Robert T. Rhode

Robert T. Rhode
Robert T. Rhode

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Good Morning, Springboro! The Null Cabin

My original watercolor painting of the Null cabin hints that the structure stands atop one of the highest points in the county. The dwelling is a landmark and, through donations, has been preserved with extensive restoration work sponsored by the Springboro Area Historical Society.

The Null Cabin Near Springboro, Ohio
Original Watercolor Painting by Robert T. Rhode

Born in Rockingham County, Virginia, in 1772, Christian Null served in the Revolutionary War while he was still at a tender age. After a journey to the Ohio country in 1792, Christian and his brother Charles cleared the land and built the log house. Various siblings joined Christian and Charles. The Null cabin boasts a cellar and two wings. Its location is protected within the Heatherwoode Golf Course that includes an elegant residential area.

My ancestors were part of a Quaker migration that arrived at nearby Caesar’s Creek only fifteen years after Christian Null began his new life in Ohio; for that reason, the Null cabin is of particular interest to me. It serves as a reminder of the promise that Ohio held forth not only for the Nulls and the Rhodes but also for many other pioneering families.

Christian Null’s log home is larger than it might appear. As it stands alone on the crest of the knoll, there is no other structure close enough to give a sense of proportion. The rooms are ample, especially for a cabin! The wings provide plenty of space—even for those of us accustomed to today’s spacious houses.

While I stand before the cabin, I can easily imagine Christian Null and members of his family coming and going, busy at the tasks each season brings. Planting crops, harvesting vegetables, preparing meat, spinning thread, making cloth, feeding cattle, and other vignettes of country life readily please my mind’s eye. It is not idle nostalgia to picture the Nulls as contented people. From history, we know that Ohio land fulfilled its covenant with settlers by being wonderfully productive.

The golf course and fine homes do not interrupt the commanding view from the cabin in nearly all directions. You feel as if you are standing on top of the world. Seeing the sunrise through one of the upstairs windows must have been a rewarding experience for the Nulls! Witnessing the golden light of morning as it spread across the valleys must have reaffirmed the Nulls’ faith in a benevolent Creator.   

If you would like to purchase one of my paintings from this blog series, send me a message through my website at or via Facebook.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Good Morning, Springboro! An Abandoned Farmstead

My original watercolor painting for this week depicts an abandoned farmstead in April. Surrounded by a tangle of shade trees and shrubs, the neglected house floats like an island in a sea of land soon to be tilled. Nature seems to know that, before long, a tractor will begin preparing the ground for planting soybeans and that she must work quickly, decorating the soil surface with purple deadnettle, the flowers of which form pink bands across the field. The scene is to be as colorful and pleasing as it can be before the beans are introduced to freshly turned earth. Warm breezes from the southwest toss the newly leafed tops of trees toward the northeast.

Abandoned Farmstead Near Springboro, Ohio
Original Watercolor Painting by Robert T. Rhode
The house may be empty, but, at this time of the year, it seems cheerfully occupied. Have the spirits of distant generations of family members returned to play games, sing songs, and care for one another amid the rolling pastures they once looked upon with eyes like yours and mine? It certainly appears so! In springtime, the house does not exude the lonely atmosphere of winter.

Bright clouds modulate the light on their steady passage overhead. Everything is expressed in tones of promise for a happy summer, just around the corner.

Springboro retains its small-town aura while hosting numerous subdivisions, all of which are nestled within a vast quilt of farms, woods, and creeks. A short drive from the village brings you to joyfully winding roads that lead up and down over low hills. Delightful views wait around the bends in the byways.

Had the Brontë sisters lived outside Springboro, tourists would come from countries far away to see where the authors had lived, and the travelers would not be disappointed, finding that, by pointing their cameras in any direction, they could frame memorable landscapes. Perhaps it is as well that Emily, Anne, and Charlotte did not pen Wuthering Heights, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, and Jane Eyre here; in the absence of droves of tourists, you can go wherever you want without the inconvenience that they occasion. By all rights, though, the alluring scenery of Springboro should have been immortalized in literature as it is most assuredly deserving of such honor.

So you are free to spend April afternoons driving along country routes that entertain your eye with successions of picturesque prospects. As Springboro is celebrating its bicentennial, this would be an excellent time to appreciate the locale by exploring the districts that surround the historic downtown.

If you would like to purchase one of my paintings from this blog series, send me a message through my website at or via Facebook.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Good Morning, Springboro! The Giant Sycamore

Springboro, Ohio, is two hundred years old. This blog installment is the first of six that will feature my original watercolor paintings depicting scenes in the vicinity of Springboro. If you would like to purchase one of the paintings, send me a message through my website at or via Facebook. The art measures 5 by 7″ and consists of Cotman Water Colours by Winsor & Newton on acid-free Montval watercolor paper.

Giant Sycamore Near Springboro, Ohio
Original Watercolor Painting by Robert T. Rhode
Not far from the charming downtown is a gigantic sycamore tree. My mother always urged me to create a painting of a sycamore, and I have finally gotten around to honoring her request that was made so many years ago. The patterns and colors of the bark fascinated my mother, and she loved the curves of the heavy limbs.

One day, I had parked to appreciate the majesty of the giant sycamore, and, from across the street, a resident called to me, “That tree is over two hundred years old.” Imagine that! A tree older than Springboro itself! A tree that was already growing in that location before the Quakers had come to build blacksmith shops, houses, and mills to form a community! The resident said he had lived nearby for fifty years and that, when he first moved to that location, he had conversed with a woman who was approaching a century; the woman had told him that her father had said that the tree was standing there when he was a boy.

I wonder what the tree could tell us if it could talk. In a way, it does talk: that is, it expresses itself through the artistic arcs of its branches and the dappled canopy of its leaves. The immense trunk amazes me! Despite the colossal size of the sycamore, the tree comforts me. Even though I am a writer, an explanation of what I just wrote will not be easily conveyed. Something in the softly varied tones of the bark, in the leaves spread like broad hands, and in the steadfast posture of the tree lends a feeling of security. The sycamore is parental. It gathers its happy children beneath its branches.

The township has provided a table or two for picnics in the shade of the mammoth tree, and, when driving past, I have noted people enjoying lunch beneath the towering sycamore.

Creeks are favorite spots for sycamores to become established, and (Sure enough!) Clear Creek runs its sparkling course just behind the picnic area.

The patriarchal sycamore may well have been growing near Clear Creek during the American Revolution. Miami or Shawnee people may have camped beneath it. The tree could easily have been standing there when Ohio became a state in 1803 and was almost certainly in place when the War of 1812 began. Thinking of how many sunrises this living tree has witnessed dwarfs my imagination. It has stood serenely in one spot for so many days, while I have darted hither and yon in my hectic life. By comparison to the tree, I am a firefly flashing across the landscape for relatively few summer nights.

Peace is the message of the sycamore, which yet celebrates the rolling seasons. The tree stands as a tranquil philosopher—as nature itself, proving day by day a good way to live.