August 24th, 2007

krazy koati

You will like the shady lanes in our town

Scenic Elkridgeville is a community of over 36,006 which is able to quietly yet insistently claim a history both long and charming. The town, first settled in 1686, was incorporated a century and two days later with the merger of the village of Elkridgeville and the other village of Elkridgeville, located two miles upriver. Neither of these ur-Elkridgevilles or the merged town had anything to do with the town of South Elkridgeville, which gets its name from the fact it is east of East Elkridgeville, and that village has that name due to being west and north of North Elkridgeville. The locals are all tired of answering questions about it.

Running through the city is the Jam River. For much of the 19th century it was believed this would have been named the James River had the first cartographers not started writing the name down so close to the edge of the paper. But a discovery by the Elkridgeville Historical Society in 1894 of journals of early settlers revealed that it was meant to be Jam River, due to the water being rich in sugar and fruit flavors. These settlers were sorely disappointed when the jam ceased flowing, which may be why the James rumor gained such currency.

But the presence of the good, strong river was important throughout the town's history. Early on the river was a menace, frequently flooding the settlement. This ended when the town received a fortunate consultation from a visiting naval engineer, who identified the problem as high tide. Following his advice the town moved four feet uphill.

The major use for the river through the 18th century was as motive power for mills, the abundance of which can still be traced in the street names. The first, Sovereign Mill, opened in 1702 and minted coins for years until the owners were jailed for counterfeiting. On Bread Mill Lane was a mill which milled pudding, while on Pudding Mill Lane was a mill which milled pudding. Bread they only got from West Elkridgeville, several hundred feet down. The city's industrial development really took off with Mills Mill Lane, a doubly productive mill which produced both mills and lanes. The Mills Lane Mill was shut down in 1764 when over 298 lanes fanned out from a 500-foot stretch of river and the village was in danger of sinking underneath the accumulated weight of mills.

The railroad did not pass Elkridgeville by, not once they figured out how to set up their own lights and slip their own control signals in to the engineer's cabin.

The town's cultural influence cannot be denied or minimized safely while in town. The Lane Mill Diner, originally opened in 1988, claims to be the source of the original Philadelphia Cheese Steak, as well as of Chicken Kiev, New England Clam Chowder, and the Waldorf Salad. The owners have been accused of making things up for travel and tourism reporters, most often by owners of the Mill Lane Diner.

The town has never been one to shirk from patriotic displays, although it has been known to respond passive-aggressively to the call to duty. In April 1943 the town famously donated the mayor as scrap metal to the War Production Board, resulting in the town receiving one confused, two concerned, and one more rather angry call from Washington. These impressive results were topped when they tried again in May 1944 and got back nine calls, and only the Board pretending to not be in kept them from setting a new record in March 1945. Even the end of the war did not end their legacy: when the North American Numbering Plan was unleashed in 1951 Elkridgeville was the only municipality on the continent to be explicitly not told the area code for Washington, DC.

These days Elkridgeville is happy to offer visitors the view of its traffic light museum -- the third-largest such in the county -- and the historical site where General Washington stopped briefly on his way to the Whiskey Rebellion to get a snack. The town is closed Tuesdays and during the summer on Wednesday afternoons, but one can call for appointments.

Trivia: The sovereign, a gold coin worth twenty shillings, was was first issued by English King Henry VII in 1489. Source: The History Today Companion to British History, Juliet Gardiner, Neil Wenborn.

Currently Reading: Tilt: A Skewed History of the Tower of Pisa, Nicholas Shrady. In a feat of cuteness or simply running up the production budget, the book pages are cut so the ``horizontal'' pages are tilted about fifteen degrees from level. I wonder how they did it, as I can't figure printing presses are normally set up for cutting pages at arbitrary angles.