I never rode in a city bus until I was at college in San Antonio; sans car, I had to beg rides or take the bus. Luckily, San Antonio had a great bus system. As a child and a teen, I was too close to both my elementary school and my high school to take school buses, but I did occasionally go on field trips. The first field trip I ever took, which was when I was very young, was to a dairy. It wasn’t very exciting, but it got us out of school. When I was in the 8th grade, the entire 8th grade went on a day long field trip, first to the El Paso planetarium, then to a state park adjacent to the mountains that are such a big piece of El Paso’s landscape. The picnic at the state park was all fine and good but what my little geek self was excited about was the planetarium. Oh, was I excited about that.
We all got in the buses to go to the planetarium and one of the cool things about not being in school was that you could chew gum. Gum was not verboten in the real world. I have never been a huge gum chewer, but when I was offered a stick of gum by one of my classmates, I took it. Why not live the high life? We arrived at the planetarium and debarked. But as we were filing in from the lobby into the actual arium part, a pinched-face planetarium employee put his hand out to stop me. “Are you chewing gum?” he asked. Well, I was. I forgot to spit it out. I went to put the gum in a trash can but when I came back to the line, the employee would not let me in—he wanted to punish me for nearly having brought gum into his beloved planetarium (heaven forefend). No teacher intervened to help me, and so I was forced to sit in the lobby for an eternity while every one of my 130 grademates got to see a planetarium show. It would be another 10 years until I entered the doors of a planetarium again—although, in a belated soothing of my still-ruffled feathers, that second experience let me know I had not really missed anything with the first. Still, what a fucking mean thing to do.
[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.]
But I, dear reader, am far from mean. Indeed, I want only to shower you with kindness, by continuing my Thanksgiving Day trip into the depths of southeast Ohio along with my friend Tsuki. When we left off, Tsuki and I were southeast of Columbus and southwest of Zanesville, just north of the Perry State Forest.
We were crossing the invisible border from central Ohio into Appalachian Ohio. Farmland was more sparse, woods and hills more common. The terrain was still open enough, however, that I could spot a tiny and distant family cemetery pretty much in the middle of nowhere—not near a house, a church, or even a road. Just a dozen or so burial plots and headstones. It occurs to me, writing this, that normal cemeteries are very much the last social act in which we engage. Though we are dead, we nevertheless are placed with hundreds of other people and are very much part of a crowd—and we can even receive visitors. A private burial ground like this, though, seems very reclusive and introspective.
A ways to the east of the village of Roseville (do not trust the GPS coordinates in the EXIF file; they are wonky—this photo was taken at the intersection of Cannelville Rd. and Spring Rd.), I came across a very unusual little building. Essentially, this is an octohedral building, something I have never seen before. It is as if someone took an 8-sided die from Dungeons & Dragons, expanded it in size, than pounded it into the ground a little. You’ll note that there is a small cottage nearby, so this building does not appear to be a main residence. Is is an unusual guest cottage? I think I found real estate descriptions of it on the Internet, based on the address, where it seems to be described as a one-bedroom, one-bath 400 square foot home. That is indeed tiny but not tiny enough, so it may refer to the nearby cottage rather than this unusual structure. If you drive around enough, you’ll eventually see almost everything—including things you never dreamed existed.
Rather more conventional, though still in its own way unusual, was this large older house just off the Muskingum River south of Gaysport. At first glance, it looks as if an original structure were added to several times, but there is no segment of this house which looks like it could have been a stand-alone structure. So it is a bit mysterious. But nice-looking. That’s a lot of lawn to mow, but that task is what Ohioans are born for: mowing lawns.
Ohio is also known for its plentitude of fascinating barns, featuring a bewildering array of distinct architectural styles. Here’s an old medium-sized barn with a front-pointing roof. This is a bit further south than the previous photograph; Tsuki and I were more or less paralleling the Muskingum at that point as it headed south towards the Ohio River. The two great divides in southeastern Ohio are the north-south Muskingum River and the north-south I-77. They trisect the region into three different pieces.
Southeastern Ohio is quite wooded, but it is probably more wooded now than it was a century ago or more ago. A greater rural population and poorer agricultural techniques in the 1800s meant that in many regions of the United States a lot of marginally arable land was cleared and farmed. With the modern agricultural revolution, this land became superfluous for farming needs and much of it was either converted to pastureland or let alone to reforest. I wonder if this old house, nestled in the woods, is an example of that phenomenon.
Now here is some southeast Ohio pastureland.
Here is a much larger area of pastureland somewhat to the south. You can see the trails that the cattle wear into the ground as they trek back and forth to graze each day. Even a relatively small number of cattle can thus make a significant mark upon the environment.
We stopped heading south along the Muskingum and struck off to the east. Going from east to west in southeastern Ohio is not always an easy thing to do, because you are travelling against the grain of the land; the region is dominated by north-south ridgelines. So there are many road that can take you a long distance north or south, except for a few major thoroughfares, going from east to west (or vice versa) is a rather choppy affair as roads tend to be rather short. In these wooded hills, though, north of McConnellsville, I did see this old farmhouse perched on a hill overlooking the road and decided to take a few photos of it.
It is interesting how photographic techniques can make the same or similar photographs seem so different. In processing this close-up, on a whim I decided to use some HDR techniques. Nothing exotic, but you can see, for example, that suddenly the sky has a much more dramatic feel.
I processed the same image as a black and white image, because it has some good contrasts and some good textures and here it looks different still. I like the checkerboard pattern in the upstairs window, because it provides the eye with a sort of anchor location.
Just about 500 yards down the road, I came across another abandoned farmhouse, a rather large one, although you may not be able to see many details, because the other noteworthy element to this property is that it has a hugeass old bus sitting on the property, also abandoned. It does not appear to have been a city bus, so it must have been some sort of private conveyance. How it got out in the middle of nowhere—the barely figurative middle of nowhere at that—is a bit of a mystery. Usually, the abandoned buses one sees are the aging hulks of schoolbuses, but this is something rather different.
Not too far away from the bus graveyard was yet another abandoned property. All these abandoned homesteads are not a coincidence. Morgan County, where we were, is the fourth least-populated county in Ohio. Moreover, today’s population is almost half of what the county’s population was in 1850. In 1850, Morgan County boasted nearly 29,000 residents. In 2010, Morgan County had barely over 15,000 inhabitants. Indeed, between 1850 and 2010, Morgan County had negative population growth every decade except four. One major reason is the long-term decline of the coal industry in the county; in the mid-to-late 1800s, coal was the economic driver of the area.
After the recession of 2008 hit, Morgan County had unemployment rates for several years of over 15%—thankfully, unemployment is now down to around half that, but still noticeably higher than the state average. But Morgan County is a very attractive region and could be made into a nice tourist destination, if it had some help.
This is another photograph of the same building as above. I liked this angle because it shows the earthen driveway leading up to the house. That makes it a bit more welcome than the distant and stark version of the house seen in the first photograph.
Again, only about 500 yards down the road is another abandoned property. When you see enough of these, you begin to get a sense of the depopulation of the region. But all these abandoned houses can get a little depressing. Perhaps it is time for something completely different.
It is hard to imagine what could be more different from those abandoned rural houses than this highly colorful combination Asian and Mexican restaurant. Presumably for those people who really like rice and beans. The Shanghai Restaurant is in the village of Beverly, Ohio (population 1,313, salute!), which is on the Muskingum River (which looped back around to meet us again) in Washington County, which borders the Ohio River.
Beverly is a crossroads town, where several larger regional roads intersect, and it also has a relatively rare bridge across the Muskingum River—which is a long way to say that if you are in this area of Ohio, it is quite likely that the roads will carry you to Beverly. One of the more impressive buildings in Beverly, at least to my eye, is the Cornerstone Inn building, which I can’t seem to help photographing every time I come through town (it helps that there is a large area across the street from where I can take photographs). The eagle-eyed may note that this building used to be a lodge for the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a charmingly named fraternal lodge that used to be very popular indeed in Ohio.
Across the Muskingum River from Beverly is the hamlet of Waterford (salute!), an unincorporated populated area that dates back to the early 1800s. Waterford has an attractive high school which was built over 100 years ago, in 1915. This was the beginning of the era in which small schoolhouses began to be replaced by larger schools, though the process would take many decades. Most of those early 20th century larger schools themselves became too small and were abandoned, either sold outright or left to seed. However, Waterford did not abandon its school, but rather added on to it several times, in 1927, 1959, 1969, and 1973. I cannot help but applaud the decision not to abandon the old for the new but rather simply to expand. I would love it if our tentacled alien overlords from the year 2116 could look upon this building with as much satisfaction.
Tsuki and I headed south from Beverly and Waterford until we were only a couple of miles away from the Ohio River—beyond that Is the forbidden zone where we will not go. Our attention was captured by the word BOOKS written in large letters on a building we passed, so we turned around to go back and check it out. It seemed as if it might have been intended to be a bookstore—indeed, Google Maps claims that this is “Carpenter Books,” but when we peered inside, all we could see were tattered piles and remains. It certainly did not seem like a working bookstore.
By this point, the light was low indeed so we decided to head back home. All in all, it was a very nice and relaxing way to spend a Thanksgiving and we were both thankful to have had the opportunity. But the world, it seemed, was already looking ahead, as this very elaborately decorated rural front lawn indicates. I thought I would take a final shot just to commemorate the season. Happy Thanksgiving (belatedly), everyone!