Excursion 9, Part 1 (South by Southeast)

In which our intrepid hero discovers people making hay while the sun shines…

Southeast Ohio has always appealed to me.  Geographically, it is one of the most interesting and diverse parts of Ohio.  It is also of cultural interest: Southeast Ohio in many ways is the heart of Appalachian Ohio (though strictly speaking, it is only one of three regions in the state that are technically considered Appalachian Ohio).  Appalachian Ohio is sparsely populated (the largest city in all three regions is Youngstown, Ohio, and the next largest city has fewer than 50,000 inhabitants) and economically depressed (especially Southeast Ohio; most of its counties are considered economically “at-risk” or even “distressed”).   Appalachian Ohio was originally settled by the same demographic groups of people who settled western Virginia and eastern Kentucky and as a result shares most of the elements of Appalachian culture with the Appalachians of other states.

[Remember that you can click on each image below to see a larger, better version]

Southeast Ohio can’t catch a break, really.  The hilly terrain is not ideal for farming, while the decline of industry and manufacturing in Ohio hit Southeast Ohio hard.  Southeast Ohio contains the state’s poorest county, Athens (home of Ohio University, not to be confused with The Ohio State University), where a third of the population lives below the poverty line.  It has taken the state a long time to even become truly aware of the distinct nature of Appalachian Ohio and to try to address some of its problems.  One thing that may help to a slight degree is that Ohio’s universities (including the two mentioned above) are now considering Appalachian students to be a disadvantaged minority.  At Ohio State, for example, the Office of Minority Affairs has developed scholarship programs designed to help Appalachian students.

I became interested in Appalachian Ohio before I had ever even visited it, because Columbus, which borders the region, is a significant end-point for emigration from Appalachia.  For many decades, people from Appalachian Ohio, particularly Southeast Ohio (but also Appalachians from other portions of Ohio, as well as West Virginia and Kentucky), have moved to Columbus in search of better prospects.  Indeed, the area of Columbus just west and south of downtown (in other words, Franklinton and points west) is a low income area of Columbus with a significant Appalachian connection.


My excursion back into Southeastern Ohio began with a quick jaunt to, and lunch in, Lancaster, Ohio.  Lancaster (population 38, 780, salute!) is in many respects the gateway to Southeast Ohio.  Unusually for Ohio towns in eastern Ohio, Lancaster is not in population decline; its population has grown fairly consistently.  I wonder if this is due in part to emigration from Southeast Ohio.  While passing through Lancaster I happened upon this not very enthusiastic sign waver.

exc9pt1-2I also came across this oddly shaped building, complete with an unusual piece of commercial art.  I will spend more time in Lancaster in the future but on this day I was merely passing through.

exc9pt1-3 Soon I was out of town and back into the countryside.  Before I moved to Ohio, I had never seen these large round bales of hay.  I had only seen smaller, rectangular bales and these were also what we used to feed our horse and the other horse we took care of.  I know from personal experience as a kid that even the small bales are quite heavy, so the large bales are certainly not practical for anybody who must personally move them around.   I gather that round bales are now much more popular (they compact the hay better and are more resistance to moisture).  A bit of research indicates that the baler which makes such bales was invented more than a hundred years ago and began being mass produced in the 1940s, but I don’t know how quickly this spread.  It may well be that both time and geography separated my childhood witnessing of hay bales in the Rio Grande Valley with modern hay baling in Ohio.  It is probably also more common for large round bales to be used to feed cattle and the smaller square bales to be used for horses.

exc9pt1-4 I have noticed that many farmers don’t even bother to collect these large bales but simply leave them out on the fields until needed.  In some cases, you see bales wrapped with plastic; these are called silage or haylage bales.  This keeps moisture locked in and results in fermentation.   Oddly, this can help preserve the hay during the winter.  However, only cattle can each such fodder, not horses.

exc9pt1-5 I liked this little series of photos because the bales of hay give a sense of depth to the picture.

exc9pt1-6 Here’s a McMansion outside of Lancaster somewhere.  Rural McMansions are a pernicious problem in Ohio.  McMansions are ostentatiously large houses built with little regard for traditional architecture in the region.  In most cases, they are examples of conspicuous consumption and too large for the families within them.  I have developed an intense dislike to rural McMansions.

exc9pt1-7 Here, in contrast, is a more traditionally built country home not far away.

exc9pt1-8 It is odd how abandonment can quickly begin to make even the most mundane structures lonely and sad.

exc9pt1-9 Here is a “homestead” project that clearly never succeeded.

exc9pt1-10 Appalachian Ohio is quite hilly, containing the closest that Ohio has to mountains.  However, not every part of it is hilly, especially on its approaches.  Here is a nice flat road view, with some odd spindly trees sticking up into the air.

exc9pt1-11 As I was driving through the countryside outside of Lancaster, I came across some property with unusually strong and sturdy fencing all around it.  Eventually I found a sign identifying the property as being the “Chief Tarhe Beagle Club.”  My first reaction was to think that this property must have tons of beagles roaming around on it and this was why there was such unusual fencing.  “Free range beagles” seemed an entrancing prospect.  However, despite the fact that it was a beautiful day, I could not find a single dog.

exc9pt1-12 As I continued to drive, I saw some of the buildings where it seems the beagles may actually be kept—a much more depressing reality than my imagined “free range beagles.”

exc9pt1-13 I can’t really say why, but this broken-off tree trunk next to a railroad track caught my intention.  I took the picture from a slight hill overlooking the track.

exc9pt1-14 From that same vantage point, I could see this unidentifiable piece of equipment out by itself in the middle of an empty field.

exc9pt1-15 Soon I was entering for the first time the interesting little village of Bremen, Ohio, in the southeast corner of Fairfield County (population 1,425, salute!).  Bremen’s website states, “Welcome to the Village of Bremen website! Well known for her tree-lined brick streets and Victorian architecture, Bremen is a quaint step back in time. Calm relaxation is a prevailing feel as you travel up and down our streets and enjoy the neighborliness of our residents.”  It won’t take very long to travel up and down Bremen’s few streets, but I would agree that it is a quaint step back in time.

Bremen actually has an interesting history that is not apparent to the casual passer-through.  In the early 1900s, Bremen experienced an oil boom that turned the village from a sleepy hamlet of 200 to a place which actually businesses and commercial buildings (the buildings photographed here date from this era).  The boom disappeared by the mid-1920s.

The building above was a rather impressive old building, but I could find no sign or indication as to what its current or original purpose actually was.

exc9pt1-16 Apparently, Bremen was founded in 1834, as this picturesque mural suggests.

exc9pt1-17 I thought this sign on the Liberty Bell restaurant was kind of interesting.  It advertises Mike Sigler and his “Country Music Show” every Saturday from 4-8pm.  First, that’s a long-ass show.  Second, it is interesting that one person can apparently have the audience for a show every single week (this is not Branson, Missouri, after all).  It makes me curious who goes to see this show, how often, and why.

exc9pt1-18 I fell in love with this building almost immediately, from its old but well kept up construction to its fire escape (complete with pulleys).  I didn’t notice at the time that there is a little Gadsden Minuteman flag flyer on the bulletin board and I wish I had looked at it to see what it was announcing—maybe some Tea Party type event or another.

exc9pt1-19 I will say that some of the private residences of Bremen were, shall we say, color scheme challenged.  That includes this pink-aquamarine house.

exc9pt1-20 Apparently there is a still-working pink mine somewhere in the hills outside of Bremen.

exc9pt1-21 One last look at Bremen; a building that has not fared as well as some others.

2 thoughts on “Excursion 9, Part 1 (South by Southeast)

  1. Take a look at realtor.com. The unidentified building is listed as a home in Bremen which is currently for sale. My first guess was that it was a school…

  2. It really is a beautiful place. I love the hills. I’ve been drilling water wells in parts of South East Ohio (Fairfield and Hocking) for years and love it down there. Sometimes hard to get to but its always a scenic drive with great people.

    Nice post.

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