Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Little town celebrates 150th year

Warren County burg toasts sesquicentennial with parties, book

By Randy McNutt rmcnutt@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        PLEASANT PLAIN - When any small town turns 150 years old, especially one nicknamed Plumb Sock, people should stand up and cheer. After all, fewer small towns are surviving in America's emerging high-tech economy of the 21st century. Pleasant Plain is an exception, and no one in the town knows why.

        “It seems to have always been here,” said Dwayne Bishop, owner of Bishop's Market and Deli on Main Street. “The building that my store is in is old. Out back, there are still two outhouses for men and women. Of course, we don't use them anymore. We're not that rural.”

  Pleasant Plain will celebrate its sesquicentennial with various events, including an ice-cream social and car show, Saturday and Sunday.
  The village also will celebrate the 156th anniversary of the chartering of the Butlerville Masonic Lodge No. 135 and the 86th anniversary of Pleasant Plain Presbyterian Church.
  During the weekend the church will display old photographs, documents and historic papers in the fellowship hall.
  On Sunday, the church will have a special homecoming, sesquicentennial worship service and a dinner.
        The village will celebrate its sesquicentennial with events including an ice-cream social and car show, on Sept. 21-22.

        “The whole town is excited,” Mr. Bishop said.

        Turning 150 is a major achievement for any small town, said Joseph Donnermeyer, a professor in the Ohio State University's Department of Human and Community Resource Development.

        “Pleasant Plain is viable as a town because it is in Warren County, where there's a lot of development,” he said. “The town needs to recognize that a sesquicentennial means something important. Rural towns in Ohio aren't ever going to be what they used to be. Some are hurting. Kids don't come back. The economy is stagnant.”

        Except for serendipity, Pleasant Plain might be one of them. Unlike its counterparts in Warren County, the village has no fancy historic inn; no downtown devoted to antiques shops and a big sauerkraut festival; no subdivisions; and no historic mansion operated by the state.

        In fact, Pleasant Plain isn't known for much, although sometimes in November it draws attention from curious newspaper reporters who can't understand the town's relaxed political climate. Candidates usually don't run for office in the traditional way. They either become write-ins or wait to be appointed by council.

        Either way, they've done the job for 150 years. Their work and the town's history since 1952 are chronicled in a new book that will be sold during the celebration.

        Standing behind his counter, Mr. Bishop pulled out a book about the town's centennial in 1952 and marveled at the black and white photograph of his own building. It looked like something from 1890. Today, the place is covered in white vinyl siding, but still gives the appearance of a historic small-town centerpiece. A few other old buildings are scattered around town, among smaller, older homes and wide front yards.

        “We have such a "large' phone book here,” said Gary Copen, assistant chairman of the sesquicentennial committee. “Pleasant Plain is a friendly town. People really care and help each other out. It's a nice little place to live. We're close to having as many years in existence as we do people.”

        The village has produced two cachet covers that will be canceled with special postmarks on the days of the celebration. One envelope cover shows a rural village surrounded by farm scenes; the other commemorates the 25th anniversary of the Harlan Township Fire and Rescue Squad.

        One special postmark depicts a firefighter carrying two fire buckets and the other a steam train bearing the name Plumb Sock.

        The town was nicknamed by visiting salesmen in the early part of the 20th century.

        “When calling on residents, the salesmen would depart the train and sink in the mud,” said resident Janet Klug. “In the early days of the village, fires were fought by bucket brigades. The shed where the buckets hung still stands in the park in the center of the village.”

        These days, the steam train is a faint echo of history and the town is one of those momentary diversions motorists see as they drive by on Ohio 132, three miles north of the line dividing Clermont and Warren counties. One landmark is put to good use, the local school from the early 20th century. It is now the Village Christian School Kindergarten and Pre-School. “We had to raise our tuition to $2,000 per year this year,” Administrator Chris Jones said, “but this is still an incredible value for a private school.”

        Dr. Donnermeyer said this is at once the best and worst of times for small towns in Ohio and the nation, depending on their situation.

        “Towns tied to urban economies are doing well,” he said. “Those towns that aren't around the urban areas are usually doing poor. They have no economic base. So a sesquicentennial is a way of seeing continuity between past and present.”

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