Thursday, February 24, 2005

Morrow County: Quiet In the Heart of Crazy

Can't you see
I don't want apologies
Why won't you just follow me
Give it a chance again
Hang around
Onto a cross you're bound
I don't believe you knew
That you'd end up like this
"On and On" by The Cringe off Scratch the Surface

Heading north on State Route 42 out of Delaware County and into the open arms of Morrow County, I couldn't help but wonder if it was any coincidence that 42 departs from one of the roughest sections of Delaware and into the quiet, downtrodden community that is Morrow County.

Morrow County is only downtrodden in an economic sense. The county reports a little more than $15,000 as the per capita yearly income. A per capita income that is a far cry from the $35,000 seen in its Delaware County neighbor to the south and about $10,000 less than Marion County to its west.

While the developments and insurgence of "sleeper communities" that are swallowing the culture of Delaware County whole, Morrow County has preserved its sense of self.

The first thing you notice pulling into the county seat of Mt. Gilead (pop. 3,443 in 2002) on State Route 42 is the lack of newly built homes. The community has been able to hold onto to its heart as you roll upon the historic downtown. Downtown features one of the most unique round-a-bouts to ever be seen. A small oblique is the feature in the center and the businesses continue to be built around it while not encroaching upon the old village square. There are even a couple of businesses that sit back off a small green with no street access from the two main areas that feed the town square. The charm in Mt. Gilead is not in the immaculate pristine restored nature that you feel pushed into in other "classic" communities, but rather a working class rustic form of classic. Beautiful houses - with blemishes - are all over State Route 95 as you head east and west from downtown.

Heading East, you'll go towards Mt. Gilead State Park and its numerous opportunities for rustic entertainment. If you continue east the rolling hills begin to pick-up as they become the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains east of Fredericktown.

Morrow County has only two communities of any major size, besides Mt. Gilead is Cardington (pop. 1843), sitting about five miles south of Mt. Gilead on 42. The economic climate has been lifted by its proximity to I-71 and the growing Columbus community. Among the other communities are Chesterville, Sparta, and Marengo which have combined for Highland High School, the alma mater of former major league pitcher Tim Belcher.

Another attraction is Lake Candlewood, which was designed to become the Apple Valley of Morrow County. The community is still a gated one, but the home values and influx of money didn't happen as they had hoped. On the north side of Lake Candlewood is the village of West Point. West Point defines numerous cross-road communities spread around Morrow County.

Heading West out of Mt. Gilead on State Route 95, you'll pass quickly through the community of Edison and one of the most violent rail-road crossings in the state. The location of two car dealerships right next to the tracks cannot be a coincidence as the height and lack of repair has been known to lift a semi’s trailer right off the truck.

The railroad quickly appears to be the end of the rolling hills, as western Morrow County is flat and on this cold February evening the turned brown soil was prepared for a spring planting to be filled with fresh corn and beans later this summer.

Much like the rest of Morrow County, the beauty lies in its tradition and classical nature.

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