Excursion 45, Part 2 (Castles of the Countryside)

A couple of years ago, I was inspired to see if I could find a house listing for my childhood home in El Paso. To my surprise, I found it on newspapers.com, a 1970 listing for a tiny (probably around 1,100 sq. ft.) 3-bedroom, 1-bath house listed at $13,750.  That year, 1970, was the year my parents moved from Pennsylvania to El Paso, Texas, and bought the house. I was four years old.   About 34 years later, after many years of rental living, I bought my own home.  Just a few days ago, I mused at the fact, because it hardly seems I have been living in my home for a dozen or so years now.

I mention these facts because this excursion—actually the second half of a long excursion that took place on March 21, 2015, features a lot of houses, of many different kinds, and they were all homes to one or in some cases perhaps many families. Many of these houses now lie abandoned and ruined—at some point they ceased being homes and reverted to being mere structures again. For some reason, that makes me sad.

[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 heading southwest from Columbus, but then swung to the southeast and more or less continued in that direction, with various zigs and zags.  I was now in Appalachian Ohio, the picturesque but poverty-stricken sickle of land that curves from below Youngstown in the northeast to the south and southwest along the Ohio River until it reaches the suburbs of Cincinnati.

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Appalachian Ohio is full of mobile homes, because they cost less, of course, than traditional homes.  Alas for me, they are not very photogenic in and of themselves, but they are so often a part of the landscape of Ohio that I resolved this past year to make an effort to take more photographs of them, if for no other reason than to more accurately portray the countryside.  I am not sure how much accuracy it really adds, to be honest, because I generally refrain from taking photographs of normal or well-to-do residences, because of my personal preferences.  Someone unfamiliar with Ohio who reads my blog may come away with the notion that Ohio is blighted through and through with ruin and poverty. Actually, Ohio ranks a mediocre 35th in terms of annual income per capita among the states, but is still substantially higher than its fellow Appalachian states West Virginia and Kentucky.

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The countryside of Appalachian Ohio, is usually more suited for grazing than for agriculture. Cattle can chomp on the grass on hillsides where crops won’t grow.  Of course, cattle are a little bit more mobile than corn, so you have to keep them secure. I semi-regularly see cows that have gotten out of the pastures and are contentedly grazing on the side of the road, even though they are in danger of becoming roadkill.  Here we see a common enough sight in Ohio, a stream that has been fenced over, so that cattle cannot wander off-property by moving along a creekbed.

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People have to take advantage of the relatively small flat areas whenever they can find them. Here, nestled up against some low wooded hills, is an abandoned but intact farmstead. Presumably the land now belongs to some other farmer who already has a house and does not need another.

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Here is the same farmstead from another angle, a reasonably nice composition, I think. It shows the home more clearly than the other photograph, but less of the landscape.  Everything has its trade-off, I suppose. This place looks like it was quite nice, not all that long ago. It must have been interesting to grow up living on a remote little farm like this, surrounded by the hills and woods.

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Alas for me, it was around here that the battery on my camera’s GPS ran out, without me noticing, so I do not have exact locations for most of the remaining locations in this expedition.  This photo was probably taken around 14 or so miles northeast of Portsmouth along the Ohio River—more or less in the middle of nowhere.  I originally took a photograph of this barn and it was only while examining the photographs back at home that I discovered nestled in the shadows of the barn was a very old truck. I was able to make it a bit more visible using post-processing techniques.

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Another, very barren mobile home here. The contrast between the look of this abandoned residence and the old farmhouse pictured above is quite stark. Can you imagine children playing here?  It is kind of hard, isn’t it?

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This old house is not abandoned, yet, though one might argue that it should be.  It certainly has seen better days—days when, for example, the house had a large porch in front, rather than merely the scar that remains.  Many older rural homes bear the scars of former porches and I confess I don’t quite understand this. Did they rot away and were simply never replaced? Why do I see this with rural houses but so rarely with urban residences? Perhaps somewhere there is a parallel universe filled with nothing but porches.

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Where there are homes, there are barns, of course, at least in rural Ohio.  Here is a seemingly abandoned barn, but there are cattle prints in the wet ground, so it is still being used.

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Even though there is no GPS data in the EXIF info on this photograph, I think you will have no problems triangulating exactly where you are, thanks to the helpful signs on this rural property. Gettysburg, 361 miles away. New Orleans, 896 miles.  Fairbanks, Alaska, a whopping 4,630 miles away. The choices of locations for these signs is rather interesting. I have to wonder if perhaps the creator visited these locations, because many of them are vacation destinations: several national parks, Las Vegas, Myrtle Beach, Death Valley, and so forth.  More locally, we see that we are 1.5 miles from the hamlet of Patriot, Ohio, and 1.6 miles from Cadmus, Ohio. A couple of the signs are a bit mysterious. It took me a while to realize that Bonneville S.F. UT stood for the Bonneville Salt Flats. I still don’t know what Swamps, Ohio, 10 miles away, is—there is no place named Swamps, Ohio, that I know of, so perhaps these are just some swamps? I think the builder of this signpost may be a biker, as one of the locations is Sturgis, South Dakota, and another location is the H.O.G. Club, which I think is probably Harley Owners Group Club.

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Winding through the hills and dales (I presume dales, I am not 100% what a dale is), I came across an area with an Amish population, rather far from the main Amish population centers in the state.  What I found rather interesting was the contrast between Amish and “English” residences in this region.  Poverty is obvious in the area, and presumably the local Amish found it no easier to get by than their non-Amish neighbors. But almost every Amish home I saw, prosperous or otherwise, was immaculately kept, in sharp contrast to the disheveled, junk-strewn non-Amish homes that were so often right next door.

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Here an old car stands sentinel next to a grassy hill—kept cropped by hungry cattle, no dobut.

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Another local Amish residence, complete with horse and buggy. Potatoes are sold here, which I found interesting, as they are not grown that much in Ohio, and when grown, it tends to be in northern Ohio, not far southern Ohio. But these were probably just grown as a garden “vegetable.”

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Another Amish residence, this one a bit atypical. Generally, Amish residential architecture (at least in Ohio) is so distinctive that Amish homes are very easy to spot.

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Another contrast.  This mobile home is so remote, it seems, that it does not even have modern plumbing. The windows are all blocked off with plastic or some other material, so I wonder if this is still being used as a residence. Or meth lab.

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I can safely say that this particular residence is not being used as anything other than, perhaps, a squirrel playground. It has been abandoned for quite some time, as we can see from all the foliage that has grown up around it.

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If I remember correctly, nearby was this rusted hulk of an old Ford mini-pickup. I tried, mightily, to identify the particulars of this unusual small vehicle, but failed, alas. I had never before seen this type of truck.

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As you may have noticed, I haven’t been giving any locations for a while, as I usually do.  I’m driving blind here, so to speak. Before I got a camera with a GPS I would take a photo of my car GPS readout before taking a photograph of any location, but I was not even aware at the time that I was not recording locations on my photographs.  So all I can tell you about these locations is that I was somewhere in far southern Ohio. I may have started heading north again by this point, but I am not sure. Wherever the heck I was, I did come across this interesting abandoned homestead, empty inside and fairly empty outside as well, but still neat and tidy.

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The road I was driving on at one point passed right next to a cattle pen, a pen with cattle who had the largest horns I have ever personally seen.  The photo above really doesn’t capture the size of the horns; they put longhorns to shame. Unfortunately, the thick slats of the fence managed to block even half-decent views of these specimens; though I took a lot of photographs, I never really got one that showed them off to my satisfaction.  One problem was that it was a very narrow road that, for some reason, had a fair amount of traffic, so I had no leisure at all to wait for a perfect shot. I drove off and circled back around several times but eventually gave up. So you will probably simply have to take my word for it that some of the cattle here had ball-droppingly big horns. I tried to identify what breed of cattle this was, but couldn’t come up with an ID to my satisfaction.

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The photos above and below show, or seem to show, another abandoned farmstead nestled up against a thickly wooded hill. However, I cheated in composing the shot, because there is a much newer house “offscreen,” to the left of these buildings, so people still very much live here.  As I’ve mentioned before, it is common in rural Ohio to simply build a new home near the old one and never bother to demolish the older structure.

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Ohioans do love their freshly mowed grass.

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I thought this was a nice little landscape shot of a barn-like structure—again nestled against the omnipresent hills of Appalachian Ohio. I say barn-like structure because, if you’ll look closely, you’ll notice that the structure doesn’t really have a ground floor. The only walls are on the second floor (it looks like there is a tiny enclosed area on the ground, but that’s it).  What practical use this building has I really have no idea; it is rather a mystery to me.

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Here’s a black-and-white photograph of a rather overgrown abandoned house—a tiny house, not much more than a cabin, really. If I had taken this photograph in the summer rather than the spring, you would have hardly been able to see anything, because it would have been full of green foliage.  Winter and early spring actually give me glimpses of parts  of Ohio that otherwise a rich wrapping of green would cover and obscure.

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This photograph is exactly what you think it is: a basketball pole and net out in the middle of nowhere, certainly nowhere where basketball could actually be played. I include this photograph here as a symbolic representation of the hundreds of basketball poles and/or nets that I see erected across the Ohio back-country in places where no one even slightly in their right mind would put a basketball pole.  I seem them on slopes, set at the edge of drop-offs, practically everywhere except in the middle of ponds—and I have no doubt that I will eventually see one of those, too.

To me, these crazy basketball polls somehow speak to the incurable optimism of Ohioans, an optimism that says, “Sure, I will actually shoot hoops here,” no matter what reality has to say about it. It’s the sort of optimism that can get you through anything—not a glass half full sort of optimism, but the sort of optimism that sees a half-full glass where there actually is nothing but broken jar of ancient vaseline.  So here’s to you, Ohio. Nothing but net!

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It was getting very late in the day by now and it was quite dark. I needed lengthy exposures to take photographs now, as it was basically twilight. You can’t easily tell that here, because my camera is very good at collecting light with long exposures, but you can get a hint of it by the fact that there are no long shadows anywhere. I was tickled pink to find this abandoned—but grand—old house perched above a large pond with wonderful reflections. I would have loved to have stayed here when this place was at its prime.  Just beautiful.

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Here’s a close-up to show a little more detail of the house. What a wonderful second-story porch that is. Refurbished, this could make a nice little bed-and-breakfast—or perhaps not, because it is so remote, so very much in the middle of nowhere. But I like it.

By this point I was on my way home and it was getting too dark to take photographs. I put my camera away and was concentrated on just getting home. But my journey had one surprise left for me.  As I was driving down a completely empty road, with steep wooded hills to my left and a wooded stream to my right, I came across a remarkable sight: a tunnel drilled right into—and all the way through—the hill to my left.

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Even though it was virtually dark out—just a few stray photons that had not yet gone to bed—I pulled out my camera, because I had to document this tunnel, if not for any photographic or artistic merit, then just for my memory, because it was so unusual.

Soon after, I posted a photograph of the tunnel to my Facebook page to show my friends and I repeat here the description I put next to the photograph, when it was so fresh on my mind:

“Here’s the story: I spent all day last Saturday driving around doing roadside photography in southern and southeastern Ohio. It finally got too dark to take any useful photographs; I was in that murky moment when you are not sure whether still to call it twilight or to settle for night. By then I was already heading north towards home on a very obscure road in the woods. A large, wooded hill was to my left; a stream to my right. As I drove past it, I spotted out of the corner of my eye a deep tunnel blasted into the hill.

“I slammed on my brakes, backed up, and verified that the corner of my eye had been pretty alert. Not only was there a tunnel going into the hill, it dawned on me, in the dimming light, that the tunnel went all the way through the hill. There was no road in the tunnel, just rough ground and murky puddles of water. It was like an archaeological site from some long-past coyote-roadrunner encounter. I wanted to take a photograph–naturally–but all my theoretical and practical knowledge of photography had been dedicated to daytime landscape photography. I had only recently begun doing any low-light photography at all. I had no lighting with me and my camera would not resolve without some light, not even in bulb mode (this was almost certainly my lack of knowledge, not a camera problem). All I could think to do was to maneuver my SUV across the road, perpendicular to oncoming traffic (I felt I could do this because it was so deserted, but that might have been stupid), so that my headlights could face into the tunnel. Of course, if I did that, I could not use my car-door camera mount, so I would have to handhold the camera in this low-light condition. I was surprised that I was able to get any sort of photo at all out of the situation. There’s certainly no aesthetic value here, but perhaps you might find it as intriguing as I have.

“When I got home, I went to Google maps to find the exact location and discovered that the other end of the tunnel (though I could not see either end on satellite view) seemed to open out into a narrow wooded valley–uninhabited and roadless. I then assumed that somebody else somewhere on the planet must have come across this same sight and taken a photograph of it or known something about it, so I tried researching it (knowing the name of the road it was near), but no luck. It takes a lot of time and expense to blast all the way through a large hill, though. I am positive it must have had something to do with some past coal mining operation in the region–perhaps they needed access to the water from the stream? But I don’t know. I find it very mysterious. I would like to go back to this tunnel in the daytime and take some better photos and maybe even explore it.”

I think that about says it. It is a year later now and I still have not yet gone back, but I do plan to find this in the daytime and figure out what the heck it is/was. It was—and still remains—extremely mysterious, but it was the perfect capper, the perfect end to a wonderful day of exploring and discovering the great state of Ohio.

One thought on “Excursion 45, Part 2 (Castles of the Countryside)

  1. Another interesting blog entry. I look forward to them, as I also enjoy the Ohio countryside, with its barns and abandoned houses. I especially love your black and white photo of the “neat and tidy homestead”.

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