European Landmarks in America

History, Traditions
on April 8, 2010

From the second story of her office building, Rachelle Duncan points to an opening between two trees and gazes at a picture-perfect view of the London Bridge: more than 10,000 tons of granite relocated four decades ago from foggy England to the sun-drenched Arizona desert.

Today, the bridge is the claim to fame of Lake Havasu City (pop. 51,934). "It's the nursery rhyme of The London Bridge is falling down," says Duncan, 41, a professional photographer. "Everyone grows up with that, and the real bridge is right here in Arizona."

American entrepreneur Robert P. McCulloch Sr., who built his fortune on chainsaws and small engines, paid the British government more than $2.4 million in 1968 for the two-lane structure that was completed in 1831 but, by the 1960s, was sinking slowly into the River Thames due to increased motor traffic in London.

"Mr. McCulloch came to Lake Havasu to have a place to test his small motors," says Ruth Brydon, curator of the Lake Havasu Museum of History. "He thought this would make a good place for a city, sort of like Palm Springs but with a lake. The bridge was really to help sell the city, and after the announcement, despite everyone saying he was out of his mind, the land sales quadrupled."

Crossing the Atlantic Ocean through the Panama Canal, more than 10,000 blocks were offloaded in Long Beach, Calif., and trucked to Arizona. Only one thing was missing: water. So while workers reassembled the 952-foot-long, five-arch bridge in the desert soil, engineers dredged a mile-long channel to connect with the Colorado River. The project took three years, and the bridge was dedicated in 1971.

The stone that had appeared dingy and dark in then-sooty London today looks clean, bright and welcoming, thanks to the bleaching rays of the Arizona sun. Beneath the span, the canal is lined with shops, hotels and restaurants, and is a popular boating venue. "The bridge and water sports are what is important to Lake Havasu," Brydon says. "I think for quite a while it was one of the biggest tourist attractions in Arizona behind the Grand Canyon."

Bridging the gap
While London Bridge certainly is the granddaddy of them all, other transplanted European structures serve as tangible reminders that America is a melting pot of nations, cultures and dreams.

Ever since France's gift of the Statue of Liberty began greeting millions of immigrants entering New York Harbor in 1886, small towns across America have found ways to honor their European roots—often by replicating landmarks large, small and whimsical. Scaled-down replicas of the Eiffel Tower stand both in Paris, Tenn., and Paris, Texas; a half-size version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa tilts in Niles, Ill.; and, literally dozens of Stonehenge-inspired creations dot towns such as Alliance, Neb., and Maryhill, Wash.

"But for authentic landmarks such as the London Bridge, relocation often is the difference between survival and demolition, even if the structures are moved from their historical context," says Douglas McVarish, an architectural historian in Philadelphia.

"If they weren't moved, these things might not have been saved," he says. "I think they bring people connections with the Old Country. There's a fascination with the greater breadth of architecture and the age of structures from the Old Country. And there's certainly the novelty."

Here are four other authentic European structures in America:

De Zwaan Windmill, Holland, Mich.
Connecting to their Dutch heritage was the goal when community leaders in Holland, Mich. (pop. 35,048), purchased a windmill from the Netherlands for $2,800 in 1964.

While the Netherlands typically prohibits exportation of windmills, which are cultural icons, the 240-year-old De Zwaan windmill became the exception as the grain-grinding structure was moved to Windmill Island, a city park in the Michigan town. "They felt if there was going to be one single monument to Dutch heritage in America, let it be that windmill and in Holland, Michigan," says Alisa Crawford, the miller.

The city spent about $450,000 to reassemble and restore the attraction which, like many older windmills in Europe, had been damaged during World War II. It also kept two promises to Dutch leaders. "One is that we had to keep it open for tours so the general public can learn from it, and the second is that it has to stay open as a working windmill," says Crawford, noting that the mill grinds 3,000 pounds of grain between May and October to create flour sold onsite.

Monastery of St. Bernard de Clairvaux, North Miami Beach, Fla.
Newspaper magnate and art lover William Randolph Hearst sought out interesting pieces for his collection and was awestruck by photographs of a Spanish monastery built in 1141.

Purchasing the monastery for $40,000 in 1925 with plans to donate it to the University of California-Berkeley, Hearst had its cloister and refectory dismantled and packed into 11,000 straw-lined, wooden boxes and brought to New York on seven ships. However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, fearing possible spread of hoof and mouth disease after reports of an outbreak in Spain, halted the shipment, opened the crates and burned the straw. As the Great Depression began, Hearst stored the dismantled structure in his New York warehouses, where it stayed for 25 years until three entrepreneurs bought the stone and reconstructed the monastery's elaborate courtyard passageways and dining room north of Miami as a tourist attraction. The venture failed, though, and the Episcopal Diocese of South Florida eventually purchased the property, which now is owned by the parish of St. Bernard de Clairvaux in North Miami Beach (pop. 40,786).

Today, the refectory serves as a chapel with a seating capacity of 150 and hosts Sunday services and sometimes weddings. For $5, visitors can tour the cloister and grounds. "It is the oldest building in the United States," says tour guide Lili Arger. "It has a spirituality and a holiness that one can feel in its ambiance."

Berlin Wall Sculpture, Fulton, Mo.
Pieces of the Berlin Wall representing the end of the Cold War have been displayed throughout the United States since the 1989 fall of the concrete barrier that separated East Germany from West Germany. Among them are displays in the Microsoft Art Collection in Redmond, Wash; the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif.; and even a restroom at the Main Street Station Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

But perhaps none is more appropriate than the display at the Winston Churchill Memorial and Library at Westminster College in Fulton, Mo.  (pop. 12,128), where Britain's tenacious prime minister visited in 1946 and warned of the rise of communism in his historic Iron Curtain speech.

Churchill's granddaughter, artist Edwina Sandys, used eight sections of the wall donated by the city of Berlin to create Breakthrough, an 11-foot-high by 32-foot-long sculpture depicting silhouettes of a man and woman cut from the wall. In 1990, President Reagan dedicated the artwork, making the campus an American bookend to both the beginning and end of the Cold War.

"Certainly having the wall section here where Churchill first prophesied about the Cold War gives it added significance and symbolism than if it had remained in situ in Berlin," says Rob Havers, the memorial's executive director.

Osborne Chapel, Baldwin City, Kan.
Rural Kansas seems an unlikely link to Great Britain, except that Baker University relocated an 1864 chapel from the village of Sproxton, about 100 miles north of London, to its campus in Baldwin City (pop. 3,400) in 1996.

Rather than build a new chapel, administrators of the United Methodist-related school opted to relocate a church that had fallen into disuse. Faculty members teaching in England, where Methodism was founded, located a chapel that had been unused for two years, and a $1 million donation from Kansas banker R.R. Osborne helped finance the purchase and relocation.

After being reassembled on the 900-student campus, the re-dedication service included former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, whose father, Alfred Roberts, occasionally led services at the church in the early 1900s.

"Today, Osborne Chapel is a sacred space on campus and a link to the church's roots," says the Rev. Ira DeSpain, minister to the university. "For more than 145 years, it was the scene of a great many celebrations and a great many times of mourning," he says. "It gives us a connection with those people."

Found in: History, Traditions
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