|July, 23, 2010: Following Jims|
The first time I ever saw Josh Hisle perform was
in February in a bar in Rising Sun,
Indiana. While passing through Aurora on the way to the performance, I
spotted a pair of stone arches I'd somehow missed on previous trips. Josh
is back in Rising Sun and I'm off to see him again and maybe find out
something about those stone arches. But why stop there? Since my February
visit, road sleuth Jim
Grey has explored US-50 through the area and revealed a couple of
interesting tidbits about Aurora and points west. Might as well make it a
day and check out some of those, too. Then I took a look at the
bookshelves and leafed through a couple of US-50 related volumes. One of
them mentioned a diner in Seymour and I recalled that Jim Grey had
discovered something exceedingly strange there. So I put the book in the
car and targeted Seymour. The book is Highway 50: Ain't That
America by Jim Lilliefors. So this will not be your standard
run-of-the-mill one Jim trip. Today I'm moving beyond the ordinary. Today
I'm following in the tracks of two Jims.
My first stop in Aurora was for breakfast and luck was with me. Fellows sitting at the Aurora Country Kitchen's biggest table were talking about floods and spouting dates and depths and damage. I knew I was in the right place. When I sensed one or two were thinking about leaving, I interrupted my bacon & eggs and stepped up to the table. I'd barely mentioned the old arches when two of the locals simultaneously told me they were part of the old brewery. There were some pictures, they thought, down at the city building and there was a new brewery of the same name, Great Crescent, operating in town right now. There was some stuff up at Hillforest, too. Owned by the same guy, you know.
At the city building, I spoke with the Main Street Aurora organization. They had no photos themselves but the library did and the Hillforest museum had some brewery artifacts. I met the owner of the new brewery when I stopped to read the posted hours. It would open at 2:00. Hillforest would open at 1:00. Both would have to wait until I returned from Seymour. But the library was open now. Merlee greeted me at the front desk then called Rosalie when she learned what I wanted. The brewery isn't particularly well documented -- it closed in 1893 -- but Rosalie came up with some good stuff. I'll share some of it a little later.
When Jim Grey visited Aurora in early June, he thought that possible past
paths of US-50 included Trester Hill Road and Lower Dillsboro Road. He has
since determined that the US route never ran over Lower Dillsboro but I
believe he still considers Trester Hill to be a maybe. The first two
pictures are of Trester Hill and the last two from Lower Dillsboro.
Maps show Trester Hill running for about six-tenths of a mile along side the current US-50 before ending. I drove about half of that distance before turning back at the rough looking gravel. Driving it was out of the question and, for me, so was walking it in 90+ degrees. Lower Dillsboro Road was a very pretty drive that included my first sighting of a "ROAD SLIP AHEAD" sign.
ADDENDUM: Jul 26, 2010 - Since the routes covered by this and the following two panels are only smudges on the trip locator map, I've included more detailed maps here (Trester & Lower Dillsboro Roads) and here (Base Road). When the considerable construction at the west edge of Aurora is completed, reaching Trester & Lower Dillsboro will be easier or impossible. I'm not sure which.
This bridge is about forty miles west of Aurora between North Vernon and
Hayden. Despite the fact that I've driven past it a few times, I learned
about it through Jim Grey. It would be almost impossible to not see the
bridge while driving west. I've always been headed east. Maybe I missed it
because it's hidden when eastbound, I thought. Later in the day, I learned
this was not at all true when I passed the spot on my way back to Aurora.
It's very visible to eastbound travelers although it's not as apparent
that it is reachable. Maybe I've seen it and thought it was on private
land. That's the best story I can come up with. Jim reports that this
bridge, built in the 1920s, was once part of US-50. Read about his visit
I parked well back from the bridge and crossed it on foot. About three cars and one truck crossed the bridge while I was exploring and one of the cars even clattered across while I stood on the bridge taking pictures of the tracks below. Satisfied that the bridge hadn't deteriorated significantly since Jim's visit, I climbed back in the car and clattered over myself.
|I stayed with Base Road through Hayden then returned to modern US-50. This nicely restored station is right next to the Hayden Historical Museum and I imagine the two are associated. The museum occupies a pretty big building and I'm thinking a return when it's open (Sun. 1:00-4:00, Wed. 3:30-8:00) would be worthwhile.|
Jim Lilliefors chatted with Sonny Mellencamp in
when car trouble kept him in Seymour, Indiana, for a few days. His book,
Highway 50: Ain't That America, tells of the brief
conversation and includes a picture of Ed Larrison, too. Ed's still around
but has turned the diner over to the next generation. Liz & Kevin own
and operate the place now. Neither were there when I was though Liz had
just left. John, the fellow in the picture, is something like the
hands-on-manager and a darned nice guy. It was around twenty years ago
that Ed Larrison explained to Jim L how franchise restaurants had
"taken away the dinner business". He had moved his closing time
from 8:00 to 7:00 to 6:00 then 5:00. Now it's 3:45 though during the
winter they're open late on Fridays for steak night.
The place has been Larrison's since the mid-1970s but has been an eatery of some sort for over seventy years. The Larrisons expanded into the building next door and added two dining rooms. Besides providing space for more customers, the rooms allow display of artifacts like the classic jukebox and some items from native son John Mellencamp.
|But followers of the other Jim have a different interest in Seymour. Yes, the Prius is still there but it has been reunited with its wheels. Maybe the concrete blocks were needed elsewhere.|
Hillforest had opened and closed before I made it back to Aurora however
the Great Crescent
Brewery was open for business -- and tasting. Although Dan & Lani
Valas have no legal connection with the original Crescent Brewing Company,
they do now have a physical connection. The Gaff brothers, founders of
Crescent Brewing Company, also had a distillery and Great Crescent Brewery
recently moved into the distillery's warehouse. The distillery itself was
in a still existing building across the street. I sampled them all,
chatted with the Valases, looked over the new brewery and some photos of
the old brewery, and left with a growler of Coconut Porter. And I swear
Dan was hard at work until I asked to take his picture.
When I left home this morning, I didn't even know that a brewery had ever existed in Aurora. I'd since learned of a major operation that came and went in the century before last and visited a smaller operation that looked to have a real future ahead of it. Here's a few of the things I learned about the brewery that once occupied the cellars that caught my eye in February. Thomas Gaff, Hillforest's original owner, opened Aurora Brewing & Malting Company around 1866. This became the T. & J. W. Gaff & Co. in 1874. The 'T' was Thomas; 'JW' his brother James. The Crescent Brewing Company came into being with an 1877 reorganization. Before it closed in 1893, the brewery would be owned by a conglomerate headed by London's Watney Brewing which eventually disappeared itself into a blur of acquisitions and mergers. Those still visible stone cellars were the lowest of the brewery's six levels with the main entrance being from the hillside into the third floor. In 1885 the place employed 60 to 70 and produced $500,000 worth of the "Celebrated Aurora Lager Beer". According to Main Street Aurora, an engineering firm is currently involved in evaluating the cellars and hillside with the goal of creating a small park in the area fronting them.
Here's what was behind my picking today for traipsing around a bit of
Indiana. It's Rockies Bar in Rising Sun. When I was here in February, I
saw Josh Hisle, his Lost in Holland pardner, Michael G Ronstadt, and a
whole passel of friends perform in a
configurations. I've since seen the official two-piece Lost in Holland
lineup. The two also regularly perform with Michael's dad, Michael J, and
brother, Petie, in a group called Ronstadt Generations. Tonight would be an
almost-but-not-quite Ronstadt Generations show. Michael G had a gig in
Cleveland so there would be no cello. To keep the count and the
generations concept intact, Josh's stepfather, Steve Melchers, joined in
on admittedly un-cello-like drums. In spite of not having a single
rehearsal, Steve sounded like he'd been there all along. In fact, if you
didn't know any better, it wouldn't occur to you that an important
instrument was missing. A strong performance by all concerned. If you like
variety, just drop in on Josh Hisle once in awhile.
The four head shots are Michael J, Petie, Josh, and Steve. I didn't get a good shot of Dixon Creasy who was occasionally called upon to play bass. As you can see, Petie often handled bass duties (with Dixon's axe) along with guitar and mandolin. Besides guitar, Josh worked in some harmonica, mandolin, and banjo. He might, in fact, be the top 3-string slide banjo picker in the world. I know I've not seen any better.
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