In a town where residents are known by nicknames like Picket, Fuzzy, Hot Dog, and Chicky, people from just ten minutes away are considered outsiders. This sometimes self-imposed sense of isolation holds the tight-knit community together while simultaneously hindering it from seeking outside help to deal with issues such as lack of jobs, sewage treatment and worsening city debt. Yet at the height of its coal-mining boom, Murray City was home to nearly 2,000 people. The sense of pride that residents still glean from the past can be seen in the plaques that commemorate old mine sites and a train engine that rests in front of the old depot on tracks that now lead to nowhere. The Murray City train depot used to literally be “the end of the line,” a phrase which continues to define the town today.
The main street of Murray City lights up with traffic as people return from jobs in places such as Parkersburg, Lancaster and Columbus. Since the mines closed, there have been very few local job opportunities. Many of the men in town work for Asplundh tree service but have to travel over an hour each way to their jobs.
Paul and Sharyn Bateman dance together at the American Legion while Brent Semingson decides what song to play next on the jukebox. American Legion bars are typically open only to veterans and their family members, but the population in Murray City is so small that this location opens its doors to everyone in town in order to stay in business.
Basketball trophies reflect the pride that the town has for the Murray City Tigers. Although there has not been a team for close to 50 years, the case of trophies was saved from the now-abandoned school and is displayed in the Municipal Building.
Trey Richards, 12, and Hunter Blosser, 6, take a quiet moment to play video games. The house where they live typically has about ten people staying there and the mattress behind the boys is put on the floor at night as a bed.
Jack Shuttleworth sits in front of one of the many photographs he has collected relating to the history of Murray City, Ohio. Shuttleworth has been continuously adding items to the The Murray City Coal Mining Museum for several years and says that he is there almost every day. The City sold him the old fire station building, where the museum is now housed, for one dollar.
An election sign for Mayor Sharon Koon rests outside of her home. Sharon has been mayor of Murray City for 20 years, but is considering retiring during the next election.
A boy waits for his siblings to get off of the school bus coming from Nelsonville-York City Schools in Buchtel. Although the old school building still stands in the center of Murray City, it has been over 40 years since any students have attended.
Remnants from the fire station are piled in the abandoned school building in the middle of Murray City.
Bill Lonberger, right, prepares to go check on his aging father who lives in the next holler over. Bill drives a semi-truck during the week, which leaves his daughter Charity, left, and wife Tonia, center, alone much of the time.
Gene Estep focuses on a game of euchre at the American Legion hall where they hold games every Friday night.
Mark Wheaton looks up dirty jokes on his phone during a break at Smoke Rise Ranch. The other workers at the ranch affectionately nicknamed him “Hill Billy” to which he eagerly responds.
In the early morning after heavy rains, the creek running through Murray City nears flood stage. The new bridge in town was built three feet lower than the previous one, which has caused flooding to become more prevalent. Since the town’s sewage drains directly into the creek, a flood has the possibility to become a serious health issue. Members of the community took shifts watching the water levels all night.
Winona Timmons cries during a service at the New Beginnings Church. The congregation consists of about twenty members many of whom previously lived in Murray City but now just return for Sunday services.
The Simon family’s belongings still rest in the house that they owned before Jack and his sister Dorothy passed away. The town, which was founded by Hungarians who came to work in the mines, was predominantly Catholic until recent years. Now the Catholic Church has closed and Protestantism has become the primary religion.
Michelle Seeber, Linda O’Nail, and Carol Nungester discuss what to do as they run out of food at the Valentine’s Day dinner and fundraiser. The community turnout, to raise money for the annual Murray City fireworks display, was so large that all of the food was gone halfway through the event.
Although Ron Cook is not the Chief of the Murray City Fire Department, his family takes a lead role in maintaining the trucks, making sure the equipment is working and writing grants to support the department. Despite working out of town, he goes to the fire station every day to check the equipment. Ron’s wife Renata is the only member of the squad that has the supposedly mandatory reflective vest.
Lynn Semingson, part owner of Smoke Rise Ranch, talks to his horse after teaching the other ranch workers how to rope cattle. The Semingsons have lived part-time at the ranch in Murray City for over 30 years but are still considered to be outsiders by many of the people who grew up in town.
Cheyenne Nichole, 10, watches other kids play video games. Her dad Jeremiah is studying carpentry at Hocking College but has had trouble finding affordable housing, so he and Cheyenne have been staying with friends.