Winds of Change, Part III – Waving Goodbye

Indianola, Texas ~ December 2014

Six months before the German brig Johann Dethardt dropped anchor in Matagorda Bay, leaving its complement of immigrant passengers to fend for themselves, Samuel Morse was in Washington, D.C., sending the first public telegraph message to Alfred Vail, in Baltimore.

The message, chosen for Morse by Annie Ellsworth, daughter of the Governor of Connecticut, read, “What hath God wrought?” It was a question residents of Indianola surely would ask themselves, before it all was over. (more…)

Winds of Change, Part II -The Travelers

View of Indianola by Helmuth Holtz, 1860, from aboard the Barque Texana.  Courtesy The San Jacinto Museum of History, Houston. (Click to enlarge)

Tucked into the rigging of the barque Texana, Helmuth Holtz sketched for us his view of Indianola, Texas.

Behind the town lies Powderhorn Lake. A tangle of bayous traces the beach front, hinting at future roads. The variety of vessels spread across the water is impressive, as are the wharves built to accomodate them.

To the left lies the Morgan Steamship Company wharf. By 1850, just a year after Indian Point became Indianola, Morgan’s company supported three sailings a week from Galveston and two from New Orleans. By 1860, the company had secured a monopoly on coastal shipping in Texas, and could provide everything a new town required: lumber and liquor from New Orleans; garden seeds from Long Island; dressmaking supplies from Baltimore.
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Published in: on January 20, 2015 at 11:44 am  Comments (87)  
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Winds of Change, Part I – That Prescient Name

Detail from a painting of the lost city of Indianola, Texas ~ Shannon Salyer
Courtesy Calhoun County Museum (Click image to view the complete painting)

Today, the privilege of naming a community seems reserved for real estate developers. The names they choose for subdivisions, gated communities, or urban high-rise housing — Candlewick, Pickwick Village, The Towers — function primarily as marketing tools. While the names may reflect an area’s history, or a neighborhood’s geographic location, often they do not.

In times past, residents named their own nascent communities. If contention over the choice arose among the citizenry,  or if conflict developed between a town and the Postal Service, the history of the naming process could become as interesting as the history of the town itself.

Some places changed their name so often even residents could forget where they lived. In New Hampshire, the Plantation of Penney Cook became Penney Cook; then Pennacook; then Rumford; then Concord. In Arizona, Swilling’s Mill became Hellinwig Mill; then Mill City; then East Phoenix. Finally, the name we know today — Phoenix — became permanent.

Some names were obvious choices. Washington, Franklin, Madison, and Jackson rose to prominence as Americans honored men who contributed to the nation’s founding. On the other hand, Oxford, Paris, New London, and Winchester became almost as popular. It’s easy to imagine a little nostalgia in the naming process: perhaps even a longing to be as well-regarded as more historic cities. (more…)

Published in: on January 12, 2015 at 7:56 pm  Comments (80)  
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Ports of Entry

Old Espiritu Santo Bay ~ Indianola, Texas
Always too eager for the future, we
Pick up bad habits of expectancy.
Something is always approaching; every day
“Till then,” we say,
Watching from a bluff the tiny, clear,
Sparkling armada of promises draw near.
How slow they are! And how much time they waste,
Refusing to make haste.
Yet still they leave us holding wretched stalks
Of disappointment, for, though nothing balks
Each big approach, leaning with brasswork prinked,
Each rope distinct,
Flagged, and the figurehead with golden tits
Arching our way, it never anchors; it’s
No sooner present than it turns to past.
Right to the last
We think each one will heave to and unload
All good into our lives, all we are owed
For waiting so devoutly and so long.
But we are wrong:
Only one ship is seeking us, a black-
Sailed unfamiliar, towing at her back
A huge and birdless silence. In her wake
No waters breed or break.
                      ― Philip Larkin,  “Next, Please” 


The Poetry Foundation provides more information on the poet Philip Larkin.   A new article about him and a review of a new biography are available here.  Comments are welcome, always.
Published in: on January 3, 2015 at 8:13 am  Comments (91)  
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The Warmth of the Frio

The Rio Frio came by its name honestly. Spring-fed, shallow and clear, it’s a cold river: perhaps the coldest in Texas.  It can slow to a trickle in summer heat, and, when in flood, puts roadways underwater in a flash.  But if the Frio is flowing well, singing steadily over the rocks, its coursing is pure pleasure.

Other Texas rivers — particularly the Guadalupe, the Comal, and the San Marcos — are famed as venues for kayaking and tubing, but they flow through urban centers. When the season ends and river rats dry off for a final time, there still are dance halls and concerts, festivals, antique shops, and galleries to entertain the crowds.

Along the Frio, things are different.  As the weather turns and school begins, provisioning companies shutter their doors until spring.  Families continue to gather at Garner State Park for weekends of camping and fishing, and birders flock into the valley to track the autumn migration. Hunters fan out into ranchlands in pursuit of whitetail, while autumn bikers test themselves against the famous hairpin turns and steep grades of the “Twisted Sisters.”  Still, the pace of life begins to slow. As it does, the Frio and her people show a different face to the world: a face filled with unexpected beauty and warmth.
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Published in: on December 7, 2014 at 4:58 pm  Comments (99)  
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