The Center for Land Use Interpretation Newsletter

State in Focus: Ohio


At the CLUI, we often find that the number of instructive land use sites in a region can rise according to the level of the popularly perceived banality of the region. It was thus with great pleasure that we accepted an invitation this year, extended to us by the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center, to expand our database and contemporary photographic archive for the magnificent and surprising state of Ohio. A research grant, awarded to the CLUI by the CAC, enabled the CLUI to collect new images of over 100 unusual and exemplary locations in the state, and to conduct in-house and field research for additional inclusions in the Center’s land use database. The findings will soon be making their way to our Land Use Database on the web, and to our on-line bookshop, in a publication, where more detailed research and visitation information will be provided for many of the sites mentioned in this article.

What follows are excerpts from a log report, filed by a CLUI researcher working on the project. Log reports such as this, with accompanying photographs, maps, sketches, and other field notes and supporting material, augmented later with library, archive, and internet research, form the foundation for our database, and subsequent regional or thematic programming and publications.

State capitol: Columbus
Joined the union in 1803, the 17th state
Meaning of state name: The great, good, or fine river, in iroquois language
Population: 11,374,000
Percent of us population: 4%
Area: 41,222 square miles
Percent of us land: 1%
Rank of economy among 50 states: 7th
Major employers:
General Motors
Kroger Company (grocery)
Delphi Automotive
General Electric
State motto: With God, all things are possible

508Dublin Corn Field, CLUI photo

CLUI Field Researcher Log: Central Ohio
Columbus, the capitol, home of the Columbus Academy of Art, the first Wendy’s restaurant, and one of the highest downtown vacancy rates in United States. Visit Wexner Center for the Arts, and Battelle Labs, a government R&D center with an interesting Cold War history, near the University campus. At the Cornfield, in Dublin, a field of over 100 six foot tall ears of yellow painted cement corn in the lawn outside the Witco Corporation, in an office park (actually supposedly a city pocket park, but no way to know, and nowhere to park). A project by the artist Malcolm Cochran in 1994. Nice images of giant corn rows with new Nationwide insurance building in background.

In Newark, stop at the Central Ohio Aerospace Technology Center, with a big Boeing highbay engineering complex. Was Newark Air Force Base, a center for US Air Force Metology (calibration science). One underground building is labeled as Directorate of Metology USAF Primary RADIAC Standards Laboratory Authorized Personnel Only. Behind this is the massive semi-abandoned-looking brick Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Corporation Newark Works, with a smokestack, accessed through a separate gate. There must be a connection here. There is also a pipeline tankfarm (Koch). Down the road, Newark Earthworks State Memorial is part of the largest Native American mound complex in the country. It’s raining hard. Closed visitor center, nice signage. East on the 16 a bit to the Longaberger Basket Company headquarters, where 500 people work inside a giant basket . . .

509Longberger Basket Company Headquarters, CLUI photo

CLUI Field Researcher Log: Southeast Ohio
South to Lancaster, and vain attempt to find the enigmatic Southeastern Ohio Training Center listed on the De Lorme map. Attempted from a road from the north, road becomes dirt and too muddy to pass. Could be there. Rural area. South on the 33 to Logan.

North on the 13 at Chauncey, a few miles to East Millfield. In Appalachia now, that’s for sure. Find the mine disaster memorial, which is a sign next to the road, indicating how many were killed in the 1930 accident, the worst mining incident in Ohio history. There is a brick stack in the woods, a trailer with a smoldering brush pile, and a few subtle ruins, but it’s raining hard, and nearly dark. With leaves off the dense foliage, more would be visible.

South on 33, past Ohio University, and further south through rain and rolling hills on the 33 to Pomeroy on the Ohio River. Then south on the 7, to Gallipoli and to Cheshire, home of the Kyger Creek power plant (which is labeled as a nuke plant but has a pile of coal and a huge stack: was it converted?) as well as the Gavin Power Plant, the largest power plant in the State, and the electric utility that owns it, AEP, one of the largest utilities in the nation, which just bought the town for $20 million, according to the NY Times. 200 or so residents had their homes purchased by AEP for up to three times the market value, so that they could leave, and in return they agreed to not sue the company for any future health issues. This is especially strange, as there is no disease cluster in town. Just AEP taking the opportunity to be safe from the potential legal problems, as they have been cited for being too dirty before by the EPA (they spent $616 million on scrubbers here recently.). They burn the high sulfur coal of Appalachia, much of which comes down from the hills of Ohio, from strip mines owned by AEP. The Ohio River, lined with industry and power plants, is clearly one of the most megawatted rivers in the country.

North on Interstate 77 to Ava, to a museum about a crashed Zeppelin, located inside a battered old camper trailer next to a garage. Inside the trailer, display cases show artifacts, photos, and other memorabilia from the crash, which happened in the 1930’s. Three crash sites are marked in the area as well, and the story of the crash is quite amazing. Farmers were asked by the Captain, who survived with others by climbing down a rope from the floundering front half of the zeppelin, to shoot down the remaining floating portion so that it wouldn’t drift off to do more damage . . .

510Crashed Airship Museum with museum creators / curators, CLUI photo

West on rural Road 12 to Cumberland, a mining town, where mining has moved on. Follow signs about 10 miles out of town to the Wilds, a zoo-managed game reserve, with rhinoserouses and other exotics roaming around 10,000 fenced off acres of denuded post-coal lands now covered with grass. A strange landscape. Like a war was fought here. The Wilds offers a 2 hour bus-led “safari.” Big parking lot with shuttle buses take visitors up to the visitor’s center, which has sparse touchscreen and touch artifact displays, and a gift shop with only stuffed animals and coloring books. Visitors appear confused . . .

South from Zanesville on the 60, following the Muskingum River, to McConnelsville, north on the 78, up a rise, and to a new park, constructed by AEP, for the Big Muskie Scoop. The rest of the huge land machine was scrapped a couple of years ago, but the scoop was saved, and relocated from Cumberland, to this new park, which has all sorts of display panels, and a nice blank (vandalized) canted plaque overlook. The scoop is really big, and the AEP park does a nice job of explaining the good work they do remediating the landscape.

511Big Muskie Scoop, CLUI photo

On Hwy 78 South a long while to Murray City, and then 216 to New Straitsville, an Appalachian coal town. Coal is like ballast along the roads, in piles, wet and soggy in the woods. No visible active mining. But New Straitsville, in addition to promoting itself as a “back-woods” sort of place with a Moonshine Festival, is home of the “longest continuously-burning manmade fire in America.” An underground coal fire flares up periodically, last time remembered by the clerks in the store, four years ago. No visible steaming ground anywhere, as at Pennsylvania’s Centralia. But a mural on the wall of the history center, next to the volunteer fire department station, attests to the lure/lore of the fire.

Back on the 33 south through Athens, and then the 50 to the Ohio River, and the 7 up the river. The fog dissipates, past Marietta, and the river is National Forest on one side with small towns. There is way more development on the West Virginia side. Through the town of Fly, where there is a collection of miniatures made with matchsticks, in a private home open by appointment . . .

CLUI Field Researcher Log: Northeast Ohio

Into Youngstown, a rusting steel spine along the Mahoning River; railroad tracks, scrap piles, and long sheds. Follow the road all the way south, and get pretty much lost in a labyrinth of right angle farmland, with massive gravel pits that may have been coal sites, looking for the Poland Landfill. But there are so many artificial piles, that it takes forever not to find it, end up settling for the Mahoning Landfill, a Waste Management Inc. site, near New Springfield. Back on the 80/76, exit at Lordstown to find the huge GM plant, right next to the highway. Hwy 5 West from downtown Warren, where highway signs say Center of the World on either side of town (about a mile stretch of Hwy 5).

512Center of the World, Ohio, CLUI photo

Up the Interstate 77 to Cleveland, where the magnitude of spent industry in the Cuyahoga Valley is still operatic. Find a great viewing area, at Pershing and E 44th street, overlooking some of the plant from a road that crumbles into a cliff with boarded up houses. Would be especially spectacular in the early morning light, and at sunset. Through Cuyahoga Heights west on Harvard Ave, past the big Alcoa plant, and more good industrial yard overlooks. N on the 176 then the 90 East past downtown to the old suburbs of Euclid, where a big industrial park is labeled on the map as being the site of TRW, Reliance Electric, GM, and Lincoln Electric. Lincoln is still there, but the others seem to be gone, the industrial park now called Heritage, and largely for lease it seems. The building labeled as TRW on the map is now called Park Ohio. It’s unclear how big TRW was here, though it seems they had a pretty big industrial spread. Not sure what the relationship is/was to Reliance. Found current TRW headquarters in nearby suburbs, a secure, gated campus obscured by trees, and sandwiched between two golf courses.

NASA’s Glenn Center’s still open to the public after a thorough search at the gate, and stern warnings not to go anywhere but there, and not to take pictures anywhere but inside the visitor center. The visitor center deals a lot with communication satellites, which is nice. West on the turnpike to Amherst, to quarries on Quarry Road. These were once famous - the John Hancock building in Boston is among the institutions built from these pits. Insurance hole.

On the way back east on the turnpike, a tall slender stack marks a distant hazardous industry way off in the farmlands. Takes half an hour to get there, but it is a Brush Wellman plant (“Elmore plant: the home of Brush PRIDE” - the world’s major supplier of beryllium). They’re always putting their plants out in the middle of nowhere. Near major sources of electricity. This one’s a few miles south of the Davis Besse plant. On the way also found small remote TRW plant. Nearby is NASA’s Plum Brook field station (tour scheduled for Tuesday) . . .

South on the 250, past the Thomas Edison Birthplace Museum in Milan, to the abandoned reformatory/prison in Mansfield. It’s a huge gothic hulk, most of which was torn down by the state, but the main portion that remains, is very grand. It’s located next to two active prisons, the Mansfield Correctional Facility and the Richland Correctional facility, the former has death row and maximum security. The reformatory is owned by the local non-profit preservation society, who having won it from the state and stopped the effort to tear it down, need to raise the $15 million to restore it. Jan, the tourguide, seems to be the spearhead of the whole operation. The reception room is a gift shop, with articles made by inmates in the state prisons. The reformatory was the largest in America when it was built in 1880’s, and cost $1.3 million to build, quite a bit for that time. The tour fills with a church group of older folks from southern Ohio, and for an hour the group is led through the beautifully decrepit house of horrors, way more grand than Alcatraz. Two giant cell block wings, five stories tall, are like a building within a building, connected to a central hall with columns and guard station, and large steel bars. Portraits of Lenin and Stalin loom above the room, leftover from when this was a Russian prison for the Harrison Ford film Air Force One, which also built some fake walls and gates that are still outside. This was the principal shooting location for the film Shawshank Redemption, and some of the remnants (camera mounts, fake tunnels, paint) are pointed out on the tour. Another film project was a Godsmack video, where they painted some of the cell blocks. The building transitioned from a reformatory to a full on penitentiary after WWII or so, and Jonnie Paycheck is probably the most famous denizen. Had 3,500 people at most, closed in 1990. For 50 dollars per person, people do ghost hunts, where they stay in there all night. In a way it would be a shame to see the place fixed up though, the texture of acres of walls of peeling lead paint is unsurpassed. Like lichen on a beached ship hulk . . .

513Mansfield Prison, CLUI photo

CLUI Field Researcher Log: Southwest Ohio
On to Wright Patterson AFB, which is divided into two areas, the Wright lab built up with hangars and engineering buildings, with a separate triangular runway, and Patterson Field, the base area, where KC135’s are flying continuously overhead. Hard to get good views of Patterson, but the AF museum static display area allows for good though distant views of Wright Field. The AF museum, already the largest in America, is adding another hangar structure, to make three in a row. Under construction. The Channel 2 news van is driving around the outside of the perimeter, lurching and searching, like a dog left behind, while the family goes on vacation.

Check out the Mound Plant again, and the mound looks a little worse for wear, but the view of the Plant from the top is stellar. DOE weapons lab with the largest native mound as an overlook. Great site.

514View of DOE from Mound Plant overlook, CLUI photo

South on Highway 4 to Fantasy Farm in Le Sourdsville. It’s an abandoned kiddie/animal park, with decrepit fun train, crumbling bumper car shed, collapsing haunted house, and other buildings, none of which are funny shaped really. Some have burned down. The owner bought the place 5 years ago and spends his retirement tinkering around, but not really restoring it. He wants it to stay as it is, and not be developed into something else, nor fixed up. Just left. The Americana park next door has been leased to a “bunch of carneys out of Lancaster” who are ready to open it soon. Lots of tales from the owner about the previous owners and their antics. He came here as a kid, and took his grandkids here before it closed, around 1990.

South of Hamilton on Hwy 128 is Pyramid Park, a modern sculpture park on 270 acres. The owner of the land, a lawyer, commissioned the works “for his lawn” then made a non-profit, to open it to the public. A tea room is on the grounds, and a glimpse of the owner’s house, mostly underground, with a tower, glass pyramid, looks like an amazing building. Small admission charge. Further down 128 is the Fernald Feed Materials Plant, undergoing a massive environmental remediation effort, which has a new sign on the access road: Future site of a former uranium production plant. In order to take a picture, get permission from Jeff, the public affairs guy who comes to talk at the Badging Office. No problem. On the way to Cincinnati, the big ol’ Rumpke Dump beckons and is better than ever . . .

515Fernald Feed Materials site, CLUI photo

Tumbledown farmhouses, rolling river highway, riverside trailer homes, spring day in the heart of America. At the working town of Portsmouth there is a factory, the Mitchellace company, that is said to make nearly all the shoelaces in America. Then North on highway 73 to the gate of GE’s Peebles test facility. Try all the side roads around it, nearly all dirt, rolling hills, some back gates, but the facility is obscured by trees and topography. Nearly an hour on side roads. No way to see the interior of this major jet engine test site, but pass through swarms of butterflies. East on highway 32 then south on 23 to the exit ramp, barely marked, that is exclusively for the “uranium enrichment plant” AKA Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant. Guard station has been moved to the end of the access road close to the highway, no way to photograph without being directly in the guard’s face, ask for and receive permission to do a U turn inside the gate. Thats it (will have to use older photo). N on the 23 to Chillicothe, and to the Mound City monument, a nice mowed network of Hopewell Indian Mounds, with a visitor center. This whole area, including the mounds, was used as a military base in WWII, and the mounds are now surrounded by two large prison complexes, including the Chillicothe Correctional Institution. The Mead Paper company factory looms in the broad valley, a big stack like a spoke hub. This was one of the first of Meads plants, maybe the origin of the company. Ohio as lumber state. Further north, next to Highway 23 in Circleville is a DuPont plant that makes mylar and other high performance films. In Ashville, the small museum of Small Town Ohio is closed, but the intersection of Main Street and Long Street is where the first traffic light in America was said to be installed. Turns out not to be true. 

516Chillicothe Mound Complex, CLUI photo

Field research took place in the Spring of 2002, and an exhibition of some of the work was displayed at the Contemporary Arts Center during the summer, as part of the exhibit Ecovention: Current Art to Transform Ecologies (curated by Amy Lipton and Sue Spaid, to whom the CLUI extends its gratitude). This work was also displayed at CLUI, Los Angeles as an exhibit entitled oHIo, shown in July, 2002. Included was documentation and discussion about creative landscape projects, including the work of Helen and Newton Harrison, Ocean Earth Development Corporation, Buster Simpson, Alan Sonfist, Kathryn Miller, and others.