The Land of the Cross-Tipped Churches


Joel Stewart

The Land of the Cross-Tipped Churches

Many visitors to the Amphicar convention were impressed with the
organization and efficiency of the Amphicar leadership and the cooperation
of the city fathers in Celina. Particularly impressive was the photo session
on Saturday that began with a highly organized departure of the cars in
numbered order. Professional cameramen then swept alongside the thundering
column, while local folk gathered along the tree-lined streets to watch in
awe and admiration. At the lakefront, a parking grid had been laid out like
a drive-in movie theater, with a 60-foot high rescue device loaned by the
local fire department.TV crews and directors rode up and down in pneumatic
buckets, while at the signal ?1-2-3,? the crowd roared, ?My Classic Car ?
will be right back ? after these messages!? ? a glorious moment that is now
recorded on film for centuries to come.

While Amphicars have placed this town of 10,000 inhabitants on the map of
the future, Celina is more than just a pinpoint in Western Ohio. The history
of the region started when the Miami-Erie Canal brought settlers to the
area, America?s first frontier, where famous battles were fought, such as
the one at Fort Recovery in nearby Indiana, and homesteads were foraged from
the wilderness. Between 1869 and 1915 a large number of distinctive
churches, each with towering spires topped by crosses, were built by German
immigrants to symbolize strong family ties, dedication to hard work and a
deep devotion to God. Now placed on the National Register of Historic
Places, the Churches, distinctive for their crossed tips, form a focal point
of more than 64 thematic structures and include the National Marian Shrine,
in Maria Stein, Ohio, a museum which houses the second largest collection of
holy relics in north America.

Celina, serving also as county seat, has another tradition, as well: the
embodiment of small-town America. The downtown area is formed by Main
Street, which starts at the lakefront and cuts perpindicular to Market
Street to form a rural, American crossroads. Turn of the century buildings
(not this century, but the previous one), stand partially abandoned,
preserved in a kind of time warp. A fully functional 1940?s style movie
theater known as ?The Celina? would delight sophisticated cinema buffs from
New York or LA. The local radio station, located on top of a music store,
seems inspired by scenes from the Music Man, a period musical comedy about
traveling salesmen and social mores in small-town America. Special attention
however should be reserved for the elegant County Court House, an impressive
1920?s neo-classic structure, with a rotunda and marble stairs. Outside the
buildings, local art is alive and well in street fairs. Examples could be
seen of woodcarvings made by chain saws, hand-stitched dolls, and rustic

Most of the citizens around Celina are farmers, but hard times have forced
them to seek other jobs as well. Social activities center at community clubs
where members dine on freshly butchered roast pigs and poultry. Carvel and
Tastee Freeze stands abound, and grocery shopping is done mostly at
cooperative style food stores where items are purchased in bulk. Most
restaurants are family-style, offering down-home dishes such as fried
chicken and corn-mush, but the one Mexican restaurant in town ?Casa
Rodriguez? had standing room only.

The town is blessed by Grand Lake St. Mary?s, a man-made basin that was
created to harvest ice more than 150 years ago, but on this warm, summer
night, many local folk had gathered around the shore for a celebration of
life. Some had ventured out on boats. There, too, bobbing gently on the dark
waters of the lake were all the little cars, their port and starboard
lanterns lit. And the fireworks fell like shooting stars, gently
illuminating their tender bows in a moment of great peace and grace.