Sunday, September 26, 2010

Who Can We Call for Bail Money?

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

Joann and I are law-abiding citizens for the most part. Oh sure, we exceed the speed limit on the highway occasionally, and we do step onto lawns or into fields for the right angle for pictures. This one, for instance, could not have been gotten from the road, but it was perfect from the edge of the field.

Several years ago, on the way to our younger sister’s house, we decided to pick her a bouquet of wildflowers, since those are her favorite. Coming down a side road not far from Joann’s house, we found some beautiful wildflowers growing near the road. We cut several different kinds of flowers for the vase, and they were gorgeous.

We continued down the road, looking for more kinds of wildflowers, but instead we came upon a sign for a protected prairie. Uh oh. Needless to say, we didn’t cut any more flowers along that road!

Over the years, we’ve moved quite a few things when they were in the way of a good photograph. It started years ago with a big green dumpster in front of a mill. I couldn’t believe it when Joann asked me if I would move it, but I do love a good photograph as much as she does. Since then we have moved many items out of the way so that modern items (usually ugly items) don’t appear in our photos. And we’re always very careful to remember to put things back exactly where they were.

One winter’s day, we went to photograph a small mill with a King Midas Flour sign on the side. Joann set up to take photos, but there were two large garbage barrels sitting in front of the sign. As she was pondering what to do, I went to the barrels and with a little wiggling managed to free them from the snow. I rolled them across the driveway and waited while Joann finished her photos of the King Midas Flour Mural.

Then she went to the front of the building to take some additional photos. When she commented that she wished the Pepsi machine wasn’t in front of the building, I said “Well, I’m not moving that!" Sometimes there’s nothing we can do, so Joann just tries to minimize an object’s effect on the image. She took the rest of her photos and then I rolled the garbage barrels back across the driveway and into their spots in the snow.

On a trip to Kentucky, we stopped at the coolest old mill sitting down a steep embankment. This mill had one of the largest waterwheels we’ve ever seen. As we came around the back of the mill, we saw an old wooden fence around the waterwheel. And hanging on the fence from one end to the other was some bright yellow caution tape.

We stood for a couple of minutes and lamented our luck until I realized that you could just slip the caution tape off of the posts. So I slipped it off and dragged it over behind the trunk of a very large tree.
We proceeded to take our photos of the mill and stream and that huge waterwheel, and then Joann reminded me that we had to put the caution tape back where we had found it. I slipped it back around the posts, and you would not have known that we had been there.

Just this spring in North Carolina, we hunted up an old store with a Pepsi Cola sign on the side of it. I was so excited that we managed to include it in our route, but when we came up to the store, the front yard was covered with political signs. That wouldn’t make for a good picture at all! So Joann decided we would move the signs and then put them back the way we found them.

As she removed the signs, she memorized where they were so she could put them back where we had found them. Then she worked all around the building taking pictures of the Pepsi Cola mural and the rest of the building. Before we left, she replaced all of the signs in their original spots.

And many years ago, we stumbled across a small town “fire department” -- a building about 8’ x 8’. It was early morning and the town was quiet, so we opened the door to have a peek inside. What we found was an old fire hose cart, intact and in good shape. We took several photos on film.

In August of 2009, we happened upon that small town again and, turning the corner, we discovered that the little fire department was still there. The building is a little worse for the wear, but it’s still there, and still unlocked. Naturally, we pulled over to take some photos of the building. There was some sort of festival going on in town, and it was later in the day, so the town was active. And yet, we wanted to know if the hose cart was still inside.

And as Joann was getting her camera equipment out of the back seat, our conversation went something like this:

Ruth: “It’s not locked. Why don’t you look inside.”

Joann: “Seriously? Sure, you want me to open it. Why don’t you open it?”

Ruth: “Ok, I’ll come out there with you, but if we get caught, who are we going to call for bail money?”

Joann (laughing): “Phyllis – isn’t that what older sisters are for?”

The door was now harder to open, but inside was the fire hose cart. It’s such a cool old antique and we love that the town can leave the door open and no one damages it or steals anything. Joann set up and took some photos of the cart, and as I was closing the doors, I glanced across the street to see a woman outside on the porch of her house smiling at us. I smiled back and we went back to the car.

If you’re out on the backroads and you see someone rolling a dumpster away from some cool old building, stop and say hi. It will probably be us.

Happy Shunpiking!

Photos in this blog post can be purchased as wall art, paper prints, downloads, phone cases, and keepsakes by clicking on the photo. You will be taken to the gallery website where you will see a big blue "BUY" button. Or to see all photos available, click on the "Browse Galleries" button on the menu at the top of this page. Thank you for your interest!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Cotton Hill Mill of West Virginia

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

Last week, I told you about our visit to the Whipple Company Store in Fayette County, West Virginia. We had intended to stop there for a few minutes, but we were there for an hour or so, and probably could have stayed all day listening to the wealth of information Joy and Charles Lynn had to share about the coal miners and the Company Store.

When we finally got back on the road, we traveled through the town of Fayetteville. And even though we were behind schedule, we couldn’t resist stopping to take a photo of this old fashioned Fayette Feed Company building, which is now the New River Bikes store. Then we continued along the scenic mountain roads of Fayette County in search of an old grist mill Ruth had planned for us to visit.

The mill is known as Cotton Hill Mill and it sits on the banks of Laurel Creek, a beautifully flowing mountain creek. The best views of the mill are from the busy highway, so we pulled into an abandoned gas station that was built over the creek (basically on stilts) just past the mill.

I pulled out my camera equipment and hiked back up the highway until I was above the dam. It was a nice view from there because there was a blooming redbud tree to frame my image. Then I walked back towards the car and set up my tripod to capture the view from below the dam. As I was finishing, a pickup truck pulled up and the man said, “So you like the old mill, do you?”

“Are you the owner?” I asked, hoping to learn more about this mill. His name was Gordon and he told me that he was the great grandson of the man who built the mill and that the mill had been handed down in the family. The millstone contained within the mill is dated 1845 and it was cut from stone taken from the Seine River in France. Gordon also said that he had been waiting for years to have the opportunity to buy the house next to the mill, which had also been built by his great grandfather. And he recently had the good fortune of acquiring the home.

Gordon then asked me if I wanted to hear the story of how the mill came to be built. Of course, I did! He said that his great grandmother had grown up on top of the hill behind the mill. When the railroad was being built, her father decided to open up a boarding house for the railroad workers. But they needed an easy way to get to the boarding house from the valley below. So he put a rope ladder down the side of the steep embankment so that the railroad workers could climb up to the boarding house at the end of the day.

Gordon’s great grandfather was one of those railroad workers and he met Gordon’s great grandmother when he stayed at their boarding house. As fate would have it, they fell in love and he asked for her hand in marriage. Her father, however, wanted to make sure that this young man would be able to provide a good life for his daughter.

So he told the young man that he couldn’t marry his daughter until he could prove his worth. Upon hearing this, Gordon’s great grandfather purchased the land below the hill next to Laurel Creek and proceeded to build a grist mill to support himself and his bride to be. This land also had a log cabin on it and Gordon’s great grandfather built a house around it, which now belongs to Gordon.

I thanked Gordon for the information and for giving me permission to walk around the mill for a closer look and then we were on our way. As we headed toward Kentucky, we passed the beautiful Cathedral Falls. There is a small bridge over the stream where you can stand for a great view of the waterfall. So I took the following shot standing on that bridge.

But then I couldn’t resist trying to get close enough to capture the scene below. It meant hiking along the edge of a fairly steep embankment and then walking gingerly across many rocks in the stream, but I managed to do so without any mishaps. Meanwhile, Ruth was back at the car with her fingers crossed, as I’m sure happens often.

Cathedral Falls, Fayette County, West Virginia
Cathedral Falls, Fayette County, West Virginia

I hope you’ve enjoyed these stories from West Virginia. As I mentioned last week, we spent less than 24 hours there, but we gave it everything we had and we still have at least one more story for you from our travels there.

Happy Shunpiking!

Photos in this blog post can be purchased as wall art, paper prints, downloads, phone cases, and keepsakes by clicking on the photo. You will be taken to the gallery website where you will see a big blue "BUY" button. Or to see all photos available, click on the "Browse Galleries" button on the menu at the top of this page. Thank you for your interest!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Glen Jean and the Whipple Company Store

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

“You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt.
Saint Peter, don’t you call me, ‘cause I can’t go;
I owe my soul to the company store.”

In 1955, deep-voiced Tennessee Ernie Ford recorded the number one hit “Sixteen Tons,” a song about the hard life of a coal miner. West Virginia has a rich coal mining history and our West Virginia travels this past spring took us through the mountainous terrain of Fayette County, a traditional coal mining region.

We spent less than 24 hours in West Virginia, but we made the best of our short time there. After photographing the Glade Creek Grist Mill at first light (see our blog post dated May 9, 2010), Ruth said she had a surprise in store for me. On the way to this “surprise,” we stopped in the town of Glen Jean, which at one time was centered on the coal and railroad industries. Once the coal boom ended, the town began to fade away.

The only significant building remaining is the former Bank of Glen Jean, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. This bank was built in 1909 by William McKell, who owned one of the largest coal companies in the area and also a railway company that transported coal. The Bank of Glen Jean ceased operations in 1939 following the death of William McKell.

After eating our breakfast in front of this historic building, Ruth navigated us to an old Appalachian coal mining ghost town called Thurmond, which we will tell you about in a future post. After spending a couple of hours there, we headed to the unincorporated town of Whipple, which was also a coal town during the first half of the 20th century.

This was our first visit to a coal mining region, so we had never photographed any coal-related architecture before. When we pulled up in front of the Whipple Company Store, I was thrilled to see such an unusual building. In 1890, coal baron Justus Collins built this magnificent building and three others just like it. Today, the Whipple Company Store is the only one still standing.

As I was setting up my tripod across the road from the Whipple Company Store, which is also the home of the Appalachian Heritage Museum, a woman came over with a welcoming smile and introduced herself as Joy Lynn. She told me that she grew up in the area and had dreamed of owning the Company Store ever since she was a little girl. In 2006, her dream came true when she and her husband, Charles, purchased the building, which was in danger of being demolished.

When coal companies opened mines in an area, they built coal camps so that miners and their families had places to live near the mines. The coal companies owned the entire town and the company store served most of the needs of the mining families. Mine workers were paid in scrip, which was a type of money produced by the coal companies. It could only be used at the company store where prices were higher than at stores outside of the coal camps. Because of this, as time went on, families became deeper and deeper in debt to the coal company.

The Whipple Company Store is a fascinating place. It has a hand-operated freight elevator, a post office, a secret second floor, a hidden safe, and a third floor ballroom. According to Joy, the Company Store “sold everything from candy to caskets” and many bodies were embalmed in a mortuary in the basement. According to some accounts, the place is frequented by the ghosts of West Virginia coal miners. If you’re interested in learning more about this unique place, visit the Whipple Company Store website.

We’d like to thank Joy and Charles Lynn for their heart-warming hospitality in showing us the wonders of the Whipple Company Store. As Tennessee Ernie Ford used to say, "Bless your pea-pickin' heart!" and as we always say, Happy Shunpiking!


Sunday, September 5, 2010

A Town Called Rabbit Hash

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

Several years ago, at the start of my internet researching, I stumbled on a picture of the Rabbit Hash General Store. After seeing that picture, I couldn’t wait to see it in person. When we started planning our spring 2006 trip to Kentucky, I tried to figure out how I could fit a stop at Rabbit Hash into our itinerary. We always try to get the most “bang for our buck,” or in our case, the most stops for the miles we’re traveling, so I tried to find other things of interest in the area.

The store is out of the way -- just a wide spot in the road along the Ohio River. But how does a town get a name like Rabbit Hash? There are several stories about how this came about. The most prevalent is that during the winter of 1847, in a time of high water, a group of area residents were watching the waters rise and lamenting their losses. Then their conversation turned to what each would have for Christmas dinner. As others mentioned they would have goose, a fat hen, or fresh pork, Frank, the town comedian, said that there would be plenty of rabbit hash since the rising waters were driving all of the local wildlife to higher ground. Frank was eventually nicknamed Rabbit Hash, and soon the town was being referred to as Rabbit Hash.

The official name of the town at that time was Carlton. Most of the mail was delivered up and down the river by steamboat, and often the mail for Carlton ended up at Carrolton which was just 39 miles downriver. When the postal service asked the town to choose a new name, they chose Rabbit Hash since they had been using the name unofficially for several years.

The year 2006 was the 175th anniversary of the store. It was built in 1831 as a storehouse for local farm products until the next steamboat stopped at Rising Sun, Indiana (just across the river), and the goods could be loaded for the trip down river. Offloaded goods were also stored there until the recipients could pick up the goods. James A. Wilson, age 17 was the store’s first proprietor.

It is amazing that the store still stands today. It has withstood floods in various years, the worst of which were in 1849, 1883, 1884, 1913, and 1937. With each flood, the high water mark rose higher, until in 1937 it reached 79.9 feet. An explanation for why the store survives these devastating floods comes from Donald E. Clare Jr.’s “The Story of Rabbit Hash, Kentucky.”

“The local blacksmith in the 1880’s devised a solution for the ever threatening problem. He designed and installed a series of threaded rods bolted on all four corners of the General Store between the bottom sill logs and top plate logs. Underneath the store, these rods have a hook. Another rod and hook system is anchored by concrete in the ground just below these rods. When flood waters rise and begin to float the store, these hooks engage and secure the building in place until the water subsides.”

Our trip to Rabbit Hash in the spring of 2006 was our last stop in Kentucky before heading for home. We explored all of the buildings looking at the antique signs and the antiques. The town itself is a destination, so I shouldn’t have worried about finding other things in the area to make it worth the trip. Some places are just like that, and Rabbit Hash has been called a state of mind. It’s easy and laid back and all are welcome.

Then, coming home from a trip to Ohio in the spring of 2009, we began to get detoured by bridges that were out, and finally Joann asked how close we were to Rabbit Hash. When I said it was very close, she asked if we could go again. It would be a welcome change from all of the traffic and bridges out around Cincinnati. I didn’t have my Kentucky gazetteer, but there was enough of Kentucky listed at the edge of the Ohio gazetteer to get us close, and then we found the familiar sign pointing the way to Rabbit Hash.

As we drove up to the store, we saw people hanging out on the porch. It wasn’t too crowded, but as Joann got out her camera and set up to take some pictures, one of the women sitting on the porch volunteered to give her guy a kiss for the camera.

Rabbit Hash is also a destination for motorcycle riders, and there are always people hanging out and talking on the front porch. Often there are dogs lounging around or napping while their owners visit on the porch. Since 2004, a dog has been the mayor of Rabbit Hash.

There is an old GEM water pump next to the store. We have not found many of these in our travels, so it was a nice surprise to find one here.

Walking around Rabbit Hash, you find old advertising signs on all of the buildings. An old log cabin is the town museum and the old barn is home to barn dances. Another old building is filled with antiques for sale.

As we were walking around inside the store, I remembered that we had nothing in the cooler for supper that night, and there were no stores around before we would get to our motel. I went to the back of the store and checked out the selection. Then I asked Joann if she was interested in a bologna sandwich for supper. She thought about what wasn’t in the cooler, and agreed. We had some bread left from earlier in the trip, some lettuce, cheese and mayonnaise, so all we needed was the bologna and a couple of bottles of soda to complete our picnic supper.

We stayed too late, as we always do in places like this, just absorbing the atmosphere, knowing that soon we would be back home and back at work.

If you’re ever near Cincinnati with several hours to spare, consider driving down the river to Rabbit Hash. The people (and dogs) will welcome you.

Happy Shunpiking!