Excursion 22, Part 2 (Shacks of Yore, Galore)

In which our intrepid hero gets to dwell on dwellings…

Are you a home orphan?  By that, I don’t mean homeless, but do you no longer have ties to the home in which you grew up?   Some of us can easily go back to the home of our youths, because other relatives, typically parents, may still live there.  You can revisit your old room, for example.  But not me.  My parents sold my childhood home in 1988 or so, the year I graduated from college and moved to Ohio.

I grew up in a house on 2624 Hawick, El Paso, Texas.  This was a subdivision with streets named on Irish themes built in the late 1950s.  My house was built in 1959.   It was a tiny house, three bedrooms but only around 1,000 square feet or so.  My mother was from El Paso, my father from Pennsylvania.  They lived in Pennsylvania after getting married but in 1970 they moved back to El Paso.  I was four years old.  We stayed at my grandparents’ house until my parents bought the home on Hawick.

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

Through the miracle that is the Internet, I was actually able to locate the classified real estate advertisement in the El Paso Herald-Post from November 3, 1970, that my parents must have seen.  Three bedrooms, 1 1/2 bathrooms, asking price $13,750.


That’s my home.  That’s where I grew up.  You can see it here on Google Maps.  Google Street View has a pretty good image of the front of the house.  I should note that the house looks very different now than it did then.    Not a single one of the trees that you see on this property existed back when I grew up, plus later owners cut down all the trees that the property did have in front.  When I lived in this house, the stretch of lawn closest to the street was not bricked over, nor was the stretch of property next to the driveway.  That little rock wall didn’t exist, either.  There were no benches out front and the mailbox was not white.  But the little house is still there.  I played on that lawn, made snowmen on that lawn (yes, it can snow in El Paso), mowed and edged that goddam lawn.  You see that little window to the left of the front door?  That was the window to my bedroom, the tiniest room in the house (other than bathrooms).

At some point in the late 1970s, my father put in a square cement basketball court in the backyard (you can see the cement in Google earth, though I don’t know if the hoop is still up).  In the early 1980s, when I was in high school, my parents built an addition to the house, a den, increasing the square footage to 1,494 square feet.  That was nice, because there was a television set in the den, which meant that other people in the family had a chance to watch something on television other than what my father wanted to watch.

I don’t know how much my parents sold the house for, but a few years later, in 1994, it sold again for $57,570.  Real estate websites now estimate the property value at around $116,928 (property values are pretty low in El Paso).  At the height of the housing bubble, it was estimated at close to $130,000.

The next time I go back to El Paso I am going to visit my old home.  I know it won’t seem like home, though.  I’ve looked at Google street views of my block and it has changed enormously from when I was last there.  There will be few familiar landmarks except some of the homes themselves.  There is a certain truth to the adage that you can’t go home again.  You can come back to a place, but you can’t come back to a time, and it is only the combination of the two that really make it “home.”

I mention all of this because in the second half of my 22nd excursion across Ohio, taken on November 9, 2013, I encountered a great many equivalents, from much earlier eras, to the tiny home where I grew up.  These old rural shacks are still standing, empty, where once some other family grew up.


I am kind of frustrated, because I do not know with 100% certainty where this and the several following photographs were taken.  It seems to me that they have to have been taken in Hillsboro, Ohio, a town of 6,605 (salute!) in southwest Ohio, just two counties from the Ohio River.  However, I can’t get Google maps to match up with the few landmarks in these photographs.  I apparently forgot to take an identifying shot, as I usually do.

I took the above shot largely because I was fascinated by the brickwork, both the variety as well as the wear and tear.


In this town, presumably Hillsboro, there were numerous lonely buildings of an industrial sort, but naturally I somehow managed not to catch a single sign.


An abandoned small industrial establishment.


Another lonely commercial building.


Not far outside of Hillsboro (?), I came across the largest flock of sheep that I had seen in Ohio—many more sheep than can be shown here (I needed a wide angle lens with me that day).  This was probably along Route 124.


Route 124 passes by Rocky Fork Lake, a man-made lake created in the 1950s by damming Rocky Fork Creek.  This is a long, shallow lake (its average depth is only about 15 feet, but much of the lake is quite shallower than that due to siltation).  I peeled off the road to explore the lake a little bit—quite empty on this cold November day.  I took several photographs of the lake, but none turned out well—the wind interfered too much with my superzoom’s long focus to get sharp shots, unfortunately.

However, I did keep this shot, though it is not high quality, for two reasons.  First, to document the large number of seagulls that were at the lake; I had never seen gulls in southern Ohio before.   I suspect this is more due to me not being around enough of Ohio’s lakes, though, and not due to the gulls themselves.  A few months later, I would see a gull in Columbus for the first time in the 25+ years I have lived there.  I am sure that I know the reason for that:  the winter of 2013/2014 was so harsh that virtually all of Lake Erie completely froze over and many gulls were forced inland during the winter just to stay alive.

The second reason is to point out–and you may have missed this–that there is somehow an old grocery cart in the very middle of this lake.  How did it get there?



This building, which I found southeast of the lake, is beginning the early stages of a process that it seems to me can only end in collapse.  The walls of this old structure are beginning to sag and bend.


To me, this was a very fascinating building, but my poor photograph skills nearly ruined my chance to document it.  Lens flare was a big problem, and although I put a lens hood on the camera, apparently I put it on wrong, because about the lens hood itself appeared on about half my photos.  I think this was the first day I had ever tried to use a lens hood, if I remember correctly.  I kept the hood on for most of the rest of the day, which resulted in a number of photographs ruined because of it.  What can I say, I am a novice and learning most of my lessons the hard way.


This large structure, essentially in the middle of nowhere, was rather mysterious.  It was quite large and seemingly designed for commercial rather than residential use, but it is hard to figure out what use—it doesn’t really seem to fit for either a restaurant or bar or some sort of lodging.  It is rather dilapidated now, but seems to be undergoing a desultory reconditioning.  I couldn’t make out the lettering in front, alas.


Now we are getting into the “shack” portion of the show, more or less.  In the last stages of my excursion, I encountered quite a large number of smallish abandoned old houses.  This overgrown structure was one of them.


I know I have mentioned before how attractive Ohio is in the fall, but this photograph provides just a smidgen more proof.


I was surprised here to come across not one old building, but an entire cluster of buildings constituting a long-abandoned farmstead, complete with outhouses.  “Tin” roofs (not always made of tin), which top every structure here, began to be used in residential buildings after the Civil War, so these buildings could theoretically date back to the 1800s, though I think they are in too good condition for that.  I am guessing they were built some time in the early 20th century.


When you see a photograph of a collapsed barn, it often seems as if the structure has been that way forever, but that’s not necessarily the case.  I had a conversation with someone who lived near the above scene and she told me that the barn on the left had collapsed just within the past year or so, though it had been threatening to do so for some time before that.


In rural Ohio, mailboxes typically line the closest road, so you may have to go a ways to get your mail.  Often a stream may pose an obstacle; in such cases, people build little bridges so they can go get their mail.  Some of these small bridges are really fascinating (see the “bridge” tag for more).  This bridgelet is more orthodox but nonetheless interesting.


Here’s a nice “establishing” shot of the autumnal wooded countryside in far southwestern Ohio in late afternoon.



I love this shot, looking up at these slender trees reaching into the sky.  This was a rare case where incompetence actually assisted me.  I mentioned earlier that I had apparently incorrectly attached a lens hood to my camera, which resulted in the lens hood itself showing up in the corners of many shots.  The only way to use such a photograph would be if you cropped the hood out of the frame.  In this case, cropping the hood out resulted in a more vertical composition, which I discovered provided a much nicer and greater emphasis on the slender trees, resulting in a better final product than if I had used an uncropped version.



Another abandoned house.  This style of cabin architecture is very common across the South and Midwest.  I am sure there must be a name for it, but in my ignorance I don’t know it.  If anybody does, let me know.


An impressively round and red barn, I think you will agree.


In rural Ohio, where space is not necessarily at a premium, it is not uncommon to build a new home next to an old home or cabin without tearing the latter down.  That is what happened here.  There is a more recent home, to the right, but the original old shack still stands, rather the worse for wear.


Here is a bit of frozen time.  Based on the pump technology and the gas prices, I’d have to think that this gas station has been shuttered since around 1980, give or take.  The sign reads “1 Stop You Save A-Lot,” with the words arranged to spell out USA vertically.  Apparently at one point this may have been a chain of gas stations in rural southern Ohio, because this identical sign has been found elsewhere.


This largish abandoned stone house has a spooky feel to it.  You kind of feel that Heathcliffe and the moors must not be too far away.


Another old cabin.  Once more, there is a newer house built right “next door,” but the old structure still survives.


This building is not very cabin-y at all, but is another relic of a bygone era.



In the twilight, on my way back, I had to stop and photograph one last scene:  an abandoned farmstead with a cluster of old and/or ruined buildings.  I felt like a time traveler when I pulled into the driveway of this property.


As interesting as all the buildings were, perhaps the most unique feature was to the right of the buildings in the previous photograph:  a collapsed garage, with an old car still under it.  I can’t speak for how anybody else might react to these last two photographs, but I just want to jump in my time machine and go find out the story of this property.

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