Western Ohio is essentially the stereotypical place that non-Ohioans tend to think of when they envision Ohio: a flat expanse of farmland punctuated by the occasional town or city. Most of Ohio doesn’t actually look like that, but western Ohio does fit the bill. If you like plenty of sky in which to view approaching thunderstorms, western Ohio is your destination. It is not that populated; really, you have Dayton to the south and Toledo way up in the northwest, and that’s about it in terms of cities (Cincinnati is another world). In 2014-2015, I would have opportunity to traverse chunks of western Ohio because I had to travel a lot to Chicago for work. Each time I would go, I’d take another route so that I could try and find some things to photograph. On April 19, 2014, I was travelling in the region on a Saturday, just to see what sights were to be seen.
[Remember that you can click on each image below to see a larger, better image. Also, the EXIF data for each image contains GPS coordinates that you can use to locate the exact place where the photograph was taken.]
On this excursion, I started taking photographs once east of I-75 near Troy, Ohio. I drove west, to the Indiana border, then northwards, more or less hugging the border region up to St. Marys, at which point I began to head east again, eventually back home. So I made a big semi-circle, in terms of the areas where I took photos. I did a lot of mid-day photo taking, which is not always the best time for photos, but the sky was a beautiful blue and it was just extremely pleasant to drive around and enjoy the countryside.
The highest point in Ohio is actually in flat, western Ohio, not in hilly eastern Ohio. But aside from that one high point, near Bellefontaine, it is mostly pretty flat, which means you don’t get a lot of great vistas for landscapes. Often, then, what catches the eye is not so much terrain configurations but the individual house or barn or vehicle. I was impressed, for example, at the wear and tear on this house, well over a hundred years old, it seemed.
The front half of this truck reminds me a lot of my father’s first pickup truck, purchased in the early 1970s. It was a regular pick up truck, though, not a flatbed.
Here’s another old farmhouse, fairly well preserved. Not the similar architectural style to the first house; many old houses in Ohio have this shape, tall and without much depth (although often wooden structures are later added to the rear, as in both of the buildings here. One owner rather vaingloriously carved the family name in large letters over the doorway: Arnett.
One village I encountered for the first time was the small village of Arcanum (population 2,129, salute!), a place that dates back to 1849. Many towns and villages in western Ohio date to this period; eastern and southern Ohio were settled first. Arcanum is actually a prosperous little place, with sharp contrasts with its Appalachian counterparts. In many places in eastern Ohio, a village like this would have been declining in population, not growing, and would have many times more people living below the poverty line. The village’s website is practically giddy with optimism. The attractiveness of its municipal building is testament to the fact that it has some money to throw around.
But even in a place like Arcanum, which does look forward, the relics of the past are still very obvious. Here old signs from the not-too-original John Smith Company (a sort of small department store) and Battle Ax chewing tobacco still linger.
Battle Ax Plug was a brand of the American Tobacco Company in the early 1900s. In recent years, contractors demolishing old buildings have found several Battle Ax ads on the sides of the neighboring buildings—covered up for a century. Here, though, the add seems always to have been in the open. The motto on the ax, which is hard to read, says “A great big piece for 10 cents.”
In Arcanum, a number of the old downtown buildings are fairly well kept up and one can see people walking around and shopping. Lots of small towns and villages in Ohio can’t say the same. Thumbs up for Arcanum.
The general level of prosperity in western Ohio is just much greater than in eastern Ohio. In western Ohio there are large farms (which the terrain mostly doesn’t support in Appalachian Ohio, which has small farms or, more often, pasture land), large amounts of livestock, better farming equipment, and more farm buildings. But even in western Ohio, ancient tractors dot the landscape, grizzled veterans of crops gone by.
Old automobiles, too, dot the landscape. These were owned by twin little old ladies who only drove them on Sundays, I promise.
Maybe a mile from the Indiana state line is Jim’s Union 76, an ancient gas station and garage. It used to have two Jurassic gas pumps right in front, as recently as 2008, but they were no longer there in 2014.
I decided I would show both black-and-white and color versions of this image, because sometimes a black and white image just creates an entirely different impression on the mind than its color counterpart, but what struck me with this particular image is that, for me at least, though the images obviously look different, they both do create a very similar impression on me. If I had to choose, I’d probably narrowly choose the black-and-white version, because it just looks a tad more desolate.
Off to the right of the previous image is the sign for Jim’s 76, shown here as a lonely sentinel.
Western Ohio is absolutely full of large livestock barns (some might call them factory farms) full of cattle, pigs, turkeys, chickens, and so forth. This photo is of part of a complex of five such buildings, sandwiched between the unfortunately named Kraut Creek and North Fork Kraut Creek. A little research revealed that this is Cherrystone Farm, part of PSA Farms, Inc., and that poultry is kept here—over 670,000 chickens. So these buildings contain over 130,000 chickens each.
Ohio is so friendly that we always leave cheery reminders for our neighbors and passers-by.
Union City, Ohio, is a small (population 1,666, salute!) village smack dab on the Indiana-Ohio state line (there is a neighboring Union City, Indiana). Unlike some other towns in western Ohio, Union City’s population is declining. It is, for comparison, considerably poorer than Arcanum. This building, currently housing Sham’s Towing, almost certainly once housed something grander. I see examples of this style of architecture every once in a while (in fact, there is another example just a couple pictures down), which I like to call accordion-style: segmented buildings, with each segment further from the front a little smaller.
Not too far from the Indiana border, in the middle of nowhere, is this abandoned house. I quite like this photograph, because the house against the stark, flat landscape seems especially desolate and alone.
Another accordion-style building, though in this case it is probably only a faux-style as part of a false front-and-sides. Still, these buildings are pretty darn substantial. Today, this building just houses the offices of a car dealership in the incredibly tiny North Star, Ohio (population 236, salute!). It used to border the Great Black Swamp, which was later drained and turned into farmland. Allegedly, Annie Oakley is from North Star.
We will wind up the first half of this journey with a tiny glimpse into a world most people have never seen—and which I had never seen until I took this photograph—the world of poultry barns. This one was a single large barn operated by a family farm outside of the village of Maria Stein, Ohio. The fact that it does have doors to the outside and the animals are not constrained means that it is not one of the more problematic farms, but just from this photograph one can see how crowded the animals are—imagine this shot pulling back to reveal a building about 500 feet long and think of how many animals must be in it.