Urban sprawl isn't all bad. It can bring some version of civilisation to off-the-beaten-path and forgotten little towns. One of these towns is Blue Ball, Ohio, whose main claim to fame is its name1.
Where Is Blue Ball, and How Did It Get Its Name?
Blue Ball is a place that you encounter when you're on your way to somewhere else. Where most visitors to the town are heading is I-75, the major highway linking Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio. There is an entrance ramp to the highway less than half a mile east of Blue Ball, and residents of the surrounding area often drive through the town to get to the highway. Other folks, like antiques collectors who like to scour the area for interesting oddities, or the 'leaf peepers' who drive around checking out the bright autumn foliage, may drive through Blue Ball and have their photographs taken under its namesake landmark, just to say that they've been there.
There are many humorous suggestions on the origins of the town's name - the most colourful of these tend to come from teenaged males - but the most credible story is unfortunately also the dullest. The town was established in 1820 at the intersection of Dixie Highway (also known as State Route 4) and the old Irish Road. It bore the name Guilford, after a prominent local politician, and was a stop along the stage coach route between Cincinnati and Dayton. In those days many stage coach drivers were illiterate and were unable to read the sign with the town's name, so they didn't stop (yes, it was unremarkable even back then). To remedy this, the town's citizens hung a large blue metal ball at the town's main intersection, and drivers were instructed to stop at the Blue Ball. As time went on, people stopped referring to the town by its real name, and in 1862 the good citizens gave in to the inevitable and changed the official name of their burg. The entire town was annexed by the nearby city of Middletown, Ohio in 1993.
As an aside, it should be noted that the town's early residents seem to have had a talent for picking unfortunate names. A letter written by a Mr Miltenberger in 1888 contained the following nugget of information:
We meet together and have a big dinner and tell our old jokes and fun that we used to have on Naked Creek and on the road moving to Ohio and our school days in the old log school house there on your place...
Yes, but Does It Have The Internet?
Indeed it does, and indoor plumbing, too. On a serious note, the traveller won't find any wi-fi hot spots in Blue Ball, at least not at the date this Entry was written, but it does have dial-up access via the phone lines.
Not surprisingly, aside from the sign that gave the town its name, Blue Ball's main attractions, such as nearby shopping malls, lie outside its borders. It looks like any tiny American town that sprang up at the crossroads of two rural thoroughfares. Up until the 1980s it was mainly a collection of wooden houses, a gas station, a church or two, and a few bars; at one point in its history it had a post office, but that has long since closed. Things have changed dramatically since then, and today Blue Ball's streets see a steady procession of motor vehicles (most of them, it must be said, headed elsewhere). And of course, the large blue ball remains prominently displayed along the Dixie Highway, although the current one is something like the fifth incarnation of the town's symbol (the previous one had been damaged by a cherry-picker when workmen were installing a new signalling system).
Many of these tiny towns have come and gone throughout America's history, but Blue Ball may be an anomaly; a 'ghost town' that didn't dry up and blow away but instead actually thrives today. It sits on the line between Warren and Butler Counties and is, at the present, an area of rapid growth. People who want to get away from the noise and congestion of Cincinnati and Dayton are heading into Warren County - thus bringing the noise and congestion to the County's narrow country roads, which is what urban sprawl is all about - and Blue Ball's small-town setting and ready access to a major highway make it an attractive destination for those fleeing the bigger cities. Add to these features a memorable name, and Blue Ball's future seems bright. Whether the town's current residents feel that way is an entirely different issue.
More Blue Ball
Those interested in more information may want to get their hands on a book written about the town, entitled The Epoch of Blue Ball, Ohio and written by the Blue Ball Historical Society, c1978. Obviously not a huge seller, this book may require the skills of a dedicated antiques collector to run down.