Sunday, December 25, 2011

"The Legendary Lights at Clifton Mill"

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

According to Clifton Mill’s website, the original mill in Clifton, Ohio was built in 1802 by Owen Davis, a Revolutionary War soldier and pioneer miller. The location of the mill was chosen to take advantage of the power of the Little Miami River as it rushed through the gorge. This river powered five other mills that were built nearby: a woolen mill, a saw mill, a paper mill, a barrel mill, and another grist mill. Historic Clifton Mill is the only one still standing.

The mill was rebuilt in 1869 and is seven stories tall. The grounds now include a covered bridge and a 1940’s era gas station museum. At Christmas, there is also a miniature village set up with amazing detail. Trains run around the village, and you can see movie clips playing on the outdoor theater’s screen.

Anthony Satariano Sr., and his son Anthony Jr. bought the mill in 1988. They consulted with mill experts and made improvements to the old mill including repairing floors and walls and reinstalling the original grinding stones. They also installed a replica of the original waterwheel and added the covered porch that now overlooks the waterfall that spills down the hillside into the Little Miami River.

As Christmas approached that first year, they draped 100,000 lights on the cliffs along the river and on the mill. They expected a few hundred visitors at most to come to see the mill, but instead, thousands came.

As the years passed, they added more and more lights. Now they are up to 3.5 million lights which take six men the better part of three months to put up.

In 2004, I stumbled on pictures of the Christmas lights at the mill. Of course, I shared the photos with Joann, and we decided that we had to make a trip to see them. Since the lights are up from the day after Thanksgiving until New Year’s Day, we made plans to go in early December. We crossed our fingers that the weather would be good for our drive.

The universe was with us and the weather was good. We wanted to be at the mill before the gates opened, and we did manage to get there early and get parked and then walked to the gate. Mr. Satariano Sr. was in the ticket booth at the gate and we struck up a conversation.

He asked where we had come from and we told him Wisconsin. He then asked us what brought us to Ohio. When we told him his mill did, he laughed and then asked us, “Seriously, what brings you to Ohio?” Again we told him it was just to see his mill. He seemed impressed that we would come so far.

At 5:00 pm the gates opened and we walked inside in search of the best place to view the mill and the gorge for the lights. Between 5:00 and 6:00 pm, there are a few lights on around the mill. After sizing up the views from many different positions, Joann decided that the best view was through one of the windows on the covered bridge. But that meant that she couldn’t use her tripod. So, she leaned into the window and steadied her camera on the windowsill. Then we waited in the darkness as families crossed the bridge to find a spot on the other side.

Several minutes before 6:00 pm, all of the lights went out leaving everyone in total darkness. Then music began to play and the lights on the covered bridge began to twinkle to the music. As the music ended, all of the lights went out again. Then suddenly, all 3.5 million lights came on all at once, and you could hear the exclamations of awe from the crowd.

Every hour, the mill was plunged into total darkness and the scene was replayed. Even if you were there for the prior hour’s lighting, you were amazed again when the 3.5 million lights came on all at once. It was beautiful and magical. The view down the back of the mill along the gorge was amazing.

The lights are not on during rain or inclement weather and, this year, the mill was dark for several days after heavy rain damaged some of the lights along the gorge. They were quickly replaced and the light show was back on.

We are very happy that we got to meet and chat with Anthony Sr. on our visit. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2008. We look forward to a return trip someday, so we are most grateful that his son, and partner in the mill, Anthony Jr., has continued this Christmas tradition.

“You cannot own history; you can only be the caretaker.” – Anthony Satariano Sr.

Merry Christmas and 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, December 18, 2011

So Long, Good Car

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

Let me start out this blog post by apologizing for the lack of a story last weekend. For the first time in two and a half years, we were not able to publish our weekly story due to unforeseen circumstances.

This weekend, we are paying tribute and saying a sad goodbye to our tried and true friend, Good Car (the left-most car in the photo below).

In 2004, we took our first major photography trip, heading to the beautiful state of Pennsylvania to photograph on the backroads for a week. Good Car had only been in my possession for a few days, but we discovered on that trip how perfectly suited she was for the way we operate on the road. For more information about this trip and “Good Car,” see our blog post from January 22, 2011 entitled The Car's Point of View.

We had a great time on that trip, in spite of the unseasonably hot and humid weather during the first week of May. We came back with wonderful photographs, many of old mills and covered bridges, for which Pennsylvania is famous. Good Car had a great time driving slowly through the covered bridges and hearing the clip-clop of Amish buggies as they traveled along the backroads.

In 2006, Good Car took us to the wonderful state of Kentucky where we visited an old friend and soaked in the beauty of the Kentucky backroads. We spent the first part of our trip around the Lexington area and captured numerous images of horses in the pasture.

Our next big trip occurred in the spring of 2007, when Good Car transported us along the shores of Lake Michigan and into the countryside to capture barns and other rural scenes. One of our favorite days featured a visit to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Our next trip was in 2008 to the Ozarks in Missouri and Arkansas. We spent a lot of time in the mountains and enjoyed some beautiful scenery in the Ozark National Forest. Good Car did a spectacular job maneuvering us through some interesting situations that we found ourselves in on some narrow and rough mountain roads.

In 2009, we spent 10 days with Good Car on the backroads of Ohio, many of them in the Ohio River Valley. We hunted up a lot of Mail Pouch Tobacco barns and a few Ohio Bicentennial Barns. From 1997 to 2002, artist Scott Hagan painted the Ohio Bicentennial mural on at least one barn in each of Ohio’s eighty-eight counties. He used 100 paintbrushes and 645 gallons of paint, along with traveling 65,000 miles to complete this work. Ohio then celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2003.

Our most recent photography trip occurred in April, 2010 and it was the longest trip we’ve ever taken. Good Car took us to North Carolina and we spent close to two full weeks photographing our way there, photographing eight full days on the backroads and mountain roads of North Carolina, and photographing our way back. We worked 16 hours a day and Good Car performed flawlessly.

Over the past seven-plus years, Good Car has taken us to hundreds of counties in 16 different states. She’s done her hardest work on our lengthy photography trips, all of which have been taken in the spring.

She has had a bit of a “summer vacation” every year, taking a good amount of time off due to our reluctance to photograph in the hot and humid weather.

Every autumn, however, Good Car is called to duty in a big way. Autumn is our absolute favorite season and we have added many, many miles to Good Car’s odometer in this beautiful season of the year.

And every winter, Good Car has taken us safely down icy and snow-covered backroads in search of many wonderful winter snow scenes. And she’s also worked hard on our annual Christmas Bird Count, our April Owl Monitoring and Midwest Crane Count, our June Breeding Bird Survey, and our special birding projects for the Aldo Leopold Foundation.

So, why are we bidding a fond farewell to Good Car? She’s served us so well that we hate to let her go, but it’s time that we gave her a well-deserved retirement. This might sound strange, but yesterday, when I said goodbye to her, it almost brought tears to my eyes. On her request, we have already given her replacement, the next generation if you will, a proper name. But that’s a story for another day.

So long, Good Car. As you drive off into the mist, know that we will miss you.

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

“Life as Well as a Living” - The Dougan Round Barn

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

We first visited the Dougan round barn in 1998 and, at that time, we couldn’t figure out how to get any pictures from the road. I don’t remember what time of day it was, but for whatever reason, we didn’t drive in and ask for permission to take photos.

Then, towards the end of October, 2010, I was on the phone with our youngest sister, when she asked me if we knew about or had pictures of the round barn east of Beloit. I told her we knew of it and had been by it once. She said there was an article in the paper about the city making plans to take down the old farmhouse and outbuildings in the coming weeks.

As I always do when I hear news of a historic property about to be demolished, I got on the phone to Joann and we made plans to drive south that weekend to photograph what we could ahead of the wrecking ball.

This true round barn was built 100 years ago in 1911 by Mark Twain Kellor for Wesson J. (Daddy) Dougan. Daddy Dougan had been a preacher until he suffered a hearing loss and turned to farming in 1906.

The barn is a large round barn which is 68 feet in diameter. Cows were milked in the bottom floor of the barn and hay was stored on the upper level. In the center of the barn is a concrete silo.

Painted on the side of the silo in front of the main doors are the following words:

The Aims of this Farm

1. Good Crops:
2. Proper Storage:
3. Profitable Livestock:
4. A Stable Market:
5. Life as Well as a Living:

W. J. Dougan

The barn was last used for dairying in 1969 and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979 as part of the Centric Barns in Rock County group. While Wesson’s son Ronald owned the farm, local school children came each year to tour the farm and the round barn.

On that late October day, Joann and I picked up our sister Peggy and drove out to the farm. The old farmhouse was already a pile of rubble and equipment sat in the yard for further demolition work.

We walked around the property, noticing the old foundations near the house, and the few remaining outbuildings. As Joann photographed, Peggy and I peeked inside buildings and talked about what they might have been used for.

The barn had cables stretched around it to stabilize it. The main doors at the front of the barn were covered with sheets of plywood and many siding boards were missing. At the back of the barn, whole sections of siding were missing. Peeking inside the front doors, dappled light came through the many holes in the roof where the shingles were missing.

As early as 1996, the barn was condemned by the city of Beloit and slated for demolition. Shortly thereafter, preservation efforts began. The owner wanted the barn removed from the site and offered the barn for $1 if the barn was moved. For that to happen the barn would have had to be stabilized before the 100-plus tons of masonry and wood could be moved. Moving it would also have been problematic since it could only travel on roads where there was room for it, which would eliminate moving it over and under most bridges.

Preservation efforts never gained enough momentum to raise the funds necessary to replace the roof or to move the barn, which would have cost well into six figures. There were also differing opinions of what should be done with the barn. Some wanted to preserve the barn at its current location while others wanted to move the barn to a new location on the other side of the interstate.

Ronald’s daughter, Jackie Dougan Jackson, has published several books including “Stories from the Round Barn” and “More Stories from the Round Barn.” Most recently, she published a book entitled, “The Round Barn.” Soon these memories and many photographs may be all that is left of the Dougan round barn.

We’re sad to see the barn in its current state of disrepair, but we’re also thankful that we got to go and see the barn before it is gone forever.

If you hear of a historic property in jeopardy of demolition, please let us know. And if you have any interest in seeing the building for yourself, go check it out as soon as you can. You never know when it might be gone forever.

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

“Don’t Go Anywhere!”

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

Having recently completed our fall photography for the year, I am reminded of a number of “situations” that occurred over the past couple of years during fall photographing. As we’ve explained before, we are always drawn to the counties that are west of us due to the hills and valleys which offer the best photo opportunities.

Often, when we are traveling up a ridge, we will see something down in the valley that would make a good photograph, so I stop the car on the hill. Sometimes the hills are very steep, so I engage the parking brake. As I do this, I often say to Ruth, “Don’t go anywhere!”

This is usually a source of laughter or at least a smile from Ruth, but this was not the case one time when I stopped the car on a steep incline to capture a barn down in the valley. I engaged the parking brake, said, “Don’t go anywhere,” grabbed my camera equipment, and hiked up the hill a bit further to compose my shot. As I was focusing on my subject far below in the valley, I saw Ruth coming towards me.

And then the conversation went like this:

Joann (smirking): “I thought I told you not to go anywhere.”

Ruth (looking sternly): “If you think I’m going to be sitting in the car when it rolls over the edge, you’ve got another think coming.”

Usually, I stop the car on the up side of the hill. In this case, I had stopped the car on the down side of the hill and it was apparently a little too scary-looking from that vantage point. The following photograph will give you some idea of what I’m talking about, but imagine it about twice as steep.

Speaking of scary, I am now going to share something that happened during a fall drive several years ago. We were out enjoying the fall colors in western Wisconsin and we decided to stop at a cheese factory to buy some cheese. This cheese factory had a very small parking area beside it and it was situated in a small town up on a ridge. I didn’t take a photo of this particular cheese factory, but here’s a photo of an old cheese factory in another area of Wisconsin.

As we pulled up in front of the cheese factory, a couple in a maroon car pulled into the last remaining parking spot, so we parked the car out along the street. Before we entered the cheese factory, we noticed that there was a pasture at the edge of the parking lot and there were horses in the pasture. The barbed wire fence ran right along the edge of the blacktop and the pasture dropped steeply into the valley below.

After watching the horses for a bit, we went into the cheese factory and started looking at the different types of cheese that were for sale. Suddenly, a woman came running into the store shouting, “Who owns the maroon Buick?” It was one of those moments that seemed frozen in time. Everyone looked up, but no one answered for what seemed like a minute. This was probably due to the fact that people are usually calmly asking who owns a car so they can tell you that you left your lights on, but in this case, the woman seemed panicked.

Finally, a woman spoke up and said, “That’s our car,” to which the first woman replied, “Well, it just rolled over the edge and went down the hill.” Again, there was a frozen moment, and then the second woman said, “Oh, my god, my mother's in the back seat.” At this point, everything speeded up as someone called 911 and some of the men working in the cheese factory rushed outside to see what they could do. We immediately went to our car and drove away so that we wouldn’t be in the way when the ambulance arrived. As we drove to our favorite apple orchard, it was very quiet because we were basically in shock over what had just happened at the cheese factory.

When we returned to the parking lot after purchasing our apples, we ran into someone who had stayed at the cheese factory to see how things turned out. He explained to us that the woman in the back seat was a little banged up, but she was okay. We thanked him for the update, which made us feel a whole lot better, and then we headed on down the road.

As we drove along admiring the beautiful autumn day and feeling relief that the woman in the back seat had survived the ordeal with the runaway car, my sense of humor took over. I said, rather sheepishly, “You know that couple in the maroon car? Well, the man was the one who parked the car and the woman was the one who said, 'My mother’s in the back seat,' so it would have been the man’s mother-in law…” And that’s all I’m going to say.

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Giving Thanks

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

At many Thanksgiving tables this year, people will share those things that they are most thankful for. I’m thankful for my family and friends. And again this year, I’m grateful that my youngest sister Peggy and her family invite Joann and me to share their Thanksgiving table.

But I am also thankful for our photography trips. Sometimes as Joann and I drive out into the early morning darkness, we talk about what we loved and appreciated about prior trips, and what we hope for the day or the trip ahead. Often we have only stars and the moon overhead, but we ask for blue skies and puffy white clouds later in the day. And as the day dawns, we look for any sign of clouds, and then ask for more clouds to join in our party.

When we’re staying overnight in a strange town, I’m grateful for Irwin (the most wonderful GPS in the world) who helps us to find our motel at night. Sometimes he’s not quite sure where the motel is, but he usually gets us close enough that we can find it ourselves. And I’m always reminded of trying to find our motel in Michigan in the dark before we had Irwin on our side. It was late and we were very confused about where we were, not to mention where the motel was.

I appreciate all of the squiggly road signs that are indications of our favorite kind of road. The roads usually wander through hills and valleys, and we have to wonder what we might find around the next bend. This is what we love about the western part of Wisconsin, and we’ve been lucky enough to find these types of roads in many areas of the country that we have visited so far. And we look forward to all of the squiggly roads in our future.

I appreciate the small country roads that are not shortcuts to anywhere. These kinds of roads allow us to find scenes to photograph, and spend an hour or more at a location without seeing another car. Often it is just us and nature. We’re thankful for all of the birds and wildlife that we see along these roads.

I’m grateful to live in a state that has all four seasons of the year. In Wisconsin, we’re coming into the long cold winter, but that will give us opportunities to drive out into the white landscape and find photo opportunities. And I’m very thankful for Good Car’s heater, since I am not as eager as Joann to trudge out into the snow to get a picture of a creek or canyon, and I often wait in the car, marking more spots to check out, until she returns.

And I’m always grateful for spring. It’s hard to watch the trees lose their gorgeous leaves in the fall, but the knowledge that spring will come, along with all the gorgeous colors and smells of spring blossoms, makes the long wait through winter worth it.

As you enjoy Thanksgiving with your family or friends, I hope you have as many blessings to be thankful for as we have. And if your Thanksgiving takes you over the roads to someone’s house, enjoy and appreciate the scenery along the way.

Happy Thanksgiving and, until next time, Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

First Estonian Church in America

By Joann M. Ringelstettter

On September 1 of this year, I received a typical email from Ruth with a subject line that read, “How can we get this before it’s gone?” Inside the email was simply a link to an article entitled, “Hidden Places: Estonian Church Slowly Returns to Dust.”

I looked at the photo that was included with the article and I knew we had to make plans to go in the near future. The church is located several hours from us, so I emailed back and suggested we take an extended weekend and make an early fall trip up north.

On the last Saturday of September, we left home in the pre-dawn hours and began our journey north. As is usually the case, we had much we wanted to photograph on the way there and again on the way back. We feel this makes the best use of the miles we put on the car and the gallons of fuel we put in the tank. And, thanks to Ruth’s dedication to her research, there seems to be no end to the opportunities we are afforded.

By the time we reached the area where we thought the church was located, it was well after dark, so we proceeded to our lodging about ten miles north of there. After unloading and backing up the photos from the day, we hit the sack in anticipation of our visit to the church at dawn. On Sunday morning, we arose in darkness, loaded the car, and drove the ten miles back to where Ruth thought the church was.

As the first hint of light descended from the heavens, we turned down a dead-end road and drove a short distance. When we reached the end of the pavement, there was just a driveway going into a residence. “This can’t be the road,” I said. “Keep driving,” Ruth responded. There was a dirt road continuing on from the pavement and running along two farm fields. I drove slowly to the end of this dirt road and stopped the car. What lay in front of us were more farm fields. As my heart sank and we started looking around, we suddenly spotted the abandoned church tucked way back into the woods.

The good news is that someone still cares about this lonely old structure and had mowed the weeds around it. The bad news is that the church is in a sad state of disrepair. The entryway was just a gaping hole in the front of the gray weathered building and the windows, long devoid of glass, had boards nailed across them in a horizontal pattern.

Ruth and I stood for a long while at the edge of the woods in reverent silence as if we were standing in the back of church just before Sunday morning service. It was raining a bit and the wind was rustling the leaves that were just beginning to show a hint of fall color. The church was beautiful, even in this state of deterioration.

According to our research, there was a small presence of Estonian immigrants in America around the turn of the twentieth century. The first Estonian Lutheran Church congregation in America was founded in 1897 in Ft. Pierre, South Dakota. And this humble structure that now stood before us was built in 1914 and was the first Estonian church building erected in America.

In a series of local articles published in 1978, reporter Sharon Thatcher documented the history of this church and its congregation. According to Ms. Thatcher, worship services were first held in someone’s home. By 1903, according to Rev. Hans Rebane, a traveling minister serving this Estonian community, there were 29 members in the congregation.

In 1907, three of its members each put up $25 to purchase four acres of land, on which the church would eventually be built. First, however, they would honor their dead by establishing a cemetery in 1909. Only 14 people were buried in this little cemetery and some of these graves have since been relocated. Ruth tried to find the cemetery on the grounds behind the church, but the understory was thick and she couldn’t find it.

While Ruth was busy looking for the cemetery, I respectfully peered into this historical church. Where once there were rows of backless wooden benches, with the men sitting on one side of the church and the women and children on the other, there was now an empty floor strewn with debris. Where once there were flowers from worshipers’ gardens adorning the sanctuary, there was rubble from plaster that had fallen from the ceiling. Where once there was an altar consisting of a simple wooden table covered with a crocheted altar cloth, there stood a beautiful wooden lectern, as if waiting for the traveling minister to one day return.

The membership in this congregation peaked around 1930 with about 135 members. Following 1930, membership declined as members of this Estonian community moved to larger cities. As membership continued to decline, the little Estonian church was only used occasionally into the late 1950s.

In 1964, the last reunion of Estonians took place on the 50th anniversary of the church. Sometime after this event, vandals attacked the church, smashing the door and windows, and stealing or destroying the altar and benches. They even went so far as to steal the bell from the steeple. It was only a small bell that had been donated to the church by the Sears Roebuck Company when the church was built. Now it would summon a congregation no more.

While searching the internet for information on this church, I stumbled on a bit of information about the current owner. His name is Bill Rebane and I believe he is the great nephew of the Rev. Hans Rebane, who helped build the Estonian Evengelical Martin Luther Church and who served there as a minister. In January of this year, Mr. Rebane said, “As dilapidated as it is today, it has a congregation of some 20 plus people” and periodic services are held when weather permits.

We thank Bill Rebane for allowing us to fill our hearts with the humble history of this wonderful church and we hope his wish to save the church for future generations somehow comes true.

Happy Shunpiking!