Union Hall Theater

aaa union hall

This weekend I got to see a live performance at Union Hall Theater in Chesterhill. I mentioned it yesterday but wanted to give it some attention of its own.

I was there once, one hot summer day, when my Aunt Janice took me inside. She worked in the Kate Love Simpson Morgan County Library, which inhabits the first floor, and had access to the second floor theater.

This place felt like a time capsule. It seemed as though they turned off the lights after a show and just walked away. At the time, there was talk of someone trying to reopen the theater but I don’t recall there being a real plan. I sat in the balcony and swore that if it ever reopened I would return for a performance.


It was built in 1908 and hosted all sorts of live performances over the years. When movies came into vogue, they began showing films too. I don’t know much else about the place but there is a non-profit organization working to revive it.

Make no mistake. This theater has not been restored. Some of the tin ceiling tiles show damage and the floors are worn from use. But it’s clean and all those signs of wear lend character. It’s not a fancy space like some theaters of that period. That may be one reason I like it so well. There is a sparseness, a simplicity that makes all of the details that much more beautiful. I suppose that is appropriate since the town was founded by Quakers.

I don’t know what plans are in the works but I really hope they don’t change the feel of the place. It feels at once old and timeless, plain and yet special. It is special and I hope to go back again someday.  If I lived closer I would volunteer to help with their PR or something else useful but I’m a little too far away to be helpful.

Want to learn more? Here’s their website. You can also follow them on Facebook. I imagine they would be happy to receive monetary donations and would be thrilled to see your smiling face in a seat for a show someday.




A Serendipitous Journey

Do you believe in serendipity? Coincidence? A higher power?

The last few weeks have felt as though there is a plan or a schematic of some kind that I just don’t see or understand. I won’t bore you with the details but it seems like every choice I have made recently has brought me to a juncture where I didn’t know I needed to be.

Here’s a part of that story.

On a whim, I decided to venture over to Chesterhill to see the Blues Cowboys perform. They play a lot in the area and I know the bandleader but just can’t seem to make a local show.  If you haven’t seen them, you really should because they’re fabulous. They were playing at Union Hall Theater which had been closed and neglected for many years but is now hosting live performances.

I once sat in that beautiful but empty theater and swore that if it ever reopened I would return someday to see a show. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to fulfill that goal and to see my pal and his band. I’ll tell you more about the theater later this week.

This is my mother’s old stomping grounds and she went along hoping to see some people from her past. That didn’t really go as planned, until the end of the day, that is.

Our first stop was Big Bottom Memorial Park which I wrote about here. Then it was back to Stockport to a little place called Riviera. It sits right on the river and has great pizza and service.

Next we visited a pretty little country church that I fell in love with. My mother had suggested a couple of other places to see but, at the last minute, I pulled over here at a spot-in-the-road called Todds. Friends will tell you that I have an odd fascination with churches and cemeteries. Don’t ask, I can’t explain it. I’m sort of a heathen so it’s probably weirder than I know.

We were preparing to leave when I heard a kitten in distress. Being a cat person who badly wants to have a cat again, this was almost too much to handle. It was under the handicap ramp and I could not coax it out. It sounded like it was alone and we didn’t know if it was trapped or hurt or just waiting for its mama to come back. We had no way to get it out and didn’t know what we would do with it if we did.

Soooo, I left a note on the door for Sunday morning worshipers to find the next day and we agreed to look for someone out working in their yard who might be willing to go attend to the very distressed little one at the church. Yes. We are those people.

Wouldn’t you know that we didn’t see a living soul anywhere? Just as we had given up, my mother spotted a sheriff’s cruiser sitting in a driveway. So she marched up to the front door and introduced herself to the bewildered man of the house who agreed to go rescue the kitten. During this conversation, she learned he was the son of a girl she grew up with.

What are the odds that we would stop at that church or that we would choose that road with the deputy, the child of an old friend, who would actually follow through and go for the cat?

We continued on our journey, making a few more stops along the way.

I wanted to photograph my grandfather’s church. He built that church and pastored it many years ago and I really wanted some pictures. I thought about stopping on my way through town the first time and contemplated stopping before the concert but ultimately decided to wait.

I was glad that I waited.


While we were there, a truck pulled up and a man climbed out. He was my mother’s childhood friend. More exactly, the older brother of a childhood friend. He remembered her and the entire family and he had keys to the church. We got to go inside!

He said that he almost didn’t stop that night but he decided to drop off some things for morning and he was happy to have Reverend Wogan’s daughter come inside.

My mother described it as “coming home.” The church has been lovingly preserved and even the artwork on the walls is the same as when she was young. This gentleman played the organ for us and told of how he learned to play years ago because the church needed someone to do it. My mother played a little on the piano and I snapped pictures.

The rest of the day was great. The roadtrip, the music, people and food – but this encounter made it all worthwhile.

On the way home, we stopped in Amesville where her family lived and where my grandpa owned a hardware store.  Flood waters all but destroyed part of that town over time and there is now a park where the hardware once stood. The place where they lived is just a field and the bus garage where her father labored to support his family is a parking lot. He’s been on our minds a lot this month as we just observed the anniversary of his passing.

But it wasn’t really sad. The Fireman’s Festival was underway – a community celebration complete with live music, bingo, kiddie games and food, brought the street to life. Strains of “Coal Miner’s Daughter” could be heard throughout the small town and seemed appropriate given the sentimental journey we were on that day.

We were poor but we had love
That’s the one thing that daddy made sure . . .

Well a lot of things have changed since a way back then
And it’s so good to be back home again

So much has happened this week. There have been times that I intended to go left but went right. Left late, arrived early, chose to engage in a conversation that I might normally avoid. As a result I have found myself in unusual conversations with unexpected people and in places that I never thought I would go. I even played a part in rescuing a distressed kitten. Whether you call it serendipity, chance or Divine Intervention – it has been an unusual time in my life and one I won’t soon forget.

Where will it all lead? What does it all mean? I guess that’s part of the adventure. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Ohio Passport: Big Bottom Memorial Park

d17Yesterday I began my Ohio History Connection Passport journey. In case you missed it, I wrote about this project a few days ago and you can read all about it here. This weekend’s stop was at Big Bottom Memorial Park in Morgan County. This was the site of a 1791 attack on settlers by American Indians. It marked the beginning of four years of warfare in the Ohio territory.

This is a beautiful park on the banks of the Muskingum River. Enormous old trees provide shade and all sorts of birds are prolific here. You’ll find a historic marker, a small monument and a large park area with some picnic tables for relaxing.

This isn’t a site I would go out of my way to visit. I happened to be visiting the area and had time to swing by for my passport project. However, it is a super place to picnic and it wouldn’t be too far down to Marietta to visit the Campus Martius Museum and other sites like Blennerhasset Island in West Virginia.

There isn’t a lot to see or do here but I have to say – it feels like hallowed ground. It felt important that I be there and know what happened. I suppose this is what the passport project is all about.

Passport To History

37537828_10208907867332354_3289808364481019904_nSomeone at work told me today that I always find the neatest things to do. It’s true that I keep myself busy and that I have been doing some interesting things.

Truth be told, I am always on the hunt for an event or concert or fun thing to see or do. I actively search the tourism websites for nearby counties and periodically check out regional theaters and museums. I also keep a running list of possible activities and events to choose from. Winter is a harder time to stay active but warm weather in Ohio presents a whole host of things to do and I’m finding there isn’t enough free time or spending money to do everything I wish most weekends.

If you’re a history buff, you might be interested to know about the passport created by Ohio History Connection. I think this group used to be called the Ohio Historical Society but they’ve done some rebranding to present themselves as young and fresh. One result is the passport and map pictured above.

Ohio History Connection operates 58 historic sites and museums in forty Ohio counties. I wrote about Adena Mansion and Gardens a couple of weeks ago and have been to several others but there are quite a few I never heard of until getting the passport.

37386787_10208907936054072_2462480067066855424_nThe passport is broken down by regions with a page dedicated to each site. There’s a photo, description, and line to record when you visited. There’s also a place to have the page stamped by site operators or to answer a question at the sites that are not staffed.

It comes with a checklist and a fold out map to help you visualize each site around the state.

Like I said, I’ve been to a lot of the sites but I’m going to play along, revisit sites, and fill up my passport. In fact, I’m kind of excited about visiting a few places again and super excited to see others that I’m not familiar with.

Many are just monuments with an interesting story. Some are truly great attractions to visit like the U.S. Grant Boyhood Home, the Harriett Beecher Stowe House and the Warren G. Harding home. Campus Martius Museum down in Marietta is wonderful too.

Some are not quite so exciting. Monuments with markers that tell great stories aren’t as exciting as a guided tour of Adena but that’s okay too, especially if you’re doing something else in the area or just out for a Sunday drive. Do people even still take Sunday drives? It seems like folks are always in a hurry to get somewhere and not necessarily in the market for a trip with no destination. But I digress. . .

If you’re in the market to do the passport, you can learn all about it here.

In my experience, some of the best days I’ve had have been out exploring places I haven’t been and learning about things that I didn’t think I would care about at all. Checklists and passports are a fun way to expand your horizons and to explore places that wouldn’t ordinarily be on your radar.

Night Comes To The Cumberlands

In college, I took a class on the political science of Appalachia. Required reading for the course was Harry M. Caudill’s “Night Comes To The Cumberlands.” First published in 1962, it’s a raw look at this impoverished area. I come from Appalachian Ohio and once worked in tourism, an industry attempting to rebrand the region as a destination for beauty and traditional arts. The tourism folks of Appalachia are working hard to ditch the images of poverty that most Americans associate with the area.  I’m going to go out on a limb and say that these folks wouldn’t care much for Mr. Caudill’s book.

My father has worked in the timber industry for his entire life as did his father before him and his grandfather. It’s prevalent in my neck of the woods and I wouldn’t be where I am today if not for timber. In fact, I might not have made it to college to read this book if not for my hard working father and his work in timber.

Perhaps that’s why this particular passage not only caught my eye but has very much been a part of me since my 21 year old self encountered it all those years ago. I love nature and the personification of the tree is something I will carry for the rest of my days. I hope you are as moved by it as I was the first time I read it.

“Huge cuts were made on the trunk with the keen, long-handled axes. Generally two men faced each other on opposite sides of the huge column and swung their double-bitted axes in a measured tempo which filled the air with flying chips and caused the assaulted giant to lean in the direction of their cut. When approximately one third of the trunk had been chopped away, the axes were laid aside and a long cross-cut saw was laid to the opposite side. For an hour or two the droning teeth gnawed their way into the vitals of the centuries-old titan. Suddenly, when the unsevered wood was only inches thick, the dying monster swayed and crashed to the earth.  Its descent was terrific, its ancient branches tearing a mighty swath through lesser timber on the hillside below. The mountains and valleys echoed and re-echoed the thunder of its fall. Wild creatures fled the area in fright; then, a moment later, the thunder was replaced by a curious stillness as though the forest and all its creatures had paused to mourn the passing of one of its patriarchs.”