Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Very Vagabondy Day

August 13, 2013
We are back in the vagabond groove today, with more adventures than we could possibly imagine springing up at us from every direction.  And it all happens in Maryland.
We begin in LaVale, with rain falling and mist clouds rising from the hollows of the mountains all around us.  This calls for coffee, and we find the perfect spot, Mountain City Coffee House and Creamery, clinging to the side of a mountain slope crowding the town of Frostburg.  The place has a spiritual vibe--which jives with how we are feeling about java this morning.
And, we must have some kind of spiritual mojo going on, because the next thing you know, here we are beside “God’s Ark of Safety,” an authentic ark being built right here in Frostburg at the special request of Jesus, as delivered in the 1970s to Pastor Richard Greene.  Building progress has been slow over these many years since, despite Pastor Greene’s travels all over the world to share the plans and raise money to fulfill the promise.  But, it appears that the project is not just about the product, but the process, as well.  A visitor who viewed the ark was cured of bronchitis, a worker was healed of a sun allergy.  These are miracles we can believe in!  The one miracle we are skeptical about is the miracle that this 450 foot long, 75 foot wide, 45 foot high vessel will ever be completed.  
The crowning jewel of the day, and the reason we are in the Frostburg area in the first place, is our photo safari through the last remaining intact silk mill in America--the Lonaconing Silk Mill.  Established in 1907, the mill stopped production in 1957, and it appears that at the end of the last day of work, everyone just left all their tools and papers and work clothes behind and walked out the door, then the owners locked up without bothering to clean up or reclaim any excess inventory.
In the intervening years, the paint has cracked and peeled, windows have cracked and broken, the roof has sprung many a leak, and the hundreds and hundreds of spinning and weaving machines have developed a deep layer of rust.
What a glorious playground for photographers!
We will throw in a few of our photos as we tell the story of its fate after the plant closed.
On the recommendation of a politician friend of his, Herb Crawford bought the 48,000 square foot mill thirty years ago with the intention of renting it out as a sewing factory, but the plan fell through when the politician “got caught with his hand in the cookie jar,” as Herb says. 
 Herb has been trying ever since to get some foundation or government agency to save this historically significant building.  The county is interested, but has no money.  Same story from Maryland officials.  Some guy wants to take the place off his hands for $400,000, and then take the place apart, selling off the pieces for scrap and reclaimed materials.  Herb is trying to hold off on selling to someone who will not preserve it, but he is retired, and was counting on this building to be his retirement fund.
And, trying to take care of the building looks like it is a big job, too--he spent the whole time we were there just going around the building emptying buckets that had filled with rainwater that had leaked in from last night’s rain, and using a wet vac to clean up the particularly big and deep puddles that missed a bucket.  Water is still dripping and puddling as we leave, although it stopped raining a couple hours ago.
Just a block from the Silk Mill, a fifty foot chimney rises over a tidy little municipal park.  We are curious, and stop to explore (of course).  We learn from a very detailed historic marker that this is the Lonaconing Iron Furnace, built in 1837, and in operation only until 1855. In its heyday it employed 260 workers and produced sixty tons of pig iron per week.  It was historically significant for being the first furnace to make iron from coal and coke, rather than charcoal. Alas, it closed down in 1855 when easily available deposits of iron ore were depleted around here, and Pennsylvania iron furnaces were nearer to coal and railroads, giving them a significant product production and distribution advantage.
Down the road a ways, near Cumberland, Dick uses his amazing restaurant radar to determine that this divey place, Bunnie’s,  is actually a restaurant.  We enter with some hesitancy, especially when the door spills us into a claustrophobic bar room with three guys you don’t want to be close to drinking at the bar.  They go quiet and look at us, and we at them, until a hostess quickly jumps out from the shadows and shows us to a perfectly lovely dining room in the back, where some more appealing local types are dining.  The lunch is the best we have had on this trip.
We began the day in the rainy mountains of western Maryland, and we end it watching a golden sunset on the Chesapeake Bay.  We are in Kent Narrows, where crab houses (and working boats) line the shore--our dinner target is clear.  The first crab house we choose has run out of crabs, but recommends their finest competitor, where we grab our mallets and pound and pick our way through a shared tray of a dozen large crabs.

Our mouths are tingling from Bay Seasoning as we finish, so we (like most other people here) order the restaurant’s signature dessert--a Nutty Buddy made in-house.  It looks like the Nutty Buddy of our childhood has grown up and gone on steroids. But somehow we each manage to finish one.
What a DAY!

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