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In 1814, brothers Simeon and Heman Cooley settled a plot of land in the wooded hills of Southeast Ohio and began laying out a village. Coolville, as it would be called, initially benefitted from access to the adjacent Hocking River and then later on from a regional road that coursed through the center of town. Although the village's population has never exceeded 700 residents, there was a time when it hosted at least two service stations, a family-owned grocery store, a motel, a flower shop, a locally owned restaurant, and two antique stores.
The fabric of life in Coolville underwent changes during the 1960s when the main road was expanded to four lanes and rerouted from the heart of town to its perimeter. The new route, along with the proliferation of chain stores in the region offering cheaper goods, slowly reduced the stream of customers visiting Coolville's "mom and pop" shops and eventually forced most of them out of business. According to some, this shift, coupled with the relocation of the village's high school to another town, took a toll on both Coolville's financial vitality and its sense of community. As in similar places in rural America, the present reality often necessitates long commutes for work and prompts many young people to ultimately move elsewhere.
Coolville-area resident Dave Rupe believes there had been an opportunity to attract new industry and jobs to the outskirts of the village back when the four-lane road expansion was being constructed, but whether the town was unable or unwilling to court this development is a point of contention. The prospect of what might have been leaves many feeling conflicted. "How much poorer would it have been if it were modernized?" he wonders. "It now has a significance for being frozen in time."
Many of the 500 people who remain in Coolville in spite of the challenges point to the value of the peace and quiet here. They also say that Coolville continues to be a place where a neighbor will lend you a generator if your power is knocked out in a storm. It's a place where people might worry if you don't show up at a breakfast at the firehouse or a potluck at the library. It's a place where older 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 carried down the street to prevent its demolition, of a flooded bridge, of spouses married and children raised, of commitments to a small town life that no external factor has been able to completely erase.
Roxanne Rupe, Coolville's librarian, helps her mother-in-law, Mary Rupe, into Roxanne's vehicle in February 2015. Mary would go on to spend the afternoon with her son so that she wouldn't be alone at her own house.
Roland Garcia stands in his backyard in Coolville, Ohio in April 2015. In 2006, Garcia and his partner, Tom, started looking to move from Florida to Southeast Ohio to be closer to Garcia’s mom who was in poor health. They found a 100-year-old house in Coolville, fell in love with it immediately, and left before even looking around town.
In the process of moving, Garcia’s mother passed away. Garcia and Tom made a decision to stay in Coolville.
Garcia says that his co-workers at Coolville's Arcadia Nursing Home became a second family to him. They were there to console and support him when Garcia was diagnosed with cancer and when Tom, his partner of 35 years, died of a heart attack this past November.
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.
Vines are trapped between the outside world and a layer of plastic covering the window of an unoccupied house in rural southeast Ohio in February 2015. The building, constructed in 1861, is owned by Martha Carson, who grew up in it in the early 1960s. Carson now lives in a small town a few miles away and dreams of one day having enough money to restore the deteriorating house and to open it as a local museum.
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.
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 built in the area rail transport slowly became obsolete and was eventually abandoned.