Friday, March 30, 2012

Faded Highway

From Pete Zarria:

With this post, the Backside Gang welcomes Pete Zarria. Pete, who I met through Flickr, lives in Iowa. While I don't expect he'll cover the entire Midwest, he'll help this blog spread out from its usual East Coast focus. Welcome Pete! -- Dave Brigham.


A long lost site on the forgotten Lincoln Highway in Chelsea, Iowa. My own family started here in the 1860's. Its just down the road from one of the oldest farms we held.

The name Lincoln Highway stems from the very early days of the automobile. In the early 1900s, highways were known by names; numbers were not used. The Lincoln eventually became US 30, the first transcontinental highway in America. Not as famous as Route 66, but she still has that American charm.

I guess having a song sung by Nat King Cole helps. Still, the old road is here for the wandering but much of that great and quirky American Roadside has disappeared with our growing "sophistication." Gone are the great drive-ins and car-hops, neon-lit motels and tourist traps like the many "Mystery Spots." It all contributes to a bland, cookie cutter style that stunts imagination and entrepreneurship. I, for one, am sorry to see it pass since I grew up on it.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


From Mick Melvin:

I recently discovered Riverside Park in Hartford. The park is located north of downtown, between Route 91 and the Connecticut River.

I noticed a pedestrian bridge that goes over Route 91 connecting the park to Market Street. I walked over the bridge and spotted a red-and-white stencil with Barack Obama's image.

The person who spray-painted the image had to get through fencing and then on to a ledge in the stairwell. There were five or six stencils on various walls and a couple on the landing in the stairwell.

There were other stencils and graffiti in and around the structure, but we'll save those for another post.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Fresh-Air Salvation

From Dave Brigham:

This is my third and final post about Snow Hill in Dover, MA (see March 17, 2012, "Scouting a Location," and March 12, 2012, "Fire On the Mountain?").

Thanks to a mild winter, I've done a fair amount of hiking in places I've never been during my 20 years living in and around Boston. I like exploring in the woods because, while the traces of the past there may be overgrown and sometimes difficult to find, they don't get bulldozed or paved over the way that abandoned buildings and derelict train tracks in more urban areas tend to be.

You never know what you will find as you wander down a path in the woods. On my first visit to Snow Hill, after I'd taken pictures of the fire tower and Boy Scout camp, I was heading back down to my car when I decided to amble between two boulders and check out one more path.

After just 50 feet or so, I came across a break in an old stone wall.

Chapel entrance

Walking closer, I was excited to see this sign:

Open air church

I was short on time, however, so I decided to turn back to the car. At first, I figured maybe the woods served as a place where members of the Dover Church simply went to reflect on life and their spirituality. But the more I thought about it, I knew that I had to return, because I figured there must be more to this site.

Sure enough, a week or so later, I pushed on beyond the sign and found the outdoor church.


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Scouting a Location

From Dave Brigham:

There isn't a whole lot to Snow Hill Reservation in Dover, MA, on first encounter.

A short hike up a dirt and gravel road leads to a fire tower (see March 12, 2012, "Fire On the Mountain?"). There are several other trails, a few of which lead up to the backyards of some impressive estates. While it's nice to ponder a life in which I have an in-ground pool, 3-car garage, a tennis court and a barn for my horses, I prefer my hikes a little more isolated.

Still, I found plenty of blog fodder. I ended up making three trips to the reservation, two more than I'd planned.

The Boy Scouts of America maintain a facility on the property, which is used as a wilderness experience camp.

Scout camp, Dover MA #2 Scout camp, Dover MA #3 Smokey

This campfire spot sits about 50 yards behind the bunkhouse.

Beer and fire

And of course the scouts need an outhouse.


A short hike away on a different path, I found a spot where local teens seem to hang out. Or maybe camp counselors. Or hobos.

Teen hangout, Dover MA

In my next post, I'll report on the third site of interest I came across at Snow Hill.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Fire On the Mountain?

From Dave Brigham:

Fire tower #3

On one of my occasional Backside-hunting drives through Boston's western suburbs, I found myself on a quaint country road in Dover, one of the horsiest towns around. I drove past a small parking lot and saw a sign that marked it as a park of some sort. Sure enough: the Ralph MacAllester Fire Tower at Snow Hill.

Just what I didn't know I was looking for!

My first thought -- and Backside contributor Joe Viger will hear me on this -- was of Jack Kerouac's The Dharma Bums, in which Kerouac's proxy character, Ray Smith, ends up working as a fire lookout on Desolation Peak in Washington.

I'd never seen a fire tower up close, and had no idea there were any within a 50-mile radius of my home. So I knew I had to hike up.

During my short hike, I heard banging in the distance. I had passed by several homes on my drive to the parking lot, so I figured somebody was doing some construction work. Once I was in sight of the tower, however, I realized that the noise was two guys working on the structure itself.

I wasn't sure whether the tower was open to the public, and being the non-confrontational guy that I am, I balked at approaching. I snapped a few pictures from a distance, then turned around to explore the empty building I'd seen on my hike up (turned out to be a Boy Scout camp; more on this in a future post).

I left the park curious about the tower, but unsatisfied with my visit. I did some research online, and found some interesting facts:

  • The property is owned by the Dover Land Conservation Trust, which gives the state permission to operate the tower, which is listed on the National Historic Lookout Register.
  • In 1984, the tower was struck by lightning; in 1985 a new cab was built.
  • On a clear day from the tower, you can see Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire, the hills near Hartford, CT, the Boston skyline and Mount Ascutney in Vermont.

I determined I had to go back, so a week or so later I did.

Once again there were a couple of guys working on the structure, but I kept walking until I was close enough for them to see me, and snapped the photo you see above. They didn't say a word to me, so my initial hesitation seems pretty silly in hindsight.

I then hiked around much more of the park, and took some other pictures you'll see in two future posts.

For an idea of what it's like to work as a fire spotter, see this article about working in the MacAllester Fire Tower.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Buffalo Soldiers On

From Dave Brigham:

Buffalo, New York's second-largest metropolis, is troubled. A rust belt city like Detroit, Buffalo has a high poverty rate, and scores of abandoned houses, churches, institutions and manufacturing complexes.

Search for "Buffalo New York abandoned" online, and you'll find countless sites offering photos of the devastation that the loss of manufacturing and a recession have wrought on the city.

Retronaut, a site I stumbled across a while back, has some cool, if disheartening pictures of Buffalo's Church of the Transfiguration.

In 1994, the church was sold by the local diocese to private citizens who intended to turn it into housing and a community center. Unfortunately, years were lost to lawsuits and by last year, the Buffalo News reported in an editorial that the site is "unkempt. Grass grows tall; there is graffiti on the exterior of the building and some of the basement windows are missing, making for easy entry."

Very sad. But all is not lost in the Queen City.

Preservation Buffalo Niagara, according to its web site, works "to identify, preserve, protect, promote and revitalize historically architecturally significant sites, structures, neighborhoods, commercial districts and landscapes in western New York."

Last year, the preservation group served as local host for the National Trust for Historic Preservation's National Preservation Conference. For more on what preservationists are doing in Buffalo, read "Reinventing Buffalo" from the National Trust's magazine.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Nice Little House

From Kristen Smith:

Almost gone

How many times have I driven right by this? Probably dozens. Never saw it until one recent day when I HAD to stop and shoot it.

It's a relatively tiny house, a cabin, really. With two chimneys and presumably two stoves for heat, it must have been quite snug. Each of the windows had a latch and pulley system and some of the interior finish work seemed quite nice.


It is a comfortable-looking little house, but it didn't appear to be wired for electricity and had no indoor plumbing that I could see.

Unfortunately the light was pretty harsh and I couldn't photograph what appears to be a wagon body leaning vertically up against the chimney on the far right. No chassis, just the wooden body. Very cool.

Below stairs

At one point it looks like someone used it to store crafting and greenhouse supplies, since there was a big garden hose on one wall and tons of plastic pots for plants and bins of pinecones, now falling to pieces. Oh how I wish places like this could speak and tell their stories.