Spotted Roadside: Water Tower

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Somewhere in Virginia (I wasn’t navigating!)

 One thing that I associate with my travels in the midwest and my days living in North Carolina are gigantic water towers, like the one in the picture above. Often times, towns each have their own water towers, which are adorned with the town name or something to that effect. When I moved to Vermont, I noticed a lack of water towers (though there is one on the University of Vermont campus, which is the only one that immediately comes to mind. Anyone else?). So whenever I’m on the road in other parts of the country, it’s a familiar landscape feature – a good landmark for distance and geographic location. Do you like water towers?

Featured In…

Dubuque Main Street (of Dubuque, Iowa) features an excerpt from the Muppets (2011) post in its December 2011 e-newsletter (click to read). I’ve always loved Iowa (partially because of Field of Dreams, but also because of the time I spent in Iowa while living in Nebraska), so I’m psyched to have PiP featured in this newsletter.

Show some love and check out the newsletter to learn about Dubuque’s holiday festivities, local shopping and holiday decorations. Visit the website to learn a bit about Dubuque, too.  Here’s a snippet about the Main Street movement in Dubuque to get you started:

In the 1960s and ’70s Dubuque, like many cities across the country, experienced a polarization of its retail trade from downtown to new development on its west side. This shift led to a dramatic demise of downtown with first floor vacancy levels reaching 55% and a loss of anchor department stores.

Realizing that property owners, business owners and the City needed to work together; a coordinating committee was formed in 1984. Community leaders agreed the Main Street program would act as a timely catalyst for economic development and downtown revitalization for Dubuque

In 1985, Dubuque was chosen by the National Trust’s Demonstration Program to be one of seven pilot cities for the Urban Main Street program. Following the program step by step, Dubuque Main Street has provided structure and unity to a downtown composed of many separate parts. After 26 years of success, downtown Dubuque, the longest standing urban program, has seen a dramatic renaissance, leading the state of Iowa in Main Street investment.

I haven’t been to Dubuque in about 5.5 years and my stay was brief; thus, my knowledge is limited. After doing some browsing about the city, it seems to be a midwestern gem filled with great architecture, cultural events, tourist attractions and recreational activities, all set on the Mississippi River in this hilly eastern Iowa city. Dubuque has won awards from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and is ranked high for economic growth and employment opportunities. Check out this BBC video, “How A Midwestern Town Reinvented Itself.”

Neat! I think I’ll add it on my list of places to visit. Thanks Dubuque Main Street  for reintroducing me to the city.

Loving Land from the Air

Flying over the USA heartland is always my favorite flight route. The excitement of gazing out the window distracts me from the long flight, the uncomfortable seats, and the lack of a snack. Above the clouds, the sun is so bright and beautiful; it’s a world you can only see by flying. Once the plane dips below the clouds back to earth the country appears. From 30,000+ feet above the earth, the grid and squares of the land, from the Public Land Survey, are so clear and so telling. The land was divided into townships of 36 square miles and then 1 mile squares, all based on meridians and parallels. Within each square, the shades of brown and green indicate different crops and fields and uses. Roads appears white; rivers appear bluish-brown. Towns are spaced a few miles apart, or so it seems from up so high. The land appears to pass in slow motion until another plane jets in the opposite direction, defining its 100s of miles per hour. Much of this part of the country is the perfect grid, of course with some exception and some roads that come to a T rather than a cross. Occasionally the plane will fly along an interstate, foretold by its characteristic wide lanes and clover leaf interchanges. Factories and their blowing smoke stacks and nearby reservoirs are found now and again among the farmland.

If only the plane would scroll through the names of the towns and states as we pass. Flying from DC to Denver, I imagined the route to be Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, and finally Colorado, but I can’t be sure. Regardless of the state, the towns are mostly gridded just like the survey of the land. They appear as clusters of buildings with main roads through the center from one or two points, sometimes with a highway and bypass. It fits with the land. What is always striking is the blatant shape of the new construction or sprawl in its large scale. Obviously evident from the ground by its massive, identical white vinyl houses, empty treeless yards, the developments also appear so different from the air, just as they do on the ground.

Planners, designers, developers, and others responsible may be attempting to incorporate curvilinear streets and other traditional, successful community plans, but from the air they appear as squished centipedes; their bodies the bending streets and their legs the smaller dead end side streets. Perhaps slightly more interesting than a grid, the layout will not fool me. I know these streets are dead ends and cul-de-sacs off a single main thoroughfare, maybe with sidewalks, probably with front facing garages, characteristic of the auto centric development. They might make more sense if streets met each other, enhancing connectivity, not solitude. I know that they aren’t truly walkable because you can’t walk anywhere; you always have to get in your car. Though nearby, these houses appear so isolated from the nearby towns, in such contrast from the towns that appear harmonious, organic, and in sync with themselves.

Of course, these thoughts come from my judgmental eye and my disdain for McMansion auto-centric, cookie-cutter developments in an age when we know what works and what has failed in communities. Why don’t we follow our own advice? The root of the evil is likely lazy and careless development planning, one that cannot be bothered to study actual successful communities rather than theory and nice architectural renderings.

I suppose, however you feel about the landscape from the air, the lesson is in reading the landscape. It’s a story right in front of your eyes about how the way we live is shaped by our land. Highways, byways, gridded towns, dirt roads, farmland, factories, flood plains, new construction, and sprawl – it is all in place to read and to interpret.

With the glamour of airline travel a bygone day, the story of the land is the beauty of flying cross country.

Road Trip Report 9

The Roadside America photograph collection (of giant things) from our trip.

Some with historic or cultural significance, some just for our amusement. Enjoy. They made us laugh.

I have no idea what this is, but it stands next to a BP gas station and nothing else near East Harbor State Park, Ohio. The waiter (?) looked like he used to carry a tray.

I have no idea what this is, but it stands next to a BP gas station and nothing else near East Harbor State Park, Ohio. The waiter (?) looked like he used to carry a tray.

Another view of the giant man near the BP.

Another view of the giant man near the BP.

Giant bicycle in Geneva-on-the-lake, Ohio.

Giant bicycle in Geneva-on-the-lake, Ohio.

A large directional tree at the Bronner's Christmas Store, the world's largest Christmas store, in Frankenmuth, Michigan.

A large directional tree at the Bronner's Christmas Store, the world's largest Christmas store, in Frankenmuth, Michigan.

Me & a giant lightbulb at Bronner's Christmas Store.

Me & a giant lightbulb at Bronner's Christmas Store.

A giant mouse on US-24. We stopped to get its picture.

A giant mouse on US-23. It's so cute that it deserves another spot here. We saw more than one giant mouse.

A giant chicken on Wisconsin 64.

A giant chicken on Wisconsin 64.

Another giant chicken in Wisconsin.

Another giant chicken in Wisconsin.

A giant cow in Minnesota, on the outskirts of St. Paul.

A giant cow in Minnesota, on the outskirts of St. Paul.

The spoon bridge in the sculpture garden in Minneapolis.

The spoon bridge in the sculpture garden in Minneapolis.

We know we missed a lot of roadside America because we didn’t necessarily detour to find certain statues, etc. Instead we found most of these by chance and just shot pictures from the car window. There certainly were an abundance of giant chickens. Does anyone know why?

Road Trip Report 1

July 14 marks day 6 of the Great Lakes Road Trip 2009 for Vinny and me.  We’ve traveled through New York and New Jersey (mostly just to get out of both), through Pennsylvania with stops along the way, stayed a while in Ohio, and now we are in Michigan. It is the perfect time of year for these states, in terms of the climate.

We are generally without internet, so no pictures for now, but I’ll share some highlights and updates of our road trip stipulations.

On the no-interstate factor? As we had planned, we took the interstates to get out of New York and New Jersey, since we’d never get out otherwise.  We cannot imagine taking 25A all the way from Suffolk County to the Cross Island Parkway – we’d still be there. But once we got to our destination in Pennsylvania, we have stuck to our no interstate policy. This led us to a very long detour off Route 6 in Pennsylvania, and a less than impressive Route 20 through Ohio into Cleveland. However, so many interesting sites and beautiful towns have made up for the hassle of the highways. We’re learning that there are definitely times for the interstate and times for the highways and byways. That however deserves more consideration.

On the no-chains factor? So far so good, except for groceries and gas, which cannot be avoided. We have some really good meals at locally owned places, including a particularly good breakfast at Bobby’s Kitchen in Monroe, Michigan.

On the $100 day budget? Well, of course, it’s easy if we’re staying with family or friends who give us a place to stay and send us with coffee and lunch for the road. That was day 1. The other days, so far, we’ve been sticking to our budget average. Some days cost more than others depending on how far we drive or what attractions we visit. Some days cost much less than $100, some cost a bit more.  We’re camping throughout the trip and we only eat out one meal per day, which is our trick to a tight budget. If you love campfires and marshmallows, camping is the way to go.

Highlights along the way: Route 6 in PA, Geneva-on-the-lake in Ohio, Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, East Harbor State Park in Ohio, and the Ford Rogue Factory Tour in Dearborn Michigan. We’ve seen gorgeous towns and some interesting sites – pictures to come once we get to a campground that has some internet.

Great Lakes Road Trip 2009

Today,* Thursday July 9, 2009, begins “Great Lakes Road Trip 2009!”

Vinny and I have mapped a route from Long Island, New York through the Midwest, the Great Lakes region, and back (with some undetermined points along the way). In the spirit of historic preservation, Independent America, scenic routes, blue highways, byways, good road trip stories, visiting new places, and a budget we have come up with a few standard rules we’ll abide by along our travels.

As you can probably guess, the standards we have set for ourselves are: 1) no chain hotels or restaurants; 2) as little interstate mileage as possible; and the biggest one 3) do our best to stick to a budget of $100 per day for everything – food, gas, lodging, activities, etc.

Stipulations: Gas is not included in the no chains rule. Any other things like grocery stores will have to be decided as we go. If you have suggestions, write them below.

The purpose is to show that it is possible have a great time without taking the interstate, staying in chain motels, eating at chain restaurants, and visiting typical modern tourist destinations.  The American road trip, independent style, is still possible as just two travelers. We don’t have a film crew or sponsors or anything else. It’s just an experiment. So, whether you are soon-to-be graduate student, a preservationist, an adventure seeker, or you are just on a budget, hopefully Preservation in Pink can offer a bit of inspiration and possible guidance.

Can we do it? I’ll let you know.  For the next 2 – 2.5 weeks or approximately 4,000 miles, I’ll be posting all road trip related blogs. They might be about our struggles to find only mom & pop establishments (or maybe the ease of it!), our stops along the way, lodging, historic sites, interesting photographs, or anything else road trip & preservation related. Posts will not necessarily be five days per week, but at least three days. And at the end, I’ll be sure to have a summary and results of the travel experiment.

First stop: Pennsylvania!

*We left Long Island at 5:30am.

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Quotes to travel by:

For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry Miller

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Side note: Be sure to read Lauren McMillan’s final Adventures in the Field post tomorrow, Friday July 10.

Nebraska School House

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Location: Highway 26A, right after Junction 385S before Scottsbluff County

Click on the photos for full size images!

Taken August 2006 as I traversed the midwest with my mom and sister Sarah.  We were even scared half to death by someone screaming at us “your on private property!”  If that was true, we’re not sure, but likely my out-of-state NY plates provoked the comment.  They sped off in their run down truck, probably not really caring but wanting to scare us.   Trespassing is not endorsed, just to set the record straight.

If you are looking for information about school houses, contact Elyse, who wrote her undergrad thesis on Madison County, IL school houses.