College Corner: A place on the map

West College Corner, Indiana, and its neighbor and sister city, College Corner, Ohio

Maps make for good reading. In the names of places, you’ll find some history, drama, romance, biography, and even some fiction — or at least some mistakes. All that and more lies within a map covering College Corner, Ohio. It’s a quaint place, an unassuming, long-established village with quirks that few towns anywhere could claim.

The little burg with the curious name literally lies atop the Ohio-Indiana state line. The town’s thousand souls live in four townships, three counties, two telephone area codes, and two ZIP codes, though they are serviced by one post office. Until recently, College Corner was split by two time zones. Two electric cooperatives — Butler Rural Electric Cooperative in Ohio and Whitewater Valley Rural Electric Membership Corporation in Indiana — serve the town.

“We’ve all kind of gotten used to the quirks of living on the state line,” says Sandy Johnson, who grew up in College Corner and never left. “When the electricity goes out at night from a storm, it highlights the state line because one side stays lit.”

The village sits comfortably along a smooth ridge made by retreating mile-thick glaciers from a long Pleistocene winter. Glaciers made it this far south 10,000 years ago, piling up rich, finely ground arable soils prime for planting corn and soybeans or naturally growing oaks and maples. Retreating ice sculpted the land, leaving behind the undulations so pleasing to the eye.

The first settlers of any lasting permanence on the Ohio side of the border built cabins in 1803 in the newly surveyed lands made available by the General Land Office in Cincinnati under the authority of Congress. The survey laid down lines in square-mile blocks from the west side of the Great Miami River, through College Corner, and continuing piece by piece to the Pacific.

The kernel of the eventual town was in the corner of College Township, which, by law, was to harbor an institution of learning. Nearby Miami University soon followed, and the name changed to Oxford Township. The sinuous and artful lines of nature still intersect with the pike-straight fences, bridges, and roads, the artifices of man and our inherent desire for precision in parceling land.

All streams pour away from College Corner like veins on an oak leaf. On the north side of town, Four Mile Creek purls downhill toward Hueston Woods State Park past Talawanda Springs, where cold water percolates from the glacial soil. A short walk south of town, tiny Corner Run and College Creek converge at the cemetery to form the West Fork Four Mile Run, which has no connection whatsoever to Four Mile Creek. The misnamed brook instead conjoins Indian Creek.

Despite the many lines dividing the town, the folks are united by their beloved Union School. “I can honestly say there’s nowhere else in America quite like this place,” says Melissa Sims, who grew up in College Corner and still lives there with her husband, Mike, the general manager at Butler Rural Electric. “There has never been any animosity or even any rivalry from either side of the state line.”

The town has earned its 15 minutes of fame a few times; long ago, the FBI descended upon College Corner after one of its agents was murdered there (a historical marker stands at the spot), and another time when CBS Sunday Morning, the long-running iconic show that showcases Americana, came for a feature on Union School.

The old school, now educating kids in preschool through fifth grade, lies directly on top of the Ohio-Indiana border — in fact, the half-court line in the gymnasium is the state line. With a moment’s concentration and imagination, you can hear the squeak of sneakers and the thump of a pimpled basketball pounding the hardwood.

“It’s kind of cute to think that before Indiana joined the Eastern Time Zone, a basketball player could shoot a half-court shot and make a basket an hour later,” Johnson says. “When I was growing up, you had to have two basketball referees, one from Ohio and one from Indiana.”

Though it’s not actually in the middle of the map, Union School is still the figurative center of town, says Johnson, who retired three years ago after a 40-year career working at the school. She and Sims maintain the school’s Heritage Hall, a treasure trove of memorabilia from the school’s and town’s history.

The school faced closure several years back, and locals beat back the idea of sending their children to schools in Eaton or Oxford, Ohio, or Liberty, Indiana. Instead, the school got an addition, instilling a sense of permanence.

“People of College Corner are generous and willing to help their neighbors,” says Johnson. “Folks who were born and raised here — some are coming back. It’s a safe place to be. We’re the best of both states.” Craig Springer visited College Corner last summer.