Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Traffic Clogged, Surrounded by Sprawl, yet Still Existing

Nestled in the corner of I-75 and I-275, the Cincinnati suburb of West Chester has boomed the past few decades. Hidden amongst the chain restaurants and parking lots is a remnant from its rural past.

Route 747 through West Chester is interesting, often a semi-truck clogged thoroughfare lined with gas stations and industrial warehouses. It’s close by, but far enough from the main development areas to really feature anything of consequence. Driving along the route gives you a good feel for the history of how West Chester grew.

You won’t find IKEA or Top Golf along the route, but you can find anything from Starbucks to trailer parks. I used to take this road a lot in the year and half that I lived there. I’d spend my commutes sitting in traffic, taking in the usual landmarks: TireDiscounters, a gun range, Skyline Chili, used car lots, gas stations, abandoned gas stations, strip mall sports bars, etc. There was one standout though that always caught my eye: a remnant of the era well before West Chester exploded into an affluent suburb beyond the northern Interstate loop.

What became West Chester, and several other communities, was located along the old canal north of Cincy, South of Dayton, and East of Hamilton. Once a rural area, farming was prominent. Before you could find three McDonalds on one highway exit, there were vast fields beneath long skies dotted by the occasional house. There’s a few left, but this one was always my favorite to see with its windows peeking up above overgrowth and untrimmed trees, behind a rusty bridge and over a small creek.

Right before I moved out of the area and back to the city, I had been working on fixing my bike and decided to go see the house. Riding in West Chester isn’t always the most pleasant experience. The speed limits tend to be pretty high, the motorists aren’t used to seeing bikes, and everyone’s yelling out their windows for you to “use the sidewalk” even when there’s no sidewalks around. Thankfully, I didn’t live too far way in an apartment complex that seemed like an entirely different world from the one that existed when this house was built.

I hopped off the bike and walked it over the old wooden bridge. Several planks were missing and the supports were thoroughly rusted. Standing in front of the structure, you could hear the hum of 747 in the distance.

Occasionally, the engine brakes of a truck would startle some birds and send them flying out of the overgrown brush, making this quick bike ride to an abandoned house seem way more exciting and intense than it really was.

On the porch, you could look in at the past and see yellow wallpaper peeling beneath a sagging drop ceiling as a train rumbled by in the distance, a CSX locomotive bound for Cincinnati. A plane from the nearby Hamilton-Fairfield Airport passed over and eventually all three transportation noises ceased. Silence on a bright morning that probably would’ve once felt idyllic when this house was occupied.

On the door: a faded sticker proclaimed the former occupants to be supporters of the Red Cross in 1995. Power Lines still ran from the nearby road to the structure, but having driven by here many times at night - they didn’t seem active. Leaves kept falling around me as I snapped some photos and kept an eye out for snakes on the patches of concrete out back that seemed to once be a drive way.

In an area now clogged with modern day amenities and lined with chain restaurants, this small spot back off a main road truly felt like stepping into the suburb’s humble past. From the backyard, you looked out on nothing but nature, getting an idea of the rural history now gone.

Someone who cares more than me might even be able glean some nostalgia from that view, that history. The kind of feeling Cracker Barrel wants to replicate and country singers want you to believe still exists, but can only truly be found in the few plots of land not ruined by McMansions or Wal-Mart.

West Chester, OH: 1994 v. 2016:

A similar story from back in 2014 in the nearby suburb of Mason: here.

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