It’s been nearly a year now that my wife and I moved from Holmes Co., Ohio to Virginia’s Rockingham Co. One way I’m learning about the area, its people, its topography, its history, its culture, is just by driving around. Of course, I usually have my camera with me to document what I see and find.
Before we moved from Ohio, we would pass through a small burg named Cootes Store on our way to visit our daughter and her family in Harrisonburg. It was hardly more than a crossroads in the northwestern part of the county. I found the name intriguing and just assumed that once upon a time a real “Cootes Store” must have existed there.
On one of my discovery runs, I found Cootes Store. Its personality jumped out at me through all of the old, eclectic merchandise visible inside and out. This likely isn’t the original building, but it is all that remains of what once must have been a thriving business to have a town named for it.
You can read more about the history of Cootes Store here. “Cootes Store” is my Photo of the Week.
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.
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.
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.
It’s been four months since my wife and I moved from Holmes Co., Ohio to Rockingham Co., Virginia. I’ve enjoyed exploring our new retirement location, looking for new spots to photograph sunrises and sunsets. I’m especially happy when I’m rewarded with a glorious morning or evening sky. I am grateful to be able to share the beautiful results with you.
“Reflections on a Farm Pond” is my Photo of the Week.
It’s been a little more than a month since we moved from our beloved home in beautiful Holmes County, Ohio to our new place of residence in Virginia’s lovely Shenandoah Valley. We knew there would be similarities. We just didn’t know they would abound.
We learned to know the area long before we moved. Our daughter attended college at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg. She met her husband there. Now the school employs both of them, Carrie as a coach and Daryl as part of the administrative team.
In the few weeks that we’ve lived here, we have learned first-hand just how similar Holmes County is to Rockingham County. Those likenesses transcend the beauty of each locale.
Both have wooded rolling hills. Numerous creeks snake through luscious, productive farmland. Not surprisingly, the same staple crops are grown here, which makes sense since we are in the same growing zone. Field corn, alfalfa, wheat, oats, and soybeans create a patchwork of verdant colors. Produce stands dot the countryside here, too.
Livestock includes dairy cows and beef cattle, pigs, sheep, and goats. Long, silver poultry houses can be found high and low across the rural areas of Rockingham County. In Holmes County, they’re mostly white. My guess is that turkeys far outnumber humans in The Valley given the number of those barns I’ve seen. Agriculture is a major economic force for both locations.
Consequently, every now and then when the wind is right we get an acrid whiff that reminds us of home. However, we don’t need a breeze to inform us when the barns have been cleaned.
Just like in Ohio, our house is built on what was once farmland. Only instead of a few neighbors, we have many. We are one of nearly 500 households in our development. Mature trees and manicured lawns predominate around well-maintained homes. People take pride in their property here with equal zest.
In Ohio, airliners sailed regularly over our home on final approach to Akron-Canton Regional Airport. In Harrisonburg, we have the same effect only more frequently. Jets fly overhead, only higher, on approach to Dulles International Airport.
Unlike our old home, all of the utilities in our housing development are buried underground. There are no streetlights, though. On a clear night, we can actually see the stars better here than we could at our former home.
There are other obvious differences of course. Rockingham County is twice the size of Holmes County in both square miles and population. The boundaries of Rockingham County boast the Allegheny Mountains on the west and the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east.
The Massanutten range runs north to south through the center of the county, stopping east of Harrisonburg. It should be noted that the hills of Holmes County are actually the western foothills of the Allegheny Mountains. So we are literally geologically connected.
Once outside the city, the roads of Rockingham County are as narrow, windy, and hilly as those of Holmes County. With Old Order Mennonites thriving in the fertile valley, horse and buggies are nearly as common as in Holmes County.
The culture, local mores, and values are similar as well. Our neighbors exemplify that daily with their friendliness.
Purchasing our home here foretold the familiarity. At the bank, we got our house loan from Julie Yoder. Emily Miller led the house closing. Jayne Schlabach was our realtor. There’s even a Joe Bowman car dealership. In Holmes County, he’d likely be selling buggies.
Just like home, we have the same cell phone carrier with the same quality reception. I have to go to the front porch so you can “hear me now.”
No need to feel sorry for us. We feel right at home in Virginia.