Thursday, June 25, 2015

Dawn in Indiana

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

In 2011, during the early planning stages of our 2012 spring photography trip, Joann came across a picture of an abandoned school in Indiana. She shared the picture with me and asked if I knew of the school. I checked my research and saw that I had the school marked. I told her we hadn’t yet managed to pass it on the way to or from any of our trip destinations to the east.

She asked if we could manage to fit it into the spring trip we were already planning to Ohio, so I told her I would figure it out. The school tower is still standing, but the roof is gone and many bricks have fallen. We were worried that, if Indiana is anything like Wisconsin, the owner might decide that the land is more valuable than any memories of the school and take it down.

As usual, I had too many stops marked for our route to Ohio, and the route went further south than the school. I told Joann the school wouldn’t work going to Ohio, but I would be sure to plan a stop on the way home. Since the dawn hours are Joann’s favorite for photography, I hunted (and hunted, and hunted) for a motel that would be close enough to the school to make it our dawn stop the next morning.

The only motel I could find that would work for us (a mom and pop motel with outside doors), was a motel that was about 45 minutes west into Indiana, which was past the school location. I asked Joann if she wanted to overshoot the school on the way home and then drive the distance back in the pre-dawn hours. She thought about if for just a second and then said the school was special enough that we should go for it.

So, we checked into the motel in the dark on our first day heading home. We set our alarm for very early, and, in the wee hours of the morning of our last day, we packed the car in the dark and drove the 45 minutes back to the location of the school. When we arrived, as is often the case, it was still just a little too dark to start photographing.

But Joann got out of the car, and as soon as possible, started with silhouette photos of the old school. It was the Oak Grove School, which had been built in 1913.

Joann worked her way around the school, sizing it up from every angle and looking at every detail for photographic possibilities. I watched for a while, and then I leaned my head back and took a short nap.

When she finished at the school, we hurried to our second stop which was even further to the south. After that town, we began our journey home. And it was a long journey. Every time we got close to something cool, I would show Joann a picture and ask if she wanted to chase it that day, or save it for another trip.

Usually her answer was to chase it, so we didn’t get home until well after dark. That was one long day, but knowing we had captured this beautiful school made the day worth it.

As I prepared to write this blog, I searched on the school name, Jay County, Indiana history, and everything else I could think of. I couldn’t find any history about the school.

We have our pictures, but we don’t know anything other than the name and the year it was built. Maybe someday in the future, when I’m searching for something else in Indiana, I’ll stumble on some history. Or maybe, if we’re lucky, someone will comment on this blog or on a photo with memories of the school. We can only hope.

Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Historic Town of Thurmond, West Virginia

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

In the spring of 2010, as Joann and I were returning from North Carolina, I took the opportunity to plan the route past a couple of the highlights in West Virginia. Don’t get me wrong, we do want to spend a lot more time there, but I’ll need to do a lot more research before then.

One of the places that we did manage to visit was the historic town of Thurmond. Thurmond is in the New River Gorge, which is one of the most important natural areas in West Virginia.

Thurmond was a flourishing town, mostly due to the C&O Railway. At its height in the 1930s, the population of Thurmond was nearly 500. In 2013, the population was 5. It is the smallest incorporated town in West Virginia.

We laughed about how small the town hall was, but now, knowing that the town only has 5 residents, we know that little building is big enough.

Thurmond has a small row of remaining main street buildings, but it never had a main street. The railroad tracks ran just a couple of feet outside those buildings. At that point, the gorge is very narrow, and there was no room for tracks and a road. Just the tracks.

To enter Thurmond, you must cross a one-lane bridge. This one-lane vehicle bridge and the railroad bridge are side by side. Joann was a little reluctant to cross, wondering what might be happening on the other side. I wasn’t driving so I, of course, was telling her to just drive over it.

The first building you see is the restored depot. Today, it is a Park Service visitor center for the New River Gorge National River. It was built in 1904 to replace an earlier building that burned in 1903. It was enlarged in 1914, and was restored in 1995 by the park service.

The depot is also an Amtrak flag stop. Amtrak passes through three times per week, but only stops if there are passengers ticketed to or from the station. In the early years, 15 passenger trains per day passed through Thurmond, and it served 95,000 passengers per year.

The depot originally had three waiting rooms. One for white women, one for white men, and one for African Americans. It also housed a clerk’s office, trainmaster’s office, yardmaster’s office, car distributor’s office, and telegrapher’s cabin. The projecting bay served as a signal tower.

Many of the railroad buildings are gone now, but the coaling tower and sand house still stands as a testament to the coal that travelled through town. More freight used to pass through Thurmond than through Cincinnati, Ohio.

A few of the other main street buildings have been stabilized by the National Park Service and display signs about historic Thurman in the windows. One of those buildings is the former National Bank of Thurmond. It was built in 1917 and housed a jewelry company until 1922.

The National Bank of Thurmond acquired the building and renovated the front into what you see today. Originally, the building had cast iron storefronts, but the bank remodeled their half into a limestone fa├žade.

The original plan was to renovate the buildings to be used for tourists, but no money was available, so only the depot was completely remodeled. The other buildings were stabilized or removed if they were past stabilizing or didn’t contribute to the historic district.

We hope to return to West Virginia, and if we do, we will probably return to the Thurmond area. If you find yourself in West Virginia, be sure to enjoy the natural beauty and small historic towns.

Happy Shunpiking!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

In Memory of My Brother, Paul John Ringelstetter, 1960 - 2014

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

Several years ago, my brother Paul and I began having conversations at family gatherings about going out in his boat to allow me some photographic opportunities that are only possible by boat. A few years went by before I finally got around to asking him to take me on a boat trip.

In early September, 2012, we decided to spend a day cruising the waters in the Wisconsin Dells area. We met at dawn at the boat launch on Lake Delton, a man-made freshwater lake that was formed in 1927 to attract tourists to the Wisconsin Dells area. This lake has been the site of the Tommy Bartlett Show, a fast-paced, dare-devil water skiing show, since 1952.

There is an old stone building on the banks of Lake Delton, which used to be the Sarrington Mill. This mill was known for the carloads of pancake flour it shipped out to grocery companies. Years ago, Ruth and I captured a couple of photos of this mill from the banks, but this boat trip allowed me to capture it from the middle of the lake.

After an hour or so on Lake Delton, we launched the boat for a trip through the Lower Dells of the Wisconsin River. It was still early and a bit foggy on the river. As we moved slowly down the river, we spotted a Great Blue Heron looking for breakfast. Paul carefully maneuvered the boat closer so I could get a better shot of this wonderful bird.

The Lower Dells has some great, wind-swept rock formations and it was wonderful to see them with my own personal “boat captain,” rather than on a commercial boat tour.

One of my favorites was Sugar Bowl Rock and Grotto Rock.

Another favorite was Pulpit Rock, with the Baby Grand Piano on its side.

And here is the Hawk’s Bill, with some early morning fishing going on below.

Around mid-morning, we returned to our starting point and Paul took the boat out of the water to go to our third location, the Upper Dells of the Wisconsin River. The skies were still overcast as we launched the boat for the third time and headed toward the Jaws of the Dells.

Soon we passed a rock that resembles the profile of Black Hawk, the famous leader of a group of Fox and Sauk Indians.

The skies were beginning to brighten up as Paul took me to my most favorite location of the entire trip. It was a little cove off the main part of the river. As he steered the boat into the channel, there were some young boys up on the cliff, who jumped into the water as soon as we passed.

As Paul turned the boat around to head back out of the cove, I was really struck by the beauty of the scene ahead of us. I asked Paul if he knew the name of this enchanted cove, but he didn’t. After doing a little research, I believe it is called Cold Water Canyon. If anyone knows the name of this beautiful part of the Upper Dells, please leave a comment.

As we again entered the main part of the Wisconsin River, we were delighted to see a beautiful blue sky with puffy white clouds greeting us.

We traveled down the river until we were past most of the rock formations and then decided to head back. As we passed, once again, through the Jaws of the Dells, I turned around to capture High Rock, which is on one side of the “Jaws.”

And then I captured Romance Cliff, which is on the other side of the “Jaws.”

We ended the day by passing under the old railroad bridge and then circling back to our launch point. Oh, and then we went to Culver’s for a bite to eat.

I had such a nice time that day taking a peaceful, relaxing boat trip with my brother and getting to know him on a deeper level. After that, we talked about doing it again sometime. Unfortunately, Paul became seriously ill in February of last year and we lost him in the early morning hours of June 4, 2014. He was only 53 years old. So I will cherish the memories of this boat trip even more.

We miss you, Paul. Here’s hoping you are relaxing in your fishing boat somewhere in the Great Beyond.

Happy Shunpiking!

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