From Bucktown to Montpelier!?!

Note: as I write this we are slowly wending our way through a lush, green gorge beside a muddy, swollen river in West Virginia. Our train is about three and a half hours late, due to that river. They are concerned about flash floods and the signals and parts of the communication system are out. After sitting for a couple of hours and finally managing to get in touch with the dispatcher, we got permission to proceed, albeit slowly. I’ll write more on this in a later post.

Our original plan upon arriving in Chicago was to pick up a rental car from Hertz–the Chicago station is big enough to warrant its own car rental desk–and drive out to the north end of town, where our bed-and-breakfast was located. However, since we were going to be spending most of our time with either Andy (Nancy’s nephew), or both Andy and his wife Andrea, they insisted on driving us around and on loaning us one of their cars for our drive out to South Bend. Thus, we canceled our rental car and instead stepped off the train to be greeted by Andrea and their charming eighteen-month-old daughter Mila.

Andy and Andrea moved to Chicago many years ago, and recently purchased a home in the “Bucktown” neighborhood of Chicago. Due to some excellent planning on Nancy’s part, our bed-and-breakfast was three doors down from Andy and Andrea’s place. Thus, Andrea drove us to their place, and we simply walked with our luggage over to “Ray’s Bucktown B&B.”

Ray’s is an interesting place. Started about eight years ago, Ray has taken two adjacent row houses–one a classic brick, the other a modern affair with lots of steel and glass–and connected them together such that they still look like two distinct buildings from the outside but from the inside they act as one. The brick house, where the entrance is, has the check-in desk, the kitchen and dining areas, laundry facilities, a steam room and a sauna, and a couple of guest rooms. The other house is largely made up of guest rooms. In various spots throughout both houses there are nooks with couches and chairs where one can plop down and read, or work, or write for one’s blog…

The decor in the public spaces at Ray’s is pretty unusual. Every space is different, and every wall is pretty much covered: framed photographs on one, framed nature prints on another, old cans and bottles on yet another, and yes, even one wall that was pretty much all books. And the walls along the stairwell to the laundry are covered in cameras. There are so many things to catch your eye in every public area, but it is all neatly arranged. And the rooms are much more subdued, so the riotous decor stops at the door to your room, thank goodness. I’m not sure how I would have slept, otherwise! In any event, the beds were comfortable, the room (the “Egret” room, in our case) was very quiet, and most if not all rooms have private baths. It was perfect for our purposes. We’ll definitely stay there again.

One final note about Ray’s: the other ‘B’ in B&B stand for breakfast, and boy does Ray’s deliver on that score. Most B&B’s cook a few simple dishes in quantity and then put it out for all to share. Not Ray’s. Ray’s Bucktown B&B starts you with juice, coffee, fruit, and pastries…and then they hand you the menu. They have a full menu of breakfast items (stuffed French toast! Omelette s! Eggs any way you want ’em! Homemade sausage, or bacon, or ham! And, of course, oatmeal or cereal or toast or just about anything you can imagine. Oh, and there is a daily special. A word to the wise: while I can highly recommend Ray’s, they serve huge portions of food at breakfast. Consider splitting an entree, as Nancy and I did.

Bucktown is a charming community of row houses, a really neat park, and some great shopping and dining. We did a lot of walking through the area, taking Mila to the park and strolling down to the shopping/dining district for lunch. The CTA’s Blue Line has a stop fairly nearby, although we didn’t take advantage of that. And Andy showed us a section of old railroad right-of-way where the tracks have been removed that the city is hopefully going to turn into a park. A very long, narrow park ideal for joggers, walkers, cyclists, and the like. The right-of-way is elevated, so you’ll be able to go for miles without having to bother with street crossings. We went up on it to get an idea of what it’ll be like; it seems perfectly in character with a city like Chicago. Hopefully it’ll get done; I’d love to be able to walk from one end to the other someday.

We chose to spend four nights in Chicago for a couple of reasons. One, we like Chicago and most Amtrak trains seem to go there, so we were going to be there if only to change trains. Two, we haven’t really had a chance to spend quality time with Andy and Andrea and our new grand-niece Mila. Three, Chicago is within a reasonable drive of Mark Wilson (My brother Dave’s oldest, currently finishing his Master’s at Notre Dame) and a graveyard where a number of Nancy’s ancestors are buried.

About that last: Nancy has really been getting into genealogy lately, and she identified a cemetery in Indiana where at least eight Speases are buried. It didn’t look terribly far from Chicago, and Nancy managed to get Andy interested, so the three of us set out for Montpelier, IN last Sunday. The cemetery is an old one without an office or other official means of locating folks within. Fortunately, a local mortuary had taken over the responsibility for that cemetery and an adjacent one, so they had the records. Knowing that we would be there on a Sunday and guessing that the Mortuary might not be open, Nancy had contacted Shannon at the Walker & Glancy Funeral Home in Montpelier and gotten all the information we needed.

Montpelier turned out to be farther than we had originally thought; we had mentally put it close to Fort Wayne, but it was a good hour to the southwest from there. However, we had a great drive and used the time to exchange family news and in general to get to know Andy better. Contrary to what we had been told, we found that part of Indiana, at any rate to be quite pretty. We passed numerous fields, and admired the many beautiful stands of trees we passed. It was particularly neat to see the many different varieties of trees that they have out here, quite different than we have in California. I couldn’t help but wonder what this countryside must have looked like to the early settlers expanding our country to the west.

Indiana has many small towns, some clearly more prosperous than others. Wabash, Indiana, for instance, seemed to be in great shape. It’s public buildings were well-kept, the neighborhoods we drove through were made up of pretty, well-maintained houses, and as we drove along the town’s main street we didn’t see an abundance of empty storefronts. One bit of trivia: Wabash is acknowledged as the first electrically lighted city in the world.

We couldn’t help but contrast Wabash with Montpelier. Judging from the dates carved into the stone fronts of some of the buildings, this is an old town, with many buildings constructed in the mid-to-late 1800’s. however, many of these old buildings were falling down, and we saw many unoccupied buildings and storefronts. The houses, too, seemed meaner and less well kept. We did manage to locate the house in Montpelier where Nancy’s grandfather lived for a time, at least. For fun, we looked it up on a real-estate site (it isn’t for sale); it currently is a 3 bedroom 1 bath house, around 1700 square feet. And it’s estimated value is $60,000. Auntie Em, we aren’t in California any more…

Once we located the graveyard–a slightly tricky process given that the rural roads aren’t terribly well signposted–we zeroed right in on the graves we were looking for. This was due to the help of Nancy’s friend from the funeral home. Not only had she described where the graves were located, she had planted a couple of brightly colored flags to help us out. And what we found was pretty neat: there is a tall monument marked “Spease” that lists Nancy’s great great grandfather Franklin and great great grandmother Agnes, along with two daughters who died very young. Then, neatly arrayed in front of the monument in two rows are the headstones of the various Speases buried there. Nearby Nancy found headstones for who she believed were a great aunt and uncle (which she later confirmed). Unfortunately she later realized that there are some others there, too, with other last names. So we may be going back to Indiana some day. In any case, Nancy has developed a great working relationship with the young lady from the funeral home, and has already requested copies of their paperwork for these other relatives.

Even though these folks were not related to me, I had a great time helping locate the different people and helping interpret the markings on their headstones. Andy really seemed to get into it. I imagine that seeing so many grave markers with the name “Spease” on them caused it all to really hit home.

We did find a number of folks with the name of “Speece” and we had even received some of the paperwork on a couple of these folks, but Nancy can find no connection to her family. Which we all agreed was too bad, since one of them, Peter Speece, died “by hanging,” which we thought was kind-of exciting, in a slightly morbid way.

After trooping around the graveyard for quite a while we turned around and headed for Fort Wayne and then Chicago. Four hours later, we were back. We ended the day with a late dinner in a local pub, and then we retired to get a good night’s sleep in preparation for our next day’s drive back to Indiana, this time to South Bend. But that trip, and our subsequent activities in Chicago, will have to wait for my next post.

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