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A Square Diary

Photo Essay by Marlena Sloss

When I moved into an apartment on the Courthouse Square in October 2019, I was immediately struck by the mixture of daily life, government and business unfolding in one block. In contrast to the nearly 35% of rural counties in America that are experiencing significant depopulation, Dubois County’s population is slowly growing and the Courthouse Square reflects that liveliness. From my window and each day as I passed through the street, I observed the pulse of the city — holiday celebrations, demonstrations, construction projects and courthouse proceedings — all connected through shared space.

Dec. 8, 2019. A horse ready to give carriage rides stands in the street during O'Tannenbaum Days.
May 14, 2020. Dan Wehr, a Jasper German Club member, points out features of the mural to his neighbors, Porter Seng, 6, Piper Seng, 7, and Laura Seng. The care put into the Square's appearance and the community's appreciation for the upkeep was evident throughout the year.
March 5, 2020. My neighbor left his apartment wearing a snake around his neck on his way to work at the pet store, and later I asked him to pose for this portrait.
April 7 and April 25, 2020. Springtime brought signs of death and life in unexpected places. On the sidewalk rested a bird that didn't make it far from the nest. On an empty storefront, children's drawings were displayed.

Moments of joy, public opinion and Jasper pride were everywhere. I saw custodians keep the courthouse maintained, lowering the flag on Memorial Day and mowing the lawn. In May, the Square was host to peaceful protesters demonstrating against police brutality and racism. In August, Heart of Jasper volunteers power-washed the sidewalks while siblings twirled around in a leaky garden hose, children slurped shaved ice at the Downtown Chowdown and visited with Santa Claus in December.

May 22, 2020. Jasper Courthouse Custodian Scott Hopf lowers the flag and places a wreath ahead of Memorial Day.
May 30, 2020. Selena Penick, 15, of Jasper, holds a sign during a peaceful protest. Whether demonstrating against police brutality and racism or the Mid-States Corridor, the Square was used as a place for expression of opinion.
August 31, 2020. Bralynne Lopez, 7, of Jasper, twirls her brother, Ezra, 3, in the spray of a hose while their parents volunteer at the Heart of Jasper community cleanup.

The quiet moments balanced out the daytime bustle. Construction workers napped on the bench outside on their lunch break. At night, the calm snowfall collected on my neighbor’s moped and people took their dogs for evening walks around the Square.

October 14, 2020. The last food truck closes up after the Downtown Chowdown.
April 28, 2020. I awoke to the sound of the roofers working above me. Later in the day, they took a nap and had a smoke on the bench outside.
February 6, 2020. Snow leaves a dusting on the Square.

Once the coronavirus hit Dubois County, I watched the resilient businesses adapt; first closing their doors temporarily, displaying signs saying, “We miss you,” and re-opening with new protocols.

June 11 and March 27, 2020. Signs on The Astra and Finishing Touches reflect the shutdowns from COVID-19.
November 27, 2020. Santa Claus sits shielded behind a barrier while chatting with the elves in his house outside the courthouse.
Sept. 26 and June 5, 2020. Face masks materialized everywhere, from trash on the street to fashion statements in store windows.
June 4, 2020. The vibrant sunset illuminated the sky and silhouetted St. Joseph Catholic Church.

As we approach the end of this unprecedented year, we have an opportunity to reflect on the challenges we’ve faced, milestones we’ve celebrated and creative ways we’ve stayed connected with our community. Through the hardships of COVID-19, the resiliency of Dubois County shone brightly on the Square. It was a privilege to witness.

The photographs in this visual diary were made on my camera phone and processed with the app, Hipstamatic.

The Herald | Dubois County, Indiana | Saturday, December 26, 2020