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

  • Spring Sprang Sprung

    It was a perfect springlike day Monday, so I hopped on the Iguana to do a little OpenStreetMapping — there was a note on the website saying that a Moravian spiritual retreat just outside of town had been closed, and I thought if I could go there and confirm it on the ground, I’d go ahead and make the change when I got home. The former retreat was right next to a new park too, so I could also do a little exploring when I got there.

    My ride was pretty low-key: I was just out in street clothes and boots (and my helmet), something I’d been doing lately for casual riding; I was also inspired to keep it simple by Bike Snob’s recent article… I tooled up Main Street to Macada, then Altonah, then made a right onto Santee Mill Road, which is basically as bucolic as the City of Bethlehem gets. I was looking for a road/path off Santee Mill to take me into the park, but never found it (I saw later it was smaller than a sidewalk and very easy to miss). No matter, I continued forward, back into civilization, and entered the park from the front. Just outside the park entrance was a house where the retreat would have been; the house had posts out front, from which there might once have hung shingles, and the shingles might once have said “Spiritual Retreat” or whatever, but the shingles were gone now and there was a big “Private” sign by the driveway. So Phase 1 of my exploration was complete…

    That left the park — officially, “The Janet Johnston Housenick & William D. Housenick Memorial Park” but apparently just called “Housenick Park” by normal people. This is a parcel of land donated by Janet Johnston Housenick, granddaughter of Archibald Johnston, the first mayor of the consolidated City of Bethlehem (he was also chief architect of that consolidation, and a high ranking executive at Bethlehem Steel — he was as Bethlehem as it gets). The land was once part of the Johnston farm/estate, and it includes the old Archibald Johnston Mansion. The park is fairly new and still under construction/renovation, but there are a bunch of new footpaths and old carriage roads, and I cruised around for about an hour, taking pictures.

    It’s hard to believe looking at it, but the estate only dates from the 1910’s or 1920’s — it looks typical of a farmstead from about 100 years earlier — and the house was built using Bethlehem Steel beams. There was a boat house and tennis courts (or the ruins of them), but there were also lime kilns and the remains of orchards, ornaments in a hobbyist’s historical reenactment of country-squire life.

    The ride home was uneventful, and pleasant though the day was getting breezy. I returned via Township Line Road, which eventually becomes Altonah, and basically retraced my steps from there. I went about 16 miles all told, and total ride time was just over 2 hours


  • SuperWolf BloodMoon

    We watched the lunar eclipse the other night, going out every half hour or so for quick peeks — it was cold out! — until just a little after midnight. We used binoculars to get more detail, and we had a perfect view. We caught the very first appearance of the shadow, watched the gradually growing coverage until it was complete and the Moon was a dark red ball, and finally saw the shadow begin its retreat before we called it a night. (We saw photos later where the occluded Moon looked blue, but for us it was red, a deep and rusty, almost brownish red.) The show was awesome in all senses of the word, and “Superwolf Bloodmoon” sounds like a great name for a band — maybe names for two bands…

    Updating The Databases

    I’ve been updating my Sals trail map in QGIS, and I think I now have most of the new trail name/blaze changes, definitely all the changes I could verify on the ground, documented. I’m working on actually making a big paper map from all my data, which requires that I now learn some actual cartography skills. I put that project away to let it simmer for a while, and went back to my list of trail amenities.

    In terms of actual, usable data, that list is a hot mess: restaurants and bars have closed or changed names, new establishments have opened, many long-established places were still missing from the list (because they were never on OpenStreetMap, my primary source), and, worst of all, most of the amenities had no other information than name and location. I spent a good part of the last few days adding and removing establishments, and finding phone numbers and other contact info, and generally updating the list. I still have a ways to go, but Bethlehem is starting to look complete.

    The final database update was for my family tree, which I maintain in GRAMPS genealogy software. (The problem was that I might have “intercalated” an imaginary person into the tree: there is a Dorothy Murphy in my database, a distant cousin who might have had a niece Dorothy Mahoney, and either Dorothy Mahoney married Tom Hagenberg, or Dorothy Mahoney never existed and it was Dorothy Murphy who married Tom Hagenberg. My database had the “Dorothy Mahoney is real” version.)

    This issue came up a few years ago in conversation with my parents, but I never got around to fixing it in GRAMPS, and eventually forgot which version was correct. I happened to be looking at old photos the other day though, and there was Dorothy Hagenberg, handing out cake at a child’s birthday party in the late 1940’s, and the whole thing was back in my face… A little email correspondence this week with Mom got the family tree straightened out, and fixing it in GRAMPS was surprisingly easy — Dorothy Mahoney is no more. There’s a lot of missing information in this database as well, but at least that one known error has been corrected.

    Cello Time

    My cello playing has been coming along, not in leaps and bounds but I am progressing… I’ve got a few songs under my belt now, and I am working on possible duets with Anne, and my lessons are starting to get beyond the very basics — I’m now working on the regular basics…


  • Trail Summit

    So Sunday (last Sunday, not yesterday) was a recreational day for the Eastern PA Trail Summit, and I had an invite — a free pass really, courtesy of the D&L — to the whole event, so I rode to Easton to check out the Canal Boat ride and the industrial history tour. Both were awesome despite my stubbed toe…

    (Both events were informative, but while anyone can get a picture of canal boat life from what’s currently on display, and it’s common knowledge that there were once many factories along the canal, it was truly eye-opening to have someone point and say, “right there was a giant textile mill, and in that empty field there was once a blast furnace, in fact that boulder is what’s left of its foundation.”)

    Very cool, and here are some photos from Sunday:

    Scott S was also at the park that day, doing a kid’s bike ride with the Easton Police. That was pretty cool, and nice to see some cycling friends there with their kids.

    The Trail Summit proper was Monday and Tuesday. I had no real idea of what to expect — I actually had to look up what a “breakout session” was, and what the difference was between “keynote” and “plenary” speakers — but they were two awesome, informative and inspiring days.

    I learned a new term – “inland port,” sigh — from Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure, who spoke of it as one of several competing visions for the Lehigh Valley (as opposed to “nice place with trails,” I suppose), and the keynote speaker, a woman who thru-hiked the AT and spoke of it as a life-changing experience, made me realize that the Lehigh Towpath changed my life as well. There were morning sessions on redesigning roads to accommodate trail sections, and afternoon sessions on marketing your town to trail users, and a cyclist, the speaker for Tuesday’s lunch, said we need more amenities and signage. Amen brother!

    There was a dinner Monday night at the National Museum of Industrial History, so of course we all toured the museum. Here are a few photos:

    Not everyone was an awesome speaker, even if their ideas were good, and not every session was informative — there were a few I actually disagreed with — but all in all, it was an awesome conference.


  • 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 Goundie 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.