• Category Archives looking back
  • As in “looking back in time,” things which have a historical connection.

  • Blast From The Past

    Among my more prized possessions is a book called Indian Paths of Pennsylvania, by Paul A. Wallace. I was struck by a sudden enthusiasm the other day, and wanted to take a look at something in it, but could not find the book — I tore the house apart but it was nowhere to be found. Along the way though, I did manage to run across one of my first MTB guide books, Joe Surkiewicz‘s The Mountain Biker’s Guide to Central Appalachia. This was a book that I got more than 20 years ago, one of several I bought in my early, “explorer” phase, long before GPS or online maps, and though I used it mainly for Pocahontas County (West Virginia), and Michaux State Forest here in PA, there were a few other trails and areas I checked out, including a ride I did once in Bald Eagle State Forest.

    This Bald Eagle ride started from a trailhead off of I-80, and I mean immediately off I-80, at an exit that ended with a Forest Service parking area. It was the strangest Interstate exit I’d ever seen. (I remember the author also found this “inexplicable” exit notable.) This odd trailhead actually was the only part of the ride that made an impression on me: although I had fun — and saw a bear up close too, which luckily ran from me because my brakes were so squeaky — I spent most of my time semi-lost, and the trails I saw really didn’t excite me. I never went back.

    Fast forward about 5-10 years, and I bought another MTB guide, this one of Pennsylvania, from local author Rob Ginieczki. It quickly became one of my favorite guide books, mainly because the author’s ideas about trail characteristics and quality closely matched my own. I trusted his assessments, and I made a point of checking out as many of his recommended rides as I could, including one he listed as “Cowbell Hollow” — a 29-mile loop starting from R.B. Winter State Park, over mixed jeep roads and singletrack, whose high points are Cowbell Hollow Trail and Top Mountain Trail. It is now one of my favorite “destination” rides, and for years I made a point of putting together a group ride there once or twice a year. (Unfortunately, I was not able to make it out to these two on my most recent visits, though I did get to discover a whole bunch of similarly awesome trails a bit further west.) One thing caught my eye though — every drive out to R.B. Winter, I’d go past what I could swear was that crazy exit on I-80, just east of the R.B. Winter exit.

    Fast forward another 10+ years to just the other day, when I unearthed that first guide book. Since we had been up in that part of the state recently, I immediately thought of that ride with the trailhead on I-80… I flipped open the guide, found the ride with the “inexplicable Interstate exit,” and the loop was basically Cowbell Hollow and Top Mountain Trail.

    Well I’ll be jiggered.


  • Scenes Inside The Lock Tender’s House

    Posted on by Don

    What a fun afternoon! I’d arranged to put in some volunteer time today with the D&L Canal people, so I took off down the towpath just after eleven, on my Iguana, to do some cleanup work inside the Lock Tender’s House at Hugh Moore Park. I’d forgotten how fast and fun the Iguana was on the towpath, but before long I was just flying along effortlessly, and was at the Canal Museum by 12:00. Meet up with archivist Martha, and then we go up to the Lock Tender’s house itself, a place I’d been many times but never inside.

    Then came the  “work” part, mostly vacuuming and dusting, getting the rooms ready for the season opening, but even that was interesting, since I was on the other side of the “do not enter” chain, handling stuff the public can only look at from afar. Actually, the house is not that old, having been rebuilt after a fire in 1928 (possibly an arson job from revenge-minded bootleggers, or so I learned today), and while some of the furniture was obviously ancient and worn, some items in the parlor, the room I mostly worked in, could have easily been mates of things in our living room right now — I’m looking at you, hurricane lantern…

    Anyway, here are a bunch of photos I took inside the house.


  • Paradise Lost

    Posted on by Don

    Or maybe “Paradise Destroyed” would be closer to the mark. I’ve been on a mini-obsession over that island in the Lehigh (Calypso Island) that Calypso Street and Calypso Elementary are named after. Here’s what I found so far:

    It was an island near the south side of the river, maybe a quarter mile west of the current Hill-To-Hill Bridge. Owned by the Moravian Church, it was maybe 13 acres total and covered in catalpa trees, with a pavilion and a natural spring, and was a popular spot for Sunday School and summer picnics — it was named after the Greek nymph Calypso by George Henry Groundie at the July 4th celebrations there in 1869.

    Unfortunately, environmental stresses (coal and other pollution from the steel mills and railroads, frequent flooding, and increasing difficulty navigating on the Lehigh) started cutting into the popularity of Bethlehem’s river island resorts in the late 19th century. In the meantime, the Lehigh’s south bank bulged south at Calypso Island, forcing a big curve in the railroad at that point. In 1902, the Moravians sold the island to the railroad, who dug it up to fill in the south channel and straighten their line. (Judging by old maps, I’d say that Reeb Millwork currently sits on the old island’s infill; you can still see the river’s old bulge in the shapes of Brighton street and the millwork building on Google Earth.)

    It may have been gone, but I guess it wasn’t forgotten for a while: Calypso Elementary was built around 1916.


  • Things I Remember

    Posted on by Don

    When I was first born, my parents lived on Cortelyou Road in Brooklyn, but in 1964 they moved to 155 East 35th Street (also Brooklyn), which is where we lived until we all moved, in 1967, to the house in Englishtown where my brothers and I grew up. I was four when we moved from Brooklyn, but there are a few things I remember about East 35th Street. I happened to look up the address the other day in Google Maps, and here are a few memories it triggered:

    • If you went out the front door and turned left, there was a much busier road (Church Avenue, according to Google), and on the corner was a small deli or general store, with a small group of older kids typically hanging around outside. Maybe the place/kids had a disreputable nature, or maybe it was just what a mom would tell a 3-year-old, but I was instructed not to go up to the corner.
    • There was a small, somewhat grassy backyard, longer than it was wide. Looking from the back of the house, the far back left corner was a bit of a jungle, and the next door or rear neighbor may have used his part of the corner as a yard-waste pile. There were sometimes fallen blossoms on the ground (purplish, like maybe rose-of-Sharon) from a bush right there, and sometimes a rotting-vegetation smell, not your typical one but one I’ve smelled, rarely, on other occasions, and I have associated it ever since those backyard days with “silkworms.” I was fascinated by that section of the yard.
    • Looking at the house from the backyard, there was a small, cement stairway on the right, down to a basement entrance. The building superintendent or maintenance guy lived down there. He was Italian, I’d guess now, maybe in his late 30’s or early 40’s, but thin and a bit sickly looking, with thinning hair or maybe a widow’s peak, and dark or sunken eyes. I guess he freaked me out a little, like how a little kid would be nonplussed about a stranger. I remember making eye contact with him once as he came up the stairs — the shocked recognition in his eyes as he saw me being freaked, and the air of defeat in his face and body as he averted his eyes.
    • I remember Kevin and I once playing on those stairs — maybe I was down a step or two and he was in the grass, on a hobby horse or something — and we were arguing about whether I was still older, even though we were now both three.
    • I remember the kitchen. (Just the other day I saw the same chair with built-in step stool we used to have.) I remember being in the kitchen when my dad got home from work, and sometimes he’d have  little toys for us.
    • I remember my mom was giving my brothers and I a bath — this may have been Englishtown — and I remember our questions, and I remember her trying to explain the Vietnam War to us.

    Looking back, it seems that my memories were mostly visual. I remember what people may have said, but I have no real auditory memory, or maybe just the vaguest hint of any sounds. I also remember a lot of thoughts of my own, or at least having those thoughts, which internally expressed were semi-verbal, but they never came out of my mouth.