The festival is spread over several towns and is sometimes set up on grass, which wouldn't work for us. But I called ahead to Rockville, the county seat, and learned that they had handicapped parking. The festival there is arranged around the courthouse square, with sidewalk on all sides and a paved path leading up to the center.
Montezuma, a much smaller place just across the state line, has its version of the festival on a blocked street, so that was possible too. With two festival sites that had easy access and several others we could drive around in and enjoy from the car, not to mention miles of quiet Indiana rural countryside in the fall and some covered bridges, the day trip was definitely possible. Hooray!
Before starting the trip blog proper, let me include a few fall shots of our yard and neighborhood that Bob took, just to get everyone in the right mood for a nice day outdoors.
Bob and I were both taking photos, and I'm including here some of Bob's log he did to go with the pictures:
Burlison at 8:45 AM.: Sue still feeding cats and going through last minute arrangements;left about 9:15, in the Honda van, stopping at the Starbucks for coffee. Picked up an extra camera battery at my house. Route 150 to Saint Joseph and then I-74 to US Route 1, which we followed south from Danville through Westville, Georgetown, and Ridge Farm until we reached Route 36 at Chrisman, Illinois ... past the tiny roadside Ernie Pyle Memorial Park with its covered bridge over dry land; Dana, Indiana, where Pyle was born; Hillsborough, with a small flea market in progress; and at last into Montezuma, on the far side of the Wabash River.
The setup in Montezuma was much as I remembered: “Roasted Hog” sandwiches and a few other food booths at the north edge of the highway. I was able to pull into an off-highway parking spot near to the food, and it was no problem to get David in his wheelchair and move him across the street to the food.
Sue got BBQ and chips for the three of us and we ate them at a picnic table. They used to have a whole hog roasting over an open fire in plain view, but now it was cooking in a closed BBQ grill. Also the wooden structure that served as a roof in bad weather had been replaced by a tent. Aside from that, not much had changed. Perhaps there were a few less booths, perhaps not.
The air was warm without being hot, the sky was clear and sunny, and it was enjoyable to just sit and admire the surroundings. Both Sue and I walked around the immediate neighborhood and took a few pictures. I could tell that some of the old buildings near the Wabash had come down, but didn’t know which ones. On the plus side, the facades of the survivors have been nicely fixed up. Before leaving, I bought and ate a very good cruller – basically a donut without a hole. I also got a bundle of Indian corn, three big ears for $3.
We continued on Route 36 into Rockville. There was a surprising amount of traffic for a Monday morning: we crawled over to the courthouse square, which seemed not to have changed much at all, except that both the courthouse and the storefronts of the surrounding commercial buildings had been cleaned and spruced up.
Had to circle three times to get a space in the handicapped parking area in this brick street just west of the courthouse square. The small covered bridge on wheels in the background is the information center where you get maps of the various "bridge routes" through the participating Parke County towns and past the covered bridges.
|They had picnic tables set up on the lawn.|
On the south side, we turned up onto the square where a country singer was performing in front of the courthouse. Sue went off for a while to get some persimmon pudding while I stayed with David next to a “Silent Auction” (whatever that is) tent. I thought the singer was actually pretty listenable, he did a variety of stuff including some Dylan.
When Sue came back I went off to get some peach cobbler. Then I took off to wander a bit and take some pictures of the east and north sides of the square, including a horse drawing a wagon load of tourists off for a tour of the covered bridges.
When I reached the north east corner of the square, I went into the big tent which typically is set up around three sides of the courthouse. I wasn’t really looking to buy anything – just wanted an idea of what sorts of booths were there – and wandered through quickly. When I came out I stopped only long enough to buy some persimmon ice cream, kind of a personal tradition with me, before returning to Sue and David.
After Rockville, we drove around the countryside, taking a look at the festival in Bridgeton, Rosedale, Mansfield, and Mecca.
The drive to Bridgeton was scenic and charming even though the leaves had barely begun to turn. Flat fields alternate with stands of timber and hilly, broken, wooded ground. However, there are very few time capsules in Park County – places where you turn a corner and suddenly can believe you're looking at a farmstead from 1870 or 1910 rather than 2013.
Today the roads are asphalt rather than gravel; the wire fences are gone; and the ramshackle farmsteads with animals and a few small implements scattered around the weathered outbuildings have disappeared. The old farm buildings, if they survive at all, have disintegrated into a state of ruin. The survivors (or replacements), pole sheds and plastic-clad ranch houses, are without outbuildings or animals, orchards or gardens, but they may have a satellite antenna and a SUV and a boat parked in the yard. It’s impossible to tell who lives in these houses or what they do. Apparently they always stand empty; at least no one is ever visible on the property. The only signs of local life are the giant combines crisscrossing the fields at this time of year, raising great clouds of dust as they harvest soybeans and corn.
Bridgeton was incredibly crowded. When we began coming here in the 60s, the festival activities were restricted to a small area around the long covered bridge (still in use) and the mill, with maybe coffee and fudge available in the half dozen commercial buildings that constituted the town.
Today the 400 vendor booths have exploded in every direction: up onto the hill above the village, and south past the Raccoon Township School which marks the end of settlement. Every open grassy space has been converted to parking. There is no denying that the presence of so many booths selling every variety of festival food as well as all kinds of exotic gee-gaws is exciting and has an appeal of its own. City people like to come to the country and bring their crowds with them. But I still prefer the era when each little location along the route had one or two specialties and handful of people could gather around pork and beans cooking over an open fire, or buy a Styrofoam cup of hot cider to fight the chill of the rain and cold on a late fall day.
After driving around some more, our last stop was in the small town of Mecca.We continued down the main street, but there was simply no way to stop and get out. The street was thronged with tourists and the cars, locked into an endless line of traffic.
Mecca is a place I didn’t recall ever being in before. It proved to be one of those strange little Indiana settlements strung out here and there along the road, neither a village with a real center, nor just a random scattering of houses, but something in between, a combination of new and old housing. A mile or so beyond that, just before a bridge crossing, we came to an isolated site consisting of a big tent and a small one-room school house at the side of the road.
Sue was feeling hungry so when she saw a sign advertising ice cream she asked me to stop and get some. I went into the tent and got three vanilla cones. While waiting, I noticed a dense swarm of bees over the upturned lid of a plastic chest a ways away from the tent and asked the woman serving me if they were a hive. She said no, they just put some sugar water there because the bees were bothering the tent, it was to distract them. It had done a terrific job of both distracting and attracting: the air was thick with thousands of bees.
The door was open so I went in. Smaller and laid out a bit differently, it still reminded me of the Hart School and I took some pictures. A guy came in while I was looking and told me that not long ago the school had flooded up to its windows and showed me pictures from an album there to verify it. Looking out the window I realized that the building (relocated from its original spot) was only yards from Raccoon Creek. The school wasn’t looking any worse for wear, however. I told him it was lucky the building was old – if it had been built of modern materials it would have dissolved.