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Keith Rutowski

Writer, Photographer, Filmmaker
 
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Location: Seattle, WA
Biography: I am a writer, photographer, and filmmaker living in Seattle. I am interested in bonds between people and land, the existential weight of history, loneliness, and the indomitable human spirit. I grew up a few hundred yards away from the Ohio... read on
Public Story
Coolville, Ohio
Credits: keith rutowski
Date of Work: 01/01/15 - 04/28/15
Updated: 09/10/19

In 1814, Simeon and Heman Cooley—sons of a New England Minute Man—settled a plot of land in the wooded, rural hills of southeast Ohio and began laying out a village. Coolville, as it would be called, benefitted from access to the adjacent Hocking River and later from a nearby rail depot and the main regional road that coursed through the center of town. And although the village 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.

A significant alteration of the village's economic and social fabric began 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, reduced the stream of customers visiting the "mom and pop" businesses and eventually forced most of them to close. According to some, this economic shift, coupled with the relocation of the village's high school to another town, took a toll on Coolville's financial vitality and its sense of community. As in similar places in rural America, the present reality necessitates long commutes for work and prompts many young people to ultimately forge their lives elsewhere.

Lifelong 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 do so is a point of contention, and 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 here despite the challenges will point first to the peace and solitude it affords. Of Coolville's virtues, they also claim that it's still the type of place where a neighbor will be quick to lend 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.

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