Castroville Texas and The San Antonio Mission Trail by bike


This has been an exciting couple of weeks! From friends visiting from Madison WI, and taking them to the Fort Worth Stockyards Historic District, to a work trip down to Landmark Inn State Historic Site in Castroville TX, and extending my trip for a day in San Antonio, it’s been a lot of fun – and a lot of driving.

The Texas Frontier Family Day at Landmark Inn was an ideal opportunity to help out at a Texas Historical Commission (THC) event, before our big Civil War reenactment event at the Confederate Reunion Grounds in April. Landmark being the only site that also operates as a bed and breakfast, I got to stay at the inn for the event. Beautiful! There were living history reenactors, demonstrations like lace making and log cabin construction, live music, and a camp-cooked lunch for the volunteers.

I was able to extend my trip to include a day in San Antonio, and one of my fellow educators from the THC was kind enough to show me around. After a nice tour of Casa Navarro State Historic Site, I borrowed a bike and we visited the San Antonio Mission Trail via the San Antonio River. After that, I have to agree that there is no better way to see the missions than by bike!

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Since I didn’t take photos along the river path while I was biking (because I was busy biking, obviously), this stock image of the river path will have to do. From where we started in downtown, all the way to the furthest mission, is 10 miles. So after a 20 mile bike-ride (there and back) I’d say I was pretty tired and sunburned.

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Here are pictures of the missions:

After a long day of sun and bike-riding, it was almost too perfect that a street festival was going on in the downtown Market Square. So we enjoyed some street food, churros, agua fresca, and Tejano music, and watched some impromptu dancing in front of the stage. I can see more trips to San Antonio in my future…

Wanderings in Central Texas


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Blooming wildflowers in old oil fields near Mexia, Texas

This blog was always meant to be a chronicle of my travels, and virtual connection to my friends and family in distant places. Now that I have made the monumental move from Chicago to Texas, this connection seems more important than ever. And so, after my first month living in this strange country (indeed, the state slogan is “It’s like a whole other country”), I’m learning lots of new things.

One of which is that driving an hour or more for anything is totally normal in Texas. And if I want entertainment, I have to drive somewhere. So, one of my first ventures was to the historic city of Corsicana. Nothing particularly out of the ordinary here, but the downtown has that old “Main Street America” look to it, and there’s an antique or thrift store around every corner. Believe me, I had a good ole’ time checking out every single one.

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The 1908 City Jail in Corsicana, which seems to be a private residence now

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Public projects in downtown Corsicana – once a burned out building, now a cozy courtyard

But I did something even more interesting on my way back home… As you might know, I am big into historic cemeteries, and I had read something about the grave of a famous blues guitarist in the vicinity, so I had to check it out. The man was known as Blind Lemon Jefferson, and was a talented and influential blues singer and guitarist in the 1920s, eventually being buried back near his little hometown of Wortham, Texas upon his death.

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Historical marker and gravesite of Blind Lemon Jefferson

The strange thing to me was the shabby state of the cemetery itself, and it’s proximity to the larger and better kept Wortham Cemetery right next door. It seemed like most of the markers were pretty old, with some falling over, and surely some covered over with tall grass. I figured it out soon enough; this was the Negro Cemetery.

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Inside the Blind Lemon Memorial Cemetery

Never in my previous experience have I come across a separate cemetery for African Americans. I suppose its just my ignorance, or this is simply a more common sight in the South. This same day, I heard about a Jewish cemetery in Corsicana, because of a bizarre story about a Jewish tight-rope walker that was buried there. I think all of this murky history will keep me busy for a while…

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The oldest grave I found, with the Wortham Cemetery in the background

Fort Sheridan and Openlands Lakeshore Preserve


This weekend was a welcome taste of warmer weather to come, and anyone who was wise took advantage of it! We did as well, by doing some hiking and exploring along Chicago’s north shore. I’ve been to Fort Sheridan and the Openlands Lakeshore Preserve before, but it was significantly more pleasant this time around, with nearly 60 degree weather.

I decided to do a bit of research about the history of Fort Sheridan as well. The site was originally established as a French trading post, conveniently connecting Chicago to Wisconsin. But nothing much happened here until Fort Sheridan was established in the 1880s, as a military post to “keep the peace” for the rapidly growing city of Chicago (read “suppressing labor unrest”). It was named after a certain General Sheridan, hence the name.

And so the site was developed into a well-equipped military base, designed by the architectural firm Holabird & Roche (they designed some of Chicago’s first “skyscrapers”, like the Marquette building). The focal point of the complex still seems to be the 200+ foot water tower, seen in the picture here. I look at it and think, is it really just a water tower? I guess so…

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The Holabird & Roche designed water tower at Fort Sheridan

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I’m always one for a good placard!

The rest of the area were homes for officers and their families, barracks, mess hall and stables, all clustered around a large parade ground. And while Fort Sheridan played a major role in both world wars, and conflicts both before and after, the Fort was officially closed in 1993. There are still military goings-on around here, but the historic neighborhood now seems like a pretty desirable neighborhood for non-military residents. A condo or townhome goes for about half a million or more here.

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The Romanesque architecture of nearly all of the Fort Sheridan homes.

The Openlands Lakeshore Preserve is just a small section of lakefront property adjacent to Fort Sheridan that has been under restoration the last few years. The ecosystem is supposedly rare and unique in Illinois, but still in need of ongoing restoration. But, with the trail running along a high bluff over the shoreline, the beauty of getting such an elevated glimpse of Lake Michigan is what really makes it for me. Now, I just have to make it back here during summer…

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Openlands Lakeshore Preserve along Lake Michigan, Highland Park, IL

My Chicago Adventures: Pullman and Argus Brewery


Once again, I’ve let life get away from me, and this blog has remained largely forgotten. Or maybe not forgotten, since I’ve often thought “I should write on my blog again”. But, as I’m gearing up for another major adventure, I thought I would write a post to get back in the swing of things. And this is the one that I most wanted to finish.

The Pullman neighborhood is a hidden gem in Chicago; I’ve vaguely known about it for a while now, but the topic is timely because earlier this year President Obama stopped by to celebrate the new designation of the Pullman National Monument, under the National Parks System. Which presumably means even better preservation for the site, and greater recognition of its’ historical significance.

The historic district itself is smaller than the neighborhood of Pullman, between 111th and 115th streets, and Cottage Grove and Langley Avenues. This is considered the far South Side of Chicago, as even the red line trains don’t come this far. Take the red line to the end of the line, and you still have a 15 minute bus ride to get to the Pullman Historic District.

The district includes the Pullman State Historic Site, the Historic Pullman Foundation, and the Pullman National Monument NPS. The Historic Pullman Foundation is housed in a very unassuming looking building, and is a good place to start. While I have yet to visit the museum (the hours were rather limited), I had time enough to ask for the self-guided walking tour brochure, which led me around the neighborhood and gave simple explanations about the buildings and their use and architecture.

The very simple explanation is that Pullman was a company town for employees of the Pullman Palace Car Company. George Pullman wanted to uplift his lower-class employees, and built a town with some of the first worker housing with indoor plumbing, a hotel, market, church, and factory buildings, and attempted to provide for his employees in every forseeable way. However, it was not a true utopia. “The opportunities that Pullman provided went beyond social uplift—they amounted to social control. A Chicago Tribune editorial stated that, “none of the…advantages of the model city will compensate for the restrictions on the freedom of the workmen…” Limitations on freedom sowed the seeds of social unrest”, which resulted in strikes, boycotts, and bloody conflict between labor and employers (http://www.nps.gov/pull/upload/PullmanUniGrid.pdf). If you are at all interested in the industrial and labor history of America, then you’ll just have to come visit.

What brings me to the Argus Brewery were these “limitations on freedom”. Saloons and drinking establishments were forbidden, so many of these thirsty employees wandered over to the other side of the tracks to find what they were looking for. Argus Brewery is a new enterprise, but it is housed in an old horse stables that was the distribution center for the Joseph Schlitz brewing company – heard of it? You’ve probably at least seen the logo somewhere in Chicago, with the Schlitz banner over a globe. Schlitz was just one of several breweries along the same street, catering to the large population of German, Polish and Eastern European immigrants that worked for Pullman. On a tour of the Argus Brewery today, the guide will share a little bit of this Chicago history, along with the requisite explanation of how beer is made, and how Argus fits into the growing craft beer culture of Chicago.

My Chicago Adventures: Lincoln Square/Ravenswood


I love Lincoln Square! But seriously, the neighborhood of Lincoln Square seems to have a lot going for it. As per usual, my copy of the “Open House Chicago” sites was my guide to exploring the neighborhood, and I’ve made repeat visits back to the DANK-Haus German American Cultural Center. The museum there is free and worth a visit to learn about the German legacy in Chicago. After having just read the book Death in the Haymarket, and the Haymarket Affair and labor struggles in late nineteenth century Chicago, it was strange to see this poster below; the poster called for workers to meet and discuss recent events and labor strikes. Little did they know the firestorm that would start that night (http://www.history.com/topics/haymarket-riot).

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Inside the DANK Museum at the cultural center; historic political leaflets in English and German.

It’s true that Germans made up one of the largest portions of the immigrant population in Chicago, when they started arriving in the city in the nineteenth century. Imagine then that they arrive in Chicago, set up their trades to be bakers and beer brewers etc., and some teetotaling mayor decides it is illegal to drink on Sundays, their only day off of work! That Joseph Medill… Anyway, I liked the German cultural center so much that I came back for an art exhibit, German cinema night, and now I’m volunteering for their booth at the street festival “Maifest” at the end of the month. This is all in line with my next big adventure, which has yet to be announced. Something to do with German language and culture, that’s all I’ll say for now!

Below are a few more pictures of the place, complete with a view of Lincoln Square from the rooftop terrace of the building.

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The club room inside the DANK Haus is full of character!!

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International art exhibition and the opening event at the DANK Haus.

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View over Lincoln Square from the rooftop terrace.

And… I leave you with a few more favorites from the area:

A very German and international type of place :)

A very German and international type of place 🙂

The exterior of the old Krause Music Store on Lincoln Avenue.

The exterior of the old Krause Music Store on Lincoln Avenue.

Architectural Artifacts is a warehouse full of... architectural artifacts for sale.

Architectural Artifacts is a warehouse full of… architectural artifacts for sale.

Rosehill Cemetery, North Side Chicago


I am a fan of cemeteries. This may be strange to some but cemeteries can be peaceful, beautiful, and historic all at the same time. Rosehill Cemetery is supposedly Chicago’s largest cemetery, with many Civil War soldiers, and well-known Chicagoans buried here. I visited on a snowy weekend in February, so I suppose it’s about time I posted these pictures; I’m including just a few of my favorites.

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The cemetery entrance was designed by architect William W. Boyington, best remembered for his design of the Chicago Water Tower.

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A Civil War monument near the East side entrance, with names and battlesites running around the bottom. A flag is draped over the carving of a cannon.

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And more Civil War soldiers. According to another blog, this is the Monument of Battery B. Dates of death were mostly around 1862.

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The obelisk monument for Mayor “Long John” Wentworth; he was an Illinois politician, and Mayor of Chicago during the Civil War. According to the monument, he had four children with his wife, all of which died in infancy. 

Below are some links to further info about the cemetery:

http://www.civilwar.org/civil-war-discovery-trail/sites/rosehill-cemetery-and-civil-war-museum.html

http://chicago-architecture-jyoti.blogspot.com/2011/03/rosehill-cemetery-soldiers-and-sailors.html