Finding and exploring the back roads in the region seems to have stimulated my appetite for information about the geography of the area, and led to some wondering as to what it must have been like to live here during that time.
I realized - not for the first time, but this time it must have sunk in - while looking at a map of the area this morning that, as far as that map is concerned, Melugin Grove is still a place. This may be an odd thing to say, I suppose, but I believe I come by it honestly. There are dozens of place names on the area map that no longer correspond to anything that people traveling today, at 60 miles an hour in a car, would consider a separate place. The towns of Compton and West Brooklyn, for example, tiny as they are still contain a small arrangement of streets and houses that make it clear that they are places - self-standing entities, of a sort, a thing, a village or town.
But as you look on the map there are other "places" that appear in the area, with names - The Burg, for example, at or near the intersection of Shaw Road and Rt 251, or Shaws, at the intersection of Shaw and Inlet roads - where it is difficult to understand, even when one goes there, how these were considered a place worthy of a name. Sometimes, with practice, you can begin to see what might have led to it. Shaws, for example, has a a few houses in closer proximity than typically seen along a country road, a former church, a decaying gas station at the intersection, and the tumbledown remnants of what appears to have been a one-room school house (there are more of these out here than you'd think). The Burg, alternately, provides nothing to suggest anything was there, no visual hint to why it would have a name.
There are similar peculiarities - running through the area is Beemerville Road, which one might expect would be part of the straightforward naming strategy seen in the area of naming the roads after the places they go. West Brooklyn Road goes to West Brooklyn, Compton Road leads to Compton, Paw Paw Road... You get the idea. But Beemerville road? No sign of a "Beemerville" on the map anywhere along its approximately five miles of length, not even as a forgotten place name, an atavistic map icon. Was it a place once? The Melugin Grove Cemetery has has its fair share of Beemers laid to rest, so one suspects it may have been. But apparently no longer.
But Melugin Grove is still a place, at least according to Apple Maps, falling in an oddly-shaped territory framed by Carnahan Road to the west, Richards and Melugin Grove (natch) Roads to the east, Shaw Road to the south, and Butler Hill Road to the north.
In the grand scheme of things it's a small place - a little over 650 acres - but at the slower, smaller scale of moving through it on the ground, in my case on a bicycle, it feels substantial. Like so much of this little area, it's heavily wooded to a degree that can make one feel pleasantly separated and, when looking in toward the area identified on the map one sees a far higher proportion of trees and grassy clearings to crops than in most parts of the region. It has the feeling of a different place - more central Wisconsin than Northern Illinois. It becomes easy to imagine why an early settler, particularly if he or she did not fancy themselves future farmers, would choose to stop here.
Melugin Grove - beyond the bean field - from the North.