From the end of my driveway I could turn right and explore the entire neighborhood, or left and down a long winding gravel road to that dead-ended into a series of trails. Over the course of a long summer I connected these trails to cave entrances, swinging vines, and bluffs overlooking the Ohio River. The years I spent growing up in the River Ridge Army community near the Indiana Army Ammunition Plant still contain my first memories of exploring the areas I call home. If memory serves, we lived there while I was in kindergarten and most of first grade before moving. By the time we left, I knew every inch of that community.
That desire to know about the places I live didn’t fade when we moved away. Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky; each one had it’s own places to explore. Now that I have a computer with an unlimited connection to the internet and Satellite view on Google Maps, it’s easy to satisfy that curiosity. What’s on top of that hill? Search for a location, zoom in, find out. At least approximately. What used to take a day of figuring out how to get there (and not get caught, sometimes) now takes a few keystrokes. It’s easy, but it isn’t the same.
Today I decided to go look around at a couple of places I was curious about. No further than a mile from my front door is a short, steep, broken roadbed leading up a bluff. It is overgrown and unmarked, very easy to pass by completely. I rode up to the top and found an abandoned house with a stone fireplace. No electricity meter in the box. Windows broken out. Patinated metal roof, aged beyond repair. I wonder who lived there, and how long ago they abandoned the house. Did they leave it because of the influx of new neighborhoods and people? Funny how the details obtained by going there in person creates even more questions than seeing it on a screen. The computer can only show you what it is. Going there let’s you ask what it was.
River Ridge isn’t what it was either. The Ammunition Plant closed in 1991, and after a stint as Superfund cleanup site was made into an industrial park and eventually a State Park of sorts. I remember the housing community as a clean, spacious subdivision of well-spaced houses. Some houses larger than others, but all painted white with dark green shutters. Mature trees. On the road leading into the housing area were rows of oddly curvaceous hills with huge metal doors in their sides. Ammo storage bunkers. The community pool was a man-made pond filled with chlorinated water. A sand beach sloped down to the deeper end of the pond where a scaffolding held up a diving platform.
It’s all still there. The clubhouse where I raced my plastic “big wheel” tricycle. The diving platform in the pool. Our house. Not the way I remember it though. The roads are now crumbling, houses falling into disrepair like the one at the top of that gravel drive. I found this set of photographs uploaded in late 2010 that show the current state of the community. Definitely worth a look. From the comments it appears that this area is still strictly controlled government property. You can’t go there, but still they left all of the houses and roads. It is a literal ghost town, like something out of the Old West. I would love to find my way back in and take photos of our old house (it’s located at GPS coordinates 38.370964, -85.643428 by the way), but I don’t know if the possible consequences would be worth it. Plus, I don’t remember it as a ghost town. I remember the musty smell of the clubhouse (bingo night). The swinging vine over the ravine (there’s stories there, too). Ice crystals on the windows in winter. I remember the way it was then so clearly that I can drive down River Ridge road in my mind and almost count the houses between the pool and home. You can’t create those memories behind a computer keyboard.
I’ve lived in Nashville longer than almost every other place in my life. Ten years. In those years I’ve spent countless hours on trips exploring areas farther from home than I ever could as a child. Cars and faster bicycles enable such things. I haven’t, however, explored the seemingly tiny area within a mile of my front door. It’s time I did that. One mile may not be a long way to travel, but that one mile can hold an entire universe.
I’ll let you know what I find.