History, Road Trips

For sale: Michigan Road Toll House

Toll house

When railroads came to prominence in the mid 1800s, traffic dropped dramatically on roads like Indiana’s Michigan Road. What followed was an early example of privatization: many roads were sold to private companies to operate.

Toll house marker

The Michigan Road was one of them. Several companies bought pieces of it, made various improvements, and operated it as a toll road. One such company was the Augusta Gravel Road Company, which operated a segment of the road that passed through northwest Indianapolis. In 1866, they built this toll house (read more here.)

And it’s for sale. With two bedrooms and one bathroom, this 1,100-square-foot house comes with two lots totaling more than 10,000 square feet. It’s been a rental in recent years, and is in sad condition inside. See photos at the listing on Zillow, which also has better exterior photos than mine.

Toll house

Its price is so low that if I weren’t in the middle of paying huge college bills for my sons, I’d buy it. I don’t know exactly what I’d do with it, as it’s too small for my family, but I sure would hate for this house to fall into the hands of someone who can’t appreciate its place in history.

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History

Goodbye to the last local grocery chain in Indianapolis

Indianapolis is losing its last, and its largest, local grocery-store chain. Marsh Supermarkets declared bankruptcy in May and last week closed deals to sell some of its stores. The rest will close.

Marsh Hometown Market
Agfa Clack, Ilford Pan-F Plus 50, 2015

Although Marsh was founded in 1931 in Muncie, Indiana, its largest market has always been Indianapolis and its surrounding counties. At its height, Marsh operated 86 stores around Indiana and other businesses as diverse as a chain of florists, a popular convenience-store chain, and a catering company. The company was owned by the Marsh family until 2006, when it was sold to a capital investment firm. The Marshes said that the competitive environment was becoming much more challenging, and it seemed like the right time to exit.

In recent years, Kroger, Walmart, and Meijer have all invested in Indianapolis, building new stores and renovating old ones. Meanwhile, Marsh’s new owners largely left their chain to molder. They did rebrand Marsh’s budget LoBill Foods stores as Marsh, a welcome change. But a few years later the company rebranded again, with some stores branded Marsh The Marketplace and others Marsh Hometown Market. It wasn’t clear to shoppers what the names meant. (It turns out that The Marketplace stores were full-line and full-service stores, and Hometown Markets were budget stores.) And then, strangely, all new stores built were branded just Marsh with a new logo. Most existing stores kept the old logo. It was a confusing mishmash.

iPhone 6s, 2017

But the confusion ends soon. A subsidiary of Kroger bought 11 locations, and an Ohio supermarket operator bought 15. That leaves 18 stores behind, which should close for good by the end of the month. All Marsh stores are liquidating, selling goods at up to 30 percent off.

From where I sit, Marsh’s demise has three major reasons.

First, its owner failed to match its competitors’ investments in their chains. Few new stores have been built and old stores hadn’t been refreshed in ages. Most stores retain a distinctly 1990s shopping experience.

Second, its confusing branding may have alienated shoppers. When my nearby Marsh converted to a Hometown Market, I shopped there far less frequently as it stopped carrying many of the nicer grocery items I enjoyed, several of which you could buy locally only at Marsh. (Such as delicious, but expensive, Stewart’s coffee. How I miss it.) Actually, thanks to items it no longer carries I can’t do all of my weekly shopping there anymore.

Finally, Marsh was the most expensive supermarket in town, full stop. I’m no fan of Walmart, but when they opened a Neighborhood Market grocery near my home a few years ago its far lower prices were impossible to ignore. I do my weekly shopping there, or drive past this Marsh to go to Meijer. So, I imagine, do most of my neighbors.

But it’s a shame to lose the last local grocery chain, a name that was so heavily identified with central Indiana. When prominent local businesses close, a piece of local identity dies. Kroger, Walmart, and Meijer are fine stores, but you can find them anywhere. When you shopped at Marsh, you knew you were in Indiana.

I’ll miss Marsh. But my life won’t change much, as I’d already moved on. Clearly, too many others in central Indiana had as well.

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History, Photography, Preservation

Touring Heslar Naval Armory, Indianapolis

It stands like a monument, this Art Moderne building on Indianapolis’s Northwestside.

Heslar Naval Armory

The first time I saw the Heslar Naval Armory was 20 years ago. I had a job Downtown and I drove I-65 every day to my suburban home. But a major project closed the highway for a couple months, and the detour led drivers west along 30th Street. At the White River, 29th and 30th Streets share a bridge. The Armory is nestled where the street curves to meet the bridge.

heslarmap
Imagery and map data © 2017 Google.

From a distance, it appears to stand right in the middle of 30th Street. As I approached it for the first time I couldn’t believe not only that it existed, but also that it was in this rough neighborhood of factories and low houses in ill repair. (It wasn’t always this way. The neighborhood used to be solidly middle class. And at one time, the region east of the armory and north of 30th St. was a popular amusement park!)

Heslar Naval Armory, Indianapolis

The armory was built in 1936 as a project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which was one of President Roosevelt’s New Deal programs. It was designed by architects Ben Bacon and John Parrish to serve as a naval training facility, offering everything a sailor would find on a ship. Walking through, every detail affirms the building’s naval purposes.

Heslar Naval Armory, Indianapolis

Perhaps the armory’s most important days came during World War II, when its inland location away from high surveillance on the coasts made it an attractive place for generals and admirals to plan their campaigns. Key portions of the Battle of Normandy were planned here.

We toured the armory late last year thanks to Indiana Landmarks, which became involved with the building after the Navy (and the Marines, who in later years shared the space) decommissioned the building and moved out. Our tour took us through the mess hall. Tables and chairs had been removed, but the nautical decorative details were still in place.

Heslar Naval Armory, Indianapolis

Even the mess hall’s light fixtures were cool: little globes.

Globe Light

One more shot of the lights, because they’re so interesting.

Heslar Naval Armory, Indianapolis

The third floor includes this little bar, a space for officers only back in the day. Notice the porthole windows in the doors. This was a feature throughout the building.

Heslar Naval Armory

Even the bar carried strong naval themes.

Heslar Naval Armory, Indianapolis

Much of the armory is given over to offices, but it does also include a gymnasium. The deck on which I stood to take this photograph is an open bridge that was used in training exercises. I wish I thought to photograph it from below!

Heslar Naval Armory, Indianapolis

The armory’s most remarkable feature was its submarine simulation area. It can be flooded! A training exercise apparently involved sailors trying to figure out how to stop water from coming in.

Heslar Naval Armory, Indianapolis

It was a pretty cramped space, but our tour guide assured us that a submarine is even more cramped.

Heslar Naval Armory, Indianapolis

This first-floor space even had steps and a hatch up to the second floor. It was cordoned off for us tourists, but I’m sure that sailors who didn’t figure out how to stop the water from coming in were grateful to have it.

Heslar Naval Armory, Indianapolis

The armory is named for Ola Fred Heslar, born in Brazil, Indiana in 1891. His tour of duty with the Navy began in 1907 and continued into the Naval Reserves in 1922, where he was named Chief of Naval Affairs for Indiana. He oversaw the construction of this armory. Heslar returned to active duty during World War II and took command of the armory. He was promoted to Rear Admiral in 1944. He died in 1970.

Indiana Landmarks brokered a deal for Herron High School, a classical liberal-arts college-preparatory charter school on Indianapolis’s Old Northside, to buy the building. Herron’s building has long been at capacity, and they wanted a second campus to carry on their mission. They’re renovating it now, including tearing out some interior walls, to open it as Riverside High School. Because Indiana Landmarks is involved, all construction will keep the building’s outstanding architectural features. Riverside High School hopes to take in its first students in the fall of 2017.

iPhone 6s and Canon A2e, 50mm f/1.8 Canon EF, Kodak Tri-X.

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History, Photography, Travel

The tragic story of Kylemore Castle

Mitchell Henry was in love. And he built this sprawling castle for his young wife Margaret.

Kylemore Abbey

Nestled into this hillside in the Connemara region of Ireland’s County Galway, Mitchell’s 40,000-square-foot castle not only testifies to a man’s love for his wife, but it also belies the tragic end that befell his family.

Kylemore Abbey

Mitchell Henry, born 1826, was a physician from a British family that made a fortune in textiles. He married Margaret Vaughan, an Irishwoman from County Down, in 1852 and on their honeymoon discovered the beauty of Connemara. They resolved to live there.

At Kylemore Abbey

It took a while to secure this 13,000-acre site and build this castle. Sources disagree about exact timing, but it appears to have been completed around 1870.

Kylemore Abbey

Inside are 33 bed and dressing rooms, four bathrooms, four sitting rooms, a ballroom, a billiard room, a library, a study, and various other rooms including offices and residences for staff and servants.

Kylemore Abbey

Henry built and appointed his castle largely with materials from around Ireland: oak, marble, granite.

Kylemore Abbey

This was the height of living in Ireland in its time: formal, elegant, sumptuous.

Kylemore Abbey

It wasn’t clear to us whether the furniture was original to the house, but it seemed at least to suit the castle in its time.

Kylemore Abbey

The formal dining room was on the opposite side of the house from the kitchen. At that time, it was considered unpleasant for kitchen smells to reach the dining room.

Kylemore Abbey

Of the rooms available to tour, the dining room shows best the detail work evident throughout the castle.

Kylemore Abbey

Kylemore Castle was and is in remote country. The nearest major town, Galway, is about 80 km away. You can get there by car in 90 minutes today, but it would have taken much, much longer in the late 1800s. This estate would have to be self-sufficient. Mitchell had a gravity-fed running water supply built from a lake higher up the mountain, and even used the running water to generate electricity for the estate. An 8½-acre garden provided flowers, fruits, and vegetables of even exotic varieties — its greenhouse grew bananas! The garden operates today, and I’ll share photos in an upcoming post.

Kylemore Abbey

Margaret Henry fell ill while on a trip to Egypt in 1875, and died. She was but 45, and left behind their nine children. Heartbroken, Mitchell could no longer bear to live at Kylemore. He kept the estate going, however, and built a stunning monument and final resting place for his wife, which I will share in an upcoming post.

Mitchell Henry died in 1910. In the end, nuns of the Benedictine order bought the estate and established an abbey and girl’s school there. The school operated until 2010; today, the nuns offer other educational and retreat opportunities here. And they continue to open the site to tourists, for which it is certainly best known.

Canon PowerShot S95

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Faith, History, Travel

A model for living the faith: Father McDyer and alleviating poverty in Glencolmcille

Christians get a bum rap these days as being bigoted and small minded. Perhaps it’s because some high-profile people who claim to follow Christ behave that way. Perhaps it’s because many people experienced a rule-based, condemning Christianity as children.

glencolmcilleirelandmap
Glencolmcille. Imagery © 2016 Data SIO, NOAA, U.S. Navy, NGA, GEBCO Landsat. Map data © 2016 Google.

But most Christians I know go quietly about their faith. The ones who live it out are involved in the lives of others, especially others in need. That’s what our faith is supposed to be: simply but actively passing along to others the love God has for them.

When Father James McDyer was assigned in 1951 to the remote Irish parish at Glencolmcille (Glen-column-keel) in western County Donegal, he found a people isolated and in poverty. Little paid employment was available. There was no industry, no electricity, no running water, and hardly a paved road. The rural people of Glencolmcille scratched out whatever bleak livings they could.

McDyer, born 1910, grew up in County Donegal. He knew this life. He saw many of his neighbors emigrate out of Ireland looking for better lives. It was part of a great outmigration; scores left Ireland in the early and middle 20th century.

Glencolmcille Folk Village

The folk village at Glencolmcille shows the conditions the people lived in when McDyer arrived. These thatched-roof huts, some original and some replicas, contain furniture and home goods typical of 1950s rural Ireland.

Glencolmcille Folk Village

To an American, “1950s” calls up images of suburban ranch houses and station wagons, televisions and refrigerators, freeways and skyscrapers.

Glencolmcille Folk Village

These simple dwellings and plain possessions are more in line with an American concept of the frontier eighteen fifties.

Glencolmcille Folk Village

McDyer set to work improving the peoples’ condition.

Irish farm life was largely confined to the family. McDyer saw that bringing people together, under common causes and in support of each other, was the key first step. He led them in building a community center, which volunteer labor completed in 1953.

He then worked to electrify Glencolmcille. He spent many of his days traveling, speaking to government officials to move his goal forward. Here he met stiff challenges, as the Irish government was heavily focused on attracting multinational corporations as the way to bring Ireland out of economic depression. This left no resources for rural areas. He was not above manipulating the system to meet his ends, and meet them he did, as electricity came to Glencolmcille in 1954.

McDyer also worked to create a municipal water supply and to pave the roads leading to Glencolmcille. In the early 1960s he spurred the creation of local industry in the form of industrial and agricultural cooperatives that processed vegetables and fish and created knitted goods. Finally in 1967, recognizing that tourism should be a vital part of Glencolmcille’s diverse economic portfolio, he led the creation of the Glencolmcille Folk Village.

Glencolmcille Folk Village

The Folk Village continues today as a tourist attraction. For a few euros, you can tour the impeccably maintained huts.

Glencolmcille Folk Village

One hut is a school. Pupils here wrote on slates until the early 1960s, when inkwells finally arrived. By this time, of course, American schoolchildren were moving away from fountain pens to ball-point pens.

Glencolmcille Folk Village

One hut is a typical home, another is set up as Father McDyer’s home and contains his personal possessions, and yet another is a general store and tiny pub. Together, they are a microcosm of centuries of rural Irish life.

Glencolmcille Folk Village

Before and after McDyer brought such life-changing improvements to Glencolmcille, the people certainly enjoyed a beautiful place to live.

Glencolmcille Folk Village

Hills and cliffs overlook the coast with its beaches. A horseshoe-shaped lagoon empties into the Atlantic Ocean. But surrounding natural beauty doesn’t feed families. McDyer’s efforts lifted Glencolmcille’s families out of abject poverty.

Glencolmcille Folk Village

James McDyer died in his sleep in 1987, leaving behind a region much improved, a people in much better condition.

This, then, is what a Christian, what Christianity, is supposed to do: seek the marginalized and help them improve their condition — and through this, help them meet and know God. Such gifts are not often given in this world. That these gifts are attached to a person doing God’s work, that they ultimately come from God, is what attracts people to the faith. It is the experience of God’s love and gifts on earth, and it is compelling.

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History, Photography, Travel

The ring fort at Grainan of Aileach

Where the Inishowen Peninsula begins, way up near Ireland’s northernmost tip and not far from the border with Northern Ireland, a series of narrow country roads take you high up a hill to this structure.

Grianan of Aileach

It’s a ring fort, a round structure of stone, thought to be built during medieval times. There’s some disagreement about the timing and history of ring forts, actually. But thousands of them dot Ireland. Some were made of earth, some were made of stone, and most of them lie in ruin. This one, at a site called the Grainan of Aileach, is one of the best known and most prominent in the nation. It served as the seat of the ancient Kingdom of Aileach, which encompassed a lot of the northernmost portion of Ireland.

Grianan of Aileach

Ring forts were used as farm enclosures for wealthy landowners and may have provided a little protection from anyone who might want to cause harm. But it appears that their primary purpose was to establish status at a time when hierarchy was everything: the more elaborate the design, the wealthier you were. Kind of like how we buy cars today: a long, lean, black Mercedes sedan says something about you that a Chevy Impala does not.

Grianan of Aileach

There’s no doubt that a fort has stood at this site since at least the second century, because it is marked on the map of the known world that Greco-Egyptian mathematician, astronomer, and geographer Ptolemy created then. This fort was probably first made of earth. I’m not quite sure when it was rebuilt of stone, whether before or after any of the three times it was destroyed. The last time was in 1101. When the site was surveyed in the 1830s, the fort lay in ruin.

Grianan of Aileach

Its current condition is owed to restorations. The first happened in the 1870s and the most recent in the early 2000s, both criticized for altering the original design. The fort’s current condition probably evokes its past more than it accurately reflects it.

Grianan of Aileach

But it is no less interesting and astonishing to visit than if it were still all original. Despite its location far off a major road it attracts plenty of visitors. On the weekday morning Margaret and I visited, more than a dozen others joined us to climb the steps and explore the fort’s three levels.

Grianan of Aileach

Originally, there would have been buildings inside the ringfort, which is about 75 feet in diameter inside. The wall is about 16 feet tall, and at its base it’s about 15 feet thick. It is built mostly without mortar. We assumed that where we found mortar, it was added for stability so that visitors could safely climb and walk the fort. Perhaps this is one of the criticized aspects of the restorations. But I was glad to be able to confidently stand up there to take in the views.

Irish landscape

It is said that on a clear day, you can see five Irish counties from here.

Grianan of Aileach

Canon PowerShot S95.

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