Once upon a time, before thumb drives and smart phones, people actually had to remember things. Do you remember that? No? Look it up on your smart phone; I’ll wait. The ancient Greeks and Romans sometimes used a technique called the Method of Loci (i.e., places). It’s more commonly called a memory palace. The idea behind a memory palace—an idea stolen by the movie Inception—is that you create in your mind some sort of reality, like a house or museum or row of shops—or a palace. When you want to remember something, you “store” it in a particular place in this mindscape. For example, you may remember your locker combination by “storing” it inside the disgustingly pink vase on the mantel over the fireplace in the living room of your mind mansion. It is the combination of the item and its virtual surroundings that create a memory connection for you. It’s kind of like a mnemonic only in space rather than via words or sounds.
If you think about it, the real world works like that, too, only in reverse and usually involuntarily. Instead of remembering something by finding it in a virtual place in our memories, we encounter a real place and that triggers memories from our past. Forget about your memory home—try going to the real home of your childhood. You might well be bombarded by memories of secret hiding places you use to have, special moments that occurred there, times when you were happy or afraid or ashamed or angry. Seeing somebody else’s house won’t trigger your memories, of course, but those memories are still there in that house, latent recollections, just waiting for the right person to come by and trigger them.
In this blog entry, which continues a June 2014 journey I began in my previous entry, we will see a great many houses. Who knows what memories linger in them?
[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.]
At this point in my journey, I was in rural southeast Ohio, not too far from I-77, where I could see sights like these. Pigs!
I soon crossed the highway and was in Caldwell, Ohio, a small village (population 1,748, salute!) in Noble County, where it is the county seat (which says something about how rural Noble County is). It seems like every hamlet, village or town in Ohio has a town mural depicting sights and wonderments of the place’s past. Some are done by professional artists, often local, while others are done by nonprofessionals, including students. Caldwell’s mural may not reach the pinnacle of town mural artwork, but it tries. Like most towns and villages in the region, Caldwell is shrinking.
Caldwell does not have the most distinguished history in Ohio. Its Wikipedia page lists only a single person under “Notable People,” informing us that Albert Whealdon, a college professor and one-time Wisconsin state legislator, was born in Caldwell. Bless those native sons. Still, Caldwell is a pleasant looking place.
This small-town hardware and general merchandise store—itself an endangered species these days—used to be the Columbia Hotel. In 1923, the original hotel and restaurant went bankrupt “and the hotel was taken over by Citizens National Bank due to, as a local newspaper phrased it at the time, “the result of financial difficulties of the proprietor who is said to have lost heavily by the recent depreciation of stocks in which he had invested extensively.” I do not know when it ceased being a hotel.
Below you can see the Columbia Hotel as a hotel, circa 1910:
I continued southeast from Caldwell. One of the nice things about southeastern Ohio is hills. Occasionally, the Hill Gods are generous enough to clear away some trees and give you a vantage point, as where, where we can look down upon a distant farmstead.
A somewhat more close-up look, where we can see grazing sheep, houses, outbuildings and barns, and even a collapsed barn on the far left.
On this journey, I was luck enough to find a great many abandoned houses and cabins, some of them pretty old, as in this Monroe County example here, sporting classic cabin architecture. It was a hardscrabble life for many residents of this part of Ohio back then—and even now.
Here is the same cabin from another vantage point. The cabin still has one thing that my house does not—a great porch designed for sitting on.
Monroe County has the second-lowest population of any county in Ohio at less than 15,000. What is more, that population has shrunk steadily, to the point where it is only half of what it was at its peak, in 1880. That’s more than a century of population decline. What this means is that there are a lot of abandoned cabins and homes in Monroe County. It is not a “ghost county,” but it has many ghostly places within it.
I was about to encounter one.
As I was driving down a backcountry road, Sandbar Road, I came across an old abandoned building. It looked like it had once been a business of some sort (above). I stopped my vehicle to take a shot of it (it was very close to the road, so I could not encompass the whole building—I should have put on a super wide angle lens). As I stopped, I looked down the road in front of me. After this building was another building—and it, too, looked abandoned. And beyond that was another building. And another—all vacant.
It slowly began to dawn on me that I had encountered a ghost town—or, more accurately, a ghost hamlet. I drove along, taking photographs of some of these buildings (below), with a sense approaching that of awe. Was this an old coal town? Had something happened here? Did this place have a name? It was really kind of spooky seeing these buildings.
When I got home, I tried to do some research. It took me a while, but I finally figured out what I had discovered: a place called Sycamore Valley. Sycamore Valley is nestled in one of the more remote areas of Monroe County called Bethel Township. The whole Township has fewer than 400 residents and Sycamore Valley was the closest this area had to any sort of community. It was never an “official” town or village in Ohio, that’s how insignificant it was. But for the people in the hills and valleys in this remote wooded area of Ohio Appalachia, it was home.
The above building, I eventually was able to determine, used to house the general store and gas station. You can see someone else’s photo of it here. It was called Morrison’s General Store or just Morrison’s Store. The store itself may have dated back to the late 19th century and was in operation for decades. It was an almost stereotypical place, complete with an old-fashioned stove to warm the place. It was also the post office. Supposedly, this place was still in operation, more or less, even into the 2000s. It certainly looks like a relic out of time now. According to someone who lived a few miles away, the contents of Morrison’s General Store were auctioned off in September 2013. You can read the auction description here.
I believe the final owner, Morris Morrison, may still be alive, in Woodsfield, Ohio, and may have recently celebrated his 80th birthday.
One former resident of Sycamore Valley, who now works at Kent State, described the place a few years ago as “pop[ulation] 11, 14 when we visit.” Whatever family once lived here no longer does.
Another Sycamore Valley building, probably a business of some sort, complete with asphalt (faux brick) siding in front.
Another abandoned relic of Sycamore Valley, Ohio.
This was some sort of business, clearly. It looks like it might have had big plate glass windows at one point.
This cat was the only resident I spotted, although the mowed grass indicates someone still lives in the vicinity. When I tried to do research on Sycamore Valley, the most common thing I found was obituaries of people who had formerly lived in the area.
A couple hundred yards from the previous buildings was this farmstead; I could not tell whether or not it was abandoned. I think this is my favorite photograph from the area, because I love the three buildings in a row, from barn to cabin, receding into the depths of the woods. A study in gray and green.
Sycamore Valley, and the entire region around it, is deep within the Wayne National Forest. Unlike National Forests in the western United States, which were always public land (from the time they were seized from the original inhabitants), national forests in Ohio co-exist with towns and communities, though they are more sparsely populated (or else there wouldn’t be a forest). Since I can’t show you the whole Wayne National Forest, I’ll show you a tree from it.
Okay, here are a few more trees. Who knows what strange place this dirt road might lead us?
Another tiny Appalachian hamlet in the Wayne National Forest is Laings, Ohio. Like Sycamore Valley, Laings is an unincorporated area consisting of little more than a crossroads cluster of buildings. Unlike Sycamore Valley, however, Laings is not a ghost town. One of the more unusual buildings I’ve seen was in Laings, pictured above. I thought at first that it was a barn, and it may well have been, but I have to wonder about that because of the old television aerial attached to it.
A reminder that this region of Ohio has been pumping oil and natural gas for well over a century. Now, of course, fracking is all the rage. In late 2014, about six months after I took this photograph, a plugged natural gas well owned by Triad Hunter blew out in Monroe County not too far from here, shooting a huge plume of natural gas high into the air—and into the surrounding region, forcing several dozen homes to be evacuated. It took workers some 10 days to cap the well again.
The Bridges of Monroe County. In rural Ohio, mail carriers deliver to mailboxes along the side of the road, which may be some distance from houses. It can be a trek to check your mail! But what if there is a body of water between you and Reader’s Digest? Some families will build their own personal footbridges just to check the mail. Sometimes the construction is very elaborate–even suspension bridges–as in these two examples, above and below, both taken along Sunfish Creek very near the Ohio River on SR 78. These would both trigger my fear of falling, I am afraid. I think I’d rent a PO Box.
Throughout 2014 I saw constant reminders of the fracking boom whenever I ventured into eastern Ohio. Here a pipeline is being dug into a hill less than a mile from the Ohio River.
An excruciatingly tiny abandoned cabin nestled up against a hill. By this time I was well on my way back west towards central Ohio and home. This little cabin is also along SR 78, which is actually a pretty well-trafficked road in the region, so many people have driven past this odd relic of yesteryear.
Some distance further west on SR 78 is this abandoned homestead.
And since almost this entire blog entry has focused on abandoned places, what more fitting way to end it than showing you, above and below, yet another abandoned place, a once-stately home at a crossroads in Reinersville, Ohio, another unincorporated barely-a-place. Reinersville is the first community in Ohio that I have encountered that does not have so much as a Wikipedia stub entry for it—even Sycamore Valley had that, and it no longer exists! Does this mean Reinersville no longer exists? Maybe it was just a misplaced memento in my memory palace.