In September 2015, I took a page from infamous presidential accident Andrew Johnson, who in 1866 conducted what has come down in history as his “swing around the circle,” a series of campaign stops designed to influence the upcoming Congressional elections in his favor. It started off okay but, God love him, President Johnson came to Ohio; Ohioans were vocally none too happy to see him, and it went downhill from there. His trip was widely considered a disaster. Luckily, my own “swing around the circle” was not at all a disaster. Rather, I embarked upon a pleasant, meandering circle around the area of Ohio between Columbus and Cleveland, a region rather devoted to agriculture.
[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.]
My excursion, divided into two parts, of which this is the first, was a very bucolic one. I began taking photographs about 20 or 25 miles northeast of Columbus. The weather was sunny but cool, the gentle end of a summer determined not to go out with a bang. This stately old farmhouse may no longer be the main residence on the property—there is a smaller building to the left, a corner of which peeks into view here, but I wasn’t sure if it was a home or just a garage of sorts (I didn’t take a photo and have since forgotten what I saw). If so, it is nice that they have not let the older house go to ruin, as so many people do.
Continuing north, I motored into the hamlet of Fulton, Ohio, population 258 (salute!) on a good day. Fulton is about as tiny a place as you can get, but it has a church, and Maynard’s Market and Boondocks Restaurant and even an unusual little post office building, seen above. I am so used to seeing USPS buildings built in certain very standard styles from village to village that it certainly caught my eye. I am going to assume that this is actually the second story of a post office building built on soft ground and over the decades the ground floor sunk completely out of sight.
I took a photo of this unremarkable little equipment barn primarily because it seemed so lost and forgotten in the back of a field. It is all very green, but fall would start to make itself felt in only a couple of weeks. If I remember correctly, this was part of an abandoned farmstead, with other similar such buildings, some in worse shape than this one.
It was somewhere around this point that the battery in my camera’s GPS system ran out—unbeknownst to me—so I am not sure if this abandoned house was part of that homestead or something I saw later and further north. My next camera is likely to have built-in GPS rather than an attachment, so I don’t have to worry about things like this. I think this home may have been in a completely different location. Whenever I see a building like this, I wonder when it was last occupied. Often, the age and decrepitude of a building turn out to be a bit misleading, in that they appear to have been vacant much longer than they actually were. This is a combination of wear and tear coming fast and hard on certain buildings, especially in exposed locations, as well as the fact that some people continue to live in buildings when they are already in very poor shape.
Somewhere betwixt two places you never heard of—Mt. Gilead and Shiloh—I came across this brickyard with millions upon millions of bricks neatly stacked for sale and delivery. Brick is a combination of clay and shale that is baked in a kiln at extremely hot temperatures to fuse all the minerals together. I am interested in bricks because I love old brick buildings, but some people have a passion for them that leaves mine in the dust—many people actually collect bricks, which often have distinctive maker marks on them. Thankfully, I already hoard too many things to take up another hobby.
Again, at some mystery location in north central Ohio (damn you, Energizer Bunny!), I drove past an empty commercial site and caught the briefest glimpse of what seemed to be an old car alongside the building. I backed up and, sure enough, there it was, a Chrysler New Yorker Deluxe (I think it’s a ‘55) just sitting there, rather the worse for wear, with the trunk popped and at least one flat tire.
I can’t speak to its engine, but the body of this fine car seemed in pretty good shape, which is why its abandonment here is something of a sad mystery. Perhaps this was an abandoned restoration project? Many people buy old classic cars, thinking they will restore them to their former glory and tootle around with them, but many discover they don’t quite have the energy to follow through on their initial plan. I know I would be one of those people, which is why I’ve stayed away from the classic car market even though I love classic cars.
Most Ohio farmland is dedicated to corn and soybeans, but there are areas of the state where one can find other staples. I presume this is wheat here, although frankly I do not know the visual differences between wheat, rye, and barley. Wheat is more popular than rye or barley and also grows better in cooler climates. So I’m putting my money on wheat here. It surrounds this little farmhouse here.
I thought this barn was interesting largely because it is rapidly becoming an unbarn, with significant sections missing, as well as a general disintegration. Structurally, however, it still seems reasonably sound.
More “wheat” (let’s assume), in front of a rather ramshackle farmhouse. Images like this are probably what a lot of people have in their minds when they think of the Ohio countryside, I suspect.
At last, I can get something of a geographical bearing, thanks to this very unusual residence. The reason is that this house, with its large two-car garage, used to be something very different from a house. About 130 years ago, this building was a one-room schoolhouse, one of hundreds that dotted rural Ohio in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Most of the wood schoolhouses have not survived, but many brick ones have—in conditions ranging from ruined to pristinely restored. Others, such as this one, were repurposed as something else—usually a small barn or equipment shed, but also, though very rarely, as a residence. In fact, this building was the first schoolhouse I had seen repurposed as a home in all my travels across the state. In the nine months between when this photograph was taken and now, I have seen about two or three more. The architecture is distinctive but the building still contains its identifying stone, just under the window in the top front of the building. It reads “Vernon TWP DIst No. 5, 1886,” giving us both a date and a place. Every county in Ohio is divided into regions called townships. Confusingly, many different counties use the same township names (so there are, for example, many “Franklin Townships” across Ohio), but there is only one Vernon Township in this part of Ohio, and that is in Crawford County, about half way between Columbus and Lake Erie.
From an old school, we can go to a new school, or at least one still in use. Some of the details of the photograph may strike you as a bit unusual, if you look closely, and that is because this is not an ordinary school but an Amish or Mennonite school. Ohio has the largest Amish/Mennonite population in the country (larger than Pennsylvania) and much of that is located in and around Holmes County, several counties to the east of where we are in this photograph (which is probably western Richland County), but one can in fact find Amish communities in most regions of Ohio and Richland County has its own Amish population.
As one begins to shift from a northerly to easterly direction, one can begin to see the flat countryside of north central Ohio begin to give way to gentle slopes and low rolling hills, which will intensify until one finally reaches the Appalachian regions of central Ohio.
In Richland County, about eight or so miles north of Mansfield, is the tiny hamlet of Shiloh, Ohio (population 649, salute!). Shiloh today has about the same population it had in 1880, though about 25% down from its peak in 1980. It has lost population in every census since then, unfortunately—which may have contributed to its present-day low per-capita income. Here we see see a mildly ungrammatical sign in front of the Shiloh & Plymouth Methodist Church.
Shiloh has a few businesses, including the Shiloh Pizzeria, but like a lot of tiny villages and hamlets in Ohio, it is organizations like the local American Legion that provide many of the local social opportunities, including its omnipresent Steak Fries across Ohio.
The Legion post is part of a seemingly non-active commercial block centered on “Bauer’s Market,” but I can find no indication that the market is still in business; it may simply be a former business. The odd round emblem on the upper left of the building is an emblem/logo for either a feed store or a brand of feeds sold at the Market. Unfortunately, I can’t quite make it out—it is something like Larric’s Feeds or Lacies’ Feeds or some-such.
The Shiloh United Baptist Church, under Paster Delmer Bailey, seemed to be a much more going concern.
A couple of miles to the northeast of Shiloh I came across this ramshackle residence of patchwork construction.
As I got closer to the village of Greenwich, Ohio, I began to see a few houses with rather distinctive architecture, including this large, old farmhouse. It practically seems a mansion. It would be quite imposing still if the wood were given a good paint job and the house had a little work done to it, but it seems a tad disheveled as is.
Greenwich, Ohio, itself is a small village (population 1,476) in Huron County, about 25 miles or so south of Lake Erie. Its population has been more or less stagnant for the past 50 years, which is about as good as many of Ohio’s small towns and villages can hope for. This photograph looks out on the village’s main drag. Though small, Greenwich is metropolitan enough to have a fast food franchise (East of Chicago Pizza).
Nonetheless, Greenwich seems as if it had been larger and more prosperous in the past, with shells of buildings that once held businesses. In many Ohio villages, as here, the storefronts of such buildings often become the canvases for enthusiastic high school sports messages, the optimism of the kids contrasting sharply with the pessimistic imagery of the buildings themselves. Judging by the Century 21 sign, it may well be that Greenwich Groceries & Gifts is the latest business to succumb.
Whether Greenwich’s past is more glorious than its future is open to debate, but one thing that is certain is that it has a number of specimens of remarkable architecture from previous eras, as this building illustrates. Its run-down condition cannot camouflage the fact that at one time this was a quite impressive little house.
Also impressive is the Old Glory Florist building, a nice wedge shaped building of distinction. Some months earlier, passing through Greenwich late in the day from another direction, I took a photograph of this building, but I made several technical errors that I was not able to overcome to my satisfaction. Faced with a second chance, I decided to make the most of my opportunity to get it right this time.
Just as I had seen a distinctive large old house coming into Greenwich, so too did I see another, rather similar house, upon leaving the place. They served as proper bookends for my brief stay in Greenwich.
We’ll stop here and pick up the second half of this excursion in the next entry, when things fall from the sky with startling frequency!