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Roadside America

Dead Man’s Curve

The following is an excerpt from my book Tales of Coles County, a collection of history, folklore, and true crime from one of the most interesting counties in Illinois. Order it in paperback or Kindle today.

Many communities in Illinois have an intersection or stretch of road to avoid where it’s said car accidents frequently occur. Northwest suburban Des Plaines has “Suicide Circle”, Spring Valley has “Help Me” Road, Henry County has “Death Curve”, and the tiny town of Towanda has a “Dead Man’s Curve” on Historic U.S. Route 66. Coles County’s is unique, however, because its name predates the road itself.

When settlers first crossed the wilderness of East Central Illinois, large groves of trees became important landmarks. One such grove, in LaFayette Township on the north branch of Kickapoo Creek, was originally known as Island Grove. It was two miles in diameter and filled with hackberry, elm, and oak trees, and supplied a neighboring village of Kickapoo Indians with firewood and wild game.

In March 1826, a man named Samuel Kellogg discovered the frozen body of a Sand Creek settler named Coffman sitting upright against a tree with his horse bridle thrown over his shoulder. Kellogg hoisted the dead man onto his horse and took him to a nearby settlement for burial. Since then, Island Grove has been known as “Dead Man’s Grove.”

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Photography Roadside America

The Kiss

Statue called “Embracing Peace” by artist J. Seward Johnson on American Way in National Harbor, Maryland. Embracing Peace is based on an iconic photo taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt in Times Square on August 14, 1945 as celebrations broke out upon news of Japan’s surrender and the end of World War 2.

The Kiss II
Categories
Roadside America

Catoctin Iron Furnace in Frederick County, Maryland

For over a century, the Catoctin Iron Furnace smelted iron, its forges spewing smoke and burning red hot. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it fueled the machines of war. Much of this backbreaking work was done by slaves.

Catoctin Iron Furnace is a historic iron forge along U.S. Route 15 from Frederick to Thurmont in Frederick County, Maryland. Though forges were present when the ironworks were operational, there is currently no forge at the site. But you can still tour the grounds and the ruins of the “Isabella forge” casting shed and the owner’s mansion.

In 1774, four brothers: Thomas, Baker, Roger, and James Johnson, built Catoctin Furnace to manufacture pig iron from locally-mined hematite. The oven produced cannonballs for the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, including shells fired during Yorktown’s siege. Some claim it also provided cannon and produced plates for the USS Monitor during the Civil War, but researchers consider that improbable.

On the eve of the American Revolution, the Johnson brothers eyed the Monocacy River Valley’s industrial potential. They acquired land under Catoctin Ridge and erected an iron furnace. The original Johnson Oven burned until 1776, producing useful tools and household products including the famous “Catoctin Stove,” also called the “Ten Plate Stove” and the “Franklin Stove”.

Categories
Photography Roadside America

Flamingo Motel, Wisconsin Dells

Nothing says tourist trap quite like flamingos (especially when you’re in Wisconsin), and this oversized sign for the Flamingo Motel and Suites, 910 Wisconsin Dells Pkwy S. (U.S. Route 12), Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, doesn’t disappoint. Wisconsin Dells has been a family vacation destination since the nineteenth century. Many motor inns adopted a “populuxe” style to appeal to travelers on a budget, promising comfortable accommodations at an affordable price.

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Roadside America

Crystal Grottoes Caverns in Boonsboro, Maryland

Tour Maryland’s only show cave in this delightful throwback to America’s roadside attractions.

This small demonstration cave is Maryland’s largest cavern open to the public. It contains more formations per square foot than any other explored cave, and it’s among the most naturally preserved caverns in the world, with a constant temperature of 54 degrees.

Crystal Grottoes formed in Tomstown Dolomite over millions of years. The cellar is mostly horizontal and the corridors are generally high and narrow. Its floors are brown and red clay; sediment covers several passages within one to two feet of the ceiling. 

The 30-35 minute tour covers 900 feet of its passages, or about one-third of the total cave space. There are no streams, although steadily dripping water collects into a small “lake” or tub.

Categories
Photography Roadside America

Fisher’s Bar

This sign for Fisher’s Bar, 719 Superior Street in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, has all the sports. In business since 1933.

Categories
Photography Roadside America

Antiques & Oddity Shop

Antiques & Oddity Shop, E Old St in Petersburg, VA. I love this old building near the Appomattox River. You can still see some of the faded brick ads advertising produce and poultry. Petersburg dates back to 1750, and this building sits in its oldest area.