Posted by: Brad Nixon | April 20, 2019

Raise the Drawbridge — Or Swing It

If you build your bridge high enough, you don’t have to worry about letting navigation through.

Golden Gate Brad Nixon 4349 (640x484)

The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco has 220 feet of clearance between the water and the bridge at high tide: ample for most ships.

Topography, infrastructure and budget require that any number of bridges are something less than 200 feet above a navigation channel. That means you need a drawbridge.

Portland, Oregon is located at the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers, both of them important transportation corridors. There are also a large number of bridges for every type of traffic, and they represent a wide variety of drawbridges.

One of them, Steel Bridge, was built in 1912.

Steel bridge Brad Nixon 2166 680

You can probably figure out how this one works. That center section lifts straight up, pulled by the elevator towers on either side.

Steel bridge Brad Nixon 2181 680

That is the most straightforward form of drawbridge. Stop traffic, lift the center section, let marine traffic pass.

Technically, it’s a “vertical truss lift drawbridge.” It was built by the Union Pacific Railroad. The lower level carries rail, bicycle and pedestrian traffic. The upper level carries road traffic as well as a line of Portland’s MAX light rail system. Considered one of the world’s most versatile bridges, although a more contemporary term is “multimodal.”

At the top of the elevator towers, you can see the massive counterweights. They counterbalance the weight of the truss, so the elevator has less work to do. The structure on top is the operation center, with a clear view up- and downriver.

Another common form of drawbridge is more familiar than its name suggests: the bascule bridge. Here’s one, the Siuslaw (sigh-OOSE-lah) River Bridge in Florence, Oregon.

Siuslaw bridge Brad Nixon 680

Built in distinctive Art Deco style by the U.S. Public Works Administration in 1936, the Siuslaw is one of a number of historic engineering feats on Highway 101 along Oregon’s coast, crossing the numerous rivers that flow into the Pacific.

I don’t have a photo of a bascule drawbridge in operation, but you can picture the halves of that center section being raised as ramps. Some bascule bridges have one “leaf.” The Siuslaw Bridge is a “double leaf:” Two opposing ramps raise to allow a tall center space for marine traffic.

This blog post was inspired by a bridge just a few miles upstream on the Siuslaw: The Cushman Swing Span Bridge.

Swing bridge Brad Nixon 4211 680

When I encountered it, I was absolutely unaware of how it worked, or why there was that odd-looking shack on top of it.

Built in 1914 to carry a railroad line, the Cushman is one of a large number of “swing span” bridges, although I was unfamiliar with them before encountering this one.

A closer look at the “swing span” helps explain how it works.

Swing bridge Brad Nixon 4217 680

The center span pivots 90 degrees on its central axis, directly beneath the control house, “swinging” aside to leave the channel clear for ships.

I was particularly struck by the picturesque operator’s control station atop the center of the bridge.

Swing bridge Brad Nixon 4216 680

Bridges are iconic structures, dating back to earliest civilization. Almost all ancient cities were located along rivers or lakes, and bridges were critically important. In earliest times, they were merely logs or stone slabs, flopped over streams. River crossings figure in stories from from the dawn of civilization, and figure in tales of errant knights and wayward travelers.

And so today.

Is there a drawbridge in your town? Do you sometimes have to wait for it to allow traffic through? Please leave a comment.

© Brad Nixon 2019

Posted by: Brad Nixon | April 16, 2019

Our Lady

Worlds fail. Photos, 2004. My most recent look at her. Fluctuat nec Mergitur.

Notre Dame facade Brad Nixon 20040423 680

Notre Dame Brad Nixon 20040423 680

© Brad Nixon 2019

Posted by: Brad Nixon | April 15, 2019

Get Out of the Car and Look Around. Centralia, Washington

Let’s go see a small town.

Centralia Tower St Brad Nixon 4432 680

To judge from the date and style of the architecture, it could be any one of 10,000 small towns in the U.S. Where is it? Minnesota? Kansas? Montana? Kentucky? Let’s look at the other side of the street.

Centralia street Brad Nixon 4407 680

Attractive, tidy, full of charming period detail. Still, merely a line of buildings from the first two decades of the 20th century that could, really, be almost anywhere. The deciduous trees are bare, but that happens across the entire U.S., north to south, east to west. In fact, this might be a small town in Canada, too, had I not said it was in the U.S.

That is North Tower Street in Centralia, Washington, in the Pacific Northwest. I’m writing about it for two reasons. First, it’s like every small town in America. Second, it’s unique, unlike anywhere else, and although those buildings resemble hundreds of thousands of others from the era, each one has a history of its own.

This is one of my common themes at Under Western Skies: You don’t get to know a place by driving through it. You have to get out and walk around, talk to people, go into the buildings and SEE it.Centralia Depot Brad Nixon 4414 680

Above, for example, is the 1912 railroad depot. Centralia — like most of the U.S. — was crushed by the bust of 1893. Most of the properties in town were delinquent on their mortgages, but the hard-pressed banks had no way of selling those properties, had they foreclosed.

As the new century dawned, things were again booming in Centralia, thanks to logging, mining and dairy farming. At its peak, the depot saw 44 passenger trains and 11 freight trains every day. Railroad Avenue — one block east of Tower — was lined with hotels and saloons. The depot was renovated in 2000, and the Amtrak passenger waiting room reflects a bygone era.

Centralia Depot Brad Nixon 4417 680

If you were a traveling salesman, lugging a case full of samples, just off the train from Tacoma, where would you go? If it were my situation, I’d walk two blocks west to the Lewis and Clark Hotel.

Lewis Clark Brad Nixon 4430 680

With 100 rooms, 65 with private baths, the Lewis and Clark opened in 1927, designed by Robert Reamer, who also designed the iconic Old Faithful Lodge at Yellowstone National Park.

Business in Centralia thrived during the first half of the century. The town built its still-operating library with a grant from the Carnegie Foundation, as I wrote here in my previous post.

Civic organizations also boomed, and the Masons erected an impressive lodge building across the street from the Lewis and Clark Hotel in 1923.

Centralia Masonic Brad Nixon 4428 680

Centralia continued to prosper, and — as one might expect — one of the cultural amenities included a large theater: The Fox, built in 1929.

Centralia Fox M Vincent 4860

Currently, the old house is undergoing renovation, with its re-opening planned for 2020. Note the “fly space” at the rear of building. That indicates that it was constructed to accommodate stage productions, not just films. Whether or not anything remains of its original theatrical orientation, I can’t say, but I hope it survives.

As late as 1937, Centralia benefitted from the final years of the Works Progress Administration’s ambitious public works projects, giving it a new downtown post office.

Centralia PO Brad Nixon 4449 680

Like many of the WPA buildings, the Centralia P.O.’s interior was ornamented with a mural. Titled “Industries of Lewis County,” by Washington artist Kenneth Callahan, who had a 50-year career as curator at the Seattle Art Museum. It’s somewhat obscured by equipment in the lobby and a protective plexiglas covering, but is an excellent example of the Social Realism style favored by a large number of the WPA’s artists.

Centralia Mural Brad Nixon 4446 680

The world, time and conflict lands hard on every town, everywhere. Centralia’s downtown park, named “George Washington,” after the town’s founder, a free African-American, has a monument which began as a tribute to leaders of a labor movement, killed in a violent confrontation on Armistice Day, 1919, known locally as the “Centralia Massacre.” In the ensuing years, it’s become a memorial to residents of Lewis County who lost their lives in two world wars and other conflicts: The Freedom Walk recognizes them, with the library in the distance behind a statue named “The Sentinel.”

Centralia monument Brad Nixon 4401 680

Lest we forget.

When traveling, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that everywhere is distinctive, different from everywhere else. Travel can be a homogenizing experience that flattens out the distinctions. Airports, freeway interchanges, strip malls and shopping centers all have the same things, the same brand names, the same commodities on offer.

But drive into town, get out of the car, walk around, look at what’s there: Everywhere’s different. People live there. They all have stories to tell.

I found a story, hidden in plain sight. I recognized it immediately, although the place doesn’t look like much amidst those buildings from the early 1900s on Tower Street.

Centralia Premier Brad Nixon 4437 680

Although it looks like a strip mall, it’s a survivor from the early automobile era. Built in about 1921, it was once the Premier Service Station. I haven’t found a photo of the site, but below is one shot in 1941 from the Tower Street side of the property, looking north along Tower past the Fox Theatre. The Texaco sign indicates it was still a service station in ’41. The Fox was showing “Rookies on Parade,” released that year, the first starring role for Bob Crosby, Bing’s younger brother, along with “The Trial of Mary Dugan,” 1929, starring Norma Shearer.

historic Texaco

Downtown Centralia’s coup de grace came not as another economic decline, as it did in 1893 and the Depression, but in drama on a volcanic scale. In 1980, Mt. St. Helens, about 30 miles away, erupted, destroying millions of board feet of lumber already logged by local industry. The old downtown isn’t what it once was, but it’s there to see, if you’re willing to exit interstate I-5 about halfway between Portland and Seattle, walk the streets and look around.

You won’t always find “the latest thing” or “the last word” in Centralia, a small town under western skies. Unless you credit the claim on the Fox Theatre:

MV C4865-LR Fox Theatre Centralia 680

© Brad Nixon 2019. Fox Theatre photos © M. Vincent 2019, used by kind permission. Research for this piece included the Living New Deal at this link, and the City of Centralia’s application for historic preservation status at this link.

Posted by: Brad Nixon | April 12, 2019

National Library Week: Where’s the Land? What About Books?

My final post of U.S. National Library Week 2019 is one of acknowledgment.

Public libraries exist only because people in towns across the world have made significant efforts to bring them into existence.

Some reside in leafy parks, like the one in Las Vegas, New Mexico. I wrote about it at this link.

Las Vegas Carnegie Brad Nixon 0817 (640x493)

Many public libraries owe some credit to the Carnegie Foundation for providing the funds for buildings. But to qualify for the grants, communities had to provide the land, the books, the staffing and operational oversight. More than 2,000 communities in a dozen countries received Carnegie grants. To secure those grants, some tens of thousands of private citizens organized, raised money and saw to it that their town had a public library. An impressive achievement, The vast majority of those towns still have a library, often greatly expanded — either in the original building or in a library system that’s outgrown the original. Legacies from the foresight and energy of people several generations ago.


In any number of towns, the solution to the problem of where to put the library was relatively simple: a public park, like the one above in New Mexico, modeled after Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.

Another example’s in the Los Angeles area: the city of South Pasadena, which I described in more detail at this link.

S Pasadena Carnegie Brad Nixon 3113 (640x480)

In this post, I’ll take you to two Carnegies in the state of Washington, to see how the citizens of two northwestern towns dealt with the challenge.

North By Northwest: Vancouver, Washington

Vancouver Carnegie Brad Nixon 4473 680

The Vancouver Public Library opened on the last day of 1909, thanks in part to a $10,000 Carnegie grant for the building.

To secure Carnegie funds for the structure, the city voted to provide $1,500 for library operations, and local donors raised $1,232 for books. In 2018 dollars, those book donations would be valued at about $33,000. Considerable support, in my opinion.

Vancouver Carnegie Brad Nixon 4470 680

Like a number of other extant Carnegie buildings, Vancouver’s Neoclassical Revival building is no longer a public library, and the area is served by a number of branches of the Fort Vancouver Regional Library.

The structure now houses the Clark County Historical Museum.

Clark Museum Brad Nixon 4469 680

Note the language at the bottom of the sign. It has something to say about the above-mentioned issue regarding land for libraries: “Exhibits and Research Library.”

Lowell M. Hidden, a Vancouver area manufacturer whose bricks were used in the construction, donated the land for the library. He specified one condition: The building and the site must always be a library. If not, the property would revert to Hidden or his heirs. Thus, the museum makes a point of stating that it is a museum and research library.

Vancouver Carnegie Brad Nixon 4464 680

So it is, Mr. Hidden. I’m certain the people of Vancouver and Clark County thank you, more than a century after your act of civic generosity.

Farther North: Centralia, Washington

In 1912, Centralia, Washington — about halfway between Seattle and Portland, Oregon — was a boom town. Coal, lumber and dairy farming fueled growth. The brand-new railroad depot, opened just that year, served as many as 44 passenger trains and 17 freight trains daily at its peak capacity.

Centralia Depot Brad Nixon 4414 680

Centralia’s Ladies of the Round Table club got behind the effort to build a public library. Here is a link to the October 8, 1912 edition of The Centralia Daily Chronicle, reporting the Ladies’ organizing effort on the front page.

Centralia secured a Carnegie grant that allowed construction of what is now Centralia Timberland Library and the new library opened in 1913. I’m sorry I know nothing more about the Ladies of the Round Table, although I found an October, 1962 edition of the same newspaper that reported their recent meeting: still going, 50 years after their library effort paid off. I tip the Under Western Skies hat to them.

Where to put the library? Like Las Vegas and South Pasadena, Centralia decided on the city park — George Washington Park — named for the town’s founder, not the U.S. president.

Centralia monument Brad Nixon 4401 680

With 6, 200 square feet on two floors, the building had four fireplaces. It was expanded and remodeled in the 1970s, including a glassed-in weather enclosure that obscures the original entrance.

Centralia Carnegie Brad Nixon 4392 680

The fortunes of Centralia’s downtown — like those of so many small towns — has flagged. The same location that helped build its growth, halfway between the busy shipping ports on the Columbia River and those in Tacoma and Seattle, has had the opposite effect in the days of interstate highway travel. Retail, restaurants and general commerce are located at the exits along interstate highway 5, just two miles from downtown.

Fortunately, the library still operates to serve the community. Locals need a library, even if travelers are interested only in a convenient place to fuel up, grab a meal or shop at the outlet mall before continuing to Seattle or Portland, about an hour and a half, either way.

Here’s the Library’s opposite facade, facing Silver Street.

Centralia Carnegie Brad Nixon 4390 680

Yes, Andrew Carnegie deserves his share of the credit for those $10,000 grants. With a value of about a quarter million dollars in today’s currency, they were significant opportunities for towns large and small to build something of genuine worth.

But a building is simply a structure, and I credit those citizens in thousands of towns for using the funds to build something of lasting value: so valuable that more than 100 years later, many of the buildings — or their successors — are filled not just with books, but computers, wi-fi, online research databases, multimedia, meeting spaces, staffed by trained professionals.

Happy National Library Week 2019. Enjoy your library. It took some effort to get it started. It’s up to us to keep it going.

Licensable, high resolution versions of most photographs in this post, and select images from other Under Western Skies posts are available on Click on the linked photos, or CLICK HERE to view the Underawesternsky photo portfolio.

© Brad Nixon 2019

Posted by: Brad Nixon | April 10, 2019

National Library Week; Two Oregon Carnegie Libraries

It’s National Library Week, so it’s time for Under Western Skies to visit a Carnegie Library.

As it happens, my recent trip to the Pacific Northwest included looks at four libraries constructed with funds from the Carnegie Foundation. Today, I’ll give you a look at two of the 21 extant Carnegie library buildings in Oregon. Later this week: two of 44 Carnegies that were built in the state of Washington. A cornucopia of Carnegies.

Carnegies Galore

There are Carnegie library buildings in more than a thousand American cities and towns. Here’s one from a previous visit, in Ashland, Oregon, still part of the Jackson County system.

Ashland Carnegie Brad Nixon 1734

My regular readers know from previous posts that the Scottish-American industrial magnate, Andrew Carnegie invested some of his enormous wealth to fund the construction of library buildings. Crediting his start in life to having been granted access to some private libraries, he was determined to promote public libraries that would help others improve their own lives.

Another Oregon example: Portland, Oregon has 6 extant Carnegie buildings. Here’s one, the North Portland branch.

Carnegie Library North Portland OR exterior Brad Nixon 7769 cr (640x538)

As the 20th century began, communities could apply to Carnegie’s foundation for funds to erect library buildings. In order to secure a grant, they needed to demonstrate that they had a place to build and the financial and organization means to acquire books, staff the facility and manage its operation. In all, the foundation provided funds for more than 2,500 library buildings, 1,689 in the United States, the balance in a dozen other countries.

In Search of Oregon Carnegies

I enjoy tracking down extant Carnegies as I travel. They’re there thanks to significant determination by communities in the early 20th century to improve the lives of their citizens. The buildings were designed in a wide variety of architectural styles. Each one is unique.

Not every extant Carnegie building is still a library. That’s the case in Medford, in southwestern Oregon.

Medford Carnegie Brad Nixon 4674 680

Like many other city libraries, Medford’s sits amidst a grassy park.

Medford Carnegie Brad Nixon 4685 680

The library was expanded with a not-particularly-attractive rear addition in the 1950s.

Medford Carnegie Brad Nixon 4681 680

In 2004, Jackson County Libraries — of which Medford’s a branch — opened a new, larger structure closer to the center of town, leaving the Carnegie building without a tenant. It was used by the city’s government for a variety of office and meeting functions for a time, then it sat unused for the better part of a decade — never a good thing for 100 year-old buildings. Now, the building’s in the midst of extensive restoration that will see a local philanthropy, the Kid Time Children’s Museum, take up residence.

Medford Carnegie Brad Nixon 4683 680

Although its classical revival design may not appeal to contemporary tastes, the buiding exterior appears to be in good condition, thanks to more than $1 million invested so far in new windows and other improvements.

Medford Carnegie Brad Nixon 4684 680

Much remains to be done, but it’s good to see the old building has a future. “Repurposing” is a common fate for old libraries that are structurally sound. You’ll find community centers, museums and even commercial offices occupying the onetime libraries. Good luck, Medford. Well done.

To Northern Oregon

The counselor and I also ranged to the north, passing through Portland into Washington. Our Portland visit included a first-ever look at historic Oregon City, located on the Willamette River, upstream from Portland. Oregon City was once larger than Portland, because river navigation up- and downstream stopped at the 1,500 foot wide horseshoe of Willamette Falls. The town became a center of shipping and paper manufacturing.

Willamette Falls Brad Nixon 4826 680

One of many historic buildings giving Oregon City its distinctive character is the 1913 Carnegie Library, set in Carnegie Park, now officially Library Park. Another classical revival approach, this time in red brick.

Oregon City Carnegie Brad Nixon 4807 680

Early in the 2000s, the Clackamas County Library system needed to expand its library in the county seat. After long consideration, they decided to attach the library expansion to the Carnegie, which was extensively renovated as part of the project.

Oregon City Carnegie Brad Nixon 4813 680

The interior retains some of its original character, including the wooden entryway.

Oregon City Carnegie Brad Nixon 4805 680

The 2016 addition — far larger than the diminutive original — is an attractive and inviting space.

Oregon City Carnegie Brad Nixon 4799 680

Not every old building can or should be preserved. Sometimes, it’s simply not practicable, and the old must make way for the new. Kudos to Oregon City and Clackamas County’s citizens for blending old and new in an impressive way.

Oregon City Carnegie Brad Nixon 4816 680

As always, I salute the innumerable cities, towns and rural areas whose citizens understand the worth of a public library — as important to the people of today as they were to an ambitious youngster escaping dire straits in Scotland. That dedication to providing free access to learning, knowledge and reading, and the professional staff of librarians — aided by countless volunteers — is something to be lauded, everywhere.

What’s your local library’s story? Please leave a comment.

Licensable, high resolution versions of most photographs in this post, and select images from other Under Western Skies posts are available on Click on the linked photos, or CLICK HERE to view the Underawesternsky photo portfolio.

© Brad Nixon 2019

Addendum: Little Miss Traveller of writes in a comment that she once worked in the UK’s first Carnegie library:

“Read about it here The following link provides a brief history of Ilkley and there’s a photo near the bottom labelled Ilkley Town Hall which is actually the library.”

Posted by: Brad Nixon | April 8, 2019

National Library Week: A University Library in Oregon

It’s National Library Week in the United States, always a cause for celebration for this fan of libraries. This year, I’m featuring libraries I encountered during a recent trip to the American Pacific Northwest.

While most of us think first of our local public library, there are countless other types, as well. Governments, businesses and religious organizations maintain libraries to serve their particular requirements. Some of the largest and most significant libraries around the world are those at colleges and universities. A good library is an important part of any school’s assets, an excellent library may distinguish a university from others, and a world-class research library is a requirement for schools intent on attracting and retaining first-rate scholars and researchers.

Our base for the recent trip was Eugene, Oregon, home to the University of Oregon (UO).

U of O quad Brad Nixon 4658 680

While its enrollment of 22,000 doesn’t place it among the largest American universities, UO is highly regarded as a research institution, and has a number of specialized libraries for science, mathematics, law, marine biology and design. The school’s main library — the one most undergraduates, are familiar with — is the Knight Library.

Knight Library Brad Nixon 4657 680

Built in 1937, renovated and expanded in 1950, 1966 and 1994, the Knight Library holds more than three million items in a wide variety of media and disciplines.

Knight Library Brad Nixon 4669 680

It stretches across the southern side of grassy, tree-covered Memorial Quadrangle. On the east of the quad is the 1933 Jordan Schnitzler Museum of Art.

Schnitzer Museum Brad Nixon 4666 680

Walking into Oregon’s library, I was confronted by seemingly acres of carpeting with tables holding workstations.

Where are the books?

Knight Library int Brad Nixon 4662 680

No, I’m not that clueless. A significant percentage of the information and resources any student or researcher needs today is available electronically — an absolute requirement for contemporary libraries. UO, in fact, is well forward in its fostering of electronic access linking its own group of libraries, as well as others in a variety of knowledge communities. No matter what their discipline or degree, today’s students are preparing to deal with a digital world, and libraries everywhere reflect the demand on access to digital information.

Knight Library int Brad Nixon 4665 680

There are books — a couple million of ’em — farther into the library, on multiple floors. I didn’t have time to explore the place, but enjoyed my brief look at this extensive university library.

Knight Library in Brad Nixon 4663 680

As you see, there are some stylish new portions behind that Romanesque/Art Deco facade of the original building.

Knight Library int Brad Nixon 4664 680

If you wonder, “Where are the students?” I was there near closing hour on weekend day at the end of the school’s spring break.

As much as I enjoy visiting — and showing you — interesting library facilities, old and new, National Library Week is the time to observe that a library is more than a building, more than printed material, computers, maps, photographs and ancient manuscripts, audio and video recordings. It’s an intelligently designed nexus for retrieving information, and only functions effectively thanks to the work of often unseen numbers of professional librarians, researchers, conservators and archivists.

Although they hail from an ecclesiastical source — not a secular one — the words inscribed above the two entrances to the Knight Library are common in such a setting, and are often found on libraries or school buildings. They appeared on a stone tablet above the entrance to the building where I was an English major in undergraduate days.

Library inscription Brad Nixon 4672 680

Library inscription Brad Nixon 4668 680

Do you have a favorite college or university library? What’s special about it: the collection, the architecture or design, its history — or perhaps simply its association with your own college days? Leave a comment.

Happy Library Week. I’ll visit more Pacific Northwest libraries in the coming days.

© Brad Nixon 2019.

Welcome to National Library Week, April 7-13, 2019. As always, I celebrate it.

Libraries are critically important institutions, whether in large cities, small towns or remote rural areas. Libraries not only provide access to information, but are often the focus of a town or area’s commitment to improving the lives of citizens.

Library Week recognizes the importance of free, public institutions and the people who work in them, providing a wide variety of resources and services: books, reference materials, periodicals (sometimes archived for many years), research material like genealogy or local history, innumerable online resources and — especially — professionally qualified staff.

Libraries aren’t just buildings, although I do enjoy visiting the physical plants, whether mammoth establishments, like the Los Angeles Central Library …

LA Central Library Brad Nixon 3418 (640x469)

Or small ones, like Ferndale, California.

But I’ll start this week at even smaller scale: a minuscule, grassroots example of making books available to all. They’re numerous, and located all over the place. I encountered more than a dozen of them alone during a recent visit to Eugene, Oregon, like this one.

Little Free Library Brad Nixon 4852 680

That’s a “Little Free Library.” You might find one almost anywhere, typically in a residential neighborhood, often one where people walk, instead of just driving.

You may be familiar with the idea. You can “deposit” books in a Little Free Library for others to take, or take a book that appeals to you. Share and share alike.

Like library buildings, themselves, Little Free Library boxes can be plain or elaborately styled (click on the small images in this post to view full size).

Some of my favorites are ones constructed to mimic the house where the owners reside.

I favor the idea of the Little Free Library. It’s an excellent way to share books one values but won’t read again. Rather than let it collect dust on a shelf, it becomes available to a passing browser, yielding discoveries to be made along the lines of, “I always meant to read that ….”

You’ll see official Little Free Library organization plaques on some of the boxes in this post, not all. To look for ones registered in your area, or sign up to host your own, you can find the ones officially registered at the website. Although officially registering provides some additional visibility, there’s nothing to prevent you from doing the same thing independently: It’s still a worthwhile idea.

I spoke to one “proprietor” of a Little Free Library. He told me that in three years, he’s never had any vandalism problems. Occasionally, he said, he weeds out advertising, promotional catalogs, etc., to limit the contents to books, not commerce.

Eugene’s a university town, and that might account for some of the idea’s popularity there, but The University of Oregon doesn’t dominate the city. Everyone likes books — not just teachers and students — and the world is full of curious readers. You’ll find Little Free Libraries in non-academic towns too.

The styles of the boxes vary by taste, and their contents depend on the whims and chances of “depositors.” There’s an egalitarian, free-form and ever-changing variety of books on offer.

Obviously, Little Free Libraries are no substitute for professionally staffed- and equipped public libraries with their well-curated holdings, Internet service and expert assistance. But, heck: They’re fun! Yes, Eugene has a large public library downtown, as well as two branches. But the town’s embrace of Little Free Libraries proves there’s a place for grass-roots book sharing, too.

Do you maintain a Little Free Library, or use one regularly? Please leave a comment. As the week progresses, I’ll look at some more traditional library establishments. Don’t forget to thank a librarian … even if it’s your neighbor — in example below at the edge of a park in the SUN district of Eugene: South University. Happy reading.

Little Free Library M Vincent 4485 680

Addendum: Little Miss Traveller at Love Travelling observed in a comment that some iconic red telephone boxes in the UK have been repurposed to be miniature book repositories. An excellent idea. Blogger Nothingintherulebook wrote about them, with photos at this link.

© Brad Nixon 2019. Two photos © M. Vincent 2019. One photo © Willard Nixon 2019, all used by kind permission.

Posted by: Brad Nixon | April 2, 2019

Ode to Spring: Loveliest of Trees

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Traveling in the Pacific Northwest recently, I had an opportunity to appreciate the advent of spring as we never see it in southern California.

It’s been a long, hard, cold winter all along the western coast of North America. There’s been more rain than usual, amidst long stretches of dark, dreary days, and more than the usual amount of snow. But it’s taken only a few days of sun and only slightly warmer temperatures to bring the flowers out in profusion and — most welcome of all — to clothe the dogwoods, plums and cherries with blossoms.

Portland cherries Brad Nixon 4759 640

Despite its reputation for rainy weather, the city of Portland, Oregon doesn’t receive any more annual precipitation than cities like Cincinnati or Pittsburgh. But the rain comes on in long, slowly-developing Pacific Ocean storms that can persist for days.

It’s not a bitter, northern climate, but a temperate one, where summer temperatures often climb above 100 degree Fahrenheit. During a winter like the one of 2018-19, though, winter can seem endlessly long.

Portland’s a river city, stretching along both banks of the Willamette River (will-AM-ett), close to its confluence with the Columbia. The city’s made much of its location, actually removing a freeway that once ran alongside the river and replacing it with an extensive city park and “riverwalk.”

Here’s a view of the western — downtown — bank in midsummer. Were it in Europe, the expanse of riverside parkland would be called “The Esplanade.”

Portland riverfront pano 1

Those trees you see lining the esplanade, photographed above in midsummer, are cherry trees. At this time of year, bursting forth from the dark, cold winter, they are resplendent. Here are those trees, photographed last week as they celebrated the season.

Portland cherries Brad Nixon 4757 640

Poor ol’ A. E. Housman — whose lines opened this blog post — never once managed to resist the temptation to bring the eternal note of sadness in, as his predecessor, Mr. Arnold, would have it. He ends his paen to the cherry with almost inevitable melancholy — thus:

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

I choose, instead, to celebrate the spring. Let us celebrate the cherry bloom and be glad. Old time may still be a-flying, but it brings the blooms each spring, however hard the winter. For if winter comes ….

Licensable, high resolution versions of the cherry blossom photos, and select images from other Under Western Skies posts are available on Click on the linked photos, or CLICK HERE to view the Underawesternsky photo portfolio.

© Brad Nixon 2019. “Loveliest of Trees, the Cherry Now” from A Shropshire Lad, A. E. Housman, 1896.

Posted by: Brad Nixon | February 1, 2019

A Painting Led Us There: Bordighera, Italy

Much of North America is locked in a dire, deep winter. Some of you in the southern hemisphere are enduring blistering temperatures and wildfires.

This is when we pull out the map or the old travel photos or flip through the art books in search of some idyllic respite. One infallibly inspirational artist I rely on is Claude Monet. In his long career, he painted a wide variety of subjects and settings. Invariably he had a gift for portraying light, and his paintings make us wish we could stand THERE, right where he stood.

Claude Monet Bordighera (640x515)

Bordighera by Claude Monet, 1884

That painting, “Bordighera,” from 1884, depicts a town on the Ligurian coast of Italy where Monet lived for a time.

It’s raining, thundering, lightning in southern California today, so let’s go to Bordighera for some halcyon, sunny days. Let’s stand where Monet stood, and see if we can find the light he saw.

Mediterranean Brad Nixon 6693 (640x411)

Bordighera was a popular seaside resort in Monet’s era, as it is today. On a trip some years ago, we determined we’d make Bordighera one of our stops, inspired to see that landscape suffused with light the old master painted a number of times.

The Town

There are about 10,000 people in Bordighera, although the population swells during the tourist season. It still has something of the rather staid, respectable seaside resort character it’s had since the Edwardian era.


Steep hills climb up from the coast, and the Medieval old town occupies a prominent position above the traffic and bustle of shops and stores. That’s the scene Monet painted from up in the hills, and you can still see a similar view today. Not quite the way he saw it in the painting above, but it’s there under the Mediterranean sun.


To get there, you climb up into the old city and wend your way through the streets and piazzas, along old brick and stone lanes.





The Painters

Bordighera takes note of its heritage as a venue favored by Monet and other painters.

As you walk the tree-shaded streets, you’ll encounter signs depicting paintings from about the spot Monet and other artists painted them. You have the opportunity to compare the view with that of 140 years ago.

Here, painted from down in the “new” town, looking up at the old one, is Monet’s “Moreno Gardens at Bordighera” — Jardin Moreno à Bordighera — and its present-day appearance.



Is that what Monet saw? One never knows to what extent an artist like Monet was recording and what he was inventing. That’s part of the fun. He was determined to give us his impression of the place.

Bordighera’s resort accommodations then and now included expansive villas. We stayed in one, Villa Elisa, located with a number of the vacation venues along the Via Romana a quarter-mile uphill from the coast.

Monet painted the scene in a day before automobiles. Whether or not differences in landscaping gave him the following view of the surrounding hills is impossible to say. He wasn’t making photographs, after all; he was painting an impression.



Bordighera won’t be to every traveler’s taste, but it offers a variety of experiences ranging from ancient architecture and a fading way of life in an ancient hilltop town to a spectacularly lively and stunningly lovely stretch of beach.

At night, wander the old town, where restaurants that feature the local seafood are tucked into the piazzas.


In addition to the town’s shops and stores, the strikingly beautiful beach, there’s a lovely park, Piazza de Amicis, occupying a former fortress, with lovely shaded walks overlooking the Mediterranean.


Drawn there by the master’s hand and eye, we found the light shining down on Bordighera. We stood where he stood, and — a long time after he was there — saw what he saw.

It’s important to look … to see.

Stop, breathe. The light is shining down. What do you see?

Have you made a pilgrimage to a place made famous in a work of art? Leave a comment.

For more about Bordighera, see “To the Ligurian Coast: Bordighera” at this link.

40 km to the east is the charming, ancient city of Villefranche-sur-Mer at this link.

© Brad Nixon 2019. Some photographs © M. Vincent 2019, used by kind permission. Bordighera by Claude Monet © the Art Institute of Chicago. Jardin Moreno à Bordighera by Claude Monet © The Norton Gallery and School of Art. Villas à Bordighera by Claude Monet © Santa Barbara Museum of Art.

Posted by: Brad Nixon | January 29, 2019

Mimbres Culture, Southwestern New Mexico

In two previous blog posts about southwestern New Mexico, I’ve mentioned the prehistoric Mimbres culture near present day Silver City, including the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.

gila cliff dwellings vincent nixon 082 680

This article is a brief introduction to a native culture that may be unfamiliar to you.


The Mimbres culture lived in and near the Mimbres River valley in New Mexico. Mimbres is a Spanish word for a variety of willow tree native to the area.

In a pattern repeated throughout the southwest, from about the 2nd century c.e., migrant hunter-gatherer tribes began subsistence farming, establishing small communities of excavated pit houses covered by structures of wood and mud wattle. They grew maize, beans and squash — the “three sisters,” as they later became known.

They supplemented their diet by hunting and with gathering native berries, nuts and edible plants.

In about 800 or so, with their numbers increasing, they built above-ground structures of adobe and rock cobble around central plazas. The same pattern is evident elsewhere, as with the structures of Chaco Canyon to the north, built of stone.

Chaco Canyon Pueblo Bonito Brad Nixon 4187 (640x247)


In about 900 c.e., the Mimbres did something remarkable: They developed a style of decorated pottery without peer anywhere in ancient North America, and not quite like anything else, anywhere.

mimbres property u new mexico 4610 680

This didn’t happen all at once. The people had been making pottery for hundreds of years. In stages, the Mimbres developed an idiosyncratic style that began with geometric shapes painted in black on white backgrounds, until in the “classic” period, from about 900 – 1150, they also included astonishingly inventive figures.

Women are the traditional potters in most native cultures, which is still true in the American southwest. It’s assumed that a relatively small number of female potters created these remarkable works of art.


The most dramatic pottery of the culture is often found in burials, the bowls covering the skulls of the dead. Invariably, these bowls have a hole punched through them, known as a “kill hole.” Many anthropologists conclude the hole was intended to let the spirit of the deceased to escape, or perhaps to receive sustenance through the bowl after death. We do not know.

mimbres property u new mexico 4689 680


By about 1150, the population of the Mimbres area had grown to perhaps 2,500 people. In the best conditions, the native corn-bean-squash + game formula provided a diet at the knife’s edge of survival, low in fat and protein. They were farming, irrigating and hunting their resources to the breaking point.

Somewhere between 1130 and 1150, a succession of drought years ended the existing order. Large numbers of people moved away or scattered into smaller bands seeking better soil, more water, more game. They ceased making the black-on-white ware and the pueblo communities emptied. The people survived, but ceased being the “Mimbres Culture.”


Archaeologists developed an interest in the ancient ruins of the southwest early in the 20th century. Most of the attention went to more dramatic locations like Chaco Canyon and, here, Mesa Verde.

Mesa Verde Brad Nixon 9769 (640x480)

A number of excavations in the Mimbres valley disclosed the extraordinary artisanship of the craftspeople. There are collections of the pottery at Beloit College in Wisconsin, the University of Maine and the University of Minnesota as a result.

Then, notoriety nearly ended Mimbres archaeology forever.


You can visit the area and see a stunning collection of Mimbres wares in the museum of Western New Mexico University. Other examples are in the Silver City Museum. See below for more collections.

But you can only visit one partially excavated original Mimbres community, the Mimbres Culture Heritage Site.

Yet there were dozens of Mimbres communities. Why is there just one you can visit?

Once collectors saw the spectacular examples of pottery being collected from the Mimbres sites, they wanted some for themselves. Entrepreneurs — we’ll call them — organized to fill the demand — not with shovels, but bulldozers.

Entire Mimbres villages were literally bulldozed over by looters in order to extract pottery. Looters destroyed remains of structures, burials, hundreds of years’ worth of cultural artifacts, grabbing anything salable. Their focus was the “pots,” but they “collected” anything that might find a market, including human remains, which are now in private collections.

Aerial photos show enormous tracts of land bulldozed and pitted with trenches dug by looters. Here’s one ground level view of bulldozers at work “uncovering” a Mimbres village to extract pottery.

mimbres excavation mimbres foundtation paul minnis

The Cost

Approximately half the known Mimbres community sites were destroyed in a relatively short time.

The sites are still there, and it’s possible to retrieve some number of artifacts, but they’re worthless from a scientific perspective. There is no way to study the layers of debris or the relationship of artifacts to one another in those sites. The details of daily life, ritual, burial, farming, irrigation, what they hunted, what they ate, are lost. Those sites are mere jumbles of bulldozed debris.

Like all the prehistoric southwestern tribes, the Mimbres had no writing system we know of. Our only means to understand their culture is through the application of careful archaeological study. Much of the Mimbres’ record has been destroyed beyond recall.

In the 1970s, The Mimbres Foundation was able to secure the Federal Archaeological Resources Act and begin protecting the sites. The large-scale looting ended, but long after enormous damage had been done.


A number of relatively untouched Mimbres sites exist, and are being studied as time and resources permit.

You can visit the Mimbres Culture Heritage Site east of Silver City, New Mexico in the Mimbres Valley.

There are collections of Mimbres ware in a number of museums, including the following:

There’s a large collection, not all of it on display, at the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque

Early 20th century archaeology by Beloit College resulted in a collection in the Logan Museum of Anthropology, Beloit College, Beloit, Wisconsin, including numerous pieces from the Mattocks Site. This is useful, for it shows the evolution of pottery styles over several hundred years.

South of Silver City, the Deming Luna Mimbres Museum, Deming, New Mexico, is a local museum stuffed with everything from antique dolls and farm equipment to liquor bottles. They have a sizable collection of Mimbres ware collected by local landowners on private property.


Online, you can view a number of Mimbres pieces at Central-Cal-Clay.

Another online collection of images culled from the Maxwell, Silver City and Deming museums is at Black Range Rag.


One of the foremost scholars of Mimbres culture, Michelle Hegmon, Arizona State University, published Experiencing Social Change: Life During the Mimbres Classic Transformation,” eminently readable by laymen.

As a basic text and reference, I recommend the interesting and visually appealing Mimbres Pottery, Ancient Art of the American Southwest.


We “modern” humans continue a millenia-long history of despoiling the past. It happens today, worldwide. What have we lost? Leave a comment.

For more articles on this subject, see

Gila Cliff Dwellings Day Trip

Silver City Bound

© Brad Nixon 2019. Pottery photographs are the property of The Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, University of New Mexico. Bulldozer photograph © Mimbres Foundation/Paul Minnis from Mimbres Pottery, etc. “Experiencing Social Change….” © Michelle Hegmon et al, Arizona State University. Mimbres Pottery, Ancient Art of the American Southwest,  © J.J. Brody et al, Hudson Hills, New York, 1983.

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