Finding a whole new world in Ohio
The Appalachian Highway is like any other interstate – straight and boring. But once I turned off it in Adams County, Ohio, I was in a different world.
The road becomes narrow and winds through a canopy of trees. It crosses a covered bridge as it meanders through little settlements with names like Unity and Tranquility. It passes many neat white farmhouses with black buggies parked beside barns, for this is Amish country.
White-bonneted women and girls in plain blue or gray dresses, and men and boys in dark trousers with suspenders work on the farms, their bakeries, and their furniture, buggy repair, leather and gift shops.
In the latter I found homemade baked goods, quilts, dolls, cheeses, cookbooks and more, all made with meticulous care. When doing business with us “English” customers, the Amish use the English language. Among themselves, they speak a German dialect called Pennsylvania Dutch.
Community-minded, they help each other with barn raisings, delivery of babies, and the payment of outside medical costs. They do not need health insurance, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that self-employed Amish need not pay into Social Security. However, they do pay property, income and sales taxes.
To my dismay, I learned that Amish forbid photos, citing the Bible’s instruction, “Thou shall not make unto thee any graven image …” Thus I found myself in the difficult position of having to abstain from snapping a photo of three adorable Amish children being pulled in a tiny cart by a Shetland pony.
Children attend one-room schools, where they are taught by young unmarried Amish women. Parents are very involved in their children’s schools. Indeed, the schoolhouse may have been built by the children’s families. In addition, parents share the cost of the teacher’s salary, school supplies and books.
In 1972, in the Supreme Court case Wisconsin v. Yoder, the Amish were granted an exemption from mandatory education beyond the eighth grade. The court agreed with the Amish argument that “a high school curriculum would simply not be relevant to living an Amish way of life.”
Adams County was also once home to the ancient Adena Indians (800 B.C.-100 A.D.) who may have built Serpent Mound, an embankment of earth resembling a snake nearly a quarter-mile long, the largest serpent effigy in North America.
I had a fine view of the entire serpent by climbing the observation tower. The serpent was not a burial site, nor were artifacts unearthed near it, so its purpose remains a mystery, but it was most likely religious in nature.
Nearby are several conical mounds the Adenas used for burials. The tribe lived throughout what is now Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia. They were hunters/gatherers, but evidence of some horticultural activity has been found. Excavation of the mounds has revealed copper ornaments, pottery shards, ashes, burnt stone and animal bones.
A small museum on the grounds has cut-away models of the burial mounds, demonstrating how the bodies were placed. Although I was interested in learning more about these ancient people, very little is actually known.
This Southern Ohio county also possesses a time warp quality. For example, I discovered Ryan’s General Store located across from the Unity Cemetery and up the road from the Coonhunters Club. As I entered, the tinkling bell attached to the door sounded. Dusty canned goods, aspirin tins and packages of hair nets lined the shelves.
A man, woman and two children sat on what looked like old school bus seats as they ate ice cream. A customer waited quietly at the counter. I opened the lid of the red Coca Cola cooler to find bottles of Coke and 7Up in ice water. I opened my bottle on the cooler’s opener (twist-off caps apparently have not come to Unity).
At the counter I waited with the other customer for what seemed like a long time. All was silent except for the slurping of ice cream. “Does someone work here?” I asked. “Yeah. She’s making a sandwich. She makes great sandwiches.” More silence.
Finally, she came from behind a partition. I was expecting maybe a foot-long hero sandwich but instead was surprised by the flat anemic white bread on waxed paper. No meat, lettuce or tomato was visible. “Only $1.50,” commented the customer with a big smile. I almost blurted, “That much!”
After paying for my drink, I asked for a restroom. Silly me. I was directed to the privy next to the hand pump out back. Garrison Keillor jokes about the fictional Lake Wobegon as “the little town that time forgot,” but I actually found it in Unity, Ohio.
All is not backward in this wooded, hilly country, though. Seeing a sign for Murphin Ridge Inn, I decided to check it out.
I was delighted by what I found. At the end of a winding gravel road amidst towering elms sits an 1820 two-story brick farmhouse turned inn and restaurant. As I sipped raspberry iced tea during an afternoon lull, I was free to wander through the three charming dining rooms.
I found big fireplaces, ornate wooden screen doors, wide wood-plank floors and rustic antiques. Guests stay in small log cabins with front porches and have the use of the swimming pool, tennis court and hiking paths. Various benches and wooden lawn chairs are perfect for taking in the view of the deep green hills.
Most vacationers don’t consider Ohio to be a destination, and I probably wouldn’t have either if it weren’t for the fact that I am originally from there. I believe every state has its own beauty and sources of interest, and Ohio is no exception.
Patricia Levitan lives in Grass Valley.
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