Chloe Harris and her dog walk in the late afternoon light in Coolville, Ohio.
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Vines that were trapped between the outside world and the living room of a vacant house have begun growing through the fabric of a window curtain. The house, which was built in 1831 and is the oldest in the village of Coolville, is owned by Martha Carson, who grew up in the home in the early 1960s. She lives in nearby Guysville now and one day hopes to restore the Coolville house and turn it into a local museum but currently lacks the necessary funds.
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Richard “Smitty” Smith pauses after finishing tilling his garden plot in preparation for planting vegetables at his home in Coolville in March 2015. Smith purchased the property in 1972 and has been planting in his garden every year since moving there.
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Martha Sue Matheny, director of the Unity Singers community Choir, leads a practice session at the Coolville United Methodist Church. (back row, left to right) Judy Reaser, Bonnie Putman, Marsha Cowdery, Kathy Elasky, Sharon Powell, and Katherine Riley sing together with (foreground) Shelba Lipscomb.
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(left to right) Coolville police chief Steve Williams, solicitor Rick Hedges, officer Leif Babb, fiscal officer Jim Ford, and Michelle Hyer of Buckeye Hills-Hocking Valley Regional Development District wait for a town hall meeting regarding the implementation of a community sewer system to begin in Coolville, Ohio, in February 2014. A couple dozen residents packed into the room that night to voice their support for the town’s voluntary fire department, which was asking that the town not begin charging them a water bill after the system was complete. One reason why new businesses have not moved into Coolville is that the town has relied on septic tanks.
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Roxanne Rupe, who serves as Coolville's librarian and is one of the most active members of the community, helps her mother-in-law, Mary Rupe, into Roxanne's vehicle in February 2015.Mary will spend the day with her son so that she won;t be alone at her own house.
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Night falls on Main and Third Streets in Coolville, Ohio.
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(left to right) Richard Vales, his son Bob Vales, and wife Joyce Vales, all prepare to leave the Coolville United Methodist Chruch after a service in February 2015.
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Dave Rupe types on his computer beneath his collection of deer mounts at his home two miles outside the center of the village of Coolville, Ohio, in February 2015. Rupe, who has lived in the area his whole life, is a skilled craftsman and makes a living by both selling his wares and by finding and reselling online items ranging from old farm equipment to unwanted animals mounts—though those on his wall are not for sale.
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Becky Mollohan tenderly lays her head on her daughter Maddy's back in their kitchen one afternoon.
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In 2014, Dave Rupe constructed a 300-pound deer statue out of concrete and rebar and painted it bright yellow. He used a front-loader on a tractor to set the monument on top of an abandoned Coolville railroad trestle that sets at the back of his property two miles outside the Village of Coolville. The railroad was critical in helping Coolville thrive but once Route 50 was established through the area, rail transport slowly became obsolete and was eventually abandoned.
Coolville, Ohio (pop. 496 in 2010) is a village tucked between a bend in the Hocking River and the rolling wooded hills of the southeast part of the state. Ohio was barely a decade old when, in 1814, Simeon and Heman Cooley—sons of a Minute Man from Massachusetts—settled their plot of land in the area. Soon after, they constructed a flouring mill on the river and in 1818 they laid out the village.
Village commerce benefitted from the water, nearby railroad depot, and then, for a time, the main regional road that coursed through the center of town. Although Coolville's population has never exceeded 700 residents, over its history it's hosted three service stations, a family-owned grocery store, a motel, a flower shop, a locally owned restaurant, and two antique stores—almost all of which are now closed. According to some, it was in the 1960s that a number of factors began to take a toll on the village, starting with the expansion of the road to four lanes and its rerouting from the heart of town to its perimeter. This, along with the profileration of regional chain stores, meant it was easier to bypass the main drag, reducing the number of customers visiting the "mom and pops" and eventually forcing most of them to shut down.
Lifelong Coolville-area resident Dave Rupe believes there had been an opportunity for Coolville to try to attract industry and jobs to the outskirts of the village back when the four-lane was being constructed. Whether the town was unable or unwilling to do so is a point of contention, and the prospect of what might have been conjures conflicted feelings. "How much poorer would it have been if it were modernized," he wonders. "It now has a significance for being frozen in time."
As in similar places in rural America, this reality prompts many young people to seek a life elsewhere. However, those who choose to stay are proud to call the town home and recently a Restore Coolville committee has formed. Of the town's virtues, they'll point out that Coolville is the type of place where if your power is knocked out in a storm, a neighbor will be quick to lend a generator. It's the type of place where people might worry about you if you don't show up at a breakfast at the firehouse or a potluck at the library. It's the type of place where folks relish shared tales of days gone by—stories of a monkey that lived in the old Roots service station, of a house that was picked up and moved to prevent its demolition, of a flooded bridge, of spouses married and children raised, of small-town bonds that no external factor has been able to completely erase.