Thursday, March 19, 2009

Grand Junction, CO: Colorado Wine Country and a Top 100 Cool US City

Mt Garfield near Grand Junction, Colorado

The City of Grand Junction is the largest city in western Colorado. It is a Home Rule Municipality that is the county seat and the most populous town or city of Mesa County, Colorado, United States. Grand Junction is situated 247 miles (398 km) west-southwest of the Colorado State Capitol in Denver. According to 2006 Census Bureau estimates, the population of the city is 45,299. Grand Junction is the 15th most populous city in the State of Colorado and the most populous city on the Colorado Western Slope. Grand Junction serves as a major commercial and transportation hub within the large area between the Green River and the Continental Divide. It is the principal city of the Grand Junction Metropolitan Statistical Area which had a population of 139,137 in 2007.

The city is located along the north side of the Colorado River, where it receives the Gunnison River from south. The name "Grand" refers to the historical name of the upper Colorado River until renamed in 1921, and the word 'junction' is from the joining of the Colorado and Gunnison rivers. The city sits near the mid-point of a 30-mile (48 km) arcing valley, known as the Grand Valley, a major fruit-growing region, historically home to the Ute people and settled by white farmers in the 1880s. In recent years, several wineries have been established in the area as well. The Colorado National Monument, a series of canyons and mesas similar to the Grand Canyon overlook the city, while most of the area is surrounded by public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Interstate 70 connects the city eastward to Glenwood SpringsInterstate 15. and Denver and westward to Green River, UT and

Since settlers arrived in the 1880s until the 1960s, the main economic activity in the region was farming and cattle. Vast oil shale reserves were known to exist near Parachute, Colorado in the Piceance Basin. The oil embargoes of the 1970s and high gas prices resulted in major financial interest in the region. Exxon purchased rights and used Grand Junction as its seat of operations.

Grand Junction and the surrounding Grand Valley were prosperous in the 1970s and early 1980s largely because of oil shale. The United States, western Colorado in particular, has the largest known concentration of oil shale in the world, (according to the Bureau of Land Management) and holds an estimated 800 gigabarrels of recoverable oil, enough to meet U.S. demand for oil at current levels for 110 years. Known as the "Rock That Burns" the shale can be mined and processed to produce oil, although in the past it was significantly more expensive than conventional oil. Sustained prices above $95 per barrel, however, may make extraction economically attractive in the coming years. ExxonMobil was forced to pull out of the region because of lower oil prices, which led to economic hardship in the region.

The economic bust, known as "Black Sunday" (May 2, 1982) to the locals, started with a phone call from the President of Exxon to the then Governor of Colorado, Richard Douglas Lamm, stating that Exxon would cut its losses while retaining mining rights to the (then and currently) uneconomic oil. The economic bust was felt state wide, as Exxon had invested more than 5 billion USD in the state. Colorado historian Tom Noel observed "I think that was a definite turning point, and it was a reminder that we were a boom-and-bust state...There were parallels to the silver crash of 1893."

Today the economy of Grand Junction is more diverse and stable than it has been in the last 40 years. Currently, major contributors are health care, tourism, agriculture, livestock, and energy mining (gas and oil). Major oil companies have once again invested large amounts of money recently (within the last two years), due to recent increases in oil and natural gas prices.

Grand Junction is being discovered by the "nation's elite business and leisure travelers," according to Cleveland-based Flight Options, a private jet service that named Grand Junction as one of its clients' top ten destinations during December 2007, citing nearby Powderhorn Resort as an attraction.

To the northeast, the weathered Little Bookcliffs cut across the skyline. Southeast soars the Grand Mesa, the world's largest flat-topped mountain. The photogenic canyons and monoliths of the Colorado National Monument form a western wall. In between the three natural barriers sprawls Western Colorado's Grand Valley. Cut out of the rugged terrain by the Colorado and Gunnison rivers, the valley was also one of the last locales in the lower 48 states to be settled by pioneer Americans.

The region's colorful history stretches much further back in time. A little-known aboriginal civilization known as the Fremont first moved into the area about 200 A.D. Living in pit-houses, eating insects, small animals and sparse produce from tiny gardens, the mysterious Fremont left Western Colorado about 1300 A.D. Roughly 100 years later, the first bands of wandering Utes moved into the region. The various Ute tribes eventually called much of Colorado and Utah home until forced onto reservations in 1881. Both Indian groups left behind numerous examples of colorful rock paintings and canyon carvings. Some of the unexplained rock art can still be spotted today.

Until 1821, the Grand Valley was part of the kingdom of Spain. And during the early and mid 1700's, hardy Spanish and Mexican soldiers, explorers and priests poked and prodded through the region. Some were looking for gold, others seeking new trails to Spanish California. Most were not too successful.

At first, trail-blazing American mountain men weren't very successful either. Hoping to trap valuable beaver or trade with Ute Indians, most of the Americans were kept out of the territory by jealous Spanish officials. However, when Western Colorado became part of Mexico in 1821, the mountains were suddenly wide open to trappers, traders and wandering buck-skinners for the U.S.

A few of the same mountain men to first see Colorado's Western Slope later helped guide U.S. Army expeditions and Government Surveying parties through the region. Some of the Old West's best known explorers - Kit Carson, John Charles Fremont and Capt. John Gunnison - all passed through the Grand Valley in the 1840's and 1850's.

In spite of anti-Indian politicians, a large part of Western Colorado remained Ute Indian Territory until September 1881. The region was opened to homesteaders, ranchers and town builders the very day the Utes were being forced out by Army troopers. By the time Kansas politician and real estate developer George Crawford decided the unclaimed Grand Valley would make a good town site, Denver, Colorado already had a population of 50,000. And Grand Junction, Colorado was just being born! (wikipedia)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Benton, IL: Beatles Southern Illinois Connection

From St. Louis Post-Dispatch - Thursday May 8, 1997
Reported by Andrew Bedell

To pull up at the curb and look at the outside of 113 McCann, you wouldn't think it was particularly interesting. Just a tidy 1940s-style bungalow set on a whole street of tidy 1940s-style bungalows. But cross the threshold and you've fallen back to 1963, into a home where someone is indulging a major Beatles fixation.

Three Benton couples got together and bought Louise Harrison Caldwell's former home in 1995, after Beatles historian and fan Robert Bartel guided an all-out effort to save it from certain demolition.

Today, the house where the "Quiet Beatle" slept is A Hard Days Nite B&B, operated by the investors: Cindy and Scott Rice, Daryl and Jim Chady and Connie and Dorothy Schultz.

Connie Schultz, who lives across the street from the house with his wife, Dorothy, says the rehab of the house has taken a "good part of two years." Virtually everything in the home is circa 1963: the furniture, the kitchen, the light fixtures, a virtually new console hi-fi.

Even without all the Beatles memorabilia, you could experience a major flashback to your parents' or grandparents' Kennedy-era decor. A visitor half expects meat loaf, canned peas and a Jell-O mold to magically appear on the kitchen table.

It could be an interesting place to stay, for the kitschy aspect alone, but most people visit to soak up the George Harrison/Beatles aura. Sleep in the room where George slept, watch TV in the living room where George watched his favorite show, "Hootenanny." You can even sit on the couch where George reportedly composed the melody to "Daytripper."

Many items from Bob Bartel's extensive mop-top collection decorate the home, including autographed pictures, records, posters, books and Beatleboots. Heady stuff for Beatles fans.

The four bedrooms all have private, new baths that rival those found in nicer hotels. There's even a TV with a VCR in each room.

"We've had people from all over stay here," says Schultz. "Our first guests were one of those Beatles look-alike bands." The rates are what you would pay in other B&Bs, typically $ 60 to $ 65 a night, with the continental breakfast.

A Hard Days Nite B&B is approximately a two-hour drive from St. Louis. Take Interstate 64 east to Interstate 57 south near Mt. Vernon, Ill. The Benton exit is approximately 15 miles south on Interstate 57. If you need directions once in Benton, Connie warns that people don't know the B&B as A Hard Days Nite. He says, "ask for the Beatles house." Call (618) 438-2328 for more information.

See more here:

Bangor, ME: Ornery owl attacks late night skiers

BANGOR, Maine (AP article) - Cross-country skiers who set out on a crisp, moonlit night for a peaceful outing in Bangor's city forest are being targeted by a least one ornery and territorial owl.

Over the past three weeks, at least eight skiers and a few romping dogs apparently have fallen victim to a great horned owl that swoops down from a tree with talons outstretched and smacks them on the head.

Jim Allen of Bangor said he was skiing in the dark on East Trail in the Rolland F. Perry City Forest when he got hit.

"I've got my headlamp on, and all of a sudden, I felt a whack in the back of my head and this stinging, and I understood what everybody was talking about," said Allen, who said he screamed and waved his poles. His thick winter hat protected him from scratches.

Others haven't been so lucky. Dr. Dan Cassidy, a local physician and avid night skier, said three skiers suffered small lacerations, but none needed stitches to close their wounds.

Cassidy has been documenting owl attacks after one of the noctural birds swooped down on him in nearby Orono in January. He was able to identify it as a great horned owl, and he and others suspect that one or more of those owls are the culprits in the Bangor attacks.

"It's the boldest noctural raptor and the one that has the best reputation for the occasionally bizarre," said Charlie Todd, a wildlife biologist with the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

City Forester Brian Dugas posted warning signs Friday at three entry points to the forest, alerting skiers and hikers about the threat of owl attacks.

Allen has been back in the forest twice since Tuesday's owl attack, an incident he says he won't soon forget.

"They say ... there's no sound at all when an owl flies. So you don't hear them coming," he said. "I believe it. Because I never knew anything was coming. I was just skiing merrily along."

Lodi, CA: Oh, Lord!

I recently saw a comment on Twitter about Effingham, IL being the "Lodi of the Midwest" from Twitterer johnginsburg in Chicago. Now, my familiarity with Lodi is limited to the old CCR classic song with the famous refrain, "Oh Lord, stuck in Lodi again." Beyond that, I know nothing about it. My assumption is that Mr. Ginsburg meant the comment a bit tongue and cheek - so I decided to do a bit of research on Lodi. Here is what I found.

Lodi, California is located in San Joaquin County and has a population of about 64,000 people and is considered a part of the metro area of Stockton and a popular bedroom community for folks tired of real estate prices in San Francisco and Sacramento. Lodi is probably most famously known as the Zinfandel Capital of the World and has many wineries surrounding it - most famously it is the childhood home of Robert Mondavi.

Lodi was settled in 1869 when the Central Pacific Railroad was creating a new route - settlers offered a townsite as an incentive for the railine to build a station and it worked. The Central Pacific was given 12 acres in the middle of town and streets were layed out from there.

Initially called Mokelumne and Mokelumne Station after the nearby river, confusion with other nearby towns prompted a name change, which was officially endorsed in Sacramento by an assembly bill. Several stories have been offered as to the origins of the town's new name. One refers to a locally stabled trotting horse that had set a four mile (6 km) record, but as the horse reached the peak of its fame in 1869, it is unlikely that the notoriety would have still been evident in 1873. Alternatively, Lodi is a place in Italy where Napoleon defeated the Austrians and won his first military victory. More than likely, some of the earliest settler families were from Lodi, Illinois, and they chose to use the same name as their hometown.

In 1906, the city was officially incorporated by voters, passing 2 to 1. The fire department was established in 1911, and the city purchased the Bay City Gas and Water Works in 1919. Additional public buildings constructed during this period include the Lodi Opera House in 1905, a Carnegie library in 1909, and a hospital in 1915.

Early industries in Lodi included a saw mill, flour mill, vineyards, orchards, and cattle ranching.The Lodi Land and Lumber Company saw mill was built on the south bank of the Mokelumne River in 1877, and relied on logs floated down from the Sierras during the rainy season. The mill was powered by a steam engine, and has a capacity of 40,000 board feet per day.

The "Flame Tokay" grape was introduced from Algeria in 1857, and was a central feature of the vineyards that gradually rose to prominence because of the sandy loam soil and the location directly east of the Suisun Pass. For a brief period during the late 19th century the vines were usurped in favor of watermelons and wheat, but price cuts and labeling problems encouraged farmers to plant more vines.

The early 20th century saw the establishment of several large manufacturers with national distribution capabilities, such as Supermold, the Pinkerton Foundry, the Lodi Iron Works, Pacific Coast Producers, Holz Rubber Company, Valley Industries, and Goehring Meat Company.

Today the Lodi area is home to several large manufacturing, general services, and agricultural companies, including Archer Daniels Midland, Blue Shield of California, Dart Container, General Mills, Holz Rubber Company, Kubota Tractors, Lodi Iron Works, Miller Packing Company, Pacific Coast Producers, Thule/Valley Industries, and Woodbridge-Robert Mondavi.Lodi is the birthplace of A&W Root Beer and A&W Restaurants, established in 1922. The first mug was served in June 1919.

Lodi is well known for the town's production of grapes and wine. Lodi is referred to as the wine-grape capital of California. Every September there is a Grape Festival held which includes rides, food, and wine tasting. Also popular is the Spring Wine Show (held in late March/early April, so as not to coincide with Easter every year), which showcases the area's 50-plus award-winning wineries.

Taste of Lodi is one of the area's most prestigious food and wine events. The event supports tourism growth in the Lodi's community and features over 40 award-winning Lodi wineries along with food selections from some of the area's finest restaurants and caterers. The event also has wine seminars, chefs demonstrations, live music and a Port, Cigar and Chocolate Pavilion.

Born in 2005 by the Lodi Winegrape Commission, this wine event is held at beautiful Lodi Lake and features Lodi's finest Zinfandel wines. Usually held on the third weekend of May this event includes a Friday night dinner called "Vintner's Grille".

Changing Faces Theater Company is a non-profit, student-run organization, which is supported by the Lodi Arts Commission. An annual two week production occurs each summer and is cast with mostly local children ranging from age six up to college students and, sometimes, a few adults. The production is normally staged at Jessie's Grove Winery where a number of additional activities are typically held at the same time.

A Creedence Clearwater Revival song was named for Lodi, CA, although the songwriter (John Fogerty) admits he had never actually visited the city and simply thought it was "the coolest sounding name". Still, the song, with its chorus "Oh, Lord, stuck in Lodi again," has been the theme of various events in the city including a past Grape Festival. Fogerty has continued the legend often saying he was "stuck in Lodi".

So the question is this. What does our Twittering friend mean exactly by saying Effingham is the Lodi of the Midwest? Is it the theater? Help me out!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Effingham, IL: Effingham, Effingham, Effingham

Green Mtn, Effingham, NH

For the majority of my undergrad years, I worked at my Uncle Ace's Sunoco station in Effingham, IL. The station had a small footprint just a few hundred feet from the two interstates that merged through town. Every day, thousands of travelers headed all directions to myriad destinations hopped on and off the exit for "grub and gas". Sometimes you could get a feeling for what Mark Twain must have felt watching barges go up and down the Mississippi in his childhood home of Hannibal, MO.

Now the Sunoco wasn't exactly the busiest gas station in town. This made it the perfect job for a commuting college student; which is to say it left plenty of time to complete my studies. In the summer however, the evening shift seemed to last forever. Remembering my father's early lectures on idle hands, I would find myself engaged in all sorts of activities to pass the time. After completing just about every productive task, I soon found myself drawn to the POS (point of sale) display for Rand McNally US Atlases.

Inside the atlas, a whole world of names and places revealed themselves to me. Remember this is before the internet - Bill Gates was busy dabbling with Altair computers at this time! One evening, after determining that Tennessee bordered more states than any other state (8), I asked myself: Is there only one Effingham in the United States? Much to my surprise, not only were we not alone in our unique combo name of a slang swear word / pork product moniker - there were several!

Here were the results of my non Google aided research:

Effingham, IL
Effingham, KS
Effingham GA
Effingham, SC
Effingham Lake, Ont
Effingham Inlet, Vancouver Island
and, drum roll....all hugging the Maine border in New Hampshire
Effingham Falls, NH
Effingham, NH
Center Effingham, NH
South Effingham, NH

Did I miss any? Let me know!

Estes Park, CO: William Clyde Currence and the Legend of the Blue Mist

This is the story of an old Hermit who lived in the Estes Park, Colorado area around the turn of the century that people called "Miner Bill". Bill's real name was William Clyde Currence and he came to the Estes Park area from Trenton, Nebraska in 1883. Whether Bill was insane, eccentric or both most remember him as a person whose life was shrouded in mystery.

Miner Bill's sanity was questioned around December of 1904 when acquaintances took him to the Montezuma County jail after he became uncontrollable. A doctor examined Bill and stated that of all the insane people he had seen in his life, that Bill was the worst that he had ever be exposed to. The doctor ordered that Bill be bound hand and foot. At a commitment hearing later in the month people who knew Bill told of how he would talk of wild things. That most of Bill's conversation would be on astrology and about Divine things......

After about a years confinement in the Colorado State Insane Asylum Bill was released and immediately set to prospecting in the Horseshoe Park area of what is now Rocky Mountain National Park. After several months Bill filed two claims on the West side of Mount Chapin just north of a rock formation now known as Miner Bill's Spire. Local geologists thought that Bill was wasting his time, since they themselves had collected rock samples from the base to the summit of Mount Chapin and had not found any traces of gold or silver.

Heedless of these criticisms, Miner Bill began construction of a trail to access the upper mines. Some might say that it was the product of a deranged mind fixating on a singular task. Non-the-less, great care was taken in building a well planned and skillfully engineered trail. The trail was so well constructed that it has lasted to the year I am telling this tale to you. Certainly, much more time and effort were expended than was warranted to reach the presumably worthless mines.

With the formation of Rocky Mountain National Park in 1915 Miner Bill became embroiled in a dispute with the Federal Government. It seems that the Superintendent of RMNP stopped by Bill's mine and asked him to quit cutting trees. Then construction of Fall River road caused Bill to complain that the road interfered with his mining claim. The people Bill complained to told him that the road would benefit his claim not hinder it. Well, Bill did not agree with this so he strung up a barbed wire fence across the road. He was arrested but released after promising not to put up the fence again. Bill continued to fan the flames of the situation by cutting more trees, building an additional cabin and erecting new fences. Bill continued to live in his cabins, which he named "Snowshoe" and "Hackmandy" until about 1930 when he was forced off the mining claim and into Estes Park by an attorney of the United States.

Well, the Town of Estes Park wasn't very comfortable with Miner Bill actually in Town all the time. Bill had the habit of talking to himself in public which frightened many people; a habit that many people who are merely lonely have developed. Bill lived in peoples barns and in make shift lean-tos in the colder weather. The owner of the Stanley Hotel, F.O. Stanley who was also the inventor of the Stanley Steamer automobile gave Miner Bill odd jobs to do on occasion to give Bill some spending money.

What bothered people the most was when Bill started talking of "Divine things", especially his personal fear of what Bill referred to as the "Blue Mist". According to Bill, on cloudy nights near his cabin a Being that manifested itself as a glowing Blue Mist would appear in the trees near his cabins on the side of Mount Chapin. This Being would leave three toed claw marks in the snow and on the trunks of the trees around the cabins. Animals were found dead with nothing left but fresh bones on the ground. Bill believed that there was some relationship to his discovery of Rhyolite crystals while digging for gold and silver. He thought that by uncovering the crystals he had released something that had been trapped in the crystals while they were covered with earth.

One day the citizens of Estes Park noticed that Bill had not been around Town for over a week. "Probably gone back to his cabins on the side of Mount Chapin" they said. Even though they were uncomfortable with Miner Bill around they were curious as to what had become of him. Speculation and gossip turned to action and a retired Army officer by the name of Louis O' Riordan took the bull by the horns and went out to Bill's cabins to see what had happened.

O' Riordan came back a day later and told the Town that he had found Bill and his dog dead near the front of the cabin he called "Snowshoe". All that was left of the two of them were the bones held together by fragments of ligament and sinew. Around Bill were tracks of some kind of animal with three toes still visible in the snow.

Most people who come to Rocky Mountain National Park do not know about William Clyde Currence and the Legend of the Blue Mist. And most of those who learn of the tale do not bother to make the arduous hike up the trail that Miner Bill constructed to his mine and cabins. But some of the travelers to the area want to know more about this mysterious man and what he might have seen on the slopes of Mount Chapin. Perhaps you the reader will make the hike up to Miner Bill's Spire and Bill's old cabins and mines some day. And perhaps you will come back to Town and talk of Astrology......and Divine things......and Blue Mists.......

Copyright (c) 1995 By Arthur Vyn Boennighausen

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Edgerton, WI: Who was Sterling North?

Thomas Sterling North (November 4, 1906 – December 22, 1974) was an American author of books for children and adults, including 1963's bestselling Rascal. North, who professionally went by "Sterling North", was born on the second floor of a farmhouse on the shores of Lake Koshkonong, a few miles from Edgerton, Wisconsin in 1906 and died in Morristown, New Jersey in 1974. Surviving a near-paralyzing struggle with polio in his teens, he grew to young adulthood in the quiet southern Wisconsin village of Edgerton, which North transformed into the "Brailsford Junction" setting of several of his books.

Sterling North's maternal grandparents, James Hervey Nelson and Sarah Orelup Nelson, were Wisconsin pioneers. Born in Putnam County, New York, James moved first to near Rochester, New York, then to Menomonee, in Waukesha County, Wisconsin (near Milwaukee), then pioneered a farm near present day South Wayne, in southwestern Wisconsin. His daughter, Sarah Elizabeth "Elizabeth" Nelson, was Sterling North's mother; she died when Sterling was seven years old. She married David Willard North, also the product of a pioneering local family, whose brother ran the family farm.

Sterling North had three siblings: two sisters, Jessica Nelson North who was an author, poet, and editor; Theo, who was the martinet in the family; and a brother, Herschel, who survived World War I. When Sterling North was eleven (in 1917, which would have been the year of his maternal grandfather's 100th birthday), several of his uncles wrote extended biographies about their parents and their pioneer farm life. One of these uncles was Justus Henry Nelson, an early missionary in the Amazon Basin. This writing effort was at the same time as the setting of Rascal and may have been an early literary inspiration to North.

After attending the University of Chicago, Nort worked for the New York World-Telegram and the New York Sun before becoming (he left without graduating in 1929), North worked as a reporter (eventually literary editor) for the Chicago Daily News, the New York World-Telegram and the New York Sun before becoming a full-time freelance writer. One of his first books, The Pedro Gorino, published in 1929, was a narrative of the life of Harry Dean, an African-American sea captain. A 1934 North novel, Plowing on Sunday, featured a rare dust jacket illustration by Iowa artist Grant Wood.

North's book Midnight and Jeremiah was made into the Disney movie So Dear to My Heart in 1949. (The movie garnered an Academy Award nomination for best song: "Lavender Blue", sung by Burl Ives). In addition, North wrote Abe Lincoln: Log Cabin to White House, The Wolfling: A Documentary Novel of the Eighteen-Seventies, Racoons are the Brightest People, Hurry Spring, and many other books.

In 1957 he became the general editor of Houghton Mifflin's North Star Books. This firm published biographies of American heroes for young adult readers. Although uncredited, North's beloved bride, Gladys Buchanan North, also contributed to the editing process.

North published his most famous work, Rascal, in 1963. The book is a remembrance of a year in his childhood when he raised a baby raccoon which he named Rascal. It received a Newbery Honor in 1964, a Sequoyah Book Award in 1966, and a Young Reader's Choice Award in 1966. It was made into the Disney movie of the same name in 1969. Additionally, it was made into a 52-episode Japanese anime entitled Araiguma Rasukaru. Raiguma Rascal means Racoon Rascal.

Subtitled "a memoir of a better era", North's book is a prose poem to adolescent angst. Rascal chronicles young Sterling's loving, troubled relationship with his father, dreamer David Willard North, and the aching loss represented by the death of his mother, Elizabeth Nelson North. The boy reconnects with society through the unlikely intervention of his pet raccoon, a "ringtailed wonder" charmer that dominates almost every page.

The author's sister, poet and art historian Jessica Nelson North, is one note of early 1900s normalcy in the book. She wasn't particularly pleased with how her brother portrayed her family in Rascal yet was proud of her brother's achievement, regardless.
(source Wikipedia)

Next time you are cruising north of Janesville, WI take a second and explore Sterling's hometown. Near the shores of Lake Koshkonong (a huge but shallow lake) and the historic Rock River, Edgerton has quite an interesting story to tell: summer celebrations of a unique tobacco economy (yes tobacco growing in Wisconsin!), and an honest to goodness classic Carnegie library.

Tobacco Days

Champaign, IL

Solid Terrain Model of Illinois

The winner of Best Poster at the 2003 Illinois GIS Association fall conference and the Beckman Institute for Advance Science and Technology at the University of Illinois Image of the Week was Illinois Topography in 3D. Instead of being a GIS map printed on paper, it consisted of a color plaster model of Illinois terrain held to an exhibit board by Velcro.

This terrain model output is the next step beyond onscreen spinning 3D models, and is reminiscent of the papier-mâché models many of us saw in museums as children. This new generation of map models; however, are produced at dramatic savings in time and cost, and can be much more accurate because they are generated directly from Digital Elevation Models.

The truly exciting thing about using this medium is that it makes the terrain come alive. This map seemed to be telling the story of the glaciers which advanced and retreated repeatedly across Illinois, scraping and smearing the landforms they covered. The terrain heights were scaled to appear thirty times higher than they really are.

The map was created in collaboration with the Imaging Technology Group at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois using the newly installed ZCorp Z406 printer.

There were three major steps involved in creating the model; build the computer model, print it, and clean and treat it. First, build the computer model, set the extent and vertical exaggeration, and export to VRML format. A limitation in the exported VRML file required additional processing of the image files used to color the model.

Second, the computer file is sent to the printer. The Z406 printer builds the model from the bottom up in layers of plaster powder on an 8in x 10in platform that retracts into the printer as the model gets taller. It squirts a colored adhesive in each layer of powder until the full height of the model is printed.

Finally, at the completion of printing the model is surrounded by loose plaster powder. The excess powder is removed by vacuum then finely cleaned with an airbrush. The model is then immersed in wax to add strength and bring out the vibrancy of the colors. (More info)

Photography courtesy of Benjamin Grosser, Beckman Institute for Advance Science and Technology at the University of Illinois

Golconda, IL: Southern Illinois history lost on Cherokee Trail of Tears

American Weekend

GOLCONDA, Ill. — Nearly 9,000 Cherokees passed through Southern Illinois between November, 1838, and January, 1839, on their fateful Trail of Tears as the government forced them to abandoned their homes in the Great Smokies to go west to Oklahoma.

Very little of the history of the Cherokee's time in Southern Illinois remains. The one set of notes compiled by researchers in the 1930s known to have existed disappeared from the Marion Carnegie Library years ago when the basement flooded and materials were quickly being moved from the water.

The Cherokees crossed the Ohio River into Illinois at Golconda. Their trek took them westward on the 19th Century version of what's now Route 146. They went through Vienna and Jonesboro and crossed the Mississippi at two different ferries. One was immediately west of Jonesboro at Willard Landing and the other was to the southwest opposite Bainbridge, Mo. Today the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail auto route enters Southern Illinois on the ferry at Cave-in-Rock, turns west onto Route 146 north of the city and continues westward until it crosses the Mississippi at Cape Girardeau.

There is generally two types of sources for information about the trail. One came from contemporary sources when the trail occurred. Probably the best source for information about Southern Illinois was the diary of Rev. John S. Butrick, a missionary who traveled with the Cherokees. The other general source is local family histories. From these we get the story of the Buel House in Golconda and the pumpkin pies, the Cherokees at Bridges Tavern and Wayside Store in Pleasant Grove and the story of Priscilla and the hollyhocks.

The notes missing from the Marion Carnegie Library were not the only copies of the notes that were originally made. They were just the only copy where anybody knew what happened to them. The notes were made by a husband and wife team with the last name Mulcaster. In the early 1930s they traveled along the Trail of Tears and interviewed survivors and people along the trail who might remember stories about the Cherokees passing through.

Historians know the Mulcasters picked up stories in Southern Illinois, because correspondence between them and Southern Illinois Normal University Professor George W. Smith can still be found in special collections at Morris Library. The only problem is that the postcards that refer to Bridges Tavern and the local traditions recorded there, don't include the typed notes the Mulcasters promised to send to Smith.

In the case of Bridges Tavern which was located along Route 146 in Pleasant Grove between West Vienna and Mount Pleasant, at least one of the stories was printed in the Vienna Times later in 1933 or early 1934.

The Cherokees' trek across Southern Illinois was not a pleasant one. They were treated badly and they were stuck here waiting for the ice flows to stop down the Mississippi. The Cherokees traveled in 13 contingents to Oklahoma. One went by river, three took a southern route and nine traveled across Illinois. Each contingents was set up to take 1,000 people, all except the 13th, which was smaller.

Butrick crossed the Ohio on Dec. 15, 1838, he didn't see the Mississippi River until Jan. 25. Even then, it took three more weeks to get all the people in his contingent crossed. From the time the first contingent crossed the Ohio in November to the last part of Butrick's group in February, The Cherokees spent three months in Southern Illinois. According to Butrick's diary, by Dec. 29, 1838, the detachments were spread out across the region. "One detachment stopped at the Ohio River, two at the Mississippi, one four miles this side, one 16 miles this side, one 18 miles, and one 13 miles behind us. In all these detachments, comprising about 8,000 souls, there is now a vast amount of sickness, and many deaths," wrote Butrick who himself was suffering from fever and a cough.

Golconda legends
Two stories about the Cherokees in Golconda have filtered down to the present. An unfavorable view of Golconda comes from Butrick. A nicer story is told through family tradition.
The Buel Family told the story of their ancestor Sarah (Jones) Buel who moved to Golconda on Sept. 2, 1836. Two years later the Cherokees passed through Golconda. "My great-great-grandmother was acookin' pumpkin an' keepin' an eye on her baby when she heard a strange noise outside. Before she knew it, the front door popped open and there stood two Cherokee Indian braves just alookin' at her. Those poor Indians couldn't tell her that they were hungry because they didn't speak English," recalled In Buel Richards in the 1980s. "They had smelled the pumpkin cookin' as they passed by, but my grandmother had no way of knowin' that. Finally, she understood what they wanted, and those Indians were mighty thankful when she gave them some of the cooked pumpkin. I 'spect she was just as thankful when they left," she added.
Butrick's account was more negative. He started his account with the crossing of the Ohio River at about 10 a.m. under pleasant weather and still winds. "As we were now passing out of a slave state into a free, we reflected on the pleasure of landing where all were in a measure equal and free. But we had scarcely landed when we were met with volleys of oaths from every quarter," Butrick wrote. "On going up from the boats into the village, called Golconda, it seemed to be made up chiefly of groceries, and little boys in the streets had already learned to lisp the infernal language. I almost longed to be back in the still, quiet towns of Kentucky," he added.
Prior to the Great Awakening of religious revivals in the 1840s, Southern Illinois was like most areas on the frontier with groceries (what taverns today were called) far outnumbering churches.
Although no major calamity affected Butrick's detachment, he mentioned in his diary problems other detachments had including two murders of Cherokees by local residents and extortion attempts.

While his entries were mostly negative, either because of local reactions to the Cherokees or his own failing health, Butrick did have a few good things to write about. The day after arriving in Illinois, he wrote that he had the opportunity to explain the Cherokee's plight to a group of Golconda residents who had come out to the camps. A few weeks later he asked God's blessing for a kind wagon maker and his family.

Johnson-Union county line
With the exception of taking three weeks to cross the Mississippi, Butrick's group's longest stay was in an area about 25 miles east of the Mississippi which would put it in the Pleasant Grove to Mount Pleasant area. At Pleasant Grove was John Bridges' Tavern and Wayside Store. The tavern was a large two-story dog-trot log cabin which stood until the 1940s when it burned. The store was a separate log cabin located behind the tavern or inn. The store had a thick door with a number of nails driven into to prevent Indians, or local thieves, from breaking in and stealing the whiskey. The door still survives to this day in a private collection.

According to the grand-nephew of John Bridges, Lewis Stanley Beggs, who died in 1934, his mother who lived with Bridges recalled the hundreds of Indians walk past the house and how eager they were to buy "fire water" at the tavern.

Other stories that the Mulcasters collected implied that the Cherokees are also bought and traded for foodstuffs at the tavern and store. In the Vienna Times article that quoted Beggs, it also told one way young Cherokees would earn money along the trail. "A favorite scheme to raise money... was in his craftiness in the use of the bow and arrow. He would approach the white emigrants and place a coin in the split end of a pole, step back so many paces and offer the coin if he did not hit it in the first show, otherwise he was to receive a coin from the emigrant," read the article. If Golconda was a disappointment for Butrick, he had better things to write about Jonesboro. He was still disappointed to see so many groceries (modern taverns), but he was impressed by the neatness of the village.

Priscilla and the hollyhocks
Besides Butrick's favorable impression of Jonesboro, at least one other positive story has been remembered from the Cherokees passing through the village and camping two miles to the west on Dutch Creek. That was the legend of the slave Priscilla and the hollyhocks. The late SIU professor and historian John W. Allen wrote the most complete story of Basil Silkwood and Priscilla. Silkwood was an innkeeper on the old Shawneetown to Kaskaskia Trail where it went through Mulkeytown in Franklin County. Allen wrote that Silkwood and his wife were "evidentially a kindly people. That is evidenced by the fact that, having no children of their own, they, over a period of years, furnished homes to 16 orphaned children.

In 1837, Silkwood traveled in the South and at one point visited a plantation in North Carolina near the Great Smokies. During that extended stay, he got to know some of the plantation slaves particularly the young house servants. One of which was a 11- or 12-year-old girl named Priscilla who was a quadroon, or one-fourth Black.

According to Allen, Priscilla's "beauty and cheerfulness" attracted Silkwood's attention.
"He particularly enjoyed seeing her and the other slave children as they played on the flower-decked grounds about the plantation home and its slave cabins. The little slave girl also came to know 'Marse' Silkwood'," Allen wrote.

Shortly after Silkwood returned to Illinois, the plantation owner died and his property, including Priscilla and the other slaves, were sold at auction. A Cherokee chief purchased Priscilla.
"Before leaving the plantation, where she had played with the other slave children and been happy, Priscilla gathered a quantity of hollyhock seeds and carried them along with her to the strange new home," Allen wrote.

There she planted the seeds. When her new Cherokee owner was forced to move the following year, she gathered hollyhock seeds again and took them with her.
Priscilla followed the Cherokees on their long trek. While passing through Jonesboro, fate intervened. "It is at this place that Basil Silkwood again enters the story. Having business in the town of Jonesboro, Illinois he had gone there on a December day in 1838. Standing in front of the Willard Hotel, he noted a passing child about 12 or 13 years old. She appeared strangely familiar. The child likewise appeared to recognize him," Allen wrote.

While the wagon train continued their passing through Jonesboro, Priscilla backtracked and passed Silkwood again. "Are you 'Marse' Silkwood?" Allen wrote she said. After realizing who it was Silkwood talked to her and found out her story. "Full of sympathy for the child in her plight, he secured a conveyance and drove at once to the tent o the Cherokee Chief on Dutch Creek. Silkwood was not long in coming to terms with the Indian and paid for Priscilla, it is said, a $1,000 in gold," Allen wrote Silkwood then took Priscilla to his inn at Mulkeytown and freed and adopted her into his family. She outlived both Silkwood and his wife. A member of the Mulkeytown Christian Church for many years she was buried in the Silkwood family plot beside Silkwood and his wife.

Today throughout Southern Illinois are small hollyhocks of an unusual red color that came from the Silkwood Inn. known as Priscilla Hollyhocks, these are the from the seeds Priscilla carried with her on the Trail of Tears.

Mason, IL: James Newton Matthews: The Prairie Poet

If you are from Effingham County, Illinois and you don't know who James Newton Matthews (1852-1910) was, shame, shame. Born near Mason, IL, Matthews was the very first student to attend the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign when it opened in 1868. Matthews studied literature and medicine before graduating with honors in 1872. Matthews worked as a country doctor and published multiple volumes of poetry for which he became known as the "Poet of the Prairie." In 1910, Matthews died of a heart attack after walking more than five miles through a snowstorm to treat a patient. Today there is a scholarship in his name at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

In his "Lute of Life", published posthumously in 1911, Matthews follows the style of fellow Midwestern poet, James Whitcomb Riley in his prose. Most notably, Matthews wrote "The Old Country Road".

The Old Country Road

Where did it come from, where did it go?
That was the question that puzzled us so,
As we waded the dust of the highway that flowed,
By the farm, like a river-the old country road.

We stood with the hair sticking up through the crown,
Of our hats, as the people went up and went down,
And we wished in our hearts, as our eyes fairly glowed,
We could find where it came from - the old country road.

We remember the peddler who came with his pack,
Adown the old highway, and never went back.
And we wondered what things he had seen as he strode
From some fabulous place up the old country road.

We remember the stage-driver's look of delight,
And the crack of his whip as he whirred into sight,
And we thought we could read in each glance he bestowed,
A tale of strange life up the old country road.

The movers came by like a ship in full sail,
With a rudder behind in the shape of a pail -
With a rollicking crew, and a cow that was towed
With a rope on her horns, down the old country road.

And the gypsies - how well we remember the week,
They camped by the old covered bridge on the creek -
How the neighbors quit work, and the crops were unhoed,
Till the wagons drove off down the old country road.

Oh, the top of the hill was the end of the world,
And the dust of the summer that over it curled,
Was the curtain that hid from our sight the abode
Of the fairies that lived up the old country road.

The old country road! I can see it still flow
Down the hill of my dreams, as it did long ago,
And I wish even now I could lay off my load,
And rest by the side of the old country road.

A little bit of lore surrounds Dr. Matthews that some may find interesting. While it is well documented that Matthews was good friends with James Whitcomb Riley (Indiana author and writer of the Riley Reader - a competitor to the famous McCuffey Reader that found its way into every one room schoolhouse in America) Matthews was also an acquaintance of Mark Twain. While I have never seen it, there is purported to be a photo of Twain in Mason at the "wishing well" downtown.

My interest in Dr. Matthews reaches back into my youth. My grandmother was born in 1908 and was delivered by Dr. Matthews in Mason, IL. Sadly, his dilapidating home, just north of Mason, was demolished two years ago with only the property owners mourning the loss. They had tried to find someone interested in saving the home, to no avail. Another bit of history lost to the ages.