Empty Athens: Dreams of Athens past

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via University Archives

By Olivia Young | oy311909@ohiou.edu

The bags are packed and stacked in the backseat. Students are saying farewell to their cozy homes and families. Soon, every highway route running into Athens will be clogged with Bobcats trying to make their way back for another term.

The end of winter break is here.

The town folk are evacuating the premises to avoid the swarm of students and they’ll likely dodge the bricks as much as possible until May 5 — the day after graduation. That’s because during the semester, locals — the ones who don’t own an Uptown business or teach a college class, at least — and students struggle to co-exist. They scowl at each other because they fail to realize how much they depend on one another.

Townie-students suffer from a strange dichotomy. We stop at the crosswalks to let cars pass when our classmates just keep walking. We wave at local business owners and sometimes talk to our professors after class, because we went to high school with their kids. And on some weekends, instead of doing the Court Street shuffle, we spend time in the woods, at home, with family.

Many of us have ancestors who helped build up this town and they’ve been here to see the distance between townies and students grow. When our grandparents were in their 20s, they spent time Uptown bowling, playing billiards or shopping for dresses at one of the several department stores. When our parents were in their 20s, they spent their time on Court Street getting pizza, going to arcades and having an occasional drink at one of the few taverns in town.

Much of my winter break was consumed by tracing those roots and getting acquainted with the town before I became a part of it. Through researching archived records, reading books and conducting interviews about Athens’ past, I’ve watched those innocent pleasures dissipate year after year. Athens looked so different a century ago that it’s now almost unrecognizable, saturated with bars and apartment buildings. The charming Athens that everyone still falls in love with today has only half the charm it used to.

Uptown Athens has catered more and more to the wants and needs of students and less to those of the people who live here year-round. In an interview with Ron Luce, the director of the Athens County Historical Society and Museum, he called Court Street “inaccessible” to Athens residents, compared to what it used to be.

So although the townie-students live within the same borders of their homeland, most live in a different world than their families. When winter break finally comes, Athens and “home” mean the same once again. That’s when Athens is full of familiar faces trying to squeeze in their Uptown errands while the streets aren’t packed.

And so just as the rest of the student population heads to their respective towns to celebrate the holidays, the ones who grew up here feel like they get to go home, too, to a different Athens than their out-of-town comrades know.

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