Category Archives: history

Welcome to the Center of the Universe

Center of the Universe, Wallace ID

Looking east on Bank St., Wallace, ID.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I never met Ron Garitone, the late mayor of Wallace, Idaho. I’m sure I would have liked him if only based on one creative decision he made for his small mining and timber town located in Idaho’s panhandle.

Pushed on an environmental issue by the EPA in 2004, the mayor was told, “If a thing cannot be disproven, it is thereby proven.” The incredulous but affable mayor called the government’s bluff. He proclaimed his beloved Wallace the Center of the Universe because his claim could not be disproven, he said. His proclamation gained international attention. Wise town leaders seized on the idea and installed a fancy manhole cover that doubles as a marker in the middle of the main intersection declaring Wallace as the center of the universe. Blue and white tourist signs mark the spot.

Wallace ID, humor

The proof is in the manhole cover.

As I stood there admiring the designation with no fear of the typically light traffic, I flashed back to my early Holmes County, Ohio days. Impressed with its rural location and horse and buggy prominence, people who visited us, including several of my family members, asked me why we lived there. I had a ready answer for them.

“We live here because Holmes County is the center of the universe.” That usually brought puzzling, blank looks. So I’d clarify. “If I want to see anything else in the world, I have to leave here.”

I was joking of course, much like the good-humored mayor. However, there was a grain of truth to the statement. Rural counties universally can’t offer all that their citizens need. Folks travel to more urban areas for entertainment, sporting events, doctors, shopping, and fine dining to name just a few.

Sometimes everyday items can’t even be bought in the heart of Ohio’s Amish country. Specifically, it’s a fact that neither gasoline or alcohol can be purchased in either Saltcreek, Holmes County or Salt Creek, Wayne County. That point carries far beyond those two commodities.

colorful leaves, Holmes Co. OH

Autumn in Ohio’s Amish Country.

Nevertheless, the faithful residences of the greater Holmes County area still love where they live. In my nearly seven decades of living, I’ve found that most folks feel the same way about where they reside no matter where they call home. Home is home. It’s all they need, sometimes all they know. As far as they are concerned, it is indeed the center of their universe.

If we all feel that way, we can’t all be right. The truth is we all have bragging rights to that claim. Each of us is entitled to make that statement. But that does not diminish the other towns or peoples.

I know that is true from having lived all of my adult life in Holmes County, Ohio, where I spent my most precious and productive years. To me, it was the center of the universe. It must have been. It attracted three to four million visitors a year.

Now my view has changed, right along with my life’s purpose and priorities. I have a new center of the universe from which to operate. I can see it every time I walk to the mailbox, every time I travel down Pin Oak Dr. Mole Hill greets me, calls me, as it does so many others.

Mole Hill is an ancient volcano now covered with dense woodlots, lovely homes, and fertile farm fields. Mole Hill is simply unmistakable and is the landmark by which all folks within its eyeshot navigate. In western Rockingham County, Virginia, Mole Hill is the center of the universe. I dare you to prove otherwise.

center of the universe, Rockingham Co. VA

Mole Hill, Rockingham Co., VA.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under architectural photography, column, family, history, human interest, nature photography, Ohio, Ohio's Amish country, photography, rural life, Shenandoah Valley, travel, Virginia, writing

Sanctuary!

DC 3, keeping cool, shade

Sanctuary!

Record-breaking heat has affected Americans all across the United States this late summer and early autumn seasons. Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley was no exception. The shadow of the left wing of a restored and fully functioning DC 3 airplane brought at least temporary relief from the hot sun for this mother and her young daughter attending a recent air show near Bridgewater, Virginia. In the shade of the hanger in the photo’s background is the first Air Force One, Columbine II, used by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

“Sanctuary!” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Fun names just make a lot of sense

Mole Hill, Rockingham Co. VA

Mole Hill sunset.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I’ll admit that I wasn’t too happy when Holmes County, Ohio decided to number their highways instead of using names. That occurred when the house numbering system was employed decades ago.

I maintained then and now that people remember names much better than numbers. Plus, local residents already referred to many of the rural roads by using a name. If you said French Ridge Road, Weaver Ridge Road, Cherry Ridge Road, Number Ten Road, Goose Bottom Road or the Charm Road, most folks knew where you were talking about. Even today when you throw out a number, you often get blank looks.

My logic fell on deaf ears of county officials. Instead of those practical and appropriate names, the good folks and businesses of Holmes County got stuck with numbered roadways. But if a stranger asked a local for directions to see the cabin built on a rock, they’d probably be told to turn off of Dundee Road onto Trail Bottom Road.

I was delighted to see that names triumphed over numbers in our new home in Rockingham County, Virginia. The roads are also numbered, but their names prevail. Only numbers identify the main routes like I – 81, US 33, and State Route 42. The rest use the beautifully colloquial names that make perfect sense.

rural road names, road names

This way to Sparkling Springs.

Wonderful names you couldn’t invent don street corner signposts. They’re practical and memorable, which is what a road name should be. Keezletown Road leads to Keezletown. Silver Lake Road begins at Silver Lake near Dayton. Sparkling Springs Road dead ends into Sparkling Springs. See what I mean?

I feel like I’ve landed in Utopia. Even if you’ve never been to Rockingham County, Virginia, you probably can figure out what business is on Harness Shop Road. Singers Glen Road runs right through Singers Glen. And the village got its name because of people singing in a glen. That’s about as practical as it gets.

rural road names, rural roads

Harness Shop Rd.

Mole Hill Road only takes you to one place, Mole Hill. It’s a well-known landmark that predates human history. Whether going east or traveling west on Mt. Clinton Pike, you are sure to drive through the quaint village of Mt. Clinton.

Even the parks say what they mean. Natural Chimneys State Park is home to an ancient sedimentary rock formation that highly resembles chimneys. Many even have an opening like a hearth at their base. And the road that leads you to the park? Why Natural Chimney Lane of course.

There’s also Whitmore Shop Road, Muddy Creek Road that parallels Muddy Creek, and Fog Hollow Road. No guessing where that goes. There used to be a mill on Wengers Mill Road. And yes, the view on Majestic View Road is majestic.

Now some places are intriguing but leave me wondering just how they got their names. Briery Branch, Ottobine, Clover Hill, Penn Laird, and Cross Keys are some examples. In time, I’ll likely find the answers.

It’s just that having lived in Holmes County all of my adult life, I know towns and valleys and ridges are similarly named. Killbuck, Glenmont, Nashville, Beck’s Mills, Farmerstown, and Limpytown would be a start. Spook Hollow, Panther Hollow, Shrimplin Run, and Calmoutier each have their own particular piece of Holmes County folklore.

Roads and towns with names that recall historical times are both fun and fascinating. In a way, they help solidify a sense of community. People can identify with them. Names like that connect the past with the present. That’s something a number simply can’t do.

rural road signs

The majestic view.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Filed under column, history, human interest, Ohio, photography, rural life, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, writing

Compassion and empathy in the U.S. Constitution?

By Bruce Stambaugh

Empathy and compassion are two admirable human qualities that seem to be in short supply in today’s politically polarized world. Each one of us can change that tone if we try.

Declaration of Independence, U.S. ConstitutionAs the Independence Day holiday approaches each year, I reread the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. This time I mainly focused on the First Amendment. Here’s what it says.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

When written, the freedoms of religion, speech, assembly, and petition were paramount to the effectiveness of not only the Constitution but to the life of the young Republic itself. That is why they are listed first.

In that straightforward paragraph is the recipe for freedom for the country’s population without hindrance from the government, as the founders and the people they represented had personally endured. They remembered too well the frustration of pleasing a king and conforming to a state-endorsed religion. Here, all were, are, and should be free to practice their religion or no religion, speak openly, gather freely, and petition their leaders unhindered by any authorities.

I see more than several sacred freedoms listed in these hallowed and cherished documents. I detect both empathy and compassion intentionally interwoven into the tapestry of documents that formed our great country.

Empathy is a teachable tool for compassion. If I am to be tolerant of others despite obvious differences, I have to listen to what their priorities, requests, and suggestions are. In that manner, I learn to be empathetic towards others no matter how I personally feel about the issue.

Mind you, I’m no expert on American history, the Constitution, or even empathy and compassion for that matter. I’m sharing from the viewpoint of my own personal experiences, both in receiving and giving of those two admirable traits. No more. No less.

national symbol, bald eagle

Our national emblem.

The Founding Fathers knew that this budding nation needed structure so that all who entered its borders would be treated equally. That concept wasn’t entirely accurate when the Constitution was written. Permitting slavery was an obvious exception. That’s why we have amendments, to change with the times, and like it or not, the times always bring change. Witness the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery after the Civil War.

The Founding Fathers devised our government with three separate but equal branches. The President and his appointees comprise the Executive Branch. Congress is the Legislative or law-making division. The Supreme Court is the third element of the federal government, the Judicial Branch.

hiking trail, Virginia

What path will we take?

None of the three branches has any more power over the other two branches of government. Historically, their influences tip, like a farmer milking on a three-legged stool. But when the job is finished, the stool returns to balance. That is by design.

As our country and its citizenry again approach this Fourth of July holiday in celebration of being a free democratic republic, we have important questions to answer. Can we, will we honor the wishes of our Founding Fathers by actively and intentionally living out the ideal they created? Can we be compassionate and empathetic to all persons we meet?

How we express our freedoms individually will shape the path and tenor collectively that this great nation takes. The question at hand today is this: Will compassion and empathy continue to be the thread that connects these precious First Amendment rights?

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Virginia House

Orkney Springs VA, VA resort

Virginia House.

I came upon this incredible building on a recent foray into the Virginia countryside exploring with my wife and another couple. I had seen it on Google Earth. It wasn’t until I stood in front of this historic hotel that I could fully appreciate its beauty and grandeur.

The Virginia House is the main building of the Orkney Springs Hotel complex. Built between 1873 and 1876, the Virginia House is on the National Registry of Historic Places. To say it is impressive would be an understatement.

The hotel was built around natural mineral springs that were first frequented by Native Americans. The resort is owned and operated by the Episcopal Dioceses of Virginia. The church uses it for retreats, but it is also open to the public.

Given its setting and beautiful architecture, the Virginia House would be a perfect place to relax and enjoy nature.

“Virginia House” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Leadership models are still needed today

bald eagle

Our iconic national symbol.

By Bruce Stambaugh

As a child, I liked February for very practical reasons. The shortest month of the year offered three celebrations, Valentines Day, Lincoln’s birthday, and Washington’s Birthday all in the space of 10 days.

Feb. 12, 14, and 22 were all important dates for us elementary scholars 60 years ago. Madison Avenue marketing gurus had yet to invent, and politicians endorse Presidents Day. Valentines Day was the favorite of the students of course.

George Washington

George Washington.

With their imposing portraits hanging in each classroom, the first president and the 16th clearly carried more importance. As primary school children, we were taught to admire and imitate the values those two distinguished leaders modeled so magnanimously.

Of course, much of what we learned then was more lore than fact. The stories weren’t even alternative facts. The young lives of these two critical leaders had become romanticized over time.

Washington and Lincoln both revered honesty. Washington’s “I cannot tell a lie” cherry tree story lingers like a fairy tale. Lincoln prided himself on honesty, too. His presidential campaign slogan was simply “Honest Abe.”

Washington was and is admired for his stalwart, steady, stable leadership in tumultuous, tenuous times of our young country. Lincoln, of course, perilously held the country together during its darkest hours, the Civil War.

In the late 1960s, the federal holidays were legislated to fall on Mondays creating long weekends for employees and mega marketing sales campaigns for retailers of every kind. Consequently, Washington’s Birthday was moved to the third Monday in Feb. That means his Feb. 22 birthdate can never be celebrated on the actual birthday.

Abe Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln.

The dynamic leadership of Washington and Lincoln both formed and saved our country. Each man cast aside personal time and gains for the country’s common good. They were humble, honest leaders who enabled our nation to reach far beyond anything they could have imagined.

Clearly, there was much more to George Washington than repenting from chopping down a cherry tree or having wooden teeth. He was a resolute military and civilian leader whose personal stability laid the foundation for the United States of America. He rightly earned “The Father of Our Country” mantra.

Lincoln was perhaps a more complex figure, and viewed differently, depending on which part of the country you lived in and what individuals believed at the time and believe now. Some states still don’t honor Lincoln’s birthday.

Nevertheless, it was Lincoln’s absolute resolve and courage that saw our divided nation bend but not break. In the end, his steadfast pronouncements cost him his life. Though he was known to ponder and doubt, he never wavered from the way the united country should go.

Though he would have rather been back on the farm at Mt. Vernon, Washington fulfilled his leadership calling. But he was not arrogant in thinking he could lead alone. Washington valued the opinion of others and collaborated with Hamilton, Madison, and Jefferson to name a few, men whose viewpoints often differed with his.

Lincoln’s eloquent Gettysburg Address perfectly summed up his attitude and approach to the vision of how the country should and must operate to survive. His famous words are emblazoned on our national soul: “That government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Both presidents modeled righteousness and humility through their values, principles, and character. Those are still valid, desired characteristics for all citizenry, and especially for today’s leaders.

wheat shocks, grain fields

Amber fields of grain.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Read all the news that wasn’t in 2016

foggy sunrise

A foggy start to a foggy year.

By Bruce Stambaugh

This was another year filled with daily doings of drama, dopiness, and downright dismay. Likely due to all the year’s politicking, here are few that failed to make the headlines in 2016.

January 3 – Police in Gladwin Co., Michigan, investigated a hit and run car-buggy accident where the buggy ran over the car, and then took off after the horse spooked.

January 9 – The Downtown Soup Kitchen in Anchorage, Alaska served “Bullwinkle’s chili” for lunch when someone donated a road-killed moose.

February 3 – A research study found that residents of Oregon were the fastest talkers in the U.S, while folks in Mississippi spoke the slowest.

February 12 – Girl Scouts set up outside a San Francisco marijuana dispensary and sold 117 boxes of cookies.

March 4 – Because of another unusually warm winter, Alaska had to import 350 cubic yards of snow to start the annual Iditarod dog sled race.

March 16 – A report said Ohio had 1,300 farms with at least a century of family ownership.

April 26 – A man who stole a woman’s purse in Washington, D.C. was arrested after he jumped the fence at the White House to avoid police.

May 6 – The Social Security Administration announced that for the second year in a row, Emma and Noah were the most popular names in the U.S. for girls and boys.

May 25 – Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the U.S., reached a record low of being only 37 percent full, according to the Bureau of Reclamation.

June 8 – A Vermont newspaper, the Hardwick Gazette, announced an essay contest with the winner becoming the owner of the paper.

June 14 – A Chinese national was fined $1,000 for leaving the walkway, stepping on the fragile travertine crust, and collecting thermal water at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park.

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July 7 – Scientists in Iceland painted a long stretch of asphalt bright colors to discourage Artic Terns from frequenting the highway that provided warmth and camouflage to them.

July 30 – Daredevil skydiver Luke Aikins, 42, jumped 25,000 ft. without a parachute into a net in Simi Valley, California for a new world’s record.

August 7 – Four men with knives accosted the head of security for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro as he left the opening ceremonies.

September 8 – The Daldykan River in Russia turned blood red after passing a nickel mine and a metallurgical plant.

September 12 – The Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York reported that August continued a streak of 11 consecutive months that set new monthly record high temperatures.

October 1 – Having survived both World Wars and the Auschwitz concentration camp, Yisrael Kristal, 113, finally celebrated his bar mitzvah in southern Israel.

October 18 – A 52 – year-old Youngstown, Ohio man reported to police that at 5 a.m. a woman robbed him of his pants and underwear, but not his wallet or cell phone.

November 8 – The website WorldWideWebSize.com reported that there were at least 4.75 billion Internet pages.

November 27 – A group called Cards Against Humanity convinced thousands of people to donate more than $100,000 to pointlessly dig a hole in the ground, dubbed the Holiday Hole, over the period of several days as a Black Friday spoof.

December 4 – A Florida woman wandered for 12 hours in a park after taking a wrong turn in a half-marathon in Venice, Florida.

So there you have it. As you can see, the presidential election wasn’t the only silliness on the planet. Let’s all hope for a better 2017.

Mystical sunset on a mystical year.

Mystical sunset on a mystical year.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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Inspired by the paradox of Christmas

stockings hung by fireplace

Ready for Christmas.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Make no mistake. The celebration of Christmas is a paradox. It always has been, and likely always will be.

I sensed that conundrum even as a child. Amid all of the glitz and glamor, the singing and shopping, all was not right with the world. Even in my limited adolescent life encounters, I saw extravagance and excess rub shoulders with poverty and despair.

As a young person, I had trouble reconciling such diametrically opposed situations. That didn’t prevent me from tearing into my presents, emptying my bulging stocking hanging by the fireplace, or enjoying the scrumptious meal our devoted mother had fixed.

We celebrated the season of sharing at elementary school, too. Before the classroom party, we often made simple decorations that I later volunteered to deliver to a local nursing home.

I’m not sure how much cheer the painted plaster ornaments or the looping strands of colorful paper chains gave the residents lying helpless in those hospital beds. The scene certainly left an indelible imprint on my young mind and soul.

rural church

Old church.

I took seriously the Christmas message of a different kind of king ruling my life. Growing up in the shadows of World War II and in the daily doings of the Cold War, I felt the chill of unsettled political consequences. I didn’t pretend to understand them.

I just knew my heart, mind, and soul were open to something better, more meaningful, more fulfilling to not only me but also those I encountered. The Christmas story awakened in me as it did the shepherds eons ago.

As I grew and more fully understood that precious bit of history mixed with lore, wonder, and interpretation, I more clearly saw the point of Christmas. Life is full of contradictions, uncertainty, disappointment, hypocrisy, and greed. My duty was to counter the bad with the good wherever and whenever I could.

That belief guided my life. It stirred my career in education. It thrust me into community service via fire and rescue and as an elected official. I enjoyed helping people, and still do. I receive great pleasure in assisting others in need.

I’m no saint, however. I know I made mistakes. I am human. But I did what I could, working with those around me to get things done, mostly for the benefit of others.

So here I am nearly seven decades on this earth, still applying, still pondering that Christmas story of long ago. In so doing, I loathe that others are denied the privileges that I enjoy simply because of their beliefs, their skin color, their economic status, and their dire situation only because of where they live.

Citizens in Aleppo, Syria, Frakes, Kentucky, and Millersburg, Ohio know what I mean. Folks everywhere are hurting, and all the Christmas hoopla doesn’t always heal their hurts. The avalanche of carols, merriment, and partying might even inflame those problems.

The holidays can depress people more than they already are. They miss loved ones who passed on too close to Christmas. I can identify with that, too, having lost family and friends during the holidays.

Christmas display

Christmas joy.

Christmas is a time to ponder. It is an eternal gift that is unwrapped daily. A genuine gift of Christmas celebrates while serving, gives while receiving. It corrects injustices.

If you know a person who is down-and-out for whatever reasons, send them a card. Call them. Visit them. Feel their pain. Hear their cries.

Those are but a few reasonable opportunities to explain and experience this paradoxical holiday we call Christmas.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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Filed under Christmas, Christmas deocrations, family, history, holidays, human interest, writing

Lost in Lost River

abandoned building, Lost River WV

Abandoned.

I came across this abandoned building in Lost River, WV. I couldn’t help but note the irony. This once impressive structure now stood abandoned, indeed, even fenced in only a few feet from the banks of the Lost River. As I marveled at its weathered beauty, I wondered about its original purpose. Was it a store, a residence, or some combination?

A close look revealed that the clapboard framed building had most recently been used as a barn, noting the rotting straw in the missing siding. The former entrance was boarded up and fenced off by newly strung barbed wire. Both its history and utilitarian purpose seemed lost. And yet, its stark beauty was alluring, especially given the setting.

Perhaps I’m too sentimental. But I both admire and marvel at structures like this one. What stories does it hold? What social function did it fulfill? Will the answers forever be lost in the little crossroads burg of Lost River, WV?

“Lost in Lost River” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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In praise of history and historians

Duke of Gloucester Street, Colonial Williamsburg VA

Living history, Colonial Williamsburg, VA.

By Bruce Stambaugh

History is important. I’m forever grateful for folks who emblazoned that maxim upon me way back when. Parents, teachers, professors all collaborated to ensure that I appreciated the value of knowing times past.

My father was instrumental in getting his children involved in amateur archeology. That was in part thanks to my younger brother, who found an arrowhead on the school playground.

As teens, my brother and I assisted Dad and others at various digs like Ohio’s only Revolutionary War site, Fort Laurens in Bolivar. Dad also helped retrace Colonel Bouquet’s Trail into Ohio, which included Holmes Co. Hands-on learning was Dad’s tool of choice when it came to our indigenous tribes and the pioneers who interacted with them in the settling of Ohio.

Gnadenhutten Museum

Worth the visit.

In college, passionate geography and geology instructors explained how various topographic features came to be. In a college Ohio History lecture hall with hundred of other students, I think I got a passing grade because I was the only one who could correctly pronounce Gnadenhutten in neighboring Tuscarawas Co. Again, I have Dad to thank for that as one. We often explored the areas around the tiny historical town.

It was also helpful to live my entire life in geographic regions that played important roles in the development of Ohio. From Flint Ridge to Schoenbrunn to Fort Fizzle, Native Americans, pioneers, soldiers, rebels all forged their presence upon the land on which I lived. That love of what once was still drives me today.

I’m also fortunate to have a wife who appreciates the place history plays in our life today and the future. In other words, Neva enjoys an excellent museum as much as me.

It’s even nicer when you can weave family, vacation, and history into one outing. It helps to have family members who happen to live in prime historical places. We get to visit and explore together.

Williamsburg, Virginia, where my older brother and his wife live, is such a place. We never tire of living history locales like Williamsburg, Yorktown, and Jamestown.

That’s the thing about history. As discoveries continue and new information compiled, history is always changing. I’m not talking about those who would deny the facts and try to twist them to suit their personal beliefs.

History becomes clearer, more defined, better understood the more we explore, the more we learn, the more we know, the more we want to know. Thanks to ongoing research and continued exploration we form new understandings based on new evidence.

At both Colonial Williamsburg and Monticello, for example, tour guides now state clearly the plight of slaves, something conspicuously omitted on previous visits. At Jamestown, archeologists have proved that the original settlement wasn’t washed away after all.

Given the history that is right around us, one doesn’t have to travel far to dig up the past. Novels have been written, movies made, history books published about the history that is all around us. Likely that applies to most anywhere you live. Only the facts, circumstances, and characters change.

Despite what many good books and movies have shown, we really can’t travel back in time. Scientists know that is physically impossible. There is only the present to study history and plan for the future.

We have valued alternatives, however. We can read, explore, study, and visit museums, parks, and historical monuments that help us understand our personal and collective history.

Now that is the way to time travel!

Monticello by Bruce Stambaugh

Pastel blooms accented Monticello’s architectural beauty.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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Filed under architectural photography, family, history, human interest, news, Ohio, Ohio's Amish country, photography, rural life, travel, writing