One cannot travel any road in America or Canada without running into some sort of historical site, monument or building. That is part of the fun of a back road adventure. Our country of 2017 is defined in great part by the history of the country dating back to the 1600s (and earlier if you count the Native Americans).
Dotting the roads of America are historical markers that tell about events that occurred in that exact location or nearby. There are literally 1000s of these. In the eastern US many of them are about Civil War incidents while in the west many are related to Indian Wars, Lewis and Clark or pioneers. They are often interesting to stop and read. As a History/Geography major in college, I have found these to be a sort of “roadside wikipedia.”
When traveling through the heart of the country, one can come across a myriad of monuments and historical sites dedicated to Meriwether Lewis and William Clark…better known as just Lewis Clark. From May 1804 to September 1806, these two, accompanied by 29 or 30 others, in what was named by then President Thomas Jefferson as the “Corps of Discovery.” They left Camp Dubois (near St. Louis) and ventured westward to the Pacific Coast. In my travels I have come across dozens of monuments, plaques, museums and other places all dedicated to or referencing this amazing expedition. Their pioneer spirit has always amazed me.
Of course, after them went the pioneers. There were those who followed the Oregon Trail. Others, chiefly the Mormons, forged their own trail, now called the Mormon trail. In the south there was the famed Santa Fe Trail. Then, along the way there were other smaller, lesser known trails, such as the Oyate Trail in South Dakota, and others. Travel the roads that follow these trails and an abundance of unique history can be seen. As a member of the LDS Church (Mormon) I have been able to visit many church historical sites.
Across a good portion of the southeast and all the way into Ohio and Pennsylvania, one will come across a plethora of Civil War related monuments, historical sites and otherwise. Many sites have annual Civil War reenactments.
The big parks such as Vicksburg and Gettysburg are huge and have a ton of history. But there are smaller ones, such as Perryville Battlefield in Kentucky that are unique in their historic perspective.
In the far eastern parts of the United States one comes across places like the Jamestown Settlement and Williamsburg. There are many others.
For fun, many cities have the “Birthplace of …” signs when you enter their small towns. These could be famous actors, historical figures or athletes. Typically there are monuments or statues. I have come across many of these. They are always a fun little side adventure.
I have come across many of these over the years. Its always fun to “discover” the birthplaces. (Ironically, Lucille Ball was born in Jamestown, NY…not the same as Jamestown, VA which I posted above.) Some of the “birthplaces” are a bit on the corny side.
Then, of course, there are the historical buildings. Hundreds of unique courthouses and their fascinating architecture can be seen in diverse little towns and counties. There are old churches large and small. And many long forgotten dilapidated old buildings. All of them tell some sort of story about the place.
I have visited dozens of courthouses around the country. I love the old architecture. I have some favorites. Some are more interesting than others. I have added a few below.
Finally, there are the many “oddball” or “quirky” historical sites and objects. One never knows what they will run into in a small town. A quaint historical museum? An oddball monument? A unique cemetery?
I have had fun discovering historical sites, quirky museums and other fun stuff. Here are a few below.
During the month of April I am participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. The challenge has each blogger select a theme and then do a post thematically from A to Z during each day of April , except Sundays. My blog is number 1337 out of 1670 participating blogs. This year my A to Z posts will take you across the back roads of America to many unique what other bloggers will be posting about, check out the link: A to Z Theme Reveal List for 2016
The P Towns
There are a few towns claiming some Dutch heritage, but not many like Pella, Iowa. Home of the largest working Dutch windmill in the United States (and a few smaller ones as well), a couple of authentic Dutch bakeries and a Dutch bologna deli, etc., the town is a great place to visit. It is also home to the Pella Window Factory! See a more complete post about Pella HERE.
In some of my earlier A to Z Challenge posts, I included the towns of Boring, Oregon, Normal, Illinois and Odd, West Virginia. Now I add to these, the town of Peculiar, Missouri. Unlike Boring, which was named after a man named Boring, the town of Peculiar came about their town name in a peculiar way. The community’s first postmaster, Edgar Thomson submitted as his first choice for a town name, “Excelsior,” but it was rejected because it already existed in Atchison County. Several other choices were also rejected. The story goes that the annoyed Thomson wrote to the Postmaster General himself to complain saying, among other things, “We don’t care what name you give us so long as it is sort of ‘peculiar’.” Thomson submitted the name “Peculiar” and the name was approved. The post office was established on June 22, 1868. See my original 2012 post HERE.
Pierre Part, Louisiana
Back in August 2010 a new TV Series began on the History Channel that got me hooked, literally. Called “Swamp People,” the series focuses on various teams of alligator hunters. Some episodes also feature other aspects of the social and sporting life of the swamp, including fishing and hunting for other animals. I was thoroughly engaged. In fact, I distinctly recall while watching one of the early broadcasts in 2010, telling my wife “One day I am going to Louisiana on a road trip and meet Troy Landry in Pierre Part.” It was one of my “bucket list” dream trips, though I figured the reality would never materialize. But it did come true, and you can see that I actually met Troy Landry and got to “Choot Him.”. You can read the whole story HERE.
Point Pleasant, West Virginia
A drive along the Ohio River on either the Ohio or West Virginia sides provides many unique places to visit. Perhaps the MOST unusual place is Point Pleasant, WV, which is on WV Highway 2. The town is home to an impressive set of Flood Wall Murals depicting the history of the area and is also home to the Mothman Museum, which features displays about the mythical and mysterious Mothman. The town is also full of history, including Fort Randolph. See more about my visit in 2008 HERE.
A Tale of Three Towns Named Paris
I have actually been to SIX places named Paris in my travels, including the three below in Ontario, Texas and Tennessee. Paris, Kentucky is also a neat place and is home to some of the world’s finest thoroughbred farms. Then there is Paris, Idaho, which is where my mother in law grew up. Full of Mormon history and the lovely scenery of Bear Lake and the Snake River . I have also driven through Paris, Missouri a couple of times. There are apparently 23 towns in the United States named Paris (see this link). The three below have a great deal to offer, so I mention them in more detail.
During my stint working in Ontario in 2008, I lived in a flat in Paris, Ontario for a good part of that time. Paris is a beautiful town that is cut in half by the scenic Grand River, which I lived a stone’s throw away from. Some actually refer to it as the prettiest town in Canada. Many of the buildings are built with Cobblestones, which adds to the beauty. There are some great places to eat there as well, especially the Camp 31 BBQ place. Honestly, it is the best BBQ place I have ever eaten at. See my detailed 2008 post about Paris, ON HERE.
I have been to Paris, Texas three times. There is always something unique there, but perhaps the most unique thing is the Eiffel Tower replica with a cowboy hat on top. It stands 65 feet tall and was built in 1993. For many years now, this Paris ans battled Paris in Tennessee for the tallest Eiffel Tower in the U.S. See my post about this battle HERE. It is also home to the fairly famous “Jesus in Cowboy Boots” monument at the Evergreen Cemetery. (Check out the great book by my author friend Tui Snider called Unexpected Texas for more cool things in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.) called You can read more about the town of Paris, Texas in my post HERE.
On the same trip as noted above for Paris, Texas, I made my way into Paris, Tennessee, the acclaimed Catfish Capital of the World and the home to the other “Tallest Eiffel Tower” in the U.S. Technically, it claims now to be the taller of the two towers. Read more HERE.
Port Orchard, Washington
In 2015 we visited our daughter in Port Orchard, Washington for about ten days. We toured all over the state, but Port Orchard has its own offerings and is indeed a lovely little town on the other side of the Puget Sound, across from Seattle. There are seaside scenes, beautiful painted murals, and even a funky mattress place with a farmyard full of painted cows. You can see more photos and read more about this town in my blog post HERE.
Powder River, Wyoming
On one of my many cross country trips, I made my way across Wyoming and on this particular trip in 2014, I decided that I wanted to see the geologic wonder known as Hell’s Half Acre. It was there that I met and befriended another travel photographer from Wisconsin named Derek Ace. See more about my trip to Powder River and other areas in Wyoming HERE.
Paducah, Kentucky sits along the Ohio River and is a scenic river town. Paducah was originally settled around 1815 and was known as Pekin. There were Native Americans, most likely Chickasaw, living there and they traded peacefully with white settlers and traders that came down the river. Their chief was named Paduke. This arrangement stayed peaceful, but in 1827, William Clark, the famed leader of the the Lewis and Clark expedition, and then superintendent for Native American affairs along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, brought a legal deed for the land the town sat on. He asked both Chief Paduke and the settlers to leave, which they did. Paduke and his clan moved to Mississippi. Clark named the town Paducah in his honor. In 1830 it was incorporated and then chartered as a city in 1856. It was a dry dock for barges and also became a major rail hub. Today it is home to the National Quilt Museum. See more about my trip in 2010 HERE.
Port Gibson, Mississippi
As part of my 2014 trip to Galveston, I drove along the Mississippi Blues Highway (US Highway 61 – see my posts in A Towns and N Towns). One of the stops I made was in the scenic little town of Port Gibson, MS. The town has some lavish 19th century homes and some unique places as well. Many of the town’s historic buildings survived the Civil War because Grant proclaimed the city to be “too beautiful to burn.” These words appear on the town’s welcome signs, as shown above. Historic buildings in the city include the Windsor Ruins, which have been shown in several motion pictures. And, my main interest in coming here was Perhaps one of the most unique things I saw in Port Gibson was the steeple of the First Presbyterian Church. It is definitely a one of a kind steeple! See the complete history of this church and more about Port Gibson in my 2014 post about the Blues Highway HERE.
Palmyra, New York
As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons), there are few places in the country with church history like Palmyra, New York. To the Mormon faithful, this is where the Sacred Grove that Joseph Smith saw his First Vision and this was also the location of Hill Cumorah, the location of the Golden Plates that were translated to become the Book of Mormon. Today it is home to the annual Hill Cumorah Pageant…a spectacular outdoor performance depicting stories from the Book of Mormon. Thousands flock to this small town every July for one week as hundreds of volunteers perform nightly for totally free viewing. My wife and I attended the pageant in 2013. You can see my full writeup HERE.
Not too far from our home in Lexington is the historic Civil War Battlefield town of Perryville, home of an annual Civil War Reenactment. The battle took place on October 8, 1862 and is considered the bloodiest battle of Kentucky’s Civil War battlefields. The area includes a State Park, Battlefield Tours, a Museum and the the Downtown area has many unique shops and souvenir places.
Paxton, Nebraska (Honorable Mention)
On a huge cross country trip in 2007 with my son Solomon, we stopped for an overnight in the town of Paxton, Nebraska. The chief objective was to have dinner at one of America’s unique and quirky restaurants. Known as Ole’s Big Game Steakhouse, this rustic restaurant is filled with trophies from safaris around the world, including a full size polar bear, a giraffe head, an elephant head and dozens of other large animals that stare down at you while you indulge in their splendid steak meals. You can see more about this leg of my long cross country trip HERE.
Pembroke, New York (Honorable Mention)
On the above mentioned trip to Palmyra, New York, we made our way into Pembroke, NY. I had to stop and get a photo of Kutter’s Cheese. There are some nice murals, but the name of the shop is what got me. And yes, they will gladly cut the cheese for you.
Penn Yan, New York (Honorable Mention)
On a 2008 trip back to Ontario, I made my way to the beautiful Finger Lakes of New York. One of the towns on the lakes is Penn Yan, which is home to Birkett Mills, manufacturers of a variety of buckwheat products such as flour, etc. They are also famed for the world’s largest buckwheat pancake and you can see the giant griddle in downtown Penn Yan.
Ponder, Texas (Honorable Mention)
And finally, how about a drive through Ponder, Texas, a bit northwest of the Dallas/Fort Worth area? Think about it ok?
Did You Miss My Other A to Z Challenge Posts? Click on a letter below to see the others.
After spending a nice day with my children and grandchildren along US Highway 89 north of Great Falls, it was time to begin the long trip back to Kentucky the next day. I would begin the return trip with a quick jaunt south on I-15 to Great Falls and then south on US 87/89 towards Kings Hill Pass on the Kings Hill Scenic Byway, which runs along US 89 from the US 87 junction to the US 12 junction just north of White Sulphur Springs, Montana.
Before moving on, I should mention that on the previous day we made a quick stop in Conrad, Montana to see if there is anything interesting there. Conrad is south of Shelby and just off of I-15, so it is easy off and easy on. Conrad is just a bit smaller than Shelby. Not too much, but they still have a nice looking old theater and an old 70s style motel. A nice stop for the nostalgic-minded.
Since it was early morning, I didn’t stop in Conrad on the way to Great Falls. Rather, I was in town before sunrise and on to US 89 south, which joins with US 87. I had to head east through town past Malmstrom Air Force Base just as the sun came up. It was a beautiful Montana morning.
US 87/89 passes by Belt, Montana, but I didn’t drive through there on this trip as I wanted to get down US 89 and into Yellowstone and US 212 over Beartooth Pass. Just shortly after passing by Belt, US 87 continues east and US 89 breaks off southward toward Monarch, Montana and pretty much follows Belt Creek, which at the time I was driving the route, was a raging creek with all of the winter runoff in full force. This is the beginning of the Kings Hill Scenic Byway.
I reached Monarch, Montana at about 7:30 AM. Monarch was originally established to service the silver mines in the area. It is near the Sluice Boxes State Park.
The drive through the Lewis and Clark National Forest is very nice on a spring morning. Wildlife was in abundance and the raging Belt Creek could be heard, the smell of pine in the air. It was very refreshing (with the car windows down of course!) Soon enough, I was passing through the town of Neihart.
Neihart had a few unique things so it was well worth a short stop for a look/see.
I always like the unique shops on road trips, and Neihart offered one of those up in GJ’s Junkers Delight….fun signs, unique metal art
From Neihart, US 89 begins to offer a spectacular drive through the Rocky Mountains and gets you up to Kings Hill Pass which hits an altitude of 7,385 feet. Kings Hill Pass is part of the Kings Hill Scenic Byway which passes through the Little Belt Mountains in the Lewis and Clark National Forest in Montana, United States.
As the altitude climbed I could see that there were ski resorts and then I came across the Showdown, Montana sign near the summit of Kings Hill Pass. Created in 1936 and originally called King’s Hill Ski Area, Showdown is a small-scale ski area that caters mainly to weekend skiers. It also has nice summer activities for bikers, hikers and campers.
From Kings Hill Pass US 89 heads down hill towards White Sulphur Springs, Montana.
The end of the Kings Hill Scenic byway is about 3 miles north of White Sulphur Springs, which sits at the base of three mountain ranges. A truly beautiful setting.
From White Sulphur Springs US 89 continues south towards Livingston. This portion of the drive has some spectacular mountain views, especially of the Crazy Mountains (also known as the Crazies). I can envision the awe of pioneers as they realized they would have to get past them.
Wyoming lays claim to being the pronghorn capital of the world, but Montana has to be a close second. Some of my best pronghorn photos have come in Montana. I saw a small group by the road near Wilsall and stopped for a visit.
From the Wilsall area I continued south towards Livingston, Montana. The mountains scenes were breathtaking on this section of US 89 near Wilsall. I knew that on the other side of the mountains sits the city of Bozeman, where I lived from 1971-1973. I loved Bozeman.
Wilsall, along with Clyde Park, is in the Shields River Valley. The Shields River was named by Captain William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition in honor of John Shields when they arrived here in July 1806. This area was also visited by the famous trapper, trader and scout Jim Bridger in the 1860s.
The above sculpture by local artist Gary Kerby was dedicated in 2006. Titled “Welcome to the Shields” it is nicknamed “Thunder Jack.”
And of course, I finally found a nice wall mural on this trip. This one on the side of the Mercantile building takes you back to the early 1900s in Wilsall. This was painted by Gary Kerby, the same artist that made the pioneer sculpture pictured above. Gary is a resident of Wilsall. Kerby has painted murals in Montana (I saw another of his works in Cut Bank last year), Oregon and Washington.
Continuing south on US 89, there are miles of open range ranchlands with the amazing mountains in the background.
Livingston, Montana is one of those wonderful communities nestled in the mountains (like Leadville, CO – see my post about Leadville). There are old buildings, old neon signs, and majestic mountains framing the buildings. I spent 30 or 40 minutes in Livingston to capture the feel of this town. The town is also touted as the “Original Gateway City to Yellowstone National Park.”
After a breather in Livingston it was on to Yellowstone National Park via US 89. From Livingston, the highway basically follows the Yellowstone River, which was running very heavy due to runoff from the mountains. The mountain scenery at this point is amazing.
Not too far south of Livingston I came across a small wayside chapel with a splendid view of the Yellowstone River and Emigrant Peak (10,915 feet) of the Absaroka Mountain Range. The chapel was built in 1968 and had once sat on a small hilltop overlooking Yellowstone River adjacent to the rest area on US Hwy 89. It’s been a landmark as well as a curiosity. The chapel is always open providing shelter and a resting place for weary travelers. The chapel is 12 foot tall including its steeple; the building is 10-by-14 foot with stained glass side windows. There are eight wooden seats facing a white cross on the pulpit.
I soon found myself in the touristy town of Gardiner, Montana. The town definitely caters to the tourists and adventurers. It is also home the entry point for the North Entrance of Yellowstone National Park and the massive Roosevelt Arch. Constructed under the supervision of the U.S. Army at Fort Yellowstone, its cornerstone was laid down by President of the United States Theodore Roosevelt in 1903. The top of the arch is inscribed with a quote from the Organic Act of 1872, the legislation which created Yellowstone, which reads “For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People.”
And thus ends my journey on Montana’s US as I enter through the Roosevelt Arch into Yellowstone National Park and eventually into Wyoming.
From this point I entered Wyoming on my way to Mammoth Hot Springs and US 212 which will take me across the northern section of Yellowstone National Park and into the Beartooth Mountain Range. That will be the subject of my next post!