This blog reports events and interesting tidbits from Rensselaer, Indiana and the surrounding area.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Still not gone

I thought all the snow piles had disappeared with the warm spell we had a week or two ago, but yesterday I noticed some small piles still remaining. The dirt seems to serve as insulation.
They are near the old pump houses on Bunkum Road where the city dumped snow that it removed from the downtown.

According to the forecasts, we may have a couple more weeks of chilly weather before it begins to feel like spring again. Are you ready for some warmer weather?

Things from Facebook: Fair Oaks Farms is adding more kid-friendly amusements, and Charlie Roberts is having a grand opening this Friday and Saturday to celebrate its reorganized business. The Japser County Public Library now has a really long list of local Facebook pages. And not from Facebook: there is a student music recital at SJC in the Chapel on Saturday at 3:00.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Staying in French Lick

Last week I spent several days in French Lick, staying in the impressive French Lick Springs Hotel. The view below shows the Spring Wing from the courtyard. The hotel is large, with 443 room.
It has an elegant interior. When it was in its prime, early in the 20th century, it was the destination for wealthy people.
If you are on the floor shown above and look up, you see paintings on the ceiling like these.
On warm summer days these rocking chairs might be filled.
That girl above looks a lot like my friend Betty.

Why is a luxury hotel located in a small, inaccessible town in Southern Indiana? It is because of the smelly water. Below you see the well for Pluto Water, a water so smelly that it makes one somewhat nauseous.It was touted as a cure for many things, but the one thing it actually did do was that it moved bowels.
Apparently people a century ago suffered from a lot of constipation.
Pluto Water was bottled and sold nationally. Its popularity declined after World War II, and the last bottle of it was produced in 1972. The hotel entered a long period of decline as the popularity of its smelly water waned, and its current revival is based on the new casino that was built a few years ago.

Rensselaer also has sulfur water, and at one time, according to accounts I have read, there was a sulfur spring on the banks of the Iroquois River. It stopped flowing after the river was dredged and as far as I know, no traces of it remain. Maybe if some entrepreneur had developed it as a health spa, Rensselaer would have a big luxury hotel. Or maybe our water lacked the laxative quality that the water in French Lick has.

A mile north of the French Lick Springs Hotel is an even more impressive hotel, the West Baden Hotel. It has a huge covered courtyard--when it was built, it was the world's largest free-span dome. The Great Depression and perhaps a change in tastes resulted in the closure of the hotel in the early 1930s. For thirty years it was a Jesuit seminary, and then a branch college of the Norwood Institute. After a number of years of vacancy, it was restored in the 1990s and early in the 21st century. You can read about the hotel and its history in a long Wikipedia article.
The grounds have also been restored and are very attractive. Both of these hotels are run by the same company and there is a free shuttle between them.
In their prime, visitors to these two luxury hotels arrived via the Monon Railroad. Some of the Monon tracks are still visible at the entrance to the West Baden Springs Hotel. The old Monon train depot still stands, and is the home of the Indiana Railway Museum. It runs excursion trains, one of the tourists attractions of the area, but the trains do not go on old Monon tracks. Rather they go on tracks that were originally used by a small railroad to transport coal from Southern Indiana to French Lick, and from there to Chicago. A highlight of the excursion train is a tunnel more than 2000 feet long.

(Closer to home, North Judson has a railroad museum that offers train rides. I have not visited it, but if I get the right grandkid at the right time, I may. Have any of you taken the North Judson train?)

Visitors today may find a newer hotel across the street from the French Lick Springs Hotel more attractive, the Big Splash Adventure Indoor Water Park and Resort. The water park was my introduction to French Lick last October.

And if Little Indiana ever visits, I recommend she take a look at the Black Buggy Amish Restaurant.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Rise of the Lost River

After a week of fun in NOLA, I did not come back to Rensselaer, but spent most of the next week in French Lick, Indiana, a very interesting little town in cave country. A bit north of French Lick flows the Lost River. It is called the Lost River because for about 23 of its 85 miles it flows underground.

One part of the Lost River system was mentioned in some of the material that the hotel provided, and we set out to find it. Even though I knew where it was on the map, I initially drove right by it and had to turn around and try again. What I found was this small river that looks very much like the Iroquois River. You might notice that there is a road that crosses the river, but you would be wrong to assume that if you go up to that road, you will see the river on the other side. There is no river on the other side of the road.
This is the Orangeville Rise of the Lost River, which is misnamed because this is not actually the Lost River but a tributary to it. The Lost River is so confusing that people did not know what was the river and what was tributary. The water surges up along the cliff, coming through underground passageways (caves) that drain about thirty square miles.
At one time the Nature Conservancy owned the three acres that surround this strange start of the river, but now it is owned by another group, the Indiana Karst Conservancy. (Rensselaer has plenty of limestone but no caves. Why? Because we had glaciers. Southern Indiana did not.)
There is also a plaque to inform visitors of the strangeness of the place.
(The plaque reads: "Rise at Orangeville has been designated a registered natural landmark. This site possesses exceptional value as an illustration of the nation's natural heritage and contributes to a better understanding of man's environment. 1973 National Park Service United States Department of the Interior."

Orangeville is about the size of McCoysburg.

After we got back to French Lick, we learned that we had missed a second interesting feature of the Lost River drainage that was only a couple miles away from Orangeville, the Wesley Chapel Gulf. Fortunately, visiting it on our way back to Indianapolis would not add miles to our travel, so on Friday we set out to find it. I missed the turn on the first try, backtracked, and found the Wesley Chapel, which, as its name suggests, is a small Methodist Church. However, we could not see our intended destination from the Chapel. A phone call to a local took us about 400 yards to the south, where fortunately we found this sign, or else I doubt if we would have found it.
Notice the small dog. It was quite happy to lead us to where it knew we wanted to go. The Wesley Chapel Gulf is a large (about eight acres) sinkhole formed when the roof of one of the caverns carved out by the Lost River collapsed. Following the guide dog, we got down to the floor of the sink hole and found a pool of water at its lowest level.
There were water channels and erosion suggesting that at times there was rapid flow of water here. Since there was no visible outlet for the water, it must find its way into parts of the cave system in which the roof has not yet collapsed.
Leaving the Wesley Chapel Gulf and heading east toward Orleans, we passed an Amish farmer plowing his field with the aid of two horses. Unfortunately, I did not have my camera ready and missed the picture.

Southern Indiana is a lot different from Northern Indiana. If you ever get down to French Lick, see if you can find these two interesting natural places.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Catching up

For the next few days I will be trying to get back to normal after two weeks away from Rensselaer. I have noticed a few changes--the grass is greener, my crocuses are blooming, and I cannot find any piles of snow.

I checked out the Amtrak platform Friday evening. I thought it might be finished and it almost is. It looks like they just have a bit of railing to install.
I was surprised to see a new house going up on Susan Street to replace the burned house that was recently demolished. Apparently work started shortly after I left.
I stopped by the Big Top Flea Market on Sunday and found it was bigger than ever. I was surprised to see some child car seats there. Jasper Junction no longer sells them--a man with a badge stopped by a few months ago and told them that they could not sell car seats or cribs.

You also will not find car seats or cribs at the upcoming Birthright rummage sale (April 8 and 9) or any electrical appliances. The reason the electrical appliances will not be there is that a few years back someone bought an electric fan at a thrift store in California and the fan malfunctioned, causing property damage. The buyer sued the store and the judge in the case said that the thrift store had the obligation to make sure that electrical appliances were safe before they were sold. I wonder if the judge realized that, because people are afraid of frivolous law suits, a result of that ruling would be to have rummage sales stop selling electrical appliances. At some point the cost of trying to make life safer outweighs the benefits of the effort and in many cases we are well past that point.

And speaking of Birthright, they will be getting new neighbors on Front Street. The Rensselaer Chamber of Commerce is moving into the back of the building at 116 N Front Street. That section of the building features a wonderful office with nice windows and a fireplace. I can see why the Chamber would like it, though it might be a little hard to find if you do not know where to look.

Other things: The Lake Village Old Photo Page on Facebook has some pictures of Jenny Conrad.

I attended the SJC spring band concert on Sunday. They did a bang-up job.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Things you do not see in Rensselaer

I have been out of town for the past two weeks and got home late this afternoon. I like Rensselaer, but there are a great many things that you do not see in Rensselaer that you see in other places. For example, how often does your Rensselaer ferry boat come this close to a tug pushing barges?
And how often are our streets blocked off for the filming of movies?
We have some interesting grave markers in our cemeteries, bu I have never seen anything like this:
And even if Rensselaer had a recreation of an old river steamboat, the Iroquois would not big enough for it to go anywhere.
I have looked at a lot of trees in Rensselaer, but do not recall seeing anything like these.
I recall streetcars from a few visits to a large city when I was very young, but in at least one city those old electric streetcars that run on tracks are still operating.
If you want to see more of the first week of my trip away from Rensselaer, go here, here, and here.

So what has been happening in Rensselaer while I have been having lots of fun in other places?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A bit about you

As the author of this blog, I have access to some statistics that google keeps. Almost all the viewers of this blog live in the U.S, with a total of 49568 pageviews from May 2010 until March 2011. Germany is a distant second at 1253. 74% of visits are using Windows and 21% Macintosh. 1% are other Unix, 1% Linux, and 1% iPad. Other platforms are all under 1% and include iPhone, iPod, Blackberry, Samsung, and Palm. Internet Explorer is the most popular browser, with a 49% share, followed by Firefox (26%), Safari (16%), Chrome (6%). All others are under 1%.

The most viewed post was Shopping at Autozone (684 views), followed by Sandhill Cranes (283) and Shopping at CVS (237). The top referring page is Gene Chambers. (Thanks, Gene.). Top referring sites are Google (11342) followed by Bing (1012), Yahoo(703), and Facebook (564).

I suppose there is something useful I can get from these data, but I do not know what it is.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Old windmill

Last fall I took a bike ride on Moody Road and found this picturesque structure along the way.
It looks a bit like an old well, but it is merely the remains of an old windmill
The pump underneath looks like it could still pump water if it were primed.
Coming back a bit further south I noticed these old gate posts, all that remains of an old fence. Was the fence taken down because the farm no longer had animals, or because modern farm equipment is too wide to pass though this gate?
Concrete markers very much like this still mark property lines throughout the countryside.

Monday, March 21, 2011

North Newton Township School one more time

Almost a year ago I visited the North Newton Township School and did posts on the outside and the basement. I never did get around to showing what was upstairs.

 It is rather interesting that there is nothing in the building that can be reached without stairs--no worry about any kids with disabilities back then. When you enter either of the front doors, you can either go up or down. One of the up stairwells is completely blocked by debris.
The other one was passable, though it too showed the results of neglect, with huge sections of plaster no longer on the brick


At the top of the stairs is a small hallway. On the left are two large classrooms. At either end are coat rooms. Between the stairs was an office. It was in very bad shape, with a large section of the floor rotted and too dangerous to walk on. The roofing over this part of the building must have failed some time ago for the amount of damage that was in the room.
The two large classrooms are now one big, impressive room. One must tread carefully because with the large amount of debris on the floor, you cannot see where there are weak sections. This building is getting increasingly dangerous to explore. It is beyond repair and probably should be demolished. (I know that the historical preservation people do not want to hear that, but reality is that it has deteriorated too much to be saved.)

This building must have not been well insulated. Each room had four steam radiators, and steam radiators produce a lot of heat.
Below is the scene from the other end of the big room.
Below is the a picture from the same end as above, but from the other corner. Whoever Sara was sure wanted to let everyone know that she had been there.
From the main room you could see into one of the two coat rooms.
Below are valves on two of the radiators.
This was, I believe, the ceiling in the office. You can see the light coming through the roof, which means that the rain also comes through. Once a roof on an old building is breached, the inside of the building quickly deteriorates. Our buildings are not designed to take much water.
In a few places some of the decorative painting is still visible. I wonder if the students appreciated the little details like this.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Public hitch yard

The Jasper County Library has an old insurance atlas of Rensselaer from the 1920s that is a wonderful historical source. One of the plates of the downtown had a fascinating tidbit on it. The odd area behind city hall was once the public hitch yard. Did you know that?
Also on the map is a row of brick buildings that were used for storage. Two of those buildings remain, and the ruins of two others are still visible. I think the one on the right is still used for storage. On the map it says that it and the next building were FURNE WARE HO, which probably is furniture warehouse. I recall someone telling me several years ago that the Fendig Summer Theater used it. The smaller building on the right has a TV dish and a mailbox, so it seems to be currently used as a residence. It must be dark inside because it seems to lack windows. On the map it is identified as GENL. STGE CEMT. FLOOR.


The space between these two buildings clearly had, at one time, another building.

And there was also clearly another building to the north of the the smaller building. the brickwork looks like it was meant to be interior, not exterior.
Anyone know more about the history of these odd buildings?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Courthouse lights

Were the court house lights ever on this winter? Here is what they looked like last week.
Like so many other things that look nice, there is a lot of worked needed to maintain them.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Fleming plaque

I thought I had seen most of the plaques around Rensselaer, but last week I stumbled on one that I had not previously noticed.
It is in the little triangle of land at the intersection of Parks and Fleming.

This little bit of land does not seem to be a park. What city department is in charge of maintaining it? And who was Charles Fleming?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Habitat for Humanity house

It has been a very long time since I mentioned the Habitat for Humanity house--maybe back when it was only a foundation. The exterior now looks almost finished.
Here is what it looked like in September.
Here is what it looked like last October.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Platform Update (II)

It has been a little less than two weeks ago that I had a post on the Amtrak platform, but a lot has happened in those two weeks.

The workers finished putting in the poles that anchor the structure.
It then took them a few days to put down the material that looks a lot like very thick cardboard to form a mold for the bottom of the structure. I would expect them to pour the concrete directly on the ground, but they do not do that. The workers covered it at the end of the day.
It took several days to get all the re-enforcing rods connected together and put into place. There is a lot of rebar in the structure.
In the picture below the rebar has reached the sidewalk along Cullen and the workers are starting to put up the side forms. Unlike the forms at the bottom, these will be removed when the concrete has set.


I did not know when they poured the concrete, but they did pour some because the platform has now extended beyond where it was two weeks ago. The rest of the concrete should be, judging by the what they have done in the past, be poured this week and by the end of the week it should be mostly finished. Notice in the picture below that there are no longer piles of supplies waiting to be used. The supplies are gone, so end of construction cannot be too far behind.

On Thursday last week workers began installing metal handrails to replace the temporary wooden railing. Only the handicapped parking spaces are concrete.
On Friday the handrails were installed, though the concrete around their supports still needed to cure.