Friday, January 6, 2017

2016 in Review – Part 1

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

Some years in the past, we have had a hard time finding good winter days to get out and capture winter scenes for our collection. However, 2016 was a good year for us, and we managed to get out several times in January and several more times in February.

Early in January, we made a trip to Sauk County. Over the years, we have spent a lot of time there. Even though we’ve driven almost every road in the county at some time or another, we still manage to find photo opportunities we haven’t been to before. We’ve passed this old school on numerous occasions and didn’t stop, but with snow cover, and a beautiful blue sky, we stopped for photos.

Just this week Joann learned that the name of the school was Little Prairie School. The name was picked in 1918 when all Sauk County schools were required to choose a name. On Washington’s birthday, the pupils received a sleigh ride along the country roads. The school has been closed since 1955.

A week and a half later, we drove west again, visiting Richland County. Just outside of the little town of Boaz, is a private covered bridge whose owners allow visitors. The bridge is over Core Hollow Creek a short distance down their driveway.

In early February, we went west again. This time we made it to Vernon County. We had talked about getting to Vernon County in the winter for years. In winter, we always have to take into account the state of the roads. If we get a fair amount of snow, and the weather holds for a few days, we can be pretty sure that even the rural shunpiking roads will be drivable.

We drove into Amish country and were lucky enough to find a field of corn shocks. And as Joann began taking photographs of the shocks, a farmer driving a team of horses came down the road and turned into the field. He began driving back and forth between the rows of corn shocks spreading manure.

And several times in the distance came the clip clop of a horse and buggy coming down the road. Joann would change her focus and wait for the buggy to pass so she could capture them after they passed on the road.

You probably are aware that Amish people usually do not want to have their face visible in a photograph. When we ask if we can take a picture of their team and equipment, we are usually welcome to do that and they will step back so they are not in the picture. When buggies pass on the road, Joann often takes her photos from the back after they have passed.

In late January, there was an article in the Janesville Gazette about the Spaulding House that was for sale to developers. It sits alone now, among gas stations and big box stores. In 1855, the road in front of the house was the site of the first recorded murder in Rock County, and the body was hidden in the Spaulding woods.

There was no snow on the ground by March when we were in the area, but knowing that the house had an uncertain future, we decided to stop and take some photos before it was just another site lost to history.

In late April, we left on another photography trip to Ohio. Our first stop upon reaching Ohio was Cincinnati. In all our trips, we had never been through Cincinnati. We skirted the edges, but never went into the city. This time we did a little research and went in.

If you’ve heard of Cincinnati Chili, you might know that Skyline is famous for it. You can get 3-way (spaghetti topped with chili and a mound of shredded cheddar), 4-way (add onions or beans), or 5-way (add onions AND beans). It was morning when we were in the neighborhood so, needless to say, we didn’t partake.

On our way out of town, we passed the Queen City Flying Service Building, and had to find a place to stop to get a couple of photos. The building is located at Lunken Field, which was the largest municipal airport in the world in 1930. One of Cincinnati’s early nicknames was “The Queen City”, and this business was named after that.

After Cincinnati, we spent a lot of our trip close to the Ohio River. Along the way, we passed this abandoned stone house on the banks of the river. It had a grand view of the river, but probably also experienced flooding multiple times over the years.

For Ohio’s bicentennial celebration in 2003, artist Scott Hagan painted the bicentennial logo on a barn in every county of the state. He painted 88 barns in all. On each of our trips to Ohio, we visit any of these barns that are on our route. It’s been 17 years now since the painting began, and some barns have been removed, some logos have been painted over, and some have become almost too faded to photograph.

One of my favorite things on our spring trips, are the redbud and dogwood trees in bloom. We don’t have dogwood trees here in Wisconsin, and very few redbuds, but as we travel south, we start to see these trees along the highways and in the towns, and after our long winters, they are such a welcome sight!

The city of Portsmouth, Ohio sits on the Ohio River. This was our second visit to the town, and not surprising, there were a lot of things in town we didn’t capture on our first visit. If we return in the future, I’m sure there are even more things we missed this time.

We always try to capture picturesque farm scenes, which really was the origin of our backroads photography. We were lucky to find this farm with its collection of unpainted buildings and a quilt square on the barn.

Several years ago, I had read that one of the mills we had visited in southern Ohio in 2009 was now gone. Often when things are gone, we still visit the site just to see for ourselves. It makes us sad, but we pay our respects, and mark it as gone. Knowing that we had not found this mill where we thought it should be the first time we tried to locate it, we decided to return and see what had happened.

We were pleasantly surprised to find the Ogle Planing Mill still standing and in almost the same shape as it was on our first visit.

After driving along the river, we turned north. Just south of The National Road, we drove several rural roads. On one of them, we came across this tile root cellar. We find root cellars in Wisconsin, but we don’t often find them made of tile. It’s interesting to see the similarities in rural architecture in different states, as well as the differences.

A little later, down another country road, we came upon this tile springhouse. We always consider ourselves lucky when we come upon both springhouses and root cellars, since they are no longer used, and often are not cared for.

Starting towards home, we were traveling west on The National Road. When we came into New Concord, I had an old wooden “humpback” bridge marked, and we went to look it up. Unfortunately, it was closed to traffic, and will probably be replaced the next time we’re in the area, but through the magic of Joann’s photographic eye, you can’t see the barricades and cones.

In most states, very few, if any, of these old wooden bridges survive, so we always try to look them up if we travel near them. Even though this one was already closed, it was a treat to see it in its original location.

We’re always on the lookout for old phone booths, and we were lucky enough to find one in a very small town along the Old National Road. We took the National Road most of the way through Ohio and Indiana, and returned home late on May 2nd.

In mid-May we went west to Sauk County and drove a road along the Wisconsin River that we had not managed to drive before in all our travels. This old rustic fence is along the road where an old prairie used to be. Once upon a time there was a town called Cassell, but none of the buildings remain.

Later on our trip, we passed an old barn that we hadn’t noticed before. It was a gambrel roof barn, but it also had a very large chimney. The barn is no longer used, so it was nice to finally notice it and get some photos before it’s gone.

In early June, we made a trip to the north through parts of Columbia, Marquette and Adams counties. One of the locations from my research was an old poultry complex. We did manage to find it, but it was hard to get to. It looks much different than modern poultry operations. As always, Joann managed to find a vantage point where we could see the most of the complex.

In June we also visited Rock County to take some photographs for a book being written by an author friend who grew up in Rock County and now lives in Springfield, Illinois. Most of the locations on her list were in the township of Turtle. We started the day before dawn and didn’t get home until very late afternoon. We did manage to get photos of almost everything on her list, and some extra things we found along the way.

One of our last stops of the day was the Tiffany Stone Arch Bridge. The bridge was built in 1869 over Turtle Creek and is the oldest remaining stone arch bridge in Wisconsin. It is also the only five-arch railway bridge remaining in the world.

This takes us through the end of June. Stay tuned for part 2 where we drove the 2016 Farm Art DTour route, and took a trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Until then, Happy Shunpiking!


  1. What a great team bringing the past into the present. Thank you!

  2. Love your look back of the past year! It is very refreshing! :)

  3. Thanks for sharing all of the beautiful pictures and stories of your travels! It was fun being with Joann last week when she discovered the information on The Little Prairie School! She was very excited to find the information!

    1. And I should have mentioned, Ruth, that the fact that you knew the township it was located in helped to quickly find the information on The Little Prairie School!

    2. Thanks, Phyllis. I am even more excited to now own that book about Sauk County schools. Ruth and I did some searching on the internet and discovered that the book had long ago gone out of print. But we managed to find a used copy in excellent condition (and reasonably priced) from an online bookseller located here in Wisconsin. I know it will be a great resource for information on many of the schools we have already photographed in Sauk County.

  4. Wow! So glad you were able to find the book - it's sure a wonderful resource!