National Register of Historic Places

Fort Ontario State Historic Site in Oswego, New York

Fort Ontario has a rather exciting and complicated history. It saw action in three wars: French and Indian War, Revolutionary War, and War of 1812. Held by the British from 1755 to 1796, it passed to the Americans in the Jay Treaty, which resolved disputes stemming from the Revolutionary War. The fort was one of three guarding the mouth of the Oswego River at Lake Ontario. Today, it is a State Historic Site and museum.

In 1755, the British built a wooden stockade at that location called the Fort of the Six Nations. French General Marquis de Montcalm destroyed it and other surrounding forts in August 1756 during the French and Indian War. Three years later, the British rebuilt the fort and named it Fort Ontario. During the Revolutionary War, in July 1778, Colonial soldiers found it abandoned and burned it.

At the Battle of Oswego, May 6, 1814, during the War of 1812, British Lieutenant Colonel Victor Fischer and a force of 550 soldiers and 400 marines attacked Fort Ontario and its garrison of 242 regulars and 200 militia. The British suffered 80-87 casualties to the Americans’ 69-119. They succeeded in destroying the fort after its capture.

(more…)

Hotel Congress’ Enigmatic Room 242

Located at the corner of Toole Avenue and Congress Street in downtown Tucson, Arizona, the Hotel Congress has had an interesting history, including a brush with the notorious outlaw John Dillinger. Dillinger’s ghost, however, is not believed to reside there. Instead, visitors have reportedly encountered the ghost of a former handyman, as well as a forlorn woman who haunts Room 242. These apparitions are only a few of the nightly attractions at the Congress. Club Congress is considered to be one of the 10 best rock clubs in the United States, and for over thirty years has served as a showcase for downtown Tucson’s creative community.

Hotel Congress was designed by William and Alexander Curlett, who designed several buildings that are currently listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. It was built in 1919 and contains four different bars. One of these, the Tap Room, has been open continuously since 1919. The Tap Room has been called “the drinking man’s Louvre” because of its collection of works by western artist and rodeo cowboy Pete Martinez. It is the largest private Pete Martinez collection in the country.

(more…)

Airtight Bridge Murder Part 1 of 3: A Gruesome Discovery

On a typical autumn evening, Charlie and his girlfriend Megan left the campus of Eastern Illinois University to enjoy a game of miniature golf at Lincoln Springs Resort. They found themselves driving down a rural route somewhere northeast of Charleston. The sun had gone down before the two could find their way back to a main road, and Charlie hadn’t bothered to bring a map. As trees and fields flew past, it was clear they were getting further and further away from their destination.

Airtight Bridge in fall. Photo by Michael Kleen

Airtight Bridge in fall. Photo by Michael Kleen

Tensions were already running high when their headlights fell on two pairs of eyes that shimmered near the mailbox of a white, double-wide trailer. As Charlie’s silver Mitsubishi Outlander drove past, two unleashed dogs jumped at the car and chased it to the edge of the paved road. They disappeared into the dirt and dust kicked up by the Outlander as it ground the chalky gravel under its wheels.

Navigating several sharp curves, Megan and Charlie’s hearts raced as the road pitched downward and the fallow cornfields disappeared behind thick woods and desolate meadows. Charlie slowed down to avoid spinning out, and everything became eerily quiet aside from the sound of tires against the road.

Charlie threw his girlfriend a worried glance as they approached a small, white sign warning of a weight limit of eight tons. Suddenly the trestles of an old, one lane suspension bridge loomed out of the darkness. The branches of two large trees, a sycamore and a bur oak, formed a natural arch over the foreboding entrance. Lurching forward, the Outlander rolled over the broken pavement suspended fifteen and a half feet above the inky waters of the Embarras River. For a moment, the burgundy, steel supports were all the two saw in every direction.

(more…)

Abandoned Oasis: Ochopee’s Monroe Station

A narrow road called Tamiami Trail runs through Big Cypress National Preserve between Naples, Florida and the Miami suburbs. The 720,000-acre preserve was added to the United States National Park System in October 1972. An abandoned white, clapboard building sits conspicuously at the intersection of Tamiami Trail and Loop Road, beckoning travelers to pull over and contemplate its origin. For many decades, this small building was the only way station on the long journey through the wet cypress forest. Federal regulators forced it to close in the 1980s due to environmental concerns over its old gas pumps, and it has sat abandoned ever since. Now known as Monroe Station, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2000 after being used in films like Gone Fishin’ (1997) staring Danny Glover and Joe Pesci.

This unique building has an interesting history, and is even rumored to have been a stomping ground of infamous gangster Al Capone. The Tamiami Trail was completed across the Everglades in 1928. Shortly thereafter, a man named Barron Collier built six stations along the road for motorists looking for somewhere to fuel up, relax, and get a bite to eat. One of these was Monroe Station. According to local legend, Al Capone owned a speakeasy and gambling den in the nearby community of Pinecrest. He left its management to a relative and occasionally returned to visit. On these trips, locals say, Capone stopped by Monroe Station. However, there is no evidence that the infamous Chicago gangster ever set foot in the area.

Originally, Monroe Station was one room deep, with a flat-roofed canopy extending out from the first floor over the gas pumps (pictured c.1933). It served as a way station for the Southwest Florida Mounted Police, where an officer and his wife lived. While the officer went on patrol on his motorcycle, his wife tended the store and gas station. William Erwin, the first officer to serve at Monroe Station, died in an accident along the road in January 1929. Just a few years later, in 1934, the Great Depression dried up funding for the Mounted Police and all six stations were closed and demolished or sold to private owners.

(more…)

Bragg-Mitchell Mansion’s Stately Lady and Phantom Feline

A stately, Greek-revival style Southern mansion with tall, Doric columns sits off Springhill Avenue in Mobile, Alabama. Built in 1855 by Judge and Congressman John Bragg, brother of Confederate General Braxton Bragg, the Bragg-Mitchell Mansion is a simple, yet elegant example of antebellum architecture. Today it is a museum that carefully preserves its antebellum splendor for weddings and events, but visitors say something intangible has also remained. Some have reported chance encounters with the willowy fur of a phantom feline–as well as a forlorn and mysterious lady of the manor.

John Bragg purchased this 3 acre plot of land, then on the hinterland of Mobile, in May 1855 for $7,500. The mansion he built was 13,000 square foot and served as a seasonal home for his wife, Mary Francis Hall, who hosted parties and entertained guests from Mobile’s high society. They spent the remainder of the year at their plantation in Lowndes County, Alabama. Mary was 21 years younger than her husband, and the couple had six children. She was 42 years old when she died in 1869, just four years after the end of the Civil War.

During the war, Judge Bragg had all the oak trees on the property cut down so that the Confederate defenders of Mobile could more effectively fire on advancing Union troops. On Mary’s insistence, they moved all their most valuable possessions out of the mansion to their plantation. Ironically, Union soldiers burned the plantation and all their possessions, but left Mobile largely unscathed. Their oak trees were replanted in 1865 using acorns Judge Bragg had saved. Today these trees beautifully decorate the front lawn.

(more…)