Instead of writing these words, I might have been driving around taking photographs today, but the weather would not cooperate. It is very rainy and thundery. Instead, I’ll catch up a little bit on this blog, which, it turns out, I started four years ago this month. In April 2013, blessed with a new camera, newfound knowledge of WordPress, and a new vehicle with 4-wheel drive, a navigation system, and satellite radio, I got the idea of turning a fond indulgence of mine—driving around backcountry Ohio—into something of a hobby, documenting the things that I saw and posting them on-line. Here.
[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.]
I was a complete novice at photography when I started, having not even owned a camera most of my life. The early photos in this blog illustrate my inexperience in so many ways and many of them are embarrassing to look at. Four years and some 65 trips around Ohio later, I have acquired a little knowledge of landscape and outdoor photography—through books and an arcane process known as “learning the hard way”—and a little bit of ability at photo post-processing. I am under no illusion that I am any good, but at least I am not so terrible—and sometimes, every once in a while, I take a photo I am proud of.
I mostly have just been very pleased to find a little audience with which to share my photos and experiences, people who have some of the same affection and fondness for Ohio that I have. Many of the people who read this blog are people who grew up in small town or rural Ohio and have known first hand many of the places I have photographed. Some have moved away and this blog gives them a little glimpse into their former haunts. Ohio is an adopted home for me—I was born in Pennsylvania and grew up in West Texas—but I have lived in the state for nearly 30 years now and am a proud Buckeye.
Thank you to everybody who has chanced across this little corner of the Internet and taken a gander. I appreciate it.
So let’s re-wind half a year (because that is how far I am behind in putting these photos up on the web) to the innocent days of October 2017. Only weeks before the presidential election, I decided to get my fall foliage on, or at least try to, so I took a trip into the wilds of eastern Ohio. Essentially, I explored a north-south area between Cambridge and Canton. It was a cloudy, dark day, which sort of set the scene for some of the old places I would find along the way.
Not an old place but an old vehicle was one of the first things I saw, soon after getting off of Interstate 70 and driving northeast from Cambridge. Whenever I see something like this old Chevy truck, I rue the fact that I am mechanically uninclined, because who wouldn’t love an opportunity to restore something like this?
The green sign in the window says that this is a 1952 Chevy pickup, which Internet comparison quickly confirms. That truck is considerably older than I am, but about in the same shape. Note the election sign in the front yard. I quickly discovered, as I drove around eastern Ohio that October, that virtually every yard sign I would see would be a Trump sign. Appalachian Ohio had no love for Hillary Clinton—something that, unbeknownst to me, would turn out to be pretty important.
Not only were all the signs for Trump, I would often come across efforts to show support for Trump that were more shrines than signs—huge, handmade signs, and more. I came across a number of them on this trip (as we’ll see) and on my next trip, and decided to document them in a special blog post that I put up on October 17, 2016. At the time, I believed all the polls that said Clinton was going to win the election, so I thought I was documenting a temporary historical curiosity, like taking a photograph of a “Vote for Wilkie” button. Little did I know that Trump would actually win the election. As I write this, he is 100 days into his presidency.
I’m not 100% sure why I wanted to take a photo of this oddly round boulder deposited by itself on a relatively bare hillside, but I did, so deal with it.
The terrain in this part of Ohio is a mix of woods, small farms, and rolling terrain, most of which is demonstrated here.
This shot perhaps provides a better glimpse of the countryside. A little further east and the farmland would start to go away, the terrain being a bit too inhospitable, and pastureland would largely replace it.
In Guernsey County, I came across a nice example of something I rarely see in Ohio: a zig-zag split-rail fence. This one divided the road from a small farm and an old house trailer. Zig-zag split rail fences were common in 19th century America in areas were timber was plentiful, particularly because they could be easily built with few tools (and no nails required). Farmers gradually abandoned them, for the most part, as various milled (and eventually manufactured) types of fencing became more widely available. They were abundant during the Civil War but rare today, aside from modern manufactured fences designed to look like the original zig-zag split rail fences. In my many thousands of miles of driving across Ohio, I’ve only found a couple of extant examples, so it was very nice to come across this one.
With a scene like this, you can almost imagine a line of blue-clad soldiers behind a fence like this, taking aim with their rifled muskets at a column of approaching Rebels.
In black and white, we can recreate an even more “old-timey” feel. One of the things I absolutely love is to find scenes that transport me out of my body and beyond time, where I can imagine myself looking through a window into the past. Timeless scenes are rare but oh-so-precious to me.
A little ways north of the hamlet of Peoli, Ohio, in Tuscarawas County , I came across an old truck and an old barn that just struck me for some reason—just a nice combination of colors, objects and textures—so I decided to document it. The cloudy day made the colors stand out well. The truck is a Ford and I think it may be an early 80s L-series truck, but identifying commercial trucks is definitely not my forte.
This scene also works well in black and white, in my opinion. One loses the color of the truck, but there is still a lot of good texture and contrast.
I was quite taken by this overgrown house, which has a very pleasing hue and texture. This photo was taken just south of the unincorporated hamlet of Gilmore, Ohio, in Tuscarawas County. It must have been wonderful to sit on such a grand porch and take in the day.
Here’s a very representative shot of the countryside—that mixture of farmland, hills, and woods.
Southwest of Gilmore, on Gilmore Rd SE, I came across a mysterious building that consisted of a house-like structure (with the word “Office” on a sign on the porch) connected to a longer structure that seemed almost like a barracks in nature. It was nestled in a patch of woods. What was (is?) this? I could find no clear clue. Had it been a summer camp of sorts or some sort of retreat? It would seem whatever accommodations it could have would be Spartan indeed. If anybody who reads this can shed some light, I would be most appreciative!
I thought this was an interesting shot of a wooded hillside—and a fairly elaborate deerstand overlooking the clearing so that hunters can bag deer who come of the woods to nosh in the open.
Just north of Gilmore, at the intersection of Gilmore Road and River Hill Road, I found a little abandoned house and a big abandoned van.
Just a little to the north, near Watson Creek, I found more pipeline construction going on. One of the interesting things about my little blog (to me, anyway), is that I started it at the beginning of the fracking boom in Ohio, which created a ton of drilling for natural gas and oil, as well as the requisite pipelines to move the stuff. It seemed hardly slowed by the glut of Saudi oil that depressed prices and made these fracking ventures less profitable. Here, four years later, pipeline construction continues apace.
A common scene in eastern Ohio—the mobile home nestled up against a hill—and one that I do not document nearly as much as it is representative, mostly because mobile homes are inherently less interesting. But they are ubiquitous in Appalachian Ohio.
This nice-looking old house seems nestled away in the woods, perfectly built to lure children away from their woodcutting father and to their inevitable grisly doom, but it actually is a house in Gnadenhutten, Ohio. Gnadenhutten (gesundheit!) is a village (population 1,288, salute!) along the Tuscarawas River in eastern Ohio. It also boasts of being Ohio’s oldest (European-established) settlement still existing, having been founded in 1772. Gnadenhutten, as its name suggests, was settled by Germans—members of the Moravian sect (most of whom settled in North Carolina)—and by Christian Native Americans of the Lenape people.
This mixed settlement would set the scene for a bloody massacre 10 years later, during the American Revolution, when a group of Pennsylvania militia came across many of the Lenape at Gnadenhutten. The Pennsylvanians were rather bloody-minded, other settlers in the region having been killed by Indians recently, and decided to massacre the Lenape (who, as Moravians, were pacifists). The militia killed nearly a hundred men, women and children, and burnt the settlement down, in what would come to be known as the Gnadenhutten massacre.
The population of Gnadenhutten peaked in 1970 and has declined slightly since then, but has basically been stable. In the 1800s, it was a canal town.
I’ll end this half of the excursion with the first Trump shrine that I found—a large handmade Trump sign, several Trump flags, and a defiant message. After I first posted this, a reader noticed something that I—blind as a bat, apparently—had not realized at the time. The person who erected this shrine had also clearly mowed the word “Trump” into the grass on the hillside. One presumes that this person must be happy today.