Tuesday, July 6, 2004

Ghost towns are his haunt

Researcher documents hundreds, and plans decades of further work

By James Hannah
The Associated Press

They were once colorful characters on Ohio's landscape - communities with names such as Henpeck, Lickskillet, Worstville and even Pee Pee.

Today, these ghost towns live only on old maps, erased by the passage of time.

Richard Helwig, owner of the Center of Ghost Town Research in Ohio, said he has uncovered about 6,000 such ghost towns and still is looking.

"In Ohio, because of our climate and population density, once a town is abandoned it quickly disappears," Helwig said.

Helwig's father found the research center, located near Columbus in Galena, in 1974.

He was teaching a class in genealogy at a technical college when a student presented him with a letter from an ancestor and couldn't find the location of the Ohio town.

The elder Helwig decided to start a research effort and compile a repository.

"Since then, we have been documenting and trying to find the location of as many towns as we can," Richard Helwig said.

Helwig said there are four categories of ghost towns:

• True ghost towns: a former town where there is nothing left to show it ever existed.

• Semi-ghost towns: towns that are only 10 percent or less than the size they once were.

• Old towns: places that have existed for at least 100 years but changed their names because they were swallowed up by larger cities or could not get a post office name because another town had the same name.

• Paper ghost towns: places that were imagined and sometimes platted and recorded by land developers but never came into being.

Maps dating back to the 1850s help Helwig spot ghost towns. They may be ghost towns if they appear on one map, then vanish on a later one. Helwig does his research in libraries, local genealogy societies and even county courthouses.

Helwig said his information is useful to historians doing research, genealogists looking for ancestors or local historical societies trying to preserve the heritage of their areas.

Helwig said one of the fun things in doing his research is uncovering weird town names.

He said Pee Pee in Ross County was named when Peter Patrick marked off the town by carving his initials on four trees.

Teacup was named when a woman took over a tavern in the town and served drinks in teacups.

Helwig does his research county by county and so far has completed northwest Ohio and much of central Ohio. He estimates it will take him another 30 years to complete the state.

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