Saturday, July 16, 2016
We stayed the night at a motel in Iola. This bustling little town of around 6,000 is the county seat of Allen County and home to Allen County Community College. It also features a large, beautiful town square (with an ENORMOUS clock), a war memorial (larger than the one we saw in LeRoy), and the Bowlus Fine Arts Center.
Of course, the other (less historic) side of town also features a National Guard armory and several stores such as AutoZone, Dollar General, and Orscheln. There is also a Wal-Mart, whose parking lot held more cars than were in the parking lots of all the other stores combined. In all, it seemed like a pretty typical rural county seat. Though it was pretty well settled, the agrarian culture was still all around us. For example, our motel's swimming pool looked out onto a field of ripening corn!
I got a pretty good look at much of the town as I ran from our motel to Carlyle and back, beginning around 4:45 a.m. The streets were well-maintained and not too busy at that time of day. By the time my run was over, though, the main highway was starting to see quite a bit of Saturday-morning traffic.
On the north side of town, I ran past a large, aromatic livestock farm of some sort -- I'm not sure whether it was cows or pigs. On the side of their barn, were two huge strings of lights in the shape of a cross. When I passed by again after sunrise, the lights were off and I could see no hint of the cross. I wonder if I'm like that, too -- can people always see a reminder of Christ in me, or is it more apparent when I'm in darkness and need His presence most? That's the kind of thing you think about when you're running past a smelly barn in the country.
There were many churches in Iola, ranging from the stately Presbyterian (PCUSA) and United Methodist churches downtown to an old red brick African Methodist Episcopal church on the edge of town to a plain, unassuming Baptist Temple - Fundamental. Myrick asked, "Why are there so many churches in this town, Dad?" I responded that it was probably full of people who loved Jesus -- or at the very least, the idea of Jesus.
We noticed an old building a couple of blocks away from the town square, so we got out to explore the outside a bit. It turned out to be the historic Allen County Jail, built in 1868. Pretty nifty, but niftier still was what happened next.
Across the street, a young man pulled up in a white sedan. As he got out, he called over to us, "Hey, do you guys want a tour of the jail?" Yes and please.
He showed us through the tiny cells downstairs, including lots of original graffiti from the 90 years it was in operation. One of our favorites was the astute observation that "CRIME DOSENT PAY."
Then, we climbed the steep stairs to see the area that would have been the sheriff's living quarters. In the early days, the sheriff and his family lived upstairs, and his wife and daughters would do the cooking and laundry for the staff and prisoners. One of the decorations on the wall was a collection of art that a jailer's daughter had made from human hair. We tried to get a picture of it, but as you can see, it's pretty blurry.
We really enjoyed the jail visit -- it was a great way to catch a glimpse of the people who had worked hard to make this little town what it is today.