, a 1.2 mile section in the heart of the city sponsored by the Principal Finance Group on its 125 anniversary of its tenure in the city. The Riverwalk consists of six riverside attractions and two pedestrian/bicycle bridges. There are two promenades with trails, a skating rink, a garden and a sculpture park. The Hub Spot, still underway, will be a place to meet, stroll and eat. The bridge at the south end is a renovation of the old Union Railroad Bridge — now known as the “Red Bridge” because of its caboose-toned paint job — with separate lanes for walkers and bike riders. The bridge at the north end honors The Women of Achievement in Iowa and, likewise, splits into separate lanes for walkers and riders.. Four women are currently named, and several will be added each year via citizen recommendations.
The State Historical Museum was worth a full day. Exhibits include Native Americans, Prehistoric heritage, wildlife, industry, military, natural resources, and the environment Specific exhibits include quilts (a study of restoration methods by type of material), the art of model making, and the custom silver service aboard the original U.S.S. Iowa. Iowa takes great pride in its contribution to Sherman’s March through Vicksburg and across the south, as well as the regiment of African Americans from the state who served the Union.
The Governor’s Mansion is open for three tours a day, 5 days a week except in December. The third floor, part of the second and the basement are used by the incumbent governor and his family. Our tour began with a talk in – what else – the former Carriage House! Pictures weren’t allowed anywhere inside, but our guide was passionate about the place and held our interest with his thorough knowledge of its structure, its contents and its residents.
The home was originally built by Iowa’s first millionaire, Benjamin Franklin Allen, in 1869. It was purchased from the bankrupt Allen in 1884 by Frederick Marion Hubbell, who named it Terrace Hill. Hubbell came to Des Moines with his father in 1855. His father went back to Connecticut several years later, but Frederick decided to stay. In the ensuing years, he became the richest man in Iowa, and others in his family prospered as well.
From 1846 until 1947, only one governor spent his four years in supplied housing. In 1947, Iowa bought a colonial-style home for its governors. The Hubbells donated Terrace Hill to the state in 1970. and in 1977, the first “First Family” took up residence there.
The most exceptional exhibit in town was the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park. No, there’s no connection to the pizza giant! John traveled from Greece to America at the age of 6 months, lost his father at age 16, and, along with his brothers, had to alternate school with working to support the family. After graduating from U-Iowa, he opened an insurance agency and climbed the entrepreneurial ladder up to Pappajohn Capital Resources. He and his wife Mary have donated over $100 million, mostly to education and artistic endeavors. One of those endowments is the delightful park that occupies 4.4 acres from 13th to 15th Street on the west side. The Pappajohns donated 27 sculptures, valued at over $40 million, and the city built the environment and maintains the exhibit. A comprehensive brochure is available on site, detailing each work and even providing activities for children. Many of the artists are American or British, but there’s also an international representation. Some artists are as famous as Willem de Kooning. I will let the statuary speak for itself.
Our reunion with Martha and Jim was wonderful. The Hickory Park Restaurant is a kitschy place that specializes in barbecue and ice cream, serving giant sized portions of everything. We made an afternoon of it, knowing it might be a long time before we saw each other again.
We made a pit stop half way across SD and arrived in Sioux Falls on Tuesday. This was one of two metropolises (metropoli ?) in South Dakota that we’d missed on The Journey — the other being Pierre, the Capitol. So a third trip is in the offing in the future.
The campground was strange but decent. It was off a city street, but a barrier of buildings kept it quiet and it was nicely wooded. The clientele was overwhelmingly a caravan of transient workers — more than 30 families, from Alabama and Mississippi, traveling in a group with identical “park model” trailers that looked more like mobile homes. One morning, about half way through our week’s stay, they all disappeared in a convoy, leaving behind toys and bikes and outdoor furniture and piles of trash that imposed a massive cleanup project on management.
It took several trips downtown to see everything we wanted to. The first took us to Falls Park, a giant oasis on the North side that’s dressed up for the tourist crowd. The Visitors Center has a fifty foot high observation tower that provides a birds-eye view of the Falls — Lower, Middle and Upper. From the Center,’s tower, we strolled down for a closer look and to take in some of the neighboring sites. Monarch of the Plains was carved from a 12 ton piece of mahogany granite that came from Milbank, SD, 125 miles due north. It was carved in 1999 by Darold Bailey. The Sioux Falls Light and Power Company, in service from 1908-1974 is now the Overlook Café, with indoor and outdoor dining. Below the power plant were the ruins of the Queen Bee Mill, a brainchild of Richard Pettigrew, one of SD’s first US Senators. It was built so local farmers could process their wheat locally, rather than sending it east to Minnesota or Wisconsin. It went bankrupt after just two years of operation (1881-83), but it then changed hands and continued to process until the mid 1910’s. A Millrace and Dam supplied water power to both the mill and the power plant. Looming over all from across the Lower Falls is St Joseph’s Cathedral.
The Cathedral lends its name to the Historic District, a collection of about forty buildings in a 20 square block area. As is our usual habit, we drove through it, reading a syllabus as we passed each home. The tour was interesting but not particularly memorable! We did visit one building – the Richard Pettigrew Home and Museum. Senator Pettigrew built a home for his new bride in 1880 just two doors away. He sold it in 1912 to buy this 1889 Queen Anne from attorney Thomas McMartin and expanded it extensively prior to his death in 1926. When it accrued to the city, they expanded it even further to house more artifacts.
Another downtown trip was a self-guided tour of Sculpture Walk. We first saw such an attraction in Salina, Kansas, but this one was far more expansive. Fifty five sculptures are placed on the sidewalks throughout uptown and downtown. Each is labeled with its title and artist name, as well as the sponsor’s name. The brochure/ballot also notes the location and the selling price. This is the tenth year, and the city buys the winner of the People’s Choice voting. All past winners, along with two dozen other works either owned or leased by the city, are displayed as well. We didn’t get to visit all of this treasure trove, but relative samples are below to show you the diversity of the collection. The photos are worth enlarging!
And I went for a little extra culture. The Sioux Falls Symphony Orchestra performed Mahler’s Ninth Symphony on the Saturday before we left, and their performance was excellent. Only one downside: the maestro came out and spent about ten minutes talking about the work. I could do without this. This also happened at a symphonic performance I went to in Moab. Just music, please. I can read the program notes!
We were now in the home stretch, with Iowa our next stop.
The impetus for this entire trip was finally reached. We rolled into Custer State Park and took up residence in one of their campgrounds, attractive and airy and overlooking Sylvan Lake. We’d made these reservations back in February, and it wasn’t too much longer before they were completely booked. First order of business was to make contact with friends Keith and Cheri Begley. They were our next door neighbors in Tucson in 2011-12. We visited them in Missouri at their home and toured Kansas City with them. We had independently decided to take in the Bison Roundup, so they were 6 miles down the road at the main facility.
History surrounded us, including Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Monument. But we’d been-there-done-that quite thoroughly in 2010. So during the few days before the big event, we communed with the Park and friends — both two legged and four legged. The bison shown below was in our campground before we arrived, and we met him up close and personal about a mile down the road. As usual, I didn’t trust their docile appearance and stood near an open car door while chatting with him and snapping his picture. The antelopes were also in the campground, and the donkeys on the Loop Road nuzzled us, begging for the carrots Dot brought.
We didn’t believe the rangers at first when they said we should be in line at one of the venues by 5:30 AM on Friday. The viewing areas and corrals were at the bottom of the Loop Road, but you had to choose one side or the other because the road was blockaded at the herd’s crossing. The parking lots opened at 6:15 and closed at 9. By the time we got to the north gate, there were about fifty cars ahead of us. I brought my laptop and alternatively did crossword puzzles and dozed. It took us until about 7:00 to get settled at a parking spot, and it was way up top. We were to regret that later!
Summer weather was nowhere to be found. At that hour, the temperature was in the high 30’s. We dressed for it; this was to be the only day in 2013 that I wore socks. And it never really warmed up. We staked out a place with our chairs, and others crowded in with the morning light. Then came an interminable waiting period; it was not until 11:00 that the drive was due and it actually came later than that.
But it was well worth the wait. The first action came high on the hills above the crowd at the south viewing site. First it was one, then a couple, then a small cluster, then a cowboy on horseback and another in a four wheel drive vehicle. On they down the hills, widely spread out and then later gelling into a huge mass that at times was amoeba-like as the drovers worked to funnel them toward the corral. The herd of over 1,000 circled around past us, heading toward the narrow entrance to the corral
.The purpose of the Roundup is to check on the health of the stock, vaccinate and tag the new herd members, and cull out a portion of the herd for sale to other grazing locations and to food processors. The State Park must constantly keep the size of the herd in check so that ample food is available to support them. The cull is typically about 200 beasts. We thought about claiming one as a pet, but our RV life stopped us. Getting out of the parking lot was a 90 minute proposition. Fortunately, most of the time put us close to the corral where we could watch the bison graze.
Saturday brought on a festival in the Park with food and vendors galore near the headquarters. We explored it, though Dot and I, at least, would not partake of bison burgers. That evening, we treated Keith and Cherie and four pals of theirs to a spaghetti feast at our trailer. And before leaving, we got a bonus: Keith and Cheri told us they’d be trying out our campground in Florida for the 2014-2015 winter season, instead of going back again to Tucson.
Sunday morning brought a brief stop at the “dump station” and travel eastward across South Dakota, aiming for Sioux Falls with a one-night “meaningless” stop in between!
In 2011, we’d breezed through the eastern side of Wyoming on the way to Montana, visiting Cheyenne, Casper and Buffalo. Now we were breezing through its southeast corner! Someday, we promise to come back and spend a more leisurely sojourn, including Cody and Wyoming’s part of Yellowstone. We bypassed Cheyenne and stopped in Laramie for a night. Then we moved on to Fort Laramie, 115 miles close to the South Dakota border, for the following night.
Laramie gave us nothing to write about. I have neither notes nor photographs nor literature to spark my recollection. Oh yes, I have one memory. The campground was an overpriced KOA and the Wi-Fi was broken! So I’ll skip it instead of faking it with Google and move on to Fort Laramie, where our visit is worth writing about.
The ad for the Chuck Wagon Campground said, “If you love trains, this is the place for you.” It was a tiny place, run by Grandma and Grandpa Hofrock from their house on the property. It was 50 yards from a main line with trains passing every 20 minutes — thanks in part to an oil depot opened in 2014 — blowing their horns for the adjacent street crossing. The Hofrocks worked for national railroads all their lives, mostly in Atlanta, and were oblivious to the noise. There was a small, tasty restaurant on the property owned by a transplanted New York couple — he served and she cooked.
We were there before noon and used the day to travel two miles to Fort Laramie itself. Located on the confluence of the Laramie and North Platte Rivers, it started life in 1834 as Fort William, and in 1841 was rebuilt as Fort John, where it served as a critical way-station for Mormons and westward emigrants to California and Oregon. Purchased by the Government in 1849, it became the largest and most important military post of the Northern Plains. It hosted the Pony Express, stagecoaches and the transcontinental telegraph. It also hosted the signing of two Native American treaties. But it also dispatched military excursions to overrun and confine the original settlers. Auctioned to homesteaders in 1890, it gradually fell into ruin until 1938, when it became part of the National Park System. Since then, twelve of its 50+ buildings have been restored and refurnished to its glory days. Approximately two dozen buildings surround the parade ground, with the others scattered beyond.
A large ruins is all that’s left of the Rustic Hotel, built in 1876 by the Post Trader John Collins to accommodate the huge influx of gold seekers.
Another site is far more touching. Sinte Gleska — Spotted Tail — leader of the Brule Sioux, trusted Colonel Henry Maynadier, commander of the Fort in 1866. Maynadier was one of a small group of officers who, while doing his duty, opposed the treatment doled out to the Indians. On March 8th of that year, the colonel rode out to meet his Spotted Tail and escort him back to the Fort. Spotted Tail was carrying the remains and possessions of his deceased daughter, whose deathbed plea was to be buried near her grandfather on the Fort’s grounds and to urge her father to continue seeking peace with the white intruders. His daughter, Mni Akuwin — Brings Water Home Woman – was laid to rest on a scaffold in full ceremony. Maynadier wrote to his wife, “…after what I witnessed in the Council room and the graveyard, I can never be willing to see these people swindled, ill-treated and abused as they have been.” Regrettably, Spotted Tail was assassinated by his own people five years later for his part in seeking peace.
On the way back from the Fort, we encountered the story of the Fort Laramie Bridge. The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 created the Great Sioux Reservation. The Iron Bridge was opened in 1876 because there was a need to transport materials and supplies to the governing agencies. Unfortunately, it quickly became the route of choice for gold diggers illegally entering and mining the Reservation, leading to the great Sioux wars. Abandoned in 1958, it is preserved locally as a footbridge.
The next morning, I had to backtrack about 20 miles to get diesel fuel, and it gave me an opportunity to learn more about the North Platte and its significance in western expansion via roadside placards.
As we pulled out of Fort Laramie and Wyoming, we were “anticipatorily agog” about the show ahead of us.
Our next stop was scheduled to be Longmont, Colorado. It is the home of Wiland Direct, a database marketing company. I worked for Phil Wiland’s previous company, Wiland Services, for many years, running the operation in Fredericksburg, VA and traveling frequently to the home office near Longmont. Phil, entrepreneur extraordinaire, was the best boss I ever had. And this year, he was the best basket customer I’ve ever had. You can find more details under the “Nantucket Lightship Baskets section of this website.
It was my plan to deliver about half of his order and, at the same time, reunite with many friends who are still part of the Wiland family. But Nature intervened. The entire area was beset by torrential rains and disastrous flooding. There was literally no route by which we could get to Longmont without road closures. If we got there, we’d be taking a campsite that a local displaced family needed.
So we punted. Our next mandatory destination was Custer State Park in South Dakota later in the month. Pairing Google Maps with several campground guides, we identified a route through Craig, Colorado, then through lower Wyoming into South Dakota.
As often as I’d been in Colorado, I’d never mapped it very well. We were headed for Steamboat Springs and not that far north of Vail and Breckenridge. Obviously I’m not a skier. But it’s nice to understand where these places are after all these years!
As suggested in the headline, the town of Craig was pure Americana. Our campground was empty, expensive and weird, but the town offered lots more than we expected in a “whistle stop.” The city park in the heart of town was the palette for folks who specialized in chain saw carving in its dead trees. Back in 2000, Dave Pike, director of tourism for the county, came up with an idea to deal with the 20 dying cottonwoods in the city park. He invites some artists to a Whittle the Wood Rendezvous. The event has continued; carvers come from all over to participate.
Across the street is the Museum of Northwest Colorado. Housed in a 90 year old armory, it’s essentially a cowboy museum. But is also spends a lot of time and space on the Moffat Railroad, which terminated in Craig. The railroad was built for two reasons: the abundance of coal and oil taken from the rich landscape, and David Moffat’s Dream.
David Moffat was a New Yorker who went west, young man. He quickly switched from retailing to banking and then struck it really rich by mining precious metals. He built railroads to his various claims, but his ultimate dream was a more direct route from Denver to Salt Lake City and thence to the coast by connecting to the transcontinental railroad. Construction began in 1904, and the route crossed the Continental Divide at Rollins Pass, an elevation of 11,600 feet, the highest standard gauge railroad ever built. To climb to this height, the route involved many switchbacks, but it still required a 4% climb and became cost prohibitive to operate in winter’s snows.
Moffat’s plan for the road included a 6.5 mile tunnel to eliminate the ascent. Other railroad barons, uneasy about competition, frequently thwarted him. He went through his own fortune and died in 1911 while in New York seeking additional funding. At that time, the road stopped in Steamboat Springs. Two years later, it was extended to Craig, and fifteen years later — 1928 – the Moffat Tunnel was inaugurated.
Moffat built a private railroad car, christened “Marcia” after his only child, and used it to inspect his roads and to entertain potential investors. His expectations were doomed, in large part because Harriman and Gould felt threatened by his “intrusion” into their enterprise and thwarted his efforts. The car was purchased by the city of Craig in 1953 for $1; many thousands have been expended to restore it to pristine condition. The interior features exotic woods, servant quarters for two, sleeping accommodations for up to twelve, and an extensive package of utilities.
The picture of the camera display (last in the large gallery above) was a focal point of an exhibit of the work of Augusta and A.G Wallihan, among the earliest big-game wildlife photographers in the country. A.G., an avid hunter, taught his wife to become a crack shot in her own right. When traveling missionaries passed through the area, the couple traded a pair of buckskin gloves for the camera they carried. Unschooled in its use, they taught themselves and then took on the challenges of lugging around the heavy equipment and getting clear “shots” with the required long exposures of the day. There work was not only published in newspapers country-wide but at the Paris World Exposition (1900) and the St. Louis World’s Fair (1904). Letters and articles they wrote placed them in the vanguard of the wildlife conservation movement, with other visionaries like Theodore Roosevelt and George Bird Grinnell.
Craig held yet another surprise, the Wyman Museum. Bill Wyman was a local who started collecting “things” in 1949 when he picked up a neglected 1932 Lincoln for fifteen bucks. In 2006, the family opened the Museum on part of their former elk ranch to display the treasure trove of Americana that would make Mike and Frank (TV’s American Pickers) drool.
And there’s an extra drawing card. To the delight of all, especially the children, Clyde, a domesticated elk, was a fixture at the Wyman Museum until his death at 18 in 2010. After a two year mourning period, the Wymans obtained his successor, Junior, from an elk ranch near Grand Junction.
Craig was a great and welcome surprise. Any stop that serves to add another chapter of the development of this Great Land is awe-inspiring.