Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Parke County Covered Bridge Festival

The Parke County Covered Bridge Festival, half hour's drive away in Indiana, is an annual October event. For a long time, David and I and various friends went every single year, but we hadn't been there in quite a while. This year, with David in the wheelchair, we didn't expect to be able to go. Fortunately, our friend Bob said he would drive and help us with the chair transport and pushing, and I had my four-wheeled walker.

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.

 This is the east side, looking northeast.
 This shot shows a hint of our rosy Japanese anemones and the neighbor's sycamore tree across the street.
 Looking directly east, we can see one of our raised beds and the birch tree on the other side of the street.
 Here's the south lawn birdbath near the rose bushes.
 Remember the firethorn from my fall garden blog? It's at the west corner of the house.
 Certainly is bright!
 Sadly, this big locust in the north end of our yard has died and is just too expensive to have removed ... sigh.
 Nice shot of our house taken from the center of the east yard, looking northwest.
 Close-up of the neighbor's lovely white birch.
 Still a few blooms on the knockout rose.
 The sky was a beautiful blue in this photo, wasn't it?
 The neighbor's birch tree again.
 Okay, the trip has officially begun. Here's David all settled into the car.
 And Bob putting jackets and cameras in the back seat. Off we go!

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.
 In a short time we head east on I-74, cross the Illinois-Indiana state line, and approach the iron bridge (not covered, needless to say) over the Wabash river.
 Entering Montezuma looking back across the water. Notice the sign telling about the Wabash-Erie Canal.
And here's the river itself ... the mighty Wabash.
 First stop is Montezuma, a small town on route 136 on the road to Rockville. They block off the main street and set up their annual pig roast and some other vendors.
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. 
There are still some nice older buildings standing in the Montezuma downtown.
 The sign on the pole is for a flea market sale, not really huge, but probably bigger on the weekend (we went on a Monday).


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. 
David is enjoying a BBQ pork sandwich. I think that's a scarecrow standing behind him.
Bob is more awake than he looks in this photo. He's working on that pig roast too.
This shot gives you an idea of the "down home" aspect of the Montezuma festival. I like that it's small, local, and not very commercialized. This is the way the whole festival used to be in the other towns when we first started coming here forty years ago or so ...
Here's the street with the food and festivities. They had a tractor drawn cart with benches for tours of the Wabash-Erie canal up at the far end.
David is having a great time. It's so good for him to get out in the fresh air and have some fun.

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.




 Of course, this is a very small town now, and the Dunlap Hotel is no longer in operation as a hotel.
 
The local kids did a pumpkin decorating contest, I guess. These are pretty cute.
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.
Vendors of food, crafts, and flea market junk all line up on all sides of the courthouse square.
Here's Bob getting a shot of the courthouse tower. Behind him is a sign for Rocks ... just big old rocks with rural scenes painted on them. Somewhere here they sell painted saws too.
It is a very handsome courthouse and a very blue sky. Perfect weather today.
 You can see in Bob's close-up how ornate the architectural details are.
They had picnic tables set up on the lawn.
 Another nice shot of the courthouse. Pretty imposing, isn't it?
 People were scattered all around the courthouse square. We came up the center path where we saw some activity ahead and heard some music.
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There is usually some kind of entertainment here. One year I remember a group of Ecuadorean guys with pan flutes singing Andean folk songs. This time, it's by a singer songwriter guitar player in the center of the courthouse area.
 
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.  

Lots of people having fun, walking around eating corn, persimmon pudding, ham and beans, and so on.


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.
 By the time I had eaten and walked around in the tent, I was ready to sit next to David and rest for a while. So Bob walked around and took some nice shots of interesting older buildings in Rockville near the courthouse square.






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.
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.
After driving around some more, our last stop was in the small town of Mecca.


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.  


 I also stopped by the schoolhouse, the sign of which told me it was a Mecca School District school.  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. 

When we crossed the creek, we discovered a covered bridge just on the other side – one of the few we saw on this trip.

1 comment:

  1. l really enjoyed your blog. I grew up in Rosedale, and went to jr.high in Bridgton at the old school house. We also went to school our 5th grade year at Billy Creek in the one room school and lived as they did in the pioneer days, even used quill pens and ink. I live in Paris, IL. now and miss Parke county. Your blog brought back some great memories. Thank you.

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