TARLTON, Ohio — It is Sunday morning and St. Jacob’s Lutheran Church is in the middle of its morning services.
A stone’s throw away is a Methodist church, which has seen better days. It is 10:45 in the morning, the doors are closed, and there’s not a car in sight. A sign says morning services start at 9:30 and it’s possible the good Methodists have come and gone.
I’m not sure.
As best as I can figure, there’s not a Baptist church within two time zones of Tarlton, a small wide place on State Highway 159. It’s getting smaller. The 2000 census put the pop at 298. In 2010, it was 282.
Tarlton, best I can figure, has three claims to fame of some sort.
It sits on Zane’s Trace, a frontier road built by a Col. Ebenezer Zane in 1796-97. It ran from Wheeling, W. Va., to Marysville, Ky. A historic marker says “Tarlton is the principal historic site between Chillicothe and Lancaster.”
The same marker also says Tarlton was “Once famous for Nye’s Tavern.”
Honest … again.
Another historic maker tells you Maj. Gen. William Sooy Smith was born here on July 22, 1830. But don’t feel bad if you fail to recognize the name. I didn’t either and I’m a Smith.
But it takes both sides of the marker to tell you he fought in the Civil War and later became a famous builder of bridges around the world.
Standing in the Tarlton IGA Express parking lot talking with Paul Allen and his son Riley, I learned a couple of other things.
Pointing across the street at a boarded up brick building, Allen said “That used to be Taylor’s Funeral Home. Right down the street was Mac’s General Store.”
It, too, is vacant.
But Riley, who has a grin as wide as the town and a smattering of freckles, knows what’s really important.
“On down the road was Jones Hardware,” he said. “It was next to the ice cream place. The ice cream place is still there.”
Best I could figure, the IGA Express and a Carroll’s garage across the street is Tarlton’s “downtown.” Just a couple of blocks down the street there is Durgin’s Place. Its sign promotes “Ice Cream-Pizzas-Sandwiches.”
But if you’re hungry, you’ll have to head somewhere else.
A sign out front reads “Yes We’re Open,” but they’re not there. A “For Sale” sign is in the window.
I asked Riley what is the most fun for a 12-year old in Tarlton.
“Hunting and fishing with my dad,” was quick. “We’re going fishing this weekend, be there all night.”
He also mentioned his grandfather. I asked him what he liked best about him. The answer was one any grandfather would love to put on the fridge door:
“He would do anything to protect me. I always feel safe when he’s there.”
With Tarlton in the rearview mirror, a line from a Willie Nelson-Merle Haggard song kept running through my mind.
“. . . and we’re looking for all the soft places to fall.”
Tarlton, Ohio, is a soft pillow.
Then there was the drive back to Circleville. The highway is mostly a bee-line with slight dips to accommodate the plains of Ohio.
The young corn is head high, the soybeans are lush. If you look across the flat and rich land there is a slight golden tint. The corn is beginning to tassel.
“Amber waves of grain.”
Paul had told me that “if knee high on July 4 it’s going to make.” The grain elevators along the way should be packed when the big John Deere corn picking machines are finished in the fall.
Call me an old softie if you like, but I grew up in the cotton fields of Alabama and while I don’t want to live there again I love to visit places like Tarlton … and feel old memories of comfort in what is too often a troubled times.
Hope you liked Tarlton …