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“It’s Got Spirit” - 11 August 2017
It does a city body good to get out into the country every so often, if for no other reason than to remind oneself that wide open spaces still exist. We got a sample of that as we cruised southwest on Ohio Route 3. With fields of soybeans to the left of us and field corn to the right, it was enough to make one break out into song; perhaps the theme to “Green Acres.”
Eventually we rolled into an urban setting, albeit one with just over 14,000 inhabitants. In this part of the state, though, that’s enough to make Washington Court House a seat of government. It handles all the official paperwork for Fayette County, named for the Marquis de Lafayette, the young French officer who fought for the American Army in the Revolutionary War.
I was surprised to discover that Washington Court House, a long-familiar name, has only been the official name of the city since 2002 when it was adopted into a new city charter. Before that, its name of record was City of Washington. The “Court House” was an early add-on to distinguish it from other Washingtons in the state (specifically the village of Washington in Guernsey County, which now goes by Old Washington).
Just past the Fayette County Memorial Hospital, Ohio Route 3 splits into two roads, Market Street and Court Street. Just beyond the split, we pulled into the parking lot for Our Place Restaurant, an eatery that straddles the land between Market and Court. A logo incorporating Grant Wood’s American Gothic painting appears under the restaurant’s name on a sign out front. Inside, framed photographs of barns decorate the walls.
I ordered the daily breakfast special consisting of two scrambled eggs, bacon, and French toast. Michele requested “Grandpa’s Favorite,” which was the same as mine, but with home fries and regular toast in place of my French variety. The food was good, but when we overheard our coughing waitress tell another table she wasn’t feeling well, we worried that the full cost of our meal might not all be registered on the bill. (We’re happy to report a 72-hour incubation period passed without any sneezing, sniffling, or dripping symptoms, so all’s well that ends well …with bacon.)
Further along Court Street, we came upon the town square, dominated by the Fayette County Courthouse. Opened in 1885, it is the quintessential 19th Century courthouse with its Second Empire style and twelve-foot tall statue of Justice.
We visited on a Friday, which meant the government building was open for business…once we found an unlocked door! A flight of stairs leads up to a pair of doors on each side of the courthouse. We began by pulling on the south facing doors, but found them locked. We continued around the building in a clockwise direction. Wouldn’t you know, it was the last of the four entrances that allowed us access. (Had there been a suggestion box, I would have put forth the idea that a simple sign directing visitors to the east side would have been helpful!)
The courthouse is a beautiful building with lots of gorgeous dark wood throughout, including doors and handrails and balustrades. The third level is where one finds three large 19th Century murals by Ohio artist Archibald Willard. Willard is best known for his painting, “The Spirit of ’76,” the patriotic work showing a drummer, piper, and flag bearer marching together after battle. For the Fayette County Courthouse, he painted three diaphanous women, one in each mural, representing “Spirit of the U.S. Mail,” “Spirit of Electricity,” and “Spirit of the Telegraph.” He was obviously a very talented artist, but perhaps overly predictable when it came to naming his works.
We wandered the floors of the courthouse, poking our noses into a courtroom here, finding the county’s Bicentennial Bell hanging in a corner there. Perhaps the most unique feature of the courthouse is the spray of bullet holes in the south doors! The historic marker on the south lawn tells the story:
On October 16, 1894, a crowd gathered outside the courthouse with intent to lynch alleged attacker William "Jasper" Dolby. Governor William McKinley ordered Ohio National Guard troops sent in to subdue the crowd. The mob was initially thwarted, but on October 17, while Dolby awaited transportation from the jail to the courthouse, the riots intensified. Despite Dolby's guilty plea to rape and a 20-year sentence, the crowd sought vengeance. They rushed the courthouse doors, and were warned to "disperse or be fired upon." They ignored the warning and continued to batter the doors. Colonel Alonzo B. Coit ordered his troops to fire through the courthouse doors; five men were killed. Colonel Coit was indicted for manslaughter and was acquitted at trial. After the trial, Governor McKinley stated, "The law was upheld as it should have been...but in this case at fearful cost... Lynching cannot be tolerated in Ohio." The bullet holes are still visible in the south doors of the courthouse.
The sun was shining the day of our visit so the light shone brightly through the holes. I thought it was pretty cool to have a courthouse with century old bullet holes, but then felt guilty. Afterall, those holes represent death. I got to thinking more about it and questions arose. Why are they still there? Why didn’t someone plug them up decades ago? Do they just represent a story in history or are they meant to convey a more sinister meaning: a reminder from Government (with a capital G) that they are the authority in these here parts and shouldn’t be messed with. I can’t fault the sentiment, Lynching cannot be tolerated in Ohio, but I’ve got to wonder whether there might have been a slightly less lethal (and scattershot) solution to the problem.
Leaving the courthouse behind, we walked around the square and its near vicinity perusing some of the shops. Delicious aromas drew us into BB Cakes & More while a lack of interest kept us from the pawn shops on Main Street that advertised that they “buy dvds” and “sell guns.” We perused a craft shop on Court Street and stopped in at North Shore Primitives on Hinde Street. I’m usually in a mood to rummage through a good antique store, but the establishments selling “primitives” can get very boring very quickly, and so many places sell primitives these days. Those are the crafts that are newly made, but meant to look old, such as weathered-looking signs containing meaningless statements of affirmation (“Simply Dream” or “Believe in Miracles”) and all manner of stuffed animal put together with buttons and cloth and dressed in a bonnet.
Around the corner, back on Court Street, we had a fun time in Back-En-Thyme Flower & Gift Shop. It wasn’t so much for the knick-knack Michele found to purchase, but for the conversation we fell into with the friendly woman behind the counter. Sure, the store had a nice selection of home décor items, but it was the staff’s knowledge of Ohio brewpubs that I found most interesting. You can never know too much about where to quench your thirst around the state.
A block away, we came upon a large colorful painting in a small pocket park. It depicts a historic town scene. Apparently, Willard isn’t the town’s only muralist. Harry Ahysen, a distinguished artist from Texas, retired to Washington Court House in 1986 and spent the final decade of his life painting more than a dozen murals that now brighten up various spots throughout the county.
On the directionally challenged South North Street, we popped into the public library housed in a Carnegie-funded building. A couple of wings have been added since the original structure, designed by Columbus’s own Frank Packard, was built in 1904, but the facade still retains that early 20th Century classical look. Inside, the original century-old circulation desk is still in use.
Nearby was a more recent addition to the downtown. Pour Boys Brew House is a casual bar/restaurant specializing in craft beer. They usually have about ten rotating beers on tap, as well as 70 varieties of bottled beer to choose from. We opted, though, for a brew they produce on the premises. Michele and I both ordered a 16-ounce “Hot Blonde,” a habanero-infused ale that left just the right amount of heat on my tongue and in the back of my throat. It went well with the boneless wings and chips (homemade?) and salsa we snacked on. (Unfortunately - Pour Boys recently closed it's doors )
Thus fortified, we drove out of town along Robinson Road, pausing at the Fayette County Engineer’s Office so I could pick up the latest edition of their complimentary county road map. I know it pegs me as a Luddite, but I prefer navigating the old fashioned way, running my fingers along the roadways on a paper chart.
And speaking of such, Michele and I switched positions in the car so she could drive and I could navigate. Our next destination was the Shaw Wetland, a near 10-acre patch of former cropland that was converted in 1991 to developing wetlands. It abuts the Tri-County Triangle Trail, a well-kept bike trail that connects Washington Court House and Chillicothe. A short boardwalk about 1/3 mile long provides easy access into the shallow wetlands. During our short stroll, we came upon three different varieties of frogs and toads without even looking for them. The small preserve is a treasure trove of diverse flora and fauna.
Continuing south on State Route 753, we turned off just shy of the village of Good Hope so we could visit its cemetery. A tall stand of trees on both sides of the road leads into the graveyard. Among its many residents is David Jones, a Civil War veteran who fought with the 54th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. During Grant’s campaign in Vicksburg, Jones was one of 150 volunteers who stormed the city’s defenses. Even at the time, the mission looked futile and was known as “Forlorn Hope.” The attack did not succeed. Jones, however, succeeded in reaching the defenses of Fort Pemberton, but could not overtake them. He spent all day in the hot sun just four or five feet from an enemy cannon that continued firing all day. He had to wait until dark to make his escape. His pension application says "his head became badly and permanently injured from concussion of cannon fire.” As a result, Jones was awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest military decoration presented by the United States government to a member of its armed forces.
The Medal of Honor was created during the American Civil War and was awarded to 1,522 individuals during that conflict. Of those, 120 were presented to Ohio soldiers and sailors for valor during the campaign to capture Vicksburg, Mississippi.
We returned north up Route 753 to Flakes Ford Road and then roamed our way west across the county to Mark Road. A few light drops of rain began to fall as we approached the Mark Road Bridge, a 103-foot long Pratt through truss bridge that spans Sugar Creek. It was built in 1883 of wrought iron and is just the kind of old bridge that gives Michele the willies, but she was a trooper and got us safely to the other side. We paused long enough for me to walk across it and snap a photo before we continued on our way.
On U.S. Route 62, we drove north back to Washington Court House and made an impromptu stop back at the library. Not only are such institutions important storehouses of knowledge, but they also provide clean restroom facilities for out of town travelers.
We left the city on North Street, also known as Ohio Route 41. At the Jefferson Township line we spotted a mother deer and young spotted fawn near the road, but Michele used her Dr. Doolittle-like mind control to keep them from running into our path.
A bit farther along, we saw two military helicopters flying by us in a northwesterly direction. Our initial reaction was, “What did Trump do now?” but more likely, they were just returning to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in neighboring Greene County.
We eventually arrived at Jeffersonville, a hamlet of just under 1,200 residents. In the center of town is the Jeffersonville Veterans Memorial. The statue of a military cross (A helmet on top of a rifle stuck into a pair of combat boots.) stands across from a smooth black stone etched with the names of over 1,100 local veterans, from the Revolutionary War to the present day.
We followed Ohio Route 734 out of Jeffersonville, driving west to County Road 16. A turn south at that intersection led us to the town of Octa and to Werner’s Smokehouse on Allen Road. What began as a sandwich concession stand at a fair in 1991 is now a favorite local BBQ restaurant. We slid into a booth where I ordered the Sampler, allowing me to fill up on a ¼ rack of baby back ribs, smoked sausage, a hog wing, mac & cheese, and apple sauce. Michele asked for the Pulled Pork Hotshot, a generous portion of pulled pork served over mashed potatoes and gravy. Green beans and corn accompanied the pork. A coupon out of a tourist brochure entitled us to a free dessert, so we split a slice of peanut butter pie. We were so taken with our meal that Michele added to our tab two pints of their spicy BBQ sauce to go.
After our satisfying meal, we proceeded to NOT check out what might be the county’s largest tourist draw. One of the purposes of the county trips is to explore an area and experience its attractions, but Title IV, Section 2, subparagraph 3B of the County Trip Rules specifically forbids patronage of chain-owned establishments, so we passed without stopping at the Tanger Outlets, a mall featuring “a variety of brand-name and designer outlet stores.” Just be aware that such a place exists if you’re in the market for it, but you will not find a review of it here.
We headed back east across the county to the village of Bloomingburg. It’s been around for over two hundred years now, having been laid out in 1815, but is yet to get its population into four figures; 938 residents were tallied in the 2010 census. A big blue bulbous water tower marks its spot in the county. Tradition says the town was named for the many flowers kept in the yards of the townswomen.
On its eastern edge sits Midland Acres, one of the largest horse farms in the state. It began as a small one-man veterinary business by Dr. Don “Doc” Mossbarger in the mid-1960s, but over time, he diversified his venture by breeding Standardbred horses. The farm expanded to over 500 acres and by the mid-1990s, over 700 horses a year were being bred there. My interest in the farm though, had to do with its main building, an 1853 Greek revival-style mansion that served as a stop for runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad.
Our final stop was the Bloomingburg Cemetery, a flat field of grave markers on the southern edge of town next to Ohio Route 238. It’s interesting to note that the small town cemetery marks the final resting place for six soldiers from the American Revolutionary War, nineteen from the War of 1812, and over 100 from the Civil War and Spanish-American War, including that of Henry Casey, another Congressional Medal of Honor recipient who was distinguished for his valor at Vicksburg.
We left Bloomingburg behind and pulled up to the stop sign at Ohio Route 3. Late afternoon traffic had picked up and we had a bit of a wait before an opening allowed us to pull onto the northeastern bound lane. Nine miles later, we were saying goodbye to another Ohio county.
Time spent in the county: 8 hours, 14 minutes
Miles driven in the county: 79 miles