Excursion 46, Part 1 (The Stern Girl and Other Stories)

Over 17,000 years ago, on the dark, damp walls of a cave in Lascaux, France, a prehistoric artist left paintings of the animals of his or her time.  Today those images still have the power to amaze and to transport those few people lucky enough to view them (access is extraordinarily restricted) back to an ancient bygone era, at least momentarily.

It would be thousands of years before humanity began to construct permanent buildings, at remote places like Göbekli Tepe in Turkey (9,000 to 11,000BCE), but when they did, they put images on the pillars and surfaces of those buildings as well, just as their forebears had done on caves.

Buildings and artwork have thus served, from the very earliest periods of humanity’s existence, as our most potent time machines.  And they function as such even in the small-towns and back-country of rural Ohio.

[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.]

The plan for my 46th excursion across Ohio was to take I-71 southwest from Columbus all the way down to Wilmington, the college town that lies between Columbus and Cincinnati, then do a semi-circle to the southeast and up to the northeast, basically drawing a smiley face below the town of Chillicothe.  Doing that would give me more of an opportunity to explore southern Ohio, which at the time I had seen less of than some other sections of the state.


Wilmington is a town in southwestern Ohio with a population of 12,520 (salute!). Though over 200 years old, its recent history has not been a happy one. The military (in the form of an air base) left the town in the early 1970s, which hurt the economy considerably. Happily, the major air carrier Airborne Express (purchased the whole base at the end of the decade and turned it into a major cargo hub, employing thousands of people.  Airborne Express (later ABX Air) was the air carrier for DHL, the major German shipping company.  However, catastrophe struck in 2008, as DHL shut down its U.S. operations and the air hub in Wilmington abruptly closed, leading to more than 9,000 layoffs and the devastation of the city’s economy. Since then, with the help of the state government, some new job opportunities have come to Wilmington, but the air hub debacle has still left a major scar. In March 2016, Internet giant Amazon announced it would start an air cargo network out of Wilmington, which may bring in some more jobs—one certainly hopes so.

The view above, of a placid downtown Wilmington on a Saturday morning in early April 2015, gives no real indication of the turmoil that has rocked the town in recent years. It has the same two- and three-story commercial buildings that mark countless towns across the Midwest—but well-kept and attractive.  Unlike many towns in Ohio, Wilmington has not suffered major population loss in recent decades (though it may record a slight loss in the next census, its first since the 1870s).

Here we see the corner of South and Main, dominated by the three-story Fife & Bosworth building, constructed in 1872 as a bank—and it very much looks like a bank building. Sadly, much of it seems to be empty; a few years ago there was an income tax service at the front of the building, but that business seems gone.  A gun shop operates out of the side.



When I drove by the Fife & Bosworth building, I discovered an in-progress mural depicting past residents of the area (taken from donated photographs). The artist, an Ohio artist named Jason Morgan, sketched out the whole mural in skeleton fashion, then began adding detail, from the top down. As a result, when came across the mural, the people were mostly just sketches, line drawings on a wall, but that interestingly added some potency to the portraits, because it reduced the images to their essences.  Just a few months later, it would be almost finished.


My eyes were immediately drawn to the sketch of a young girl with a stern visage and folded arms, looking disapprovingly out at me—and the world, generally. Whatever message she has to convey from the past is clearly not a happy one.  Interestingly, in the finished version of the mural (see link, above), she comes across more sad than stern, but there is no mistaking her expression in this unfinished version.  Wilmington, she is not amused.


On the outskirts of town, I saw this wall-sign for a dog-grooming business that stuck on me, for some unaccountable reason, so I share it with you.  “Grooming By Brad,” for all your grooming needs, plus the sign optimistically promises “& more.”  Well, way to go, Brad.


Wilmington is a county seat (for Clinton County) and county seats mean courthouses and jails.  Courthouses and jails mean bail bondsmen and we see such an establishment here (and below). I liked this building, with its protruding pair of window-thingies (I am sure that is an architectural term), as well as the fire escape.  The upstairs floors look mostly uninhabited, though a martial arts place displays a small sign.  There is a missing window on the third floor, third from the right; the space for one is bricked up, with the building’s date carved into the exterior (1879), as well as its name:  “Hawley’s Block.”  The Hawley seems to be Joseph R. Hawley, a local grocer, druggist and saloon keeper who hawked Queen’s Sarsaparilla, “the greatest tonic and appetizer ever produced.” He also owned the Midland Hotel, which was a little bit north of this building block, and was for some years a city councilor.  All this is all the more interesting because Joseph R. Hawley was an African-American in this “little Confederacy” area of Ohio. A contemporary Wilmington newspaper said that he “owned more than any other colored man in the place.”  Sadly, by 1896 “reverses” (probably related to the major recession just a few years previously, the so-called “Panic of 1893”) seem to have caused him to go bankrupt.


Mr. Hawley is no more, but his building lives on and living in his building is Castle Bail Bonds & Insurance. Probably one of very few places open 24 hours in Wilmington.


I found this tiny house just a couple miles south of Wilmington, much smaller than the typical farmhouse, which makes me wonder if perhaps it was not itself a farmhouse, but the house of a laborer or other rural worker.  You may notice that the door is slightly ajar, but the place is not very welcoming.


Down the road a mile or so I came across a larger and much more unusual house—a unique piece of architecture. It is a hillside-house, built into the ground, although it does not appear to have been built into a natural slope but rather perhaps an artificial mound of earth.  As you will see when you click on the image to look at the large version, the walls are inlaid with glass and the whole thing is very odd indeed.

On a whim, I decided to look at satellite imagery of the building and, though it was unremarkable when viewed from the heavens, I noticed that it was marked on Google Earth as the “Peaceful Acres Lavender Farm,” which as you might suspect got my attention.  I did a little research to discover this was indeed a lavender farm (I didn’t even know that was a thing) and a sort of New Age place, complete with a “wellness center” and a goofy “reflexologist.”  And this building?  This is a so-called “Earthship,” a type of building designs for which are sold out of New Mexico that are ostensibly sustainable, with thermal and solar heating and cooling, made of recycled materials, and so on.

You find the oddest things just driving around aimlessly.  I wonder what the Stern Girl would make of this.


Peaceful Acres is very close to the hamlet of Martinsville, Ohio, population 463 (salute!).  In 1833, Martinsville had two taverns, three stores, two groceries, a hatter, a wagoneer, a blacksmith shop, a meeting house, a schoolhouse, a tannery, a gristmill, and about 15 houses. It doesn’t really have much more than that today.  This old building, next to the post office, no longer houses anything, and the writing on the building is too faded for me to know what it last was.  With no lot to store cars, it would not seem to be a mechanic’s place, but the garage seems too small for a fire engine.  There used to be an exterior staircase leading to the second floor, but that is long gone now.


The original purpose of this building is clear:  it was built (in 1895) and owned by the local lodge of the International Order of Odd Fellows  Fraternal lodges were absolutely the rage in the late 1800s and early 1900s (I guess that’s what you did before streaming video) and dthe Odd Fellows certainly seem to have been big in Martinsville, even owning a cemetery (but among the purposes of the Odd Fellows are to visit the sick, relieve the distressed, educate the orphan, and bury the dead).  Martinsville actually still has an Odd Fellows lodge, but it meets at a local Methodist Church. Some years ago the building block had a For Sale sign on the windows of the building on the right, but since then the windows and door have been boarded up.  Oddly, however, the upper windows of the building on the left were bricked up or boarded over back then but the bricks and boarding have been removed from 2 (and a half, oddly) of the windows since then.


In the farm country outside of Martinsville, I found this stately old farmhouse, abandoned but seemingly in fairly good shape.  The razor wire on the fence around the property, however, was distinctly uninviting—and very unusual; I rarely ever see anything like that. Note that the usual Ohio passion with lawn care is evident here, as the lawn is mowed even though no one seems to be living here.


This is a very building-heavy blog entry, but I thought I would give you at least once nice little glimpse of the southern Ohio countryside,  Go south some miles further and you will start reaching the outskirts of Ohio Appalachia.


Here is a repurposed old building!  Now it is the “Back in Time Stove Shop,” which is interesting, as I did not know there was such a thing as a stove shop.  It is in Lynchburg, Ohio, a small village in Columbiana County (population 1,499, salute!).  It’s a nice little place—the village, that is; I did not go in the stove shop.


From this angle, we can see the old sign on the building that suggests a previous purpose:  Ewing’s Blue Ribbon Feeds, Inc.  However, in the 1800s, it seems that this building was part of the Freiburg & Workum Distillery, a business that distilled Lynchburg Rye and other distilled liquors here from 1857 into the early 1900s.  The company seems to have survived for a while after that, but was not based in Lynchburg any more.  It did not survive Ohio’s passage of statewide prohibition in 1918.


Here is the very sleepy main drag (Main Street) of Lynchburg.  Note the gaps where buildings once existed.  When I was processing this photograph, I discovered a creepy barber was staring out at me from behind the dark inside of his shop.


About 10 or 12 miles south of Lynchburg, I came across this old country schoolhouse, with architecture a bit outside the standard pattern—specifically, the front windows and the two (as opposed to only one) front doors.  One door is light, the other is dark, somehow a metaphor for the paths children take as they grow up.


I’ll end this first half of the travelogue with a couple shots of this abandoned farmhouse pretty much in the middle of nowhere. At one point, it was clearly rather stately and substantial, and so were the trees that once graced its yard, but both house and trees have certainly seen better days than today.


Again, this is another example of an abandoned and crumbling house, not inhabited, but yet whose owner for some reason still feels compelled to keep the grass mowed.  The grass gods must get their sacrifices!

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