Excursion 61 (The Tale is in the Motelling)

I’m almost schizophrenic about going on my little photography expeditions. On the one hand, when I haven’t gone on one in some time (as is presently the case), I start jonesing to go. On the other hand, the closer I get to a planned or prospective trip, the more I begin to regret it—primarily because I am very much a night person and getting up early on a Saturday is akin to being tortured—and the more I tend to look for excuses (“Well, it looks like the weather will be bad, so maybe I will wait until next week”).  How I ended up with a hobby that is directly antagonistic towards my body clock is beyond me.  On this mid-October day, however, I was indeed jonesing to go take some photos and I couldn’t back out of it because I was going with my friend, Tsuki.  Houston, we have liftoff!

[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 actually eager to go do some exploring, even though I had just gone out only five days earlier, for two reasons.  First, mid-October is the fall foliage period for much of Ohio, when the leaves turn color in often spectacular fashion, and I hoped perhaps to be able to capture a few such shots.  Second, on my previous trip, earlier in the week, I had discovered something unexpected, of which I hoped to find more examples.  These were rural “shrines” to then-candidate Donald Trump—huge homemade signs and banners and flags by people who had probably never in their life done something like that before but who in Donald Trump had somehow “found their man,” bless their benighted souls. At the time, of course, I believed all the polls that said that Trump would lose, and badly, so seeing evidence of such enthusiastic support did not worry or depress me so much as it simply fascinated me. I thought I could capture a brief moment in America’s political history.

Well, it turns out I did, though with a bitter twist at the end.  In October I posted many of the Trump-related photos I took on October 11 and October 16 to this blog in a special entry, and, in the interest of brevity, I will not repeat those photos here.  Tsuki had less interest in seeing Trump shrines than I did, but more interest in seeing fall foliage and just getting out of the house, so she was a game partner in crime.  I decided to revisit the scene of the crime, so to speak, and headed for northeastern Ohio once more.  I ended up tracing a long diagonal roughly from Dresden, Ohio, up to the southern edge of Youngstown.

 

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I thought I’d start by showing a hint of fall foliage and an example of something that I see from time to time in rural Ohio. Here we have an example of what used to be a house and yard that is now simply a pasture.   Nobody bothered to get rid of the old house; they just fenced it in and put old Bessie and her friends inside the new enclosure.  This photo was taken near the Muskingum River a little north of Dresden, Ohio.

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More or less following the west side of the Muskingum River towards the north and east, I came across this stately old manor just outside the hamlet of Conesville (population 347, salute!). Conesville, which even a century ago was described as “merely a railroad station with a country store attached,” got its name from Beebe S. Cone, who built a distillery there.  Today, Conesville is very much dominated by AEP’s Conesville Power Plant, a large coal-burning power plant across the Muskingum. Its tall stacks can be seen for miles around.

The power plant is illustrative of the two-edged sword that plagues many communities across the United States.  On the one hand, it is a major source of local pollution, as well as toxic chemicals such as hexavalent chromium, which can cause cancer. On the other hand, it is a major source of local jobs and a major part of the county’s tax base.  Given the decline of coal relative to other power sources, as well as its many problems, the long-term future of the plant is very much up in the air.

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The Tuscarawas River is a tributary of the Muskingum River and as we turned east, we paralleled it. Further up the river are the villages of Port Washington and Gnadenutten (the latter of which I wrote about in the previous blog).  Port Washington, with a population of only 569 (salute!) is considerably the smaller of the two.  Between the two communities I found the above derelict building, with a sign on the door that reads “Charity Baptist Chapel.”  I discovered through Google that there is indeed a Charity Baptist Chapel in the area, but it is some distance away.  Was this a former site for the church?  The building, with an additional sign that reads “antiques,” actually suggests that it might have been a couple “former” things. It’s a minor mystery.

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The little road the chapel was on, Wilson Rd., a spinoff from US-36, had a number of interesting old buildings on its small stretch—this old house was one of them.

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However, I think the best “find” on this road was an abandoned old house that was practically engulfed in fall foliage of different colors, creating this (to my mind) rather striking image.  It is finds like this that make these trips worthwhile.

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We headed north and east and were some ways east of New Philadelphia when we came across a relatively open stretch of land that gave me a glimpse of a distance farmhouse perched on the top of a hill.  I couldn’t let it pass without taking a photo.  I managed to find it at such an angle that the white fence that stretches down the hill is caught against its horizon.

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East of Lake Mohawk I saw this old barn and the forbidding-looking pasture land around it.

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Not too far away, I found a herd of goats, grazing around an oil well.

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Before I knew it, Tsuki and I were in the village of Minerva, Ohio (population 3,720, salute!), an attractive village that has unfortunately steadily been losing population.  Here we see the Roxy Theater, an ancient movie theater that was thankfully recently restored, renovated and turned into a community theater.

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As we headed eastward out of Minerva, however, I found an even more interesting (to me!) site than the Roxy.  Out of the corner of my eye, I caught this sign.  It dawned on me that I had seen an old motel sign—a sign for a building called the Star Motel.

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Sure enough, there was a tiny abandoned motel there.  Tsuki and I were on US-30, so this was not very surprising.  Once upon a time, the U.S. highways were the equivalent of today’s interstate highways, in terms of importance, and were the most important means of automobile travel in the United States.  To take advantage of this new-found American mobility, entrepreneurs began to erect tiny hotels along these new highways, designed to cater to the weary motorist. Older hotels tended to be located in the downtown areas of villages, towns, and cities, or near train stations, but for these “motor hotels,” as they were initially dubbed before the term got shortened to “motel,” it was the highways that were the lifelines.

Of course, when lifelines dry up, things die, and in the case of motor hotels, it was the growth of the interstate highway system beginning in the 1950s that spelled the slow death of this bit of American cultural and architectural history. As traffic moved from the U.S. highways to the interstate highways, motels suffered.  Some managed to survive, somehow, if they were lucky, while others became de facto low income or temporary housing.  Some, based in cities, became scenes of prostitution, drug dealing, and cheap affairs.  But the majority just died.

The Star Motel was one of these.

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As I realized what we had found, I found a place to turn around and headed back to the motel.  Approaching the motel from the other direction, I saw that the word “motel” had survived much more clearly on this side of the sign.

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The place looks like it has been abandoned forever, but in fact it had a sort of life not all that long ago. Its end stage, which is the case for many such places, was to be converted to low-rent apartments and it was still renting them as recently as 2005.  Based on information about the property on an auction site, it was converted into four apartments, which suggests how tiny this motel had been.

In that stage of existence, the Star Motel was not where you went if you had alternatives.  Based on court records, one resident from the late 1990s was Laura Kashdan, a woman with DUI and drug possession convictions on her record (at least three of the former alone), who was living in the Star Motel with three small children, an iguana, and a snake. She worked as a dancer at a nearby club.  For a variety of reasons, her children were taken away from her.  But those kids were lucky. Around the same time, three other kids were living with relatives at the Star Motel, when Brian Scott Mayhorn kidnapped them by convincing them to go on a trip, taking them 2,000 miles with him in his Chevy Cavalier and becoming the subject of an episode of “America’s Most Wanted” television show before being caught in Reno, Nevada.  It turns out he had sexually abused the 11-year-old girl among the three children. 

I hate it when old buildings are lost to us, but when a place has become that sort of place, you know it is better off not being there.

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This is what the Star Motel looked like in 2016.  A quarter century earlier, it looked a little different.  This blog has a couple of photographs of what it looked like in 1992.  According to one survey of buildings along U.S. 30 (the “Lincoln Highway”), the building was built in 1950, which makes it one of the last generation of this type of motel.  In its final incarnation, it was known as the Star Apartments.

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One of the key figures in the history of the Star Motel was Foster M. Hines, who died in Minerva in 2013 at the age of 101.  Hines worked a variety of industrial jobs for many years, served in World War II in the 11th Airborne Division, then eventually became the owner/operator of the Star Motel, which he ran for 42 years.  A year before his death, he told a reporter that the secret to long life is “don’t smoke and drink.”

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Tsuki and I continued our drive and wound up in Salem, Ohio, one of my favorite towns (population 12,303, salute!) to photograph, with many interesting old buildings and a generally attractive look and feel.  On this visit, one place I got to photograph was the interestingly-named Church Budget Envelope Company.  By church, they mean exactly that:  churches.  The company motto is “Serving churches devoted to the Loving Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ,” and its website actually has two versions—a Protestant version and a Catholic version.

The Church Budget Envelope Company was founded by James A. Pidgeon, Sr., a hundred years ago, in 1917, and the company has been in the hands of Pigeons ever since.  Essentially what the company makes are offering envelopes—cards, envelopes and mailings to facilitate giving money to (Christian) religious institutions. So a church might buy a bunch of cards and envelopes with an autumnal scene and the words “Thanksgiving Offering,” along with spaces for a name, address, and offering amount.  They can even handle direct mailing for you, as well as, in this modern era, something called myEofferings.

My photo of the building as a whole did not turn out well—a project for another day, apparently!—but I did get the above interesting shot of the front door.

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Salem is also home to one of my favorite old houses in Ohio, this once-grant residence with its twisty chimneys. I have photographed it before, but it is a bit difficult to photograph from a vehicle, because there is a fair amount of traffic in the vicinity, as well as a lot of wires that get in the way.  Chancing upon the building this second time gave me an opportunity to try a little harder to get a few shots from some different vantage points.

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Over its long history, the building has been a home, a doctor’s office, and even a boarding house for would-be Rosie the Riveters working in factories during the Second World War.  It is in poor shape and appears to have last been used for bottom-dollar apartments.  If not renovated, the building will continue to decline until it is bulldozed over and disappears forever, like Mudhouse Mansion disappeared recently near Lancaster, Ohio.

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If someone ever did put money into this building, with its nice location near downtown, it could theoretically make a nice office for an attorney.

I was surprised to learn that the spiral chimneys are not original to the building (207 S. Ellsworth Avenue), which was built in 1884. A 2009 article from the Youngstown Vindicator revealed that the chimneys were built by a man named Chris Clark, at the time of the article a sergeant in the U.S. Army stationed in North Carolina.  The good news from the article is that Clark was intent on renovating the building.  The bad news is that the article said he started working on the building in 2001 and “expects it will take another five years to finish it.”  It has been more than five years since that article saw print and the building clearly needs a great deal more work.  I sincerely hope that Mr. Clark will fully restore this fine building.

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I never knew that tree sculptures were even a thing before I moved to Ohio and saw artists at work with chain saws and other tools. This eyrie is northeast of Salem.

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As one heads further north and east from Salem, one runs into the southern outskirts of Youngstown, with suburbs and satellites such as North Lima and Willow Crest.  In case you didn’t pick up on the subtle clues, here is a motel that caters largely to traffic from nearby interstates I-76 and I-680.  It is located on SR-7, which further south begins to shadow the Ohio River and become an important road, so it may get some traffic from that road, too.   It turns out that this place is not called MOTEL but rather the Davis Motel.

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Given the huge generic sign, the non-descript nature of the place, and the unenchanting surrounding area, I assumed that this place would be basically a dump.  When I began to research the place, I discovered to my pleasant surprise that this motel, which was built in 1960 and seems to have been owned by the same family ever since, actually gets consistently good reviews and ratings on a variety of websites, with people commenting that the rooms are small and unassuming but clean, and that the staff are extremely friendly and helpful.  The price was right, too, people said, though that last part did not really surprise me.  I was very happy to read all this—and the place was a sharp contrast to the Star Motel, too, which was only built ten years earlier.

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The visit to North Lima pretty much was the high-water mark of our trip and we began the journey back home.  But it wouldn’t be an Unearthed Ohio blog post if I didn’t show at least one picturesque Ohio barn, so here is one for your viewing enjoyment.  It is a little west of North Lima and north of Columbiana. I’m sure you know the area.

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On our way back, briefly travelling along a different section of U.S. 30 (though not too far from Minerva and the Star Motel), we came across yet another old motel.  This time it was Palmantier’s Motel—which I had actually occasionally come across while researching the Star Motel).  This motel was always nicer than the Star Motel and, as one can see, is still clearly a going concern as well. It is another family-owned motel, though the current owners only purchased the place in 2010.  Like the Davis Motel, Palmantier’s Motel is also well-reviewed—and on Trip Advisor, a person named Rainie (who is Rainie Sonntag, along with her husband Earl, the owner) responded personally to every single TripAdvisor review written about the motel to thank them for saying such nice things.

Palmantier’s Motel dates back to 1947 and is a 9-unit motel (with fairly generously sized rooms, it seems).  Like a number of motels from this bygone era, the motel rooms have their own attached garages (note again, the emphasis on the automobile, the raison d’etre for such places). The previous owner (who owned the place for only five years) had to put it up for auction due to slow business—one hopes the current owners are enjoying more customers.  I do know the shale boom has given them at least some—workers on the various projects and pipelines in the region.

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I suppose there’s no better way to end this particular blog than a photo of, what else, another motel.  Or rather, the sign for a motel—the actual motel building is off to the left but is totally uninteresting. This is the sign for the Twins Motel in Strasburg, Ohio, near the intersection of I-77 and US-250.  Unlike all of the previous motels featured here, this is not a vintage “motor hotel” era lodging, but rather one of many cheap motels quickly constructed alongside the new Interstates beginning in the 1960s and continuing to the present day.  Unlike the Davis Motel and Palmantier’s Motel, the reviews for the Twin motel are harsh.  “Avoid it like the plague,” one person urged.   Well, don’t say you weren’t warned.  And with that, adieu.

 

2 thoughts on “Excursion 61 (The Tale is in the Motelling)

  1. Mark, I have enjoyed your blog since jan. 2017. Found it by accident. Believe me, every picture and story is so enjoyable. Your wit just tops it all off. I appreciate all of the work you put into the blog. My name is David Henry from Sandusky. says:

    Iam not tech savvy, so the E-mail address belongs to my wife, Susan.

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