Mail Pouch barn detail

Mail Pouch

It was the summer 1985. I was in my second year as a photographer and occasional writer for the Ashtabula Star Beacon while, when searching for feature art in the Rock Creek area, I came across a barn being painted.

Mail Pouch barn, Rock Creek, Ohio
The “Mail Pouch” barn, Route 45, Rock Creek, Ashtabula County, Ohio, as it appeared several years ago. The lettering has faded significantly since then. Photo by Carl E. Feather.

The barn was just north of Rock Creek, on Route 45. The painter was Harley Warrick, of Wheeling, W.Va., an American treasure.

Harley began painting barns at the age of 21, in 1946. Two days home from the Army, a Mail Pouch team came into the area and painted two ends of the Warrick family’s barn. Harley got to talking to the painters and got interested in joining a crew. Facing the task of milking 26 Jerseys every night and morning if he stayed on the farm, Warrick joined a painting team. Lacking any civilian clothes, he wore his Army uniform during his first week on the job.

Warrick worked 13 states, Michigan to Missouri to New York. He painted some 4,000 barns, and not just once. Every three or four years, the signs had to be repainted.

He usually worked with a helper, who filled in the background around the letters. All work was done free hand. Warrick’s preference was to start with the “E” in CHEW and then add the “H” and “W.” The reason? Those were his initials.

He’d been known to repaint six signs in one day and two new signs a day. He had a sense of humor, occasionally purposely misspelling a word to see if the tobacco company would get any calls.

It was a hard life. Warrick was on the road weeks at a time, often sleeping in his truck or a cheap motel. His first marriage suffered from the long absences, and his wife gave him the ultimatum. Warrick chose his work, but for his second marriage, he agreed to gone but one week at a time.

He might have been unemployed by the 1965 Federal Highway Beautification Act had it not been for the fact that the existing signs were grandfathered and therefore exempted from the new restrictions on highway advertising. Mail Pouch discontinued the painting program in 1969, but Warrick’s signs got an extension on life when the signs were declared National Landmarks. Mail Pouch continued to support the program until Warrick’s retirement, at which time he was the last of the barn advertising sign painters.

The last barn that Mr. Warrick painted was at Barkcamp State Park, Belmont, Ohio, Warrick’s hometown. He’d originally painted the 150-year-old barn in the early 1980s.

I recall Harley as a fascinating, witty Yankee with a penchant for smoking a pipe. He told me that he’d once gone through a box of matches lighting his pipe for a National Geographic photographer who was trying to the perfect flare on the match tip, puff of smoke and expression in one frame of film.

Harley died Nov. 24, 2000, in Wheeling.

Mail Pouch barn, Aurora, West Virginia. Route 50. October 1982. Photo by Carl E. Feather
Several years before artist Harley Warwick painted the barn in Ashtabula County, Ohio, I was photographing this one along Route 50 in Aurora, West Virginia. This image was shot on a beautiful Sunday morning in October 1982.

Although the Mail Pouch barn he painted in Rock Creek 30 years ago is showing its age, the lettering is discernable and the weathering adds to the nostalgia of the structure. The negatives I shot that day were destroyed years ago, and I’ve always regretted having not taken color transparencies of the artist at work. But every time I pass the barn I recall how a chance discovery along the rural highway enriched my life as much as the red and yellow sign embellish the landscape.

American Penmanship’s father had a famous daughter, too

Ellen Spencer Mussey: The Father of Penmanship’s Trail-Blazing Daughter

Ellen Spencer was but 12 years old when she went to work in the penmanship school of her famous father, Platt R. Spencer of Geneva. She was the youngest penmanship teacher in Ohio, and her father, 62, was the oldest.

Following the death of her father in 1864, Ellen could have drifted into marriage, motherhood and obscurity. But the same penchant for excellence and accomplishment that marked the lives of her father and his business-college founder son, Henry, was endowed upon Ellen, a lawyer, educator and pioneer in the effort to open legal education to women and give them full legal rights apart from their spouse.

Born in 1850 in Geneva Township, Ellen received her early education from her father at the Jericho School on what is now North Myers Road (the Spencer home there is owned by the P.R. Spencer Historical Society). She studied at Rice’s Young Ladies’ Seminary in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., following her father’s death. Further education was obtained at Lake Erie College and Rockford College, Rockford, Ill.

Her brother, Henry, founded the Spencerian Business College of Washington, D.C., and at the age of 19, Ellen moved to D.C. to lead the women’s section of the college, which trained students for jobs in government and business. Her Washington presence connected Ellen to Reuben D. Mussey, who had served as a colonel for the Union Army and had a law practice in D.C. A New Hampshire native, Reuben had campaigned for Lincoln and joined a militia company led by Cassius M. Clay, an abolitionist. Initially charged with guarding the president and White House, Mussey eventually became captain of the 19th U.S. Infantry Regiment. As captain, he helped recruit African-Americans to serve as Union Army soldiers.

Ellen and Reuben were married in 1871; a woman far ahead of her time; she had the word “obey” omitted from the wedding vow. Nevertheless, in her actions she demonstrated a commitment to both matrimony and motherhood while blazing a trail for equality.

She bore two children, Spencer (1872-1891) and William Hitz (1874-1939), and was stepmother to Reuben’s two daughters by his first wife. Ellen also took an interest in her husband’s profession, worked in his office and studied law under him. She applied to the law schools of National University and Columbian College but was denied access. Just five years into their marriage, a huge burden was shifted onto her shoulders when her husband contracted malaria while campaigning for Rutherford B. Hayes. Reuben became an invalid, and Ellen, 26 and with four children and an invalid husband, moved the family to a building in downtown Washington near the law practice. With Reuben’s assistance, the practice remained open.

Lady in graduation robe
Ellen Spencer Mussey was admitted to the bar in Washington, D.C., after an oral examination. She went on assist many other women enter law school. Photo from Wikpedia Commons.

Ellen was not a member of the bar, however, and her husband’s death in 1892 jeopardized her livelihood. Several Washington lawyers lobbied to have special consideration given to her, and in March 1893, Ellen passed the bar by oral examination. She was admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the United States in 1896.

That same year, President Grover Cleveland signed into law legislation drafted by Ellen and giving women of the District of Columbia the right to their own earnings and custody of their children. Prior to the law, a father living in the district, even if he was a criminal, could claim custody. Her fight for a woman’s independent legal status culminated in 1922 with passage of a bill that permitted an American female citizen who marries a foreigner to retain U.S. citizenship rights. As a result of this bill, Ruth Bryan Owen, daughter of William Jennings Bryan and the wife of an Englishman, could serve as a US Representative from Florida’s 4th District from 1929 to 1933. From 1933 to 1936, Bryan was US Ambassador to Denmark.

Like her father and brother, Ellen had a strong interest in education. She was a member of the Columbia Board of Education and worked to establish kindergarten as part of the district’s program. And she pioneered the effort to establish retirement benefits for public school teachers.

Her greatest accomplishments were in the area of providing legal education for women. An aspiring attorney, Della Sheldon Jackson, in 1895 requested an apprenticeship under Ellen. With assistance from a colleague, Emma Gillett, Ellen opened, on Feb. 1, 1896, the first session of the Woman’s Law Class. Jackson, Nanette Paul and Helen Malcolm were its first students.

The program grew with assistance from several prominent Washington, D.C., attorneys. The students planned to take their final year of law education at Columbian College, but that institution rejected them on the grounds that “women did not have the mentality for law.” That closed door resulted in the founding of the Washington College of Law, incorporated by Emma Gillett and Ellen Mussey in April 1898.

The college, since merged with American University, was the world’s first law school founded by women. Ellen Mussey served as dean until her retirement in 1913.

In her retirement years, Ellen founded the Women’s Bar Association of the District of Columbia and was elected its first president. She also was involved in the founding of the National Association of Women Lawyers in 1919 and was first chairwoman of the Women’s City Club of Washington, founded the same year. And she was among the founders of the American Red Cross.

Ellen Spencer Mussey died April 21, 1936, in Washington, D.C.; she is buried in the district’s Oak Hill Cemetery.

The Field Guide to all things Ashtabula

“Ashtabula County: A field guide to the natural,  historical and curious treasures of Ohio’s largest county” is back in stock. Additionally, Ruth and I will be at Jefferson, Ohio, Recreation Center on East Jefferson Street, Dec. 1, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. for their Christmas craft fair. The following Saturday, Dec. 8, we will be at the Lantern in Saybrook Township with our books, as well. That show is 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and benefits the Alzheimer’s Association.

For online shoppers, we are offering the book for just $18, including shipping, through the end of November. The price returns to $21.95 after November 30. For in-person shoppers at the two previously mentioned shows, the price is just $20. Credit cards are accepted on this site and at our events.

We recently posted a video that describes the book and provides a peak inside.

Barn quilt marks northern end of trail

Ashtabula County’s latest barn quilt requires a boat to view it.

At 4-by-4 feet, the barn quilt can’t be seen with the naked eye from Lakeshore Park. With a pair of good binoculars, you can just discern the outline of the object on the east side of the Ashtabula Lighthouse.

The barn quilt was painted by John Carpenter, who volunteers with the Ashtabula Lighthouse Restoration and Preservation Society. John chose the mariner’s compass pattern, a fitting motif for an object that guided freighters into Ashtabula Harbor for more than 60 years.

The nonprofit group has been in control of the lighthouse since 2007. Grants and fundraising resources were used to the structure/crib and add a staircase and floating dock. But there is much work to be done before lighthouse can open for education/interpretation.

Joe Santiana, president of the group, took me and a newspaper reporter to the lighthouse on Sept. 14 for a look at the structure and barn quilt. I have visited the lighthouse on prior occasions, and each time left wishing that in my younger years I’d turned my lens toward documenting life on the structure before it was automated in 1973.

A bald eagle claims the former foundation of the lighthouse.

On our way out, we passed the lighthouse’s former foundation, approximately 1,750 feet closer to the shore than the current location. Ashtabula Harbor’s docks and railroads experienced a surge of expansion and growth starting in 1908, and that required a larger inner harbor and expansion of the breakwater. In 1916 the lighthouse was moved to its current location and doubled in size. A 50-foot-square concrete crib was built to accommodate the lighthouse, which was doubled in size. Further, future expansions of an emergency generator and air compressor to run the fog horn would need to be accommodated. The stone breakwater was extended from Walnut Beach, and while it is possible to walk the long, jagged breakwater to the lighthouse, it is very dangerous.

Joe Santiana, president of the Ashtabula Lighthouse Preservation and Restoration Society climbs the ladder to the upper lamp room in the Ashtabula Lighthouse.

While an iconic and lovely bump on the west breakwater of Ashtabula Harbor, the metal structure was built for functionality. Its interior is spartan. The first floor is a big, dark empty room that once provided the living and sleeping quarters. Above it are the two levels that accommodated the light and fog horn. The Fresnel lens ended up in the Ashtabula Maritime and Surface Transportation Museum. The fog horn and related equipment were possibly dumped in Lake Erie.

The white structure was recently painted, but the large population of gulls and other birds at this point have coated the lighthouse in white excrement. Not the most pleasant place to be, even on a beautiful September afternoon on Lake Erie.

The view of Ashtabula Harbor from the top of the lighthouse is stunning; perhaps why the spot is so popular with birds!

Then again, the life of a lighthouse keeper was not as pleasant as we might imagine it to have been. The lighthouse lacked comfort facilities. The keeper bathed in the lake, which also served as the restroom facility. The same lake provided dinner, a fresh-caught fish and provisions brought from the shore via the boats that also brought a fresh crew to man the light. In the final years of the manned lighthouse, a transistor radio provided some “entertainment.”

The Ashtabula light was the last on the Great Lakes to be automated . A solar-powered light glows in the top room of the structure and is maintained by the US Coast Guard. Otherwise, it is the society’s responsibility to care for the lighthouse, which was purchased as government surplus.

John Carpenter painted the Mariner’s Compass barn quilt that is on the Ashtabula Lighthouse.

The presence of a barn quilt this far north of the city and at the entrance to the harbor suggests the start of a truly unique barn quilt trail, one that could stretch from Lake Erie to the Ohio River. This 100-mile journey is rich in heritage and stories, not to mention some lovely, well-kept barns in Trumbull, Mahoning and Columbia counties. These four stacked counites have been linked for centuries via the stagecoach turnpike, Underground Railroad, the Pennsylvania and New York Central railroads and Route 11. Iron ore that supplied the steel mills of the Ohio River towns came through Ashtabula Harbor, and coal that moved up the river and railroads moved through Ashtabula Harbor.

 

End of Line Junction Barn Quilt

Life at the End of the Line Junction

If you look closely at the roof and siding boards in the former machine shop, you’ll notice evidence of a prior life: charred sections, soot, nail holes indicative of a violent extraction.

And if you walk down the hill from this place, where East Ashtabula Street dead ends in Jefferson Village, Ohio, you’ll see through the foliage massive sandstone blocks in the stream valley.

Sandstone blocks, much smaller and inscribed, stand at this dead end in the Oakdale Cemetery.

A junction for dead ends, 150 North Market Street could be a depressing place. But the owners, Fred Bliss and Carol Utterback, welcome visitors to their “eternal life” at Dead End Junction. A barn quilt measuring 8-by-9-feet hangs on the building constructed from those second-hand boards. The theme of the barn quilt is redemption, salvation and life: A Christian cross with a descending dove to represent the Holy Spirit.

“Neither one of us is an artist,” Fred admits as he shows me the pattern he used for a dove that was cut from plywood and added to the barn quilt using brass screws. “We looked at a lot of doves before we found one we liked.”

The barn quilt expresses the couple’s Christian faith, as well as a new beginning. The Ashtabula County natives fell in love around the age of 9.

“It was puppy love,” Fred says. “But we didn’t miss a chance to be together. We used to meet at the Austinburg Skating Rink. She was always the girl for me.”

When Fred and Carol were 16 or 17 years old, they split up and went separate ways. Carol married Edward Lance Utterback on Sweetest Day, 1969. A mechanic, Edward owned the Texaco Service Station that once stood in the center of Jefferson. In 1974, he went into the excavating business, which grew to the point he needed a garage and land for his equipment. That led to the purchase, in 1978, of the North Market Street building and land. They built their house there in 1985.

Edward died April 20, 2016, at the of 73. Fred took note of the passing and wondered how his puppy-love friend was doing.

“I called her, just to make sure she was OK,” Fred says.

That call opened the door to rekindling the relationship severed back in the 1950s. In May 2017, Fred and Carol were married. Fred can’t help  but feel it was God bringing things full circle at the End of the Line.

He and Carol went to work on the property, clearing decades of mud and stuff from the garage. As is often the case in life, when clutter is cleared, the treasure of heritage emerges. Carol’s research into the building revealed that the previous owner constructed it from reclaimed lumber that came from the New York Central roundhouse in Ashtabula. Constructed in 1906 as part of a massive NYC expansion on the lakefront, the roundhouse stood on West Avenue and was reported to be the second largest in the world.

The advent of diesel locomotives in the early 1950s quickly antiquated the roundhouses. The NYC’s at Ashtabula was razed in 1953, and the lumber was evidently made available to whoever could use it. The soot, charring and prior nail holes on the boards attest to its prior environment.

 

Charred boards with nail holes tell a story of recycling. The boards came from a NYC roundhouse in Ashtabula, razed in 1953.

This discovery was significant for Carol; she comes from a family of railroaders. Her late father, Carl A. Martin, who lived south of Jefferson, worked at the NYC Collinwood Yards in Cleveland. And all his sons worked for the railroad.

The building’s NYC connection fit the landscape around this place, as well. When the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad decided to build a line from its mainline to Ashtabula Harbor, it also built a line from Ashtabula to Franklin, Pa., to connect to the coal fields. This line was called the Ashtabula & Franklin High Grade, or J&F (Jefferson and Franklin) Branch of the NYC. These lines went into service in 1873. (A low-grade line was built in the early 1900s to shorten the route and provide relief for passenger trains on the busy railroad. The high-grade line is used by the Ashtabula, Carson & Jefferson Railroad.)

The high grade trestle in Jefferson, Ashtabula & Franklin Division, LS&MS Railroad. Photo source: Jefferson Historical Society

At Jefferson the high-grade line had to cross a ravine in Oakdale Cemetery. A wooden trestle was constructed, along with a stone culvert to handle the flow of a Mill Creek tributary.

In August 1899 the trestle was the site of a train wreck that was the “end of the line” for the trestle. The wreck occurred amid a labor dispute. A scab brakeman fell asleep at his post and failed to heed the signal from the engineer, who saw the collision coming.

A south-bound train had stopped north of the trestle and unhooked its string of freight cars. The engine was thus freed to proceed to take on water at the depot, across the trestle. The engineer of the north-bound train saw the idled cars ahead of him and signaled for the brakeman to stop the locomotive. The snoozing scab didn’t respond, and the north-bound engine struck the locomotive that had arrived at the depot. It pushed the behemoth into the rail cars; the impact buckled the trestle. Freight cars and locomotives spilled into the ravine

The damaged trestle had to be removed and the ravine was filled with stone and slag to create the rail bed that exists to this day. Photo source: Jefferson Historical Society.

All personnel on the trains were able to jump from the engines and cars before the collision, so there was no loss of life. The railroad decided to fill the ravine with stone and dirt rather than build another trestle. A detour required a month to build and it took a year to fill ravine with slag from Youngstown steel mills and stone from the Windsor quarry. Irish laborers performed much of the work.

As a tribute to the spot’s and family’s railroading traditions, Carol and Fred put a metal pole at the end of the driveway and placed on it a railroad crossing sign, antique finale and flashing signal, which will be electrified and functional (no gate, however).

Fred says he’s doing these things as an acts of love for the woman he always knew “was for him.”

“It’s for Carol. She wanted to have the sign and call this place the End of the Line Junction,” Fred says.

The barn quilt also is for Carol.

“I enjoy looking at them as we drive through the countryside,” she says.

Fred designed, built and painted the barn quilt, which was raised on Labor Day, 2018. He and Carol hope it will draw visitors into the history of the region and the fascinating section of Oakdale Cemetery across their driveway.

Stephen Asa Northway’s grave, and the monument to his wife, are among the interesting stones at “The End of the Line Junction,” Oakdale Cemetery, Jefferson, Ohio. Photos by Carl E. Feather

The stones mark the graves of prominent lawmakers of the 19th century. Abolitionist Representative Joshua Giddings rests here, as does his former law partner and US senator, Benjamin Wade. Family members surround the men’s substantial monuments. The unusual large rock monument to Stephen Asa Northway—a state representative, US congressman, scholar and lawyer—and the metal sculpture of a Greek female figure, are among the unusual monuments in this section. Near the edge of the ravine is the grave of Charley Garlick, the former slave who fled from a plantation in western Virginia, served in the Civil War and lived out the remainder of his life in the Giddings Law Office. And across a small ravine that holds an underground, walk-in crypt is the stone for the child who was the cemetery’s first burial, in 1812.

They all rest here, at the End of the Line Junction. Yet the barn quilt and couple’s story of re-kindled romance suggests endings are only beginnings cloaked in suffering and grief. That a cross somehow pulls together all these stories and gives us hope amid the tears.

What a strange paradox, this spinning junction pieced by a cross.

A newer stone marks the grave of the first recorded burial in the cemetery, Timothy Hawley, a 3-year-old.

 

Keys

Shady Beach keys webMy friend of many years, Betty Layport Feher, recently dug out some memorabilia from Shady Beach Hotel, one of the many relatively elegant hotels that once operated at Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio’s oldest summer resort.

Shady web 1Shady Beach dates back to 1897 and stood where the village’s recreation park is today. It operated until the early 1970s, when the village purchased the property with the idea of transforming the hotel into a recreation center. Someone forgot that it gets cold at GOTL in the winter and that water pipes burst when they freeze. And so they did, and the old resort was ruined by that act of negligence. Only photos remain, and a few skeleton keys.

Betty allowed me to borrow  the guest-room keys, still attached to their Shady Beach leather fobs (just try to lose one of these things, or carry them about in your pocket or swimming trunks all day), so I could make some photographs for the Summer Fun Heritage Trail website and interpretive signs.

There is something solemn, almost spiritual about a key. The act of being entrusted with a key can be a pure business transaction, as when we buy a new car or house, or as intimate as being handed the key to a honeymoon suite by a grinning desk clerk.

I suspect the keys I held in my hands and studied through my lens could tell many stories of happy vacations spent on the lakeshore; of comings and goings; of expectations and disappointments; of partings for a season, partings for eternity.

Shayd web 2Here is the key to the room that Mrs. Bowers prepared especially for the newlyweds. The nervous groom drops it several times on the way to the room, rattles it in the lock; the wood door swings into the dark chamber; he will recall on his death bed the slightly musty scent of that room, mingled with her virgin sweat, that moment they became one flesh even as Mr. and Mrs. Bowers dozed on the front porch of Shady Beach Hotel.

Here is the key that the child insisted Daddy let him try in the door. It is their first family vacation; the blue-eyed boy has not seen the lake before. “Can we see it Daddy, can we, can we before we have dinner?” The  father slips the key in his pocket, they walk across the street, to the annex, descend to the beach, between the two poplars, watch the mystery of water arriving and departing for no apparent reason, toss some rocks. The Shady Beach dinner bell rings; it is Sunday, and Mrs. Bowers has prepared chicken. Fried chicken, all up and down the road, from the milk-fed chicken of Mrs. Swan at the New Inn to the no-good roosters that the Leidheisers culled from their flock, it is chicken every Sunday at the resort. Shady web 3

Here is the key with chicken gravy stains on the fob, or is it tobacco juice from the men sitting about the spittoon while the women folks walk to the bingo parlor. Comfortable men, men of influence in their Pittsburgh, Youngstown and New Castle. Middle-aged, their children married, their business cards bearing “vice president” and “director,” gathered about the newspapers and cigar smoke and bourbon, waiting for the women to return, waiting for the dinner bell, waiting.

Shady web 4

The Shady Beach staff and owner, Durwood Bowers, in the foreground, pipe in his mouth. Betty Layport remembers Durwood for his “damn pet raccoon,” of which she was very afraid.

Here is the key to the anniversary suite. Fifty years have passed; arthritis impairs his hands as much as nervousness did on that night in 1915. They almost didn’t come back to Shady Beach, the riots, the gangs, the week before, sent a chill up his spine. Mrs. Bowers said it would be fine, that the trouble was at the other end of The Strip. Just a bunch of college kids who’d had too much to drink down at that rowdy bar.

“Yes, please come; we’re holding your room for you. We’d love to see you again. Yes, dinner will be at 2. No, we’ve not raised rates this year. The weather has been hot, but there’s a nice breeze.”

It was their last visit.

shady beach key webDoes a key stop being a key when its lock is gone? Or is it just a story without a piece of paper? If they have no value, why do we continue to hang onto them in junk drawers, cigar boxes and museums? Do we hope the lock will one day miraculously reappear, restoring value to the key and justifying our hoarding? Or do we hold on to them because they are keys to our imagination, unlocking stories that are just as likely to be false as true?

The tumblers in my mind rattled like the keys on the fobs. For a moment, those keys unlocked something wondrous: the past.

I love old keys.