Friday, October 20, 2017

Moline, Illinois


This has become a ride without an end, just as I always long for.  Any inveterate traveler who looks upon a map can't help but see somewhere else to go.  My map of Illinois with the 111 towns with a Carnegie circled continually urges me to seek out those without a check beside them.  One hundred miles, a good day's ride, is not too far to ride to get to another.  And so after finishing off the 56 Carnegies in the northern third of the state in Freeport, rather than returning to Chicago I headed southwest back to the Mississippi and down to Aledo one hundred miles away.  From there I could cross the state hopping from Carnegie to Carnegie in another corridor I had yet to visit, picking off nine of the remaining twenty without a check.  At a certain point in that circuit I know I will face the dilemma of heading another hundred miles south all the way to the bottom of the state and then zig-zag from Carnegie to Carnegie to complete the slate.  What a day that will be. I hadn't anticipated it happening for several more years until I began extending and extending this ride.

The Carnegie in Freeport would have been a worthy finale to this Carnegie ride, as it was the first built in the state in 1901.  It was early in Carnegie's program, when he had funded less than one hundred libraries, a number that would eventually exceed 2,500.  The city was so honored that "Gift of Andrew Carnegie" was chiseled above the entry to this palace of a building that now serves as the city's town hall.


The new library overlooks Debate Park where the second Lincoln-Douglas debate took place.  As in Ottawa, it is highlighted by a sculpture of the two orators with Lincoln sitting in this one so he wouldn't tower over Douglas.


There were seven debates during their Senatorial race in 1858, which Douglas went on to win.  I checked to see if I could include the five other sites into my route.  I didn't realize that the fourth debate took place in Charleston, where I visited a Carnegie on my way to Bloomington three weeks ago.   Four of the debate towns had a Carnegie.  I had been to the one in Alton, across the river from St. Louis a few years ago.  And I had been to Galesburg on another trip, not realizing its Carnegie had burned down in 1958.  As with Charleston, I hadn't noticed any signs of tribute to the debates in either Alton or Galesburg.  The two other debate sites, Jonesboro in the south of the state, and Quincy on the Mississippi, unfortunately don't fit into these travels, though I, of course, could make them if I really wanted and if the imminence of colder weather wasn't an issue.

I followed the Stagecoach Trail for over fifty miles out of Galena to the Carnegie in the small town  of Warren, just south of the Wiscoson border,  and then down to Freeport a veritable city with lots of stoplights.  It was the first interracial city I had passed through in Illinois since East St. Louis.  It was settled by German immigrants in the 1850s.  One of the first significant industries was a pretzel bakery, earning the city the nickname of "Pretzel City."  Its legacy lives on with the pretzel the mascot of the high school.


Between Warren and Galena stands the highest natural point in Illinois, Charles Mound at 1,235 feet.  The Wills Tower in Chicago is the actual highest at 1,450 feet, plus the 594 feet of Chicago's elevation.  The Willis Tower was once the tallest building the world.  There are those who make a quest of climbing the highest point in each state.  I didn't notice anyone attempting this one.

The Carnegie in Warren, with a population of 1,428, had limited hours.  It wasn't open when I stopped by even after a breakfast of hotcakes where I was able to charge my iPad--no WIFI though, which its waitress didn't realize.  When I asked her if there was WIFI, she said, "I don't know.  People do their Facebook here, so maybe."


My long jump from Freeport to Aledo felt like a lenghty transfer between Ville Ètapes at The Tour de France.  There were three Carnegies though on the way that I had previously visited.  It had been a Sunday last year when I stopped by the one in Polo, so I was happy for the opportune to give its inside a look.  It's portrait of Carnegie was mounted in a special frame over its fire place.  To the right was the portrait of a local woman who had donated a significant sum to the library.  The librarian said it allowed them to have longer opening hours than they otherwise would.  She was excited to hear of some of the nearby Carnegies I had visited that she hadn't gotten to.  Her ambition was to visit all the presidential libraries, though she doubted she would.

I also stopped by the Carnegie in Fulton that I had visited last year on my way back from Telluride. From there I began a forty mile ride along the Mississippi on a most tranquil bike trail that took me by a gigantic bike sculpture in Port Byron and on to Moline.  I camped at the Fisherman's Corner campground overseen by the Army Corps of Engineers that looked out towards a dam eight miles before Moline.  There were a couple dozen over-sized RVs taking advantage of its last few days before closing for the winter on Sunday.  I was the only one in a tent.

There were just a couple other cyclists on the trail taking advantage of the sunny, warm fall temperatures, but none with panniers.  Stores along the way reflected the prominence of the river culture--Booze and Bait, Pedal and Paddle.  The campground host said they'd only had two or three cyclists all summer.  It may seem that the touring cyclist is an endangered species, but I have several friends who are presently breathing some life into the breed--David from Telluride is on a long ride to visit his mother in New Jersey retracing some of my route across Kansas and Missouri, Ralph is back riding in the South of France approaching Digne where Janina and I met up with him this past summer and Nicolas of gypsybytrade is presently touring in Eastern Europe and writing most eloquently of it.  Another cycling friend I'm in regular contact with, Léo, just completed a five-day ride from his home to Bordeaux and back.  He reported meeting two Argentines riding from Copenhagen to Barcelona. And I am happy to report that Vincent of Melbourne is recently back from a weeks ride into the Outback, where summer is approaching.

Its a different story in our hemisphere, where I can feel the chill of winter in the early morning, breaking camp with the temperature not even fifty.  I start the day bundled up knowing though that over the next few hours I will be able to shed first my jacket, then sweater and vest and tights and gloves and wool cap.  By noon it will be seventy and almost summerish.  I have to remind myself to drink, as I realized one morning when I was startled by a bright yellow stream of urine.  I've already had hepatitis, so I didn't have to worry about that.  I didn't think it was from anything I ate, though I'd had a couple of avocados I'd rescued from an Aldis dumpster the day before along with a loaf of bread and bananas and yogurt and apple juice, my first score of these travels thanks to the cool weather.  I did check my eyes at the next mirror I encountered to see if they had turned yellow.  That was how I was diagnosed by my dentist of having brought hepatitis back with me from India.  They had no yellow tint this time. 

Another symptom is extreme weariness.  I feel none of that, as after a couple of thousand miles I am fit enough for The Tour, which announced its route for 2018 this past week.  It starts with a nine-day swipe across the top of the country from west to east and then has a long transfer to the Alps where it will begin an eleven-stage swipe across the bottom of the country before flying back for the final ceremonial stage into Paris.  There are not too many new Ville Ètapes, but it will still make for a fabulous summer ride. 





Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Galena, Illinois


Galena, up in the northwest corner of Illinois, is an authentic tourist town regularly making lists of top ten charming small towns in the US.  I was barraged by the most billboards of these travels as I approached this town of 3,500 advertising hotels and restaurants and even Segway tours.  It's Main Street was several blocks of glitzy dining establishments and boutiques selling all manner of touristy items from candles to fudge.  Just when I thought I had come to the end of the gauntlet a sign promised "More shopping and dining" ahead.  Much of the town is listed as a National Historic Site. The town got its start as a mining town for galena, a lead ore.  It sparked the first major mineral rush in the US in the 1820s.  The town's population exploded to over 10,000 rivaling Chicago as the largest city in the state.  By 1845 it was producing 80 per cent of the country's lead ore.  When the demand for lead declined in the early 1900s, so did the town.  

Though the Mississippi River is nearby, the town is on its tributary, the Galena River, as the land around their confluence is too marshy to build on.  The surrounding terrain is hilly enough to have a ski resort, Chestnut Mountain.  Along with its quaintness, another of its allures is the home of Ulysses S. Grant.  What enticed me though was its Carnegie Library, a classic beauty of limestone hauled all the way from Indiana.  It resides on Bench Street, one steep block up from Main Street.  A local businessman doubled Carnegie's contribution of $12,500 to make it a little more grand than the standard $10,000 libraries he funded.  It filled its lot, so there were no additions.  

I had been biking for over one hundred miles on a road long known as the Galena Highway that brought prospective miners to the town.  I picked it up in Dixon, the home town of Ronald Reagan.  His boyhood home, which one could tour, was on the same street as its library, five blocks away.  


Though it wasn't a Carnegie, it was built in the same era and could be mistaken for one.  It had a brochure listing the 125 books it held on Reagan.  My trek between these two presidential towns also included a connection to the most famous of the presidents Illinois provided the nation--Abraham Lincoln.  A plaque announced he had camped along the road as a private in the army during the Black Hawk War in 1832.  It gave the exact days of June 8 and 12.  The day before in Ottawa I lunched on a bench in its main plaza as Lincoln and Douglas gazed down on me.  It was there, in front of 10,000 people, they held the first of their debates throughout the state.


Before I reached the Galena Highway I passed another plaque near the site of one of the worst train crashes in US history.


The quiet town of Mount Carroll was full of plaques outside historic homes and its Carnegie Library and Shimer College.  It's entire historic district had also been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Most of it, including the library, was on a brick road.  A bed and breakfast on the street advertised itself with a bicycle.


Even amongst all the historic homes, the library stood out as the most magnifcent building in the town.   Carnegie was chiseled into its facade and his portrait was the first thing one saw upon entering gazing down from above a book shelf.


It's Shimer College was founded in 1853 and affiliated itself with the University of Chicago.  It moved to Waukegan in 1978, then to Chicago in 2006.   Mount Carroll is also noteworthy for being one of the coldest places in Illinois.  Up to 1999 it held the record for having the coldest temperature in the state--minus 35 in 1930.  Congerville beat it out by one degree.

I discovered an even greater oddity when I stopped at the Carnegie in Savana nine miles away, where a bridge spans the Mississippi to Iowa. I was told the town had the only stoplight in the county.  It's not because the county was full of roundabouts, but simply that in small town America there isn't much need of stoplights.  Rather than the more common temple design, the Savana Carnegie had adopted the rare fortress motif.  It's accoutrements out front reflected its militaristic bearing with three panels listing all the residents who had served in WWII and below the flag the Gettysburg address scrawled into a stone in its entirety.


Even over one hundred miles away from Chicago "W" flags are an occasional site, some of the home made variety.  


I haven't seen any on cars though.  They were a common site last year in Chicago during the playoffs not only on cars but on the roadside as well broken off from their window mounts.  I was hoping another Cubs World Series appearance would spark a second outbreak of car flags and another scavenging treat, but it doesn't look like it will be after they fell to the Dodgers again last night, now needing to become just the second major league team ever to come back from a 3-0 deficit.  

With no prospective flag harvest, I am feeling less inclined to hurry back. I'm already checking mileage to how far south I'd have to ride to reach the next cluster of Carnegies after finishing off the last two up here in the northwest corner of the state.  The riding is too good to stop.  If I continue on to the twenty that I have yet to get to I could make this a 3,000 mile ride.  Then 4,000 by making a clean sweep of Indiana.  Yes, I am a bicycle addict.











Sunday, October 15, 2017

Streator, Illinois


For twenty minutes I was treated to a spectacular thunder and lightning show a little past dark as I sat in my tent trying to listen to the Cubs game over all the commotion.  I was camped in a thirty-foot wide corridor of grass between two fields of withered corn.  They were the highest structure around, just a couple feet higher than my tent and bike.  I didn't know what the lightening crackling all around me might be drawn to, but I did toss my metal water bottle outside my tent as bait.


The noise escalated with a barrage of rain and a wind that threatened to uproot my rain fly tugging at its four stakes and bashing it into the sides of my tent, totally drowning out the ball game.  At least it put an end to the pyrotechnics.  The ground around me was soft, so I was confident it could absorb the rain.  I was beginning to regret that I hadn't taken advantage of a motel a couple miles back that had tempted me for the opportunity to watch the ball game.  I knew that this predicted front would plummet the temperatures into the forties and would make for a high of just 55 the next day.  A cool night didn't concern me, but it would be easier to bundle up in the morning in a motel room, than in my tent.  But as John Muir preached, one can't underestimate the pleasure of being out experiencing the elements.  If I had given in to the lure of the motel, I would have been regretting not being out in the storm. When it's fury finally abated after a few minutes, I could resume listening to the Cubs' struggles in their first game against the Dodgers, eventually losing 5-2.

If I were still in an area of wind turbines, as I was when I crossed into Illinois, the lightning would have had plenty of targets.  I might have blamed the turbines for creating the lightning storm. The turbines aren't welcome by all. One of the strongest arguments against them is that people don't want to look at them.  That is especially true when a tree is in their midst, totally upstaging them.  It's obvious what one would prefer looking upon.


Those who regard the turbines as an eyesore will be even more incensed when the purveyors of solar panels begin covering acres and acres of farmland with their panels.


Wind turbines are often front page news in the small-town newspapers I glance at during my library stops.   The biggest news though at the Sheldon Carnegie, my first after crossing back into Illinois, was  its new air conditioner, making it all the more popular this past summer.  It was still a classic one-room library, much as it was when it was built one hundred years ago, other than the additon of the air conditioner and an elevator.  The remodeling moved the circ desk from the middle of the room to the side, diminishing its majesty.


Only one of the 111 Carnegies in Illinois received a grant after Sheldon, the one in Gilman twenty miles to the west.  It had been replaced and has sat vacant for years.  A "for sale" sits out front.


As I circled around it in the dusk, happy to note that it hadn't had an addition, a car pulled up.  Before I glanced at it I thought I might finally be having my first encounter with a police officer on this trip, but the car contained two middle-aged women, one wearing a Cubs jersey.  The woman in the passenger seat eagerly asked, "Have you come to see our Carnegie?"

To my "yes," she said, "That's what we thought when we saw you down the road."

"Do you know what it is selling for."

"No, but I could look it up on my phone.  I'm curious too."  

"Don't bother.  It's getting dark and I need to find a place to camp.  Is there any place to camp around here?"

I thought they might get into an argument about whose back yard would be more preferable and I could instill a bidding war, but neither was brave enough to bring me home.  Instead, I found a weedy patch of bushes and trees along the railroad tracks on the outskirts of the town.  I couldn't go too far down the road as the next Carnegie was in Onarga, five miles to the south.  If I had though I could have camped in Onarga's semi-forested cemetery, something I have yet to do on this trip.  

The Onarga Carnegie  was built ten years before the one in Gilman, perhaps inspiring those in Gilman to acquire one of their own.  Onarga was still using theirs as is, or at least from what I could see from the outside, as I arrived a couple hours before it opened.  The "Carnegie" in capital letters chiseled over its entry below "Public Library" added to its stature.


I spent the rest of the day pushing into a strong wind to the next Carnegie in El Paso, fifty miles down the road.  I was able to ride on county roads much of the way paralleling highway 24, just ducking into Fairbury for food.  If I were Jane and Michael Stern, who have been writing books and columns on road food since the '70s, I would have dined at the "Lost in Time Restaurant and Bakery," that boasted "Made from Scratch," but I didn't have the time to spare for a sit-down meal if I wished to make it to the El Paso library before closing time.  

I had been reading the Stern's memoir, "Two for the Road," published in 2006, two years before their divorce.  It was a travel book as much as a food book.  It recounted how they met in graduate school at Yale and bonded over food and married in 1970.  When neither could find a job in their fields, both receiving MFAs in Art, they got an advance on a book about truck-stop food and hit the road.  They drove hundreds of miles across the country eating up to twelve meals a day in search of exceptional meat loaf and macaroni and cheese and other American standards.  They'd eat as much as they could, now wishing to upset their waitresses.  Michael would run to burn calories, but not his wife.  I thought of them too when I spotted the "Farmer's Table" restaurant in Boswell, "Hub of the Universe," wondering if they had been.

I ducked into the library at Fairbury to avoid a sudden downpour.  It closed at one. As I stood under its entry after being evicted, putting on my rain gear, an older woman asked about my ride and if I was visiting family.  

"No, just friends."

"Have you ever ridden your bike so far before?"

"Many times."

"Why?"

"I like to ride my bike.  Not enough other people do, so I'm trying to make up for them."

"Well, I don't suppose you're doing any harm."

"That's the point.  Driving does...in more ways than most realize."

"I better get going.  It was nice talking to you."

I made it to El Paso by 4:30 but it's library had closed at one as well.  It was a twin-turreted beauty, sitting in a large park, with a large addition to its side with stone similar to the original.  A banner on a pole out front pronounced what all libraries could--"Where friends meet."  I rested at one of the eighteen picnic tables behind the library under two open-sided coverings.  It too looked like a popular community gathering spot.


The next day after my July Fourth extravaganza in my tent it was on to Streator along the Vermilion River for its Carnegie.  On the way into this larger town I passed a cul de sac named for Rhett Butler.  I could spot its grand edifice of a Carnegie from more than a block away.  Out front along the street a planter advised "Read a Book."


Then I had the decision of heading northeast back to Chicago one hundred miles away or going northwest one hundred miles towards the Mississippi and a cluster of five more Carnegies up in the corner of the state, the only ones in the north of the state I had yet to visit.  I have felt very remiss for neglecting them.  With those five I would have gotten to all fifty-eight of the Carnegies in Illinois north of Peoria.  All that remained were twenty of the 111 in the state.  It might be too soon to pull the plug on this fabulous fall ride, but I probably will have to put off those others for another time.  

But it would be tempting to keep going all the way to the bottom of the state and the Carnegie in Metropolis on the Ohio River.  As always, the longer the ride the better it gets, especially after 2,000 miles, which I passed a couple of days ago.   Even at 1,000 I only feel as if I'm just getting started.   It has been nice to be lately riding without the pressure of reaching a distant destination by a certain time.  The past week has been biking as it was meant to be--riding and riding, luxuriating in the moment, unconcerned with being somewhere.  After a month the road begins to feel like home.  The other home has less and less of a lure.  The best part of getting back, other than seeing Janina, is leaving on the next trip.  Don Jaime has proposed meeting up in the Azores.  How could I say no to that?




 


Friday, October 13, 2017

Boswell, Indiana--"Hub of the Universe"


I could read the first two words of Boswell's slogan ("Hub of") on its freshly-painted water tower near the center of town and tried to guess the rest of it as I circled around it.  It came as a great shock that this sad, tiny forlorn town of dilapidated and vacant buildings considered itself the hub of "THE UNIVERSE" of all things.  Boswell was so far gone there weren't even "for rent" signs in any of the closed down businesses on its main street.

Town slogans are prone to exaggeration, but never as outlandish as this.   Even when it was at its peak population of 998 residents, 220 more than the latest census, it was impossible to imagine that it was the hub of anything.  Train tracks ran through the town, long in disuse, Illinois was ten miles to the west and Chicago one hundred miles due north on highway 41, not a single factor worthy enough to make it superior to any of the surrounding communities.  It's most distinguishing feature was its Carnegie Library.  That can certainly stir civic pride, but not to the heavens.


I had to wait an hour for its noon opening to take advantage of its wifi, as it required a password.  Even if I could have guessed it, I wouldn't have been able to use it, as it wasn't turned on.  The library isn't open on Saturday or Sunday, but for an hour each day its wifi is turned on via an automatic timer for locals in need.  The librarian didn't live in town, so she didn't know how many people take advantage of it, though there has been no demand to extend the hours.   The town may not have grown significantly since the Carnegie was built, but there was hubris enough in the town to have raised the funds for an addition doubling its size and adding an elevator.

I had crossed the Wabash River for the second time on this trip twenty miles back where I visited Carnegies in Attica and Williamsport,  three miles apart, straddling the river that further south forms the border between Indiana and Illinois.  I could have camped along its forested banks, but there was too much traffic to discreetly leave the road and disappear, so I found a patch of forest a mile away on a less travelled road.  It was my fourth night in a row since leaving Bloomington that I had found a forest to camp in, as I most often do in France, but rarely in the US, especially in the flatlands.

I had visited the gallant Carnegie in Attica on a previous trip and was happy to renew my acquaintance.  It sits on a rise looking towards a park along the Wabash, but one can't actually see the river, just a MacDonald's before the bend in the road that hides it.  It has a large addition to its rear that does nothing to mar its integrity.


Williamsport is Attica's lesser twin.  Rather than expanding its Carnegie it built a new library.  A lucky resident, who has a furniture business, now lives in the Carnegie and proudly maintains it.  He even had an open house for its one hundredth anniversary.  It was tastefully adorned with pumpkins and other non-scarey Halloween decorations.


I had ridden on quiet county roads with anti-wind turbine signs for over twenty miles from Colfax.  It was part of a trio of Carnegies within twenty miles who all had had additions to their sides that now provided the entrance to the library, with the former entrance up a set of stairs no longer in use, defeating the Carnegie notion of going upwards to gain knowledge.


Part of the Colfax additon served as the local museum.  It was packed with photographs and uniforms from residents who had served in the military and a selection of the school athletic uniforms from over the years.  A portrait of the first librarian, Maude Rosenberger, who served from 1917 to 1954, hung on the wall.  At the entry was a list of all thirteen librarians, all women, and most preceded by a "Mrs.," though not Maude. The present librarian, Brenda Kingston, who grew up in Colfax, didn't realize she was the thirteenth.  

A plaque acknowledged the library was on the Register of National Historic Places.  So too was the Rosenberger general store, Brenda told me. She was the second librarian in two days who had told me of a local building with such a designation.  That sent me to Wikipedia, where I discovered that Indiana has 1,884 buildings on the Register, listed by county, of which Indiana has 92.  I could add them to my quest along with the Carnegies.   That could keep me busy until the end of my days.  There are 91,882 across the country and counting.  Seventeen states have more than Indiana. New York leads all with 5,908.  Massachusetts is next with 4,269.  

There are quite a few Carnegies on the list, but there is no easy way to determine how many as some of the Carnegies on the list are merely designated as a library.  Such was the case with the library in Thornton, nine miles south of Colfax. It's addition to its side didn't disqualify it from the list.  It too had had a recent hundredth anniversary. The celebration included a play written by a school girl about the founding of the library.


Since crossing into Indiana the scenery has been augmented by sermon titles on message boards outside churches.  One in Thornton couldn't have been more topical. 


No less so was this shortly after crossing into Indiana, as if announcing I had entered the Bible Belt. 


Darlington had the least compatible addition to its Carnegie of about any I've come upon, just marginally attached and sitting hunched below the majestic original, not even warranting a photograph.

 
After Boswell I'll cross into Illinois where a string of five Carnegies away me before I turn north to Chicago.  With such fine fall cycling I'm in no hurry to end these travels.  I might even head up to the northwest corner of the state where another five Carnegies that have eluded me await.









Thursday, October 12, 2017

Waveland, Indiana


I was hoping it was a good omen to be visiting the Carnegie Library in Waveland just hours before the Cubs would be taking on the Nationals at Wrigley Field in game four of their five-game playoff series holding a two games to one advantage. Waveland is as significant to Cub fans as the W flag, as the bleacher entrance to the hallowed shrine is at Waveland and Sheffield Avenues. I  have been at that intersection hundreds of times, including for all 81 home games of the 1975 season, fulfilling one of my dream ambitions of spending a summer in the bleachers of Wrigley.  But the omen carried no weight as the Cubs fell 5-0, forcing a fifth game in the nation's capital.

The entire town of Waveland wouldn't fill the left field bleachers, even at its peak population of 676 when the Carnegie was built in 1914.  It has dwindled to 420, so there has been no issue of expanding the library, as is the case in most communities. When I asked the librarian if there was anything distinctive or unique about the library, she pointed to a landscape painting over the faux fireplace and said, "We have a T. C. Steele.  He used to live here."

She didn't know when.  "My one hundred year old mother would know," she said.  "She probably told me, but such things pass in one ear and out the next."  She led me to a table and picked up a biography of Steele and said, "This will tell you all about him."  Steele's family moved to Waveland in 1852 when he was five years old.  He lived there until he went to college.  He painted up to his death in 1926 and is considered the "father of the Hoosier school of painters." His boyhood home is on the National Register of Historic Places.  There is another local home on the Register, but not the Carnegie, though it well could be, as many are.

I'd just had a nice fifteen-mile ride from Roachdale, a slightly larger town with a similar-sized Carnegie in its original state other than the additon of a side entrance to accommodate those who couldn't handle its steps.  The standard portrait of Carnegie likewise welcomed those entering from the front accompanied by a plaque.  The library was further adorned with a pair of classy light fixtures outside its entry.  Sitting at one of its original wooden tables was another pleasant trip back in time.


Preceding these two small-town Carnegies I passed a quartet of suburban Carnegies to the west of Indianapolis.  Only the one in Danville still served as a library, though it had had a pair of additions to its backside nearly quadrupling its size.  Looking head-on, one wouldn't know.


A plaque out front acknowledged its heritage.


The Carnegie in Mooresville had been acquired by the bank next door and had been attached to become a very unSiaemese-like twin.  It's orginal entrance was now blocked and its identity as a library buffed off its facade. Only a plaque inside on the outside wall that now connected with the rest of the bank revealed its orginal identiy.  


The Carnegie in Plainfield was now the national headquarters for the Triangle Fraternity, one of two collegiate fraternities not identified by Greek letters.  There are only thirty-five chapters of this fratnerity of engineers, architects and scientists.  With such an association this was a Carnegie that was as pristine as the day it was built.


The Carnegie in Brownsburg had also been taken over by an organization on the technological side--Hendricks County Solid Waste Mangement District--and was likewise a glory to behold.


A bench out front demonstrated what it did.


All six of these Carnegies were solid, distinguished buildings still serving and pleasing their communities. As I hopped from one to another, first through suburbia and then past cornfields and forests, I imagined the era when they were built over a century ago when there were more bicycles than automobiles on these roads.  I was now the lone cyclist, my example of these many years having no effect.








Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Hilly Hundred


This past weekend was the fiftieth anniversary of the Hilly Hundred, the longest running bicycle event of its kind.  Bicyclists from all over converge on Bloomington, Indiana for the opportunity of back-to-back fifty miles rides through the hilly, forested terrain of southern Indiana.  It was my third participation, the first about twenty years ago and then last year.  

The event isn't as popular as it once was, but it still attracts a couple thousands ardent cyclists.  Over the years, and even from last year to this, the profile of the riders has changed damatically from cyclists of all levels of commitment to mostly the most committed.  In years past there would be a significant number of not so devoted or well-conditioned cyclists pushing their less than optimum bikes up the hills. This year hardly a soul couldn't make it up the hills, many of double digit grades.  Most flew up them hardly needing to shift.  Close to 99 per cent of those riding were on high-end bikes.  Nearly every rider was using clip-in pedals.  Lycra was universal.  I was among the one per centers on a bike with a rack and fenders and kick stand.  At the rest stops most of the bikes were laying in the grass if there wasn't a tree to lean them against.

This was not a parade, as it once was, of a wide array of bikes with character ridden by people of all sizes and shapes expressing their personality with their garb and adornments.  Now it was clones of the svelte and fit in Lycra. It had evolved into an elitist gathering on bikes meant to impress by how good they were, maybe thanks to its $90 fee entitling one to some food and drink.  If you bring your own, as we did, there was no reason you couldn't ride along.  We weren't alone in that, but it wasn't attracting the casual rider any longer.  There was little out-of-the-ordinary self-expression even among the jerseys, just bland club or local jerseys, that invited no comment.  I did have to talk to a guy wearing a Cubs cycling jersey.  It had no number on it.  If  he'd had that option, he'd  have gotten one with a 17 for Anthony Rizzo, his favorite player.  He didn't have a W flag on his bike, but he did have one on his car.  I would have asked the rider with a Pelotonia jersey its significance, but he rode by too fast.  I would have chased after him, but I was riding with a friend who was one of the rare cyclists on a bike weighing more than twenty pounds and not wearing cycling shoes, and I didn't care to leave her behind.


In year's past I've ridden with Dwight, but he was attending a Heartwood conference devoted to forest issues.  My other cycling friend in Bloomington, Jeff, was also unavailable for the ride, but I at least got to enjoy a lunch with him and a handful of his cycling cohearts at the magnificent kitchen complex that he established two years ago and rents out to local food vendors and uses to prepare food for his pizza restaurants. Jeff had somehow managed to get time away from his many business ventures to bike Mynamawr with Dwight this winter and then RAGBRAI. We had much to share.  Jeff was able to convey his pizza expertise to a restauranteur in Mynamawr who had been struggling to get his dough just right. He dazzled his tastebuds so much biking across Iowa that he managed to gain six pounds.

I still had a cycling companion for the Hundred, Dwight's girl friend Susan. At less than one hundred pounds, she has a good weight to power ratio and scampered up the hills.  She had plenty of pep, but most of those on the ride, who were on bikes that cost as much as the cars of many of the clients she serves as a social worker, flew by us.  It allowed us to survey the steady stream of our fellow riders as they bombarded us with a chorus of "on your left" and an occssional "car back" or "car up."  There were few cars other than the occssional vehicle patroling the course.  At intersections where there might be traffic, a police officer was stationed.  The course was adequately marked with small yellow arrows and occssional warnings of "nuts," also written in yellow, where a walnut tree could be shedding its golf ball-sized product.  They'd mostly been cleared from the road, but there was the ever present danger of another falling.

I was able to see Dwight Saturday morning before he headed down to Paoli fifty miles to the south for the weekend.  The start of the ride was in Elletsville, just five miles from his farm. As we breakfasted on fresh food from his garden he noticed a feral cat peering at us from his thicket of blackberries.  He was not a welcome site, as such critters prey upon his bird population. He quickly grabbed his shotgun and dashed out the door.  He got off two shots, but wasn't sure if he'd gotten him.  His aged Labrador is no longer the tracker he once was, so Dwight and I took a stroll around.  The vegetation is thick on much of his property, so we couldn't find the cat, though Dwight was certain he'd wounded him.  "If you see vultures circling later," he said, "you'll know where he is."

We wandered over to his former communal garden, what he called his "Communist Plot."  None of his friends who used to come out and garden had returned this year.  But he had a new friend who had a vast and varied tomato crop much larger than all the small patches put togethert.  It was a commercial operation mostly harvested for the seeds that would be sold worldwide. It was an impressive site with high fencing to thwart the deer and the many varieties of tomatoes carefully labeled.   Dwight offers tomatoes by the bucket to his friends.  When he returned Sunday night he prepared a delicious salad of the many hued tomatoes fresh off the vine.  The main course was rabbit, that he had shot.  He and Susan baked it in a pie.  There was enough to send me on my way the next day with a Tupperware bowl full.

I didn't get as early of a start as I might have as I had 120 pages left to read in Dwight's soon to be  published third book, his second volume of Wild Tales.  This one is called "All Over the Place."  It recounts his travels in Africa, South America and Asia going back nearly fifty years, climbing mountains and biking and just exploring. There are also rollicking chapters on sinking a whaling ship in Norway and spending time in a Mexican prison and looking after a quadriplegic brother and outwitting the medical profession in paying for a knee operation and discovering what he thought was a meteorite.

I was the first person to be reading the actual print of the book that Dwight had self-published through Amazon.  Dwight had had several friends proofread and edit his on-line rough draft, but a few typos had slipped through.   I wanted to find as many as I could before I left so he could all the sooner make the book available to the public and print up a few more copies for friends.  Most were minor that few would notice, such as an inconsistency in using "ok" or "okay" and not always putting a comma in numbers of a thousand and more and making that common mix-up of peddling and pedaling.   He also used the expression "win-win" in a story from the seventies before the term entered the lexicon.  The stories were always so gripping it was hard to slow down to catch such things.

My route from Terre Haute over the Wabash River from Illinois on the Theordore Dreiser bridge to Bloomgton, sixty miles away, took me past just one Carnegie Library in Spencer.  It was now a museum.  It acknowledged its Carnegie roots with a Carnegie Coffee Bar.  It's corner location allowed this historic building to fully display its unspoiled grandeur.


My route north would take me past four more Carnegies to the west of Indianapolos.  I had previously visited the three still standing Carnegie branches in the city as well as those to its east.  Then I'll hit seven more of Indiana's 166 Carnegies, the most of any state, before crossing back into Illinois.  Slowly but surely I'm getting to them all.





Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Greenup, Illinois


Among the many charms of small town libraries are their wall hangings. Rather than the standard Read posters featuring a celebrity, they decorate their walls with items of local interest--photos or plaques or homilies.  The Carnegie in Hillsboro gentlely reminded its patrons to observe the due dates of the books they check out.  In a small town, the librarian can be as significant a figure as the mayor and are often much beloved. Many are remembered with plaques.


The Hillsboro Carnegie may not have been designed by the most accomplished of architects, but he did include columns in his design.


The Carnegie in Pana had a cluster of photos of the local swimming pool from the 1950s.  The town was renowned for its above ground pool.  It's photo of Carnegie above the entry was joined by one of George Washington and the person who donated the land for the library.  The librarian said that when she gives tours of the library she always begins there so she can explain who Carnegie was.


Not only was the librarian most friendly and talkative but so was a twelve-year old girl out front who had arrived at the library on a bike as well.  She was the first, and only so far, person to react to the Trump mask adorning my bike.  "I like the Trump mask," she blurted, then added, "That's hilarious."

The Carnegie in Taylorville is now a law office.  Taylorville was one of the few towns with a slogan--"A Great Place to Live."  The slogan of the much smaller Morristown was more location specific--"Where Progress Meets the Prairie."  I stopped at a small store that advertised "All fountain drinks 89 cents."  It was Indian run.  It's owner said, "Come back, all our prices are cheaper than Casey's."


The central plaza in Taylorville featured a statue of Abraham Lincoln commemorating the time he served there as a judge.  It included a pig, as Lincoln was said to have had one as pet in his youth.


Hillsboro had a Lincoln statue as well, a few doors down from the cafe where I gorged on hotcakes.  For the first time in these travels most of the towns I've past through still have a restaurant for the locals to gather at, a small sign of healthy local economies.  This one had reopened two years ago and was owned by someone who lived in a nearby town where he had a similar restaurant.  It was nice to begin my days knowing I could count on a stack of hotcakes in an hour or so of riding.

After a day with three Carnegies in sixty-two miles I had a glorious four-Carnegie day as I closed in on Terre Haute and the Indiana border.  The first was in Shelbyville with its flag at half mast in remembrance of the 59 dead in Las Vegas.


As with Pana it had an addition to its back that did nothing to mar its grandeur.  It's addition had similar  wooden bookshelves and wooden tables as those in the front of the library.


It wouldn't be easy to leave such a tranquil setting, if I didn't know a similar one awaited me in an hour or two.  The next came in the city of Mattoon.  It's orginal library was so large it only required a minimal addition, mostly to provide a handicapped entrance to the side.


It was just ten miles to another city in the 20,000 range, Charleston, home to Eastern Illinois University. It's much smaller Carnegie had a huge, nearly block-long addition.  It was almost a miracle that the original library had been incorporated in the design, though it's entrance was closed up and had been appropriated by kids as a skateboarding ramp.  It was the only library in this batch to identify itself as a "Free Public Library," all the others didn't feel the need to include the word "free."


The original library was now the periodicals room, comprising not even ten per cent of the floor space of the library.  As with the Edwardsville Carnegie and many others that have built additions around their original library, the former outside wall is now part of its interior, almost as if it is a Roman ruin in a museum.


One could certainly appreciate the beauty of the front of the orginal library and feel great gratitude that there was enough enlightenment in the community to preserve it.  That is not always the case.  Of the 106 Carnegies built in Illinois, seventeen have been demolished, many in the suburbs of Chicago.  The Hall of Shame includes Evanston, Wilmette, Highland Park, Des Plaines, LaGrange, Brookfield, Harvey and Downers Grove. The Carnegie in Park Ridge is the lone Chicago suburban Carnegie still standing, though it is no longer a library.  

My final Carnegie in this Illinois batch in Greenup is now a military history museum, something that would not please Carnegie.  He spent the final years of his life as s personal ambassador to the world trying to avert WWI.  Discouragement over his failure led to his death in 1919.   The Greenup Carnegie had a turret that made it look like a castle or military installation.


Seven of the nine Carnegies I visited in Illinois still served as libraries, right around the average for the state, with 68 of the still standing 89 still functioning as libraries.  My final stretch to Bloomington will only include one Carnegie that I have yet to visit along the way.  But if I'm feeling deprived I can always drop in on the Carnegie in Bloomington, now a museum.