Category Archives: Museums/”Must-see” attractions

Destination Fort Worth

My most recent trip to the Dallas area included a trip to Fort Worth…just a “stone’s throw away” (less than an hours drive from downtown Dallas). It was a travel adventure to visit this town that is steeped in the heritage of cattle drives and livestock economy. Cowboy hats, cowboy boots and amazing belt buckles are found in every store for purchase and living, breathing cowboys walk the stone streets of this historic town. There is a modern, thriving city of Fort Worth, but this blog is about the “Historic District” of Fort Worth, found just north of the larger metropolitan area. Yes it’s “touristy”, but yes…I really enjoyed my visit there. Great place to go if you really want to get a taste of the true Texas.

Sometimes I think Fort Worth gets lost in the shuffle when folks discuss the Dallas area. DFW: the airport code for Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, serves obviously the whole Dallas Fort Worth area. Dallas is the ninth most populous city in the US, but when you add Fort Worth into the count, the Dallas/Fort Worth metropolitan area becomes the fourth largest metropolitan city the the U.S. Probably the locals understand how Fort Worth helps to make up the fabric of the area, yet it seems like visitors seem to just lump it all into one category: Dallas. Both cities together help to provide an amazing area with much diversity to offer. This blog is focused on Fort Worth, but for more information on specifically Dallas you can reference my blog post entitled:Big things happen here…Dallas

The Lone Star State

When cattle were driven up the historic Chisholm Trail to the railheads, the drivers had one last stop for rest and supplies: Fort Worth, Texas before heading into the Red River Valley. So Fort Worth was strategically placed for growth. Between 1866 and 1890, drovers ( a term I learned used designating those that drive a herd) trailed more than four million head of cattle through Fort Worth. The city soon became known as “Cowtown.” It was originally established in 1874, then when the railroad arrived in 1876, Fort Worth became a major shipping point for livestock.

Live Stock Exchange Building; Built 1902 /Photo: FortWorth.com

While visiting this historic area of Fort Worth, there is a sense of visiting the “old west” and yes it is “touristy”, but in addition to the eating, shopping and playing…the usual “tourist activities”, there are three interesting museums on site that provide a wealth of information about the area and the major role the stockyards played in the local economy. The first museum is right on the main street and located in the iconic Live Stock Exchange Building.  The Stockyards Museum is at 131 E. Exchange street and is operated by the North Fort Worth Historical Society. It is a small museum, but jam packed with an abundance of information about the ups and downs of the working stockyards and how the Fort Worth Livestock Exchange became known as the “Wall Street of the West”.  I wish we could have spent more time there, but luckily they have a nice little book store and I was able to purchase a historical profile about the Fort Worth stockyards…for later reading. Don’t books makes the BEST souvenirs?

Another major museum that seems like a wonderful tribute to the military, is the Military Museum of Fort Worth, located at 2507 Rodeo Plaza.  They also have a web site for more information: http://www.militarymuseumfortworth.org

Another museum in the heart of town is the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame at 2515 Rodeo Plaza. It is located right near the Cowtown  Coliseum. As they state, the Museum is there to highlight many achievements: “Inclusion in the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame is the highest honor we bestow on individuals who have shown excellence in competition, business and support of rodeo and the western lifestyle in Texas”

The Daily Drive at the Fort Worth Stockyards

Nothing quite intrigues a city gal like me, then being in the presence of the handsome Texas Longhorns. I found out that the Texas Longhorns were originally brought from Spain by Columbus into Santa Domingo in 1493 and later bred with cattle in Mexico. Early settlers brought the bred into Texas and the cattle became a hardy and disease resistant strain.  While visiting the historic district of Fort Worth, you have the opportunity to see a “mini” cattle drive of 17 majestic Longhorns down the cobblestone streets: twice a day, at 11:30 am and 4:00 pm. The herd is a very manageable number of 16 to 20 steers, when we were there the number stood at 17.  Just enough to keep the tourists happy. It was a short “drive” and over quickly, but it was still a thrill for a city gal like me. They are really magnificent creatures.

If I have piqued your curiosity,  and for more information about all the sights and sounds at the Fort Worth Historic District; check out their website at: http://www.fortworthstockyards.org

Put your Traveling shoes on. Julie E. Smith

Romance in the Everyday: The Bridges of Madison County

A light at the end of the tunnel: the Holliwell Bridge. Built in 1880, it spans 110 ft.

“There are images that lie within my heart…images with the power to recall the warmth of a summer’s night, the stillness before a storm. Reminding me of the first time I ever saw him…there was nowhere else to go except towards love.”  Meryl Streep as Francesa in The Bridges of Madison County.

When I hear these words spoken in the movie I just get chills. So incredibly romantic. It was filmed among the fertile farmlands and rolling hills of southern Iowa as a backdrop.  One of the underlying themes of the film is that romance can flourish suddenly in everyday moments.  If you have not seen the film, or read the novel, this is a timeless love story filmed in Winterset Iowa  including the historic and iconic covered bridges located throughout…you guessed it: Madison County.

The peaceful view of a quiet countryside: Holliwell Bridge

I am an Iowa girl, born and raised in Des Moines. After moving away from Iowa, I always come back to visit, but had never journeyed to Winterset (very close to Des Moines) to see the covered bridges until recently. I went on a delightful day trip there with my Mom, aunt and cousin. We discovered that there are six covered bridges in Madison County. That is the highest concentration of covered bridges, in one area,  west of the Mississippi River.  It’s interesting to note that the eastern state of Pennsylvania boasts the most covered bridges of any state with the a whooping total of 219 covered bridges.  Now that’s an incredible amount of history preserved; if only those bridges could talk….imagine the tales they would reveal.

The practice of covering bridges developed out of a need to protect the interior wooden trusses and floor boards, which deteriorated quickly in the severe weather of the plains.  It was easier, and more economical, to replace boards and roofing then the interior trusses. Many of the bridges were lost to floods, ice jams, fires and just the procession of progress.   Starting in 1884, many of the older bridges were replaced with steel. In 1933, the Madison County Historical Society began a campaign to save the remaining bridges. Of the original 19 bridges than spanned across the county, six iconic bridges remain. The bridges have been lovingly restored, maintained and span across creeks and streams in the county.  They dot the landscape as an architectural reminder of a by-gone era.

Our first stop was at the Madison County Welcome Center (Chamber of Commerce).  It is easy to find: right across the street from the impressive and quite tall courthouse in the town square of Winterset, Iowa. The address of the center is 73 Jefferson Street.  The folks are so helpful there and it is a terrific place to get your bearings and the complete back story about this interesting community. Come to find out, Winterset is also the birthplace of John Wayne. There is a museum with an impressive bronze statute of the famous cowboy and also a small home designated as his birthplace.  When we were there, there were no true John Wayne fans in the car, so we drove on to see the bridges.

Cutler-Donahoe Bridge, built in 1870

One of the easiest bridges to find is located right inside their city park: Cutler-Donahoe.  The bridge was built in 1870 over the North River in Bevington, but was moved to the city park location in 1970. This was the very first bridge we saw and it does have a “wow” factor. Even though it is not very long, it is beautifully built and it easy to allow yourself the time to become immersed in admiring the craftsmanship.

The Holliwell Bridge spans across the Middle River and was featured in the movie. It is the longest of the bridges spanning 110 feet. It was exciting to see this particular bridge and then see it featured in the film. It’s so delightful to have one of those “Oo, Oo! I have been there!” moments. Out of the six bridges in Madison County only two were featured in the film, however the entire film was filmed locally, so many Winterset locations are recognizable. The town square, Northside Cafe and the Pheasant Run Tavern were all sites in the movie.

Imes Bridge, Built in 1871

The oldest of the remaining bridges is the Imes Bridge. It was built in 1871. Like all of the Madison County bridges, it has been placed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. You can understand why this is the case, admiring the covered bridges brings a certain sense of nostalgia. As you walk thru the bridges the sturdy timbers under your feet are worn yet strong. The cross beams not only support the walls and roof , but create a unique, cross hatch design element characteristic of these timely structures. No wonder they were used for the back drop of a romantic love story. Sometimes it’s the simple beauty in everyday things that warms our hearts. If you are in the Des Moines area…I highly recommend a trip to Winterset. Put your traveling shoes on.  Julie E. Smith

Just Because its FREE, Doesn’t mean its Lame

We Americans frequently adhere to the adage: “You get what you pay for.” Sometimes in certain circumstances this is true, no denying that. Yet I am here to lift up the virtues of seeking out and enjoying FREE STUFF! Of course there are the many free things in life like love, friendships, holding a soft puppy, enjoying the sounds of soft spring rain and….well you get the idea. These things are all well and good, but I’m talking about less esoteric things, like entrance to a free museum.

So many people have the impression that things can’t be very good, or worth taking the time to look into, unless you have to pay an admission fee. I am here to strongly denounce that misconception. I have seen so many interesting museums and “freebies”, yet have also seen ones that were indeed lame. It’s always a gamble, but look at it this way, you haven’t paid money up front so you are not out anything. Yet, if it turns out to be an interesting and worthwhile place, you can almost always donate money on your way out the door. Museums and centers need donations to keep places running and also appreciate positive feedback….tell your friends, they might enjoy the place too!

In my area, there is a county museum that has an amazing collection of stories, artifacts and documentation on the settlement and growth of several communities within our county. The Polk County Museum in Balsam Lake, Wisconsin is housed in a majestic, red brick courthouse. The building itself is quite a sight to behold. Originally built in 1899, it was used as a courthouse until 1975 when it was converted to a museum and is operated by volunteers. It has been included in the National Register of Historic Places.   Inside the museum, there are three floors of galleries with some of the exhibits dating back to the Revolutionary War.  There is an impressive exhibit about the logging industry and its impact on the area. Logging and lumbering were the primary attractions that brought early settlers to the area in as early as 1837. I never knew that the logs were “branded” (just like cattle) before being sent down the river…neat.

The building also has unique and beautiful stained glass and interesting architectural details on every floor. Here is a stained glass window that is beautiful, but also informative: it shows a map designating the townships within Polk County. I thought this was so beautiful and I bet it looks very different depending on the time of day.

Not only do they have an impressive permanent collection, the museum also hosts traveling exhibits. Late summer, they hosted a fantastic exhibit about John Muir, the conservationist and one of the men instrumental in founding the National Park Service. John Muir spent much of his youth in Wisconsin.  The Museum has limited hours in the summer time, and frequently hosts private and school tours the rest of the year. The museum is at 120 Main Street Balsam Lake. For more information you can contact them at: (715) 485-9269

Another free and very interesting museum that I had the pleasure of visiting is the Bayfield Maritime Museum. Located in Bayfield, Wisconsin near the Apostle Islands, it is a treasure trove of cool stuff all related to the maritime industry, the history of the area and the wonders of Lake Superior.  Many topics are covered including boat making and the development of the maritime industry, shipwrecks on Lake Superior, lighthouses, and an impressive collection of historical photographs and artifacts related to the area. It is staffed by very helpful and knowledgeable volunteers, who are happy to answer any questions.

They also have a small amount of books and souvenirs about the area and the Apostle Islands. I purchased a nautical print of  Bayfield and the Apostle Islands and another print showing all the Lighthouses of the Apostles.  Both prints were very suitable for framing and it made me feel good knowing that my purchases went towards helping to operate the museum. This museum is only open during the summertime and is staffed by volunteers. For more information, check out their website at: www.bayfieldmaritimemuseum.org

 

My son Dan in seventh heaven @ the Spam Museum: Austin, Minnesota

Some FREE museums, like the SPAM museum in Austin Minnesota, have an ulterior motive like promoting and extra marketing of their product. But so what?!….if it provides an entertainment value and a diversion for weary highway travelers, more power to them.  Many people react with the comment: “There’s a SPAM Museum, seriously?” Yes, seriously. If you are passing through southern Minnesota, don’t forget to go. However…I’m kind of embarrassed to say I have been to the SPAM museum three times, with various family members so they too can enjoy that fun place. I’m not even a big fan of SPAM (except with mac&cheese), but it really is a fun place and a lovely gift shop too! (One can never have too many SPAM refrigerator magnets.) For more details about the SPAM museum, their website is: www.spam.com/museum

So next time you are out and about, or even in need of a local excursion, don’t forget the local small museum. You may be surprised of what new wonders await within.

Don’t let this be “The One that Got Away”

Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame & Museum, Hayward Wisconsin

Throughout the ages, fishermen have told their tales of “the one that got away”. Yet, in the north woods of Wisconsin there is a place that one can view the biggest, the best and the world records in fishing.  The Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward, Wisconsin pays tribute to fresh water sport fishing and truly is an interesting place to visit.  Even, if you are not an avid fisherman, which I am not….it still is well worth a trip to see all the varied fishing artifacts and well over 300 mounted fish. The 7 acre complex boasts over 100,000 visitors annually.  And YES…you can climb the staircase inside the giant Musky and take a picture from his gaping jaws…Ahhhh! The ultimate photo of your visit here!

Their website clarifies that it is more than just a museum showcasing trophy fish but also on a mission to promote the sport: “The Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame is the international headquarters for education, recognition and promotion of fresh water sportfishing.”

Also among the giant fish statutes, is a rather large and interesting museum with thousands of antique rods, outboard motors, and publications. Throughout the hallways are dedications of anglers, both living and memorialized,  in the Halls of Fame who have brought many records to the sport of fishing. Some of the records are not just for the “biggest and best”, but also many anglers are remembered for their contribution for educating and promoting the sport of fishing.  I really don’t pursue fishing as a hobby, but you can’t help but get a little sentimental when reading some of the dedications in the Hall of Fame.

The giant Musky statue is the landmark feature and is quite impressive. He was built in 1978-79 and is an impressive 143 feet long and is 50 feet high. When you ascend the staircase to reach the top of the Musky, along the way are amazing facts and figures about fishing and additional highlights covering anglers’ achievements.

When in the North woods of Wisconsin, The Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame is definitely worth checking out. For more information you can check out:http://www.freshwater-fishing.org  So what tales of fishing adventures do you have to tell? Tall tales or otherwise, I love to hear them.

So head on out and “Put your traveling shoes on.” JES

Inspiration found: Chicago Botanic Garden

Chgo Botanic garden logoSometimes as a gardener,  or even as simply a lover of flowers and plants, one can find oneself “stuck in a rut” with the same old plants year after year and perhaps an unwillingness or trepidation about “thinking outside the box.”  A visit to Chicago Botanic Garden helps to inspire and also to rejuvenate an interest in the wonderful beauty that is found right in one’s neighborhood and very back yard.  The Chicago Botanic Center is located in Glencoe, Illinois and includes 385 acres of land dedicated to showcasing some beautiful plants and innovative landscaping. The garden was opened in 1972 and with over 50,000 members, it currently has the largest membership of any U.S. public garden.DSCN1650

Yes, many of the traditional plants and flowers are there, along with some exotics not found in the Midwest. However, the presentation of them is everything, a wonderful variety of flowers clustered with a multitude of leafy green plants. A Marigold does not just look like another simple Marigold when portrayed in this beautiful landscape. Many of the plants are commonly found in local yards, but when they are paired with other plantings, it gives new insights as to what works well together.  Of course light conditions, soil conditions and moisture needs must all be taken into account and it is great to get recommendations from the expert gardeners there.

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In addition to the botanic showroom, Chicago Botanic Garden has numerous statues and garden artwork throughout the garden enhancing the beauty of the flowers and water features.  The inspiration portrayed by the sculptors is enhanced by the backdrop of lush trees, flowers and several small lakes within the garden.  One sculpture in particular pays homage to the man who is considered the Father of Taxonomic Botany: Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778) He created a system for plant classification using both the “genus” and “species.”

Initial impressions of Chicago Botanic Garden lead one to believe that it is just another lovely park with plants, fountains and art work. Yet, this place is also a research and development facility for seed propagation and developing hardy plants for this area of the country.  Several green houses on the premises work year round on botanical production. In terms of educational enrichment, certificate programs offered at the School of the Chicago Botanic Garden include: photography, horticultural therapy, Midwest gardening, professional gardener, garden design and botanical arts.DSCN1673

A  busy day touring the garden can make one hungry and thirsty. Two cafes are available: the Garden View Cafe and the Garden Grille. The Garden View Cafe offers fresh, locally produced ingredients to serve up fresh salads, soups and sandwiches.  The Garden grille offers hamburgers and chicken sandwiches and daily specials. There is enough variety there to please almost any palette.  After renewing your energy at the cafe, don’t forget a stop in the gift shop: “The Garden Shop”.  A wonderful array of all types of “goodies” to choose from including clothing, specialty books, stationary and also children’s items to inspire young gardeners.

Admission into the garden is free, but there is a parking fee.  Membership includes free parking daily and you can visit as many times as you want.  A membership also includes discounts at both of the cafes, the Garden Shop and discounts on programs as well. For more information you can call : (847) 835-5440 or click here to link to their website: http://www.chicagobotanic.org/

DSCN1652It’s such a wonderful garden to visit…and hard to see it all  in just one trip.  My friend and I will be going again soon! Put your traveling shoes on. JES