Seeing Things, Saying Things

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Archive for the ‘Small Town America’ Category

End of an Era

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I was driving north on Ohio Route 4 through the small town of Chatfield when I saw a sign announcing that the owner of the town’s hardware store was retiring the store was closing.

I doubled back and parked in the empty lot to get this image. It was a Sunday and the store was closed.

Local hardware stores everywhere are having a hard time staying in business in a world in which such big box stores as Home Depot, Walmart and Lowes are around.

You won’t find big box stores in Chatfield, but you won’t find many customers, either.

I don’t know the story behind this store, such as who the owner is, who is retiring, and how long he or she has owned the store.

A Google search failed to turn up any news stories about the store closing.

Perhaps the owner sought to sell the store but had no takers or serious offers.

It is not hard to imagine that once the store is gone it’s gone. There is not much commercial activity left in Chatfield, a village of 189 that lies at the junction of two railroads.

On Route 4 there are the remains of what looks like it used to be a car dealership or implement dealer that has been vacant and abandoned for years. The roof has caved in over the former shop area.

People in Chatfield will simply drive to Bucyrus or Bellevue when they need what they used to buy at Chatfield Hardware.

Perhaps those benches out front will remain and maybe guys will gather there to solve the world’s problems and talk about farming, sports teams and other guy things. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

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Written by csanders429

June 2, 2018 at 9:56 am

Stepping Back Into Memories

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I grew up in Mattoon, Illinois, a town of about 18,000 in the east central part of the state.

Like so many people, I left for college not expecting to come back. I figured to get a job elsewhere. Fact is, I wanted to live in another place that was larger than Mattoon.

But life has a way of interfering with your plans and dreams. I ended up returning to my hometown for my first newspaper reporting job, which lasted for more than six years before I moved on.

These days I have no reason to return to Mattoon other than for nostalgia. I have no family living there and I hardly know anyone still there.

I haven’t been back since August 2014. During that visit I noticed this mural that graces one end of a row of buildings at the east end of Western Avenue in downtown Mattoon.

Although I don’t know the story behind how this mural came to be, I can identify with it.

On those occasions when I get back to my original hometown I feel much like this family looking into a welcoming past.

Like them, I see ancestors and friends, many of whom are no longer around, going about their daily life. These frozen in time memories can be quite powerful and serve as a reminder of where you’ve been and what you came from.

The bottom of the two images features a wider angle to show the context of the building featuring the mural.

On the right is Western Avenue. At one time, there was a row of building on the north side of the street. But they’re gone now, replaced by a grocery store and its parking lot.

On the left is the former right of way of the New York Central Railroad. I’m not sure who owns that property today, but it appears to have been “re-purposed” as open space used for parking.

Christmas in Chagrin Falls

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We have a tradition of going out to Chagrin Falls at Christmas time to look at the lights and go out to dinner. Sometimes we do it before Christmas and sometimes we do it in the week after.

This year’s outing to Chagrin Falls coincided with the shortest day of the year, although that was coincidence.

We dropped off a Christmas present at the home of a friend and then went to eat. Then it was time to walk around and then drive around town to look at lights.

The village decorates its downtown with Christmas trees and lights and also illuminates the area around the waterfalls of the Chagrin River. Here are a couple of view of what they do

Written by csanders429

December 22, 2017 at 6:48 am

Fill ‘er Up With Nostalgia

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I ran across this old service station in Leetonia, Ohio, that is not easy to describe. Its various artifacts harken back to an era that has long since passed into history.

These include the old car, the signs in the windows and the gas pump.

Yet there are modern touches, most notably the siding on the building, the modern vehicle parked at the far left and even the tank on the far right.

I’m not really sure what purpose this facility serves. It might be someone’s business, yet if so I didn’t see a sign. Maybe it is just part of someone’s collection.

Whatever the case, the place is dripping with history and nostalgia and provides quite a contrast with the modern service station several hundred yards away on the other side of the railroad tracks behind this building.

Written by csanders429

May 24, 2017 at 7:08 am

No Longer Running

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I keep finding myself drawn to photographing abandoned service stations in my travels. I’m not sure why that is, but more than most abandoned businesses, service stations tend to still have a classic feel to them, even those that are in run-down condition.

Service stations typically were free-standing structures regardless of what era in which they were built. Many of those that have been abandoned and which are still standing were built of brick and featured a standard design.

The oldest ones had a single island for the gasoline pumps. There would be two garage doors for the service bays and a front door leading to the office/waiting room that also sold sundry other automotive-related items. Remember when oil companies used to issue road maps?

Maybe my fascination with old gas stations is rooted in a childhood ritual. During our travels about town Mom or Dad would stop at the filling station to “fer ‘er up.”

You didn’t have to leave your car. The attendant or even the owner would come out to you on the driveway.

My parents often knew the owner and chatted with him for a few minutes. They were guys you felt you could trust.

Service stations were part of the tapestry of small town America, but it is not like that today. In New Jersey a guy still comes out to fill up your car, but everywhere else I’ve been in recent years it is self service.

Today’s service stations — if that is the right term for them because they hardly provide any service — are large modern convenience stores that just happen to sell gasoline among other products.

Shown above is a former Marathon station in downtown Arcola, Illinois, that has been semi restored. The restoration has consisted of new paint and restoring the “best in the long run” Marathon herald.

It is located a block east of U.S. Route 45 just over the Illinois Central Railroad tracks. It probably took a major financial hit when Interstate 57 opened in the 1970s east of town. That is a story that is all too familiar in all too many small towns in America.

Small Town Institution

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I’ve been in a few arguments over the years about what constitutes a small town.

I describe the place where I grew up in east central Illinois as a “small town,” but other say that with a population of 20,000 my hometown doesn’t qualify as a small town. But I don’t consider it a city or even an urban area.

There is little doubt, though, that Milltown, Indiana, population 807, is a small town. I’ve only been there because my wife once lived there before we met.

It’s a quaint little town amid the rolling hills of Southern Indiana in that buffer zone between the North and the South.

One of the town’s institutions is Maxine’s Market. I’m told that this business has undergone some name and ownership changes over the years and perhaps it has a new name and owner now. It might even be out of business, although I found some references to it online.

I made this image in July 2011 on slide film that I exposed in the waning days of my time as a film shooter.

I don’t think I’ve ever been inside this market, but I’ve seen it from the outside a few times.

It is a typical small town establishment that is part grocery story and part community gathering spot.

Note the bulletin board sandwiched between the ubiquitous ice storage locker and the wooden front doors plastered with decals promoting various products.

More than any other place in town everyone goes to Maxine’s, even those who complain about having to drive some distance to shop at a real supermarket. There probably are some who find that Maxine’s has what they need.

Places like Maxine’s can never hope to match the selection of a Walmart supercenter, but it has an ambience that those big box stores can never match even if they claim to be about small town values.

Regardless of what the folks of Milltown think about this market, all of them would miss it if it went away.

As It Once Was in Small Town Indiana

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In the final scene of the movie Hoosiers, a small boy dribbles a basketball beneath a photograph of the 1952 Indiana state champion Hickory Huskers, dreaming of some day winning a title himself.

But chances are that title was not the state championship but the sectional tournament. In 1950s Indiana, winning the sectional title was as big as players in small schools dared dream.

The sectional was the first of three tournaments that a team had to win to reach the Final Four, which was played in Indianapolis.

Hoosiers was inspired by the story of how Milan High School won the 1954 state tournament, becoming the smallest school to ever do so.

But that was an aberration. Small schools stood little chance to win once they got past the sectional tournament because they would be playing larger schools and their deeper talent pool.

There never again was another Milan that won the championship when it was still single class. Milan was a once in a lifetime team.

Hickory is a fictional school and the actual 1952 Indiana champion was Muncie Central. The boys in the photograph in the Hoosier Gym are actors and their coach was actor Gene Hackman.

What some visitors might pay less attention to are the small banners “honoring” the 1931 and 1932 sectional championships that Hickory “won.”

Those banners are not meant to be just mere movie set props. And there is a reason why there is a line in the movie in which coach Norman Dale tells his players that it has been a decade since Hickory was in the sectional tournament title game.

Winning the sectional was once a big deal in Indiana, particularly if you had to knock off a larger school to do it.

Hoosiers represents an era when many Indiana schools were operated by townships. In the middle 1950s, Indiana had 776 high schools.

The Indiana School Corporation Act of 1959 mandated that school districts with fewer than 1,000 students in grades 1 through 12 merge with a neighboring district. The number of high schools in Indiana quickly shrank.

Most of the basketball scenes in Hoosiers were filmed in the former Knightstown, Indiana, high school gym. Today that gym is a community center and museum to Hoosiers.

When I visited the Hoosier Gym a few years ago I was reminded of my time in the middle 1980s, when I was a part-time sports reporter for The Herald-Telephone in Bloomington, Indiana.

My job was to cover the outlying high school basketball teams and I saw some gymnasiums much like the Hoosier Gym.

Like the Hoosier Gym, they had banners celebrating past sectional champions. And if a school had a once in a lifetime team that won beyond the sectional tournament, there was a photograph of it prominently displayed on the wall just like in Hoosiers.

The times have changed in Indiana. The last single-class state basketball tournament was played in 1996.

The next season the tournament was divided into four classes based on school enrollment.

Attendance at high school games had been declining for years prior to the switch to a four-class tournament.

Even when I covered high school basketball in the 1980s it wasn’t quite the same as it had been in earlier decades. I used to hear now and again about how that 1959 law requiring consolidation had changed things.

Of course high school basketball also lost popularity because people began having more things to do than attending a basketball game on a Friday or Saturday night.

Nonetheless, basketball remained ingrained in the social consciousness of Indiana. Hoosiers may have resonated with most people because of its storyline of the underdog triumphing, but it also harkens back to a time when dreams of hardwood success were more often than not focused on winning what many today might consider a “lesser” tournament.

Written by csanders429

February 20, 2017 at 5:33 am