Nov 23

The record setting ride

After some time working on them today, the fig tree is now covered in two parts. I used a lot of twine, a few utterances, and two buckets, just to add some personality.

After I stepped back to take that photo I added a bit more twine, created some tension tiedowns and pronounced, to the surrounding shrubs, that there was no way wind is getting under there now. Soon I’ll fill in the base with leaves to help keep the cold and frost away. After that, I’ll be satisfied that I’ve done everything I can do, and the tree will need to look after itself for a few months.

“Kudos to you, dude,” said the crossing guard as I went by.

Hey, you’re out here, too …, I replied.

“Yeah, but I have to be out here. You want to be.”

Why am I out here, anyway. It felt like 25 degrees. And, yes, that is ice in the field.

I have a page on my cycling spreadsheet, tracking my highest mileage, by month. Recently, I noticed that this month had the potential to make it onto that chart. On Nov. 20th, this month sat in 12th place overall on that list. Two good rides that week put it in the top 10 with a bullet. And so, these last few days, I’ve been riding with the goal of trying to make November 2023 my best month of all time.

It made since. The leader on the board was January 2023, but all of that was indoor riding. Wouldn’t you rather have your best number be on open roads?

The only problem is that these last few days it has been windy, or bitterly cold, or both. Tomorrow will be nicer, but I’ll be in class. And so today was my shot.

My shot. This is why I’m out here. First of all, it is, of course, a meaningless record or goal. No accolades or money. Nothing monumentous beyond the personal. So it’s just that, a personal best. It’s not a real accomplishment, not an achievement, not really. It’s an endurance effort. Put a few more miles in the legs, learn some cold lessons about layering in cold weather, trying to time it all out with limited daylight.

So there I was, measuring out rides these last few days, and it all came down to today. Should I ride enough? It wasn’t a question of could or would. I had the time and two jackets and long pants and gloves and so on. It’s not a race, and no one was trying to stop me, or slow me down, not that I can go much slower. So, did I want to try to find the time to ride tomorrow, in the morning, or tomorrow night after class. Or should I just do it today.

And by how much should I best the old mark?

This is what I did, I started out planning to ride a combination of our regular two routes, but started a bit later than I should have, meaning daylight was going to be a question. So I did one of those routes, added an extra road just to see where it went, and then modified the tail end of the course to add a few more miles. All told, that was 31 miles in the cold air, by little ice puddles and through a lot of open fields exposed to the wind. When I got closer to home I added all of the neighborhood roads to bolster the total. I figured all of this would give me about 30 miles for the day. I decided I’d let that be enough and there’s always tomorrow if I really, really need it.

I finished today’s ride at 31 miles. And that meant, when I got back to my spreadsheet, that I set a new best for miles in a month. By one mile.

Kudos to me, I guess.

My best December ever is in ninth place on the all-time list of months, by mileage. That was 2020. If I am to best that mark, I’ll be starting from behind: I’m taking tomorrow off. Maybe Friday, too.

We’ve been talking about going on a ride with a friend on Saturday. After that, we may be close to retreating to indoor rides, depending on what the prevailing weather patterns.

This is the 18th installment of We Learn Wednesdays, where I ride my bike across the county to find the local historical markers. Including today’s installment we’ll have seen, I believe, 36 of the 115 markers found in the Historical Marker Database. (This marker was not found on today’s ride, just so you now.

Today’s marker is about a church.

Their website is … unfinished. The name of the congregation is altogether too common to stand out in web searches. The erstwhile local paper only has about 20 years of archives digitized and uploaded — the wrong 20 years to pick up a lot of history — to any database I have access to.

It hasn’t been digitized on the National Register or the National Archives Catalog. Do they expect me to talk to actual people?

I love that the old walls were made a part of the new building. Now, all of it is old, and they’re still making good use of it.

Mt. Hope UMC offers a traditional worship service every Sunday, supports youth and children’s ministries, the Neighborhood Center and Cornerstone Women’s Center. The children’s ministry supplies cold weather wear to the children and they also cook meals for the community and maintain a food pantry.

In next week’s installment of We Learn Wednesday, we’ll see another church. If you’ve missed any markers so far, you can find them all right here.

Nov 23

We are rich in colorful photos today

So much typing. Some of it was even for classes. Where I must now turn attention toward grading. Friday. Or maybe Tuesday. Probably Tuesday.

That’s how it is, plotting things out around the this-and-that. I keep thinking I’ll find a rhythm to it. All of campus moves on rhythms. And, sometimes, it seems distinct enough that you can almost see it. Almost reach it. Almost find the way to shape your work into the rhythm. That’s happened twice this semester, then something will conspire to break that up. This week it’s four days of extra things, but I think I wrapped that up today. It’s always my doing. The last time I got hung up on being sapped of energy, and a desire to not do a thing. The time before that it was sleep-related. It’s all my doing.

But things must be done! And so they are done.

In tomorrow’s we’ll talk about public service announcements. Tonight I am finishing a text-heavy slide deck and breaking up two classes into groups.

For today’s bike ride I changed it up. After the first seven miles, the usual straight road through the wintering farmland, I turned right instead of left to ride along the river in the other direction. It’s a fast two lane road with broad shoulders and Phragmites on both sides. On your left there’s a bit of light industry and some empty strips of land running right up to the river. On your right is farmland, some of it just over a high embankment. Everywhere, you’ll see Phragmites.

Before long you’ll run across this bridge, which has no name. This is in a spot with a lot of water, and I’m not even sure if the inlet it spans has a name, but this little bit of water does feed into a creek a bit farther away that takes it’s name from a village — or vice versa. Who can be sure?

Just don’t park, fish, swim or do anything else on this bridge. There are signs.

Soon after that, I took a right turn, and pedaled three miles into a small town, busy with commerce and warehouses and, just then, a shift change. Got off that road to get away from that. That was an unexpected thing, so my hastily laid out route was no more, but this was a good thing. The sun was going down, I was heading south and to my right I found four great spots for future sunset photos. Happy accidents.

To get back to where I needed to be I had to ride a familiar rode in reverse, in skies that were getting darker with each turn of the pedals. And, as is my apparent habit, this was when I passed two police cruisers. (This time I had my light, and it was on!)

No legs at all in this ride, so it seemed silly to tally up miles on neighborhood roads, but that’s what I did.

We are fully in the season of no legs, I’m sure of it now.

More photos from our trip to the beach on Sunday. Here are some of the birds of Cape May, as glimpsed from a distance and photographed with a 55 mm lens. (Never occurred to me to carry a longer piece of glass.)

It was a lovely day. Had a great time. Saw a lot of birds.

And, look, more reedy sea grass!

In tomorrow’s space-padding installment of our afternoon trip to the beach we’ll actually see the beach.

Speaking of bike rides, it’s time to learn more about the local history. This is the 16th installment of We Learn Wednesdays. I ride my bike across the county hunting down the local historical markers. Including today’s installment we’ll have seen 34 of the 115 markers found in the Historical Marker Database.

These are from a ride I took on the last Saturday of October. It was still warm, but got dark before I got back to the house. And that’s because these two markers were all the way at the other end of the county. I’m pretty sure that tracking down these two, at a state park, make the longest ride for this project.

So we’re in Parvin State Park. The pine barrens and the hardwood forests meet in the area, which is quite ecologically diverse.

The markers I wanted to find were in the state park — a place with a long and complex history. The first Europeans came into the area in the 1740s, but there’s plenty of evidence of Lenape habitation before that. In 1796, Lemuel Parvin dammed the Muddy Run stream to power a sawmill, thus creating a lake, named after him, and the future state park, that also shares his name. Turns out he’s buried in a cemetery I went right on Saturday, not too far away. In 1930, the state bought the acreage to make a park. The Civilian Conservation Corps developed much of that park, which, in 1943, was a summer camp for the children of interned Japanese Americans. The next year it was a prisoner of war camp for German soldiers captured in Africa.

These cabins have been there for almost 85 years, now. Pardon the photo composition, I shot all of these as I coasted by — almost literally shot from the hip.

They’re closed right now for upgrades, the cabins, though the park is open for business.

The first CCC men working there made up Company 1225, which was formed in 1933. They got food, clothing and lodging. They made $30 per month. They were required to send $25 of that home. They stayed there until 1937, clearing forest, making trails and roads and the like. Some of the pavilions that first group made are still standing. Company 1225 also built the main beach complex and several bridges

In late 1937 Company 2227V, comprised of World War I veterans, came to life. Skilled workers, they put on the finishing touches, making the picnic area and completing the landscaping. They also made all of these cabins.

There was a big flood in 1940, and Company 2227V tried to save the dam at the lake, but nature won the battle. But the CCC built a new dam, which happened just after the U.S. entered World War 2. The CCC camp was closed in May of 1942.

There are two signs in the park, which sprawls nicely as all parks should. And while the first sign was right where I expected it, this one was harder to find. I basically stumbled upon it by chance. It was the last little place I was going to look before heading out. The time was getting late, I had to get back up the road and … there it was!

There was no time to try to figure out which of these things are still around. It was enough to see the view. I bet those CCC guys appreciated the opportunity to make a little money, and they had some nice views to enjoy, too.

Some of them, they helped make. And, for 80 years or so, a lot of people have enjoyed the fruits of their labors.

In next week’s installment of We Learn Wednesday, we’ll head back to the 19th century. If you’ve missed any markers so far, you can find them all right here.

Tomorrow: class, the beach and a video from this park.

Nov 23

There are a lot of plants

We had a garbage can out back full of leaves and pine needles. The wind caught the lid this morning and ripped it away from the can. I just happened to see it right after this happened, so I spent a few minutes cleaning that up. Putting the leaf bag in a different can, one that will be disposed of later this week. But we’d crammed that first can with so many leaves that I had to use a tool to pry the bag out. The bottom of the can smelled, for some reason, like root beer.

While I watered the plants the mail came. In the mail were two little indoor plant lights I’d ordered for the winter time. We have outdoor plants, but I can’t bring them indoors because cats will eat them. So they’re going into the basement. The plants, I mean, not the cats. The cats are kept out of the basement, which means they time their sprints perfectly to make it through the basement door.

So I strung up the two lights in the rafters. There seems to be one place where I can hang them and plug them in. It’s perfectly placed in the basement. I brought in four plastic lawn chairs, carried the plants down and put them on the chairs and turned on the plant lights. Surely the system will get refined as we go forward. I have to come up with a good way to water the plants, keeping the water in the pots and not on the floor, for example, and I want to put those lights on a timer.

Here’s the previous owner’s quirky decision that appeared in that plant-moving process. On the front porch they left a plant, a golden leaved pineapple sage, which is quite lovely. (You can just see a part of that plant in the photo below.) It sits in a container that is designed to straddle a handrail. They drilled the container into the handrail. It did not come off the handrail today, that frustrating little container holding the lovely, stemy, leafy thing, which is showing off brilliant little red flowers right now.

It’ll dip below freezing tonight. If the plant survives this little cold snap I’ll break out the drill.

That is a sentence that does not appear in any search engines.

Across the way, the neighbor’s tree is putting on a show. It’s a great view from the front door, and the picture window, which the cats are now enjoying.

Underneath that tree is the guy’s daughter’s toys. Right in the middle, little outdoor princess sets and the all weather tea table sort of thing. When she’s there, she’s out there. And when she’s not there, the play sets are: an imagination in progress.

It must be a magical time for a little girl that plays outside all the time. The grass in her yard is a rich, nitrogen-filled green, and now there’s a brilliant yellow carpet of leaves that she gets to dance and flit around on.

He mows his lawn a lot, but it seems like he’s leaving the leaves down. Maybe for pictures, or waiting to get them all, or just because she enjoys them, I don’t know. But it looks nice. Mostly because they’re not our leaves.

We’ll have plenty.

We went across the river this evening. As a perk from our recent hang with Gritty …

… he gave us tickets to a hockey game. Flyers hosted the Sabres. Both teams entered the contest 9-4. I know, it turns out, only very little about hockey. This is my fourth NHL game, on top of a slightly larger collection of minor league games. It’s not a sport I watch on TV, so I don’t know much. But I do know this: if you’ve got twice as many shots and you’re winning three quarters of the face offs, you should probably shoot more if you don’t want to lose 5-2.

And that’s what the Flyers did tonight. “Just shoot it!” must be the hockey equivalent of “Run the dang ball!” And “Just shoot it!” was uttered by pretty much everyone in the seats surrounding the rink.

The Flyers scored in the first 50 seconds and then halfway through the first period. Everyone should have gotten up, gone to their cars and headed for home right then.

Also, the man sitting in the row in front of us ordered cotton candy for his kids.

Nine dollars. Nine dollars for a stick of spun sugar!

Maybe I should buy a cotton candy maker. Tow it around, playing music like the ice cream trucks. I’ll only charge $8 a stick.

This is the 14th installment of We Learn Wednesdays. I’ve been riding my bike across the county looking at all of the local historical markers. A bike is an ideal way to undertake a project like this; you see new stuff, you learn new things. All of it that you don’t discover at the speed of a car. Counting today’s discoveries I have listed 32 of the 115 markers found in the Historical Marker Database.

This is a VFW memorial, a new one. It replaces a 1952 marker that shows up on the database. Google Street View’s last visit, sometime in November of last year, shows an empty patch of grass in this little triangle. But we have a nice, handsome display, standing new and proud on a main road in a small town.

On the back, two small markers.

You wonder where the old markers went. Hopefully in a proud spot in homes or offices.

Also at this site, you’ll find an anchor.

There are no details on it here. It was painted black when it was last on display.

And this gun, the Quick Firing 6-pounder, a 57 mm anti-tank gun. The British and the Americans used it in in the second half of World War 2. The Americans called it the 57 mm Gun M1.

It went into service in 1942 and the Americans used it until the end of the war, but by then the limitations of this weapon were on display. It had to be towed, and some wanted self-propelled weapons. There were also other guns in the field, and probably some on the drawing board. Plus there were fewer tanks to shoot at late in the war.

The British used it, too. And so did the Russians, and the Free French. Other nations used it in the years after. Apparently you can still find it in service in parts of South America. Modern cannoneers like it today because you can still find supplies for it. Some 36,000 of these were made during the war. I wonder how many of those 80-year-old pieces are on display in little towns like this.

In next week’s installment of We Learn Wednesday, we’ll discover a quiet little park for no particular reason. If you’ve missed any markers so far, you can find them all right here.

Oct 23

More riding, more bridges

Class prep was easy today, even if the classes tomorrow will be a challenge. I have to demo some software, among other things. It can be difficult to do that and hold a room’s attention. It’s fun, and useful, and important, but at the end of the day it’s an afternoon class that will feature a computer program, and on a pretty spectacular autumn day, as it turns out.

It is entirely possible that I’ll enjoy the exercise more than my students will. But I’ve also learned a thing or two in preparing for it, so I’m happy.

The fun thing is that this part of the course has to do with sound. I know a few things about sound. So my planning was efficient and effective, allowing me to spend a few minutes this afternoon. It was delightful.

And early this evening I went for a bike ride. I set out at 5:38 p.m. It was still daylight, but getting along that late-in-the-day time.

You better hurry, my lovely bride said. And so I did. Except for when I slowed down to enjoy the views, which I slowed down even more to enjoy them here.

I only wanted to ride nine miles. OK, probably 15. Definitely 18 miles. So I went down one of the quiet fast roads, which only gives me five miles or so. Retracing my route would only give me 10 miles, so I had to add on. I pedaled into town, turned around, did most of that retracing, and then pedaled back to town again.

They’re good roads, and familiar and safe. Seemed sensible given the hour.

And all of that got me to 14 or so miles. But I really wanted that 18, so I tapped out those on the little neighborhood roads that surround us. Quiet, secluded, and in darkness. This is a fine time to ride, if you can do it safely. Fortunately, I have a great headlight. (Not pictured.)

This was the first time I’ve ever used it on my bike in total darkness, and I was impressed by its throw. I can ride at almost full speed and still see the road, front and sides. I figured I would have to ride a bit slower, lest I outrun the headlight, but there it was, safely out in front of me at 20 miles per hour.

And sure, these photos are all about the same time and in pretty much the same place, trying to share the sunset. There’s not much to photograph of the darkness, of course, but there’s something special about riding in it. Maybe because it is new to me. Maybe because of the quiet. It’s already quiet out here where the heavy land and the green sands meet, but, at night, when everyone is already where they need to be, you can almost start to feel a special quietude.

This is the 13th installment of We Learn Wednesdays. I’ve been riding my bike across the county to find all of the local historical markers. A bike ride is an ideal way to undertake a project like this; you learn new things and see new stuff, that you don’t discover at the speed of a car. Counting today’s discoveries I have listed 31 of the 115 markers found in the Historical Marker Database.

In the last two weeks we’ve discovered Quinton’s Bridge and Hancock’s Bridge, two small places that figure into a very small piece of the Revolutionary War, the winter of 1778 to be specific. The markers we’ll see today are also from Hancock’s Bridge. Why twice? Because, as the sign says, “this small tract of land has a rich and diversified history.” This sign isn’t on the database, but it’s a good sign. Let’s check it out.

The ground upon which you are standing was deeded to William Hancock in 1676, before he left England to come to America. The site’s proximity to the Alloway Creek (originally known as Monmouth River) has always made it to be a valuable commercial property. From the earliest recorded history of the site, it served as a wharf where sailing vessels, and later steamers, loaded and unloaded their cargos of merchandise, produce and passengers.

It was in 1677, that William Hancock and his wife Isabella, first established their home on a rise adjacent to the creek. The property passed from the childless couple to William’s nephew John, who arrived in America in 1679. A small wooden structure served as home to the Hancock Family until John’s son and daughter-in-law, William and Sarah Chambless Hancock, constructed the brick structure in 1734.

The original house was converted to a store. Following the American Revolution, the store was relocated across the street, closer to the wharf and creek. Adjacent to the store, Richard Starr and George Mecum founded Starr and Mecum Cannery in 1875, in a former “hay house” along the creek. In 1882, Mecum sold out to Richard Starr’s brother Thomas, to form Starr & Brother Cannery. It was at this time that Starr & Brother constructed a new can house on the site of the former hay house. The old store was moved one last time and finally com down in 1883.

Starr & Brocher had been producing 50,000 cans of tomatoes a day when they sold to Robert Griscom in 1892. The firm of Fogg & Hires (Robert S. Fogg and Lucius C. Hires) purchased the cannery from Griscom in 1896. Fogg and Hires employed 200 people at this location along Alloway Creek. With the closing of the canning house in the early 1900s the site sat abandoned for a few years, later becoming the site for Edwin W. Ridgway’s Texaco gas station.

Adiacent to this parcel lies “Hancock’s Bridge” (the structure, for which the community is named). The earliest known reference to a bridge in this location is dated September 21, 1709, when “Commissioners…made return. by way of John Hancock’s bridge.” Wooden bridges continued to transverse the creek until 1885, when the last wooden structure was removed, and a metal bridge was opened to traffic in March 1886.

From this site, one can view the wetlands on the north side of Alloway Creek. However, this vista too has seen significant changes over the years. As with many wetland areas, this area was diked to control tidal flow, thus creating additional rich, lowland farm fields, so prevalent in Salem County’s history.

In the nineteenth century, a dike existed that followed the creek bank. Along this dike, floating cabins were moored and fishing cabins built. This popular gathering place for fishermen and trappers came to be known as “Bank Street.” However, in recent years with the “meadows gone out to tide,” this embankment has slowly eroded back into the creek, returning the diked wetland to a natural salt marsh.

For many years, and certainly until the predominance of overland shipping practices in twentieth century, this creek side location was the site for many ship moorings. It was from this location that cargo and travelers were received, and local produce was exported to markets in Wilmington, Delaware, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Along these creek banks too, many a trapper and duck hunter set out on an early morning adventure.

This small tract of land on the banks of the Alloway Creek has seen a rich and diverse history, PSEG has permanently preserved the wetlands opposite the site through its Estuary Enhancement Program, and today the site continues to play a role in the life of the community, providing access to the Hancock House State Historic Site and views of the Alloway Creek and its adjoining wetlands.

It seems that the Starr and Mecum families stayed closely intertwined for at least a few more generations. And I’ve seen a Mecum mailbox not too far away, so at least some of the descendants are still in the area.

The county was once home to many canneries in the 19th century, the goods shipped far and wide by water and rail. A lot of the local farming, which is highly productive, went toward those canneries. Lots of tomatoes, but plenty of other fruit, too. Edwin W. Ridgway, who owned the Texaco, died in 1988. He’s buried just 1.4 miles away from that sign, and where his store was.

Right next to the Hancock Lot sign is this one. I love the older style. The heavy signs are full of purpose, but also difficult to read in photographs.

That one, on the two plates, says:

The first bridge across Alloways Creek at this location was built by John Hancock and others in 1709 and was known as Hancocks Bridge.

The same year (1709) two other bridges were built across Alloways Creek, one at Alloway, known as Thompson’s Bridge, and the other at Quinton, often referred to as Quinton’s Bridge.

Various other wooden bridges were built and rebuilt to replace the original bridge at this location. The last wooden bridge being built in 1847 by the Salem County Board of Chosen Freeholders.

On August 12, 1885, the construction of an iron truss swing bridge was authorized by the Board of Chosen Freeholders. This bridge was built at a cost of $8,517.92. On January 13, 1886, another contract was awarded for the sum of $1,835.00 to construct an additional span of fifty feet. Therefore, the cost of the iron swing bridge, which served this location from 1886 to 1952, was constructed at a cost of $10,352.92. The new bridge constructed in 1952-53 cost $532,894.00, one-half of which was assumed by the Federal Government.

The bridge at this location figures largely in early American History. The bridge was used by the Americans to haul cattle and provisions to Gen. Washington at Valley Forge from the fertile lands to the south. With the British moving into Salem, and the Americans holding the south side of Aloes (Alloways) Creek. The rebels decided to destroy the draw of the bridge in order to prevent a frontal attack.

However, the British decided to attack from the south, going by boat to an inlet about seven miles south of Aloes Creek. Because of the strong tide, they had to land at the mouth of Aloes Creek and cross the meadows to surprise the garrison at Hancocks Bridge. This resulted in the massacre at the Hancock House on the night of March 20, 1778, by Major John Graves Simcoe. On the morning of March 21, 1778, Major Simcoe relaid the bridge (by planks) and joined forces with Lt. Col. Mitchell, who had waited all night on the north side of the bridgeless stream.

Here’s the iron swing bridge mentioned in that marker. The picture is from the first sign. And, sure, this seems a bit repetitious, but bridges like this are vitally important to people surrounded by water, and only became more so as transportation evolved.

Here’s the modern bridge. The day I was there, at the beginning of October, the water was way up.

Across the way, the waving grass of the salt marshes, an incredibly important and productive habitat. Protects from flooding, helps control from erosion, filters sediment and pollutants and is a hugely vital nursery for coastal fish and shellfish.

So we have once again learned a great deal, for a Wednesday. There’s even more to learn next week! If you’ve missed any markers so far, you can find them all right here.

Oct 23

245 years in 1,800 words, AND a glance at celestial mechanics

New license and car tag this morning. Printed out the forms and filled them out. Got to the local state office of collecting money for the privilege to drive your car and a nice woman at the door couldn’t seem to process that my forms were already filled out. These are the forms you need. Those are the forms I have. You need these… You can’t win a logical argument with a low level functionary, it saves everyone time if you just yield to the inability of a thoroughly trained person’s need to dispatch their narrow sliver of duties.

She told me where to fill these forms out. Over there. But not there. No, not there. There. She was most adamant, and that was a real concern for her. The voice rising, the hall monitor tone getting more adamant. You wonder what bad thing had previously happened at those other, empty, tables that made them off limits, especially when you can cram six or seven people around one table during cold and flu and Covid season.

With that first round of paperwork completed you had to visit another woman who looked at those forms and studied some flowchart for an awfully long time, considering this is her part of the job. Supporting documents are necessary here, and they were all produced. More staring and humming, which took place at approximately the same volume as her speaking voice. Finally, all of my supporting materials were passed back through the plexiglass, with some other surely crucial document. I was directed to have a seat in the waiting here, where I would eventually hear my number called.

The good news is that it was called almost right away. Don’t even get settled in that chair, right away. I had to go to window nine. The bad news is that window nine was staffed by a guy they’d pulled right off the street. Nice fellow. Hadn’t yet done the new license do-si-do, but he knew where most of the keys on the keyboard are located, and how to operate that DL camera — and I can confirm this is another state using glass procured from East Germany after the wall came down.

His supervisor came over, a smart, wise cracking woman, to make sure everything worked as it should. Between them, they got it all figured out. Eventually. A new tag, a temporary license — a piece of paper I have to carry in my wallet, but one, I was cautioned, that can’t be used for identification — and I rendered unto Caesar, which seemed a lot. All of this took more than an hour, which also seemed a lot.

But at least I didn’t have to wait aimlessly, and everyone was nice, despite whatever happens on a daily basis at an office like that.

Somehow I didn’t notice this yesterday. Or everything just happened between last night and this morning. This is the biggest, first, fastest quitter on our street.

Also, the comb-over really isn’t working for that tree. Maybe that’s merely a seasonally obvious observation. The street view is from the week before everything popped back to life in April. Once you allow for the horrible realization that the trees don’t bloom or bud until almost May … sigh … it’ll be a while before I stare at that tree to decide whether the green leaffure hides what’s now becoming obvious to all of us.

I have two windows in my office studio. I never open the blinds on this side, but maybe I should. The sun puts on a great show from here in my chair.

After that, I went for a little run, just shuffling through two miles in the neighborhood. The moon was up to keep me company, and at this particular moment, from this particular angle, the moon is nicely framed. Photographing the moon with your phone is a foolish endeavor, of course, but you still try, sometimes. And sometimes, you fire one off from the hip. I’m actually sort of jogging here.

Turns out that house’s beautiful porch is the best part of the picture. Go a bit farther up the street there are houses with Halloween lights. Someone else has cleverly installed solar lights in their trees. They sent their child to the University of Alabama this fall. They have a flag in their front yard. So we hung the Sailor Aubie flag in ours.

This is the 12th installment of We Learn Wednesdays. Basic premise: I ride my bike to find all of the local historical markers in the county. You learn new things, you see new stuff, by bike that you don’t discover at the speed of a car. The bike is the ideal way to undertake a project like this. Counting today’s discoveries I have listed … let’s call it 29 … of the 115 markers found in the Historical Marker Database.

I say 29 because two of the markers we’ll talk about today have been removed and another is damaged almost to the point of illegibility. But there’s still plenty to learn about at Hancock’s Bridge. This figures into what we learned two weeks ago. During the Revolutionary War, in the harsh winter of 1778, the British and the Americans were both foraging the local countryside. The king’s men had established a headquarters in a small town about five miles to the north. The good guys were foraging from the south, opposite the red coats, but we’re on their side of the little creek inlet.

On March 19th, the Brits laid a successful trap for the militia, but reinforcements came just in time to save the day. Determined to wipe them out, the British moved downstream, crossed the creek and fixed their bayonets. They came to this house.

Major John Gaves Simcoe was commanding the queen’s rangers, a well-trained light infantry unit. In 1770, Simcoe entered the British Army as an ensign in the 35th Regiment of Foot and was soon shipped out to the colonies. He was at the siege of Boston. In July 1776, with the atmosphere crackling above everyone, he was promoted to captain in the 40th Regiment of Foot. He went to New York, marched on Philadelphia and commanded the 40th’s Grenadiers, opposite George Washington, at the Battle of Brandywine in September 1777, where he was wounded.

Which brings us to March 1778, Simcoe and his rangers got on flat bottom boats, crossed the creek, and marched two miles through soggy marshes at night until they reached dry land. They soon bumped into two sentries, stabbed them to death, and then attacked Hancock’s house. His guys forced open the front door.

Other British soldiers came in through the back door at the same time, and they almost ended up shooting at each other. But they figured it out, and then bayoneted the Americans. Simcoe reported:

The surprise was complete, and would have been so, had the whole of the enemy’s force been present, but, fortunately for them, they had quit it the evening before, leaving a detachment of twenty or thirty men, all of whom were killed.

The local accounts suggest that a few of them survived, but everywhere the numbers seem a little different.

The house was owned by Judge William Hancock Jr. His dad built it in 1734. Senior was a county judge, and member of the colonial legislature. Junior got the house, his dad’s seat in the legislature and his seat on the bench in 1762. He was a Loyalist, as you might imagine, and he was in the house on that dark, cold night in 1778. Simcoe:

Some very unfortunate circumstances happened here. Among the killed was a friend of the government… old Hancock, the owner of the house… events like these are the real miseries of war.

Above you’ll see the two stone markers. There’s another marker that’s supposed to be at this house, now a museum, which basically summarized what we’ve learned together here, but that sign is now gone. That marker mentioned the previous two days of skirmishes up and down the creek. Another thing to know is that this was effectively the end of combat operations in this part of the state.

Around the back of the Hancock house, you’ll see another beautiful example of the patterned brick style.

Beautiful, isn’t it? There’s a marker about the patterned brick, but the labels are blistered and peeling. It is barely readable, so I’ll quote it directly.

The exterior of the Hancock House is an outstanding example of the patterned brick houses that once dotted the landscape of Salem County, NJ. Modeled after the seventeenth-century building traditions of the Quakers’ English homeland, masons used variations in the color and placement of bricks to create designs, dates and initials in the walls of the house.

In the Hancock House, built in 1734, the masons alternated red bricks laid lengthwise, called stretchers, with blue glazed bricks laid on end, referred to as headers. The result was a checker-board design called Flemish Bond. They used a similar technique to create a unique herringbone pattern in the end walls.

Bricks were made from local clays. They were molded, air dried, then fired in a wood-burning kiln. Those bricks that were closest to the fire acquired a “vitrified” or blue-glazed surface. The irregular features, cracks, and bubbles within the glaze did not compromise the product since the glaze waterproofed the brick.

Salem County has the second largest concentration and variety of patterned brick houses, after Burlington County, in New Jersey and the nation. Often homes to the elite, brick houses comprised one tenth of the late eighteenth-century homes in the county.

And you’ll remember we saw one of the other surviving brick patterned houses a few weeks ago. Nearby … which is to say next door … which is to say in Hancock’s front yard … is the Swedish cabin.

The marker for this cabin has been removed. But the database knows what that sign used to say:

This single-room cabin is a rare remaining example of hand-hewn, white cedar plank construction and reflects a traditional Swedish cabin. This cabin, with its glazed windows, is more elaborate than those typically constructed in the seventeenth-century.

Known as stugas, which translates to “room inside.” These cabins were built in small clusters or stood alone, depending on the size of the farm. Swedish settlers established small communities throughout Salem, clearing only enough land to farm.

This cabin was rebuilt in 1913 using lumber that is over 400 years old. It was salvaged from the property of John J. Tyler in Salem. The cabin’s construction follows the traditional building techniques of the seventeenth-century, with four-inch thick side planks, dovetailed corners, a fireplace and wooden pins instead of nails.

If you hold your face up to the window and peer inside, you can see the cabin is, today, just used for some haphazard storage.

There’s much more to learn. For next week’s installment of We Learn Wednesdays we’ll talk even more about the Hancock lot and the nearby bridge. Miss some of the markers? You can see them all right here. Before that, Catober continues, and more!