Sunday, March 9, 1997
Some Falmouth residents too old
or too young to rebuild

The Cincinnati Enquirer

FALMOUTH - The traffic light is working again at Maple and West Shelby streets. The pungent smell of alcohol is gone from around the Spirit House; the smashed bottles are in the landfill.

National Guardsmen are harder to find, too, no longer monitoring every nook and cranny of the town.

Falmouth is coming alive again, taking baby steps toward the historic place it was last week before flood waters from the Licking River ravaged the city.

The new Falmouth will be changed.

The place will look a lot different for a long time.

The Pendleton County Public Library on Main Street will be closed for months, with residents relegated to two bookmobiles out front.

It could take weeks to clear the streets of mud, which looks like massive scoops of chocolate icing.

At Rosnetta's Beauty Shop on West Shelby Street, co-owners Rosnetta Donahue and Kathie Moreland worry about what kind of customer base they'll have left after they fix up the shop. They understand that the staples of their business, those ladies who still want weekly wash-and-sets, will go elsewhere. They don't know if they'll come back.

''I'm a single parent of two teen-agers,'' said Ms. Moreland, 42. ''I need to make money.''

Many residents are like her - stuck needing income more than ever to fix businesses and homes, but without a place to earn it.

Falmouth, with a population of 2,378, was not a wealthy or ritzy place to begin with. The median value of the 517 owner-occupied houses here was just over $39,000.

Twenty-six percent of the residents are older than 60, leaving a sizeable chunk of the city beyond its earning-power years.

Kenneth and Eleanor Gillespie, married 45 years, aren't sure they can afford to rebuild their Rigg Street home. Both are 66.

''It took me a lot of years to earn that money we had,'' Mr. Gillespie said. ''I can't do that now.''

Another 30 percent of the town's residents are 21 and younger. Those who do work earn a median household income of just over $16,000.

The picture everywhere is astounding.

James Kimble, property evaluation administrator, said $8 million worth of property on which taxes used to be paid was wiped out by the flood in Butler. The figure could easily be double for Falmouth, he said.

A drug store is a $500,000 loss, Mr. Kimble said. Two supermarkets are a $2 million loss. Flood waters damaged 700 of 900 real estate parcels in Falmouth, he said.

''It's almost impossible to say how much is gone,'' he said.

David and Cora Ferguson tried to claim what they could in their two-story home at 305 Barkley, but said they felt like they were wasting time.

''Our lives are ruined forever,'' Mr. Ferguson said. ''We're numb.''

This couple was particularly hard hit - they own 12 rental properties . Mr. Ferguson estimates their life savings is gone, as well as equipment he used in his contracting and excavating business.

The Fergusons say they'll survive, but not in Falmouth.

''Somebody can tell me I can rebuild, but I will not do it,'' Mrs. Ferguson said. ''I will not come back to Falmouth. It's stupid to rebuild and then the spring rains come and it happens all over again.''