We hadn’t done one of these in a long time and the weather today seemed perfect. St Charles is just a few miles down Highway 70 from us so off we went. http://www.historicstcharles.com/about-us/history/main-street/
The area dates originally from the mid 1700s. It was the first capital of the State of Missouri. There were many buildings that date from the nineteenth century. The architecture includes many widow walks, towers, a lot of decorative ironwork. The streets are brick as is much of sidewalk. One block down flows the Missouri River. Ignore the casino and take a look at the old train station and the rebuilt boat hose. The Lewis and Clark expedition set off from this location and replicas of their boats are in the boat house.
Old Mainstreet has a number of shops, some trendy and others that deal in a variety of things, such as antiques. There are a number of really decent antique stores and vintage clothing stores which can supply a lot of garb and accessories to costumers.
The buildings are worth seeing. The street is a historic preservation district. No buildings can be changed. For a period a computer consulting company was purchasing properties on the street. Although there was some dissatisfaction with a computer firm displacing the more normal residents but they did an excellent job in restoring and preserving buildings.
It could take several hours to walk the street and look at all the buildings. Some were originally riverside warehouses, homes to wealthy boat owners or served a variety of industrial and service functions. Some are small cottages others are fairly large structures. Most are brick, while others are local limestone. Wood was also used in many of them. A number of tall towers gave their owners excellent views up and down the river.
The area has been used for numerous period photograph sessions as well as at least one made for TV Movie (Standing in for Mark Twain’s Hannibal).
One of the greatest things about St Charles Mainstreet is the food. I’ll recommend several places Eros is a wonderful Greek restuarant. We had a remarkable lunch there. My lamb chili was amazing and our appetizers were great.
We weren’t down there for dinner but we can suggest Mother-in-Law House http://www.motherinlawhouse.com/. The food is great and the Victorian surroundings are lovely. The period house is decorated with exactly the type of wall paper and fixtures one would expect. When you have dinner there make certain you try the carrots that the hostess will bring to your table. The steaks are good but the fried chicken has never failed to reach the highest standards!
The building is alleged to be haunted, as are many of the buildings on the street. A good friend of ours Michael Henry runs a very entertaining Ghost Tour after dark. http://www.stcharlesghosts.com/ His tour comes highly recommended. As a long time area resident he has a vast knowledge of the history of the district. His book is available in the tourist center
We spent a couple of hours wandering up and down the street. http://www.figueros.com/ is a shop that sells coffee and all the hot sauces known to man. We also dropped into The English Shop, which has a wide range of products from the UK http://www.theenglishshoponline.com/home.html. Finally we stopped for dessert at The Little O Soda Shop. This is a new place on the Street, a traditional old fashion soda fountain. The picture below is my wife’s orange marshmallow soda. We tried their cream soda, the soda pictured below and two of their malts. I had a wonderful caramel malt and Shannon had a strawberry marshmallow one. Both were perfect!
Fork Hancock was the original United States Army proving ground and an important coastal defense fortress protecting New York City http://www.nyharborparks.org/visit/foha.html. The site is huge and offers a number of attractions. The scenery is amazing, the ocean views and beaches wonderful. Birds and other wildlife are present in profusion.
Sandy Hook is on the southern shore of the lower bay of New York. It juts approximately five miles from the northern shore of New Jersey. The park is an easy ferry ride from Manhattan http://www.seastreak.com/. During the summer season the ferry goes right to the park. I had the misfortune of finding out that if there aren’t enough riders the ferry might instead go to Highland New Jersey. I can say without a trace of doubt that it is a very, very long walk from Highland to the end of Sandyhook. Luckily the weather was dry, although when I went it was quite warm. I had an excellent meal at a eatery (although this was about five years ago, so I can’t recall where or what)
The reservation consists of over 100 buildings. The batteries date from the 1890s on and are some of the technologically most interesting in the United States. The up side from walking all the way in from Highland was getting to see the entire post. Again I had to walk quite a ways just to get to the initial Victorian period sites. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k2O4qLmqRwk
Fort Hancock saw a wide variety of batteries. One of the most interesting is Battery Potter. This is a unique emplacement called a Gun Lift Battery. A large artificial hill was constructed and the battery built inside it. The guns were each mounted on an elevator. They were loaded in the large underground chamber and elevated upwards to their firing position. Once fired the weapon was lowered to its protected loading position http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PYxqTGxXybA&feature=related. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wUyRF6TmHMo&NR=1 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zRzDVkYdSAc&feature=related http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&v=QH62TGY9oHk&noredirect=1
The various animations describe the complex nature of the battery and its functions. The guns are long gone but the massive battery structure is still an amazing piece of Victorian engineering. Battery Potter has a defensible entrance that looks like a castle gate. Instead of archers provisions were made for Gatling Guns in the towers.
One battery that does have guns is much smaller and more simple. Battery Gunnison has a pair of 6 inch Model 1900 pedestal mounted guns. This is my personal favorite US 6 inch gun models. The carriage is simple and the lines of the shield are elegant. The US Coast Artillery used comparatively few pedestal mounted weapons preferring the more complex and expensive but better protected disappearing carriages. Re-enactors make the best use oft hes these two weapons possible http://coastalforts.home.mindspring.com/10-25-03-Hancock.htm. I did not see them in action but their activities are well known in the restoration community and if possible I plan on getting out to the Fort again when they are in action!
Mortars also played a critical role in US Coastal Defenses and Fort Hancock had two 12 inch mortar batteries Batteries McCook and Reynolds. These batteries were a complex series of gun pits and tunnels designed to protect the 16 weapons from direct naval fire. These weapons are also long gone, having been removed for field service in France during WW1. However this battery was a prototype for the many 12 inch mortar batteries constructed from Manila Bay to Key West Florida.
Hancock also had a large group of heavy batteries facing the main shipping channel. Called Nine Gun Battery but actually a series of four continuous batteries mounting disappearing guns of up to 12 inch caliber this series of structures provided the main armament in the fortress until after the First World War. The strategic location of the military reservation meant that it served as a defensive installation until well into the missile age. During WW2 a number of more modern batteries, mounting 12 inch long range guns in heavily protected concrete casemates. After WW2 the land was used for Nike missile batteries.
After many hours of exhausting exploration and miles of walking I was darned lucky to find a troop of boy scouts willing to let me hitch a ride back to the Ferry dock in their van.
I really enjoyed the time on the post. This is probably one of the most exciting Endicott period forts to explore. The massive changes in technology that occurred between 1880 and 1910 are well illustrated by the various battery structures. The Post is huge. I recommend getting a good set of maps before visiting and ensuring that you give an entire day for exploration. If possible ensure that you either have a car for the visit or that the ferry will actually land you at the Sandy Hook Dock. Bring plenty of water. Watch out for poison ivy, they had huge thickets of that noxious weed growing all over the area. I’m used to the low vine version we usually see in the Midwest but these were gigantic bushes with what looked like dense woody stems. There are a few cafes scattered around the park. Highland offers a number of excellent eateries. There are snacks available on the ferry as well.
This is a day out requires careful planning (which I did not do) to fully explore the site. I was lucky to get there on a day that Battery Potter was open to the public. Again I highly recommend a visit to this site, but caution that it is huge and requires some logistical foresight to avoid some level of discomfort. (I was sore for a week after all the walking, but my legs were well defined from all the miles I hiked through the sand dunes!)
I wrote for several weeks about the joys of Clifton, a suburb of Bristol. Now let me talk some of that great city itself. This was the heart of Brunel’s Great Britain. He built two of his three ships here. The S.S. Great Britain http://www.ssgreatbritain.org/ has been returned here for restoration and display!
If you want to spend a glorious day steeped in the shadow of the Great Engineer this will be one of the best places to do so.
In the 1970s after decades of service and then more decades of neglect in the Falkland Islands the ship was recovered and towed back to the port and the very drydock in which she had been built. Now she rests in that dock being restored by talented and loving craftspersons.
On one trip we stayed at the Holiday Inn http://www.hiexpress.com/hotels/us/en/bristol/brsct/hoteldetail?destination=BRISTOL%2CUnited+Kingdom&numberOfRooms=1&numberOfAdults=1&numberOfChildren=0&ratePreference=6CBARC right across the street from Bristol Temple Meads Station, which was part of the GWR and designed by Brunel. It is still an amazing station and well worth visiting even if you are not coming into the city via rail. The hotel is a standard Holiday Inn. It has no character and the only things that recommend it are location and a car park. Although there are a number of eateries in the Temple Meads area the first time Shannon and I came to Bristol we had a terrible time finding food. There was a football match that day and many places were out of food. It also appears that Bristol has a strange tradition of not serving food between 2 in the afternoon and maybe 6 PM. We did finally find a tapis place on a barge. The food there was excellent, or maybe we just hadn’t eaten in 24 hours (long story, having to do with an “adventure” on Britrail!)
Bristol is close enough to Clifton to either walk down or take a cab. I’ve done both. I’ll remind readers that Clifton has many great restaurants as well as a wonderful hotel.
Now back to Great Britain herself, and the museum and new Brunel Institute. Tickets are 12.50 and are good for an entire year. The gates open at 10:00 AM and close at 5:30 PM in the summer and 4:30 PM in the winter. Getting there is easy. It takes 30 minutes to walk from the Temple Meads Station, and maybe 45 down from Clifton. There are a number of buses and ferry boats that stop at or near the ship as well. Additionally there is car parking in the vicinity.
I’ve been to the UK five times and I’ve been onboard Great Britain every time, some trips more than one day. Every time the ship is in better shape, more of it is open and I learn new things about the vessel, her designer and the times which bred them both. Since the early 1990s when I first saw her she the Museum has opened and then been relocated to a new building. Now the Brunel Institute and archives is open as well. It was almost too much for a VSF fan to handle!
The Museum has a huge number of excellent exhibits. Many are interactive. There are excellent photos of the ship at various times in her life and a great short film dealing with her salvage and return to Bristol. Many artifacts from the years of service are well interpreted.
The ship itself is the main attraction. An audio tour takes visitors around the vessel. There is a huge amount to see. The tour starts on the deck and goes deep into the hull. Passenger and crew quarters are fully restored. The first class dining area is amazing. At some point I’d love to go to one of the events hosted aboard. They have holiday dinners and the vessel can be rented for weddings and such. They sound like amazing fun!
The engine spaces have been rebuilt with reproduction engines. The engines don’t power anything any longer but the mechanical parts move. Especially interesting is the huge chain drive. The moving parts are immense and watching their interaction is a joy.
Finally there is the Brunel Institute. All of the Great Engineer’s notebooks are here, as well as an excellent naval and maritime history and technology library. All of the historic documents are digitized which is very nice, but even better was getting to handle the ORIGINALS! Yes I touched the very note books in which I. K. Brunel had drawn the sketches of so many of his amazing projects. The staff there was very helpful. They assisted in locating the specific books needed for the research I was doing (on Brunel’s little known ordnance work) and retrieved them from the secure storage. I put on my archival gloves on and turned the pages. It took all my willpower not to put bare skin on the notebooks, but I was able to suppress the urge (just barely!)
The archives are free with admission to the Museum. To do research you need to email ahead, but the staff is wonderful and extremely helpful.
To round things out the Museum houses both a cafe and a great shop. The shop is one of the most dangerous one I’ve been in. I ended up dropping a large amount of hard earned money and could easily have bought more. The selection of books was wonderful. I also picked up some reprints of period ship rules and menus. Very, very nice but again be warned, visiting the shop can damage a bank account quickly!
I apologize for having taken a few weeks off. In those days I have attended two conventions. Let me review the second I went to first, Steamcon III in the Seattle area.
Steamcon III http://www.steamcon.org/indexIII.php is in a new venue for the convention the Hyatt Regency Hotel and convention center http://www.hyattregencybellevue.com/ in Bellevue, just South of Seattle proper. Room rates were extremely reasonable at around 109.00 per night. The hotel was very nice and the staff was simply perfect. They were polite and helpful at all times. The area was flocking with restaurants. Our first meal (lunch) was very good but resulted in a near cardiac emergency when the bill arrived! After that we sought far less dear fare. We had three meals at a passable Irish pub called Paddy Coyne’s http://paddycoynes.net/. Food there was very reasonably priced and quite tasty. I had lamb skewers with peanut sauce and they were excellent. Shannon had fries with gravy and Irish beef stew. Their beer and cider selections were a bit weak but the Jamison ice cream was everything it should have been! The music was actually very good. Service was a bit variable, twice we had great service but once our waiter was a bit confused. The pub is just across the street from the convention center. For best results go at happy hour. Prices are very low and what they call a “small plate” is not at all small. The pub is small though so go early or be prepared to wait.
We enjoyed the hotel’s brunch on Saturday at The Twisted Cork http://www.hyattregencybellevue.com/restaurants. The brunch there was very good as well. They make a darned fine fruit compote. The bacon was thick cut, the sausages firm and with just the right amount of spice and of course the smoked salmon was excellent. Shannon spoke very highly of the corned beef sliders. Sadly the coffee had the nasty burned flavor with which Starbucks has cursed the entire world and most specifically the Puget Sound region.
We registered late for the convention but the price was still reasonable at 55.00 per adult. There were a number of add on events such as various concerts and dinners. These ranged up to 45.00 per person for the Airship Awards Dinner. Other events had lesser fees. We did not attend any of these events, so cannot comment upon them directly. We did hear really good things about them though and everyone we talked to had a great time. Shannon went to Unwoman’s concert on Friday night. The sound quality was great and the show rocked. Her recollection of these events might be a bit clouded by the after party which featured the la Fae Verte serving the green muse.
As with any event there were a few hiccups. One was gaming. The game department manager position was switched out just a few weeks before the convention and the result was a bit of disorganization. The various game masters made the best of it, although Friday was a bit of a lose. My demo that day didn’t go off although several interested parties came by and chatted about Stars of Empire. I was able to play a demo of Leviathan and watched a couple of other ones. I was impressed and will be posting a separate review of the game itself later.
Steamcon has a great identity, it’s staff know very well what they want the con to be about. This showed in the dealer’s room, the art show and artists’ alley. All three areas had participants clearly selected as being core to Steampunk/VSF. The dealer’s room had a large number of costume and gear vendors. It had a good game merchant but I would have been happy to see a better selection of book sellers. The art show was small but has some evocative works. I think I was most impressed with Artists’ Alley. There were some very nice items for sale and display there.
The panel track was excellent. Due to a miscommunication I was not scheduled for any panels but the extremely forgiving and hard working staff were able to get me on three in the two days we were there!
The first panel was on Friday and I was able to participate with several gents from The Rise of the Aester http://www.riseofaester.com/ LARP group. These fine fellows welcomed me as one of their own and we quickly became boon companions. Although the world they have created is very different in alternative history and MAcGuffins from Hive, Queen and Country their process has been very similar to the one that has brought forth Stars of Empire. One of their leaders Marshall used the word “sandbox” to describe the cooperative nature of their group. That is exactly how I’ve described the HQC Yahoo! Group. Their world is extremely detailed and textured and I was tremendously impressed! They were running a weekend long LARP. It was obvious from the level of participation they received that their games are tremendously popular. The level of costuming from the LARPers was amazing. Even more stunning was that even though The Rise of Aester group had really done a great job the general run of dress at the convention was of such a high quality that it was impossible to tell the organized players from the other attendees. Just getting to watch the cavalcade of finely made garb was worth the price of admission!
The theme of Steamcon III was 20,000 Leagues Beneath the Sea. A great many of the costumes were of a nautical bent and again they were fabulous!
The other two panels I got to be part of were both about airships. In the first one I got to speak at the same table as the legendary Mike Pondsmith http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castle_Falkenstein_(role-playing_game)! He was very kind to let me participate and both airship panels seemed to go very well.
We had very nice feedback from all three panels and all were well attended. It was a total blast and some of the most fun I’ve ever had as a panelist!
The staff of Steamcon deserves major praise! I’ve been staff at Archon for over 20 years and I’ve been to a number of other conventions, including two World Cons and other regional events. The staff at Steamcon is the second best I’ve ever seen (after Archon of course). To have put together an event this well organized after only three years is simply amazing. They had great programing tracks, registration seemed to go smoothly, the number of musical acts was impressive. I didn’t see anyone having a bad time. There were a few glitches and problems but they were handled quickly and efficiently by the staff. They did a great job and deserve a big bravo zulu!
I look forward to going back next year, we’ve already reserved our hotel room!
I found out that the Victorian Era water tower in Compton Hill Reservoir Park would be open on September 3rd. I decided to make a special Steampunk Days Out trip to go see this structure.
During the Victorian era municipal drinking water systems used massive walking beam steam engines to move water to through the pipes. The steam engines were so powerful that they could produce high enough pressures to cause blow outs. To ensure the pipes weren’t damaged most systems had large diameter standpipes installed. These were often six feet in diameter and over 100 feet tall. The pressure would be bled off through the open ends of the standpipes. A 6 foot diameter iron or steel pipe soaring into the sky would not meet with approval in terms Victorian aesthetics, so most were encased in attractive structures called water towers. Of the hundreds if not thousands of these that once dotted the skylines of many cities only seven such still exist in the United States. St Louis is extremely lucky that three of them are at the Gateway to the West http://www.builtstlouis.net/watertowers/watertowers1.html. While aboard Eureka I took pictures of the two that are in North St Louis, only a few blocks away from each other. One is the neoclassic column shaped “white tower”. The other is named for the Bissell family and is more architecturally complex.
On the far side of the city a much more exciting example exists, the Compton Hill Park Reservoir Water Tower. This tower really exemplifies how the Victorians viewed their world and the pride they took on objects or structures no matter how utilitarian. The Compton Hill tower is a lovely structure that far exceeds the needs of the system to produce a positive addition to the area’s visual appeal. Today such a structure would be built with the bare minimum. Before I get into our visit to the water tower let me tell you about the restaurant we had lunch at, for it is another St Louis gem.
When we were children if we had been good we might get rewarded with a trip to The Fatted Calfhttp://www.fattedcalfburgers.com/. This was a local chain of burger places, ah but what burger places! Decorated as an old English pub with pewter cups and dark beams the place always seemed very comfortable. The tables are thick and heavy oak. Originally the condiments were in open crockery set in slight depressions cut into the surface. Those days are long gone as current health regulations forbad such things, however the types of relish that can be applied to the burgers at the last remaining Fatted Calf are still as tangy! Located in Clayton the lone surviving Fatted Calf still delivers on atmosphere and truly awesome burgers.
The Fatted Calf is known for its flame broiled burgers. These are made to order and the kitchen is entirely visible to the customers. An impressive selection of sides are available including great fried, decent onion rings, fried mushrooms and coleslaw. The house specialty is a cheese
burger with melted soft cheddar. A couple of strips of bacon can only add to the ecstasy of the experience. We enjoyed a very wonderful lunch at this St Louis landmark. A large selection of drinks, including some adult beverages, is available. If you find yourself in the Clayton area I highly recommend stopping in an experiencing the best cheeseburger St Louis has to offer. Even if you aren’t in the area a drive of half an hour isn’t too much out of the way for a really worthy lunch or dinner.
From there we drove about twenty minutes to the Grand Avenue near Highway 44. The tower overlooks the St. Louis University Hospital campus
as well as several neighborhoods of preserved Victorian houses. The park is open and free and there is ample free parking on side-streets all around, although the park itself has no lot of its own. Parking on the side streets is free and is within easy walking distance of the tower.
The Tower itself is a masterpiece of Victorian that blends Victorian art and technology in a structure as lovely as it is useful http://www.watertowerfoundation.org/home.asp. One of the greatest things about that era, one of the things I love most about it and something that should be core to VSF and the emerging Steampunk artistic movement is the fusion of form and function.
The park isn’t huge and a large part of it is taken up by the reservoir itself. This is a more modern structure than the tower and lacks
its architectural appeal. The good thing is that the tower dominates the park, the surrounding neighborhood and the skyline for many miles around. Even after over 100 years the building makes a stunning statement. The park had a very nice reflecting pond and is well kept but in no way does this compare to the landscaping found around the tower as it was originally built.
The architect Harvey Ellis http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harvey_Ellis designed the structure. He also designed parts of St. Louis Union Station and the St. Louis City Hall, so his legacy in this city is still strong. The tower was raised late in the 19th century, being completed in 1898. It is
built in a French Romanesque style of rusticated limestone and buff brick. It is faced with terra cotta. Details include griffons and vine scroll details. The observation deck that tops the tower is reached by a spiral staircase of 198 stairs. These curve around the six foot diameter standpipe’s 130 foot height. The tower itself rises 179 feet above the park. The view from the top is amazing. Only the Gateway Arch (or a Zeppelin ride) has vistas that are better.
The tower was a major attraction during the 1904 World’s Fair. During the run of the event, located in nearby Forest Park the park and its tower drew an average of 5,000 visitors each Sunday. At the time it had a carefully landscaped area at the base. This was perhaps the high point of its existence. Over the decades technology first past it by, then the entire idea of functional systems being attractive, being objects of art and beauty and pride fell by the wayside. The tower fell into disrepair. The local activists kept the tower from being torn down during the post modern period (certainly the lowest point in design since mankind graduated from mud huts). They have managed to preserve and maintain the tower and to get it back to the point where it can safely be visited by the general public. They hope to restore rest of the park as well, giving visitors a feel of what it was like when times called for beauty in public spaces and when it was accepted, nay required for objects or structures to add to the general attractiveness of an area rather than simply be built as cheaply and quickly as possible.
To fund the operations the preservation group charges 5.00 for the experience of climbing the many, many, many steps to the top and getting the cooling breezes and stimulating views. The volunteers are from the neighborhood and really know the tower. Again it is always a positive experience to meet with people who are enthusiastic about what they are doing.
If you are looking for something to do the first Saturday of any month, or on the other days the tower is open head overt that way. You may want to go right when they open at noon and then take a late lunch at The Fatted Café (it might be easier to climb on a less full stomach and use the exercise to build up an appetite). This is a good and inexpensive way to spend an afternoon, and is well worth every minute, and every penny.