I was invited to speak at at the Aurora Public Library to commemorate the dedication of a new bike path in this little Ohio River town, so off I flew.
Aurora is a tiny (4,000 people) 19th century river town, evocative of Norman Rockwell and Mark Twain. It is squeezed into a little corner between Route 50 (an ugly strip-mall infested 4 lane) and the Ohio River. It's the kind of town that isn't supposed to exist anymore, with a thriving little downtown of mainly local-based businesses in charming hundred-year-old buildings.
I was impressed and inspired by the vitality, commitment and energy of the local merchants and citizens to hold on to the positive aspects of small town life, and the civic pride which was evident everywhere.
I was also blown away by the hospitality I received, out of all proportion to what I had expected. This really is a great little town!
I flew out on Friday, May 5, Got my most thorough ever search at Logan Airport, every part of my body patted down...but I didn't have any contraband so it was only a minor inconvenience.
An uneventful flight to Cincinnati, where I was picked up by Mary Alice and Merlee, the town librarians.
After a pleasant drive, mostly talking about books and libraries they dropped me of at a 150 year old B&B called the Herman Leive House. This was in some respects almost like staying in a museum, especially the downstairs parlor which looked authentic down to the old harmonium in the corner. I must admit that I was a bit put off by the prevalence of religious bric-a-brac everywhere, not being a religious person myself.
Right behind the house there's an unusual "work in progress." There had been a nondescript old house just up the hillside from the Herman Leive House, and it was in the process of being demolished when it revealed that underneath the crummy old siding was an authentic log cabin! I don't know the exact destiny planned for it, but I'm sure the people of Aurora will find some way to preseve and display it for future generations.
In the evening I was taken out to dinner at Acapulco's Mexican Restaurant, highly fitting since it was Cinco de Mayo. There were maybe a dozen people at the table, I'm afraid I didn't get most of the names. Acapulco's food was better than I would have expected from a midwestern Mexican place, but I'm not a reliable witness because I wound up drinking way more than I'm used to. There were these 34 ounce beers and the most enormous Margaritas...I was just barely ambulatory at the end, but had a grand old time.
Maybe the nicest thing about the Herman Leive House is the front porch. Here's a panoramic view. You can see a bit of the Ohio River just to the right of center.
My talk was originally scheduled to be in the Library building, but they wound up moving it to the town hall down the street because the crowd was larger than the Library could comfortably accommodate...about 40 people by my count. Most of the audience seemed to be Aurora locals, though there was a sizable contingent who come over from Madison, some 50 miles away by van, planning to cycle back.
The Madison contingent took me to an alfresco lunch at Applewood, a very nice riverside restaurant. We sat out on the bank of the river, next to the corn hole pitch. Yes, I did a bit of a double take about that too! Turns out that corn hole is a local game somewhat similar to horseshoe pitching, only played with beanbags that you toss into a hole in a slanted wooden box. You learn something new every day...
I've been pretty well gimped up lately, and was walking with a cane for this trip (and riding wheelchairs in the airports.) A very nice guy named Ben offered to show me the new bike path. I probably could have handled it on a borrowed bike, but he had access to a small four-wheeled maintenance buggy, so that's how we went. Ben formerly worked in a nearby coal burning power plant, one of several huge similar plants in the area, and was a fountain of interesting info about the technology of these plants. The path is currently only about 2.5 miles long, but is just one link of an intended chain of paths along the north/west bank of the Ohio. It was quite pretty, and had a couple of bridges over tributaries coming in. It parallels Route 50 which is a pretty horrible road for cycling due to high traffic volume and strip-mall development, so it looks to be pretty useful to the community despite its short length.
After the bike path tour, Ben took me for a bit of a tour of the town proper, and the uplands overlooking it. Up on the hillsides, 19th century riverboat magnates had built some very fine estates. The most striking building in town is "Hillforest" a mansion built to resemble the bridge of a steamboat. It is now a museum. Ben drove me up to a spot with a particularly good view of the town itself; a private home, but one where the owners are reputedly glad to share their excellent view. Since they weren't home at the time, I didn't get to meet them, but here's the view.
Then we went up to a higher spot, with a name I can't recall (begins with "V" and is supposed to mean "Spring-Summer-Autumn.") The house there was not all that impressive, but the grounds were a huge park with a beautiful winding tree-lined access road. Here's a panorama of the view from this spot:
This was also the day of the Kentucky Derby, which is quite a big deal around here (Kentucky is just across the river from Aurora.) This house was to be the site of a big Derby Party, decorated for the occasion even to the extent of a topiary horse!
In the evening I went to Tim and Carol's place for a fine home-cooked meal, good conversation...and got to experience mint juleps made with the authentic ingredients.
All in all, I had a grand old time, met a lot of very nice people in a delightful American town.
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