Sunday, September 25, 2011

Bethel Chapel - Lost and Found

By Ruth A Ringelstetter

Joann and I love the rolling countryside of southwest Wisconsin. On one of our fall trips to the area in 2002, we stumbled on an old church quietly deteriorating along the roadside. The name on the front proclaimed it to be Bethel Chapel with a year of 1880.

The steeple was already leaning, and the brush was slowly taking over. We knew it was something special, so we marked it in the gazetteer. The description we wrote said simply “Bethel Chapel.” In those early years, we weren’t very good about noting which road we had found something on, thinking that our sharp memories and the notation in the gazetteer would be enough.

In 2008, we were in the area, and I mentioned to Joann that we were near the Bethel Chapel location. She excitedly asked if we could go there again. I said, “Of course,” and navigated us to where I thought the notation in the gazetteer indicated. What we found was an empty space. We were crestfallen. It had been 6 years since our first visit and now our beautiful old chapel was gone.

When we got home, something was nagging at me about that chapel. Was it really gone, or had we not been in the correct location? I looked back in the photography logs and found that after transferring our numbers from one gazetteer to another, the location had moved slightly, and we had not been in the right place after all. I called Joann to tell her that all was not lost, and we decided to make another trip to the area and try to find the chapel again.

Several weeks later we went back to the same area and this time we drove the road that our earlier logs said the chapel was on. And we found it! The steeple was still leaning, but didn’t seem to be leaning much further. We took a lot of photos knowing that once a building gets to this point, too much snow on the roof one winter, or too strong of a wind, and the building may become a pile of boards along the roadside.

In 2010, we made another trip to Bethel Chapel. The steeple still leaned, and the church had many vines and shrubs around it. And yet we couldn’t help but take some more photos. The setting is so quiet and peaceful and the church is so beautiful in its abandonment that we just can’t help it.

Then, in late winter of 2010, we were told that the church had burned to the ground. We didn’t want to believe it. As Joann mulled that possibility over in her mind, she decided that we had to go past the location again just to see if it was true. Besides, we had never taken the church in any season but fall. If we went in early spring, maybe more of the church would be visible before the shrubbery took over.

In mid-May of this year, after our slow start to spring, we finally set out to visit the old chapel. We made several stops that morning before we came to the road for the chapel. It got very quiet in the car as we drove along the road toward the chapel location. What if it was gone?

We traveled over several hills and around a few curves, and finally we were there. The chapel was still standing and didn’t look much worse for the wear. Joann could hardly contain herself and couldn’t wait to have the car parked before she jumped out and grabbed her camera and tripod.

So much more of the church is visible in the spring than in the fall, and we could really tell what a lovely church it was before it was abandoned. As we discussed writing about the church, I tried in several places to find some history of the church and couldn’t find any.

Maybe someday we’ll find someone who knows about the church -- who built it and how it came to be abandoned. In the meantime, we’ll wait to make a winter visit and see how it looks sitting in the snow of Wisconsin’s countryside.

When you’re out shunpiking, if you find a location that really moves you, make a good note about its location so that, if you want to return, you can!

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Town Called Story

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

In the spring of 2010, after 11 days of photographing on the backroads of North Carolina and West Virginia, Ruth and I were eager to spend the twelfth day on the backroads of Kentucky. Unfortunately, a short time after we crossed into Kentucky, it began to rain and it rained all that evening and into the next morning.

We headed out that morning and photographed in the rain for a short time and then the lightening began. We continued to photograph in the rain (between bouts of lightening), but then the flash floods began and we decided to give up on Kentucky and head for Indiana. But a steady downpour continued for the rest of the day. Finally, we decided to give it up and headed for our motel.

Thank heavens the rains finally came to an end because we had some serious plans for the next morning. A couple of years ago, a photographer friend of mine had visited the town of Story, Indiana, and had shared some of the photos he had taken there. I was really impressed and asked Ruth to add it to her list of places we hoped to visit someday. And finally, that “someday” was upon us!

We left our motel in the pre-dawn hours and headed to Story. As we drove along in the dark on the hilly and curving roads, we had to take it slowly because thick fog had descended on the area. We were worried that we wouldn’t make it there by first light, but then we realized that the fog would delay the dawn. When we pulled into Story, it was absolutely magical.

The fog was lightly engulfing the old general store building and the old-fashioned street lights were lit, as well as the lights of the inn. Even the vintage Red Crown gas pumps were lit up.

The town of Story was founded in 1851 by Dr. George Story and it was soon to become the largest settlement in the area. At the height of its growth, there were two general stores, a one-room schoolhouse, a church, a grain mill, a sawmill, a blacksmith shop, a post office, and a slaughterhouse.

The Great Depression (1929-1933), however, took its toll on Story and it never recovered. As depicted in John Steinbeck’s novel, “The Grapes of Wrath,” farm families abandoned their farms in search of work elsewhere. During the decade from 1930-1940, roughly half of Brown County’s population left in hopes of finding better opportunities to make a living.

As most of this abandoned land reverted back to the state for non-payment of taxes, it gave the state the opportunity to create the Brown County State Park and the Hoosier National Forest.

The hard economic times during the Depression also spawned a new illegal industry of bootlegging and moonshine stills. Because grain was needed to produce the bootleg liquor, the Story grain mill was kept busy well into the 1930’s. The current Story Still Tavern got its name from the still that was captured at that location in 1932 by Brown County Sheriff Clarence Moore.

Due to a lack of capital following the Great Depression, the town of Story was not modernized and, in 1960, the US Army Corps of Engineers flooded the area, creating Lake Monroe and isolating the town of Story from easy access to Bloomington. In 1980, the general store building was purchased by a couple who created the Story Inn bed and breakfast. Over the next 15 years, they acquired the roughly 23 acres that comprise the entire town.

In 1998, Rick Hofstetter and Frank Mueller purchased the financially troubled town of Story, turning it into a successful country inn/bed & breakfast, which offers fine dining, catering, and lodging. The old general store operates as a gourmet restaurant, known as the Story Inn. The upstairs, which was a Studebaker buggy factory for a short time in the 1920’s, was renovated into four bed & breakfast accommodations.

As we mulled around in the rather mystical foggy atmosphere that morning, a local calico cat kept a watchful eye on us. As I captured the feeling of the inn and its surroundings, the cat patrolled the main street in front of the Story Inn and the Old Mill.

Maybe, however, we were being watched by someone other than the cat. When Mr. Hofstetter purchased the Story Inn in the late 1990’s, he examined the guest books which were kept in the rooms, along with old ones that were found in the attic. He was “flabbergasted to find numerous handwritten stories of ghost sightings, particularly in the rooms above the restaurant.” This ghost is known locally as the “Blue Lady” and is believed to be one of the wives of Dr. George Story, the founder of the town.

If you’re ever in southern Indiana, you might enjoy a visit to the Story Inn. According to its owner, “it is perhaps the best preserved example of a 19th century village in the American Midwest.”

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Red Oak II or Bust

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

At the beginning of our trip to the Ozarks in 2008, we had kicked around on Route 66 and ended up visiting with Gary Turner at Gay Parita. When we were getting ready to be on our way, Gary gave us some ideas for more things down the road. We were watching the clock, though, and wanting to make sure we could make it to Red Oak II before the light was gone.

As we headed towards Carthage, it started to rain. Since it was raining too hard to photograph, we decided to go straight to Carthage and check into our motel. Then we would have some dinner and watch the weather, waiting for the rain to let up. It didn’t. It poured rain until after dark, and we went to bed hoping for better weather in the morning.

The next morning, Joann looked out the window and said, “Oh, oh, it’s still raining.” I told her, confidently, that we should head to Red Oak II anyway because it was going to quit raining by the time we got there, which it did (whew!). Although the ground was saturated and there were puddles of rainwater everywhere, we were able to get quite a few photographs.

I didn’t know much about Red Oak II before we went. I had stumbled across some information since it was just off Route 66, and Gary Turner had told us we shouldn’t miss it.

Red Oak II is the passion of Lowell Davis, who was born in 1937 in rural Missouri. It was the time of the Great Depression. In his early years, his dad moved the family from place to place. Many of those years were spent in and around the original town of Red Oak.

At one point, his father ran the Red Oak General Store and Lowell would wait for the Saturday Evening Post to arrive, hoping Norman Rockwell would be featured on the cover. Normal Rockwell was one of his early heroes, because Lowell already knew he wanted to be an artist.

With his second wife, Charlie, he bought 15 acres of land a little ways outside of Carthage, with a rundown house and other farm buildings on it. The first thing he fixed up was the chicken house, which he then filled with some chickens. He was eager to leave his alarm clock behind and awake with the chickens. Next, he fixed up three rooms of the house so they could move to the farm – kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom. Buildings were fixed up one by one as money was available and, as each building was finished, Lowell bought the animals for the building. He called his farm FoxFire Farm.

Once all of the existing buildings on the farm were fixed up, he started to drive through the countryside and find old buildings that were falling down. Then he would ask the farmer if he could have the building. If the farmer agreed, he would move the building back to his farm and fix it up.

Then he had an idea for the 10-acre field next to the farm. He decided that since he was an artist, he would make the field his artist statement, and he would complete it with buildings and sculptures.

The first building he found was the Feed and Seed Store which he moved to the field and restored. This was soon followed by the Elmira country schoolhouse.

The third building moved was the most important to him. It was the original Red Oak General Store, which his parents had lived in during the war and his relatives had visited and traded in since the pioneer days of Red Oak.

The schoolmarm’s house, which was an exact replica of Lowell’s great-grandma’s house, was donated by a good friend of his when he bought the land it was on. Next came his grandfather’s blacksmith shop from the old Red Oak town.

After all of these buildings had been moved to his growing town, the next building he wanted to find was a church. There were a lot of country churches around, but they all maintained small congregations. The church Lowell wanted was Salem Church. Lowell approached them and told them that if they ever decided to close their doors, he would be interested in the building for Red Oak II.

About a year later, a member called to say the roof was leaking and they had no money to fix it. They offered to let him have the church if he would enclose the little annex for them to use. He agreed, and the church was moved to Red Oak II.

Today Lowell lives in the Belle Starr house at Red Oak II with his third wife, Rose, and he has sold many of the buildings to people who now use them as their own residences or businesses. Several of the houses have been turned into Bed and Breakfasts, and other buildings are open for business.

The town is decorated with old restored vehicles and life-size sculptures created by Lowell. Buildings continue to be added as they are found.

We spent hours walking around Red Oak II that day. There is so much to see, you can hardly take it all in during one trip. Each building has its own charm.

If your travels take you near Carthage Missouri, stop in and experience Red Oak II for yourself.

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Elderberry Time

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

Ruth and I enjoy picking wild berries in the summer, such as black raspberries (or blackcaps as they are sometimes called), blackberries, and elderberries (which might not be familiar to some people). Elderberries are small dark purple berries that grow in umbrella-like clusters on bushes along roadsides, marshes, and streams.

In Wisconsin, the elderberry bushes are covered with pretty, white blossoms around the end of June or the beginning of July. We enjoy being out on the backroads at that time of year because the roadsides are usually lined with orange day lilies.

This year, in early July, Ruth and I were on the lookout for blossoming elderberry bushes in our area so that we might return to these bushes later to harvest the fruit, which can be used for making pies, jelly, jam, syrup, and wine. A couple years ago, Ruth made elderberry jelly and gave some to everyone in the family for Christmas. Often, we just add a small amount of them to our morning smoothies. They’re great for boosting the immune system.

In July, Ruth was also on the lookout for one of her favorite wildflowers, which is chicory. She loves the periwinkle blue color of these small roadside flowers, which bloom from May through October. However, each flower blooms for only one day.

When we were kids, we got into a bit of trouble with our mother over some elderberry blossoms. There was an elderberry bush growing right next to one of our outbuildings on the farm. Elderberry blossoms are sometimes used for making elder flower fritters (elderberry blossoms dipped in a light batter and fried). I don’t remember Mom ever making fritters out of them, but she did make jelly out of the fruit.

Well, it seems that we were playing house and we decided to make some pretend fritters, so we picked all the blossoms from the bush. This innocent action on our part meant no fruit later for our mother’s jelly-making. Needless to say, she was “mad as a hornet” and we were fittingly punished.

Around the end of August, we often hit the backroads to watch and photograph the tobacco harvest in this area. And we start to see the ripe elderberries drooping on the bushes along the roadsides. Often, they are nearly impossible to reach because they are in the marshes or down steep embankments. So, having staked out some nice bushes that I could easily reach, I returned to these bushes intending to harvest some of the berries. Unfortunately, the birds had also staked out these same bushes and had “harvested” most of the berries before they were ripe enough to pick.

Luckily for me, Ruth had scouted out some other bushes and, while I was busy taking our niece’s senior class portraits last Sunday morning, she harvested a bagful of elderberries for me and I found them on my porch when I returned home. Now I have these beautiful dark purple berries in my freezer and will be able to use them throughout the winter.

As with any wild edible, please use caution and make sure you know what you’re picking and consuming.

Happy Shunpiking!