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North-central North Dakota: the People behind the Places

Freedom Voyages — Life in the United States

November 14, 2021

Welcome to another Freedom Voyage! These trips give me the chance to see the width and breadth of the USA — its landscapes, its small towns, its cities, and its courthouses. Along the way I take and share photos of what I see and what I eat — and whatever I’m thinking.

I choose my road trip destinations with two primary considerations in mind: a) have I been never been to this place before; and b) what’s the weather going to be like when I get there? For this trip, I saw an opportunity to see 15 North Dakota counties I’d never traveled to before, and under sunny skies and pleasant temperatures.

Want to live out a Freedom Voyage vicariously? Experience a bit of joie de vivre? My purpose here is to try to convey the experience, the joy I feel as I travel the country. I hope in this way that you can also enjoy these sights, whether you are unable to travel or simply do not have the time or resources to do so.

With that, here’s a photo log of the eight days of clear skies and verdant fields I found in north-central North Dakota. Nothing better than sunshine and a road trip! Enjoy!

Jumping off from Gillette, Wyoming, the Freedom Voyage wanders through north-central North Dakota, starting east of Bismarck to Jamestown, Devils Lake, and Minot and returning to Gillette

Freedom Voyage Day 1, Saturday, June 26, 2021: Colorado Springs to Gillette, Wyoming

My overall plan was to reach Bismarck, North Dakota by Sunday night. That’s a 12-hour drive from Colorado Springs so I decided to split the travel into 2 legs — up to Gillette, Wyoming on Saturday and then on to Bismarck Sunday.

For the drive to Gillette, I stayed on Interstate 25 up to Douglas, Wyoming. There I switched to Wyoming 59, a two-lane highway that takes you through the massive coal fields of Converse and Campbell counties. There aren’t many towns along this road but the coal trains keep you company until you reach Gillette, 115 miles north of Douglas.

Gillette, Wyoming (population around 20,000) services the energy industry in northern Wyoming. The strong business climate for energy, especially during the Trump administration, has provided over a dozen business-class hotels to choose from, including at least one member of each of the larger US hotel chains. I chose Candlewood Suites for this stay.


Freedom Voyage Day 2, Sunday, June 27, 2021: Gillette to Bismarck, North Dakota

Day 2: Gillette, Wyoming through western South Dakota and then to Bismarck, North Dakota

Good Sunday morning from Gillette! A short morning walk brought me to the local Perkins restaurant for breakfast:

Eggs, bacon, hash browns, and crepes at Perkins Restaurant in Gillette

After church at St. Matthew’s, I got on the road at noon: east on Interstate 90 from Gillette, past Devil’s Tower (which can be seen off to the distance from the roadway), across the South Dakota state line, skirted the northern edge of the Black Hills, and then turned north. The roadways through western South Dakota are some of the most desolate stretches of highway in the state, punctuated by some dormant volcanic cliffs. After a few hours, I reached the border with North Dakota. The gallery of 3 photos below shows my sleek chariot, a herd of cattle grazing on the grasslands, and a cross-roads trucker enjoying a rest as the prairie highway winds out into the distance.


Nice country, North Dakota. Although the names of the two states are very similar, North Dakota has a more verdant landscape than its southern neighbor. I drove the 2-lane highways through some farmland until reaching Dickinson, then joined Interstate 94 heading east toward Bismarck.

Statue of a giant Holstein, named “Salem Sue” near New Salem, North Dakota

Just west of Bismarck I pulled off the highway at the Scenic Vista point:

Scenic Vista off I-94 at Mandan, North Dakota, looking east toward Bismarck

In Bismarck, I ate dinner at a great Mexican place called Charras and Tequila, which was next to the hotel where I would be spending the night. Due to today’s long drive, I had skipped lunch except for some convenience store snacks, and so I went full bore mode at dinnertime: chips & salsa, queso, pico, and carne asada with rice and beans. Plus a margarita, of course:

Bismarck is the state capital of North Dakota and has a population of 133,000. Plenty of lodging and dining choices are available in Bismarck. I checked some prices and chose a Wingate by Wyndham.


Freedom Voyage Day 3, Monday, June 28, 2021: Bismarck to Jamestown, North Dakota

Day 3: From Bismarck to Jamestown via Steele, Fessenden, New Rockford, and Carrington, North Dakota

Good Monday morning from Bismarck, North Dakota. According to Wikipedia, North Dakota was a popular destination for 19th Century immigrant farmers and laborers from Scandinavia and Germany. I quickly found a Kroll’s Diner nearby, which is a chain of German restaurants with locations in Bismarck, Minot, and other cities in North Dakota. Their slogan is “Sit Down and Eat,” and that’s also their web address: www.sitdownandeat.com. Choosing from their list of German specialties, I settled on a Fleischkuechle: seasoned ground beef, wrapped inside a pastry and deep-fried.

Fleischkuechle at Kroll’s Diner. Bismarck, North Dakota
Kroll’s Diner, Bismarck (this section was not in use while I was there as if it were part of a museum)

Over the next few days, I’ll be meandering through the north-central North Dakota countryside visiting small towns and county courthouses. Most of these towns will have populations less than 5,000 — they’re quiet but hard-working.

Heading east out of Bismarck my first stop this morning was Steele, North Dakota, with a population of 715 and county seat of Kidder County. The photos below show the STR United Methodist Church (top left), Kidder County Courthouse (top right), view down Broadway Avenue (center right), and Veterans Park behind the courthouse (bottom). Note that the church has a sign outside offering a chance to join services either on Facebook or YouTube. Steele’s storm warning sirens are stationed above the buildings at the far left of the photo looking down Broadway. No storm was coming this day, those clouds are just some morning humidity.

Most towns have a Veterans’ Memorial, but Steele’s is different because its Veterans Park highlights two specific soldiers and their stories. It’s a case of the town explaining the people behind the memorial.

Memorial to Alfred “Skip” Thomas, Vietnam era, including his bronzed boots.
Memorial to Sgt. Elwyn O. Vanous, US Army WWII — POW for 1 year who escaped and walked 700 miles to freedom.

Heading north out of Steele, I stopped next at Fessenden, North Dakota, with a population of 479.

Wells County Courthouse. Fessenden, North Dakota. Constructed in 1895 and still in use

Fessenden: old Quarve Block, largest business building in town (left); Main Avenue (center); and a friendly beagle (right). Not pictured: I walked past about a dozen grade school kids heading down to the town pool for a noon swim — I didn’t think it was a good idea for a stranger to be taking photos of children in bathing suits!

Lunch at the lunch counter at the Main Street Diner: Grilled ham & cheese, tater tots, and homemade chicken dumpling soup.


I next stopped at the larger town of New Rockford, having a population of 1,391. Photos below: the Eddy County Courthouse, erected in 1899 (left), courthouse main lobby and plaque (top right), New Rockford street scene (bottom right). The old courthouse here is still in use — in fact, a trial was taking place in the upstairs courtroom while I was there.


On my way to New Rockford, I drove by this herd of buffalo but didn’t stop to photograph them. After visiting the town I thought I might have missed an opportunity and came back to take a photograph of the herd. They were right up against the fence when I first drove by but by the time I got back they had moved away from the fence. He who hesitates is often lost!

Private buffalo herd. Near New Rockford, North Dakota

By the way, I prefer the term “buffalo” to “bison,” although I am told every so often that “bison” is the correct term. I don’t care. Buffalo is an iconic term of the old American West and it conjures up too many rich images to be replaced in common speech.


My last visit for today would be to the largest town of the day, Carrington, with a population of 2,065.

Foster County Courthouse. Carrington, North Dakota

This courthouse, like most of the old courthouses in this region, was built in the late 19th to early 20th Centuries and was built with a great deal of pride — not only pride in the people but pride in their state and their nation as well. Like many other courthouses built throughout the United States during this era, this courthouse was designed with a sense of grandeur and uses granite exteriors and marble and brass interiors. Vibrant murals depicting county history are painted on the ceiling under the central dome and can be viewed from the building’s atrium two floors below.

Words of wisdom are inscribed into marble walls along the second floor above the atrium, referencing wisdom from both the ancients (Aristotle, Sophocles) and from modern Americans (Webster, Lincoln):

Painting depicting daily life hung on the wall of the Foster County courthouse. Carrington, North Dakota

Feeling thankful for all the eye candy I saw in the courthouse, I strolled to downtown Carrington to get a beverage and write my notes: Headlocks — a sports bar (Minnesota Vikings bar), the Garden Gate — a combination wine bar, coffee shop, and gift shop, and the bank building.


From Carrington, I drove down to the larger town of Jamestown to have dinner and spend the night. Keeping it light tonight I chose a steak salad with a gin & tonic at Sabir’s Buffalo Grill. Eat beef when in cattle country!

Steak salad at Sabir’s Buffalo Grill. Jamestown, North Dakota

Jamestown is a small city adjacent to Interstate 94. There are plenty of lodging options available here. Checking prices, I chose the My Place hotel, part of a new and expanding hotel chain in the west and midwest.


Freedom Voyage Day 4, Tuesday, June 29, 2021: Jamestown to Devils Lake, North Dakota

Day 4: From Jamestown to Devils Lake via Courtenay, Cooperstown, Finley, Pekin, and Lakota, North Dakota

After spending the night in Jamestown (population 15,000 and change) it was time to have a look around. First stop, Casey’s General Store for some of their breakfast pizza. Based in Des Moines, Iowa, Casey’s is a convenience store chain with hundreds of locations throughout the Midwest, but only a few in North Dakota. Their breakfast pizza is my absolute favorite.

Breakfast pizza at Casey’s. Jamestown, North Dakota

The locals here refer to Jamestown as “Buffalo City” so I drove by the National Buffalo Museum before it opened in the morning. They have a herd of about a dozen animals (that I could see), both adults and calves enjoying the early morning sunshine and prairie grasses near the World’s Largest Buffalo statue. The statue is visible from Interstate 94 nearby.

Jamestown has been a center of commerce since its founding in 1872 at the point where the Northern Pacific Railroad would bridge North Dakota’s James River. The town was named after Jamestown, Virginia, and today has a vibrant core of old buildings and plenty of restaurants.

People who live in North Dakota have to account for harsh winters, so their bars and taverns tend to be more spacious than those found in warmer climes. The Corner Bar is one such cozy watering hole providing comfort, community, and warmth.

The Corner Bar at 1st Avenue South and 2nd Street SW. Jamestown, North Dakota

Just around the corner, you can find everything for the sportsman at Gun & Reel Sports.

1st Street West. Jamestown, North Dakota
Looking south down 1st Avenue toward the Catholic Basilica of Saint James. Jamestown, North Dakota

Completed in 1914, the Gothic-style Saint James Basilica is one of the oldest buildings in town, and in many ways, it’s the center of town. People in Jamestown are extremely proud of this church, seeing in it a great achievement erected upon the vast expanses of the North Dakota prairie. The driving force behind its construction was Father Edward Geraghty, an immigrant Irish priest.

Saint James Basilica. Jamestown, North Dakota
Saint James Basilica, interior.
Saint James Basilica, stained glass windows.

Here is a link to a fascinating 16-minute video that provides both the history of the church and of the early days of the town itself. Among the remembrances narrated is the time in 1883 when famous Lakota Chief Sitting Bull visited Jamestown, offering his autograph to residents for 25 cents each. History of St. James Basilica – YouTube.

The 700-mile James River originates north of Jamestown and flows southward to join the Missouri River near Yankton, South Dakota. This river bisects Jamestown but, oddly, the town was named for Jamestown, Virginia, and not for the river. The Lakota called the river “E-ta-zi-po-ka-se Wakpa” (“unnavigable river”), while French trader Jean Trudeau named it the Riviere aux Jacques in 1794. Ultimately the waterway was anglicized into the “James River” by early American settlers. It’s a landmark in the wide prairie. Here is the river making its slow, lazy way through the center of town.

James River. Jamestown, North Dakota

Here are some more photos around Jamestown (counterclockwise from top left): a sturdy home near the center of town, a typical residential street where the trees are twice the height of the homes, Stutsman County and Jamestown town logos, and the Stutsman County Courthouse, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


Heading north out of Jamestown I traversed wide-open country dotted with small upland lakes. Finally, I arrived at a point dividing the Atlantic and Arctic Ocean drainages. Here’s your sign:

Continental Divide between the Atlantic and Arctic watersheds. Near Courtenay, North Dakota

A few miles further east of this sign is Courtenay, North Dakota (population 45), a small farming town.

Here’s a beautiful home in Courtenay that I couldn’t help but stop the car and photograph. I so admire the perfect workmanship of the awnings above the front windows and the porch. The bright colors of the flower pots and flowerbeds perfectly complement the greens of the lawn, the trees, and the house.

A beautiful home in Courtenay, North Dakota

Here’s another view. This home is someone’s pride and joy, and I assume the exquisite trim was done by the owner himself or herself.

A beautiful home in Courtenay, North Dakota

I was ready for lunch by the time I made it to Cooperstown.

Nana’s Cafe & Coffee Shop on Burrel Avenue in Cooperstown, North Dakota

Ladies and Gentlemen, fair readers, inquiring minds — I had an exquisite lunch meal at Nana’s Cafe — the best meal of the whole trip. Those are glazed smoked sausage slices — probably locally made — next to loaded red-skinned mashed potatoes filled with a pool of melted butter, plus some delicious, buttery fried cabbage. As I sit at my desk today writing this description, I wish I had ordered two meals. I wish I could have that meal again. I’d like to go back to Nana’s Cafe for lunch right now. I recommend it highly.

Lunch at Nana’s Cafe. Best meal of the whole trip!

Down the street from Nana’s, the local pharmacy was holding its annual Customer Appreciation Day. You’ll notice the barbeque grill parked in the street next to the vacant lot. Free bbq and sides for everyone today, come on in! The business and its customers are just one big family. I’ve heard of such things before, but I rarely see them anymore. But I guess they still happen in small, family-sized towns in North Dakota.

Cooperstown Drug Customer Appreciation Day. Cooperstown, North Dakota
The Original Griggs County Courthouse. It was built in 1884 and recently retired. Cooperstown, North Dakota

Artifacts from the old courthouse, truly from the town’s founding, are on display in the new courthouse. These include old machines, portraits of the founders, and a group photo of Cooperstown’s 50-year settler’s reunion.

Griggs County Courthouse. Cooperstown, North Dakota
Old Settler’s Day — June 17, 1923. Cooperstown, North Dakota

Just outside the courthouse, the county maintains the old Opheim cabin, which was built in 1878 and is marked as the first permanent settlement in Griggs County, North Dakota. Some of those pictured in the settler’s reunion might even have memories of the old Opheim place.

The Opheim Cabin. Cooperstown, North Dakota

It’s five days until the Fourth of July and preparations were well underway for Independence Day festivities. The portable fireworks cart displays its wares, including the “Manic Energy” of President Trump. Although this area supports the ex-President “bigly,” they aren’t afraid of having a little fun with his energetic personality. At the far right, the town grocery store, Miller’s Foods, provides a float for the annual parade.

It was a great day in Cooperstown. Even the clouds above Cooperstown looked like they were throwing up a set of flares as if they were cheering for me.

Mid-summer high clouds above Cooperstown, North Dakota

Just outside Cooperstown, I came upon this: the “November – 33” Minuteman missile launch facility (decommissioned 1997).

Several historical signs explain the purpose of the site, its operation, and its maintenance:

What surprising things you find when just out for a drive!


Next stop: the small town of Finley, North Dakota — tons and tons of grain and four-hundred people. An old Air Force plane next to a POW/MIA flag greet you at the edge of town.

Finley War Memorial. Finley, North Dakota

The grain elevators dwarf the town’s buildings which include the Rumors Tavern and an old Methodist church building just a block away.

The Steele County Courthouse in Finley was built in 1925. From the outside, the courthouse could easily be mistaken for a 1930s WPA project, but the interior has marble trim and old-fashioned lettering that one would never see in the aluminum-based WPA structures. Notice the Vietnam War memorial plaque next to the staircase in the central photo. Recalling the POW/MIA flag I saw at the edge of town, I wonder if perhaps Finley suffered local sons lost during Vietnam? Such a loss would leave a mark in a town of 445.


After a northward drive of an hour and a half, I reached Lakota, North Dakota, with a population of almost 700.

Nelson County Courthouse. Lakota, North Dakota

Main Street Lakota runs northward until it ends at the Art Deco style of the Lakota Public School building.

Although Main Street was pretty quiet today, its signage had some personality:

The offices of the Lakota American Newspaper, the official paper of Nelson County.
Caution! Norwegian Crossing! Main Street, Lakota, North Dakota

From Lakota, I drove 30 miles west and stopped for the day at the Fireside Inn and Suites in Devils Lake, North Dakota. This is a privately owned motel catering mainly to summer and winter sports fishermen on Devils Lake. The inn has a small lounge where fishermen can enjoy a brew while swapping fish stories! On this night the Fireside Inn offered their guests free ribs and potato salad with a free drink. I couldn’t pass up a free meal!

Ribs, potato salad, and a White Claw courtesy of the Fireside Inn and Suites. Devils Lake, North Dakota

Freedom Voyage Day 5, Wednesday, June 30, 2021: Devils Lake to Bottineau, North Dakota

Day 5: From Devils Lake to Bottineau via Langdon, Munich, and Cando, North Dakota

Old Main Street Cafe. Devils Lake, North Dakota

I had breakfast at the Old Main Street Cafe in Devils Lake. Actually located on 4th Street downtown, it’s a nice place — small, intimate, and includes a bar for late-night gatherings. Very efficient of them to have their space double as both an early morning and a late-night venue.

Chicken-fried steak and eggs with hashbrowns and gravy underneath. Old Main Street Cafe in Devils Lake, North Dakota

I found an interesting old photograph on the breakfast counter showing the local high school marching band parading down Main Street. Between the photo being black and white and the style of the parked cars, I’m guessing the shot was taken in the mid-1960s. Look how serious they are!

Photo on the breakfast counter (under the varnish) at the Old Main Street Cafe

The Ramsey Photo Lab in Devils Lake offers 19-cent digital prints, plus custom framing. I imagine photoshops have a tough time in the digital age. Nevertheless, other downtown businesses are doing ok; few storefronts are vacant downtown.

A typical Main Street building in Devils Lake, North Dakota

Here are a set of impressive public buildings in Devil’s Lake (clockwise from top left): Ramsey County Courthouse, the old Fire Station, the old Central High (now a middle school), Carnegie Library, World War Memorial auditorium, and the old Masonic building.

The town was named for the nearby body of water — “Devils Lake” or “Spirit Lake” as the Dakota tribe refers to it. This is the largest natural body of water in North Dakota. Devils Lake is a highly saline, closed system whose waters only flow outward to the Sheyenne River during times of extreme precipitation. More information on the formation and history of the lake can be seen in the historical sign below.

Historical sign explaining the evolution of Devils Lake
Devils Lake, North Dakota. The town of Devils Lake is on the far shore.

Heading northeast, I passed through miles and miles of flat farmland and small lakes. I soon came across wide fields of canola. These always make for great photos:

Canola fields. Cavalier County, North Dakota
Canola fields and farm road. Cavalier County, North Dakota

The town of Langdon, North Dakota, has a population of 1,800 and sits just 15 miles south of the Canadian border.

North Dakota Highway 1 as it enters Langdon from the south.
St. Alphonsus Church. Langdon, North Dakota.

Some of the smaller towns in this part of the country have a wonderful tradition of posting photographs of their graduating seniors on Main Street lampposts. I’m a little jealous of these kids — both for the fanfare they’re receiving and for the quality of their photographs. My senior pictures didn’t look nearly as good as any of these kids’ photos do! Here are some of the graduating seniors of Langdon Area High School Cardinals, class of 2021:


It was a hot day today in North Dakota. 87°, clear skies with little or no breeze. Great weather for the crops, while the people were indoors and life was lazy.

My next stop, the town of Cando in Towner County, is about 50 miles southwest of Langdon. The county courthouse is a three-story yellow brick structure constructed in 1898. The old jail was included inside, even though it has not been used for incarceration since 1977.

Towner County courthouse behind a wall of shade trees and spruces. Cando, North Dakota

Inside the old building, the second floor’s wooden floors creaked. The winding wooden staircases at each end of the hallway also creaked, but they look beautiful — demonstrating the great craftsmanship needed to withstand the pressures of 120 years of use.

Cando has a population of just over 1,100. I had a late lunch at the Cozy Café on Main Street, which was empty except for the wait staff and her friends. They made me an awesome grilled cheese and bacon sandwich with fries. After lunch I spent 10 or 20 minutes walking around town, sweating off the calories.


I left Cando around 3:00 in the afternoon so that I could get to the famous Pride Dairy in Bottineau, North Dakota, before its 5:00 closing time. I had been to Bottineau a few years ago but had missed the Dairy during that trip, so I had made sure to include a stop here while planning this trip.

The Pride Dairy is special not only for its excellent ice creams and cheeses but also for having the license to produce vanilla ice cream using Thomas Jefferson’s own vanilla ice cream recipe. (The recipe is recorded in the Library of Congress and it requires imported Madagascar vanilla beans.) So when you eventually make your pilgrimage to Bottineau make sure to ask for the “Thomas Jefferson vanilla.” You can also find this special flavor on sale at Mount Rushmore, South Dakota, and at the International Peace Garden, North Dakota, and Manitoba, Canada.

Ice cream sundae using Thomas Jefferson vanilla ice cream. Pride Dairy, Bottineau, North Dakota

Just north of Bottineau, Turtle Mountain rises some 400 feet above the surrounding countryside. The plateau straddles the US-Canadian border and includes many parks and lakes for recreational activity.

I was also here last year. On Turtle Mountain both then and now, I’m reminded of an old Neil Young song called “Sugar Mountain.” The lyrics begin like this:

Oh to live on Sugar Mountain
With the barkers and the colored balloons

Of course, there are no barkers or colored balloons or circuses on Turtle Mountain. But there are a great many summer houses nestled among the woods and lakes here so it is a very festive place in its own way.

Satellite view of Turtle Mountain. Notice the numerous lakes within the forests. The horizontal line through the middle is the US-Canadian border. Mystical Horizons is the US side at the western edge of the mountain along the main east-west roadway.

At the western edge of Turtle Mountain, the privately-built Mystical Horizons site offers sweeping views of the North Dakota prairie below. These photos were taken at 8:49 pm Central Daylight Time on June 30th, eight days after the summer solstice. At this latitude, at this time of year, sunset doesn’t occur until 9:49 pm.

View from Mystical Horizons on Turtle Mountain, looking west.
View from Mystical Horizons on Turtle Mountain, looking south.

The Mystical Horizons site includes stone and cement structures designed to view the summer and winter solstices and the equinox, mimicking celestial observation configurations at the Stonehenge site in England. A working sundial is also part of the Mystical Horizons site.

Structure for observing the sun’s position at the winter solstice (left), spring/fall equinoxes (center), and summer solstice (right). On each of those respective days, sunlight shines directly through the appropriate notches. Mystical Horizons site.

Bottineau is a small town so there are only a handful of places to stay the night. I chose the Cobblestone Inn, which is a nice place and part of a small chain of hotels found mainly in the Great Plains states.


Freedom Voyage Day 6, Thursday, July 1, 2021: Bottineau to Minot, North Dakota

Day 6: From Bottineau to Minot via Towner, Rugby, Minnewaukan, Fort Totten, White Horse Hill National Game Preserve, and Anamoose, North Dakota

Good morning from Bottineau, North Dakota! The summer sun’s up early in these high latitudes and so am I, and so is everyone else in this northern farming town. A great breakfast place is the Family Bakery & Restaurant on Main Street.

Eggs, sausages, hash browns, and an English muffin at the Family Bakery & Restaurant. Bottineau, North Dakota

It’s 40 miles to my next destination, and luckily, the Family Bakery & Restaurant includes — believe it or not — a bakery where I can acquire some essential sustenance for the trip. I somehow limited myself to a mere three perfect pastries:

Main Street Bottineau, North Dakota. A fine American town on a fine summer morning.

40 miles south of Bottineau lies the town of Towner, North Dakota, having a population of about 500. Yes, it’s “the town of Towner” and refers to itself as the “Cattle Capital of North Dakota.” Friendly place of course. The McHenry County courthouse, constructed in 1907, dominates the town with an architectural style typical of its time.

McHenry County courthouse. Towner, North Dakota

I was able to find and photograph some gems from inside the courthouse as well:

Judge’s bench in the 3rd-floor courtroom. McHenry County courthouse. Towner, North Dakota
Wolf hides and snowdrifts — life in rural North Dakota, from photos on display inside the county courthouse. Towner, North Dakota
County memorabilia and clerical tools — a slice of Americana on display inside the McHenry County courthouse. Towner, North Dakota

Here are some scenes around town: Main Street, the Towner Presbyterian Church, the J & J Market, and the old bank building.


Just 20 miles east of Towner, the railroad town of Rugby, North Dakota was named for the town of Rugby, Warwickshire, England, by the original English financiers of the Great Northern Rail Line. Several other North Dakota towns along this rail line — such as York, Leeds, and Berwick — were similarly named for English country towns.

Below: Rugby train station (served by Amtrak), massive grain elevators storing tons of grain beside the railroad siding, Rugby’s downtown business blocks.

The town of Rugby sports a top-class combination coffee shop and styling salon. Their websites are here: The Solid Ground Cafe (and Stylin You salon and spa)

The Solid Ground Cafe (and Stylin You salon and spa). Rugby, North Dakota

A few blocks down 2nd Street from the Solid Ground Cafe, the 1910 Pierce County courthouse is an excellent example of the proud and grand engineering typical of America in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. This was President Teddy Roosevelt’s time — Bully! New settlers to the Dakota territories, many from northern and eastern Europe, left the “Old Country” for the new world, adopting their new country’s shining optimism.

Pierce County courthouse. Rugby, North Dakota
Courthouse atrium featuring marble walls and columns. Pierce County courthouse. Rugby, North Dakota

Courthouses built in the late 19th or early 20th centuries usually included a great deal of artistry and detail. They were a focal point of pride in one’s town, one’s state, and especially one’s country. Even though this is a small, rural county, the Pierce County courthouse construction included a grand central cupola and murals depicting county life and history.

Painted murals on the ceiling depicting county life and history. Pierce County courthouse. Rugby, North Dakota
One of four murals on the ceiling of the Pierce County courthouse. Rugby, North Dakota

I especially enjoy old photographs hung on the hallway walls of these courthouses because they’re like viewing the contents of a time capsule. Here’s a photo of the 1957 courthouse staff Christmas party, where all classes and ranks gathered together to share some holiday cheer.

Pierce County courthouse Christmas Party, 1957. Rugby, North Dakota

For a few more photos of the courthouse, see my earlier blog post on the town of Rugby: The Grand Courthouse in Rugby, North Dakota.

One particular house in Rugby truly stands out from the rest, and it’s intentional:

House in Rugby, North Dakota

I don’t know the back story of this house, but I can see that the paint job is meticulous so I doubt it was done as a passing fancy.

There’s also a pink garage and basketball hoop behind the house, in the shadow of the town’s grain elevators next to the railroad tracks.

Pink garage, basketball hoop, and grain elevators in Rugby, North Dakota

Just a mile or two south of downtown lies a point of interest almost always shown as that red dot on your Rand McNally road map:

Geographical Center of North America. Rugby, North Dakota

Back on the road again, I’m heading eastward to get to the south side of Devils Lake. The next stop is tiny Minnewaukan (population 224), the county seat of Benson County.

Benson County courthouse. Minnewaukan, North Dakota

Minnewaukan, North Dakota: a quiet mid-day, mid-summer Main Street; the Minnewaukan City Library/Office and Internet center; the Dakota Spirits liquor and convenience store next to the offices of James Wang, ‘Attornly’.


Benson County also includes most of the Spirit Lake Dakota Reservation, home to the Pabaksa, Sisseton, and Wahpeton bands of the Dakota Tribe. The tribe has over 7,000 enrolled members. The reservation grew out of an old army post called Fort Totten, which is a tourist attraction today.


I came to the south side of Devils Lake to drive through White Horse Hill National Game Preserve (formerly Sully’s Hill National Game Preserve) for some photographs and a hilltop view of Devils Lake. I got what I came for.

Buffalo resting in the shade. White Horse Hill National Game Preserve.

The preserve includes some hiking trails, scenic drives, and a visitors’ center. I wanted to get to a hilltop overlooking Devils Lake.

Hilltop view of Devils Lake.
Hilltop view of Devils Lake

After getting in some spectacular views, it was time to head west again to get some dinner and a good night’s sleep in Minot, a decent town that I’ve stayed at before. The 2-hour drive to Minot took me through 100 miles of rural North Dakota farms and fields. The locals are vocal supporters of their country and its former president — displays such as this one are fairly common:

Political signage among the farmland near Anamoose, North Dakota

By the way, this particular drive passes through the town of Velva, population 1,000, and home to Dot’s Pretzels, a homegrown-turned-national snack food brand.

I arrived in Minot thirsty and in time for dinner. When in Minot I usually choose Ebeneezer’s Irish Pub. The roast beef plate was the Thursday special. For entertainment, I got to enjoy a few baseball games on the big screen. In a separate room, a local piano player sang “Desperado” and other popular songs for the crowd.

Roast beef and Guinness at Ebeneezer’s Irish Pub. Minot, North Dakota

With a population of over 40,000 and the large Minot Air Force Base just north of town, Minot offers plenty of reasonably-priced lodging choices, many on the southern edge of town. Checking prices, I stayed at the Noble Inn in Minot.


Freedom Voyage Day 7, Friday, July 2, 2021: Minot, North Dakota to Gillette, Wyoming

Day 7: From Minot to Gillette, Wyoming via Max, McClusky, Washburn, Fort Clark, Center, and Belfield, North Dakota

Good Friday morning from Minot! Although Minot is probably more Scandinavian than German, I couldn’t resist the call of Kroll’s German Diner (Güt for da Gut) on the south end of town. I particularly had to try their highly-touted knoephla soup this time — a mixture of knoephla dumplings and potato chunks in a buttery broth. Yes, it was delicious.


After breakfast, I drove south through the beautiful North Dakota prairie, passing over the Missouri Coteau and its plethora of sloughs — also known as kettle lakes or prairie potholes. These sloughs are the result of ancient glacier activity which left small, water-filled depressions in the surrounding plains. Since it was still early July and these canola fields hadn’t yet bloomed, here’s a photo I took during my travels to Minot in late July 2020:

Late July canola fields and prairie sloughs. Along US 83 south of Minot, North Dakota

Further to the south and east, the town of McClusky, North Dakota, population 380, holds its place among these prairies. The Sheridan County courthouse is here in McClusky. I caught a morning photo of the 1940 structure, and a photo of snowy county life from a picture hanging on the hallway inside the courthouse.

Here are a few photos of McClusky, “Heart of North Dakota”: (clockwise from top left) water tower; courthouse marker; Main Street pharmacy, realtor and law office; and town park.


It’s Friday. This has been a great week but it’s time to head home. My stop for the night will be in Gillette, Wyoming, 7 hours and 450 miles away, but there’s still enough time to stop for a photo or two should a good picture present itself.

Crossing the Missouri River at Washburn, North Dakota

Traveling along in the afternoon, I came across signs for the “Scientific Geographical Center of North America” near (by extraordinary coincidence) the town of Center, North Dakota. This central point was found using more modern calculations than those used when Rugby, North Dakota, was determined to be the center of North America. Center, North Dakota, was established in 1902, decades before modern calculations were done.


After passing through Bowman, North Dakota, and western South Dakota down to Spearfish, I crossed into Wyoming and made it to Gillette by nightfall.

This is the Railyard Bar & Grille in Gillette, a fine steakhouse for my “last supper.” I return home to Colorado Springs tomorrow so I decided to punctuate this trip with a fine steak dinner and a wedge salad, plus a shot of Jack Daniels. The steaks out west always seem to be better and at lower prices.

Again, the town of Gillette, Wyoming offers many choices for decent lodging. This time I opted for the Arbuckle Lodge, a favorite for both hunters and rock bands playing the CAM-PLEX multi-event facilities across the street.


Freedom Voyage Day 8, Saturday, July 3, 2021: Gillette, Wyoming to Colorado Springs

Home now. I hope you enjoyed the trip!

All photos were taken by the author in June and July 2021, except for the photo of the exterior of Ebeneezer’s Pub in Minot.

A list of all Freedom Voyage posts in TimManBlog can be found here.


I do this as a hobby and not for a living (yet) — but donations are happily accepted if you’d like to help defer my costs.
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Tim

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The Courthouse and Town of Greenville, Georgia

October 31, 2021
(photos and memories from October 2012)

Meriwether County courthouse. Greenville, Georgia

In early October nine years ago I came upon the town of Greenville, Georgia. This is a small place, population 800 or so, but only about 50 miles southwest of Atlanta. Like so many other “Greenvilles” in the United States, this town was named for Revolutionary War General and hero Nathaniel Greene, the man who drove the British army out of the deep Southern states and toward its ultimate surrender at Yorktown, Virginia. Although Greenville is the county seat, Meriwether County is best known for the town of Warm Springs, which was President Franklin Roosevelt’s vacation home, the site of his polio therapy, and the place of his death in 1945.

Meriwether County historical sign. Greenville, Georgia

The courthouse here is strikingly grand — a two-story red brick structure with a white cupola. It was built in the late 1800s, suffered fire damage in 1976, and was then refurbished. The grand building dominates the little town of 800, sitting in the middle of the town’s central square and traffic circle.

Greenville’s central traffic circle surrounds the grand courthouse

When I went inside, the security chief volunteered to give me a tour of the courthouse. The first stop on the impromptu tour was the top-floor courtroom and a wall-sized portrait of William Yates Atkinson, Meriwether county native and former Georgia governor.

William Yates Atkinson. Meriwether County courthouse. Greenville, Georgia

The second stop on the tour was a personal introduction to the local DA (district attorney) and assistant DA — a youngish black man in a dark gray suit, and a youngish woman in a purple dress. These two were standing in the DA’s office telling jokes when the security guard and I arrived. They both greeted me warmly, and their relaxed attitude gave me the impression that this small, rural county didn’t suffer from the scourge of rampant crime and violence.

For the third stop, I was taken to meet the Judge of Magistrate Court, whom the security guard told me was a full-blooded Cherokee. Unfortunately, the judge was attending to some cases at the jail and so wasn’t in her office. Her assistant greeted me and showed me her photo and some hand-made Cherokee paraphernalia hung on the walls.

Judge’s bench. Meriwether County courthouse. Greenville, Georgia

The courthouse tour ended there. I thanked the security guard for his time and let him get back to his station at the front entrance. Here’s a final photo of the courthouse, with the town’s Methodist church on the right.

Meriwether County courthouse. Greenville, Georgia
Soldiers’ memorial on the courthouse grounds. Greenville, Georgia

Generally speaking, in most Southern towns the Baptist denomination is the most prominent religious sect. In Greenville however, the town’s Methodist church, next to the courthouse, seems most prominent.

Greenville United Methodist Church. Greenville, Georgia
Memorial to John Wesley, founder of Methodism. Greenville, Georgia

Greenville is a small town of 800 residents, so the “business district” consists of the shops along the outer side of the traffic circle that goes around the courthouse. It seems vibrant enough though:

Shops across from the courthouse. Greenville, Georgia

These photos were taken in October 2012. The Greenville Cafe is now the Willows Eatery. Their Facebook page (at the link) includes a few short videos to welcome your visit.

Greenville Cafe, now the Willows Eatery. Greenville, Georgia
Southern Charm Realty, across from the bell and the courthouse circle. Greenville, Georgia

Perhaps the owners of this fine home in town bought their castle from the realtor in the photograph above. They seem to be northern transplants — notice the Pittsburgh Steelers sign.

Pittsburgh Steelers and Mitt Romney supporters. Greenville, Georgia

Here are two more fine homes I saw in Greenville:

Home in Greenville, Georgia
Home in Greenville, Georgia

The old county jailhouse is now the county sheriff’s office. Perhaps the Magistrate Court Judge was inside when I was touring the courthouse?

Sheriff’s office and old jail. Greenville, Georgia

A list of all photo posts from the American County Seats series in TimManBlog can be found here.

All photos were taken by the author on October 5, 2012.


I do this as a hobby — but donations are happily accepted if you’d like to help defer my costs.
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Tim

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Sheridan, Wyoming: Retirees Home on the Range

September 26, 2021
(photos and memories from August 1997 and September 2010)

Main Street Sheridan, Wyoming, looks just like the Old West town that it is.

Sheridan, Wyoming seems perfectly happy with its current size and situation. This north-central Wyoming town of 17,000 lies at the eastern edge of the Big Horn Mountains. Runoff streams provide ample water for nearby tree-lined pastures.

Sheridan has both a hometown feel and a retirement feel, and the combination complements both groups. Main Street would not be five blocks of bustling shops without the workers from the surrounding farms and ranches.

The Mint Bar, a cowboy bar. Main Street Sheridan, Wyoming
Dan’s Wyoming western wear and workwear. Sheridan, Wyoming
Downtown pharmacy, formerly J.H. Conrad General Merchandise. Sheridan, Wyoming

Alternately, Main Street would not be five blocks of bustling shops without the retirees supporting the merchants. I came across retirees seated on Main Street benches who offered me advice on which buildings to photograph.

J.C. Penney’s building. Sheridan, Wyoming

The retirees also support the arts — the old WYO theatre has been converted into a playhouse to serve this demographic.

The WYO theatre. Main Street, Sheridan, Wyoming

Both retirees and tourists enjoy the local fishing opportunities.

Flyshop of the Big Horns. Sheridan, Wyoming

Named for Union Civil War General Philip Sheridan, the town was founded in the 1880s. Eventually, the railroad came through town and nearby coal deposits were mined to provide coal for the locomotives. By 1910 Sheridan was prosperous enough to build a 3-story, well-ornamented City Hall building.

City Hall. Sheridan, Wyoming

Wyoming vies with other western and midwestern states as the most Republican state in the Union. Sheridan is a Republican town.

GOP headquarters. Sheridan, Wyoming

Sheridan is the county seat of Wyoming’s Sheridan County. A well-kept structure surrounded by massive cottonwood trees, the Sheridan County Courthouse anchors the south end of Main Street.

Sheridan County Courthouse. Sheridan, Wyoming
Sheridan County Courthouse with bronze cupola. Sheridan, Wyoming

To the old-timers, cottonwood shade trees denote permanence on the northern plains. Such permanence is the ultimate satisfaction — it seems to last forever, as veterans memorials are meant to.

Sheridan County Bicentennial Veterans Monument. Sheridan, Wyoming

Here’s a bonus photo: I copied this photo from the web page of The Mint Bar on Main Street in Sheridan.

Interior of the Mint Bar. Sheridan, Wyoming. (This photo was copied from the Mint Bar website.)

A list of all photo posts from the American County Seats series in TimManBlog can be found here.

All photos were taken by the author on September 21, 2010, except for the final photo showing the interior of the Mint Bar which was copied from https://www.mintbarwyo.com/, the Mint Bar website.


I do this as a hobby and not for a living (yet) — but donations are happily accepted if you’d like to help defer my costs.
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Tim

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Neil Armstrong’s Hometown

August 31, 2021

This photo was taken at the edge of town — Wapakoneta, Ohio — on August 2nd, 2021. I arrived about an hour after sunrise. Wapakoneta, Ohio, has a population of about 9,000 persons. It’s the birthplace and hometown of the first man to walk on the Moon, Neil Armstrong.

Welcome to Wapakoneta, Ohio, Hometown of Neil Armstrong

Wapakoneta follows the common custom in small towns across America of posting photos of their servicemen and women, past and present, along downtown light poles. Armstrong’s service as a Navy flyer earned him a banner bearing his Navy photo. A banner for Astronaut Armstrong is nearby.

A street banner honoring Astronaut Neil Armstrong. Wapakoneta, Ohio

At the center of town, Armstrong is depicted in a statue waving to crowds as he rode in a convertible during the ticker-tape parade through the streets of Manhattan. The parade, of course, celebrated the return of the Apollo 11 space mission, the first instance of man landing on the Moon.

Statue of Neil Armstrong waving to the crowds. Downtown Wapakoneta, Ohio

Opened in 1972, the Armstrong Air and Space Museum in Wapakoneta contains artifacts from the Apollo 11 mission and other contributions to the history of aeronautics and space flight. The museum is located at the edge of town and attracts over 40,000 visitors per year.

Armstrong Air & Space Museum. Wapakoneta, Ohio
Mockups of the Gemini Spacecraft (left) and Apollo Command Module (right). Armstrong Air & Space Museum
Neil Armstrong’s old flight logs and other artifacts from his boyhood in Wapakoneta
Astronaut Neil Armstrong’s actual backup spacesuit. Armstrong Air & Space Museum, Wapakoneta, Ohio
Moon Rock. Armstrong Air & Space Museum. Wapakoneta, Ohio

Wapakoneta is in many ways a typical Ohio-midwestern small town. In the late 17th Century the Shawnee tribe settled in this area after having been driven their lands further south by white settlers and the Catawba, Cherokee, and Chickasaw nations. The name “Wapakoneta” might be from the Shawnee language for “place of white bones,” but that’s not certain.

Classic buildings at the central intersection in Wapakoneta. Junction of Auglaize and Willipie Streets.

In 1748, three decades before the American Revolution, the French built a fort here called “Fort au Glaize” after the Auglaize River which runs nearby. The river flows northward, eventually joining the Maumee River to drain into Lake Erie near Toledo, Ohio. “Auglaize” is French for “river of great clay.”

In the 21st Century, the City Bakery on Auglaize Street (shown) provides a good selection of donuts.

Classic buildings and storefronts, including the City Bakery. Auglaize Street, Wapakoneta, Ohio

Happily, the town theatre, known as the “Wapa,” is not politically correct about the image displayed on its sign.

The Wapa Theatre, 15 Willipie Street in Wapakoneta

As can be imagined, many photo opportunities exist for tourists to associate themselves with the town’s main hero. This one is on Auglaize Street in front of the Chamber of Commerce.

Astronaut photo opportunity. Auglaize Street, Wapakoneta, Ohio

Wapakoneta is also the seat of Auglaize County, Ohio. The Auglaize County Courthouse was built in 1894 and is still in use today. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Auglaize County Courthouse. Wapakoneta, Ohio
Auglaize County Courthouse. Wapakoneta, Ohio

The courthouse’s statue of Lady Justice stood atop the building until 1953 when it was taken down due to deterioration. In 1994, to commemorate the courthouse’s centennial, the statue was restored and placed in the courthouse atrium, or Great Hall, on the main floor.

Statue of Lady Justice. Auglaize County Courthouse. Wapakoneta, Ohio
“America 1928.” Artwork inside the Auglaize County Courthouse. Wapakoneta, Ohio
Artist’s rendering of the French-built Fort au Glaize, or the Wapakoneta Trading Post, along the Auglaize River. Auglaize County Courthouse.

Finally, another statue of Neil Armstrong can be found in front of the Armstrong Air & Space Museum, this one of him as a boy. The story goes that Neil begged his parents to buy him a 10-cent balsa-wood glider. They did, and then the dreaming started.

Statue of Neil Armstrong as a boy. Armstrong Air & Space Museum. Wapakoneta, Ohio

A list of all photo posts from the American County Seats series in TimManBlog can be found here.

All photos were taken by the author on August 2nd and August 3rd, 2021


I do this as a hobby and not for a living (yet) — but donations are happily accepted if you’d like to help defer my costs.
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Tim

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The Grand Courthouse in Rugby, North Dakota

July 30, 2021

(photos and memories from July 2021)

The town of Rugby, North Dakota was named for Rugby, Warwickshire, England, and was founded in 1886 as a railroad town along North Dakota’s Great Northern Rail Line. The railroad had financiers from England and so several other towns along the line were also named for English country towns.

Rugby Train Station, an Amtrak stop

Amtrak stops here in Rugby. The line of giant grain elevators along the train tracks is truly impressive. From towns like Rugby, the amber waves of grain are stored and then shipped throughout the world.

Grain elevators along the railroad tracks. Rugby, North Dakota

Rugby has a population of 2,800 souls — small, but to its credit, the town seems larger and more vibrant than what those numbers would indicate. Shops are open all along Main Street.

Main and 2nd Street. Rugby, North Dakota

Around the corner is a combination haute couture salon and coffee shop. See the websites for Stylin You salon and spa, and the Solid Ground Cafe, which serves great coffee!

The Solid Ground Cafe (and Stylin You). Rugby, North Dakota

A few blocks down 2nd Street, the 1910 Pierce County Courthouse is a perfect example of proud and grand engineering. Back in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, the new settlers to the old Dakota territories brought with them a shining optimism and love of the country, and the architecture shows it.

Pierce County Courthouse. Rugby, North Dakota
Pierce County Courthouse. Rugby, North Dakota

On the inside, stairways are made of brown marble and the banisters are brass. Marble slabs line the walls in all the hallways.

Atrium. Pierce County Courthouse. Rugby, North Dakota

The ceiling underneath the cupola features four murals: three murals depicting agricultural activities and one of an Indian buffalo hunt.

Buffalo hunt. Mural from the Pierce County Courthouse
Early settlers. Mural from the Pierce County Courthouse
Early farm machinery. Mural from the Pierce County Courthouse
Agriculture. Mural from the Pierce County Courthouse

The courthouse staff gathered some old equipment into displays of the early days of the courthouse.

Display of early office machinery once used in the courthouse
Display of old office bureau, chair, and filing system.

In the hallway, I found two interesting black and white photos depicting town life in the 1950s. The first is a photo of the 1957 courthouse Christmas party. The second is of a judge’s retirement party in 1950. In both cases, the employees carry a very serious demeanor, and clothing was much more formal than today.

Pierce County Courthouse Christmas party. December 1957
Pierce County Courthouse. Justice Grimson’s Farewell Party in February 1950

One house in Rugby stands out. This house stands on 2nd street in between the coffee shop and the courthouse.

Colorfully painted house on 2nd Street. Rugby, North Dakota

Finally, a monument just outside town denotes Rugby’s place as the geographic center of North America.

Geographic Center of North America. Rugby, North Dakota

All photos were taken by the author on July 1, 2021

A list of all photo posts from the American County Seats series in TimManBlog can be found here.


I do this as a hobby and not for a living (yet) — but donations are happily accepted if you’d like to help defer my costs.
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Tim

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Vincennes: The Town that Made Indiana American

June 30, 2021
(photos and memories from August 1998 and June 2017)

What is the “Northwest?” It depends on your perspective of course. Americans of today might nod to the states of Washington and Oregon, and maybe Idaho and Alaska too. But from the perspective of American Revolutionists in the late 1770s, the new nation consisted of the 13 Atlantic seaboard states. Some visionaries also eyed the “Northwest Territory,” consisting of those lands northwest of the 13 new states, specifically north and/or west of the Ohio River.

Today this area includes the states of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. But they all might have stayed in British possession after the Revolutionary War — except for the actions of George Rogers Clark.

Monument honoring Revolutionary War hero George Rogers Clark. Vincennes, Indiana

In February 1779, George Rogers Clark led a company of what can only be called “backwoods Virginia badasses” across winter snows and icy, flooded rivers to surprise and capture British Fort Sackwell here at Vincennes, in present-day Indiana.

Clark’s victory ensured that America would occupy land north of the Ohio, which allowed U.S. peace negotiators in Paris to press for the boundary of the new nation to be set along the Great Lakes. Without Clark’s victory at Vincennes (and Kaskaskia), the new United States/British Empire boundary would have been set along the Ohio River. The Northwest Territory would have become part of Canada, and the Northwest Ordinance would never have been written. If the United States had been limited to territory south of the Ohio River the country would have been dominated by slave states and history would have turned out much differently, to say the least.

Without Clark, Indiana would likely be part of Canada today. Without the 5 northwestern states included in the Union as non-slave states, the history of the Civil War would have been much different.

Clark’s victory at Vincennes is celebrated with memorials in the Vincennes Historic District along the Wabash River.

George Rogers Clark Memorial along the Wabash River. Vincennes, Indiana

Murals inside the memorial explain the history of the region.

Mural inside the Clark Memorial. Vincennes, Indiana

The park includes a statue of the Italian-born Francis Vigo. Vigo, a former Spanish soldier, played an important role in surveilling the British presence at Vincennes and relaying the information to Clark. Vigo County, Indiana, was named for him.

Statue of Francis Vigo and young admirer. Vincennes, Indiana

The historical area also makes a nice place for a riverside park.

Wabash River at Vincennes. Indiana

I photographed an impressive shade tree I found on the Wabash banks and asked some Indiana Facebook friends what kind of tree it was. A Hoosier replied, “the great big kind.”

Great Big Tree on the banks of the Wabash River. Vincennes, Indiana

Vincennes began as a French settlement, and its French influence can still be seen today. The Old French Cathedral and Cemetary are adjacent to the Clark Memorial in the Vincennes Historic District.

The Old French Cathedral. Vincennes, Indiana
Cemetary at the old French Cathedral. Vincennes, Indiana

The four-story Vigo County Courthouse here in Vincennes features the French style.

Vigo County Courthouse. Vincennes, Indiana
Memorial at the Vigo County Courthouse with flags that have flown over Vincennes in the past
Portraits of Francis Vigo (left) and George Rogers Clark (right). Vigo County Courthouse. Vincennes, Indiana

The city of Vincennes has some charming old architecture. Their local-boy-made-good is comedian Red Skelton. His likeness can be found all over downtown Vincennes, on murals and on lampposts.

Mural honoring Comedian Red Skelton. Downtown Vincennes, Indiana
Downtown Vincennes, Indiana

Having lunch at a sidewalk table on Main Street here feels like being in a canyon. Buildings on either side rise four and five stories using brick construction. The architecture is old, dating from the late 19th century. Although a few buildings are abandoned, most are occupied and thriving.

Downtown Vincennes, Indiana
Vincennes, Indiana

All photos were taken by the author on June 27, 2017

A list of all photo posts from the American County Seats series in TimManBlog can be found here.


I do this as a hobby and not for a living (yet) — but donations are happily accepted if you’d like to help defer my costs.
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Tim

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Go West Again! The Sacramento Valley and California’s North Coast

Freedom Voyages — Life in the United States

June 25, 2021

Hello everyone and welcome to another Freedom Voyage! These trips give me the chance to see the country — its landscapes, its small towns, its cities, and its courthouses. Along the way I take and share photos of what I see and what I eat — and whatever I’m thinking.

Although I visited California just last month (the link to that travel log is here), once again the weather forecast for northern California was just too good to be ignored. No road trip through Utah and Nevada this time — instead I decided to expend some of the gobs of airline miles I’ve saved up these fast few years while staying home and working.

Want to live out a Freedom Voyage vicariously? Here’s a photo log of the eight days of clear skies and cool temps spent in the Sacramento Valley and along some of California’s north coast. Nothing better than sunshine and a road trip! Enjoy!


Saturday, June 5, 2021. Day 1: Colorado Springs to Sacramento, California

My free travel took off from Colorado Springs airport around noon, connected in Denver, and arrived in Sacramento in the early evening. I watched from my window seat as the plane flew north from Denver all the way past Cheyenne, Wyoming before turning west, just to avoid some thunderstorms over Colorado’s Front Range. Nice views of the mountains near Elko, Nevada, and of Lake Tahoe further west.


Sunday, June 6, 2021. Day 2: Sacramento to Placerville, California

The California benedict plus a cinnamon roll at Brookfield’s. Sacramento, California

After church and Sunday breakfast at Brookfield’s (okay, it was more like lunch), I drove downtown to visit Sutter’s Fort. Although I’ve been to Sacramento many times I felt guilty about never having stopped at this truly historic place — a locus of history visited by Generals John C. Fremont and William Tecumseh Sherman, a homing beacon for California’s pioneer emigrants, and a gathering spot for its 49er gold-seekers.

Sutter’s Fort. Downtown Sacramento, California

Sutter’s Fort was built between 1841 and 1843 by Swiss emigrant John Sutter (born Johann August Sutter). Sutter built this Alta California outpost in the hope that it would become the cornerstone of New Helvetia (or New Switzerland), Sutter’s empire in the New World. His efforts might be said to have become the centerpiece of a new empire, but it wouldn’t be Swiss.

This is the central building within the fort and one of the few parts of the original structure that remain.

Sutter’s Fort. Sacramento, California
Reproduction of a prairie schooner which would have brought settlers here from Missouri
Office of John A. Sutter inside the central building within the fort.
A copy of a guidebook used by some emigrants in the 19th Century to traverse the American prairies on their way to California.

After visiting Sutter’s Fort I was off into the foothills to see Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, famous for being the site of the discovery of gold in 1848, leading to the famous California Gold Rush. But first, taking all the back roads on a beautiful summer’s day, I stopped for some blackberries at a strawberry stand:

I paid four bucks for the pint of blackberries, and so I’m somehow reminded of that scene from the Field of Dreams movie: “they’ll pay $20, Ray, and they’ll hand it over without even thinking about it, for it’s money they have but peace they lack.“ I found the movie clip on YouTube (link here). I wasted a good half hour eating those berries and taking photos of the area, and it was time well-wasted.

I’ve long thought that California’s gold country was some of the prettiest country in the world. Here’s proof:

Countryside near Coloma, California.

I found several old Trump signs on my way through those hills to Coloma. The green flag on the left is for the proposed new State of Jefferson, to be made up of breakaway counties in northern California and southern Oregon that are disgusted with their state governments.

Signs on a farm in the country. Near Coloma, California

This is Sutter’s Mill, built by carpenter James Wilson Marshall who accidentally discovered gold here in January 1848. The mill was a sawmill, meant to provide timber for sale and use at Sutter’s Fort. Marshall and his boss, John Sutter, tried to keep the gold discovery a secret but they failed. The aura of California as the “Golden State” started here.

Sutter’s Mill. Coloma, California
Site of Sutter’s Mill along the South Fork American River

This is an example of the kind of landscape which I find so attractive in California’s Sierra foothills. The gold hillside grasses provide a perfect contrast to the sporadic green of the oak trees. The human eye appreciates contrast — a bright red tie with a dark gray suit for example. These hills would be less attractive if they were monochromatic tree-covered hillsides.

Hillside along South Fork American River. Coloma, California
Some gelato and a vial of 24-karat souvenir gold marked Made in the USA.
Statue of James Marshall, carpenter and gold-discoverer. Coloma, California

The Sutter’s Mill site is only a short distance from Placerville, California, where I had dinner and spent the night. Here’s carne asada & tortilla soup to complement a margarita and chips at Cascada Restaurant and Cantina, Main Street, Placerville. You just hafta love a Mexican restaurant that brings you three types of salsa with your chips (actually two types of salsa and one bean dip.)

Carne asada and tortilla soup

Every Mexican dinner should include Kahlua flan for dessert, right?

Kahlua flan

Monday, June 7, 2021. Day 3: Placerville to Redding, California

Here’s a monument in a Main Street Placerville traffic circle. It’s pretty rare to find a monument to Druids in America. Good Monday morning from Northern California.

I tried breakfast at Sweetie Pies Restaurant and Bakery on Main Street, Placerville. I checked the menu for odd and unusual items and settled on the spinach & bacon scramble covered in Parmesan cheese with a side of cheese blintzes covered in blueberries and olallieberries. (I had to look up “olallieberry” in the dictionary. It’s like a blackberry. And it’s good.)

Breakfast in Placerville

Between dinner the night before and this breakfast this morning — Placerville is a big win.

On to Woodland, California, the county seat of Yolo County. Woodland is a farming town but influenced by the nearby UC Davis campus.

Below: A Victorian house off Main Street, the Yolo County Courthouse, and a street mural in downtown Woodland.

I’m back on the road heading northeast. Here are the Sutter Buttes — an island of mountains rising up from the middle of the Sacramento Valley. Some call them the “world’s smallest mountain range.” A set of Titan I missile silos was installed here in the early 1960s; they’ve since been decommissioned and the land sold back to private ownership.

View of the Sutter Buttes in the Sacramento Valley
Another score from a roadside fruit stand — apricots and blackberries. All next to all my travel paraphernalia.

The next stop was Yuba City, the county seat of Sutter County. The Sacramento Valley can get pretty hot in the summer and so palm trees can be found throughout.

Yuba City downtown. Several of the businesses use Spanish as their first language.

More Yuba City photos: Sutter County Courthouse (left); palm trees galore in a downtown square (right).

Across the Feather River from Yuba City, the town of Marysville lies at the place the Yuba River joins the Feather River. These two rivers drain much of the northern Sierra goldfields, and during the mid-1800s the combination of railroad construction and gold mining brought large groups of Chinese laborers to Marysville. The town known as the “Gateway to the Goldfields” was eventually named for Mary Murphy Covillaud, a survivor of the disastrous Donner Party.

Bok Kai Pavilion. Marysville, California
Yuba County Courthouse. Marysville, California

Some more photos from the Chinese section of Marysville, California:

By this time it was getting late into the afternoon and I drove north an hour or so to the town of Oroville. Oroville, built during the gold rush days, lies along the Feather River near its exit from the mountains.

The photos below show downtown Oroville, a gold mining supply store still in business, and the Feather River as it passes through town.

I left myself just enough daylight to see Oroville Dam, about 15 miles upstream from Oroville:

Here are views of Lake Oroville and the reservoir behind the dam:

Oroville Dam’s spillway was severely damaged by heavy rains in February 2017 and nearly collapsed. If it had actually collapsed, the town of Oroville and many others would likely have been destroyed by flooding. See this link to a YouTube video from Practical Engineering explaining the crisis, its ultimate causes, and resolution. (Hint: there was a fundamental engineering failure underlying the spillway damage which can’t be blamed on the rains.)

Today was a great day and I made it to Redding for the night, so I’m celebrating. I really wanted to celebrate with a margarita but the hotel bar closed at 9:00. I’ll settle for an IPA instead at the Alehouse Pub. Cheers!


Tuesday, June 8, 2021. Day 4: Redding to Colusa, California

Here I am in Redding, California. Since the breakfast at the Best Western wasn’t enough, I had to supplement it with some downtown eats at the Hearth Cafe and Bakery:

Brioche breakfast sandwich with potatoes and a “cronut” — a cross between a croissant and a donut

Almost everywhere I look in Redding see a combination of Douglas fir trees and royal palm trees. I think the city fathers are trying to communicate that Redding is the transition point between the rainy Pacific Northwest to the north and the sunny central valley of California to the south.

Shasta County Courthouse. Redding, California

The wall mural downtown demonstrates what the local retirees do in Redding every day. Then there’s the old-style Cascade theatre here and a family-style motor hotel, a throwback to the kind of a place where families driving vista cruisers would stop for the night during their summer vacations.

I started driving south out of Redding but purposely avoided Interstate 5 for whatever back roads Google Maps could find for me. That’s a great use of Google Maps if you don’t know it already — use a setting called ‘avoid highways’ to stay on the 2-lane roads and (occasionally) off-pavement as well.

Wendy Lou’s mini-mart in Cottonwood, California. Here’s another business sporting the green State of Jefferson flag.

About a half-hour south of Redding, the valley town of Red Bluff lies at the head of navigation on the Sacramento River.

Red Bluff is the seat of Tehama County. The new county courthouse stands at the edge of town.

Tehama County Courthouse. Red Bluff, California

I understand the need to modernize public buildings, to allow for additional security features and the like. But couldn’t they build new courthouses to look as stately as the old ones? Below are photos of the old Tehama County Courthouse and its central atrium. The courthouses from the 19th and early 20th Centuries were usually built with a sense of grandeur; the new courthouses are built to be merely human processing centers.

Red Bluff does remember its hometown heroes though. The memorial for World War II ace Ken Carlson is an incredible story.

Here are some photos around Red Bluff: Sacred Heart Catholic church (dedicated 1906 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places), the Sacramento River near downtown (the head of navigation in the steamboat era), and an old-style neon sign for Elmore Pharmacy (Elmore’s has been in continuous operation for over 150 years).

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Red Bluff’s historic claim-to-fame — the annual Red Bluff Round-up. Maybe Red Bluff is still a cowboy town after all?

Red Bluff Round-up Mercantile
Liquid Lunch from Jack-in-the-Box. A cherry-topped strawberry shake.

Since starting this morning in Redding, I’ve been mainly following old US Highway 99W south through the Sacramento Valley. The next stop today is the farming town of Willows, California. They’re setting up for a Monday night street fair to honor the graduating seniors, the ‘Honkers’, Class of 2021.

This is the Willows Post Office building, constructed in 1917 and still in operation. Notice the detail in the classical columns and the Roman-style carvings in between the arches. Willows never was a large town; its population was only 1,139 in 1910 and 2,190 in 1920 — but you didn’t need to be large to think you were special. Back then, California public buildings reflected a common perception that the Golden State was a worthy heir to the grand tradition of Western Civilization, and their architecture is proof of that.

The Glenn County Courthouse is currently under renovation. By its style, I’d say it was probably constructed in the same era as the post office.

Glenn County Courthouse. Willows, California.
The Museum (formerly the Carnegie Library). Willows, California

Many of the homes around town are well-preserved, even stately. I was wondering why this little town became so prosperous, but my research could not uncover a reason except for hard work and good land. Many of the homes were flying American flags, and I found another house with its flag flying upside down, signaling that the country is in distress.

Continuing south, I drove east to meet the banks of the Sacramento River. This area boasts a simply unbelievable wealth of agriculture.

Sacramento River near Princeton, California
Fields along the Sacramento River with the Sutter Buttes in the background.

Walnut groves with the Coast Range mountains in the distance.

Driving further south, I stopped in Colusa, California for the night. I’m keeping it simple for dinner—bar food. Here’s my club sandwich on pita bread with a side salad and a gin & tonic at Rocco’s Bar & Grill in Colusa. Easy choice — Rocco’s is the highest-rated dining choice in tiny Colusa! The bar is packed; it seems like all the locals are here tonight even though BBQ night isn’t until Wednesday. The women’s college softball championship is on tv, and after dinner and drinks, I stroll just 3 blocks to my motel room at the Riverside Inn. Happy Tuesday night everyone!

Mid-summer sunset along the Sacramento River at Colusa

Wednesday, June 9, 2021. Day 5: Colusa to Fort Bragg, California

Question: What’s the best name for a coffee shop? Answer: Caffeinated!

Coffee and a home-baked strawberry/cream cheese turnover at Caffeinated. Colusa, California

Here I am in the town of Colusa, California, and here is the Colusa County Courthouse. Built in 1861, the courthouse looks like a southern manor. This is no coincidence since most of the settlers in this particular area arrived here from southern states. Flowering magnolia trees are planted all around the grounds, making the grounds feel like a courthouse in Mississippi or Louisiana. The old statue of George Washington is now kept inside the courthouse for preservation.

The historical marker for the Colusa County Courthouse

Although California remained a Union state during the Civil War, the town of Colusa had many southern partisans. Upon hearing of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in April 1865, several persons in Colusa were reported to have made “exulting expressions” and so forth at the news of the President’s death. Fearing rebellion (but probably motivated by anger), a contingent of Union troops was sent to Colusa to investigate. The troops arrested eight persons, held them in Alcatraz for two months, and ultimately convicted them of “disloyal language” or something akin to that. Their punishment was similar to that given to surrendering Confederate soldiers back east — take an oath of allegiance to the United States. After doing so, they were released.

Historical marker explaining some Civil War-era history in Colusa, California

After leaving Colusa, I turned west toward the Coast Range mountains and Lake County, California. Lake County is named for Clear Lake, a large natural lake nestled in the mountains in between the Sacramento Valley and the Pacific Ocean. Here are views of Clear Lake from the highway approaching Lakeport:

The town of Lakeport is the county seat for Lake County. It’s a picturesque little place on the shores of the lake with some old business blocks, pleasure boats, and a few good views.

Lakeport, California with Clear Lake in the background
Lake County Courthouse. Lakeport, California

Here are some photos around Lakeport (town park, docks, gazebo, and old business block):

Pan Am clipper service from Honolulu to Lakeport in 1943? I wonder if the flight ever actually existed, or if it was just a flight of someone’s imagination?

Street mural in Lakeport, California

Heading west from Lakeport, I crossed some more mountains to reach the town of Ukiah, the seat of Mendocino County and part of California’s North Coast. This area, along with Humboldt County/Eureka to the north, has long been known as a “hippie hangout” even before marijuana was legalized in California. Even here though, among the “long-haired, maggot-infested, dope-smoking FM types” (as the late Rush Limbaugh used to call them), some are with us!

Ukiah Landmark, the Marks Building at the corner of State and Perkins Street.

The Mendocino County Courthouse is across the street from the Marks Building. The mural of Lady Justice is from an interior stairwell:

Ukiah began as a timber town, and there must be millions of dollars of timber surrounding this valley. The sawmills and lumber yards are still here, just not prominent.

Typical street in downtown Ukiah, California, with forested hillsides beyond.

Time for an afternoon snack at Schat’s Bakery Cafe, also across the street from the courthouse and behind the Marks building. This is an old Dutch bakery, and I went for the triple-berry cheesecake & coffee. I also snuck (sneaked?) a photo of some typical locals.

Seeing from Facebook that I was in Ukiah, Mike Donovan pointed out that the Doobie Brothers (of course) wrote a song called “Ukiah.” It’s from their album “The Captain and Me,” released in 1973. Although 1973 is ancient history and therefore before the age of MTV, someone has put together a YouTube video for the song. Here’s the link.

Hippie mosaics in Ukiah’s town park seem appropriate for the area, as do the mushrooms, but check out what they did to American Gothic!

Now I have just one more set of mountains to cross until I finally reach the ocean. There’s no hurry, however. Hurry and you might miss scenes like these, and little critters at your footstep. These were taken on a hilltop along California Highway 20, just west of the town of Willets:

Finally, I reached the coast at Fort Bragg, California. This is not to be confused with Fort Bragg, North Carolina; the military here is the Coast Guard. Fort Bragg is a small harbor town at the mouth of the Noyo River. It boasts about 7,000 people and a wharf where those who enjoy catching and eating sea creatures/monsters can enjoy themselves. (I don’t like fish–can you tell?) It’s a small, beautiful place nevertheless.

Noyo River outlet leading to Fort Bragg Harbor

Sunset over the Pacific Ocean at Fort Bragg, California. The photos are from my balcony at the Beach House Inn on Pudding Creek. I can heartily recommend this place — a short walk to the beach with great ocean views, yet affordable.

Not many good dining options here in this little seaside town (unless you like seafood) so I went with a simple triple cheeseburger and fries with hot chocolate. Hot chocolate because it warms the belly — temperatures get down into the 50s here.


Thursday, June 10, 2021. Day 6: Fort Bragg to Sonoma, California

I planned this part of the trip as a day of driving down the coastline along California Highway 1, known as the Shoreline Highway. This route hugs the ocean while Highway 101 runs through the valleys further inland. Today will be mostly a day of driving and stopping for a few photographs until I reach Bodega Bay and head inland toward the towns of Santa Rosa and Sonoma. So here we go. I’m using the second photo in this set as my computer desktop image; help yourself to a copy of your favorite:

Mendocino County Coast, California
Mendocino County Coast, California
Mendocino County Coast, California
Mendocino County Coast, near the town of Mendocino, California
Sonoma County Coast, California
Sonoma County Coast, California
Sonoma County Coast, California
Sonoma County Coast, California
Sonoma County Coast, California

After a long day of driving the coast, I turned inland and arrived at the city of Santa Rosa, the county seat of Sonoma County, around 4:00. Santa Rosa might be said to be a northern suburb of San Francisco, very affluent and quite “woke”.

Sonoma County Courthouse. Santa Rosa, California

I drove on to the town of Sonoma to stay at the Best Western Sonoma Valley Inn for the night. This is a decent place a few blocks from the Sonoma Plaza — a historic place where in 1846 Californians (back when they had testosterone) raised the Bear flag and proclaimed California a republic free of Mexican rule. A statue known as the Bear Flag Monument marks the event, and I ran into some Cub Scouts being shown the monument by their scoutmaster/father.

Bear Flag Monument. Sonoma, California

The old Sonoma Barracks is across the street from the Plaza.

Fighting a cold I picked up last night, I avoided all the busy restaurants around the plaza for some good, hot, Thai curry in my hotel room. “Feed a cold, starve a fever” is still good advice.


Friday, June 11, 2021. Day 7: Sonoma to Colusa, California

I had a good, quiet sleep in Sonoma so I skipped the hotel breakfast and drove off toward Downtown Joe’s Brewery and Restaurant in the nearby town of Napa.

But first…but first…I had to stop and take some photos of the Sonoma Valley vineyards where the California wine industry truly began.

Now on to Napa. When I walked into Downtown Joe’s in the heart of Napa I was greeted by the bartender with a friendly “don’t bother with the mask” and a recommendation that I should try “the best bloody Mary in town.” So it was suggested, so it was done.

Bloody Mary with Huevos Rancheros at Downtown Joe’s — yes that’s 2 strips of bacon in the Mary:

Conveniently, the Napa County Courthouse was almost across the street from Downtown Joe’s. I guess lawyers always attract the best restauranteurs.

Napa County Courthouse. Napa, California

Here are a few photos of downtown Napa. Nice place.

Sidewalks along the Napa River with hills in the background. Napa, California
Looking down 3rd Street to the First Presbyterian Church. Napa, California

Of course, nearly every shop is wine-related — a paradise if you’re an oenophile.