Route 66 Historical Village in Tulsa, Oklahoma

Route 66 Historical Village in Tulsa, Oklahoma

The Main Street of America is a 2,448-mile long road going from Chicago, Illinois, to Santa Monica, California; you probably know it as Route 66. This road goes straight through Tulsa, Oklahoma, where I live and has been elected to be the capital of Route 66. Here in Tulsa, you will find many of the historical landmarks such as the Blue Whale Swimming Hole, Vickery Phillips 66 Station, and the Circle Theater. You will also find a few new places sharing the history of this road.


Mapping on the Wall.

Tulsa has so many landmarks and activities for Route 66, we decided to do a little bit at a time and really get to know and enjoy the venue. On this day, we visited the Route 66 Historical Village located in West Tulsa along the old Route 66 highway. Built in 2010, it shows off the different modes of transportation during the heyday of this amazing road. Here you will find the Meteor 4500 steam engine that was once located at Mohawk Park from 1954-1991, the business lounge car that traveled between Tulsa and Sapulpa, an oil tanker and the caboose. You will also find a display of an antique pump-jack that was used to get crude oil from a well just under the tallest oil derrick in North America.

 


The actual engine that traveled between St. Louis and Oklahoma, passing through Tulsa.

We decided to visit the open air museum in West Tulsa, the Route 66 Historical Village. This was opened in 2010 and has so many wonderful bits of history. Here you will find the Frisco 4500 engine that traveled through Tulsa between St. Louis and Oklahoma City from 1942 until 1947. In 1954 the Engine was moved to the Mohawk Park and Tulsa Zoo where it stayed until 1991 when it was moved to another location to be renovated and finally found it’s home in 2009 at this location. Not only was the engine placed here, but there is a business lounge car, oil tanker, and caboose (former boxcar). All of these were operated in Oklahoma.


The Meteor 4500 next to the tallest oil rig in North America.


Here you can see the early 1900’s style pump.


Tulsa Skyline seen in the near distance.

Tulsa is known as the Oil Capital of the World and it is here at the location of the Route 66 Historical Village where oil was supposed to have been first oil strike on June 25, 1901. The derrick and pump are not the original, but they are built exactly as they were. The derrick is the tallest in North America is 194 feet tall and can be seen from the highway below with the Tulsa skyline in the background.

 


The visitor center and restrooms in the style of the old Phillip 66 gas stations.

Because the new highways have bypassed the towns where old Route 66 passed through, many of the old gas stations are falling apart or have completely disappeared, the museum creators decided to build their visitor center and bathrooms in the style these buildings were built in. They had a buy-a-brick fundraiser to help with the cost of the buildings and upkeep of the museum which was used to pave in front of the building. Here you will find plenty of information about Route 66.

 


Scott and I taking a selfie in front of a Route 66 memorial area.

We had a wonderful day visiting the Mother Road through Tulsa. It was a way to view history that was not boring or outdated. I can’t wait to see what else Tulsa will do with the Route 66 Vision 2025. With Tulsa being elected the Route 66 Capitol, I am sure there will be some amazing things created.

Thank you so much for traveling with us.

Chickasaw National Recreation Area – A Downgraded National Park

Chickasaw National Recreation Area – A Downgraded National Park

 

 

When the Chickasaw Nation was forced to relocate to Indian Territory, within their new borders they found a wooded area filled with fresh water and strong-smelling mineral water springs. They believed these springs had healing powers. Fearing that they would not be able to protect this area from commercial development and becoming another Hot Springs, Arkansas, they sold it to the Federal Government, with the condition that it be protected, and kept open to the public. In 1902 Senator Orville Platt introduced legislation designating this area the Sulphur Springs Reservation, and in 1906 Congress passed legislation creating Platt National Park, named for Senator Platt, who had recently died.


CCC built structure around Buffalo Springs.

At 640 acres, Platt National Park was the seventh and the smallest unit in the National Park System. Though small it was no less popular, in 1914 it received more visitors than Yellowstone or Yosemite. In the 1930s the Civilian Conservation Corps was assigned to make improvements, to make the area deserving of being a National Park. They added many buildings, and landscape features, that significantly altered the character of the park. By 1949 it was receiving more than a million visitors a year. However, many people within Congress felt that Platt National Park lacked the grandeur and scope expected of a National Park. On March 17, 1976, Congress changed the status from Platt National Park to the Chickasaw National Recreation Area because it was not the same natural beauty as Yellowstone and Yosemite. This former national park was added to the Arbuckle Recreation Area to create a lush playground for all to enjoy.


Lake of the Arbuckle’s on a foggy fall morning.

The older portion of the park, the Platt District, remains popular, still receiving more than a million visitors a year. It features the springs, a swimming hole, fishing, boating, hiking, and camping. The swimming hole has a small man-made waterfall called the Little Niagara. Here the spring water is cold and a host to people of all cultures.


The lower falls at Little Niagara.

There are three basic camping areas. The Lake of the Arbuckles areas: Buckhorn, Guy Sandy, and The Point. One, Guy Sandy, is first come-first serve and does not require a reservation. You simply show up, decide on your spot and visit the kiosk, then pay for your stay. Buckhorn and The Point are reservation camping loop is very nice with full hook-ups and full almost all year round. The third camping area is within the historic Platt District, the original area of the park has three camping loops, in which the only one is open year round and only first come-first serve. This area is surrounded by the rushing creek and active in the springtime.

Ren and I first visited in Fall of 2013, we were on the way back from visiting family in Oklahoma. This was before we really caught the travel bug, but we fell in love with the park and made plans to return. We have revisited the park several times since then, it is a reasonable drive from both Fort Worth and from Tulsa. When I started photography it was one for the first places I wanted to go.
We decided one day to visit the visitor center and hike trails behind it. Here the shade from the canopy of trees kept us cool in the Oklahoma August heat. It was quiet for the most part, except the various little waterfalls and birds chattering in the treetops. Here we found a peaceful place just minutes away from the main county road. It was an amazing hike.


Hiking along one of the many trails at Chickasaw National Recreation Area.

We then took the time to swim in the swimming hole just below the Little Niagara Falls. We even followed many of the young people and jumped off the top! It was exhilarating. I remember my heart pumping and watching the people ahead of us pop up from down below. My knee was aching, it was only recently healed from being broken and the cold, spring water felt good, taking away the swelling.

It may not be a National Park anymore, but it is still worth a visit if you are in the area.

Thanks so much for visiting this park with us!
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Fort Davis Trip, June 14 – 19, 2016

Fort Davis Trip, June 14 – 19, 2016

Traveling Thursday
July 26, 2018

Most of our trips tend to be quick journeys over the weekend, or slightly longer trips over a long weekend, but sometimes we like to take the time for a longer road-trip.  By the middle of 2016 we had already explored fairly well the area around Dallas that could be easily reached over a weekend.  We were having to drive three hours or more to get to an area we hadn’t already visited.  As part of her volunteer work, Ren was having to attend meetings in Austin once a quarter, always on Wednesday mornings.  This offered us the opportunity to use Austin as a jumping off point for a longer adventure.  So it was that on June 14th we set off on one of our longer road-trips.

Wednesday afternoon, we left from Austin headed toward the first stop on our journey, South Llano River State Park, just outside of Junction TX.  This is a pretty little riverside park with a nice swimming hole.  We arrived in the early afternoon, spent some time exploring the park, before going for a swim in the river.  The water was very clear and cold.  Perfect for cooling off on a hot June day in Texas. The park  has hiking trails, a wild turkey flock, and you can rent rafts and kayaks in Junction and float down the river to the park, where they will pick you up at the end of your trip.

South Llano River State Park Sign

This park is an International Dark Sky Park, and an excellent place for stargazing. Light pollution is increasingly a problem in the developed world as the city lights drown out the night sky making it very difficult for many people to experience the wonder of the universe under a truly dark sky.  South Llano River has very dark skies.  Unfortunately due to the timing of our trip moon was too close to full for the viewing to be very good when we were there, and it was also a bit cloudy,  I stayed up that evening to take some photos, but none of them were worth sharing.

After breakfast we set out the next morning headed west.  The further west we went the more rugged and interesting the landscape became.  This was our first trip into far west Texas, and we soon found ourselves asking why we had waited so long.  Every region of Texas has its charms, but there is something special about the mountains.  Ren and I were both awed by the beauty we found in West Texas.

West Texas Landscape

After many hours of driving, we reached our first destination of the day.  Balmorhea State Park, just outside of Balmorhea Texas.  This unique park is in the foothills of the West Texas mountains, built around the San Solomon Springs, it is an oasis in the desert.  In the 1930’s the Civilian Conservation Corps took this spring and made it into a huge swimming pool.  Up to 30 feet deep in places, the cool, crystal clear waters flow up from the bottom of the spring at a rate of 25 million gallons a day and flow out through canals to irrigate the surrounding countryside.  We were both surprised to find it home to fish and other underwater creatures. The waters maintain a temperature of 72 to 76 degrees year round.  We expected to find this a refreshing stop, and we did, but we did not anticipate how beautiful the setting was.

After our swim, we headed for our ultimate destination, Davis Mountains State Park (DMSP), just west of Fort Davis Texas.  Located in the Davis Mountain range, Davis Mountains State Park, (DMSP), is actually two Parks.  DMSP and Indian Lodge State Park.  Indian Lodge is a full-service hotel located within the larger park.  Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, (CCC), in the 1930s.  It serves as a getaway for those who want to visit this area without giving up their creature comforts.

Davis Mountain State Park Sign

We are not averse to traveling in comfort when the budget allows, but for this trip, we were camping.  We arrived after the office was closed, but we had already reserved our campsite online.   We went to the bulletin board and found our site number.  In most Texas State Parks we have visited, they mark which sites are reserved, and you are free to choose from those remaining sites.  We were not used to having a site assigned to us, but we were happy enough with the site once we found it.  On arriving at a new park, we always drive through the park to get a lay of the land.  The office was closed, but we were able to pick up maps and ask questions at the Indian Lodge desk and gift shop.  After driving through the park, we set up camp.

We had been concerned about the heat, being June in West Texas.  We needn’t have worried. DMSP is between 5,000 and 6,000 feet above sea level, and being in the desert, the humidity is low.  The days were warm but not excessively so, and the nights were downright chilly, getting down in the 50s.    Having done our research, we were prepared for the local wildlife.  While it has been many years since a bear has been sighted in DMSP, they do have a large population of Javelina.  Javelina are a large pig-like animal.  They are generally not dangerous to humans if left alone, but they can be dangerous if threatened.  In the evening we heard them rummaging through our camp looking for food, but we had made sure to secure any food and garbage in our truck before going to bed. Our neighbors had not been so wise, and while they were away their camp was destroyed.

Friday Morning we drove into the Town of Fort Davis to have breakfast.  There we found a nice little restaurant at the Fort Davis Drug Store, which is actually a gift shop, restaurant, and hotel; however, this was the actual site of the Drug and General Store during the days of Fort Davis.  Their cheesy hash browns are one of the best things I ever ate, easily as good as the baked potato casserole at the Natty Flats Smokehouse.    We ended up eating all our breakfasts there.

Fort Davis is the country seat of Jeff Davis County, so we had to go visit the courthouse.  It is a picturesque Courthouse with a lot of historical information inside as well as some interesting wood carvings and hand embroidered quilts.  Well worth the time to visit.

Fort Davis Courthouse

We very much liked the town of Fort Davis.  It is a small place and mostly survives on tourism,  They do a good job of making you feel welcome.  The reason they get so much tourism is that within the town of Fort Davis is the Fort Davis National Historic Site.

Fort Davis Sign

This is a well-preserved frontier fort from the era of the Indian Wars, active from 1854 to 1892, Fort Davis was built to protect settlers and freight on the Trans-Pecos portion of the San Antonio-El Paso Road.  The Fort, the town, and the county were named for Jefferson Davis, Secretary of War when the fort was established.  Much of the housing and several other buildings survive, and there are many exhibits built to help explain life on the frontier.  Visiting here you find yourself trying to imagine what it was like to live in this beautiful but harsh country without the benefits of air conditioning other modern conveniences.

Fort Davis

As the day was warming up, we decided to take advantage of one of those modern conveniences, Air Conditioning.  We set out to drive the Davis Mountains Scenic Loop.  The Davis Mountains Scenic loop is a 75-mile loop that begins in Fort Davis, heads west into the Davis Mountains on Highway 118, before turning south on Highway 166 which will bring you back to Highway 17 and Fort Davis. The Davis Mountains are an ancient range of volcanoes, with many rugged and beautiful peaks. The Davis Mountains fill a rough square about 31 miles on each side.  The Scenic Loop is one of the best ways to appreciate this amazing area of Texas.  It takes 2 hours to drive if you do not stop, it took us more like 4 hours as we stopped frequently to take in the views.

Make sure you are well prepared before taking this drive.  This is an extremely remote and empty country.  Once you leave Fort Davis you will pass the park entrance, and a few miles later, the McDonald Observatory, after that there is nothing but a couple of ranches until you get back to Fort Davis.  There is no cell phone service, and we only passed a couple of cars the entire day.  The roads are in very good condition, but there are places where you are many miles from help, and you might have a long wait till someone else came along.  Make sure you have plenty of gas and plenty of water. That said, this is an experience you do not want to miss.  This was my favorite part of the entire trip.

Once we got back to the park we headed over to Indian Lodge to have a great dinner at the Black Bear restaurant.  I highly recommend that you have at least one meal there during your visit. The service was wonderful and they made sure Ren had a gluten-free chicken fried steak and gravy.  Having a few hours of daylight left we explored more of DMSP.  In addition to the Javelinas, DMSP is a haven for birds.  They have a nice bird blind but there wasn’t much activity while we were there since it was later in the day when the heat is up.

The highest peak in the park is Lookout Mountain.  You can drive to the top where there is an observation area with a great view in all directions.  From there you can see McDonald Observatory to the west and Fort Davis to the east.  You can drive nearly to the top, where there is a small parking lot.  Nearby is an old CCC-built shelter giving you cool shade to take time to enjoy the amazing view.  One of the hiking trail leads to the top of the mountain, then continues on, out of the park and down to Fort Davis. Neither Ren or I were in shape enough to do much hiking in the heat of the day, but the trail is clearly marked and well traveled.

The lookout closes at sunset, but for a small fee you can stay up after hours. Here you can watch the sun dip down below Mount Livermore and show off McDonald Observatory. We did just that, sharing a nice sunset with some of the local wildlife. and took the time to shoot a short video. It was actually very relaxing and we spent plenty of time appreciating the view.

This is one of the darkest areas in the state and is an outstanding area for astronomy, however, it was nearly a full moon so the stargazing was not the best.  Still, I took the camera to see what I could get, while Ren took the air mattress so she could sleep in the back of the truck.  We met another photographer named Jim, who was also staying on the mountain, and he and I visited and took pictures, while Ren slept.  While Jim was shooting star trails, I took a series of long exposures of the lights from the cars returning to the park from the Star Party at the Observatory.   We hadn’t been able to get tickets for the Star Party; however, we were able to visit the observatory the next day.  At one point while we were taking pictures, a deer walked between us, then walked around the truck where Ren was sleeping and looked in curiously.  She seemed to have no fear us at all.

After a while, we headed back down the mountain to get some sleep.  We had another big day ahead, but this post is getting long, so I will save that story for another post.

Safe travels,
Scott

 

 

 

 

It’s All About The View

It’s All About The View

The very last week of March, Scott and I moved into a tiny 400 sq ft studio apartment that we intended to be in for at least a year.  We were pretty confident we would be able to live comfortably in the small space with the beds and living area in the same area because we did it quite well in the apartment we had in Texas.  I, however, did not have a job that caused me to come home and hit the bed by 6:30 pm.  This situation was just not ideal for Scott since he really didn’t want to go to bed that early.  But yet we really loved the tiny apartment in the historic building and were trying our best to deal with frustration.

The apartment building was built next to the Bellview School on 15th (Cherry Street) and Peoria.  I have checked out various places of Tulsa history and have found this building to be the location where those who taught at Bellview School (later changed to Lincoln School) resided.  At the time the school was built, it was just outside of the Tulsa City limits and the street was not known as 15th, but it was Cherry Street.  This was in 1909 and Tulsa was just finding its place in the state. Orcutt Addition was the area where the school was located.  You will find many old houses and apartment buildings from the 1900-1920’s in this area and all the street names have changed except for Utica.  The Swan Lake Park is still there, but at one time it was an amusement park; alas, that is another story.

There are eight one bedroom apartments and four studios at this time.  I am sure there were a few others down in the basement area, but spaces below are now storage for building maintenance and the laundry.  All of the apartments have mostly the same historical decorations that are quite charming, but there is a quite a bit of difference in what the studio has versus the one bedrooms.  I found the studios utterly charming and loved the experience of living in one.

The studios are basically one room with a seperate kitchen, hall area and bathroom; they do not feel terribly small. Having lived in our 547 sq ft Texas apartment within the bedroom, we thought this would be the perfect place and even were making plans to build a murphy bed!  The photo above is the 400 sq ft Tulsa apartment while the photo just below this is the 547 sq ft Texas apartment.

As you can see, space is pretty much equal and the living was pretty much the same, except in the Tulsa apartment the beds were used at night and stood up during the day for ease of movement.  We loved the situation we were in and really liked living in this manner when we were both on the same sleeping schedule.

One of the things I just loved about this Tulsa apartment was the fact that they had a huge closet in the main room.  What tiny 400 sq ft apartment has a giant closet like this, especially in historically build buildings from the turn of the century?  I was under the impression closets were never really built.

The surprise is, this was not originally a closet, it was a murphy bed!  This is where a bed frame and mattress are stored in a closet or stand-alone storage unit that is pulled down to sleep on and put away when not in use.  Unfortunately, the apartment owners decided it would be better to not have the murphy beds due to the “critters” that can be found in some beds, furniture and dark comfy places.  As neat as it would have been to have one, it is probably best to have them gone. This enabled us to have a huge closet to store our totes of unsorted stuff.

One of the interesting things about this tiny apartment was the fact that all four of them had whats called a “dressing” room.  This is where another closet was found and led to the bathroom.  During the time this building was created, people had specific rooms they would dress in so the main living areas were not cluttered with non-essential pieces of furniture.  This area was a huge space for us to put a dresser and have all of our clothes. At one time there was a door dividing the living and dressing areas, but only the henges remained.

The next set of doors had an even better surprise that had my heart all aflutter and was one of the reasons I really wanted this apartment in the first place, the kitchen.  It was about the size of the dressing room and bathroom together and there was a true antique behind the glass doors.

This is a cast iron, porcelain kitchen unit!  Of course, the stove is new, but the kitchen unit is original to the building and it came with a sweet bit of history.  On the lower left side of the photo, you will notice a door, do you know what it is?  I knew as soon as I saw it and I squealed with delight.  Strange I know, but that’s the history person in me.

It was an ice box!  An actual icebox that was still in amazing condition.  I have just loved the fact that there was one in this historic apartment.  Granted, I had no clue how to use one the way they did with these units, but, because an actual modern refrigerator was included in the kitchen, it would become a place to store items since there was not much room here.  There were also so many other original-to-this-kitchen items that I was thrilled about.

All of the cabinet and drawers were in fantastic condition and it just boggled my mind as to how little these original apartment dwellers had when they came to teach at the new Bellview School in 1910.  I could just imagine a teacher fixing themselves tea or a small meal after classes were over for the day.

The sink and faucet were also original to the apartment giving it all of the charms I was thrilled to be living in.  Fortunately, the plumbing was not historic and worked really well such an established apartment.

So many wonderful things we found original to this tiny bit of an apartment that made living here a pleasure, but that happiness was going to sour a little in less than a month of us moving in.  I had started a new job with a company who does resets of displays in a multiuse store and the work is exhausting.  I would spend hours working on ladders and lifting product to shelves that I had previously moved to fit a “plan-a-gram” and I was coming home exhausted and worn out.  First thing I would do was soak in a very hot tub with Epsom salt, then I would eat and then pull down my bed and fall asleep and all before 6:30 pm.  This did not go well for Scott.  He was feeling as if he had to be silent and not stir much.  Of course, I couldn’t seem to get him to understand that it would never have disturbed me, I was too exhausted.  Because of this, he had decided to look at the one bedroom apartment next door to our tiny apartment.  He was thrilled and wanted to move.  The apartment owner was happy about this turn of events and allowed us to move.

The move only took a few hours since we really don’t own too much.  The apartment has it’s own bit of charm because the former tenant had painted an accent color throughout the apartment.  It, at first was a bit overwhelming, but I have found I am quite fond of it and wonder how to add my own touch of style to it.  We both like the space we have gained and there are still some nice historical touches that make me happy to be in the larger space.

One such is this little niche next to the door.  At first, I thought it was a place for a phone; however, at the time the building was built, telephones were not in homes.  So, I still have not figured out what it was for, but I am using it as a landing strip and Dr. Who alter.  It works well for this.

The doors are original to the apartment and I love that there are still the glass knobs.  I, unfortunately, have found it is definitely not a door that keeps the sound out.  We are hoping to get the door replaced someday, but for now, we will continue to say it is wonderful to have such historic charm.

In the hallway, located where the kitchen is, most of the outer apartments have these niches in them.  There is a corresponding door on the opposite side of the wall.  It was definitely a mystery to us and it took a little research to figure it all out.

Turns out it is called a “milk door.”  This is where the milkman would deliver milk and pick up the empty milk bottles!  Once I knew what it was, I was very thrilled to know the owner had decided to keep them inside the kitchens.  Our milk door is closed up from the outside so the only place you can see this bit of history is from inside the apartment.  We decided this would be the perfect place to put Cordie’s food and treats.  Since there is not a lot of storage in the kitchen, this was the perfect spot.

The kitchen in this one bedroom does not have the same amount of charm as the tiny apartment, but it is still nice.  It has the same, but larger kitchen cabinets, but a more modern lower counter with sink.  I must say I am thrilled about a larger sink, it has made washing dishes so much easier.  Scott is still getting used to the kitchen area because there still is not as much prep surface.  We are still in the process of making it home.

It is such a very long kitchen, but I am realizing that the section just before the working area is just about sized right for a small round table.  I remember a photo I saw once where the table was just large enough for two plates and that was it, with a man sitting next to it.  People at the turn of the century did not sit in front of the television and eat like we do today; they sat at a table and took in their meals.  We are still looking for something small enough, but will probably build a folding table so we can use it and then put it away.  Space is a premium around this apartment and we are always looking for an interesting way to have the things we need using the least amount of space.

I had not realized how much I have missed having a bedroom.  I was finally able to go to bed as early as I wished without worrying about putting Scott out.  He was able to stay up as long as he wished without worrying he would disturb me from my sleep.  The best part was we did not have to put the bed away the next morning; just simply make the bed and get on with the day.  Such a  wonderful feeling.  It had been so long since we were able to do this and I am finally able to use the quilt my grandmother and mother made for me so long ago.

Because we have so much more space in the living room, we are able to have two dedicated desks for Scott and me to work at.  I have been working on the laptop on my lap for so long, I had forgotten how nice it was to have a clean, uncluttered desk to work at.  It has made working on the website so much easier.  We will be putting up a few individual shelves eventually and artwork, but we have the perfect accented wall to do just that.

One of the things a fellow tenant commented on is that we have our apartment flipped.  I was a bit confused by what she said and she invited me to her apartment on the other side of the building.  She has put her living area in the room we are using as a bedroom while using the biggest room for her bedroom.  I was stunned.  However, isn’t that what they did at the time when this building was new?  The one bedroom apartments also have the huge murphy bed closets so this originally the bedroom!  I was stunned; after all my studying on history living conditions, why had I not realized this!

When this building was built, there was no air conditioning except for the natural rise of heat and fall of cool. I often wondered how people kept cool during the years before air conditioning and this apartment was an education in just that.  Because of the high ceilings, cross ventilation, and large double opening windows they were able to keep the heat down.  The room we used as a bedroom has four huge windows that were put there for just that purpose.  Unfortunately, because we are using it as a bedroom, we are having to put a large cover over the west windows because of the summer sun and bright street lights.  This causes the “turn of the century” air conditioning to not work as well.  I wonder if Scott would go for switching the rooms…

I am loving that we moved to the one bedroom apartment next door to the tiny studio.  We have gained a little bit of normalcy back and we are able to function a bit better, but I think Scott decided he wanted the apartment because of the view.

I think I agree with him.

If you want to view the original photos, please visit the album for this post on our Flickr page:  https://flic.kr/s/aHsmfJXJBF
Thanks for visiting us and see ya soon,
Ren

 

 

“The ballot is stronger than the bullet.”  -Abraham Lincoln

“The ballot is stronger than the bullet.” -Abraham Lincoln

The Illinois state slogan is “The Land of Lincoln” and while we were in Southern Illinois in September, we found this to be true because we were confronted with a bit of his history completely by chance.  While heading up to Great Cities State Park in Makanda, we found one of the three sites for the Alexander County Courthouse where Lincoln practiced law.

selfie with lincoln

As you probably already know, I am obsessed with county courthouses and am determined to visit every county in the United States.  This can be an issue sometimes when we are on the road towards our destination, but I am lucky to have a husband who enjoys the thrill of a good travel hunt and, in this case, encouraged me to go find one.  On Illinois State Route 3 we found a roadside park with a large historical marker.  We do not often stop to read the historical markers, but thankfully we did in this case.

welcome to illinois

We found the Alexandra County Courthouse once resided in Thebes, just a mile or two back from where we turned on to Route 3.  Since this was what I like to term “encouragement from serendipity,” we turned around and drove to the once bustling village to find a tiny community quietly living along the Mississippi River.  Driving up to the shoreline, we were pleasantly surprised with a view that was breathtaking.  Here we stood in the shadow of the Thebes Bridge crossing over the great river as it had done since it’s opening on April 18, 1905.

Thebes Bridge

The Thebes Bridge’s total length is 3,959 feet and is 104 feet above the Gathering Blue and was designed by Polish American engineer Ralph Modjeski in the continuous truss bridge style. The truss bridge is one of the oldest types of modern bridges and most commonly found in America.  However, many of these bridges are being demolished and replaced with new structures because of the time and wear on the metal making it unsafe for those using them. Thankfully this does not seem to be the case for this beautiful structure. (https://www.johnweeks.com/river_mississippi/pagesC/umissC14.html

As I am looking at this bridge and in awe of its presence, Scott points to a building high on the bluff behind us and says, “Now that house has one of the best views around here!”  I had to agree with him and found myself a bit jealous of whoever was lucky enough to own the building.  The views over the past 170 years have probably been extremely impressive and I couldn’t wait to get up there to see the view; at least I hoped we would be able to see a view from there.

house on the hill

Having the GPS in front of him, Scott drove to where it showed the building and we were stunned to find an extremely steep road that was not one for the faint of heart. (Keep in mind I was not the one driving; also keep in mind, I am a terrible passenger.)  He made the turn into what we thought was going to be a drive way to a privately-owned home, only to find a public, historical building; we had found the former Alexander County Courthouse.

In the early 1830’s two brothers, the Sparhawk brothers from New Orleans, settled in what is now Thebes calling it Sparhawk Landing.  On October 15, 1835, this settlement was platted by Franklin G. Hughes and Joseph Chandler.  Later, in 1843 Sparhawk Landing was renamed Thebes and, finally, in 1844 the townsite was laid out to become the town we were visiting. (Thebes History http://genealogytrails.com/ill/alexander/thebeshist.html)

Alexander County which was created out of Union County in 1819; it was named after early settler and physician William Alexander of America, Illinois.  He became the Speaker of the House of Illinois Representatives in 1822, making this the county seat of the new county.  However, soon after, the village of America was found to be in the newer Pulaski County, causing the Alexander County Courthouse needing to be moved to Unity, Illinois, in 1833.  In 1842 the courthouse and county records were burned, therefore, moving the county seat to Thebes. 

An architect named Henry Ernst Barkhausen came to America in 1835 and settled near Thebes where he operated a woodyard and ferry across the Mississippi to Missouri.  In 1845 he was contracted to build the two-story structure out of local stone and trees from the area. The land, a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River, was donated by George and Martha Sparhawk.  Completed in 1848, the total cost of the construction was $4,400.

As we wandered about the amazing building, we found there was actually a fantastic view both of the Mississippi River and the 170-year-old structure.  I was pleased to see the natural stone and that my hand embroidery piece portraying a stone wall looked much the same.  It always amazes me when art takes on a bit of nature, it helps to preserve the beauty we find around us daily.  

Sitting on the wooden stairs, looking out at the massive body of rushing water while the barges passed under the massive iron Thebes Bridge, I could envision the steamboats of the past making their way while transporting people and cargo to various ports along the Big Muddy.  These large ships were moved by large paddles powered by steam and it was the main source of travel along the river.  Here you would find people of many statuses from the Southern Belle to the gambler to the slaves and you would find the cargo hold to be full of cotton, grains, and everything a river settler might need to survive.  These machines revolutionized travel and life along the shores of the Mississippi River Basin.

The steamboat was the main source of travel in this area from the late 1700’s until around the 1880’s.  People used this mode of transportation for business, personal travel and for entertainment.  You could find a showboat paddling up and down the Mississippi River; these boats were floating palaces with every type of luxury found at popular resorts of the era.  It was a slow mode of travel and that was the cause of its demise.  With the railroad being unified so all of the rails from the North and South were the same, the speed of transport was much better for travel and the moving of items.  Granted the steamboats were still in use until the 1940’s, but they were not used like they had been.  It was the end of an era and culture.

Coming out of my time travel trance, Scott and I moved on towards our state park destination of Giant City State Park just north of Jonesboro, Illinois.  As we drove through the Trail of Tears State Forest (actually within the Shawnee National Forest), Scott realized we were going to be passing through the town where where a pivotal moment in Lincoln’s political career happened on September 15, 1958.  Before the Great Debate of 1958, Lincoln was just a regular man trying to get through life working as a boatman, store clerk, surveyor, militia soldier and lawyer, but in 1834 he was elected to be in the Illinois Legislature.  From there he moved through the political arena, as most do, and found himself in a political fight for a seat in the House of Representatives for Illinois.   Which brought him to the Great Debate of 1958, more importantly Jonesboro, Illinois, September 15.

The Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1958 were a series of debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas in Illinois, a free state.  The main theme of these seven debates was the expansion of slavery in the new and future territories of the United States. Granted, Lincoln lost the seat he was trying for, but he later had the transcripts from these seven debates causing him to open a door of opportunity for him to receive the nomination as the Republican candidate for the 1860 presidency.

Eventually, we arrived at one of my favorite places, Great City State Park.  We had originally thought about using this site for our viewing of the total eclipse on our trip in August.  Makanda, the town just outside of the park, was the location where the eclipse would happen for the longest period of time.  However, because rain was predicted that day in that area, we chose to visit Indian Cave State Park in Nebraska instead.  Unfortunately, we were not able to see the eclipse due to rain, while Makanda, Illinois, was basking in the eclipse they counting on.

As we were driving down the road, passing the Jonesboro area, a thought came to mind, “Whatever happened to the Alexander County Courthouse?  Where did it go if it were not in Thebes?”  I, being in the passenger seat, began to hunt through the interwebs to find the answer.  It was relocated to Cairo, Illinois; just down river from Thebes.  With this information, Scott drove us to Cairo to find where the county seat had been moved.  There we found a city in shambles and an old downtown almost a ghost town.  

Cairo sits just North of the the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers confluence, a point called Fort Defiance State Park.  This city, once a bustling port town, was home to writers, generals and gods.  It is the location of Neil Gaiman’s award winning novel American Gods, the movie Cairo Time, and documentary Between Two Rivers.  No matter how “famous” these media outlets make the name of the city, it is a city in economic decline because the railroad impacting the barge traffic causing the loss of income, the interstate bypass causing people to go around the city, and people leaving the area to shop causing tax dollars to go elsewhere.  Because of this situation, the area has dilapidated buildings, loss of tourist money, and a community left frustrated. I cannot, however, leave you thinking this city is not worth visiting because this would not be truth.  

Your first impression of this place is a city that is dying; but if you will stop and speak to members of this community, you will find people who are doing their best to rebuild by cleaning up their communities, encouraging the arts, and helping each other out as much as possible.  I find myself rooting for this place and her people because there is such a determination.  Here will you not only find the determination, but you will find a people who know their history and are encouraging the use of it to bring in tourism.  They have the Victorian building such as the library, federal building, and private homes, but what about the Alexander County Courthouse?  

In 1859 the courthouse was moved to Cairo and it was housed in a beautiful building, after the completion in 1865. After contacting the county courthouse, I found that sometime before 1963 the building above was destroyed by fire and had to be demolished for safety issues.  The building of the new courthouse was started in 1964 in the same location as the first building.  This is one of the things Scott and I have found with many of the old county courthouse buildings that are now of a modern designed; rarely are they because the citizens wanted something modern.  However, has seemed to happen in a few cases.  Concerning this county, it was fire and so the citizens of Alexander County decided they needed to move forward.  

During my research to find out this moving county courthouse drama, I found the reason and it was Abraham Lincoln who explained it.  From the book More History, Mystery, and Hauntings of Southern Illinois by Bruce Cline we are given this story:

“In the early 1800s, when Illinois was still a young state, there was great debate about where the county seat of Alexander County should be.  Would it be Cairo or Thebes?  According to an old story told by Abraham Lincoln, it happened in this fashion…

Thebes was already the county seat, but Cairo was growing rapidly and thought it should be moved there.  Tempers were flaring and the Thebians said that Cairo was no more than a daub of mud on the tail of the state.  That statement did not set well with the fine citizens of Cairo.

Just before the election was held to decide the location of the county seat, a Cairo man came up with an inspired scheme.  He fetched a green animal hide and stuffed a large boulder inside.  He tied this bundle behind his mule and drug it around the countryside.  The next day he made sure that the townsfolk of Thebes made notice of the strange marks on the ground.  He suggested  that the marks were made by some species of large serpent.  Rumors were spread that dogs, cats and small farm animals were missing.

Greatly alarmed, the citizens of Thebes took up arms and went in search of the great serpent that was supposedly decimating the small animals of the farms.  So frenzied were the Thebians in their search for the mystery serpent, that many of them did not make it back to town in time to cast their votes for the county seat.  Cairo won the vote hands down.” {31-32}