I was born in Pennsylvania but moved to west Texas when I was four years old. I remember nothing of it except a hazy memory of the plane ride with my mother and my sister (my father drove). I did not move again until I went to college at Trinity University in San Antonio, to live in a dorm. During the summer the university sent me a letter with information about my dorm and my assigned roommate. My roommate had one of those ambiguous names that could be male or female, which is relevant, because the dorm assigned to me was the Camille Lightner Women’s Honor Dormitory. Together, these two pieces of information had me a little nervous. However, it turns out the dorm had recently been converted to co-ed and they merely hadn’t gotten around to changing its formal name.
In 1988, I made the biggest move of my life, to Columbus, Ohio, to go to grad school. With the exception of my books and my wargames, every possession I owned was crammed into my 1985 Chevy Chevette. It was so loaded down I almost had to pull it the 1,550 miles to Ohio. The only way I could afford to move my (thousands of) books and wargames was to ship it via freight as scrap paper—meaning if something went wrong, I could kiss them goodbye. That was a nervous waiting period until they arrived at the small apartment I had rented, which would turn out to be miserable and rat-infested. I stayed there two years, then moved into a townhouse apartment in a nicer part of town. I would live in that place for 14 years until I finally bought a house and made my last move, to date. By then I could afford to pay people to move all the stuff—and not as scrap paper, either, so it was in many ways the least painless. After I moved in, I discovered the air conditioning was broken and I had to pay nearly a thousand dollars on my first day in the house to fix it. Even after the house cooled down, I had a hard time sleeping that night, in a strange place that I had just bought, consumed by second-guessing my own decision in the largest purchase of my life to date. But it generally turned out okay. I’m still living in it, 12 years later—though still not fully unpacked.
[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 last excursion of 2015, taken with my friend Tsuki, was a trip into northeastern Ohio. We started taking photographs in the vicinity of Coshocton and headed northeast from there, getting as far as some distance southeast of Canton before turning back and heading home.
Our first stop was to inspect a little log cabin along the side of the road. With a building that small, one’s first inclination is to think that it must have been a shed, but a shed would not have windows in it. However, when I examined the photographs, I did not see a chimney or stove outlet, which would have been a necessity to use as a residence. It is possible there might have been something on the back. Tsuki was more adventurous than me and got out to inspect the inside, which was full of detritus.
It was only 10 days until Christmas and even out in the countryside people will decorate their homes—sometimes to a fault. The wide expanses of this rural lawn were festooned with ornaments, from Micky Mouse and Snoopy to gingerbread men and animals, as well as the phrase “Remember Jesus.”
We spotted this attractive farm about 6 or 7 miles north of Coschocton. The architecture of the house shows that it is an Amish or Mennonite home. We could see no electrical wires (I also looked at satellite imagery), though there is a piece of heavy machinery (some sort of front loader, I think) out back, being used for some task.
I had to stop and take a photograph of this barn-sized tribute to a daughter. One side of the barn is filled with a huge sign commemorating the River View Lady Bears, who, it seems, were the 2006 Division II Girls State Basketball Champions. The back of the barn informs all who might see it that the Lady Bears ended up being back-to-back state champions in 2007. Presumably a daughter of the householders was on those Lady Bears teams. This would put her in her mid-to-late 20s today, which couldn’t help but make me wonder what she thought about having a larger than life size image of herself on a barn? But her parents were certainly justifiably proud.
One can see every sort of livestock in this hilly region between Coshocton and I-77, from the ordinary…
…to something slightly more exotic.
By now we had traveled to Holmes County, which is to Ohio what Lancaster is to Pennsylvania: the symbolic Amish center of the state (though Amish can be found in most regions of Ohio to some degree). Here is a photograph of a rather typical Amish farm for the region, complete with the colossal clotheslines that one often sees. Like a number of Amish farms I’ve seen, this one has more than one “residential” building on the property. You’ll notice a smaller house to the right. I do not know if buildings like this represent multigenerational families or if they are more like “overflow” housing for the prolific Amish.
A lone horse has this hilly pastureland to him or herself in this shot.
At a crossroads in the middle of nowhere (a few miles west of New Bedford, a place you’ve never head of), Tsuki and I came across a sign that tickled us quite a bit: Fender’s Fish and Llama Farm. Now that’s a combination you just don’t see together very often: fish and llamas. walleyes, rainbow trout, bluegill, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, warmouth bass, rock bass, white amur, northern pike, green and redear sunfish, perch, koi, catfish, crappies, and even bulldogs are raised here. Many are sold as fingerlings to people in the region stocking ponds or raising their own fish for restaurants. The fish farm has been around 60 years—it doesn’t look like much here, but they actually have many ponds spread out over three different counties. I don’t know when they got started with the llamas, but it was at least 20 years ago. Probably all the early ones drowned until they realized the llamas were land animals.
Sadly, I learned that just a few weeks ago (as I write this), Dennis Fender, the founder of the Fish Farm, passed away at the age of 86. Fender lived his whole life on the same piece o land, except for a period of service in the Korean War. He started off as a farmer and maple syrup wrangler, before he started the hatcher in 1956. He left behind four children and a great many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, some of whom are carrying on the family business.
The closest community to the Fish Farm is New Bedford, Ohio (salute!), which is a tiny unincorporated hamlet in eastern Ohio. It is really just a crossroads with a few buildings clustered around it. At one time, however, the New Bedford General Store was in operation—though that seems like quite a while ago.
I thought the image might look good processed in black and white and I think I was right, though you can judge for yourself. I believe I have found references to this store in Ohio survey materials from the first decade of the 20th century, though it may well be older than that. The nearby area is fairly is substantially Amish and not “tourist” Amish.
Speaking of Amish, here is yet another Amish farm, large and prosperous-looking. Note that this farm also has more than one residence building; it has two right next to each other, one slightly smaller than the other. If you look closely, you can spot some washing out on the line. With a large Amish family, there may well be some washing on the line pretty much every nice day.
A few miles east of New Bedford is the village of Baltic, Ohio. This tiny community (population 795, salute!) is located at the intersection of three different counties: Coshocton, Holmes, and Tuscarawas. Like a number of other villages in the area, including New Bedford, Baltic was originally founded by immigrants from Pennsylvania. However, what caught my eye on this visit to Baltic was one of the local businesses, the proprietor of which apparently is a “Bio Cranial Practitioner.” Even in the big city, we don’t encounter “bio cranial practitioners” just any old day of the week.
What, you may be wondering, is a “bio cranial practitioner?” Well might you ask. One website claims that “bio cranial practitioners” place “a strong emphasis on your body’s innate healing wisdom and far less reliance on Band-Aids and unneeded drugs and surgery.” Apparently—please ingest large quantities of salt here—“one of the greatest sources of stress ignored by mainstream medicine is malfunctioning cranial bones.” Bio Cranial practitioners “free” the cranial bones so that they can move unrestrictedly, which impacts health “in a very positive way,” including increasing “the function of our immune system.”
Hopefully you have already guessed that all this is basically flimflam.
East of Baltic a ways is an Ohio community with one of my favorite names: Ragersville. That is not out of a Mad Max movie; it is a peaceful little part of Ohio. It was founded in 1828 by Conrad Rager, who like many in the area heralded originally from Pennsylvania. In my opinion, having the first name Congrad pretty much negates the last name Rager. It is like having your last name be Rampagingballbuster but your first name Marvin.
Ragersville is a tiny unincorporated hamlet (population, who knows but salute!), but it certainly had some interesting pioneers. Some were pretty regular, such as Jacob Neff the shoemaker and Willis Butler the tavernkeeper. But then you had the amazing Dingledine brothers, who were tailers and saddlers. Christ Schneider was an organ maker, because every crossroads hamlet needs an organ maker. Probably his best friend was Andrew McFarlan, who was an artist. Ragersville was loaded with hipsters. On the more practical side, though, Charles Espich was a brick-maker, butcher and gunsmith.
This old-timey looking building is not so old-timey; I believe it belongs to a local used car dealer, Hisrich Auto Sales.
Next to the auto dealer is a little park-like area that had a building with a local historical scene painted on it. It features a mustachioed man with a horse, a log cabin, some sort of female writer, a cemetery and war memorial, a few buildings and, most interesting, two female ballplayers with jerseys that read “Weiss All Stars.” Now that’s the sort of thing that is going to get my historian juices flowing. Who are the Weiss All Stars and what is their connection to the blip on earth known as Ragersville?
It turns out that one august resident of Ragersville was Dr. George Weiss (we presume that he did absolutely nothing in the “bio cranial” realm). In the early 1900s, Dr. Weiss had several teenage daughters, one of whom was Alta Weiss (born 1890), who became fascinated with baseball at an early age. Dr. Weiss seems to have encouraged this interest—if starting a local high school to make sure she could play on its baseball team is “encouraging an interest.” In 1907, Weiss sent his girls off for a summer vacation at the Lake Erie town of Vermillion (the Nice of Ohio), where she started playing catch with some local boys (we hope that “playing catch” was not the 1907 equivalent of “Netflix and chill”). This attracted attention and, somehow, Alta actually ended up signing with a local men’s baseball team, the Vermillion Independents and became a pitcher and first-base player for the team.
Was she any good? It is hard to say. She was dubbed the “Girl Wonder” and reporters loved to write about her. She may have been essentially a “gimmick” player, designed to draw crowds—who definitely came to see her—but she did win some games. She was playing semipro baseball in its early decades so
Dr. Weiss was no dummy—he is the sort of guy who would put his daughter on the side of a barn, if you know what I mean. He bought a 50% stake in the Independents and changed their name to the Weiss All-Stars. If that weren’t enough, he had her wear a black team uniform while all the men wore white (she eventually abandoned skirts for bloomers).
Believe it or not, Alta did all this ball-playing while matriculating at medical school—the only woman in her class. She soon became Dr. Alta Weiss. though she continued playing baseball until 1922.
In 1927, she became Dr. Alta Weiss Hisrich—marrying someone whose descendants would go on to start Hisrich Auto Sales (see how this all ties together?), but they apparently divorced in 1944. Later, she became something of a cat lady, with a double digit number of felines. Alta Weiss died in 1964 at the age of 74
Just another abandoned house alongside the road. The exterior is not in too bad a condition.
As we headed east, we crossed I-77 (the divider beween eastern Ohio and far eastern Ohio) and wound up in one of my favorite towns in Ohio, New Philadelphia (population 17, 396, salute!), a very attractive little town, the county seat of Tuscarawas County.
Here Tsuki and I came across a building we had not seen before, a building that I can only describe as North Pole Whorehouse in style. Actually, this rather, umm, punk old house originally belonged to a merchant named J. M. Custer in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
We headed north-northeast after exiting New Philadelphia and ended up in a tiny village, Mineral City, Ohio (population 727, salute!). Mineral City reached a population peak in 1900 (at 1,220), which I suspect was probably due to the coal mining boom in northeast Ohio in the late 1800s. Brick and clay works were also a big engine of the local economy, as it was for much of this region. Today it seems very small and sleepy.
Mineral City is so small that it seems odd to have within its borders such a specialized business as a bakery, but there it is, Steineck’s Bakery (also known as Steineck’s Donuts and Cakes), described by one writer as “a tiny jewel among the old abandoned mines.” This is the sort of bakery I like. A couple of years ago, a froufrou bakery opened up near my house; I went to it and barely recognized any of its offerings (it is a dentist’s office now; probably not a coincidence).
The country around here is hilly but not too rough, pretty much perfect for grazing. These hillside cows are taking a breather after a long day of grazing.
About 10 miles or so south of Canton, we rolled through a tiny little place called Sandyville (population 368, salute!), whose sign was about as big as anything else around. “Welcome to Sandyville,” the sign read, “The Town that Moved.” Now that’s just the sort of thing that would get my juices flowing; signs like that are what baseballs and cats are to Alta Weiss.
Sandyville is more than 200 years old, but not all those 200 years have been spent the same location. The region had a problem with flooding, so during the Great Depression there was a large public works project in the region that created a number of levies and reservoirs for flood control purposes, including the construction of the Bolivar Dam (which is a dry dam—it creates no reservoir but rather is used to hold and control water during periods of heavy rainfall that would otherwise cause flooding).
The construction of the dam and other projects necessitated moving the entire hamlet—which in 1936 included 58 homes, about a dozen businesses, a church and a town hall. Dozens of buildings were actually physically moved from their original lcoation to a new location about a mile away.
North of Sandyville is East Sparta, Ohio, one of a thousand communities in Ohio that did not move a damn inch. East Sparta (population 819, salute!) used to be called Sparta; why they added the East I do not know. There is a Sparta, Ohio, but it was founded later than East Sparta. I am sure that Sparta, Ohio, does not boast of a quaint little cabin like this one in East Sparta.
I think this cabin looks good as a black and white photograph as well, but I leave it to you to decide.
I love antique cars, even when they are in less than pristine condition, so this rusting automobile immediately caught my attention. I think this may be a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air sedan. This shade of blue seems to have been common among cars of this era (see below for another example), but for the life of me, I do not know why. I think this color is singularly unattractive for a car; it is a pale, almost sickly blue.
One would expect a community called Magnolia to be located somewhere south of the Mason-Dixon Line, populated by white-clad gentlemen drinking mint juleps and being racist, albeit genteelly racist. Yet outside of Canton, Ohio, is village of Magnolia (population 978, salute!). Magnolia is a small but prosperous community and one of the local sites to see—indeed, one can hardly help seeing it, as this five-story structure is larger than anything else around—is the so-called Magnolia Flouring Mills, situated alongside a segment of the old Sandy & Beaver Canal (generally, you don’t want those words together). These mills were originally built in 1834 by one of the pioneers of the town, Richard Elson, and the property remained with the Elson family for another 171 years. It is now a Stark County park that displays old machinery (some of it still in working order)
Driving along the outskirts of Canton, Tsuki and I came across yet another old automobile—I probably more excited at it than she was. This vehicle has Kansas historical plates, suggesting it was operational not too long ago, but certainly needs a lot of work right now. if I had a car as wonderful as this, I would certainly keep it up—even though it is two-toned in one of those horrible shades popular in the 1950s. This car, too, is a Chevrolet. I think it is a 1956 Bel Air sedan. It is a rather odd coincidence that within just an hour or two I would see both a 1956 Bel Air and a 1957 Bel Air.
I scooched my car around, driving up a nearby driveway, in order to get a different angle on the vehicle—and to my surprise discovered that there was another antique automobile hiding behind the shed! I am not sure what type of car this is, but by its style, I think it looks several years older than the Bel Air. Cars like this do not deserve to be hidden away!
But the discovery was a fitting end to a nice excursion, which itself was a fitting end to 2015. May 2016 be just as interesting (and, writing this belatedly in August 2016, I assure you it hasn’t sucked so far).