“What is this country bumpkin up to? Is this some kind of a joke?” Laughter rippled through the conference room in Richmond as Lemuel Chenoweth unloaded his saddlebags and took out a bunch of oak sticks wrapped in newspapers.
He was the last builder to show his plans for the great competition in 1850 to build a bridge across the Tygart River in western Virginia (now West Virginia). Only a ferry connected the bustling north-south throughway at Philippi, causing traffic jams and the slowing of our young nation’s relentless commerce and travel.
Engineers had come from all over the east to show their plans … blueprints of cable suspension bridges, fancy cantilevered structures, an arched bridge. It had to be durable, and support wagonloads of heavy goods and herds of livestock. ridge across the Tygart River in western Virginia (now West Virginia). Only a ferry connected the bustling north-south throughway at Philippi, causing traffic jams and the slowing of our young nation’s relentless commerce and travel.
Quietly Lemuel assembled a miniature bridge, using no hammer or nails. Compared to the fancy bridge models shown, his was plain. Then, he pulled out two chairs, placed his construction across them, and spoke.
“Since I have no blueprints,” he said, “you may allow me a demonstration.”
Suddenly he stepped up onto the top of the model, and walked across it--from one end to the other. A gasp went up. No way could it hold! They knew their mathematics. Had this been the actual bridge it would have been as if a six-hundred-foot man stood on it. But the model held, and in the hushed silence that followed, Lemuel turned to the other contestants and asked, “Can you stand on your models?”
No one dared. They all knew theirs would be crushed.
And that's how Lemuel Chenoweth, a shy western Virginian with a third-grade education, won the competition for the famous Tygart River Bridge.
The double-barreled bridge has survived fires, the Civil War, floods, and 18-wheeler trucks. It is the only covered bridge left in the US serving a federal highway. It has its own museum, and in 1983 Governor Jay Rockefeller declared June 15 Lemuel Chenoweth Day.
Lemuel started out making furniture, wagons, and coffins, and later built houses, a church, and many bridges. He married Nancy Hart, the great-granddaughter of John Hart, signer of the Declaration of Independence. They had 13 children.
So how do we know about this story?
Because Lemuel Chenoweth was my great-great- granddaddy, and throughout my childhood I heard the story of Lemuel, the model bridge, and the two chairs.
Roxie Munro's newest book uses thirty-seven of her favorite masterpieces by great artists as an inspiration for her own masterpiece that is a cityscape and a game. You can read a review of the book here.
Roxie is also a member of iNK's Authors on Call where you can invite her to your classroom virtually.
MLA 8 Citation
Munro, Roxie. "Lemuel's Bridge." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 16 Oct. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/lemuels-bridge.
Sonora Webster of Georgia adored horses. At age five, she even tried to swap her baby brother for one. Alas, grownups disapproved. At age nineteen, in 1923, Sonora went to the Savannah fair. There she saw a huge, deep pool of water beside a tower as tall as a four-story building. High atop was a lady in a red swimsuit and circle of spotlight. At her signal, a gray horse pounded up the ramps. The lady jumped on. The horse tossed its snowy mane and tail, leaped into space, and down into the pool! Glittering sheets of water SPLASHED the shrieking crowd. After a breathless moment, the horse rocketed UP from the depths, made its way to the arena, and the smiling lady dismounted. How Sonora clapped and cheered— for that beautiful horse!
As it happened, the elderly showman who’d invented this amazing act needed extra ladies for his popular traveling shows. He advertised in the local paper:
“Likes horses?” THIS was the job for Sonora!
As a trainer, “Doc” Carver was tough, but so was Sonora. She learned how to dive with all five of Doc’s horses, all carefully trained and cared-for. (Veterinarians checked often to see that they were.) In time, she made countless dives— and fell for Doc’s son Al. They married. After Doc died, Al took over the act, starring Sonora and the magnificent diving horses.
Sonora met her day of destiny at Atlantic City’s Steel Pier, New Jersey’s great amusement park, July 14, 1931. She hopped astride Red Lips, her favorite horse. “Red” leaped from the tower. And somehow, Sonora hit the water face first, in the instant before she closed her eyes. They stung, but how could she know that the water collision had loosened her eyeballs’ retinas? She didn’t! Soon, despite medical treatments, 27-year-old Sonora saw her vision fading away. Could she accept that her diving days were over? She wouldn’t! She might have lost her sight, but her love and trust for her brave horses? Never! They’d keep flying through the air together, thrilling and splashing audiences for the next eleven years.
Sonora Webster Carver told her story in her 1961 memoir, A Girl and Five Brave Horses, which inspired a 1991 film, Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken. She died at age 99, in 2003.
Because world-traveling sharpshooter, William Frank Carver had been a dentist, such friends as “Buffalo Bill” Cody called him “Doc.” Wikimedia
Sonora and her brave diving partner. Equine Inc.
An exciting day at Steel Pier, Atlantic City, N.J. NJ com
Cheryl Harness is an illustrator as well an author, as seen by her delightful poster-like illustrations in Women Daredevils by Julia Cummins. The book offers mini biographies of ten fascinating women who risked their lives in the late 1800s and early 1900s to entertain the public.
MLA 8 Citation
Harness, Cheryl. "Splash!" Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 17 Jan. 2018,
Dorothy Hinshaw Patent
Nature’s Animal Ambassador
You probably eat bananas at least once a week—they are the most popular of all fruits, even surpassing the apple. But have you ever noticed that bananas have no seeds? Probably not. You just peel them and enjoy their soft, seedless flesh without even thinking about seeds.
If you’d been strolling through a tropical forest in New Guinea thousands of years ago and reached up to pluck a wild banana snack, you wouldn’t have wanted to eat it. The banana ancestors had big hard seeds surrounded by a small amount of sweet flesh, not worth peeling. Sometimes, however, plants appeared with fruit that had no seeds. Over time, people cherished these seedless fruits and grew the plants for their own use.
The banana plant sends up a central stalk surrounded by very large leaves, then flowers at the tip. The flowers produce a heavy load of bananas without being pollinated. Then the stalk dies. Meanwhile, the stalk sends out side shoots that become new plants. That’s a form of cloning, meaning that all of a banana plant’s progeny are genetically identical, both to their parent and to one another.
The ancestors of the modern banana could reproduce in the usual way, so their seeds contained mixtures of DNA from the mother plant and DNA from another plant’s pollen. This “sexual reproduction” allows for the genes of the plants to be combined in new ways. If a disease came along, it might kill most of the plants, but some others could have natural resistance and survive.
Because it lacks seeds, the banana has gotten into trouble. Back in the 1950s, an especially sweet and tasty variety called the Gros Michel was the commercial banana. But a devastating fungus came along and killed the plants and contaminated the soil. Growers then chose another variety, Cavendish, which resisted the disease. But now a wilt called Panama disease has shown up that kills the Cavendish plants. And because bananas lack genetic diversity and because they don’t develop seeds that mix up their genes, the Cavendish has no way of defending itself.
Banana growers are doing what they can to stop the spread of the disease, however, and up to now they have been successful. But don’t be surprised if in a few years the bananas you buy look and taste different. Luckily, there are other varieties out there, like small “finger” bananas and larger red-skinned fruits, that you can already buy in places like Hawaii.
Dorothy Hinshaw Patent's new nonfiction picture book about horses has a fresh focus: how people over the ages have decorated horses in special ways. Organized into three categories—warfare and hunting, performance and competition, performance, and ceremony—the book introduces horses such as the chariot-pulling war horse of the Persians to the rose-decorated winner of the Kentucky Derby. For more information, click here.
Dorothy Hinshaw Patent is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through Field Trip Zoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
MLA 8 Citation
Patent, Dorothy Hinshaw. "The Flaw in the Seedless Banana." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 21 Dec. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/ the-nonfiction-minute/The-Flaw-in-the-Seedless-Banana. Accessed 21 Dec. 2017.