Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Oh the Places You'll Go: 38,000 Historical Maps to Explore at New Online Library

The Digital Public Library of America announces the addition of a vast treasure trove of maps.

A map from Joseph and James Churchman's 1833 volume "Rudiments of National Knowledge, Presented To The Youth Of The United States, And To Enquiring Foreigners" (David Rumsey/DPLA)

Rebecca J. Rosen
The Atlantic

More than three decades ago, David Rumsey began building a map collection. By the mid-90s he had thousands and thousands of maps to call his own -- and his alone. He wanted to share them with the public.

He could have donated them to the Library of Congress, but Rumsey had even bigger ideas: the Internet. "With (some) institutions, the access you can get is not nearly as much as the Internet might provide," Rumsey told Wired more than a decade ago. "I realized I could reach a much larger audience with the Internet."

Bit by bit, Rumsey digitized his collection -- up to 38,000 maps and other items -- along the way developing software that made it easier for people to explore the maps and 3D objects such as globes online. Today, the Digital Public Library of America announced that Rumsey's collection would now be available through the DPLA portal, placing the maps into the deeper and broader context of the DPLA's other holdings.

"I am very excited to have my digital library of historical maps added to the DPLA," Rumsey was quoted as saying in a DPLA press release. "Maps tell stories that complement texts, images, and other resources found in the growing DPLA library."

To see exactly what this means in context, click on any one of the 38,142 results that come from a search for "David Rumsey." Once you've clicked through to, say, this 1838 globe, you'll notice a little module on the right (I've put a screenshot of it here as well) that invites you to "view on timeline." Click there and you'll arrive at a page with all of the DPLA's other materials from that year.

In addition, Rumsey's maps will now be available through the DPLA's API, meaning people who are creating location-based apps will be able to tap into the historical resources of the collection.

The DPLA, as with much of its "holdings," doesn't actually hold anything at all -- rather, they use Rumsey's metadata to make it all searchable and accessible through DP.LA, but when it comes time to look at an object up close, you'll be linked over the David Rumsey's own site. It's not about what the DPLA has so much as how it presents and connects what is already out there.

As DPLA executive director Dan Cohen told me earlier this month, "By bringing them together, I think we're also in a sense making those collections much more usable. When people come to the website, first of all, they'll be able to find a lot of content that exists out in smaller archives and collections much more easily. They won't have to go to hundreds or thousands of websites to find this amazing, unique scanned content from America's heritage and, indeed, from the world's."

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

MITCHELL CAVERNS: Seeing state budget cuts up close

Mitchell Caverns are in the the Providence Mountains of eastern San Bernardino County (Mark Muckenfuss/staff photo)


California’s budget crisis hit me full-force recently when I realized Mitchell Caverns in the Mojave Desert’s Providence Mountains State Recreation Area are closed indefinitely.

These unique caverns, developed as a private tourist attraction in the 1930s, are not someplace I go often — I’ve only been there once. But on our spring break vacation in the desert, my husband and I wanted to take our children to see the caverns’ stalagmites, stalactites and other limestone formations.

We called, but the phone went unanswered. A little research turned up the reason.

The Providence Mountains State Recreation Area was closed in January 2011, along with 69 other state parks; 208 parks remain open. The area, which is within the boundaries of the Mojave National Preserve, became a state park in 1956.

According to the National Park Service, which includes notice of the closure in its newsletter for the Mojave preserve, said there were serious problems with the water system at the caverns, which coincided with state budget cuts.

The closures were necessary to meet $11 million in funding cuts that year, and $22 million this year, state officials said.

Sad to think, the only way my children may ever see this desert treasure is on video.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Monument on Route 40 nearing 85th anniversary

The Madonna of the Trail monument on
Route 40 near Beallsville turns 85 this year.
By Chris Buckley
Trib Live

Notices on the front page of the Saturday, Dec. 8, 1928, edition of The Charleroi Mail touted such bargains as Brunswick talking machines at the Schroeder Piano Company and fresh country eggs at 45 cents a dozen at Alfieri Poultry.

But the major headline was this: “Dedicate Pioneer Madonna Statue Today At Nemacolin.”

The story under that banner recounted the first of two major events heralding the dedication of the Madonna of the Trails monument on Route 40 between Beallsville and Richeyville. The area statue, which will mark its 85th anniversary later this year, is one of 12 monuments dedicated to the spirit of pioneer women in the United States.

Mrs. John Trigg Moss of St. Louis, chairwoman of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution's National Old Trails Committee, was the featured speaker at a banquet Friday, Dec. 7, at The George Washington hotel in Washington, Pa. Hosted by the Washington County Chapter of DAR, the event served as a prelude to the unveiling of the Pennsylvania monument scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday at Nemacolin Country Club.

The banquet, according to The Charleroi Mail, was “one of the most successful and enthusiastic affairs of the kind ever held in Washington.” In addition to representatives of the Washington County Chapter members from the Monongahela Valley and Canonsburg chapters also participated in the festivities.

Mrs. N. Howland Brown of Norristown, state regent of Pennsylvania DAR; Mrs. Lowell Fletcher Hobart, a former state regent of Ohio and at present a national officer; Mrs. William H. Alexander of Monongahela, state vice regent-elect of Pennsylvania, and Margaret Barnett of Markleton, were among the honored guests at the speakers' table.

Among the longtime members of the Washington chapter in attendance were Dr. Louise J. Lyle of Mount Pleasant Township and Margaret Bureau of Washington.

The Washington County chapter was organized in 1892 and was recognized as being the third oldest in the state. Bureau became a member in July 1893, and Nancy J. Hall, regent of the chapter, presented her with a rose for each of the 35 years she had been a member.

Music for the banquet was furnished by Virginia Aley, pianist; Alma Headley, violinist; Harry Miles, violinist, and Paul E. Harding, violinist, all members of the Washington High School orchestra.

Hall called upon the honored guests and others who had taken a prominent part in securing the Madonna monument for the county for remarks. In introducing James. P. Eagleson of Washington, she referred to him as the “one person, very sincere and very earnest in the work, without whose efforts there would have been no Madonna of the Trails statue in Washington County.” She said Eagleson “has been the one person who worked untiringly from the very beginning and afterwards when defeat seemed certain ... he never stopped and was never discouraged and finally overcame every obstacle thrown in the way of securing the Pennsylvania monument for the county.”

The Madonna of the Trail monuments were commissioned by the National Society of DAR and located in each of the 12 states along the National Old Trails Road (Route 40), which extended from Cumberland, Md., to Upland, Calif.

The monuments were created by sculptor August Leimbach and are designed as a symbol of the “courage and faith of the women whose strength and love aided so greatly in conquering the wilderness and establishing permanent homes.” As noted on the Internet encyclopedia, Wikipedia, the statues feature a pioneer woman cradling a baby with her left arm and holding a rifle with her right hand. Her young son clings to her skirts.

In addition to the Route 40 monument, which is located directly across the highway from the main entrance to Nemacolin Country Club, other statues in order of their dedication are in Springfield, Ohio, Wheeling, W.Va., Council Grove, Kan., Lamar, Colo., Albuquerque, N.M., Springerville, Ariz., Vandalia, Ill., Richmond, Ind., Upland, Calif., and Bethesda, Md. The area monument was the 10th to be dedicated in the series of ceremonies in 1928 and 1929.

Harry S Truman, who would become U.S. president in 1945, was president of the National Old Trails Association at the time of the dedication of the initial Madonna monument on July 4, 1928, in Springfield, Ohio. Speaking at that event, he praised the pioneer women this way:

“They (the women) were just as brave or braver than their men because, in many cases, they went with sad hearts and trembling bodies. They went, however, and endured every hardship that befalls a pioneer.”

In addressing the audience in Washington, Eagleson emphasized that “it was team work” that brought the Pennsylvania monument to Washington County. He recalled the Fifty-Fifty Club, which made possible the greater of the money necessary, and he referred to it as “the most unique club ever formed.” Membership, he said, was limited to 50, each of whom donated $50. The 50 members were in all parts of the county and were subscribed in less than 10 days. When the membership pay was closed, Eagleson said, it was found that there were exactly 25 men and 25 women in the group.

“Its work has been completed and the list of members will be placed in the member box in the back of the statue to be opened in 50 years,” he said, adding that each member was invited to be present at that time.

A large crowd attended the dedication ceremonies on Saturday, Dec. 8, 1928, filling the clubhouse at Nemacolin Country Club to capacity. The event was held indoors because of the threat of inclement weather. The only part of the program that took place outside was the actual unveiling of the monument, which required only a few minutes.

National, state and county leaders of the Daughters of the American Revolution attended the ceremonies including Mrs. William H. Alexander of Monongahela, state vice regent-elect and former regent of the Monongahela Valley chapter. Others were:

Mrs. Alfred J. Brosseau, president-general of the National Society DAR; Mrs. E. Howland Brown, Pennsylvania regent; Mrs. John Trigg Moss, chairman of the Old Trails Committee; Mrs. Lowell Fletcher Hobart, candidate for president-general in the 1929 election; Margaret Barnett, also a candidate for national office; Mrs. Robert Reed, former state regent of West Virginia; Mrs. J.W. Endsley, regent of the Great Crossings chapter; Dorothy McNary, Canonsburg regent; Ethel Boughner of Uniontown, former state officer; and Washington County chapter regent Nancy J. Hall.

Eagleson, who again was lauded for his efforts in bringing the monument to Washington County, presided during the ceremony.

Appreciation also was extended to Charles E. McGinnis, president of Nemacolin Country Club, for his enthusiastic work in securing the donation of land from the club for the monument after the site had been selected by the National DAR organization.

Eagleson explained that the site for the monument had to be on the National Road (Route 40) and he finally selected the knoll near the entrance to the country club. He said McGinnis was “very receptive” to the idea and “in a short time the approval of the board of directors was secured and a deed for the site was given by the club.”

The Charleroi Mail called the site “beautiful ... far better than any that could have been secured in Washington.”

“Standing on the summit of a hill, facing the historic old National Road, over which the pioneer mothers traveled a hundred years and more ago in covered wagons with their husbands, seeking new homes in the wilderness of the ever receding far west, it may be seen by the tourists of today for several miles in both directions,” the newspaper said. “On the grounds opposite the Nemacolin Country Coub has been erected a large flood light, which will be turned on the statue every night, so that it will be seen by persons traveling after dark.”

Thousands upon thousands of travelers have viewed the Madonna of the Trail monument near Beallsville since that dedication nearly 85 years ago.

The massive statue, which stands 10 feet high and with its base towers about 18 feet above the highway, has been refurbished and rededicated several times over the years. Members of the Washington County and Monongahela Valley chapters of DAR have been, and continue to be, committed to its preservation and the spirit and courage it symbolizes.

That tradition is continuing today with another restoration project that includes landscaping and installation of railings on the steps leading to the statue.

Mary Holets of Monongahela, a director of the Monongahela Chapter DAR, said plantings of new trees and shrubbery will “enhance the appearance” of the area around the monument.

“The landscapers began their work before Christmas and it is hoped that everything will be completed by June,” said Holets, a 50-year member of DAR. “Like everything else, the workers were at the mercy of the weather during the winter.”

Holets emphasized that all Pennsylvania chapters of the DAR support the restoration projects with financial contributions for the upkeep of the monument.

“The statue certainly has endured the weather and other conditions since it was originally dedicated in 1928,” Holets said. “It is very symbolic, of course, and especially meaningful because it is one of only 12 such monuments in the United States. The state DAR and all of its member chapters are dedicated to perpetuating its significant place in history.”

Deborah L. Davis of the National Pike Chapter in Washington is the state DAR regent and will lead a rededication of the monument that is likely to take place when the current restoration is completed.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Rare visit to the Mitchell Caverns

Naturalists from the SCV push back the desert to earn a rare visit to the now closed, historic, cave

Deep in El Pakiva Cavern are numerous formations over which the imagination can take flight. One docent saw in this formation “A woman with a flowing gown with crossed arms and a Poodle’s head.”

By Jim Harris
Santa Clarita Valley Signal

It nearly takes my breath away.

Billowy, white cotton candy clouds march eastward, covering the top of Fountain Peak; its red sentinel spires pushing through feathery cloud-fog.

Descending the mountain are wide, uneven strips of crimson, gray and green; rhyolite and limestone.

“See the three layers?” asked Brian Miller, organizer of our trip to the currently closed Mitchell Caverns in the Providence Mountains State Recreation Area.

“The gray band—that’s where the caves are,” he says.

The caverns are opened to us in exchange for work to push back the Mojave Desert at the Mitchell Caverns Visitor’s Center.

Brian Miller, an employee of the state parks system, enticed his fellow docent/naturalists from Santa Clarita with the chance to be the first in three years to descend into the limestone caverns in exchange for pushing back the encroaching desert.

More than 20 volunteers from Placerita and Vasquez Rocks Nature Centers drove up to the remote site, 116 miles east of Barstow on Highway 40 for the chance to go into the deep, historic caverns.

The volunteers spent hours rooting out desert vegetation that was pushing into buildings, as well as intruding on concrete walkways and planters at the Mitchell Caverns Visitor Center.

“I’m tired,” said Laneita Algeyer, school trips coordinator at Placerita Nature Center. She and her husband Bill are veteran hikers who haunt places like Mitchell Caverns, looking for the historic and the unusual all through the West.

Jim and Toni Crowley brought a wheel barrow and extra tools in their pickup. They haul out the vegetation when the work ends.

Exhausted after hours of work, and a hearty lunch including soup provided by Sue Wallendar, the Placerita/Vasquez group was fired up once more when Miller announced, “Time for the Caverns.”

Suddenly, a Grounds Keeper appeared to lead us into the cave. So remote are the caverns in Fountain Peak that he had to turn on a generator to provide lighting for us as we descend into the caverns. The Caverns are off the grid.

We followed a craggy, rocky trail under Fountain Peak’s red spires, dug into the Mountain’s gray limestone band. On the left the trail plunged hundreds of feet below.

But, we were safe with a solid chain guard rail installed during the heyday of park building after the state park system took possession of the Caverns.

The safety rails were among many improvements Jack Mitchell, the original owner of the caverns, could not have imagined when he ran tours there on his own property.

Mitchell started the tours during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Mitchell played at mining, but what he really excavated was the imaginations and spirits of people who wanted to see and experience unique and mysterious works of nature.

And in that spirit, as we descend into the caverns, many among us gasped as the lights turned on. The upward lighting cast strange shadows on bizarre, outlandish limestone formations.

“Breathtaking,” said Dolores Olson, fellow docent/naturalist.

Stalagmites, stalactites, shields, helictites, draperies, curtains and popcorn form intricate, sensational formations that illuminated our imaginations. Like children looking at clouds, we could see in our mind’s eyes that which are not there.

“Do you see the Queen washing her face in the basin, her hair hanging down?” asked the caretaker as he pointed to a complex formation of curtains, and stalactites in a section of the Caverns known as “The Queen’s Chambers.”

“Those formations will continue building. This is a living cave, when it rains,” continued the Grounds Keeper.
He pointed to a single trickle of water hanging on the end of a stalagmite, and then down at a tiny stalactite exactly below the motionless drip. This is at the beginning of our descent into the Caverns beginning at El Pakiva, “The Devil’s House” Cavern.

“This is how the formations grow over the years,” said the Grounds Keeper.

To me it was fantastic to think that such a small thing will grow like the enormous formations surrounding us as we continued.

Through El Pakiva we continue down state constructed steps, a far cry from the days when Mitchell and his visitors had to wriggle and climb over and around rocks and boulders.

After El Pakiva, we move in single file through the “Solution Tube” and are stopped abruptly at “The Pit.”
Here, in the 1930s, Mitchell dropped flares which would slowly go out, never to be seen again, said the Grounds Keeper.

“Jack (Mitchell) called it the ‘Bottomless Pit’,” smiled our guide. “It’s not bottomless; it’s about 40 feet deep.”
In those days the tour had to stop, go back, wriggle again through the entrance and walk the trail to the second cavern, Tecopa, named after one of the last Shoshone chiefs.

Now, there is a bridge and an opening to Tecopa, both built by the state.

There was also air-lock doors between the two caverns to eliminate a steady draft that blew through the caves once the state connected them together.

Archaeologists have found the remains of prehistoric animals, including a pre-historic sloth in Tecopa Cavern.
Throughout these caves there is evidence of Native-American life. The caverns were a sacred place for the Chemehuevi Indians, and a number of tools and fire pits have been found.

The Chemehuevi people called the caves the “the eyes of the mountain” because of their double entrances located near the top of Fountain Peak Mountain.

Much later, Jack Mitchell owned the caves (from 1934 to 1954) and operated them as a tourist attraction and rest stop for travelers on nearby U.S. Route 66. He held mining rights to the area and mined several holes and tunnels, which can be seen today.

In 1956 the caves became a state recreation area.

“They are an island of state owned land within the federal Mojave National Preserve,” said Miller.
The Caverns were closed in 2011.

Like the closing of Mitchell Caverns, we ended our tour as we emerge from Tecopa Cavern into the sunlight of Fountain Peak Mountain, and thread back along Jack Mitchell’s old cavern trail, sadly leaving behind our fantastical experience.

And back to our normal lives in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Volcano House

Volcano House (Katie Kland)
By Sherri Cruz
Orange County Register

Chapman University has repurposed numerous historic buildings, but a spaceship-style home perched 150 feet atop a volcanic cone?

"We've never quite encountered a house like this," said Kris Olsen, vice president of campus planning and operations for Chapman University.

"The architectural design feels like Austin Powers meets George Jetson," Olsen said.

See more Volcano House images

The home, known as the Volcano House, was a gift to Chapman from the late Huell Howser, who hosted and produced the "California's Gold" travel series on PBS.

Chapman's plans for the Volcano House include poetry gatherings for faculty and students, artist retreats, and astronomy and biology studies.

The house is set on 60 acres in the Mojave Desert, where silence and starry nights reign. It has a 360-degree glass perimeter – 24 glass doors that can be opened to the desert breeze when the weather is suitable.
Inside, a circular stairway leads to a stargazing deck on the roof.

Making the property even more spectacular is a spring-fed lake at the foot of the volcanic mountain.
Olsen has been directing the restoration of the property, which started in earnest last spring and recently concluded.

The home's bones were good, but the property had some deferred maintenance and needed some minor interior fixes.

"We drained the lake and put a new clay bottom in it," Olsen said.

Chapman refurbished the electrical, sewer, heating, ventilation and cooling systems.

Aday Architects in Glendora was tapped to spruce up the interior, while keeping the midcentury architecture intact.

Even the shag rug in the sunken living room was replaced with a new one.

"We found a carpet mill that produces shag and replaced it with similar shag," Olsen said.

"It's in good function for accommodating people now," Olsen said.

In the future, Chapman plans to add dormitories at the base of the volcanic mountain to accommodate large groups for overnight stays.

Howser's gifts to Chapman stemmed from a friendship that was struck between Howser and Chapman's President Jim Doti.

It began with a note Doti wrote to Howser.

After Doti watched a "California's Gold" segment on Old Towne Orange, he invited Howser to the campus. "When I saw it, I was disappointed that he didn't come visit the Chapman campus," Doti said.

Howser took Doti up on the invitation and visited the campus a few months later.

It was love at first sight. "He just fell in love with Chapman, the spirit of the place and the people," Doti said.

Doti was one of a handful of people who knew that Howser was terminally ill.

Howser kept his illness private.

What many people didn't know – not even Doti – was that Howser was the owner of the Volcano House. That mystery was revealed when Howser put the home on the market a few years back for $750,000.

People who knew Howser knew him as a longtime resident of the El Royale Apartments in Los Angeles.

Howser also owned a couple of other homes, but rarely used the Volcano House. He bought the Volcano House on a whim, Doti said.

"I think he bought more of a work of art than a home," Doti said. "He was really into aesthetic kinds of things," he said. "His homes were literally art museums."

Doti found out about Howser's uncommon dwelling during lunch with Howser at the Filling Station Cafe in Old Towne, a couple of blocks from campus.

By that time, Howser had already been working diligently with Armando Diaz in Chapman's media services to digitize and archive his TV segments.

"Huell was a stickler about quality, perfection, having it done right," Doti said.

While they sat on the Filling Station's patio, Doti asked about reports that Howser was the owner of the Volcano House.

According to Doti, Howser said something like: "Oh yeah, I bought that 10 years ago. I hardly ever used it, but I fell in love with the place. Why? Do you want it?"

Doti didn't know if he wanted it. He asked about it only because he was intrigued by the house itself.
But Howser was serious, Doti said.

Howser thought it would be wonderfully serendipitous if the house he bought on a whim could be used for educational purposes.

"He said it would be a culmination of something that was meant to be," Doti said.

With Howser's offer, Doti checked in with Chapman's chancellor, Daniele Struppa. Struppa sent a memo to all the deans at Chapman, asking if they could use the property.

"Without exception, all of the deans said 'Yes,'" Doti said.

Doti called Howser and told him the ideas. "He was pleased. It was his dream."

Howser took the home off the market. Then he took Doti and Olsen on a grand adventure to visit it.

They all met at Peggy Sue's 50's Diner (where there's a sandwich named after Howser) near Calico Ghost Town. From there, they drove 20 minutes along a gravel road. "All of a sudden you see – standing alone – this volcano-shaped mountain," Doti said.

"As you get closer, you see the structure on top of it. It looks literally like a flying saucer landed on the top," he said.

"It's surreal," Doti said. "It's truly surreal."

In addition to the Volcano House, Howser gave Chapman nearly 1,000 TV segments, his book library, the proceeds of the sales from his two other desert homes (now designated for scholarships) and his "found art" collection that adorned his homes.