Excursion 38, Part 1 (Brick, Brick, O Beautiful Brick)

We humans are a social species, which I guess why one of the most comforting feelings we can experience is the feeling of belonging.  I’ll give you an example of what I mean.  I was born in northeastern Pennsylvania, where my father is from, but my parents moved our family to El Paso, Texas, where my mother is from, when I was only four years old.

From the time I was four until the time I was sixteen years old, I never saw any of my father’s family:  my grandmother, my aunt and various uncles, their spouses and children, not to mention a variety of cousins, great-uncles and great-aunts, godparents, and the like.  We simply couldn’t afford a cross-country trip like that.  But when I was a teenager, I had an opportunity to go to West Point, New York, for what was essentially a week-long attempt by the USMA to recruit national merit scholars.  We arranged the trip so that I could travel first to Wilkes-Barre and spend time with the family there.

I was nervous about that, as my only contact with any of these folks was through scratchy long-distance phone calls and the occasional holiday card.  But to my relief, surprise, joy, call it what you will, from the moment I landed and reconnected with these long-lost relatives, I felt like they were family.  I felt like I belonged.  Is that DNA?  Luck?  Maybe we Pitcavages simply have charisma oozing out of our pores.  In any case, it was a wonderful feeling.

[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.]

So you can clearly belong with people.  But it seems to me that sometimes you can feel that same sense of belonging with places as well.  It is easier to experience the opposite—I presume you, dear reader, like I, have occasionally encountered the feeling of being out-of-place, of being somewhere where you definitely don’t belong.  But that feeling itself suggests that it is thus possible to find places where you feel that you do belong.

I discovered a little bit of that type of affinity of place recently here in Ohio.  In 2014, I had gone an excursion with a friend of mine and we had done a little bit of exploring of Chillicothe, Ohio.   Chillicothe is a town (population 21,901, salute!) in southern Ohio that long ago was the first capital of Ohio.  Its population, which peaked at 24,957 in 1960, has actually remained fairly stable since 1940.  It is part of the southern segment of Appalachian Ohio.

I’d been in Chillicothe before, of course, but on this visit I was rather intrigued by the town and, though I could not spend much time there on that trip, I resolved to come back later.  This I did in September 2014 with an excursion to southern Ohio that I knew would include a lot of time spent driving around Chillicothe.

Well, that’s a long intro.  Let’s get on with it.

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Chillicothe is more or less due south of Columbus, so I headed south out of town on U.S. 23.  About half-way between Columbus and Circleville, I came across a farm with a very large, abandoned house on it.  This house clearly once was an impressive structure and it certainly is a shame that it was abandoned rather than preserved.

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Behind the house are various outbuildings, including this large, old barn with some impressive doo-hickies on top for its lightning rods.

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Here is a close-up of said doo-hickies, which I am not sure whether or not they serve a purpose (such as housing turbines for circulation) or are simply decorative.  When I took this photograph I had no idea there was a bird in the window, but I kind of like it.

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Here’s a photo of the entire house, looking at it from the rear—you can see how it actually consists of several separate but joined structures.

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From the farmhouse, it was a hop, skip and a jump and then I was in Chillicothe before I knew it.  One thing I like a great deal about Chillicothe is how many turn-of-the-previous-century buildings it still has.   These are the sorts of buildings that were once the heart of any Midwestern town, typically built from around 1880 to 1930.  Usually made of brick (except for the occasional bank or other structure made with something grander), often sporting false fronts to make them seem higher than they actually were, they had similar qualities but nevertheless generally succeeded at distinguishing themselves from each other.

Just look at the three buildings here, for example.  They all have certain similarities, yet they are unique buildings in and of themselves; they do not constitute a generic block of rubber stamp buildings.  Indeed, the architects took special effort to make their buildings stand out, like the many bay windows of the building on the left, or its elaborate cornice (lining the edges of the roof of the building).  The middle building (built in 1906) has an interesting bilateral symmetry and a ground-level arch, to boot.  And even the small building on the right has its one central bay window.

Of course, the original builders could hardly have imagined that tattoo parlors and tanning salons would eventually occupy their creations.

These buildings are along U.S. 50, a major road, so it was virtually impossible to get a photograph of them without automobiles in front of them.

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Many of the residential buildings in Chillicothe have a pleasingly aged look to them, including this rather substantial white house.

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It is easy to miss, but what I found interesting about this old brick house was that someone had actually erected a staircase leading up to a window.  There is even a lawn chair at the top of the stairs.  So this presents us with a small but intriguing mystery.  Is this window somehow being used as the entrance to an apartment?  Or is this a fire escape of sorts?  Enquiring minds want to know.

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This small, very old house was simple but distinctive.

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As I was driving through one old residential neighborhood in Chillicothe that morning, I came across a young woman sitting outside in front of her old apartment building along with her small dog.  It just seemed such an interesting scene to me that, though I do not take many pictures of actual people (usually being too timid to ask or to take pictures surreptitiously), I decided to ask this woman if she would let me take her photograph for my blog.

I have to give her credit; she took the request in good grace.  After all, what just happened to her was that an ugly, middle-aged male stranger just pulled up in a vehicle and wanted to snap pictures of her for his alleged “blog.”  But she told me yes, so I took a few photographs of her and this was the one I liked the best.  Actually, I am quite fond of this photograph.  I like the young woman in red in front of the dilapidated old red building.  I like her sitting peacefully on the old stoop with her dog, and the sun playing off the grass.  It is a mundane subject, but it somehow works—at least for me.  Anyway, my thanks to this kind young woman.

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It used to be common for neighborhoods to have neighborhood businesses—in other words, businesses actually located on a residential block.  My grandmother actually used to run a corner store in Pennsylvania that was also her house.  This building seems like it may have originally served a similar purpose, the architectural equivalent of a mullet: business in front, party in back.  In recent years, this building has had an insurance agency, a thrift store, and a laundry service in its walls, among others.  It has also been divided into several residential apartments.  It can be yours for around $75,000 (plus my commission, of course).

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This old white building is actually much larger than it looks—it extends back quite a ways.  This is the current location of an ancient Chillicothe business, Madru Plumbing Supply, started by Charles B. Madru over a hundred years ago in 1914, though originally in another part of town.

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Here’s a block of old, dilapidated homes in Chillicothe.  Though all are run down, note how distinct each house is from all the others.

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One of the major employers in Chillicothe is the Glatfelter Paper Company, a 150-year-old major paper manufacturer based in Pennsylvania but with a major factory in Chillocothe—its smokestacks are visible from much of the city.  About a month after I was in Chillicothe for this visit, there was a malfunction in a device designed to capture sulphur from the fumes emanating from the smokestack, with the result that a miasma of foul smell that could be detected as far away as Columbus, some 50 miles away.  It happened again in January 2015.

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I was quite taken by this grand old turreted house.  Still impressive even when run down, imagine how nice it would be if it were properly fixed up and restored.

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Unlike a lot of small towns in Ohio, much of the downtown area of Chillicothe is decidedly attractive and cheery.  Though not unaffected by the passage of time, it is nevertheless still a shopping destination for residents, with a lot of interesting shops located in a lot of interesting buildings.

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Not only was I impressed by the name of this bridal boutique, She Said Yes, but I loved the juxtaposition of the sign against the painted, aged brick.  Notice the pedestrian shoppers walking around downtown—that’s what you want to see in a small town.  People out and about and having fun, not boarded up and abandoned buildings.

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Actually, a lot of Chillicothe’s old buildings have been repurposed in one way or another, such as turned into apartments or condominiums, as with the buildings on the left in the above photograph.  The massive brick walls of the building on the right, complete with the old painted advertising, suggests the areas past.

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I can’t quite make out the purveyor of “notions, toys & fancy goods.”  I think it might be A. Maurer, but I am not sure.

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I fell in love with a lot of the old, massive brick buildings in Chillicothe—former factories and workshops, warehouses and offices.  This particular confluence of brick buildings was particularly fascinating to me.

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I decided to try processing the photograph a little bit more impressionalistically and this is the result.  When I saw this version, I imagined a vast three-dimensional landscape of interlocking brick buildings and chimneys and roofs and windows, stretching off to the horizon and beyond, and with no bottom, either—an entire world made of brick.

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Here is another old brick building in Chillicothe, repurposed to hold a variety of small businesses and offices.  I like the combination of preservation and renewal, because it lets a city or town keep its unique character and history, but without old buildings turning into de facto mausoleums.

With that, I end this very brief and scattershot tour of Chillicothe.  In the second and final part of this excursion, I head out into the countryside to explore a bit of southern Appalachian Ohio.

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