Alley Views

Yesterday blogger Jim Grey shared some terrific photos of alley views. I mentioned to him that I like alleys for a couple of reasons.

Sure, they tend to be dingy and contain dumpsters and junk. Plus, it’s best not to go venturing down one where you might encounter danger. But just step a few feet inside an alley and look around you.

First of all, you can watch people go by and they rarely even know you’re there. As a lifelong people watcher this is a pretty neat vantage point because you just catch a glimpse as they go by and you have to be quick with your assessment. It also illustrates how little most people observe about the world around them. They don’t look up or down and certainly not to the side or back. Most human beings are are full steam ahead to whatever is before them.

What a pity that is. Personally, I find the most interesting things simply by looking around.

More importantly, alleys often frame the world in a way you wouldn’t have thought to do on your own. This is the Lawrence County Courthouse in Ironton, Ohio.

There’s a lot of visual clutter here but I still like the way the dome is framed. If you want to be philosophical about it, this image also illustrates the grime and the utilitarian stuff that lurks in the shadows of our halls of justice and politics.

Plus, you occasionally find something truly beautiful and unexpected like Umbrella Alley in Lancaster. I think the umbrellas are gone now but I was glad to see them a few years ago.

Rapid City, South Dakota turned some of their downtown alleys into a canvas for street art like this scene.

The humble alley can be grungy and gross but there’s great potential for creativity and found treasures as well. You just have to pay attention and train your brain to seek the unexpected.

Be sure to check out Jim’s blog. He has been influential in my own blogging journey and writes one of my favorite blogs.

Lawrence County Courthouse

The Lawrence County Courthouse is an imposing building in Ironton, Ohio. Like most river towns, Ironton is home to some varied and interesting architecture. This courthouse stands out beautifully in the heart of this old town amidst many interesting old buildings .

It was completed in 1908 after fire destroyed the old courthouse. The three story cut stone structure is in a striking Neoclassical style. The dome is extraordinary.

It took two years and $150,000 to build this courthouse.

It appears that an annex added on to the back in 1978 must have doubled their space.

There are a couple of noteworthy things on the grounds. My favorite of these is a replica of the Statue of Liberty that was donated by the Boy Scouts in 1951.

There’s also a replica of an iron furnace like those that once dotted the landscape here in southern Ohio. Much of southern Ohio was known as the Hanging Rock Iron Region which was the leading producer of pig iron and charcoal during the nineteenth century.

You’ll also find a pair of howitzer canons because nothing says welcome to our courthouse like a couple of canons.

If you like public buildings or courthouses in particular, this one is well worth a visit when you’re in the area.

First Presbyterian Church of Ironton

One of the truly magnificent things about wandering this earth the way I do is that I often meet people by chance and see unexpected wonders.

Saturday morning found me meandering down Rt. 93 into Lawrence County where I soaked in the autumn weather, occasionally doubling back to grab a picture here and there. When I finally reached downtown Ironton, I parked near the county courthouse and set about enjoying the architecture.

One of the best qualities of an old river town is the variety of architectural styles and Ironton is quite nice in this regard.

From the corner of Fifth and Center streets, you can see several historic churches. It is a beautiful vantage point. The most notable and fascinating of these is a block down and looks like something from nineteenth century England.

It is a substantial, magnificent building with a tower that soars high above the street. I walked down Fifth Street for a closer look and to learn that it is the First Presbyterian Church.

I snapped a few photos, admiring the clock tower and imagining what the stained glass windows must look like from inside on a sunny day. A church history flier indicates that the architecture of this building is so unusual that the only other church like it in America is in Bedford, Massachusetts.

As I turned to walk away, I encountered a man on the sidewalk. We smiled at each other and I mentioned how beautiful the church is. He smiled even bigger and asked if I would like to see inside.

When I responded that I would love to if he had the time, he said that he would make the time. My new friend was Pastor Carson Hunt. He seemed like a genuinely nice man who is quick to invite strangers to become visitors and visitors to become members. He seemed happy to tell me about the history, pleased to point out special details and glad to share about some recent improvement projects.

Please understand that my adventure days are nearly always Saturdays and finding a church unlocked on a Saturday is rare. That means I seldom get to see inside. The simple offer to go in was a real treat but Pastor Carson didn’t just let me come inside. He turned on the lights and played some music so I could appreciate the acoustics. I wandered around at my leisure as he shared some of the history.

It was one of those rare experiences that made my day truly special.

The congregation dates back to the founding of Ironton in the middle of the nineteenth century. When the city was laid out, the proprietors of Iron and Coal Company gave one lot to every church organized in the city limits. This explains why there are so many historic churches in close proximity.

Hiram Campbell was a local businessman and played an important role in the history of the First Presbyterian Church. Pastor Carson explained that Mr Campbell donated the church’s principal stained glass window in memory of his brother John, the city’s founder. Located in the south gable, it features four distinct scenes that tell the story of John Campbell who died while a missionary in Africa. One panel depicts his missionary work while another panel shows a ship on the high seas. A third shows an open Bible and the final panel shows a cross and crown.

It’s stunning.

This is one of those churches that feels ornate but simple, fancy but comfortable, reverent but welcoming. There’s something really special about this place and I was incredibly grateful for the peak inside.

Like most congregations across the country, they are struggling to grow despite outreach attempts. But he said they are still holding their own and he is grateful for each and every one of their members.

He and some other gentlemen were working Saturday. He mentioned fresh paint on the doors and a new hot water heater as well as a number of ongoing projects that made me think this magnificent old church is fortunate to have some attentive caretakers.

This made me happy.

Pastor Carson invited me to visit anytime and I am certain he would want me to invite all of you as well. If you’re looking for a new church home or simply somewhere to visit, you will be welcomed with open arms. Be sure to stay for donuts and fellowship after Sunday service.

They take part in a historic church tour organized by the historical society every December. This would provide you with opportunity to see inside several of these historic churches.

Want more information? You can find them on Facebook.