Sunday, April 24, 2011

Murray’s Mill Historic District

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

On our photography trip to North Carolina in the spring of 2010, Joann and I had one long day of travel to get out of the mountains and to the Piedmont area of the state. Towards the end of that day, we were passing close to the restored Murray’s Mill Historic District. Luckily we had time to stop and spend quite a bit of time there.

In 1883, William Murray built the first mill on the banks of Balls Creek, the site of the present day Murray’s Mill. In 1906, William deeded the property to his sons, John and Oley. In 1907, John acquired more than an 80% interest in the mill from his brother Oley, who took over operation of the general store.

In 1913, John replaced his father’s mill with the current two-story mill and added a 22-foot overshot waterwheel. He kept his father’s one-ton French buhr millstones for grinding corn. In the expansion of the mill, the general store was moved to its current location.

In July of 1916, two hurricanes swept across North Carolina in the space of two weeks. On July 8-10, the first hurricane came out of the Gulf of Mexico and over the Blue Ridge Mountains. It saturated the soil in the Catawba Valley. The second storm moved in off the Atlantic on July 14-16 and stalled when it hit a cold front over Tennessee. This resulted in the highest rainfall ever recorded in the United States up to that time, a total of 22.22 inches in a 24-hour period. The Catawba River crested at 47 feet above low water level on July 15, 1916, sweeping away every bridge on the river except one. Most of the water-powered mills on the river were also casualties of the flooding. Murray’s Mill was one of the few surviving mills in the area.

In 1938, John’s son Lloyd raised the dam six feet and installed the current 28-foot waterwheel. The original dam was wooden and may still be beneath the surface of the present-day millpond.

The 1880’s wheat house is just up the hill from the mill and was originally used to store unprocessed grain which was conveyed to the mill through chutes. The chutes to the mill are gone, but one can imagine how the mill might have looked when it was in operation.

Across Balls Creek is the John Murray House, a large bungalow-style house which was the former residence of the miller. The house was built in 1912 and has period furniture displayed inside. There is another family house located nearby on the banks of Balls Creek. This is the view of Murray’s Mill from the porch of the Murray House.

Lloyd closed the doors of the mill in 1967 due to bureaucratic red tape and increasing taxes. The site was acquired by the Catawba County Historical Association, which began restoration in 1980. In 1986, restoration was complete and an opening ceremony was held.

Across the road from the mill is the Murray and Minges General Store. The store is a two-story, gable-front building and was originally called the O.D. Murray and Company Store. The name was later changed to Murray & Minges through a marriage.

Inside the store that day, we met Jennifer Marquardt-Leach, Catawba County Historical Association’s Registrar of the Murray’s Mill Historic District. While we enjoyed the old time ambience of the store, she gave us some of the history of the mill and the other buildings. She was also kind enough to tell us where to go for the best photo opportunities. The store still has the old bulk bins and shelves full of old-fashioned merchandise. A pot-bellied stove sits in the center with an old Coca Cola cooler along the back wall.

We finished our visit to the mill with a quiet lunch at a small picnic table near the general store. From there we could see the mill and the miller’s house, and look over at the wheat house across the road. We love it when we can enjoy our meals in some historic or picturesque spot. It’s one of the reasons we rarely visit restaurants on our trips. The first reason is that it takes away too much of our shunpiking time, but more importantly, we want to be out in the countryside where the real history is.

When you’re in the vicinity of a historic district or site, take the time to stop and learn about our country’s heritage.

Happy Shunpiking!

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Monday, April 18, 2011

The Secret Garden

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

Yesterday was the start of the second half of April but here in Wisconsin, there have been only fleeting moments of spring. In fact, yesterday, it snowed steadily for about two hours where I live. And tonight they have predicted one to three inches of snow. I happen to love winter, but this winter has been one of the longest for me. It seems like spring will never arrive.

Last week on a chilly but sunny day, I decided to try to coax spring along by dragging out all of my hoses. As I placed the coiled hoses in the front of my house, I noticed a small patch of yellow, a small patch of white, and a tiny dot of purple in my woods. These small splashes of color amidst the brown carpet of leaves were too much to resist. So I headed to the woods to investigate.

The patch of yellow and the dot of purple were actually crocuses that had, I suspect, been “planted” by squirrels that stole some of my crocus bulbs and then buried them for a mid-winter meal. The patch of white was a fairly large and condensed group of bloodroot that had pushed through the leaves to soak up the early spring sunshine. What a welcome sight. I decided then and there that there was hope that spring would arrive soon.

As I contemplated spring, I was reminded of a lengthy search two years earlier for what I now refer to as “the secret garden.” But before I explain, I need to share a quick “secret garden” moment at my own house. Shortly after I moved to this beautiful home, I decided to install a set of stone steps in the hillside behind the house. There are three tiers of steps, twenty-three in all, leading up to the woods beyond them. They’re very inviting and are often a topic of conversation when guests visit my home.

As my family and I dined on the deck, my niece Emily, who was quite young at the time, asked, “Aunt Joann, where do those steps go?” I said, in a rather hushed tone, “Oh, they go to a secret garden!” I had barely spoken those words when she jumped up and bounded up the steps. When she reached the top, she carefully surveyed her surroundings and then exclaimed in utter disappointment, “There’s no secret garden up here!” Alas, it was only the woods and all I could say was, “I told you it was a secret.”

Okay, back to my story of the secret garden. Two years ago, I met a new friend who was interested in my photography. She especially liked my flower photos. Then one day she told me that someone had told her about a beautiful garden that was filled with the most colorful flowers, paths and benches, and that it was a public garden. She didn’t know exactly where it was but told me the general area.

Of course, I couldn’t resist the thought of photographing in this beautiful place, so I began to search for it. I didn’t think it would be that hard to find, but try as I might, I couldn’t locate it. When I asked my new friend if she could get better directions, she said she couldn’t remember who had told her about it.

All that spring, I continued to look for it and I finally found what I thought might be it, but it appeared to be private. I stopped at the house next to it, but no one was home. A few days later, I stopped again and found the owner working diligently clearing weeds from this beautiful garden. So I struck up a conversation and he told me that it was his wife’s garden. He also told me that I could come and photograph if I wanted to, but the spring flowers were about done blooming. So I had to be content with knowing that I had finally found the secret garden and could return the following spring.

Last year, from February to April, Ruth and I were hard at work preparing for our two-week photography trip to North Carolina. We were leaving on April 21 and I was hoping that we could experience spring in the south and then spring here in Wisconsin when we returned. However, last year spring came rather early, so I knew that I would again miss the blooming of the secret garden if I didn’t try to capture it before we left.

So, on a workday a couple days before we left on the trip, I arose in the wee hours and got myself ready for work, except for putting on my work clothes. Instead, I put on my photography clothes (jeans, a shirt with pockets, and hiking boots). I checked and loaded my camera gear into the car and headed toward the secret garden. When I got close to it, I pulled off the road and parked the car because it was still dark. And then it began to rain.

I knew this was probably my only chance to get these photos, so I sat and patiently waited to see what the dawn would bring. Luckily, as the dawn arrived, it stopped raining and I parked my car at the far end of the garden to avoid waking anyone, grabbed my gear, and started to work as quickly as I could. I knew I only had about two hours before I needed to head off to work and I didn’t know if it would start to rain again. It didn’t and I managed to capture some great shots.

My niece, Emily, is now 17 and I should probably make amends for the trick I played on her by taking her to the secret garden. I guess that’s the least I could do.

Happy Spring and, as always, Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Puppies on the Porch

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

On April 21, 2010, Joann and I began our trip to North Carolina. I always make a plan for our trips and this one included a stay on the first night in Shelbyville, Kentucky, where we could have dinner with an old friend of Joann’s. We went out for Chinese buffet and had a great time catching up with her.

The next morning we awoke with enough time to quickly load the car and get on the road in the dark to make our way to Penn’s store by dawn. Even though Irwin (our trusty GPS) didn’t know exactly how to find Penn’s store, we managed to get him to take us close. That is another one of the pluses to having the GPS. We travel in the dark much more now than we used to, and we get less frustrated since we can read the road names on Irwin’s display when it is too dark to see the actual road signs.

As we neared the road to the store our conversation turned to our last visit. We remembered all the cats and kittens that were on the porch of the store and wondered what we would find this time. As we neared the store, we could see movement on the porch, and soon we were close enough for me to exclaim “We have puppies!”

Lying on blankets on the front porch of the store was a family of Yellow Labradors. There was Boston, the dad, Dixie, the mom, and three puppies.

Once we had parked the car, the puppies bounded off the porch and began to circle the car waiting for us to get out and play with them. Being puppies, they were jumping up and dancing around us. Joann was trying to take pictures of them, but whenever a puppy would sit still for a couple of seconds and she started to get a shot lined up, they would think it was a game and they would run up to her and ruin her shot. But who could get upset with a puppy?

There were two larger puppies and then there was the runt of the litter. After a while, Dixie and the puppies got off the porch and started to head off into the field between the store and the North Rolling Fork River.

Dixie made the runt of the litter go back to the porch to stay with Boston. He was an older dog and didn’t move much from his position on the porch. The littlest puppy seemed very sad to be left behind.

Joann continued to take pictures of the store and the remaining puppy and Boston while the others were off playing near the river. When they came back across the field, the puppies were soaked either from playing in the river or from the early morning dew in the field. Dixie managed to stay much drier than they did.

Once back on the porch, the puppies started to roughhouse with each other, pulling at their toys and tumbling over each other and into Boston and Dixie, who were very tolerant of the shenanigans as most parents tend to be.

Soon you could tell that they had tuckered themselves out between their trip to the river and their roughhousing on the porch, and they flopped down onto a blanket to rest.

When they were all settled back on the porch and ready to snooze for a while, we decided that it was time for us to get on the road. We had plans to make it to North Carolina by dark, so we knew we had to be on our way.

Some of the best times we have on the backroads are when we meet fun pets like the ones we’ve met at Penn’s store. So, when you find yourself out on the backroads and a dog or cat comes up to you, give them a chance. Most of them just want a little attention.

And for those of you who read our first blog post on Penn's Store, where we explained that the store had been heavily damaged in a 2010 flood, we have a bit of encouraging news. According to their website and Facebook page, they are undergoing a restoration process and the last day of the 2011 Kentucky Writers Day Celebration will be held at Historic Penn’s Store.

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Looking in the Rearview Mirror

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

When we are out shunpiking on the back roads and through the small rural towns, we do a lot of looking at maps and research materials, craning our necks, straining our eyes, and turning the car around in hopes of finding whatever it is we’re looking for at the moment. Sometimes we find what we’re looking for and sometimes we don’t.

Sometimes we look for the same thing on more than one trip because we’re so determined to find it. And sometimes, that thing we’re looking for is right in front of our noses and we still can’t find it. In February, 2000, we took a winter trip to Sauk County and had plans to find an old mill in LaValle. Ruth didn’t have any directions other than that it was in LaValle, so we drove down E. Main Street looking left and right and up and down the side streets (of which there were few).

As we approached the end of W. Main Street, the conversation went like this:

Ruth: “Huh, it’s supposed to be here in town. I wonder where it is.”

Joann: “Why don’t I pull over and we’ll have another look at the map.”

Ruth: “Well there’s not much to this town. Maybe it’s around the corner on Highway 58.”

Joann (looking in the rearview mirror): “Um, you’re not going to believe this, but we’re sitting right in front of it.”

Ruth: “What?”

Joann: “Turn around and look behind us.”

In looking for a place to pull over on the right, we had failed to look on the left at the end of W. Main Street. There it was as big as ever, mocking us in the rearview mirror. We had a good laugh over that and then went around the corner to see what the mill looked like from the back. It was beautiful with the dam and the ice on the Baraboo River.

In October, 2009, on a rainy Saturday morning in southeastern Minnesota, we passed an old cemetery. I didn’t see any old gravestones that would make a good photograph, but there was an old outhouse up the hill at the back edge of the cemetery.

The gate to the cemetery was open and there was the beginning of a gravel driveway there, but it quickly turned to grass just beyond the gate. Since it had been raining hard all morning, I pulled in just past the gate and put the car in park, which led to this conversation:

Ruth: “Why are you stopping here?”

Joann: “Well, I’m not sure how solid the ground is after all that rain. And anyway, the driveway doesn’t circle around. I’ll have to turn around on the grass.

Ruth: “Why don’t you just pull up near the outhouse and then back the car down to the gate when you’re done photographing.”

Joann: “Well, because I’m not that good….looking in the mirror.” (I didn’t inherit my Dad’s talent for easily backing up using the side mirrors).

Ruth (with a big smirk on her face): Did you say you’re not that good-looking in the mirror?”

At this point, the conversation turned into hysterical laughter as I turned the car off and hiked up to the outhouse, laughing all the way.

In June, 2010, Ruth and I returned to Minnesota, only this time we visited the northeast corner. On the way up there, we spent some time in Douglas County, Wisconsin. In the early evening, we went in search of a round barn, but after driving further than we thought it should have been, Ruth pulled into a farm lane so we could decide what to do next. As we were sitting there, another silly conversation took place:

Ruth: “Holy cow, get out of the car!”

Joann: “What?... Why?”

Ruth: “You have to get out of the car and look at what’s across the road.” She had seen something in the rearview mirror, but she wouldn’t tell me what.

Of course, at this point, my sense of humor took over as I thought about the old 60’s cartoon, “Underdog.” A group of people would look up in the sky and say, “It’s a bird, it’s a plane.” And then an old woman would exclaim, “It’s a frog,” to which everyone would respond, “A frog?!?” And then Underdog would swoop in and say, “Not bird, nor plane, nor even frog. It’s just little old me… Underdog.”

Well, as it turned out, it actually WAS a bird… a HUGE bird, standing on the lawn over a large egg, with a baby bird at her side. The early evening sun bathed the sculptures in a golden light. We stayed there for a while, enjoying these amusing creatures and then we headed on down the road.

Even though we didn’t find the round barn, we did find an old red gambrel roof barn reflecting in a stream. It was lit beautifully by the setting sun. After that, we hurried to Superior, Wisconsin, and managed to capture some lighthouse images before darkness set in.

When you’re out on the back roads in search of some interesting scenes, don’t forget to check the rearview mirror!

Happy Shunpiking!