Porter Gap Project
As Sherry and I drive up to Porter Gap Road I nervously ponder the type of poverty that I might see. During the first class with Dr. Lucas he spoke of extreme conditions, cars hanging over the hillside with trees growing through them, outhouses, no electricity, people with shotguns sitting on their front porches, and people selling and drugs on the roadside. I fear entering into the confines of Appalachia.
We are on our way to the cemetery to start our research on the dates of the cemetery. As we turn left off of County Road 93, I begin to feel a sensation of excitement. It is wonderful to be starting in on this journey of research called folknography.
The road appears similar to any other road in southern Ohio during late summer. The weeds and brush grow up and, in some spots, out into the road. Manicured lots line the beginning of the road and hedges come close to the highway. A large rusted metal building up the hill on the left seems to sigh wearily with aged fatigue. The other numerous out buildings that we pass look like most of the other, newer buildings that are going up in other places in the county. People are looking for cheaper ways to construct storage facilities and mechanical garages, so they look to metal buildings these days.
Once we drive away from the main highway (St. Rte. 93) we hit a small, short, one lane bridge that immediately turns a ninety-degree curve to the left. It is a good thing that I am paying close attention to where I am going or I would have been in the side of the hill. It is an unexpected curve, and bridge, that is not marked with signs.
After safely making it around the curve, I look over the hill on the left and I notice what looks like a used car lot or a junkyard. There are about twenty cars parked in a lot (field) that has grown up with weeds. I take a closer look and it seems to be cars that have died over the years and no one has taken the time or effort to repair or salvage them. There are windows, doors, seats, hoods, etc. missing from each of them. Looking past the cars I notice a small, run down trailer. This must be what Dr. Lucas was talking about in class.
While driving on up the road I notice several newer ranch style brick homes. They are very well taken care of with newer cars sitting in the driveway. I wonder why there is such a difference in homes and the apparent inequity of wealth of the people in this stretch of road.
A little farther up we run across the church, LaGrange Freewill Baptist Church. It sits back off of the road a little. The entrance seems to be more open to one direction of the road than the other. There are people milling about so we do not stop, we do not want to intrude on their conversation, and we have a mission for the day.
After we pass the church we come upon the cemetery and go over the hill. The road seems to get narrower and offer more curves as we go along. There are also several other one-lane bridges that have no warning signs or makers announcing them. I almost get hit by a large truck that is driving way too fast for this road. Speaking of speed, I have not seen a speed limit sign the entire length of the road. No speed limit signs grace Porter Gap Road.
We approach a section of the road that seems fairly poor. There are five or six trailers lined up along the road with not much space between them. A man walks into what I believe to be his home carrying some grocery bags. He just stares at us as we drive by. I hope that he did not notice that we were staring back. In his front yard, an abandoned appliance stands guarding laundry strung out on the line. I wonder if the family has electricity.
Toward the opposite end of the road there are more, nice, new homes. There are a few two story houses with large manicured lawns. They also have the newer cars and more expensive items around the house.
The most amazing part about Porter Gap Road is the difference in lifestyle on this four mile stretch. There are homes that seem to be falling apart and there are homes of brick that seem to have recently been built. There are outhouses, homemade towers and antennas, junkyards, orchards, traces of the past and markers of the future along with brand new cars and expensive toys. This must be Appalachia. This is Porter Gap Road.