Heritage of Hope
Some of Ohio's most lonely, winding roads weave through the hills of Vinton County, one of the state's least populated and most scenic areas. This is Ohio's Appalachia. The land does not readily give up its wealth of mineral resources, and the dense forest is not easily tamed. Today the area remains mostly rural and relatively isolated, even though it once boomed as the heart of the nation's iron industry from the 1850s to the 1870s.
Life in rural Ohio Appalachia has historically been challenging, but the rewards have been sweet. To survive here, the European pioneers had to be resourceful and self-sufficient. To thrive, they needed to maintain a strong connection to the land and to each other. From these roots, a rich tradition of homespun customs and an earthy, common-sense character has emerged. Today, Lake Hope State Park and a group named Rural Ohio Appalachia Revisited (R.O.A.R.) are celebrating their pride in this great tradition.
R.O.A.R. started as an informal meeting of people involved in the community and interested in its heritage. It has grown to embrace several agencies including Zaleski State Forest, the Zaleski Civilian Conservation Corps camp, the Ohio State University Cooperative Extension office, the Vinton County Chamber of Commerce and Lake Hope State Park, as well as local citizens committed to keeping their heritage alive and passing it on to future generations.
A new tradition rising from the revival of age-old roots is the R.O.A.R. Day celebration held each October at Lake Hope State Park and Zaleski State Forest. The day-long festival features demonstrations of essential skills such as basketweaving, woodcarving, pottery making and quilting, plus mountain music and preparation of traditional foods like apple butter and cider. To add to the fun, R.O.A.R. Day includes an authentic Appalachian Halloween. The picturesque setting of Lake Hope reflecting the colorful fall foliage provides the perfect backdrop. The educational value of the R.O.A.R. Day gathering is expanded with a special R.O.A.R. field day at the state park and state forest for fourth grade students throughout Vinton County, held the day before the main event.
The skills and expertise for the R.O.A.R. Day demonstrations haven't been imported plenty of local talent has been supplied by the group members, as well as their families and friends. They are keeping in practice, teaching each other the traditional techniques, and passing the skills and passion along to their children and grandchildren. An added benefit to the community's identification with its Appalachian past is a cohesive effort to promote heritage tourism. The greater the awareness of local business people and citizens, the more opportunities they can create for educational and recreational activities with a heritage theme.
The 1930s-era Hope School House on the fringe of Zaleski State Forest near the Lake Hope dam has given R.O.A.R. a golden opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to preserve history. The dilapidated structure was slated for demolition, but R.O.A.R. saved it. The group applied for grant money in 1995 through the Appalachian Public Facilities Improvement Task Force and was awarded $60,000. In 1998, with labor provided by the Zaleski Civilian Conservation Corps camp, R.O.A.R. was able to refurbish the building with authentic-looking repairs to the roof and the siding, as well as a few modern conveniences including heating, air conditioning and a new vault latrine. On the school house grounds, the original privy and coal shed were also repaired and a gravel parking lot was built.
The Hope School House renovation project preserves additional aspects of the area's heritage and serves as a hub for history programming. It provides an authentic backdrop for experiences from daily life such as ice cream socials, spelling bees and historical reenactments. Other events held here include workshops and lectures. R.O.A.R. is assembling a library to be housed here which includes documents tracing the genealogy of area residents.
This year, the Hope School House will serve as one of four sites for R.O.A.R. Day activities on Saturday, October 30. Other activity sites include the Lake Hope State Park Nature Center, Hope Dining Lodge, and the Zaleski State Forest headquarters. Parking for the School House is located off Wheelabout Road. During the summer, the School House is open to the public on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, Memorial Day through October.
At 93, Oscar Coe (2nd from left) is the oldest surviving student of the historic Hope School. Oscar was born in Moonville and first attended the school in 1910 at the age of seven. In Oscar's day, students came from Moonville and Hope Station, two towns that are memories today. The school building that Oscar remembers was built in 1887; after the original building was damaged by fire, the school was rebuilt on the site in 1937.
Daily life in the one-room schoolhouse tested the ingenuity of the students and teacher, alike. Oscar recalls sitting at the recitation bench by the chalkboard, where the teacher taught arithmetic to students in one grade level, while the students in the other grade levels worked quietly at their desks on English or history. At recess, students of all ages played together and cheerfully made do with what nature had to offer for amusement?they fashioned a jump rope from a long piece of grapevine, and played hide and seek in the tall weeds and bushes of the overgrown field nearby. Oscar was assigned the important duty of collecting kindling and building the fire each day in the wood stove which served as the sole source of heat for the schoolhouse. Indoor plumbing was a luxury the students lived without, they used a privy by the schoolhouse, and drew water from Granny Dunn's well down the road.
Last October, Oscar and more than 20 other former students of Hope School attended a reunion at the grand opening of the refurbished schoolhouse. Despite some of the hardships they must have faced growing up in an old-fashioned, one-room schoolhouse, none of the students complained. Instead, they shared their treasured and happy memories of fun and learning at Hope School.