Exploring roads less traveled in Washington County

MICHAEL KELLY The Marietta Times A rural road framed by forest is shown on Sheets Run Road from Jenny Bruce’s Facebook page, Timesaver Memories.

Jenny Bruce’s Facebook page

– Title: Timesaver Memories

– Project: Capture and share images of the back roads of Washington County

– Status: About 50 percent complete

– Where to find it: https://www.facebook.com/Timesaver-Memories-117290688775132/

MICHAEL KELLY The Marietta Times An old barn was one of the subjects Jenny Bruce found during a drive on McNeal Road in Waterford Township as part of her Timesaver Memories Facebook project to capture images on obscure roads of Washington County.

Three decades in Columbus gave Jenny Bruce a deeper appreciation for the beauty of the place where she grew up, western Washington County.

“I got married, had children, went to Ohio State University, worked at Riverside Hospital,” she said. “My children didn’t grow up here — my oldest daughter was a freshman in high school when we moved back here, and she didn’t connect much, didn’t like the outdoors — and I wanted my children to appreciate the beauty we have here.”

Bruce’s Facebook page, Timesaver Memories, came about in part because of her work.

Working for a hospice, she regularly had to send home care nurses into the back roads of the county and help guide them to their destinations, sometimes getting calls to the effect, “You gave me a road that’s not there.”

“I started thinking, ‘I don’t even know the places where I sent these girls,'” she said.

MICHAEL KELLY The Marietta Times The Timesaver Memories Facebook page by Washington County resident Jenny Bruce often includes a shot of road signs to help orient its viewers.

She began exploring the less-traveled county roads — some of them one-lane gravel pathways — in Washington County and exercising one of her favorite skills, photography, to document her discoveries. The result is a digital travelogue of the paths less taken and their beauty, mystery and surprises.

Followers of her Facebook page can find old roads flanked by towering groves of trees, swaths of farmland enclosed by forest, abandoned barns, wildlife in the early morning, sunsets on isolated creeks and tight valleys, and other hidden landscapes of the county down roads most people seldom have reason to drive.

“We don’t always appreciate what’s right before our eyes,” Bruce said.

She often posts photos without explanatory text, except for location, because she doesn’t want to influence what her viewers see.

“What you get out of it might be one thing, but somebody else might see something different,” she said.

She also avoids posting photos of people or their residences out of deference to their privacy.

Bruce has discovered things she didn’t know about the county that are both historical and in the present time.

“On Caywood Road, there used to be a small town. You can still see the railroad bridge over Duck Creek,” she said. “And I didn’t know we had a state nature preserve on Falls Creek Road near Bartlett.”

Bruce is an enthusiastic traveler and photographer — her first camera was a Polaroid Instamatic — but illness in the family prevented her usual vacation last year, so she turned to the county instead of the country as a place to explore. It has helped her develop an appreciation for the beauty of her home county, connected her with new people through the internet and provided a few adventures.

“I have been been driving down a road and a four-wheeler stopped in front of me and the driver asked me, ‘Why are you coming down this road?’ People wonder why someone in a strange car is on their road,” she said. “I’ve come across cows in the middle of the road, I’ve had dogs attack my car. Once, on a gravel road near Macksburg, I got out of the car to take a photo, and I heard a sharp crack. A tree literally fell on the road, right behind my car.”

The roads themselves are often a deterrent that prevents people from exploring the beauty of the county, she said.

“Most people won’t drive on a gravel road if they don’t have to,” she said. “They would be surprised by things they didn’t know were there.”

She recalls one trip with her 79-year-old mother as they motored up a gravel road in a 4-wheel drive vehicle, with the road eventually petering out into a dirt path and finally a string of mudholes. As Bruce prepared for a long retreat in reverse, her mother wasn’t having it.

“Mom says, ‘Gun it! Floor it!’ We slid through mudholes, mud flying everywhere, and broke through to another path that brought us to another gravel road,” she said.

Bruce remembers taking a little-traveled road, Orchard Hills, into the hills above Newport and coming to a clearing overlooking the river, level with the tops of the Willow Island industrial towers.

“It was so pretty, such an unusual view, I took quite a few pictures,” she said. “Every road has something to offer.”

Her project on Facebook is mainly viewed by friends and family, she said, but she also gets messages from strangers who feel connected by her photos of places.

“People who live on some of those roads contact me or they’ll say, ‘Hey! My mom lives on that road,’ and they thank me for sharing,” she said. “That is so rewarding for me.”

Her body of photographic work connects her in other ways. In helping care for the dying father of her daughter’s boyfriend, she found that looking at her photos forged a bond between them.

“I’d sit with him in the evening and visit to give his son a break. I’d show him on my laptop places I had been, and it was a connection for us, it gave us something to talk about,” she said.

Using a Sharpie to mark off a detailed map of Washington County, Bruce keeps track of the roads she has driven and documented through photography.

“I’ve traveled over 50 percent of the roads.There’s a lot to see, people don’t realize these hidden treasures,” she said. “They see the basic things like covered bridges, downtown Marietta, the tourism spots.”

Her travels have given her a more detailed knowledge of the county, along with some bigger overviews.

“I came to realize how vastly different the eastern part of the county is from the western part, from rolling hills and farmland to the highest point in the county,” she said.

“I want to encourage people with my photos,” she said. “If you like what you see, go see it for yourself.”