Rendville’s Hanging Tree

In my Ohio days, I spent a lot of time documenting dying coal towns. Rendville was one of them. It was one of the few town that had a sizable black population, partially because William P. Rend, a Chicago businessman who operated a coal mine there, paid black and white workers the same wages.

Click on the photos to make them larger. The black and white photos are square because I shot them with a 2-1/4 x 2-1/4 camera instead of my usual 35mm Nikon. I rarely used that format because it didn’t “feel” right to me.

Strange message on building

I never have been able to figure out this cryptic message on the side of a building means. “HOWE – West Virginia monkey with a white cap on. What’s he going to do when Halloween comes.” was what it said.

Ohio’s smallest town

A 2011 Columbus Dispatch story said that Rendville, population 36, was the smallest village in Ohio. During the 1880s’ boom days, the population was about 300 “coloreds” and about 1,500 whites. The town averaged one bar for every 25 residents.

By the 1890s, the mines were starting to go bust and the village was down to about 225 families, and they needed assistance from the state for food. In 1901, a fire wiped out sixteen buildings, including the town hall, at least one store and a Baptist church.

There was a brief economic uptick during World War I, but the depression hit Rendville hard. By the 1940s, the town boasted only two stores, one bar, a post office and a few over 100 hundred homes.

City Hall and hanging tree

I haven’t seen any printed references to the Rendville hanging tree, but three people within an hour made reference to it. It’s the tree to the left of the City Hall in this photo taken this month.

One man said it would be logical because the jail used to be located right behind city hall. Read this Rendville’s cemetery mystery to get a sense of what a small town it is.

Jackson’s hanging tree

Jackson MO Hanging Tree 03-26-2010Cape Girardeau County had a hanging tree behind the Jackson courthouse.

Ever Use a Two-Holer?

Curator Jessica and I were exploring a huge abandoned brick school house on a hill overlooking Rendville, Ohio, when a couple said they knew of a building they thought was an old one-room schoolhouse. They’d show it to us if we didn’t mind them tagging along. (Click on the photos to make them larger.)

Definitely a school

Indeed, the nondescript building could have been just about anything from the outside, but once we looked inside, it was definitely a school. It had the chair rail around the walls that went below the blackboards. A long-gone central stove supplied heat, and there was the remains of an old piano against one wall.

Piano left behind

Time hasn’t been kind to the old piano.

Back before good roads and consolidation, the hills were full of small churches and schools because it was hard to get out of the hills and hollows of Southeast Ohio. On top of that, a lot of the towns were company towns where miners were paid in scrip which could only be redeemed at the company store. That discouraged workers from traveling.

Water came from cistern

Water came from a cistern that was located on the side of the school.

About 50 feet behind the school was a small building that was leaning at about a 45-degree angle.

Two two-holers behind school

Through the open door, we could see that it was a two-holer designed for urgent needs, no waiting. The hole on the right may have rotted away, or it may have been destroyed by wild animals who like the salt that soaks into the wood.

Figuring that unisex facilities probably weren’t common in the era when this school was operating, we looked around. Sure enough, about 50 or 75 feet away was another set of seats. The building was gone, but the seat remained.

A Cemetery Mystery

Rendville Cemtery 04-18-2015I have to head back to Cape on Sunday morning, so Curator Jessica wanted to do one last ramble around SE Ohio on Saturday. We found some neat stuff I’ll share later, but this tale shows the value of knocking on doors.

We wanted to see if anything was left of a street scene I had shot in the late 1960s in Rendville, Ohio. It was a small town that was predominately black and produced the first black mayor in Ohio, and one of the first black union organizers.

At the top of a hill overlooking the town was a cemetery. What struck us right off was that a wide path had been mowed to a circle in the middle of the graveyard. (Click on the photos to make them larger.)

It gets even more curious

Rendville Cemtery 04-18-2015In the top of the circle was a small black fence surrounding a freshly-planted tree. A tree so freshly-planted that the ground was still wet where it had been watered.

Next to the fence was a metal post with an upside-down bottle on it. Glued or somehow affixed to it was a small bowl, and in it was a glass with water in it and some fresh flowers. On the ground was a lei made of orchids. Miz Jessica pointed out that they wilt quickly, so they had to have been left recently.

Knock on a door

I said, “There’s a house across the street. Why don’t you go over, knock on the door and ask if they know what this is all about?”

She demurred, so I said I’d do it with her in tow.

Steve, the man who answered the door, said he didn’t live there. He just borrows the house for two weeks a year to go turkey hunting, and he didn’t know what was going on, but we had made him curious.

Scratching our collective heads

We all went back to the circle, walked around a bit tossing out theories, and admitted we were stumped.

“I know the mayor,” Steve said. “I’ll give him a call. If you give me your phone number, I’ll ask him, then let you know.”

I never expected to hear from Steve again, but we were half-way back to Athens after a great dinner in Somerset (just down from a big statue of Civil War General Phillip Sheridan) when my phone rang from an unknown number.

Mother of the town clerk

It was Steve. He said the mother of the town clerk had died and they held the ceremony in the circle and planted the tree in her honor. She must have been cremated because there was very little earth disturbed. So little, in fact, that I thought it might have been excess from when they dug the hole for the tree.

A minute or two after we hung up, my phone rang with Steve’s number showing. I heard him telling the story of the funeral to someone in the background. Evidently he had butt-dialed me.

“We all win”

“We all win,” I told Miz Jessica. “We got our question answered, and he can dine out for a week telling his buddies about this crazy couple who banged on his door with something that sounded like it was out of the Twilight Zone.”

History is all about HIS story and HER story, and I love knocking on doors to capture snippets of history.


A Squirrelly Night In Kent

Black Squirrel Kent Ohio Acorn Alley 08-24-2014I think I’m going to stop letting Road Warriorettes pick the motel rooms. Remember the problems I had with Friend Shari?

Curator Jessica and I took a road trip from Athens to Kent, Ohio, Sunday so we could meet some museum folks in Kent and Massillon. We had a great drive with many stops and diversions that’ll show up in posts in the future.

Curator Jessica reads the reviews

About two hours south of Kent, I pulled into a parking lot while she researched motels. When I heard her discount this one because of bloody sheets and another one because it had more #1 ratings than #5 ratings, it looked like it was going to take awhile. I told her to wake me up when she had made a choice.

She booked us two rooms in the Clarion Inn and Conference Center in Hudson, about 30 minutes from where we have to  be on Monday morning. Then, we made arrangements to meet one of her friends for one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had.

Internet doesn’t need password

When we got to the front desk, I asked about the internet connection. I was assured that it didn’t need a password, just connect and go.

My tablet connected fine and dropped me into a screen where I agreed to something or another, and I was on my way.

The laptop I use to do the blog would connect and it would tell me that I should click HERE to open my browser (presumably to get the OK screen). No go. I tried everything I could think of: connecting, disconnecting, reconnecting, changing browsers, disabling Adblock Plus, etc. Finally, I called the front desk. Gal says to reboot my computer. Oh, yeah, I would NEVER have thought of THAT.

I tried the reboot and all the other stuff, then called the desk again. Guy answers and tells me he can give me an 800-number for tech support. I didn’t rent a room from some third-party tech support company, I rented it from Clarion Inn and Conference Center, but I say “Give me the number.”  While he’s searching for the number, I hear loud banging in the hallway. I figure somebody can’t get a door open or closed.

Router is busticated

Guy comes back on the phone and says that due to the recent storms in the area, they are having problems with the router that serves the 140-numbered rooms. He’ll move me to another room if he can.

“It’s 11:17. I have everything unpacked and spread around, I have at least an hour’s worth of work to do if I start right now, and I’m sitting here in my underwear. I don’t think you want me to go walking down the hall like that. When I check into a motel chain that is supposed to cater to business users, I expect to be able to use the internet.”

While I’m on the phone, Curator Jessica sends me a text: “Wow, there is a small drama going on in the hallway next to your room. This night just gets better.” She calls the front desk to report the disturbance.

Desk Guy wishes me a good night

Yeah, like THAT is going to happen.

Tumult outside my door gets louder, with much cussing and banging. I cautiously peek around the door and see a woman with enough tattoos to rival a map of Ohio striding down the hallway screaming, “I’m going to call the cops on everybody in this hall.”

Jessica texts an offer to bring over her pepper spray to protect me if I need it. She’s full of late-night help and information like her text moments before midnight, “Somebody on Facebook told me that today is National Go Topless Day. If it was on Facebook, it must be true, right?”

OK, it’s been 30 minutes of quiet. Now I hear door pecking, then banging again. Map-looking woman is there with two cops (or uniformed security guys, I didn’t look closely) and they are trying to get someone in Room 145 to open up. (I’m in 143.)

Maybe Jessica should have picked the motel with the bloody sheets.

Oh, yeah, the squirrel

I guess you are wondering about the picture at the top of the page. It’s a sculpture of a black squirrel in Acorn Alley in downtown Kent. Here is the background about the black fuzzy-tailed rodents and how they got to town.


I had an early morning call from the manager of the hotel who had see my post on Facebook. After a discussion, she agreed to comp the room because of the inconvenience. She also said she would encourage the staff to check for log entries that might indicate that a room wasn’t up to snuff.

We both agreed that the hotel had no control over unruly guests. I’m pretty sure she was talking about the drunk woman in the next room who was banging on doors and hollering, not me, but I’m not positive.

Neither of us could turn back the clock to undo the problems of the previous night, but I was pleased that she reached out for me so quickly. Nice save.