Month: May 2015

Jim McCormac is a “Natural” Philosopher

Jim McCormac is a “Natural” Philosopher

To be clear, a “naturalist” has nothing to do with nudity. Rather, a naturalist is someone who studies and unearths discoveries about natural history, and in Southeast Ohio, there are always new mysteries to solve. Thanks to the region’s rugged topography and abundance of woodlands, […]

Back In Print: BookMarx revitalizes bookstores, Steubenville

Back In Print: BookMarx revitalizes bookstores, Steubenville

Step inside BookMarx Bookstore, a double storefront property with event flyers plastered on its front windows, and one might recall a different time. The days back before free-shipping giants like Amazon took the literary marketplace by storm. Reading couches, placed near the streaming sunlight in […]

Monroe County is the Switzerland of Ohio

Monroe County is the Switzerland of Ohio

Driving around Monroe County’s jutting hills and past protruding cliffs of layered limestone, a world traveler might compare the region to Bern, Switzerland. In the early 19th century, the region’s geography is exactly what attracted Swiss and German immigrants.

Remnants of Swiss and German traditions are evident in the county’s architectural style. Swiss-inspired wood frame houses and farms are sprinkled throughout the lightly populated area. Each home is fastened into the hill’s slope and accommodates small residential farms that use terrace farming techniques, or cutting levels into the hillside.

Hints of Swiss

Half bank barns are another representation of the area’s rich European heritage. The barns feature carved symbols near the structure’s peak which include small pointed crosses or stars that show religious affiliation and the owner’s native language.

“The symbols served as a guide to travelers passing through the area to assist them in locating people with whom they could more readily communicate,” writes Stanley and Theresa Maienknecht in Monroe County, Ohio: A History.

Lingering Swiss and German influence is also found in the old-time churches and graveyards hidden amongst the hills. Many structures built in the 19th century bear inscriptions in the traditional Swiss-German language, such as the Salem United Church of Christ.

Churches are not the only Swiss-related landmarks. The Kindelberger Stone House and Barn in Beallsvilles displays the European architectural tradition of building with quarried stone. It is among many Monroe County sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

19th Century Issues

Early farmers found the steep terrain problematic and moved away from traditional farming. They instead utilized the land for grazing purposes. That transition propelled early settlers into the livestock and dairy industries, a return to their Swiss roots. Dairy farms soon popped up throughout the area.

Early issues of refrigeration pushed German and Swiss entrepreneurs to convert their spoiling milk into various cheeses. Cool, dry cellars with uniform temperature were used to cure the cheese and chill the milk. The entire process was aided by wood and mud plaster walls built by immigrants of Monroe County.

Mary Anne Reeves, who worked for the Ohio Historic Preservation Office, describes the small scale farms as a way of life no longer seen in Ohio. “The small hillside farms are a difficult thing [to maintain] but the people are very nice,” Reeves says.

Reeves encourages those intrigued by the area’s distinct European heritage to take a road trip along State route 255 and experience it.

by Nick Rees

Ohio University Professor Turns Fear Into Art

Ohio University Professor Turns Fear Into Art

The Idea The idea for The Fear Project was inspired by a kitchen table conversation. After Ohio University Professor Julie M. Elman asked her husband to describe a personal fear to her, she paired his words with a doodle. Now, three years later, the Fear […]

Portsmouth’s Bypass Basics

Portsmouth’s Bypass Basics

The Southern Ohio Veterans Memorial Highway, a concept first discussed 51 years ago, will bypass Portsmouth in Scioto County. According to the Ohio Department of Transportation, the highway is the largest project in ODOT history and also the first project to use the concept of […]

Region Pins Economic Hopes on Former Atomic Plant Site

Region Pins Economic Hopes on Former Atomic Plant Site

For nearly half a century the A-Plant, as it was known by locals, employed thousands of people in a region infamous for its chronic poverty.

Today, nearly 2,000 people are employed to safely decommission it. The Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Pike County, which for decades produced enriched uranium for America’s nuclear weapons arsenal and power plants, is now a shuttered relic of the Cold War.

The residents of Pike and surrounding counties, many of whom lost good-paying jobs when the plant shut down more than a decade ago, anxiously hope that new employers will arrive to fill the huge void in the region’s economy.

Stephanie Howe is one person working hard to make that happen. Howe, associate director for human capital and operations at Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership & Public Affairs, is leading the PORTSfuture Program, funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. Howe’s goal is to identify suitable new uses for the site that can guide the government’s cleanup so the real estate can attract new industries.

The first phase of the project was to find out what kind of redevelopment area residents want to see. Howe staffed booths at county fairs and visited farm bureaus and civic organizations as she listened to what the people most affected by the plant’s shutdown had to say.

What she heard was the closure delivered a devastating blow to a region already struggling with high unemployment, and for those fortunate to since find jobs, few offered similar pay and benefits.

“Everybody wants to see something happen out there,” Howe says.

Her job was to listen, but also to make sure the redevelopment ideas were realistic. After rounds of meetings with citizen groups, combined with data analysis and input from national experts, three industries were identified as the most promising: energy, advanced manufacturing, and warehousing and transportation.

Howe is vetting the energy option first to gauge potential interest from industry. She says one idea envisioned by local residents is something along the lines of an energy park, where multiple businesses work on a variety of technologies, such as biofuels, solar and nuclear.

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Lots of space, but pollution too

One thing the site offers is plenty of surface area. The old plant, built in the early 1950s, sits on a 3,777-acre parcel near the crossroads of highways 23 and 32. The buildings for the uranium enrichment are so massive they measure in acres. However, some of the existing structures, along with patches of soil and groundwater, are contaminated with radiation, asbestos and industrial solvents. This means tearing down some of the buildings and treating or removing tainted soil and groundwater.

The cleanup effort, funded in part through the sale of leftover stockpiles of uranium, is what currently employs hundreds of area residents. When the market for uranium bottomed out last year, the contractor cleaning up the site warned that without more government funding, it might have to lay off hundreds of workers.

Additional federal funding came through at the last minute, but it is only a temporary fix. The close call prompted a delegation of Ohio’s congressional representatives to push for full federal funding for the cleanup effort, which could take at least another decade, saying the process should not be subject to the vagaries of the uranium market.

In the meantime, Howe said her next step is to determine what the infrastructure needs are for the targeted energy industries. Those findings will be given to the federal government in the hope it can help inform the longterm cleanup plan. For example, if there is something on the site that could be of use and is not contaminated, not removing it will ultimately save time and money.

As for potential new tenants, Howe is hoping that portions of the site can be released for redevelopment as they are cleaned. Her goal is to get at least one big operation on site that will serve as a catalyst to attract others. “It’s kind of like a mall,” she says. “If you can get those anchors in there—the Macy’s, the Nordstrom’s—you can get the other businesses.”

by David Forster

Ohio’s Abandoned Schools Situation

Ohio’s Abandoned Schools Situation

A bright, red roof seems to float atop the condemned building’s ghostly aura. The windows, many of them broken, protect the desolate indoors with metal caging. A sign on the padlocked door warns trespassers to stay out. Nearby, a lone bulldozer stands silently atop a […]