By Christiana Botic
The unincorporated community of Sharpsburg, Ohio—tucked away in Athens County’s rural Bern Township—was once a thriving crossroads between Athens, the county’s largest city, and neighboring Morgan County. Its densely-forested hills were originally cleared for farmland and later mined for coal. European settlers began farming the land in Bern as early as the 1790s, and organized independently from Ames Township in 1828.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, Sharpsburg boasted multiple businesses, a church, a post office, and a railroad. In the last fifty years, loss of coal industry and frequent flooding have driven community members out of Sharpsburg. Some of the community’s remaining residents are more financially and physically secure, owning large swaths of land uphill, above the area’s worst flooding. Others live below—in Sharpsburg’s flood zone—which was once the heart of the village, but now stands half-vacant.
I was born and raised in central Ohio, physically and culturally distant from life in the foothills of Appalachia to the southeast. But during the several months I spent photographing Sharpsburg, I came to better understand the way community and individual identity there are intertwined with the Appalachian landscape. This photographic essay explores that connection—and the joys, struggles, and determinations of a community in transition.