It's hard to believe how far I've come and what I've seen in the last week. The weather has cooled down significantly, making it so much easier to be outside and to sleep at night. I've gotten back in the gym which makes me feel infinitely better. And generally speaking I feel like I'm accomplishing more than ever before, which is great. This week I've traveled across the south of Ohio, along the Ohio River through port towns and old industrial giants. The river led me to The Queen City: Cincinnati, with its amazing architecture and vibrant streets. Finally, I've made my way up through Miamisburg to Dayton where I am writing to you from today. I've sold some photos and made some connections and generally just had a fantastic week on the road.
Sadly leaving Athens County behind, I stopped for a brief visit at the Buckeye Furnace State Memorial. Tucked back in the woods of southeast Ohio, this was a great place to learn more about the production of pig iron, an industry that once brought a lot of wealth to the region. I had the place all to myself but could imagine the small community which once stood there and kept the furnace going. This was another of Appalachia's hard labor industries, and one that disappeared as the iron ore dried up and the nation's demands shifted to steel. It was a cool place to visit.
From there I headed out to the Bob Evans Farm in Rio Grande where I had a big breakfast for lunch and wandered around the property for a while. I learned the story of Bob and how he started with a steakhouse, but soon started making sausage as well. This sausage would catapult his business into one of Ohio's best known names.
Dropping down to the Ohio River, I made my way to Ironton. Awed by this dilapidated but beautiful industrial gem, I stopped in for a while and took plenty of photos (check them out HERE). From there I made my way west along the river to Portsmouth. I met up with my friend Staci for a competitive game of miniature golf and a pizza at the Buckeye Dairy, while she told me about her travel plans and about some of the sites to hit up around town before I left.
The next morning I set off to follow her recommendations. I started with the magnificent murals along the flood wall that run the length of downtown. It took muralist Robert Dafford 10 years to complete the 54 panels found there today which stretch 2200 feet along the river frontage. They're pretty awesome and you can see my photos of them HERE. In dock that day was the Belle of Cincinnati, and I enjoyed taking some photos of the ol' paddle-wheeler as I walked down by the river. After getting some work done in their magnificent Carnegie Library, I wandered over to the Southern Ohio Museum and Cultural Center. I'm really glad I did. Their collection of Native American artifacts was fascinating, especially their effigy pipes. To me, the detailed nature of these pipes shows how much more sophisticated these early societies were than people want to give them credit for. These were not tools or weapons, they were leisure or ceremonial objects carved in fine detail by skilled craftsmen. The museum also housed a wonderful collection of regional Appalachian art, much of which I found really interesting. Many of the pieces in their collection reflected the lives of the artists in Appalachia, and they really gave me something to think about.
Moving on, I headed out to the Serpent Mounds, one of the premier archaeological sites in the state. Serpent Mounds are effigy mounds, meaning they are designed to look like something (in this case, a snake), and were most likely used for ceremonial purposes as, to the best of our knowledge, no burials were carried out there. This was a really cool site to visit, and it reminded me of the Nazca Lines in Peru. It was nice to be there at the end of the day when only a few people were around. I enjoyed wandering the site and thinking about the people that built it, smoking their strong tobacco out of intricately carved pipes. We will probably never know much more than we currently do about these ancient cultures, but it is still cool to think about them and wonder what their lives were like. For me, it's easier to do this in the places they held sacred.
After my visit, I drove down to Adams Lake State Park in West Union, and cooked dinner and did some writing by the lake. It was quiet and peaceful there which I really appreciated. As dusk was settling, I went for a nice walk along the lake shore. The crickets and frogs provided an amazing soundtrack as I walked. Fireflies lit the path and geese flew by overhead, honking and heading north. There was even a cool little bat flying around me as I walked, something I really enjoy even though I know some people are terrified of these amazing flying mammals. It was nice to walk and breath and think and just enjoy the quiet lake for a while.
The next day I made my way back to the Ohio River and followed it all the way to Cincinnati. I stopped off in Ripley and learned some of the fascinating stories associated with the Underground Railroad in the region. Former slave John Parker and preacher John Rankin were some of the main characters involved in smuggling thousands of slaves across the river to safety. It was a really fascinating stop.
Between there and my next stop, the birthplace of the commander of the Union forces at the end of the civil war and two term president Ulysses S. Grant, I was hugely disappointed to see so many confederate flags, which seemed to be everywhere. Tragically, many of these were flying right beside American flags, showing blatant ignorance of the history of both. Travelling between two fascinating sites, both of which contributed to the freeing of the slaves in this country, it was truly disheartening to see such obvious signs that all are not welcome in the region. This is not something I expected from an entire region here in Ohio. While I saw these historic sites, I did not spread my tourist dollars around by buying a drink or a snack or a souvenir. I speak with my wallet in such situations.
That being said, the Grant Birthplace was very interesting. It was small and humble as I expected it would be, and was expertly interpreted by the gentleman on hand. The house has apparently had quite a life of its own, having been moved around the state several times before eventually landing back on its original footprint.
And then I was off to The Queen City: Cincinnati. I had only been to Cincinnati once before and then only for one night in the middle of winter. I went in with no real expectations, but came out really blown away by what I found there. Cincinnati is such a vibrant, living, breathing city full of massive old industrial buildings, beautiful murals, great food and friendly people. My senses were completely overwhelmed as every corner brought something new to explore. I spent three days wandering around the city and took hundreds of photos as I went.
I ate Cincinnati Chili at both Gold Star and Skyline. Not really what I think of as chili but more a Mediterranean meat sauce served on hot dogs or pasta and topped with a half-ton of shredded cheddar cheese, I really liked it. I also tried another Cincinnati specialty: goetta. Pennsylvania has its scrapple, New Jersey its Taylor ham and the Carolinas their livermush, but in Cincinnati the breakfast meat of choice is goetta (pronounced "getta"). I got my goetta at the wonderful Tucker's Restaurant in the Over-The-Rhine neighborhood. This super friendly, no-frills food counter served it up hot off the griddle with eggs, hash-browns and freshly baked biscuits. I really enjoyed it. While in Cincinnati I also tried my first Graeter's Ice Cream which apparently has a huge nationwide cult following. I had never heard of it before, but I'm glad I did before I left. It is delicious!
While in Cincinnati, I visited the incredibly well interpreted William Howard Taft National Historic Site, the waterfront park, Harriet Beecher Stowe's house, and of course several of the massive breweries in town. Mostly, though, I just pounded the pavement and took photos. The weather was great and it was a wonderful time to be there. Except for the truly awful mess that they call streets, my stay was excellent and I will definitely return to Cincinnati.
On Monday, I headed up to Miamisburg (the only so-named town in the country), home of one of my old friends from my tour leading days. I thought I needed some work done on my van, and he had a cousin with a garage there: Miamisburg Auto Service. They took Shadow Catcher for a spin and told me the work didn't need to be done - great news for me and my budget. If you ever find yourselves in need of mechanical work in southwest Ohio, give these guys a shout! After breakfast at the cute little Koffee Kup diner, I met up with my friend's dad Doug for a tour around the town.
Doug's family has been in the general area for about a hundred years. He seemed to know everyone and everything that was happening around town. We stopped into the beautifully restored Plaza Theater, which Doug played a big role in helping get back on its feet. It now shows old movies and hosts live performances and private events. It was really neat to get the backstage tour. From there, we stopped in to Ron's Tavern and met Ron himself. Ron has been turning out pizza from his corner restaurant for over 60 years, and it was great to sit and talk with him for a while and to enjoy some great pizza. For some reason, southern Ohioans like their pizza cut into little squares. They also don't usually seem to realize this quirk until I point it out to them. It's the little things that are making this trip great.
From there, I went along for the ride as Doug ran some errands and dropped off some of the things he had borrowed for a charity auction from the weekend before. Doug is a professional auctioneer, and apparently one of the best in the state. This was all something I was completely unfamiliar with and it was interesting to hear about all of the big charity events he had been a part of. We drove into Dayton and down to the Carillon Historical Park to see the Wright Flyer III, the third airplane designed by the Wright Brothers. It was very cool to see. It was a busy day, and after a quick beer at Good Time Charley's it was time for an early night.
Tuesday was rainy, so a great day to catch up on some photo editing and work at the Miamisburg Library. Afterwards, I drove around downtown Dayton for a while and ended up at the beautiful Century Bar, a real classic. It had been a busy week, so after a few delightful bourbons, I called it a night.
Today I am at the library in Dayton and writing to you, and when I hit the "publish" button I am off to the Dayton Air Force Museum, one of the "must-see" sights I have heard about often. I'll be in the greater Dayton area for the next day or two before I start thinking about journeying on towards Columbus. I'm hard at work on my next podcast which should be getting close to finished by this time next week. There are so many interesting stories to choose from here, that it's been difficult to just pick what to talk about. From Columbus I'm heading back to the east of the state and then north towards Lake Erie. I'm not sure where I'll be at this time next week, but follow along so you can find out. Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful week.