On my way back from a gaming event in Cleveland, I decided to take the long way home and drive through the flat farming country of north central Ohio. In such areas of Ohio, you get a bit more wide open view, though usually bounded by a row of trees sooner or later, and this gives you a bit of perspective on the small things—such as you and I—encountered in such larger landscapes.
[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.]
By its very nature, this little expedition was an agri-centric journey, so it makes sense to begin with an image of farming.
Now I just may be a simple city boy, unused to your fancy country ways and all, but even I can see that this must be a Case IH Model 6088 axial-flow single-rotor combine. These combines, made from around 2009-2012, will set you back from $120,000 to $220,000 used, depending on condition and features (and they have features galore; these are not your grandfathers’ combines).
Here we see it from the front. Air conditioning, AM/FM/Weather radio, navigation system, computer screens, perhaps even a refrigerator. And you can lose an arm in one of these just as easily as an older model. Agriculture is one of the most dangerous industries in the United States.
Did a deadly accident befall one of the occupants of this abandoned and near-ruined farm house? Often Ohioans keep even the lawns of abandoned properties mowed, so this place looks especially desolate. Unfortunately, I apparently forgot to turn my GPS on for about half of this excursion, so I can’t tell you where exactly this image was taken, other than somewhere in north central Ohio.
Now this is more like Ohio—an old, overgrown home whose lawn is nevertheless quite well-manicured. The magnificent tree dominates this scene entirely, making the home merely part of the background. If I had a tree like that on my property, I would want to build a home next to it, just to bask in its reflected glory.
Corn and the inevitable tree-line in the background, washing up front. This was jeans day at this household, apparently. They billow nicely, and nicely puffed-up, in the strong breezes that day.
Frustratingly, my GPS absence does not allow me to identify this cemetery. Usually, I can also identify a cemetery from looking up some of the deceased on the Internet, there being so many genealogy resources nowadays that identify graves. However, the few names I could make out did not render any results, frustratingly. I particularly wanted to know more about the Thomas family appearing on the large square grave marker at the back left (behind the “pillar”). Buried here are Alphonso Thomas and his wife, Inez G. Thomas. Alphonso seems to have lived from 1878-1961, while Inez may have lived from 1880-1960 (zoomed in, the text is hard to read). But also buried there is Daniel P. Thomas, apparently their son, who seems to have lived from 1901-1920—a tragically short life indeed. In those 19 years, however, he married his wife Hilda, whose life also seems to have been cut very short—if I read her marker correctly, she lived from 1905-1920 or 1929 (let us hope the latter). In their short time together, they had a son, but he too is buried there, only as “Baby Lawrence,” which means he must have died at birth or shortly thereafter. Thus Alphonso and Inez seem to have had two generations of descendants die before them.
This little house on the prairie—so to speak—barely peeks over the dead corn stalks. A not uncommon sight.
Baled hay ready for use. Farmers in Ohio who grow hay for their own use, as well as some others, do not always even bother to move it from the fields. They just let it sit there until they need some, then they go get it. Granted, it is not easy to move these huge bales. Other farmers will line them up in long rows, sometimes draped in plastic. The hay at the center will ferment. Horses can’t eat that but cattle can.
I thought this winding stretch of (mowed, of course) green grass meanderingly separating two fields was rather cool looking.
Only the contrails of jet planes take away from the timelessness of this abandoned farmstead. Had there been only one contrail and out in the open, I might have “cheated” and removed it for aesthetic purposes. But multiple contrails behind trees are beyond my meager graphic abilities to easily remove.
At last, however, we can come to something that I can put a location to. This is the public library of New Washington, Ohio, to the northwest of Mansfield. This tiny village has a population of only 967 (salute!). In 1902, local merchants “J. Sheetz & Bro.” (sad if you were just the unnamed “bro”) sold golf gloves to willing New Washingtonians—though there would be no golf course in the area until 1974 (you can still practice that swing, though).
The building is a colorful and nicely-restored structure dating back to 1905—if only all such buildings were so nicely preserved. The name Michelfelder is above the building, indicating the original builder. This is probably John Michelfelder (also sometimes rendered as Michel Felder or Michel-Felder), descended from German immigrants who came over in the 1840s. John Michelfelder was a prominent local Democrat and frequent holder of local office, not to mention a zealous Lutheran. “His is a well-rounded character,” asserts on hagiographic local history, “in which he has given due attention to physical, mental and moral development.” Michelfelder’s father started a shoe business and they worked it together as “John Michelfelder & Son.” After the father retired and John’s younger brother, Jacob, became more involved, it got renamed as “John Michelfelder & Brother.” The other Michelfelder later started “J. C. Michelfelder & Son” and yet another brother started “Fred Michelfelder & Son.”
Apparently, New Washington has this weird sort of practice in which only one person in a business can ever be named as such. If you are the son, or a younger brother, you are shit out of luck until you start your own business.
Here is another nicely kept-up old building in New Washington, currently housing a bank and a branch of the Knights of Columbus. Despite having a population of less than a thousand, New Washington still has its own newspaper (dating back to 1881!), the New Washington Herald, though its publishers are also commercial printers, so it may just be a sideline for them.
Heading south, I eventually came across this nicely kept-up one-room schoolhouse southwest of the town of Bucyrus, Ohio, out by itself in the middle of farmland. This turns out to be the Harvey One-Room School & Harvey Homestead Barn. The original school taught students from 1876 to 1918. The restoration is a relatively recent occurrence and the schoolhouse was in very bad shape when they stepped in and rescued it (see link for photos). They restored the inside as well as the outside, so it has contemporary desks, an old stove (for warmth) and so forth. The little outhouses are a nice touch. It is now in the National Register of Historic Places. More power to Betty Hapke, Ridgeton Restoration and all the others who preserved this wonderful slice of Ohio history.
Not nearly so well-preserved or paid attention to is this abandoned old building found a couple of miles further south. It is clearly quite old, though it has a recent roof, and has been repaired and/or rebuilt multiple times over the years, it seems. There is lettering on the front that says “Wood & Coal Stoves,” so perhaps someone selling such items was the last occupant here? The structure itself resembles an old school more than a business establishment.
This abandoned—and rather the worse for wear—structure was definitely a school. This is the Grand Prairie School in Marion County. Schools like these were what replaced the little one- and two-room schoolhouses that once taught so many rural students. It was built in 1915, expanded several times, but closed in 1990. Only 25 years since its closure, it is well on its way to being a ruin, with gaping holes where banks of windows once were and rapidly aging structures.
For a while, it must have been nice. It is clear from this below photograph of local students, used as a postcard in 1910, that its predecessor school must not have been too happy of a place:
Finally, just a quick shot as I was passing through Marion on my way back to Columbus, of the front of VFW Post 7201, and the Vietnam-era Bell AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter parked outside. Versions of the Cobra are still in service in the U.S. military in small numbers.
Beautiful pictures that really capture “small town America”. Thanks for this amazing post!
Thank you so much for your kind words!!
Very nice photography.
It could be that the family on that cemetery who may have died around 1920 may have been victims of the outgoing end of the 1918-20 flu pandemic.
That is the first thing I thought of–the epidemic–but the wife may well have died in 1929. They used a font in which 9s look somewhat like 0s. But husband and/or baby could still have been victims. That was one reason why I tried (unsuccessfully) to find out more about them. Thank you for the nice compliment on the photography! best, Mark
I love your blog. The photos are pure Ohio, and the stories interesting. I saw this blog about the Thomas family, and found some into on Ancestry.com. Hilda Thomas was 18 at time of death. She died of eclampsia, a complication of pregnancy. Her baby would have been stillborn. Daniel died only 3 months later, at age 19. Ironically, several people in the cemetery died in their late 80’s. Life was unpredictable in those days.
Teresa, thank you so much for clearing up the very sad mystery of the Thomas family. Death in childbirth is not so surprising, considering the time and place. I wonder what Daniel died of. But really, quite tragic.