By Patricia Beech –
This is the beginning of a series featuring the towns, villages, hamlets, and rural communities of Adams County. In the coming weeks the Defender will ask county residents what they think sets their communities apart from all others, and what they believe makes their communities a special place to live.
The village of Peebles rises and falls along Highway 41 as it travels north to south through Meigs Township in northern Adams County. Springing up in the latter part of the 19th century around construction of the old Cincinnati, Portsmouth, Virginia Railroad line, it was for many years a boom town attracting ambitious entrepreneurs and wealthy business owners who constructed sturdy 19th century commercial buildings along the length of its Main Street.
Now with a population of 2,000 citizens, many of whom are descendants of the town’s founders, Peebles is less of a boom town, and more of a sleepy village, but many of its residents say it is the only place they would choose to live.
“People here care and they pull together when there’s a tragedy or an emergency,” says Edie Clickner, co-owner of the White Star Restaurant on south Main Street. Clickner, who was recently diagnosed with cancer, says she was surprised by how much concern the community showed following her diagnosis.
“People have reached out to me through text messages, Facebook and phone calls just to say they care,” she says. “There is a wonderful attitude here that we all belong together and we all help each other.”
Next door to the White Star, customers lingering in the New Image Beauty Salon reflect on what they believe makes Peebles an ideal place to live.
“There’s a strong feeling of community here because people tend to watch out for each other more so than they do in larger communities,” said retired educator and former school superintendent, Phil Satterfield.
Local beautician Susie Robinson agreed. “That is one very good thing about this community,” she said. “If you don’t show up where you’re supposed to be on time, people will come looking for you.”
Across town in the stately two-story Victorian home that houses the Greene Beanery Coffee Shop, owner Cheryl Greene says she is impressed by how friendly and sociable local residents are.
“I think it’s because the town is small,” she says. “Even though I don’t know everybody, when people come into the coffee shop, I get to know them on a first name basis and they kind of become like family on the business side of things.”
While her business thrives on the friendly atmosphere exuded by her java-loving customers, Green is also pragmatic about day-to-day life in the village.
“I know there are bad things that happen in the town occasionally,” she says. “But I still just love it, I would choose to live here over the city any day of the week.”
Betty Hedrick, who worked 39 years on the Peebles Life Squad, echoes Green’s view of the village.
“We do have troubles, but every town does,” she says. “But, there is still nothing like a small town where everyone knows everyone, and Peebles really is a wonderful example of that kind of friendly, caring town.”
In small towns like Peebles, businesses often play an important role in knitting the ties that bind community members together with a sense of oneness reminiscent of an extended family.
“When I was growing up my father owned the town’s funeral home, so, of course, all the families around town came to our home, and my Dad took everyone’s sorrow to heart because we were so familiar with them – it was like we were just one big family,” says Sis McCoy of her childhood in Peebles.
Still, when she and her husband, Jack lost their oldest son, Shane, at age 20, she says she was dumbfounded by the community’s outpouring of support.
“For nine hours people passed through Shane’s visitation line, and there were so many flowers they wouldn’t all fit in the funeral home,” she recalls. “It was wonderful how people reached out, and how much they cared.”
She says she doubts whether people who live in larger towns and cities have access to that depth of love and caring from their neighbors.
“I read something once that said, when you’re from a small town, it’s like you’re part of a big family, and when you’re from a city, it’s like you’re an only child – I think that’s why I love being here, because we are like one big family.”
Early in their marriage, the McCoys did briefly move away from their hometown while Jack worked to build a career in the lumber industry.
“I spent many months traveling across America buying and selling wood products and taking advantage of every opportunity to learn more about the industry, but at the same time I had yearning to come back and start a business here that would be of benefit to the area that had supported us during the years we were growing up,” says Jack. “Our family and the industry always seem to intersect for us in Peebles.
Continuity and tradition are common traits shared by many of the town’s merchants – especially those operating multi-generational businesses.
For over seven decades members of the Wallingford family have been a staple in the Peebles business community operating mercantiles which offered goods ranging from sundry items to home furnishings to basic hardware.
“Generation after generation of the same families have shopped with us and supported our businesses,” says Charlie Wallingford, who owns and operates the local Ace Hardware store with his son Brad.
He says close ties within the community are key to the town’s success and longevity.
“In a small town like Peebles, everyone knows everyone, and in times of need people turn out to help one another – that’s really the most important thing.”
Heather Sisler is the Operating Manager of the Save-A-Lot grocery on south Main Street, a business started by her father 22 years ago. She believes local businesses have a unique opportunity to strengthen community ties.
“Seeing the same people every day, talking with them, and getting to know them is really the most special thing about running a business in a small town like Peebles,” she says. “Knowing your customers quirks and preferences creates a real family-like atmosphere.”
Newer business owners like Carol and Frank Kidder who operate an open-air fruit and vegetable market during the spring and summer months, say their business is a social hub attracting old friends and new acquaintances.
“We have a faithful customer base, but we also see people that we haven’t seen in forever, and I’ve met lots of people who I didn’t know, but now I do,” says Carol, “It’s great running a business in a small town like Peebles, because you make such wonderful friends.”
The most significant thing their business offers the community, according to Carol, is found hanging in the back of their market – a dry-erase board filled with the names of customers who are facing hardships and difficulties.
“It’s our prayer board,” she explains. “And it is the most important thing we do.”
Bill Swango, the General Manager of Adams Rural Electric and owner of the Gospel Connection book and music store in downtown Peebles, agrees that local businesses offer more than just goods to their customers.
“It’s about friends and local people who come in, not only to look at what we have for sell, but to talk about what’s going on in the community, and sometimes to reminisce about days gone by.”
“People do share a lot about their lives,” says Melody Stewart, owner of Mel’s Diner on Main Street,
“Seeing the same people everyday, you really get to know them – we know what they’re going to order and what they’re likely to talk about while they’re here – they become like family members who depend on one another.”
The village school is also another important part of what makes Peebles a special and close-knit community, according to Peeebles teacher and coach, Josh Arey.
“It’s a three-part equation,” he says. “It’s the students, the parents of those students, the faculty and administrators. As a school, we don’t have a lot of discipline problems despite administrative turnover and other issues, we still run smoothly, and I think that’s because of the community, and the parents who have clear expectations of their kids.”
While the school is well-known for its basketball tradition, Arey says he doesn’t believe that sports should define either the school or the community.
“If sports does anything, I hope it gives the community something to be proud of, something they can support and call their own,” he says. “At times our athletic program transcends the games it supports and enhances our ability to do good things for other people like holding benefits for those who are battling cancer, or for those who are struggling with epilepsy, or for recognizing the achievements and contributions of past athletes – these things are all very unifying.”
He says there’s a definite down side to the idea that our school has a winning basketball tradition.
“In public schools the success of any athletic team is cyclical, you’re going to go through ups and downs,” he says. “When I was growing up, and thinking about playing sports for Peebles, it was something I really looked forward to – you wanted to be better than the people who came before you and it does give you something to work toward – that’s the real value of playing any sport.”
Pam Stephens, a long-time supporter of Peebles athletics, says she believes sports strengthens and unifies communities.
“Of course, everyone here supports basketball, but it’s really about the kids and the school,” she says. “Basketball is our common history and tradition – it lives because we keep it alive generation after generation because of all the other things it instills in our kids. When you take pride in something like that, you’ll also take pride in your family, your home, your job, and your community.”
Living in a town where families can grow and thrive is the real measure of a successful community, according to Stephens’ son, Ty, who teaches Science at the local high school.
“You can’t beat raising a family in a small town where everyone is just a skip and a jump away,” he says. “The support of the community and the way people come together to help those in need is truly something special. I wouldn’t want to raise my family anywhere else – not to mention, that Peebles is the home of Old Timers Days, which is the greatest event in the world.”
The importance of families to communities like Peebles can’t be overstated.
“Small towns are like family reunions,” says Cheryl Mitchell, whose family came to Peebles in its earliest days. “You share common roots, and a common history, and a responsibility to keep it going.”
Ohio Valley School Board member and owner of HomeTown Pizza, Sally McDaniel, says she doesn’t believe it’s possible to “get from a city what you get from living in a small town”.
“It’s the little things that hold us together,” she says. “The things we share with our neighbors and friends from generation to generation – that’s what makes living in a small town like Peebles so special.”