27 November 2013

Thanksgiving Photo Essay from Plimoth

To turn our hearts and minds toward the roots of our Thanksgiving, I offer this photo-essay from our family vacation to Plymouth and Provincetown, Massachusetts this past summer.  Happy Thanksgiving......and let us be truly thankful to our creator for all He has blessed us with.

Stained glass window in the old Pilgrim church, commemorating the signers of the Mayflower Compact.  Two of my ancestors' names are included in this, Stephan Hopkins and William Brewster.

Our kids at the grave of Pilgrim and first governor, William Bradford in the old Pilgrim cemetery on the knoll overlooking the bay where the Mayflower landed.
Makes me want to break out into the song "Rocky Top"
The reconstructed Plimoth Plantation

The Pilgrim Memorial at Provincetown

A park near the bay is the location of Elder William Brewster's original home

The enshrinement of "Plymouth Rock"

25 November 2013

Sycamore Hill, In His Service

We've hit the 4th anniversary from when Sycamore Hill "found us" so to speak.  Coffee-clutching at Starbucks with some buddies in 2009 led to a visit just to see the barn and the rest is history.  November has traditionally held some shake-ups in our lives, and always for the better.

I remember a conversation with my sister-in-law around the time we were buying the property.  I remember her asking if we planned to honor God with it.  Hmmm.....well, I had thought about establishing a nudist colony, but didn't figure the plan commission would go for that....so, sure, the alternative seemed fine.

Well of course we would.  We've been blessed to host family and school reunions, our pastor's birthday party (and if a 70s-themed party doesn't honor God, I'm not sure what would!), and I've had my 3rd and 4th grade boys' Sunday School class out to the farm for campouts.  While doing the 20s ministry we held campfires and get-togethers out here.  I've sat in the barn with buddies and recounted the blessings God's granted here on the hill, and that included hosting a wedding for friends of ours.  But it doesn't end there....because of the picturesque quality of the farm it's become a popular backdrop for photographers' family shoots.  In fact we were double-booked a few Saturdays ago.

But if there was one culminating moment where it dawned on me, yep, truly Sycamore Hill has been used in God's service it had to be while watching the video at the top of this post that was filmed in our barn for our church's celebration service.  Enjoy.

20 November 2013

Never more at home in Indiana

As I walked the narrow winding road from Adams Mill to the covered bridge over Wildcat Creek, the late afternoon sun dappled through the dense tree canopy overhead.  It was a warmer than usual September day and the sun's rays were quickly absorbed by my black t-shirt.  With my camera to my side and the camera strap causing beads of sweat to form between the shirt it was pressing against and my back, I became acutely aware of my surroundings.

At first the silence in the vale seemed only broken by the few birds perched high in the canopy, and then by my own footsteps on the road surface, but then ultimately it was my own breathing I heard until I reached a point where the ripples in Wildcat Creek drowned out the other incidental noises I had become aware of.  As I approached the old covered bridge the smell of aged timbers wafted through the air.  I walked slowly across the bridge to absorb both the history and scenic vistas offered through its portals.  The floor boards, even under my light steps, creaked appropriately to inform me of my surroundings.

I reached the other side and didn't delay in snapping a few shots of what I thought would be clever perspectives, but knowing I could never capture the essence of what I was experiencing.  My stride was quicker on the way back across and this time a motorist met me at the other side.  The driver, an older lady with both hands on the wheel, smiled and nodded as if to say "I get it-I know why you're here".

I eased my way down the embankment to the edge of Wildcat Creek and began to walk its semi-sandy, slightly mushy edge guarded by massive sycamore trees whose gnarled roots held back the soil in drifts washed over by the rise and fall of creek waters.  I turned toward the covered bridge again, snapped a few shots, and then climbed back up to the road.  And again, my stride was quicker as I began to round the bend of the road and the mill came back into view.......and then almost instinctively I slowed again as I noticed the sycamores roadside whose large branches stretched out above me.  Their ghostlike white arms and distinctive aroma halted me in my tracks.

And I said aloud, though so perfectly alone, "I'm never more at home in Indiana than when I can hear the gentle churning of a creek and be shaded beneath the great outstretched arms of a sycamore tree."  And then like flood waters against my very soul, I was overwhelmed by a rush of memories that flooded my mind, some taking me back to my childhood, and I have to admit becoming a little misty-eyed to feel so blessed.

What is it that makes you feel at home in Indiana?
Visit Adams Mill for yourself:  www.adams-mill.org

18 November 2013

Higbe's Corner on the Michigan Road

If you travel the Michigan Road through Marshall County, and pay close attention to the road signs north of Plymouth you might notice one sign that reads "Higbee Corner" on the same sign marked 5th Road.  As long as I can remember this little crossroads at the top of a small knoll has carried this designation.

In the mid 1830s an official survey was completed through the county to establish sections for land sales.  The map included natural features and any existing settlements, either Native American or white settlers.  Prior to the establishment of any town in Marshall County, the Higbee Corner crossroads was denoted with an inn/tavern.  The area southwest of the cabin was marked as an Indian settlement.  As more people settled in the area stretching out along the Michigan Road, the loosely formed community became known as "Fairmount".  The only real reminder of this village is Fairmount Cemetery, the oldest cemetery in the county, located north of Higbee Corner and established in 1834.  A small child of a pioneer family traveling the road in 1834 died and became the first white person buried in the county.  A short time later a Native American tribe which had been christianized, brought a child that had died, to be given a Christian burial at Fairmount.  This post is the first of a few that will feature some of the early pioneers interred at Fairmount Cemetery.

Which brings us back to Higbee Corner.  Silas Higbe (also spelled Higby and Higbee), moved to Marshall County during the mid 1850s.  He had been born in 1814 in New York state and was living in Akron, Ohio in 1850 with his family and mother, Catherine.  His occupation was listed as "boatman", presumably on the Wabash & Erie Canal.  Silas Higbe opened a store at the small crossroads in Fairmount prior to 1860.  The store building was two stories tall and included a public hall on the second floor and post office on the first floor.  Census records for early settlers in the area were marked with "Fairmount" as their post office box location.  Silas and his son Byron were listed as merchants in 1860 and Silas was listed as a tavern keeper in 1870.  Over time the name that stuck wasn't Fairmount, but rather Higbe's Corner.....translated today as Higbee Corner, though the building is long gone.

The row of Higbe family members at Fairmount Cemetery
Silas brought his mother from Akron sometime shortly after 1860.  She died and was buried at Fairmount Cemetery in 1863.  Her stone is marked "Wife of Silas Higbe" (Sr.).  She was born in 1785....no doubt one of the oldest folks at Fairmount.  Silas Jr.'s first wife, Betsy, died in 1867.  He remarried two years later.  Silas Jr. died in 1873.  It isn't clear how much longer the store continued to operate.  Byron served as a corporal in the 155th Indiana infantry during the Civil War, but by 1870 he appeared to have moved on from Marshall County.  Silas's second wife, Lovina, remarried the same year he died....not letting any grass grow I guess.

13 November 2013

Trip to Williamsport: Not more than a trickle

I mentioned in my last post that the first time I went to Williamsport was with a college buddy who insisted I see Indiana's tallest waterfall.  Yeah right-we had just come from his nearby farm in Illinois that was so flat you could see lights from towns nearly 50 miles away.  But he insisted....so I went along with it and we ended up in Williamsport.  The problem was, it was about 10:00 p.m, and while I could hear a slight trickle of the waterfall tucked in behind the downtown....I couldn't see anything.
A very dry Williamsport Falls
This time my visit was in broad daylight....the problem this time was that there wasn't even a trickle.  The Williamsport Falls is 90 feet tall-that's impressive-but it does go dry, so if you plan a visit go in the spring.  During the winter the falls is known to produce a reverse ice volcano.

Fall Creek Gorge and the Potholes
Prior to visiting the falls my client insisted that he show me "the potholes" as we prepared to leave the farm I was documenting.  The potholes?  Typically one would avoid those I thought to myself.  The look in my eyes must have given my thoughts away because he laughed, asked if I minded gravel roads, and then said follow me.  As we sped down rural Warren County roads, kickin' up dust, I felt like I was back in high school or college again out looking for trouble....and certain to find it.

The "potholes" are part of the Fall Creek Gorge Nature Preserve owned and managed by the Nature Conservancy since 1986.  The gorge has steep stone canyons and rushing waters that have formed potholes in the stone stream bed over thousands of years.  Just a warning if you go-the rock surfaces at the creek are very slippery-as my client quickly learned as he did a cartoonish road runner reenactment, without falling which left me highly impressed.  The preserve has been described as "modern art on an ancient canvas".  I'll buy that.  It was pretty moving and would have to be even more breathtaking at the height of fall color.  It's a little tough to find, but it is located on "Pothole Road" just off Highway 41 north of Williamsport.

11 November 2013

7 years sober...from politics!

It is all-too convenient to have a personal day of remembrance land on a national day of remembrance.  It......well.......reminds me to remember I guess.  Each Veterans Day rolls around and it takes me back to a long day of prayer after a week of fasting...and a pretty significant decision in my life.

I was having dinner with a friend Sunday night and recounting this story nearly took me off-guard in the realization that, yes, tomorrow is November 11th, the 7th anniversary of being sober from politics as it were.  Here is a blog post from the first anniversary in 2007 and a second post written in 2008 that described what led to the decision.



06 November 2013

Trip to Williamsport: Warren County Courthouse

Old Glory hanging in the Warren County Courthouse
I have a small project in Warren County, a place I haven't visited in nearly twenty years.  Warren County is southwest of Lafayette, at the state line.  I've been to Williamsport, the county seat, twice now in the last month.  The last time I visited Williamsport I think I was still in college and a college roomie from the area took me to see the sites....which included the town's main claim to fame.  You'll have to wait in anticipation until my next post for that!

Election returns on the main hall of the courthouse
I had to search land records while in Williamsport last week.  That led me to their courthouse and the recorder's office where cabinets stacked with massive and ancient books lined the walls from floor to ceiling.  Here I traced the lineage of a property first purchased from the federal government in 1834 up to 1863.  The original patent holder called his property "Sugar Creek Farm" in his will of 1836.

Main staircase leading to the courtroom
I usually find a reason to go into Indiana's county courthouses whether I have business to conduct or not.  The Warren County Courthouse was no disappointment.  The interior had a complimentary look and feel of a time long-forgotten.  I think I was most impressed with the large chalkboard on the main level hall that listed candidates for office, changed with each election cycle.  It was though I could smell the energy and probably cigar smoke in the air from those heated races generations ago.

Main entrance
The Warren County Courthouse replaced an earlier one constructed during the 1880s, but burned in 1907.  The current building was constructed the same year in the Classical Revival style.  It was designed by J. W. Royer, an architect from Urbana, Illinois.  Williamsport's political claim to fame is James Hanly, Governor of Indiana between 1905-1909.  Hanly campaigned on ending gambling at the casino towns of French Lick and West Baden.  Not only that, but Hanly also worked to prohibit liquor throughout the state.  By the time he left office 70 of Indiana's 92 counties were dry.  Next post-some impressive natural features in Warren County.

The courthouse as it faces downtown Williamsport

04 November 2013

Everglades of the North

What I imagine the great Kankakee Marsh looking like this time of year....taken at the Kankakee State Wetlands
No doubt at least a few of you have watched the program on local public television entitled "Everglades of the North".  The show has been on once or twice, and is being featured at the Marshall County Genealogical Society's annual meeting this month.

The "everglades" refer to the vast inland Kankakee marsh that once extended from the western regions of Saint Joseph and Marshall Counties westward to the state line following the watershed area created by the Kankakee River.  The stories about this area are fascinating.  Isolated islands of oak trees on sand bluffs called oak savannas filled the marsh.  Vast wetlands filled with waterfowl would "blot out the sun" when lifting off en mass.  Hunters and trappers used the area from prehistoric times into the first decade of the 20th century.  These included presidents and tycoons who came to well-established hunting lodges along the Kankakee.

And then man felt that they needed many more acres of less-than-marginal farmground for production and the great dredge began.  The land went dry.  The wildlife left.  And the lodges became shuttered as the huntsmen became as rare as the game they sought.

C. 1880 map of Newton County, Indiana showing Beaver Lake
I'm admittedly fascinated by historic landscapes-those untouched by man.  I often try to imagine on this rolling acreage we call home, what it looked like 200 years ago before the ax fell the tree and the plow turned the sod for the first time.  So imagining the great Kankakee marsh becomes almost dreamlike because of its vastness.  The documentary about the everglades of the north included mention of a huge lake called Beaver Lake that existed in northern Newton County.  The lake was over 36,000 acres.  To put this in perspective, the largest natural lake in Indiana today is Lake Wawasee......it measures just over 3,000 acres, or nearly one-twelfth the size of Beaver Lake.  The great lake was drained when a ditch was completed between the lake and the Kankakee in 1873.  Lemuel Milk the "Prairie King" was responsible for buying the lake and draining it to sell land.  About 1/10 of the lake remained, though most of its marshes were dry.  Within 20 years the last of the lake dried up.

The sole reminder of Beaver Lake and Bogus Island, on U.S. 41
Outlaws including horse thieves and counterfeiters used an island in the middle of the lake as a hiding place from law enforcement.  The island was called Bogus Island.  It was several acres in size and 75 feet at its precipice.  A recent visit to the area revealed that the island was likely carted away for sand many years ago.  Today a portion of the lake bed is owned by the Indiana chapter of the Nature Conservancy and is filled with prairie grasses.  The site is a few miles south of Highway 10 on Highway 41 in Newton County.  While I applaud the work of the Nature Conservancy, one can't help but get a sick feeling in their stomach when faced with the loss of one of the largest, and most unusual natural features in Indiana.