October 2010 Issue
My Ohio: A Quiet Place
Visits to southeast Ohio have given this suburbanite a new perspective on country vs. city dwelling.
I’ve lived my entire life — nearly 47 years — in the inner-ring suburbs of Cleveland’s east side. There are plenty of amenities and attractions to recommend this part of the world — way too many to mention here — but in recent years, I’ve felt an increasing need for a little more space, a little less volume, and a pace that’s a little less hectic and a lot more human.
A few years ago, my wife’s parents — residents of Shaker Heights for nearly four decades — bought a farmhouse in McConnelsville, a 193-year-old town located on St. Rte. 60 along the Muskingum River in Morgan County. It’s 65 miles southeast of Columbus, halfway between Zanesville and Marietta, about 30 miles from the West Virginia border.
More space and less volume. A slower and less hectic pace. McConnelsville is all of these things — a friendly place where some of the weight is lifted, if only for a little while.
The farmhouse is located on Parmiter Road, a narrow and hilly strip of asphalt off Rte. 60 about five miles south of the town square. The wraparound front porch is no more than 30 feet from the road, which pretty much guarantees that if you’re sitting out front, anyone who drives by — friend, neighbor or complete stranger — will see you and wave, and maybe even roll down the window to say hello.
The family across the road breeds cattle. Next door — which, by the typical rural yardstick, is actually an acre or two away — is a horse farm. Walk up to the fence and the horses will meet you there in hopes of getting some attention, which our kids are more than willing to give. During a recent visit, one of them tried munching on my son’s shirt.
Downtown McConnelsville is a three-block stretch of storefronts, a bank and various small businesses along 60, with a 13-foot bronze statue of a Civil War private — mounted on a block of granite from the Gettysburg battlefield — in the center of the main intersection in front of the Morgan County Courthouse. Across from the courthouse is the Twin City Opera House, which serves as both a live performance venue and a movie theater. A little way up the street, you can get good burgers at the Chatterbox Tavern or a milkshake at the Blue Bell, a diner whose menu, staff and decor will take you back to the 1950s. And when it comes to understanding how things work — and how things can be fixed when they don’t work — the guys at Morris Hardware on Main Street are some of the most knowledgeable and helpful people you’ll ever meet.
Judging from the most current statistics, there’s not much money in McConnelsville — or in Morgan County overall, for that matter — but there’s a different kind of wealth here. There’s a great deal of pride in this community, much of it invested in the students at Morgan County High School, home of the Raiders — which is something of a misnomer, considering that these are some of the most polite and good-natured teenagers I’ve ever encountered.
In the years since my in-laws moved to McConnelsville, I’ve had to overhaul my misperceptions about small-town residents being standoffish to city dwellers. When our family heads south and pulls into town a few times a year, we always feel welcome. There are some cultural differences, to be sure, but I’ve learned that the commonalities outweigh the disparities. We all go to work every day, we all pay our bills and face the daily challenges, we all do our best to raise decent kids by teaching them (and reminding ourselves) to stay on the straight and narrow. And all the while, we all try to do something worthwhile and meaningful with our lives.
In McConnelsville, though, they do it in a place where the world moves a little more slowly, where it’s a little bit easier to think, a little bit easier to breathe.
A lot more human.
John C. Bruening is a freelance writer based in South Euclid.