How Athens County is the poorest in Ohio — and how it represents Appalachia as a whole

According to the 2010 census, Athens County, Ohio is the poorest county in Ohio per capita — by a decent margin.

How and why is a region so culturally diverse and rich so economically poor?

Check out my podcast, “Eighty Eighth” for an in-depth look at the region.

Women of Appalachia event aims to change stereotypes

There are a number of stereotypes that exist about women within Appalachia; however, a small group is working to change those views.

For the seventh straight year the Women of Appalachia Project has events on the campus of Ohio University that focus on the work of female artists from the region.

There are three components to the Women of Appalachia Project, said Kari Gunter-Seymour, founder and curator of the project.

One part of the project currently occupies a quiet spot on the second floor of Baker Center. The Women of Appalachia Exhibit continues through April 30 at Ohio University’s Multicultural Center Art Gallery.

The goal is to showcase the art of women from the Appalachian region. This year’s exhibit includes the work of 20 artists from Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky.

The art show has developed a reputation as being a place artists can submit their work without getting a response that is overly critical, Gunter-Seymour said.

Each of the women is able to represent the women of Appalachia in her own way, she said.

The art show has already been displayed in Parkersburg and after finishing its run in Athens will then be displayed in Chillicothe in May.

This piece is part of the Women of Appalachia exhibit currently being shown at the Multicultural Center Art Gallery in Baker Center at Ohio University.
This piece is part of the Women of Appalachia exhibit currently being shown at the Multicultural Center Art Gallery in Baker Center at Ohio University.

“Each year I say I can’t believe the quality of the artists,” Gunter-Seymour said. “But each year it keeps getting better.”

The idea for the project came when Gunter-Seymour became frustrated with having to look all over for places to display her artwork, she said.

“I had always heard it’s easier to create a job than to find a job. I thought it might be the same way with events,” she said. “I thought it might be easier to create an event than to find one.”

The project started seven years ago. Since then the effort has gotten bigger and bigger each year, Gunter-Seymour said.

Each of the seven years has been based in Athens and at Ohio University. Gunter-Seymour said when she was putting together the show she contacted Winsome Chunnu-Brayda, strategic director for diversity and inclusion and multicultural programs and initiatives, to ask about space and has worked with Chunnu-Brayda ever since.

“The Muticultural Center is proud to have hosted the Women of Appalachia Project every year since its inception in 2009,” said Chunnu-Brayda in a statement. “This project is distinctive in that it brings together a combination of seasoned and emerging artists that never fails to please. Ohio University is unique in that it serves a very large population — students, faculty and staff as well as Athens and contiguous county communities. This event serves as one of Ohio University’s outstanding town/gown events. Approximately 3,000 guests visit the WOAP exhibit in our gallery each year.”

In addition to the exhibit, there are other events that surround the Women of Appalachia Project. Friday (Feb. 10) is the opening reception for the exhibit from 5 to 8 p.m.

At the event local activist Sandra Sleight-Brennan will be presented the inaugural WOAP “Appalachian Advocate Award.”

“There are so many women who want to help, but aren’t artists,” Gunter-Seymour said.

This award helps to recognize all the other women who help with the events and make things better for women in Appalachia.

The other portion of the project is the Women Speak events, which include poetry, songs and stories. These events take place all over the area, Gunter-Seymour said. However, they have an event planned on April 22 at 6 p.m. at the Multicultural Center Art Gallery in Baker Center.

For more information about the Women of Appalachia Project or to see a full schedule of the events you can visit their website or Facebook page.

Live Healthy Appalachia dedicated to improve wellbeing of SE Ohio

Live Healthy Appalachia is a non-profit organization that is actively working towards promoting a healthy lifestyle to the Athens and surrounding communities. They offer programs to children and adults on how to shop for healthier foods, get active, cook more nutritious meals, and more.

Live Healthy Appalachia’s mission is “to improve the health and wellbeing in the Appalachian Region through education, outreach, and advocacy emphasizing nutrition and other lifestyle choices.”

One major program that Live Healthy Appalachia is a part of is the Complete Health Improvement Program (CHIP). It is a nine week program dedicated to creating and sustaining healthy lifestyle changes. It can normalize blood sugar, lower cholesterol and BMI, help one lose weight, and many more positive changes. CHIP is not unique to only the Athens area; it is a worldwide campaign to promote healthy lifestyles.

A CHIP class is scheduled for February 4, 2016 and will continue to be held every Tuesday and Thursday in Baker Center. An information session is scheduled for January 12, 2016 in Baker Center, room 231 from 12:10-1:10 PM.

If the nine week program is too much of a commitment, there are alternative routes to live a healthier life through the CHIP program. There are various restaurants that sell CHIP approved items and even four Athens restaurants that are fully CHIP approved: Busy Day Market, The Farmacy, Gourmet Your Way, and Lui Lui.

Casa Nueva, Avalanche Pizza, Village Bakery, Fluff Bakery, Chelsea’s Real Food, and many other restaurants in town have CHIP approved options.

You can call 780-856-6100 to ask about booking a nutritious cooking class for your dorm room, class, or community. Live Healthy Appalachia also offers multiple 5Ks for adults and children to get outside and get active. There are grocery shopping tips and programs that are put on at Kroger on how to shop for healthy food on a budget (perfect for us college students!)

Here is a guide that Live Healthy Appalachia put out in regard to restocking your kitchen with better nutritious foods. Since they promote a mostly plant based diet, one of their tips is to have meat as an accent to a dish, not a main course.

Volunteers are needed to keep this organization going. Long-term and short-term volunteer opportunities are available. If you are interested, you can contact Live Healthy Appalachia and get started right away!

In a time where obesity and heart disease are common among American families, Live Healthy Appalachia is pledging to help the Appalachia area of Ohio live longer and better lives.

 

 

Bricks on Bricks: An Athens Tradition

Brick, brick, brick, brick.  -The mantra of one walking through Ohio University’s campus

Ohio University, with its brick-laden pathways and buildings, has a rich brick history. Athens is just one of hundreds of brick-faced college towns in the U.S., reflecting a bygone industry. Ohio University’s bricks have preserved this tradition.

According to Athens Ohio, The Village Years, a book written by Robert L. Daniel and found in the Athens Historical Society library, brick-building didn’t become a major industry in southeastern Ohio until the mid-1800s.

Before that time, brick-building served as a local business resource, where bricks were produced on site; it wasn’t considered a commercially viable product until the later part of the century.

That all changed when Robert Arscott built his own brickyard in the 1870s. Roughly 700,000 bricks were manufactured locally in 1850, but by 1893 that number had skyrocketed to 292 million bricks a year. These bricks were being shipped all around the world, according to a 1998 report issued by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) called The Paving Brick Industry in Ohio by Steven D. Blankenbeker.

“We don’t have seashells here in Ohio,” James Robinson, owner of Athens Block, was quoted as saying in a June 3, 2010, article from The Post. “This is almost like southeast Ohio’s version of a seashell because each brick is different.”

Southeastern Ohio became a prime location for the brick industry, based on the clay particles found underneath the hill-topped soils. In fact, the same earthen materials utilized by the coal industry – another significant trade found in Appalachia – were quite beneficial for brick production.  

Thousands of bricks were used to construct Cutler Hall, once known as College Edifice, while an estimated 8 million bricks were used to build the Ridges, home to the historic Athens Lunatic Asylum, during the 1860s-1870s.

Athens Brick Company once resided where the Athens post office sits today, on Stimson Avenue. The company churned out over 50,000 bricks a day at the height of the brick-building industry, and become a major economic force in Athens.

The first paving bricks in the state were actually produced in Malvern, Ohio, at the Canton & Malvern Fire Clay Paving Brick Company in Carroll County in 1855. These original “blocks” (short-hand for paving brick) measured only 2.5-by-4-by-8.5 inches; standard paving bricks were 9-by-4-by-4 inches, and weighed close to 10 pounds.

Unlike the 19th-century boom for bricks, brick-building isn’t considered a profitable industry in the modern era. It typically costs five-to-10 times more to pave a brick road than one with tar, according to an article published Sept. 11, 2012, in The Post.  Faced with a financial depression and the advent of asphalt roads in the late 1890s, regional brick-building facilities collapsed in the early 1900s.

Nonetheless, the brick industry remains a prominent part of southeastern Ohio history, especially in Athens County.

Ralph Bolls, known in neighboring Nelsonville as “the brick man,” takes his brick history seriously. In addition to buying, selling and trading locally manufactured bricks, Bolls is also the proprietor of the annual Nelsonville Brick Festival.

“The brick festival is largely about trading bricks and getting together with people who are interested in bricks and seeing them as not only history but a collective item,” Boll was quoted as saying in an article from AntiqueWeek.com, available at the Athens Historical Society.

The Nelsonville Brick Festival typically runs the last weekend of July, and this year was hosted on July 24 and July 25 in Nelsonville, Ohio.