Grayson County/Fries Hydroelectric Dam

Over the Thanksgiving holiday while visiting with family, I found myself in Grayson County and did a little exploring. Ended up in Fries (pronounces “freeze”) and had the chance to check out an early 1900s hydroelectric dam. Very interesting to see a town that was built out purely because of industry. Had time allowed for it, could have spent many more days exploring the area. Scroll down or click the link for some photos.

Fries was named after North Carolina cotton mill owner Colonel Francis Henry Fries. Jim ‘Pipe’ Carico (of Stephens Creek, Virginia, the nearest incorporated town) contacted Fries in 1900 and proposed Bartlett Falls on New River as a site for a hydroelectric dam that could power a cotton mill.

Fries purchased the surrounding rural farmland then hired a local labor force to build a dam, a cotton mill and a full-service company owned town. By 1901, the New River Train was extended to the mill site and Fries petitioned the Virginia State Legislature to incorporate the new town of Carico, VA in honor of Jim ‘Pipe’ Carico. For reasons that are not well documented, the town name was instead legislatively changed to Fries, Virginia and officially incorporated in 1902.

More on the area and history from Wikipedia here.


St. Patrick’s Tower

Today, a couple of our teams from Automattic got together and co-worked at the digitaldepot in Dublin. Super nice facility, decent coffee and great sandwiches! This giant tower was looming just outside the building and being the curious sort, I had to look it up. The history is pretty interesting!

This former windmill, now known as St Patrick’s Tower, was the largest smock windmill in Europe and was used to power the Roe Distillery on Thomas Street in Dublin. George Roe and Company had it’s beginnings in 1757 when Peter Roe bought a small distillery here. By 1887 it had expanded into the largest distillery in Europe. At that time the Thomas Street Distillery covered 17 acres and was producing 2 million gallons of whiskey annually.

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Water you up to LA?

Ever wonder where Los Angeles gets enough water to continuously supply their massive population? Here’s a hint, it’s slightly imported.  This is a really interesting web-based tour (with actual locations and directions if you’d like to experience it first hand) including photos of the massive LA Aqueduct along its 233 mile voyage from Owens River that started over a hundred years ago.

A self-guided tour of the Los Angeles Aqueduct via KCET.

Poveglia ain't no place for sissies

A quarantine station, a dumping ground for plague victims, more recently a mental hospital — the tiny island of Poveglia in the Venice Lagoon has served many unpleasant purposes over the years, but today it stands empty, a crumbling collection of abandoned buildings and weeds run riot just two miles from the glittering palaces of the Grand Canal.
Legends and rumors about Poveglia are nearly as pervasive as the weeds, and they read like a horror story: that so many people were burned and buried there during the black plague that the soil is 50% human ash; that local fishermen give the island a wide berth for fear of netting the wave-polished bones of ancestors; that the psychiatrist who ran the mental hospital was a butcher and torturer who went mad from guilt and threw himself from the island’s belltower, only to survive the fall and be strangled by a “ghostly mist” that emerged from the ground.

An intriguing look into a very much abandoned island near Venice Italy. But not just your run of the mill island, this one has a pretty sorted history.

Starting as a battlement to protect the port, these three closely linked islands quickly were converted into a modern day “customs” inspection port for incoming and outgoing ships. Later the island was used to quaranteen sailors with the plague, and a final resting place for those who succombed to their ailments and were burned then interred; reportedly in the one hundred thousand plus range. It’s said that 50% of the island soil is ash from human remains.

Finally, it was transformed into a mental hospital, where supposedly horrible experiments were performed by a physician that was trying to cure insanity. He reportedly jumped to his death from a tower after apparently suffering from the same illness he sought to cure. This is reportedly the most haunted place on the planet, if you subscribe to that school of thought.

Strange Geographies: The Happy, Haunted Island of Poveglia via Mentalfloss

Other references on this topic:

The Island of Madness
A night on the haunted Poveglia Island in Italy
Poveglia Island (via Wikipedia)

Oh, and Peyton says Hi.

Where "SCRAM" comes from

The control room harkens back to a more analog era, when instruments on the wall looked like not much more than a piece of spiral graph paper behind glass and there was a noticeable lack of computer screens. There’s also the all-important SCRAM button, for emergency shut-down of the reactor. A museum sign explains the history of the acronym, which comes from an earlier plant, Chicago Pile-1, and a rather rudimentary-sounding emergency system.
The Chicago plant is notable for being the first to reach a state in which its nuclear-fission chain reaction was self-sustaining. Despite that achievement, however, emergency precautions at the time weren’t very high-tech, at least by today’s standards. Those precautions included workers suspending a thin rod of cadmium from a rope so that it dangled above a hole in the reactor. They used cadmium because it can slow down or stop a nuclear reaction by absorbing neutrons, hopefully stemming a disaster. But there was no automatic mechanism to make the cadmium fall into the hole. Instead, a museum sign explains, a “sturdy young male physicist stood by the rope, holding an axe.” (You can’t make this stuff up.) If something went wrong, he’d “swing his axe and cut the rope, plunging the rod into its hole and shutting down the reaction instantly.” That earned him the name “Safety Control Rod Axe Man,” now SCRAM for short.

Add this to the list of jobs I never want to have! Tour the World’s First Nuclear Power Plant via The Smithsonian Magazine.