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!

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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!