Monday, April 18, 2011

Some History with our Culture?

 [An interurban ran right along Virginia Avenue. The track has been severed in the demolition of the street for the Cultural Trail]
[The cut for the Virginia Avenue leg of the Cultural Trail -- click images to enlarge]

A few years back Indianapolis began construction of a "Cultural Trail."  This trail links the "Cultural Districts" that the city's marketers thought up a few years before that.  The Cultural Districts include Mass Ave, Broad Ripple, Fountain Square, the Wholesale District, and the Canal District, and probably some other place I've forgotten.  Some of these places definitely have pizzazz  and all have some version of culture.  Anyplace where humans hang out probably has culture.  But a big part of capital-C "Culture," the stuff that defines and is defined by specific places, people and events, is history.  Arguably a shared history is the biggest factor in creating culture, in fact.

I like the Cultural Trail for bike riding. It's wide and smooth and safe.  And I love the natural landscaping used in swales beside the trail.  But I have a big gripe with the Cultural Trail's impact.   In the process of creating a wide, paved sidewalk with a lot of lights and way too many bollards and signs, the city is distracting from and even destroying parts of our history, which are probably more worthy of remembrance and reverence than anything the trail offers.   The trail is so distracting, with all its tchotchkes, that it becomes the focus of the view in the areas it travels through.  You might once have noticed the old commercial buildings on Mass Ave or the old residences on Walnut Street.  Now, you'll be noticing the Ikea style light fixtures and way too many silly metal bollards.

This year, my neighborhood of Fountain Square gets its leg of the trail.  I've been sure to walk along the construction/destruction zone often to gaze into the big dig as they tear up the street down to about 2 feet deep.  What can currently be seen on Virginia Avenue under the layers of modern concrete and asphalt pavement is the old big-bricks street and old interurban tracks still laid on their wooden ties.

[A clean cut shows the old brick street beneath the many layers of modern pavement]

There's a view at our culture!  This pavement and these tracks harken to the days when Virginia Avenue was a happening hub of German retail businesses, theaters showing silent films, grocery stores and artisans shops and traveling dramatic troupes.  A time when you could get on the interurban in Franklin and quickly arrive to spend the day in Fountain Square, maybe stopping at the farmer's market that used to be on South Street, or going on to downtown to shop at Ayres. The days before the interstate severed Fletcher Place and Fountain Square, before Fletcher Place even had a separate name, back to the time when Woodlawn Street might still be remembered as a reference to the Calvin Fletcher farm, Woodlawn, which he platted into building sites to create this entire area.

[more of the old Interurban line not yet yanked out and discarded] 

Today Fountain Square lays some legitimate claim to being an arts district.  There are a few galleries and there are lots of artists living and working here.  There's definitely culinary craft in our great locally owned restaurants and cool stuff in our handful of funky shops.  We're worthy of being a leg on a trail to connect up the downtown Indianapolis interesting spots.  But an even deeper view into our culture is briefly revealed now by construction  of the trail that will soon rip it from our past.

I think it would be great if the movers in this trail idea would take a step back from creating a uniform, generic sidewalk with a few bits of art installed along it and the occasional marker to SAY something historic happened here, to somehow preserving and revealing a small portion of the actual link to our history and formative culture, which they are currently digging up and destroying in order to install their cute pavers.

[See the old railroad ties beneath the brick street?]

I know that isn't likely to happen. Our history is being destroyed every day by the city and private interests.  And the Cultural Trail is a fun idea so it's not popular to dislike it.  Still,  it could be a truly great idea if it also preserved our culture in the process of marketing it.  Any chance you're listening, Brian Payne?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Enochsburg. Wow! look at these limestone houses! Oh, and the fried chicken is great!

A drive through southeastern Indiana took me into Enochsburg yesterday. Bordering Decatur and Franklin counties, Enochsburg, like much of this area, was settled by German immigrants.  Smaller than nearby Oldenburg, which was and is a Catholic community, Enochsburg's forefathers and -mothers were German Evangelicals. These stalwart immigrants built a stone church on a strong foundation in 1858.  The church still stands today, although the centerpiece of the community is probably the Fireside Inn, which draws a large regional clientele to its tasty fried chicken.

I've eaten my share of fried chicken, but these days it's the limestone church, houses and nearby bridge that fascinate me more. With apologies for my blackberry-snapped photographs, here's a little bit of what's charming about the countryside's built environment in this area.

Decatur County isn't, but should be, famous for its beautiful, arched limestone bridges.  A very early limestone industry sprang up in Decatur County (the foundation stone for the second Indiana State House came from Decatur County). This triple-arched bridge on County Line Road just south of Enochsburg is just one example of how the county made aesthetic and practical use of its limestone. Off to the west of this bridge on CR 150 S, is another example, a beautiful stone house.

Although there are metal numbers on the facade of this great vernacular style house that date it to 1880, I suspect it's an even earlier example. Probably from the 1860s.  Isn't she a beauty?

Travel north on County Line Road just a bit and there's another equally beautiful limestone house sitting on a rise, still partly sheltered by the cedar trees that were probably planted in an allee leading to the front door at one time. 

A number of limestone outbuildings remain at the modernized farms nearby and behind some of the more modern bungalows in Enochsburg proper.  These outbuildings attest to the easy pickings for scraps and overburden that were leftover from harvesting stone for proper buildings.  Limestone outcroppings are still visible along the creeks and waterways of the area, too.

Finally, like the German settlers before us, we reach Enochsburg's grand limestone church.  Placed on the highest spot in town it was once the figurative center of community and culture.  It's a beautiful old building; marked 1858 on the gilded tablet in the facade.  Perhaps less of a draw these days than the Fireside Inn's fried chicken, this church reminds us why Enochsburg is here and how our ancestors made the highest use of a local material.