The Dunes, the Bogs, the Progress, the Barns, & Usonian Design

30 May 2015 – Sometimes a punchy little title just doesn’t cover it. This long lumpy one does, but not in the order you’ll find below. Never mind. We’ll make it through.

So here we are, last 2 days of the trip, hitting the edge of “Oh damn, let’s just jump on the Interstates & get to Toronto.” We had been so proud of our wiggly small roads all through all those states, hardly a sniff of Interstate. But, finally, it is time to go home.

Except that Danna, bless her, has one last delight up her sleeve. We’re going to nip up to the south-east curve of Lake Michigan, and visit the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore (part of the U.S. national park system).

Some 15,000 acres along the shoreline and, yes, it has dunes.

Lake View site within Indiana Dunes

I tell you, this park is a triumph of stubborn citizen will — not once, but often, as each new development threat took shape. First praised in an 1899 scientific article by botanist Henry Cowles (an article, that, it is said, established him as “the founder of plant ecology”), the area was repeatedly proposed for protection, given some, threatened anew, and on the dance went, until a 1966 act of the U.S. Congress established the first national-level 8,330 acres, since expanded.

There is a very industrial Port of Indiana plonk in the middle, presumably the price paid for the protection otherwise gained. (Nothing I found quite states that quid pro quo; I am here drawing conclusions.)

But life’s benefits always have prices, and the port is invisible unless you are actually driving past it. Certainly not visible, or injurious, from here — the Lake View beach, with its splendid dunes & squealing kiddies running in & out of the waves.

beach at Lake View, in Indiana Dunes

We picnic here, wander the beach a bit, read the signage with its recipe for creating a dune: take 1 receding glacier, preferably advancing/receding in cycles, add strong wind & wave action, stir & tumble for a millennium or so & voilà, rippled shorelines & dunes.

Fed & at least superficially educated, we turn back along this road, to regain the main road and our next target, the Cowles Bog.

No, next target but one. Our immediate target is right out here on Lakefront Drive, where we saw, goggled at, almost stopped for, but decided to visit after lunch … this.

1933 Century of Progress,  Lakefront Drive

Yes, really. The Century of Progress Historic District. The 1933 Chicago World’s Fair featured a group of homes under the banner, “Century of Progress,” each one a showcase of innovative building materials & designs.

In 1935, a developer barged five of them over here.

Including the Florida Tropical House …

Florida Tropical House, 1933 Century of Progress Historic District

and the Armco-Ferro House …

Armco-Ferro House, 1933 Century of Progress Historic District

and the House of Tomorrow.

House of Tomorrow, 1933 Century of Progress Historic District

All are now publicly owned & administered, but leased to private tenants. While several are clearly under further restoration, the impact of the group is so unexpected & surreal & glorious that you just giggle with joy as you hop around during your 15 minutes of permitted parking.

On to the bog.

Cowles Bog, of course named for Dr. Henry Cowles, and who more worthy of tribute? Three interconnecting loops offer 4-5 hours of steady hiking, but we don’t have that kind of time. We have dawdled quite a while already, it is mid-afternoon, and, alas, an Interstate does beckon.

So we spend an hour. Long enough to enjoy stretches on wooden paths over the bog …

Cowles Bog, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

and to admire huge, happy ferns …

Cowles Bog, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

and also some equally happy but more delicate yellow-bog-iris-plants-we-guess.

Cowles Bog, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

Then back to the car, oh sigh, and we think the fun is over, but you can’t count on that, can you? Because smack at Hwy 12, which runs its ribbon through the park, we see this:

house on Hwy 12 within Indiana Dunes

How silly can you get?

It’s boarded up, but we still can’t quite bring ourselves to trespass, so we admire from relatively afar.

Back to Frank Lloyd Wright

I am grateful to reader John Panning, who commented on my previous post, noting another FLW house open to the public in Iowa. It is Cedar Rock, an outstanding example of the architect’s Usonian design (“his version of the average American home”), located in Quasqueton, Iowa.

So there you go: two FLW homes open to the public in Iowa, each a prime example of a different style: Stockman House = Prairie School, Cedar Rock = Usonian.

Why on earth don’t these two organizations cross-promote?

Back even farther, to Wisconsin Barns

Well, that jump is enough to give you whiplash. Back at least a week & multiple states in this trip’s chronology. Don’t care. I want to show you these barns, and they just didn’t fit in earlier on.

I had already seen U.S. barn art, decades ago in Pennsylvania and (I think) closely linked to the Pennsylvania Dutch community. Starting in Wisconsin, and on through the other mid-West states, we saw many examples, all part of the mainstream farm culture.

Here’s a close-up of one, evening shadows picking out the design …

barn Hwy 22 s. of Shawano Wisc

and here’s a long shot of another the next morning, with that fresh early light and that big sky just rolling on & on. (Made me remember my Alberta days.)

backroads Wisconsin

Aren’t they terrific? Art as part of the mainstream culture. Not needed for function, not interfering with function, just loved for its own sweet sake.


Leave a comment


  1. Kris Leaman

     /  31 May 2015

    Barn Quilts are what are adorning the lovely barns and there are several tours throughout Iowa for that purpose. Same in Southern Minnesota. Lovely having you spend a bit of time in Mason City.

  2. DJ

     /  31 May 2015

    Of course my sister-in-law Kris Leaman knows about quilts! I’ve just googled “barn quilts Iowa” and found: Complete barn quilt tour information for many counties in Iowa.

    I can also provide tentative identification of that grand Cowles Bog fern (American Royal Fern, aka Osmunda regalis var. spectabilis, a native species).

    The lovely yellow iris may, alas, be an alien invasive (Iris pseudacorus:, introduced to North America as an ornamental pond plant. It behaves itself nicely when at home in Europe, Western Asia, and North Africa, but is an unwelcome bully where it has escaped into North American bogs and other wetlands.

  3. Nice to see you walking (and driving) in my own general neck of the woods! Hope you escaped the U.S. Midwest before the weekend cold snap! Then again, you seem to be of hardy stock, so I needn’t worry about you! I enjoyed your road trip.

  4. Which bit is your neck of the woods? We missed the mid-west cold snap, but not the earlier one in Michigan. Mostly rain-free though and that’s what counts if you want to go walkies.

  5. Hi Penny – thanks for writing that. I wonder what the people of the future will make of the The Century of Progress Historic District when they come across it.

    Over here in Sussex, we have a collection of elderly housing that I think you’d enjoy, if you’re ever over this way:

    By the way – I saw this Werner Herzog walk book on Longreads and thought you might enjoy it:

    All best wishes

    • I wonder how long those 1933 homes will last, even with all the maintenance they now receive — they were surely not built with the ages in mind. Thanks for the Sussex URL, it’s a wonderful idea & wonderfully carried out. The Herzog is touching — walking lends itself so easily to meditation, does it not?

      • Houses can be remarkably tenacious. We live in a terraced Victorian house, built back in 1896, on the cheap, for workers. The walls are made of this:
        Yet still they stand!

      • “Bungaroosh”! The word itself is a delight, the fact it means anything is a side benefit… (Though now I can describe Leslie Spit, not as mixed cleanfill, but as “bungaroosh.” Love it.

  1. Look! Barn Quilts! | WALKING WOMAN

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