Sunday, October 27, 2013

Uncovering the Past

It has been nearly a year since I posted a blog, and I must admit that what follows is not my typical entry.  I am creating this simply as a way of sharing a few photos.  I tried posting them as an album on Facebook, but it would not publish them for some reason.  So I shall put my photos here so that I may link to it from Facebook, and if a few strangers stop by and view them along the way, all the better.

I have been in one of my nostalgic moods of late, and having some free time this weekend, I decided to take a car tip to the home of many of my earliest and happiest memories.  I have written many times about my experiences at Raccoon Lake in Parke County, Indiana.  (  Whenever the leaves surrender their green of summer and assume the golds and russets of fall, and the smell of wood smoke from the neighbor's fireplace teases my nose, my heart returns to the lake.  Yesterday, I decided to act on those emotions and physically make the trip to revisit those places from my past.

What I found was one of the biggest disappointments in my life.  The campground, which had once been so magical and inviting, is now an aged, rundown collection of small trailers and campers.  Gone are many of the large, spacious mobile homes of my time, including all three that my family had owned.  In their place are small little travel trailers that people have simply "parked" on the lots.  In fact, some of the lots themselves seem to have been downsized.  In particular, our final property at the lake, which Dad sold in the late 80's, has been carved into a raised, little square of gravel.  I'm not sure how the family cooks and warms themselves, since the outdoor fireplace is also gone.  Blackened gravel is the only testament to the spot where once my family gathered to warm ourselves, watch the flames dance and smell some of the best food I've ever eaten cook.  The paths to the water are now overgrown with weeks and covered with fallen branches and trees.The cute little Chinese lanterns which once adorned each lot are distant memories.  Even the outhouses, not necessarily the most cherished of my memories, have been replaced with old port-o-lets whose doors do not even latch or lock.  It should have felt like an improvement, but somehow it just didn't.

Following the road through the campground to its end at a small turnaround, I found that the little dirt nooks and crannies that used to be areas to pull off and park while people went fishing are closed off with posts driven into the soil and overgrown with weeds.  The wooded point that extended beyond the road and jutted out into the lake is only a shadow of itself. Most of the trees are gone and in their place is some strange, low growing plant that I do not recognize.  I suspect it is some exotic, invasive plant, perhaps washed in during an earlier flood.  Years of speedboats churning up the lake have caused significant erosion literally stripping the hillside almost to the edge of the road. 

No pictures will appear of this part of our trip because these were not memories I wished to capture.  So my wife and I climbed back into the car to explore the countryside and the many covered bridges for which the county is known.  Our first destination was the small town of Mansfield, a place my family and I have visited countless times over the last half century.  What I remember is a quiet town resembling an old western ghost town.  What I found, however, is a town which has sold itself out to commercialism.  The old mill is still there, as is the covered bridge, but many of the little buildings I recall having once lined the streets have been replaced with little commercial shacks peddling food during the annual Covered Bridge Festival, which concluded a week ago.  The cornfields which in years past surrounded the town are now parking lots.  The little one room jail cell is now an ice cream booth, and the old Boot Hill style cemetery that once sat atop a small hill is no where to be found. 

Again, with sadness I climbed back into the van to begin exploring new territory that was not tainted by prior experience and memories.  We set off on the gravel covered back roads to explore a few of the other covered bridges in the area.  I may have made this trip once with my parents, but it was not burned into my psyche.  Purposely choosing a time after the bridge festival, we did not have to fight traffic or crowds.  Our visits to the bridges were quiet and intimate. It was just what I needed to restore warm feelings toward this western county in our state.  Along the way we watched Amish families working their farms, following behind teams of draft horses.  We flushed a bald eagle who teasingly flew just ahead of us until I retrieved my camera and was prepared to snap a photo.  Then it spiraled higher and higher and drifted off over the fields.  Thankfully, this area had not been spoiled by time or corrupted by commercialism.  And that is what I have tried to capture in the following photos.  So I invite you to travel with me to Parke County and a time gone by.  (And don't forget to click on each photo for a larger view!)
After abandoning the old campground, one of our first stops was the Mansfield Dam.  This is the view from atop the dam, but I prefer the wooded hills and spillway to the view of the lake on the opposite side.  The fall colors are greatly lacking this year.  This would usually be ablaze with oranges, yellows, golds and reds.

The old Mansfield mill is one of the few unchanged structures.  It has gotten a coat of paint, but otherwise, it remains as I remember it
My wife exiting the Mansfield covered bridge.

This is the more unkempt side of the bridge, but in ways I think it adds to the quaintness of the bridge.  The bridge itself was erected in 1867.

I had to jump into a couple of pictures, too.

I think the woodwork inside a covered bridge is just as attractive, if not more attractive, than the exterior of the bridge.

A different angle showing a little more of the roof structure.
The Mansfield bridge from down by the river.

The other part of Mansfield which still exists as I remember it is the bridge itself.  I do recall a period where it was closed to car traffic, but it was shored up many years ago and is once again open.  We left Mansfield and started off on a little gravel country road paralleling the river to find some more bridges.  The first we came to was the Conley's Ford Bridge. 
Younger by nearly half a century than its Mansfield counterpart, the Conley's Ford Bridge is also functional.

This bridge is only a single span bridge, so only one arch on each side, but you still have to love the wooden structure.

Still spanning the river over a century later.

Although a pretty day, there was still a nip in the air.  My wife tried to stay in the sun to soak up warmth.
From there we continued on until we came to a very different style of bridge.  The old Bridgeton Iron Bridge was build over Big Raccoon Creek in 1892, but was removed from use one year shy of its 100th birthday.  It is funny how the wooden bridges have held up better than the iron ones.  We did not visit the one bridge I remember on the way to Mansfield.  It looked very much like this bridge, and it too has been closed for many years.  We always called it the "Singing Bridge" and it did hum and moan as a car would pass over it.  It was very creepy and often left one wondering if it would hold up under the strain.
The Bridgeton Iron Bridge still standing vigil alongside its modern day counterpart.

The view of Big Raccoon Creek from the bridge.

Looking down the span on a gorgeous October day.
 As interesting as the iron bridge was, we were in search of covered bridges.  So back on the road until we came to the town of Bridgeton.  As the name would suggest, it has its own covered bridge.  However, an arson destroyed the beautiful Bridgton covered bridge several years ago, but the public rallied and the bridge was rebuilt in 2006.  
The modern bridge still stands proud above the river.

It is obvious that this bridge has not weathered a century of use, but it does not take away from its beauty.

Like Mansfield, Bridgeton also has a mill, as can be seen from the bridge itself.

Returning the favor, here is the view of the bridge from the mill.

The new timbers are still quite evident looking down the expanse of the bridge.

One of the old homes in Bridgeton re-purposed for the Covered Bridge Festival.

It was time to leave the town of Bridgeton and return to the quiet back-roads.  Along the way we enjoyed the various farms.  It appears we were also the subject of interest to the "locals."
Beautiful horses in a beautiful setting watching us pass.

These guys were less impressed, but still a gorgeous pair.
 The next bridge on our path was the Neet Bridge.  Although it is one of the younger bridges, having been built in 1904, it no longer is open to traffic, but that doesn't spoil its beauty.
Cute little bridge in a postcard type setting.

I love how the old bridges all had names.  It gives them more character.

Moss doesn't only grow on the north side of trees.  It apparently grows on the north side of bridges, too.

Again, the classic look.

The open windows and openings near the roof sure add more light into the bridge.

My wife taking in the scenery.
As we approached Rockville, there were a couple more bridges.  The first of this was the McAllister Bridge which is still in use.
Built in 1914, the McAllister bridge still allows vehicular traffic.

Don't you almost hear the ghostly sounds of past horses clip-clopping along the wooden floor.

Again jumping in front of the camera

Another mossy sided bridge.

A little different look at a covered bridge.  Notice how the side bows out.

But it still looks pretty spanning the creek.
 Finally, we came to Crooks Bridge which is definitely showing its age despite still being used.
Built in 1856, the Crooks Bridge was the oldest one we visited.

Another bridge with louvered windows to allow a little more light into it.

The old gal even needs cables to keep her standing straight.
The final look at the Indiana countryside from inside a covered bridge.
 Time may not have stood still for my old campground, but for much of the county, I was happy to see that things were pretty much the same as they have been for over a century.  I will return again, but I don't know if I'll visit the old campgrounds.  I think they are better left in my memories.

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