Brooklyn Roof, 6, climbs a tree near her home — a rented trailer in Sharpsburg, Ohio. The Roof family has resided in Sharpsburg for nine years, but worry about their future because the community lies in a flood zone near Sharps Fork Federal Creek. “I don’t want my house to wash away,” says Audra Roof.
Brandy Riley takes a smoke break while working at Gilchrist Convenient Store, the only business in the unincorporated community of Sharpsburg, Ohio. This store and gas station also operates as a U.S. Post Office for everyone in the 45777 Sharpsburg zip code. “This place is like Grand Central Station,” said Riley.
Avalyn, 8, Ellery, 11, Ashley and Jeff Ditty, and their dog Cleveland, spend the evening outside their home, a farm house built in the 1830s. They moved to Sharpsburg in 2015 to raise their daughters in a simple, slow-paced environment. “If you can’t be self-sufficient, you shouldn’t even try to live like this,” said Jeff.
Tiny the squirrel emerges from his indoor, manmade nest to receive affection from his owner. Residents of Sharpsburg site the freedom to do as they please, without the judgement of neighbors, as one of the perks of living in this rural area.
Siblings Lizzy, 10, and Adam Gilchrist, 6, get ready for school in the back kitchen of Gilchrist Convenient Store every morning. “They were raised here,” said their father Alan Gilchrist, who also grew up playing and working in the family store.
The heart of Sharpsburg stretching along Joy Road is still referred to as “the village” by locals, though only four of its homes remain occupied. Aside from a lack of industry, major flooding since 1998 has also pushed long-time residents out of Sharpsburg.
Bern Township Fiscal Officer Denise Tate and Trustees David Bennett and Alan Gilchrist discuss FEMA during their monthly meeting at Town Hall in Sharpsburg. As an unincorporated community, Sharpsburg is not governed by a municipal corporation and is, instead, administered as part of Bern Township.
Brooklyn Roof, 6, walks toward her family’s trailer holding their new puppy, Chocolate. Many of the community’s oldest buildings have been abandoned, but stand alongside the few remaining inhabited homes because it’s costly to tear them down.
Muddy clothes adorn the porch of Nick and Tricia Russell's home. “I can’t do a house with a yard and people living next door to me,” said Nick Russell, who grew up in Sharpsburg and is now raising his sons there.
Riley Russell, 13, plays with two of his family’s five dogs in the woods of their property, which stretches over 200 acres.
Alan Gilchrist goes off-roading in his SUV with the windows down, a common sight in Sharpsburg.
With no municipal garbage service, Sharpsburg residents often burn their trash.
At 80, Donna Russell is one of Sharpsburg’s oldest residents. Proximity to family is important to Donna, who lives on the same property as multiple family members, each with their own subdivision.
A 1906 map of local postal delivery routes remains in possession of the Gilchrist family, who have lived in Sharpsburg for seven generations. “It’s getting down to where Sharpsburg and the zip code only matters to me," said Wayne Gilchrist of the dwindling population. "I’m trying to hang on to it.”
Though he is looked after by family and friends, the burs knotted in Chief’s mane signify a decline in attention since his owner moved away over ten years ago. Many residents of Sharpsburg leave the community in search of better work prospects.
Court Russell, 10, runs past exposed coal deposits on his family’s property. Sharpsburg was an active coal-mining town until the mid-20th century. There have been efforts to resurrect the coal industry in Bern Township as recent as 2011, but they were met with resistance from environmental groups in neighboring communities.
Lizzy Gilchrist, 10, lays in the doorway to the adult only section of her family’s shop. Gilchrist Convenient Store sells pipes, CBD products and sex toys, though they don’t sell alcohol. The family says their products reflect customer demand, not personal values.
Side-by-sides, motor bikes and ATVs are popular means of transportation in Sharpsburg. While they are used recreationally, many local farmers need utility vehicles to traverse the area’s hilly terrain, particularly during the muddy spring months.
Bobby Spaulding, 82, rests in his kitchen after feeding his 15 cattle. Although he is battling cancer for a second time, Spaulding continues to raise cattle with his wife in order to afford their home. While he would like to sell the farm, his wife JoAnn says she can’t leave because “it’s just home.”
Sharpsburg has a complicated relationship with water. Recreational activities like fishing and swimming add to residents’ quality of life, but living in a flood zone simultaneously threatens their wellbeing.
Sharpsburg does not have access to municipal water, so residents must dig wells or drive six miles to the city of Chesterhill and fill up tanks in order to access water. Dustin Leuschel makes this trek every few days. While they may lack easy access to water, many Sharpsburg residents have their own private gas source.
First-time mother April Riley, 19, cleans up at night after her three-month-old twins, Eli and Evan, fall asleep.
Ashley Ditty walks back to the barn with her dog, Cleveland, after releasing horses in the morning at Looking Glass Farm. Ashley and Jeff Ditty named their farm after its original owners, the Glass family, in order to honor their legacy.
Children play outside freely and wander to neighbors' homes in this small community. Because the area does not have cell reception or reliable internet service, children and adults often find entertainment outside.
Though the community is cut off from many resources, Ohio State Route 550 runs directly through Sharpsburg, connecting it to Chesterhill, Amesville and the county’s largest city: Athens.