Columbus, Indiana: a small town transformed.

First Christian Church, Eliel Saarinen 1942

Our blog page Sights Listed by State needs updated when we get home to add new information and correct some errors.  But we found it useful on our fall 2018 trip.  It took us to Yellow Springs, Ohio which I am not sure is worth noting although the Antioch College campus is pretty.  But then it took us to Columbus, Indiana which was well worth the visit.

Columbus, with a population just short of 47,000, was called by the American Institute of Architects, the sixth leading city for innovative architectural design.  The top five are Chicago, New York, Boston, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.  I am not sure it is living up to that billing, but it is certainly an internationally-renowned center for mid-20th century architecture.

Back of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, Gunnar Birkerts 1988

It all started in 1942 when the members of the First Christian Church wanted to hire Eliel Saarinen to build an innovative church.  He was reluctant, but J. Irwin Miller, CEO of Cummins Engine, talked him into it.  They produced one of the most modern churches in the country.

During the post-World War II baby boom, Miller proposed that the Cummins Foundation would pay the architects fees if the school board would choose one from a list the Foundation prepared.  The program was then expanded to any tax-payer supported building.  Soon private citizens began to use top name architects to build or renovate their homes.  Other corporations did the same with their factories and offices.  Civic associations sought out world-class architects. The city began to incorporate parks and other public spaces using landscape architects like Dan Kiley, Michael Van Valkenburgh and Jack Curtis.

Publicity about the program meant that by the 1960s, important architects began to seek to be part of the program.  There are designs by Eero Saarinen, son of  Eliel, I.M. Pei, Robert Venturi, Cesar Pelli and Richard Meier.  Sculpture by internationally known artists including Henry Moore, Dale Chihuly, and Jean Tinguely are on display.

Columbus is now home to over 70 buildings and landscapes designed by these architects.  Seven are national historic landmarks.

I believe familiarity doesn’t breed contempt, it breeds indifference.  Miller has died.  The last buildings listed on the visitors’ center guide to be built were in 2011 and appear to still be mid-20th century.  I was distressed to read that except for the seven on the National Register, the buildings lack any protection.  One was actually torn down.  So I guess it is up to visitors to keep the spirit going.

Click on photos to enlarge.

The 1840 85-foot New Brownsville covered bridge is the only long-truss bridge in Indiana.  It was moved to Columbus and incorporated in Mill Race Park, designed by Valkenburgh.

Mill Race Park, Michael Van Valkenburgh 1992

P.S.  Miller was a wealthy CEO, but ordinary people can change towns.  See my post on Helen, Georgia and watch for an upcoming one on Casey, Illinois. Alie feels I should start a new category for occasions when one person or a small group made a significant difference. 

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Columbus Museum of Art: Columbus, Ohio

Man is Man [Portrait of Roman Johnson], Emerson C. Burkhart, 1946

I enjoy visiting small art museums across the country to see what surprises they have in store.  Alie indulges me.

The Columbus Museum of Art is not a large collection, but it has some nice works including many from George Bellows including some drawings I had never seen before.  I have always enjoyed seeing works showing people in real life situations.

While we waited to meet some relatives joining us, we were intrigued by pieces from their children’s art program.  Each child was given a piece of white paper with red dots on it.  Using this as a base, they came up with some very clever drawings.

Click on photos to enlarge.

George Bellows:

P.S.  When I reviewed my photos, I realized I did not do the museum justice.  Most of my selections are figures and portraits and more famous artists.  But they had many other excellent artists from the U.S. and Europe and many other subjects.  Also, for the sake of brevity, I did not begin to show all the work of Bellows, Renoir, Degas and many others.  Later during our trip, a docent in Cody, Wyoming taking us on a tour of their Albert Bierstadt paintings, commented that her first encounter with a Bierstadt was in Columbus.

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Transylvania University: Yes, the mascot is a bat.

Transylvania Pioneers

We were disappointed approaching Lexington, Kentucky from the south.  After the horse farms, there was just a wide congested highway leading into a bunch of architecturally unremarkable skyscrapers.  The streets were unfriendly canyons.  But just a few blocks further, we moved into the city as it once was, tree-lined streets and distinguished old houses and buildings.

At one intersection, we saw a sign for Transylvania University.  We had never heard of it despite the fact it is one of the more outstanding small liberal arts schools in the nation.  Classes had not started, so we drove unrestrained onto the campus and looked around.

Founded in 1780, the school counts among its many outstanding students Stephen Austin, founder of Texas, Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy and Cassius Marcellus Clay, an abolitionist for whom the man who would become Muhammad Ali was named.  Two U.S. Vice Presidents, 101 U.S. Representatives,  50 Senators, 3 House Speakers, 36 Governors and a Supreme Court Justice were students as well as an assortment of writers, historians and military men.  Count Dracula, however, was not a student there.

Old Morrison was built under the supervision of renowned legislator Henry Clay between 1830 and 1835.  It houses the tomb of  Constantine Samuel Rafinesque-Schmaltz, an eccentric, brilliant zoologist, botanist, writer and polyglot born in Turkey, educated in France and professor at Transylvania.

Old Morrison

It is no surprise that Halloween is a big event at Transylvania.  We were told the steps of Old Morrison are lined with jack-0-lanterns.  There is a lottery, and the four students who win get to spend the night in Rafinesque’s tomb.

The Kissing Tree

A large white ash tree, 35 years older than the university, stands not far from Old Morrison.  In an era when public displays of affection were frowned upon, faculty and staff chose to ignore students kissing under the tree.  It is now know as the Kissing Tree.

After a couple days meeting the people and enjoying the food and sights of Lexington, we decided it would be a delightful place to go to college.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Date of our visit: 27 August 2018


P.S.  Our favorite mascot remains the U.C. Santa Cruz Banana Slugs

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Horse farms in Lexington, Kentucky

We felt obligated to visit a horse farm in Lexington, Kentucky.

I once saw Tom Rolfe win a race at Pimlico Racetrack in Baltimore, but it wasn’t his Preakness victory, and Alie and I are not horse racing fans.  But it is such a part of life in Lexington, Kentucky, we felt compelled to look at it closer.

We were told there are about 450 horse farms in the Lexington area.  You can’t miss seeing them with their lush green Kentucky bluegrass fields bounded by miles of white fence [We later learned it costs thirteen to fifteen thousand dollars per year per mile to maintain those fences and one farm had 35 miles of fence.].

On a walk near our motel, I went toward an interesting building.  It turned out to be a stable on Walnut Hall Farm, a major contributor to the breeding of the American Standardbred, the horses used to pull sulkies in “harness racing,”  It is now at the The Red Mile, a harness racing track, and I was fortunate to see their early morning workouts.

We took one of the many commercial tours.  Our excellent guide, Vicky, won three amateur open world championships for Tennessee Walking Horses, and was extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic about all things horse.

We did not get to Churchill Downs, site of the Kentucky Derby, but we did visit 1000-acre Keeneland Racetrack, a National Historic Landmark founded in 1936.  Racing season there had not begun, but it was interesting to see and to listen to our guide discuss the famous horses that had run there.  It was far more beautiful than the few tracks we had been to before. [To be fair, my visit to Pimlico was in my youth, many decades ago.]

We then went to Hill and Dale, known as Northwinds when it was home to Seattle Slew, at the time the only undefeated American thoroughbred.  We saw Curlin, retired in 2016 as the highest North American money winner [10.5 million dollars] with a stud fee of $150,000 and insured for over 100 million dollars.

Most of the farms we passed were owned by multi-millionaires who rarely lived there.  My gut-feeling was their interest was mostly for status and social prestige.  I could not help but think my benefactor, chocolate-maker Milton Hershey, put his money to a much better use.

But we also visited Magdalena Farm, owned by Kenny McPeek, a trainer with over 1400 wins.  He owns horses, sells interests in horses, boards horses including those needing rest and recuperation and sells manure compost to Pennsylvania mushroom farms.  It struck us that unlike most of the farms we passed by, McPeek is there because his first love was horses.

It was a great finish to our tour of Lexington horse country.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Date of our visit:  28 Aug 18

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Pleasant Hill, Kentucky – “Whole lota Shakin’ Goin’ On”

We first saw these old Kentucky stone walls at Pleasant Hill.

“A cult is a cult is a cult no matter how benign,” said Alie.  We were visiting Pleasant Hill in Kentucky, the largest restored Shaker community, and the “shakin’” wasn’t what Jerry Lee Lewis had in mind.

Mother Ann Lee, born in Manchester England in 1736, founded The United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearance, more commonly known as the Shakers.  She and her followers came to the English American colonies in 1774 and founded a community in New York where she died in 1784.

Seeking spiritual solace from a traumatic life, Mother Ann’s basic tenets included celibacy, a simple communal life, open confession of sins, and that Christ would reappear in female form.  Eventually, Believers were to accept she was the reincarnation of Christ.

In 1805, three missionaries from the New York community arrived in Kentucky and established a community which would become Pleasant Hill.

The community eventually covered more than 4000 acres, peaking at around 500 people in the 1820s and lasting until the last half of the 19th Century.

Men and women, even married couples, lived separately “as brothers and sisters” in five large communal buildings.  We saw the East House, the Center House, and the West House [named for their locations] and some of the out-buildings.  More senior Shakers lived in the center house. The members of each house lived, worked, worshiped daily and even played together during the week.  The entire community met one day a week for two worship services which were often attended by outsiders, “tourists.”  Elders watched through windows in stairwells to see if any of the faithful were inattentive and to see what the outsiders were doing.

A guide told us they engaged in “aerobic worship.”  80 percent of the service was dancing and singing.  The other 20 percent was what you might call “testimony” during which some of the Believers would stand and speak on what moved them or quote from scripture.  The vigorous dancing sometimes led to what was called “shaking” perhaps resembling an epileptic fit.

She has a beautiful voice and was an excellent guide.

Our guide had a beautiful voice and beautiful hands and demonstrated the music and dancing and led us in a few slow ones that she said the more elderly residents might have done.  The music started as chants but evolved into songs which were printed so all could follow the words.  One was quite beautiful.  She said it was adapted by Aaron Copland for his Appalachian Spring.

I was impressed that an 18th century religion was quite gender and race neutral.  In addition to many female leaders, our guide told us about one prominent African-American leader at a time when slavery was still common in Kentucky.  But Alie pointed out, the women still did all the cooking, sewing, spinning and washing, while the men worked at farming and crafts.

Inherent elements of the religion were simplicity, cleanliness and order.  They engaged in a continuous search for perfection in all aspects of their lives.  Shaker design is very simple and elegant, one would even say “modern.”  Pegs line the walls of the buildings.  Everything from benches and chairs to clothing and tools was hung from the pegs which made keeping the floors clean easier.  Candle and lamp holders had long handles with multiple holes so that the light could be raised or lowered depending on where it was hung on a peg.

The Shakers did not avoid the rest of the world.  They sold their food, crafts, honey and produce to wide markets.  They invented the “seed packet” now common for gardeners and are credited with inventing the flat broom.

People had many reasons for joining the Shakers.  Some sought spiritual solace, some sought escape from their troubles, some sought a utopia, and some sought a roof over their heads and food to eat.  But the requirement for celibacy limited recruitment.  Communal life does not eliminate leadership rivalries.  Finally, their “simple” ways could not compete with an increasingly industrialized world.  The community died out in the late eighteen hundreds.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Date of our visit: 27 Aug 18

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Close to home: CFA Allbreed Cat Show

We are not feline fanciers, but we are curious as a cat.  So when we saw there was a show in Fort Myers, we decided to check it out.

We didn’t buy a catalog.  But that didn’t cause a cataclysm, and we were soon able to catch-up with what was going on.  The audience was always polite; there were no cat calls.  Although kittens for adoption were cute, I didn’t suggest we take one [or two] home for fear it would lead to a caterwaul; Alie might even become catatonic.  I’ll stop being catty and get down to business.

It was a two-day show put on by volunteers from the Platinum Coast Cat Fanciers, cat breeders who meet once a month.  Their 25th year, it featured over thirty confirmed breeds such as Siamese, Persians, colorpoint shorthairs, Maine cooncats, Burmese, and one of the most recent breeds to be confirmed, the Bengal, which has beautiful spots and stripes.

Vendors sold everything feline-related from toys to jewelry to furniture.

We attended a session of “Meet the Breed,” during which the breeder described the features a judge looks for in a Siamese and did her best to convince her audience they should go right out and buy a Siamese.  I was amused to hear her say they were the most “dog-like.” She said they were very social and could learn commands.

There are four judging “rings,” just a small booth or stage in front of a set of cages with the audience sitting or standing in several rows to the front.  There are different judges each day, so the entire show is said to have eight rings.

We caught part of one competition but only saw one entire session, the judging of “Household” cats.  The name says it all.  The judge explained that as there was no “standard” for a household cat, the judge could pretty well make it up as she or he went along, including “how I feel today.”  But the judge was excellent for us novices.  She not only explained what she was looking for with each cat, she took the time to talk about the basics of caring for your pet.  In the end, her favorites clearly were the more animated kitten-like cats, and the one that won was not only very playful, it was very pretty with an unusual colored fur the judge described as lavender.

Click on photos to enlarge.

An adorable adoptable kitten:

If we were to get a cat, it would be adopted.  It might be Siamese.  Dog-like?

Date of our visit: 22 July 18

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It is all in the marketing: Helen, Georgia

Our wanderings across the country have taken us to some pretty sad towns: towns where the mill closed, where the mine played out, where there are no more jobs.  In the early 1960s, Helen, Georgia was such a town.  Jobs were lost when gold mines closed.  Jobs were lost when the virgin timber was all harvested.  There was nothing left but empty store fronts, closed businesses, desolate concrete block buildings, a few houses and a church.

Helen did have something to offer.  The scenery is great.  It is in the Blue Ridge Mountain foothills not far from Brasstown Bald, the highest point in Georgia [4784 feet].  The Chattahoochee River, just a stream at this point, meanders through town.  Nearby are three beautiful waterfalls, and others are not far away.

300 foot Dukes Creek Falls

Three Helen boys served in the Army in Germany.  They had seen the beauty of Bavaria.  One of them was an artist.  They decided to create a new Helen in 1968 using his sketches which added trim and color to the buildings to make them look alpine.  Starting in 1969, all the downtown buildings were decorated to look like buildings the artist had seen in Bavaria.  The local government changed street names and passed ordinances that all buildings in Helen must look Bavarian.  They stuck to their vision.  When visitors began to come to Helen, new fast food franchises had to look Bavarian; motels had to look Bavarian; restaurants and shops had to look Bavarian.  Helen became Alpine Helen.

Today Helen hosts nearly two million visitors a year.  There are over 200 shops and restaurants and over 1100 rooms available.

Naturally, they have and Ocktoberfest in the fall.  But they also host a trout-fishing tournament, an annual hot air balloon race, and automobile rallies; there is something every month of the year.

Helen’s “sister city” is Füssen, Germany, but this is not the real Bavaria.  Our German blogging colleague Pit was less than thrilled with the “German” food.  I am sure more German is spoken in Lee County, Florida which hosts thousands of Germans every year.  But Alpine Helen is worth a visit the next time you are in Northeast Georgia.

Somewhat older and just south of town is Nora Mill, an nineteenth century flour mill still using the original 1876 French Bur grinding stones.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Date of our visit: 1-2 July, 2018

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