If you have ever traveled First Street in Gallipolis, Ohio, you likely have driven past this sign. It’s outside the Riverside Motel which, as the name promises, is just across the street from the river.
I think it’s darling and always look for it when traveling by. Modern advertising and signs err on the side of boring so cool pieces like this stand out from the pack and are just fun to see.
That is all, friends. I just wanted you to see this creative sign and hope you enjoy it as I do. Have a great day!
Before planes, trains and automobiles dominated the landscape of American travel, the riverboat was a key means of moving people up and down our nation’s rivers.
On Tuesday, I got to spend a couple of hours on a sightseeing cruise aboard the Belle of Cincinnati. While a throwback to a long gone era, this riverboat features modern conveniences including a lunch or dinner buffet, a bar and gift shop.
Every summer, this sightseeing boat leaves its Cincinnati home for a summer cruise tour of historic river towns. They stop in Huntington in West Virginia, Ashland and Maysville in Kentucky and Portsmouth and Gallipolis in Ohio. Sightseeing, lunch and dinner cruises are offered at each city.
I opted for just the sightseeing cruise in Gallipolis Tuesday night. The cost was significantly less than the dinner ticket and seemed the wisest option given that the vegetarian dinner option sounded sketchy. When someone uses a phrase like “vegetarian pasta bake” without description on a menu they typically translates to white pasta covered in cheese. I have become such a skeptic about food that I decided to skip it.
I met a friend at boarding time and we were pleased to learn that we could sit anywhere we liked. So we headed up to the top deck. I am afraid of heights but surprisingly had no trouble sitting there or even climbing the stairs to get up there.
The forecast had been for showers so I came prepared with rain gear that was completely unnecessary. Just before boarding began at 6:30, the sun came out and the sky turned blue, a lovely contrast to the puffy white clouds that made me think the Universe was conspiring to make my life better.
The temperature was in the upper seventies but a steady breeze made it feel much cooler. That breeze gave life to several American flags along the boat’s top deck. A DJ played a vast array of music to please nearly any taste. We heard a lot of country music, some disco and oldies. This encouraged a group of, shall we say, older ladies to get up and dance.
Within two songs, they had cleared a dance floor near the DJ and showed us all their line dancing skills. A couple of songs later, the DJ was up teaching them a new dance. By the end of the night, other employees had jumped in on the fun, at one point leading a conga line through the center of the crowd.
I’m not much of a joiner but people watching is one of my favorite activities and this place was ripe with opportunity.
It was festive and fun!
All the same, I found the changing sky positively captivating and loved how the setting sun illuminated the clouds. The slow, smooth glide of our boat was exactly the relaxing change of pace I needed. It’s unusual to move so slowly you hardly know you’re moving at all. Meanwhile, small speedboats zipped by and even an enormous barge seemed to be moving quite fast.
It was a night to remember.
Their last stop of the summer cruise is today at Maysville, KY. After that, they’ll be headed home for a full schedule of cruises offered by BB Riverboats, the company that owns this and other riverboats.
Want to learn more about the company and book a ride? Click here!
Everyone has a story to tell. Every person living or dead has something valuable to share. It’s those stories that make up the fabric of who we are as people and as a culture. That’s what history is about.
History class teaches us to learn names and dates but memorizing facts isn’t what makes history meaningful. It’s the stories of the people, both the extraordinary and the ordinary, that make our history rich.
Perhaps that’s why I was so taken with the John Gee Black Historical Center in Gallipolis. It’s located in the John Gee African Methodist Episcopal Chapel near downtown.
The church and its builder have entire stories of their own which I will share another day. For today’s purpose, what you need to know is that this lovely old church was transformed into a history center.
Let’s start with some questions.
Have you ever heard of Ohio’s Black Laws? Did you know that blacks once had to register to live in Ohio? Did you know that schools, movie theaters and swimming pools in Ohio were segregated just the same as those in the south? Have you ever heard of blue vein laws?
Have you ever considered the terror that an escaped slave felt when they stood on the shores of the Kanawha River and fled to Ohio in search of freedom? Where did they go? Who helped them?
These are just a few of the things you will learn about when you visit.
I really didn’t know what to expect when I walked through those doors. What I found were two lovely ladies who welcomed me like an old friend.
The walls are lined with glass cases, photos and artifacts. The ladies accompanied me, telling me about John Gee who was considered a respectable black man, a great carpenter and a community minded citizen. What most people didn’t know is that he spent his free time and his own resources aiding folks on the run.
They shared stories about artifacts and gave an overview of what it was like to be a black person in Ohio in the nineteenth century. Ohio was a free state but it wasn’t a welcoming state. In fact, our government made it difficult and expensive for a black person to become established. So they were ok to pass through as long as they didn’t think about staying which is why so many chose Canada as their fresh start destination.
The Center has all kinds of interesting things including an exhibit about the Tuskegee Airmen. This includes the uniform of Major Henry A. Norman, a local gentleman who was a Tuskegee pilot.
See an exhibit on how quilts were used as a means of communication, aiding escaped slaves along their journey to freedom. Learn about education during segregation and about the local Lincoln Colored School.
They have a handwritten letter that verified the freedom of a former slave. This document had clearly been folded and carried, the very lifeline necessary to maintain his freedom.
They also have copies of classified ads from the Gallipolis newspaper in the early nineteenth century. These ads describe escaped slaves much the same as you would describe a lost dog or cat.
As my guides talked, I marveled at the wealth of information before me and at the tone of the conversation. In a world where dividing people because of their politics or race is common, the conversations are often overpowered by emotion rather than fact. I feel overwhelmed by people who spit out their opinions without knowing enough facts to even have an opinion. I am discouraged by people who shrug off the problems in this country today because it happened a long time ago and it wasn’t their fault.
My guides told me stories. Their stories were about the black experience in America and specifically in Ohio over a period of many years. These stories are so different than my own and they are a far cry from what kids learn in history class.
We teach history like it was a long time ago but, the truth is, the Civil War and slavery are not so far removed from us today. They live on through stories and prejudices handed down by our grandparents who heard them from their grandparents. Segregation was a reality for many folks living today as was the Civil Rights movement.
Remnants of these events echo through our country today and we still live with their consequences – both good and bad.
No one made me feel guilty for being white. They made me feel welcome. They were eager to have an audience willing to learn. I was glad to learn about people whose stories have been lost to time or blatantly ignored by textbooks. The history taught here is all our histories.
Other volunteers arrived for a shift change before I left so I got to meet more people. One gentleman recalled a teacher he had in the fifties who referred to black students as “descendants of ex slaves.”
I was incredulous that this is the terminology a teacher would choose. He said she was an older woman at the time. It’s hard to tell what other terrible things she thought and what stories had been handed down to her from parents and grandparents who remembered how things were before the war.
Friends, I learned so much that I can’t begin to share it all here. It’s this kind of learning that excites me and that I think makes us all better citizens of the world. It’s when we consider someone else’s perspective that we truly begin to understand our own.
At one point, I knelt down to study pictures of children in segregated schools and my mind inexplicably wandered back to Virginia where I toured a plantation home in 2020.
That story never made this blog because I was so taken aback that I couldn’t bring myself to write it.
That plantation was built and run by slaves. It wouldn’t have existed without them. Somehow, our tour guide managed to show us around almost the entire home without mentioning the slave experience. It wasn’t until we reached the kitchen that he told us about the slave woman who raised a dozen or more children while cooking for the family and everyone who lived here.
The guide spoke for a few minutes about what it was like to run such a kitchen. Then he clapped his hands together and exclaimed “but no one came here to talk about slavery” before ushering us out the door.
I was too appalled at the time to even know what to say because I did visit that plantation to hear about slavery. Why else would you go to a plantation? Of all places, that historic site has an opportunity to start a productive dialog about things that are challenging to discuss in normal daily life.
These conversations can be uncomfortable but the folks at the John Gee Black Historical Center illustrate just how meaningful it can be when we have them.
As a personal favor to me, walk through those doors and listen. Look around. Learn. Make friends. The world would be a better place if we could normalize learning from one another.
I adored these people and this place and hope to go back another day. I had so many questions that I didn’t get around to asking or couldn’t quite verbalize at the time. Plus, I heard and saw more than I could absorb in a day.
Meanwhile, you can find them on Facebook and visit their website. Rest assured, I’ll write more about this place. They are typically open on Friday and Saturday but check their Facebook page to make sure they are open the day you plan to go. Admission is free but I encourage you to drop a few bucks in their donation box.
A person stocking shelves in the grocery store recently asked me how I was doing. When I said I was doing well she remarked how nice it is to talk to someone having a good day.
My response to that was you can either have a good day or a bad one and a bad day isn’t fun at all. A nearby shopper chimed in that there is always something to be grateful for and a reason to smile.
It’s sometimes difficult to remember these lessons and life often throws us circumstances that make it hard to practice what I preach.
At least we can try.
The weatherman is calling for rain today and I’m using that as an excuse to stay in and rest. Later today I’ll bake cookies and have a Christmas movie marathon with my parents. We will eat too many cookies and watch movies we’ve seen thirty times but it’s exactly the kind of day I need.
Whatever you do, wherever you are, I hope you’ll try to have a good one. Remember, it’s a good day to have a good day.
Gallipolis, Ohio knows how to celebrate Christmas. Volunteers unite each fall to decorate the city park in their historic downtown, creating a picture perfect place to celebrate the holidays.
This year, it is bigger and better than ever. I picked up my parents last night and we ventured down to see for ourselves just how much it has grown.
You can park and walk through or just drive around the square. Santa visits with the kiddies at his house some nights and local churches are there on peak days with hot chocolate and live nativities. We missed these things, purposefully going on an off peak night when it would be less crowded.
It was still busy and festive and I thoroughly enjoyed my stroll through. If I lived in town I would be there every night absorbing the joyful music and warmth of the lights.
Gallipolis in Lights is open dusk to dawn through January 2. Catch it while you can!
Also, stop by the Make the Journey Fun Facebook page to see a video of my favorite spot at this event!
I snuck away last night and went for a drive to see Christmas lights.
It was a completely unscripted trip but I have been struggling to show any interest in the holidays and thought it would be good for me.
There’s a big walk through light display in the Gallipolis City Park that seemed like a good place to find my Christmas spirit. It’s significantly smaller than normal this year thanks to Covid – but it’s still quite nice especially since it’s free and so is the parking.
I arrived at dark and there were only a handful of people present. They do require social distancing and masks and the place is so large it was easy to steer clear of the few other people who arrived during my visit.
While driving around, I noticed a lot more houses than normal are decorated this year. I’m guessing people had more free time than normal and a desire to brighten the season.
This is another instance where it felt incredibly normal to simply sip hot chocolate and admire the pretty lights.
It seems I’m easy to please and I’m ok with that. The only way I could have been happier is if it were snowing but it was freezing cold and I got to wear my festive red cloche hat so that was nice.