After the seven hour Interstate drive the previous day, I woke up Saturday dreading the thought of hitting the bland four-lane pavement for another long haul. I don’t think anything in the world is as mind-numbingly boring as Interstate travel, and even at 80+ mph (thanks, West Virginia!), to me, it feels like you’re moving at a snail’s pace.
Well, we had no choice. Our plan was to meet up with Route 50 at the Indiana border, so we sucked it up and bolted across Ohio in about 4 hours or so.
About the only thing of note: we stopped at Panera for lunch, where I encountered these two ladies engaged in an activity one of you readers is going to have to explain to me. They had a small electronic scale, and some sort of meter with a probe attachment, and were carefully going over a bunch of somethings in a little plastic bag. Any clues?
Finally, we arrived at the exit for US-50. Our roadtrip had officially begun!
At first, I was seriously disheartened. The part of Lawrenceburg that US-50 travels through is essentially lined by Walgreens and McDonalds and Blockbusters, and looks like the commercial wasteland found in any US city. Had we really gunned across 4 hours of Ohio interstate for this?
Then we crossed the river into Aurora, Indiana, and any depression in my veins was washed away by the eternal power of a Main Street that had seemingly been frozen in time.
Places like Aurora are true treasures – incredibly well-preserved small towns that are still largely serving the local interest. I’m from the north-east, where such places are generally preserved as tourist destinations, guaranteed to be around so long as visitors continue streaming in to buy overpriced rock candy at the North Conway, NH General Store, or unwanted knicknacks at the Rockport, Mass. curio shop.
As for Aurora? When we arrived at around 4pm, Aurora was nearly completely deserted. All the stores were closed, and other than a few locals sitting on rocking chairs down the street, there wasn’t a soul around. A corner bank:
I love this building a few blocks down. What is – or was – Schucks? No clue – a small plaque simply identifies it as “Schuck’s Victorian – 1866. Built by Spaeth.” An art gallery currently occupies the ground floor.
This is one of the most beautiful all-American car garages I’ve ever seen, just around the corner on Main Street. As of Dodge City, Kansas, I haven’t seen anything that tops it:
This building is now a bar…
…but still has the old “Nelson TV” sign attached.
On the beautiful brick building beside Schuck’s, a ghost ad still remains for “Walton’s Photograph Gallery.” I’d love to know what year that dates to:
Meanwhile, the ad-covered Aylor & Meyer store still provides feed and services to local farmers:
But the most glaring sign we were a long way from New York? A sign advertising “pop” instead of “soda” (and only 50 cents??).
Aurora is delightfully small, with just five numbered streets, and is located on the Ohio River. However, best of all, Aurora is built on a hill – 3rd Street is higher than 2nd, 4th higher than 3rd, and so on.
Look down any of Aurora’s back alleys, and you’ll see the town rising up in the distance.
Aurora has a lot of beautiful homes, like this wonderfully preserved Victorian mansion:
It also has its share of abandoned houses like this one, not more than 2 blocks from the one above yet completely overtaken by trees:
As small a town as Aurora might be, there’s a good chance it will one day play a big role in your life – or rather, death: the Aurora Casket Company, located up the hill on 4th Street, is one of the largest manufacturers of caskets and urns in the US, supplying 38% of those used annually. Note the faded lettering on the left building, revealing it to have once been named “The Aurora Coffin Company.”
A third Aurora Casket building on 4th Street:
Finally, the crown jewel of Aurora: the Hillforest mansion, perched at the top of a hill off of 5th Street:
Hillforest was built for Thomas Gaff, a local entrepreneur whose many businesses included a tremendous amount of shipping along the Ohio River by steamship. The house was thus designed to resemble a steamship’s deck. The view from the porch allowed him to keep an eye on incoming and outgoing ships on the Ohio:
How long will Aurora remain frozen in time? As we were leaving, we passed this ominous sign announcing future condo development.
See it while you still can.
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