February 2016. How long ago that seems, and how innocent those times were. Children played and built snowmen, while a Trump presidency was a distant and unlikely proposition. Not so crazy about today’s reality? Journey back with me a glorious twelve months and let’s explore a bit of southern Ohio from those bygone days of 2016.
[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. Copyright information: All of the text and images on this blog are the intellectual property of Mark Pitcavage. Attributed, non-commercial (ONLY) usage is permitted under the Creative Commons License.]
Last February, I decided to explore more of southern Ohio, particularly that area to the southeast of Cincinnati, which had many areas as yet untraveled to by me. So I drove down I-71 until I got to the River City, then started winding my way southeastwards. One of the first places I came across was Hamersville, Ohio, a tiny hamlet of 546 souls (salute!) named after Thomas Hamer, a general in the Mexican War (and, simultaneously, a Congressman). He died while still in Mexico in 1846.
I had forgotten to turn my GPS on yet, but I think this odd little building was on the outskirts of Hamersville, which is one of those places that consists of a “main drag” street and not too much else. Was this perhaps a little barbershop at some point? There aren’t too many things it could have been.
Around the corner and down the road from Hamersville is Feesburg. It is a tiny unincorporated community that—based on satellite imagery, looks as if it might have around 150 residents (salute!). It was laid out by, and named for, Thomas J. Fee in the early 1800s. This is of no particular consequence in itself but bear with me a few moments and I’ll come back to it. There I saw this garage, where the owner certainly has a type when it comes to cars.
I am not auto expert, but I believe what we are viewing here are three fifth-generation Chevrolet El Caminos, which were produced from 1978 to 1987. Even as a child in the 1970s, I could never understand what the purpose of these vehicles was. If you wanted a truck, why not get a truck? Why get an ugly car that sort of serves as a shitty truck? But what do I know—the El Caminos were made for nearly 40 years, so clearly some people liked them.
Also in Feesburg was this ramshackle home, seen here in the pale February sunshine. Based on this photograph, as well as satellite imagery, it really does look to consist of three distinct parts, of which one or two may have been originally sections of mobile home.
Continuing on, I headed towards the village of Felicity, but before I got there, I came across a somewhat mysterious sight. On one person’s rural property was a collection of log cabins. They didn’t seem “vintage,” and they all had new metal roofs, but they also didn’t seem finished. I thought at first that maybe they were some kid’s camp, but this just didn’t seem likely.
If anybody knows what these mysterious log cabins are, please let me know!
Felicity, Ohio, itself is a small village of some 818 souls (salute!). You have to admit that Felicity is a great name for a place. It is much better than its sister city, Complicity. Actually, this place, which dates back 200 years to 1817, was originally named Feestown, according to Wikipedia, “in honor of founder William Fee.” Allegedly his daughter requested the name change.
Now this is interesting. We have these two places, very near each other, Feesburg, named after Thomas J. Fee, and Felicity/Feestown, named after William Fee. Surely this was not a coincidence? Feesburg was built in 1835, about a generation after Felicity/Feestown, so could Thomas J. be a son of William? At first I thought perhaps not, because I knew Thomas J. was born in Pennsylvania, not Ohio. But this is the sort of genealogy question that you know you can find the answer to on the Internet. It turns out that William Fee was also born in Pennsylvania, in 1768 (and did not die until 1849) and moved to Ohio seemingly some time around 1803. Thomas, who was in fact his son, was born in Pennsylvania in 1789, before Pa Fee left for the frontier (and only lived until 1853, four years longer than his father). Apparently son took after father in terms of laying out towns.
In the course of finding out this trivia that probably interests only me, I also came across the following tidbit: A grandson of William Fee (though not son of Thomas J., but rather other son Jesse, was Oliver Perry Spencer Fee, who lived in Felicity, the town his grandfather started, and who allegedly was the leading local figure involved in the Underground Railroad, hiding escaped slaves and helping them continue their journey to Canada. Other Fees, including Robert Fee, several more Thomas Fees, and Nancy Fee, were also involved with the Underground Railroad. Southern Ohio, being so close to Kentucky, was often pro-slavery, but Clermont county had a number of abolitionist connections. Robert Fee—whose house still stands and is open to the public—was indicted in Kentucky for slave stealing.
This mobile home residence can also be found in Felicity. Mobile homes are more common out in the countryside, or in trailer parks, but can occasionally be seen on village and town lots as well, as here.
One interesting building that you can see in Felicity is the so called “Longworth Manor.” An advertisement placed in the Cincinnati Enquirer in 1967—but sounding as if it came from 1867—describes the Longworth Manor as a “small nursing home” that offers “hotel living for ladies who are ambulatory,” with “All new Earl American furniture with Niagara. Therapy chain. Private bedrooms. 3 living and dining rooms to lounge in. Fine food for room and board. Other advertisements placed in later decades for nurses suggests that the Longworth Manor functioned as a nursing home for some time. I think it may now just be boarding rooms for low income people.
Attached to Longworth Manor is what used to be a lodge building for the local Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a once-popular fraternal lodge in Ohio. Fraternal lodges were one of the dominant features of social life across much of 19th century America.
Here, in “downtown” Felicity, we see Hall’s Hardware store. Independent hardware stores are a vanishing breed in the U.S., as are even chains of small hardware stores, being destroyed by the likes of megastores such as Home Depot and Lowe’s. But small town America is where many of them have the best chance to survive. Hall’s Hardware was reportedly started in 1964, so it has been around for over half a century.
I eventually departed Felicity and headed southeast. Amidst the woods and farms of southern Ohio, I encountered this worn but seemingly still sturdy barn.
Soon enough, my wandering brought me to the Ohio River hamlet of Higginsport, Ohio, population 251 (salute!). Higginsport is over 200 years old but has grown little in those centuries. It reached its peak of population in 1880 at 762, which was a growth of 44% over the census figures for 1870—a little mystery in and of itself. However, that extra population totally evaporated in the early 1900s and by 1930 Higginsport could boast of only 374 souls. Its population, already small, has been declining for more than 60 years now.
Higginsport does have the Higginsport Market, shown here. You’ll notice there is a sign over the door that reads “A-P 1925.” This made me curious if the market once was an A&P store, so I tried to confirm that using the armchair historian’s favorite tool, Google. What I discovered was actually a bit more interesting. I believe that A-P here actually refers to Atlantic-Pacific. This is because U.S. Highway 52 goes through Higginsport and US52 was once known as the Atlantic-Pacific Turnpike or Atlantic-Pacific Highway. This was one of the earliest major interstate roads in the U.S., predating the U.S. highway system of the early 1900s (which itself predated today’s interstate highway system, started in the 1950s). The A-P went from New York City to Los Angeles and San Diego. The 1922 Cincinnati city directory stated that “once the Atlantic-Pacific Highway is improved, the city will share, likewise, in the benefits of the great coast to coast travel, becoming, as claimed, the Gateway to the South and the Queen City of the West.”
You can see some more interesting Higginsport lore here.
I decided to travel down U.S. 52 a bit, heading southeast along the Ohio River. It’s a bit iffy for taking photographs, as traffic on U.S. highways is sometimes brisk, but I was able to take this photograph of a once-impressive cube-shaped building that overlooks the Ohio River (which is on the other side of the highway, to the right).
The thing that struck me the most about this house—and which I regularly see in my excursions across Ohio—is that the front porch, and seemingly the front of the whole house as well, rests on some very dubious stacks of bricks. I am at a loss to see how those “pilings” would support the house during even a slight earth tremor. But I have seen far riskier structures than this—structures based on tall stacked-brick/stone pilings into which I am not even sure I would want to dare venture. Either they are more stable than I assume they are or there are a lot of crazy people out there.
Just a nose hair down the road, on the river side of the highway, was this once rather impressive residence. It seems to have long been abandoned, but I can imagine a century ago some fine family living gloriously here next to the river.
A much stranger building can be found just down the road a bit, an octagonal residence built on a hill overlooking the Ohio River. During the summer, it is almost shrouded from view by the trees.
Continuing on U.S. 52, one soon enters the river town of Ripley, Ohio, a village of 1,750 (salute!) whose website accurately describes as “picturesque.” Ripley’s heyday was during the period 1850-1880, when it was a thriving riverboat town that at one point had a population of over 2,700. The railroads, however, caused it to decline in stature and size for the next 50 years. In the mid-1900s the town had a rare renaissance that pushed population back to over 2,700 by 1970, but that population has dropped by a thousand since then. This is a shame, because Ripley is a quite attractive village.
In this photo, though, we see one of its casualties—a once sturdy large house that became abandoned at some point over the years.
Ripley is a long, thin village, stretching out along the Ohio River (to the right). In the distance, one can see the smokestacks of a power plant located across the river in Kentucky.
The Ohio River is still a major transportation route in the U.S., for raw materials, at least. Flatboats and barges have replaced steamboats of yore.
Here is one abandoned Ripley building that intrigued me. Actually, small buildings like this are all too commonly found abandoned in America’s cities and towns; they are just no longer very suitable for the sorts of businesses more common today.
Here we see a rather magnificent brick structure (apparently there was once a building next to it as well, rather than a vacant lot). Unfortunately, I think this building may be empty now. There is a sign for “Trapp & Wilson Fine Furniture,” but the building looks empty. A Flickr photo from 2014 shows “for sale” signs in the windows; apparently there have been no takers. The Flicker photo also shows, as my photo does not, that the arched windows have stained glass in them. I can find a Trapp & Wilson ad in the Cincinnati Enquirer from as early as 1957.
It would be wonderful if this building could be preserved and restored.
(Update, 3/17/17: A kind reader, Michael Bordwine, informed me that this large building was originally built as an Oddfellows Hall, then became a longstanding furniture store under several names:
John Maddox & Son from 1865-1905
Maddox and Trapp 1905-1911
Trapp and Gardner 1911-1956
Trapp and Wilson from 1956-early/mid 2000s?
Thanks to Michael for the info!)
I will end this half of my saga with a shot from a bit east of Ripley, still along U.S. 52, of Sapp’s Motel, . Like all U.S. highways, U.S. 52 was once a major American transportation route, and motels or “motor hotels” as they were originally called, sprang up all along such highways. Aberdeen, Ohio, is another river village, with a population of 1,638 (salute!)
Here is a postcard of Sapp’s dating from around 1962 (the year the postcard was mailed):
The appearance has changed a little! The back of the postcard describes Sapp’s Motel as being “on U.S. Routes 52-62 and 68, Aberdeen, Ohio at Maysville, Ky., Bridge.” As for amenities, it offered “all rooms with T.V., air conditioning, individually controlled heat. Opposite fine Restaurant. Phone 795-2237.” The postcard listed Mr. & Mrs. Robert Carrington, owners. Apparently the motel had already changed hands from its original owner, whom I assume was named Sapp. The motel was built in 1957, a bad year in many respects to build such a motel, as the interstate highway system began construction in the 1950s and it would eventually destroy most small motels. However, the remote location—far from any Interstates—probably allowed it to survive longer than many others.
A 1974 notice from the Hillsboro Gazette announced that “Mr. and Mrs. Albert Waits spent May 31 at Sapp’s Motel in Aberdeen and celebrated their wedding anniversary.” Let’s hope that the Waitses had a good time.
If you want to buy a motel, this could be your best bet; in 2009, the Sapp’s Motel sold for only $66,000, half of it what it sold for in 1997. I can’t find any Yelp or other reviews anywhere from anyone who had actually staid there, so I presume that, like a number of such motels, the Sapp’s Motel may have been converted to cheap apartments.