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Published: Tuesday, 5/24/2005

Pettisville looks for respect and a place to call home

BY JANET ROMAKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
From left, Bethany Iott, Krysta Spiess, Torin Blosser, Jacob Valdez, Victor Garcia, and Stephanie Hamilton hold up their town's sign at the site where MapQuest and the government indicate the town is located. It is not the right location. From left, Bethany Iott, Krysta Spiess, Torin Blosser, Jacob Valdez, Victor Garcia, and Stephanie Hamilton hold up their town's sign at the site where MapQuest and the government indicate the town is located. It is not the right location.
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PETTISVILLE - The tiny Fulton County community of Pettisville has a serious identity crisis.

"People have no clue how to get here," said Luana Esterline, manager of the quaint country store in the town. Offering a little bit of everything, the store is housed in the first building erected in Pettisville, back in the 19th century when the area was known for woods, water, wolves, and black bears.

Today? Pettisville is known for . . . . well, it's known for not being known. Correctly, anyway.

Stephen Switzer, superintendent of Pettisville Schools, calls the Fulton County community a "hidden treasure." Trouble is, federal and state officials apparently can't find the treasure map.

Community pride and the bottom line have turned Mr. Switzer into the town crier, giving voice to concerns about location, location, location. Dollars - lots of them - are in jeopardy because someone, somewhere put Pettisville in the wrong place at the wrong time.

And now Pettisville must deal with an ongoing identity crisis, possibly created by a technological glitch in what is called "geo coding." Based on "geo-coded roads" for Pettisville, a MapQuest locator star twinkles in a field on a Web site map, several miles away from the community's crossroads at 19 and D.

Brian Hoyt, spokesman for MapQuest, said he wasn't aware of the error, but he's certain that the mistake will eventually be rectified following a visual verification by a third-party data provider.

Some maps and computer programs put Pettisville in Dover Township, but the community actually is split between German and Clinton townships. At the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles office in Wauseon, computers automatically list Pettisville residents in Dover Township, consistent with incorrect data. The staff knows about the error and corrects the listings. Otherwise, German and Clinton townships would be short-changed tax dollars.

Fred Stratmann, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Public Safety, said if local officials contact him about the error, he's confident that it can be corrected.

At the federal level, a glitch in a locale coding reduces funding for Pettisville Schools, one of the smallest districts in Ohio. For some reason, Pettisville has been pigeonholed in an "urban fringe of large city" category.

Urban fringe? Not even a blue denim thread of truth there.

Superintendent Switzer has been battling bureaucracy in Columbus and Washington for a couple of years to get to the root of the problem and get it fixed. For example, Pettisville Schools would receive thousands of additional dollars from E-rate, a federal program designed to assist with Internet connectivity, if the district carried the correct designation of rural. Trying to fix things is tough because the town - with about a dozen streets - is shared by two townships, said Clinton Township Trustee Larry Neuenschwander.

"It's probably confusing to outsiders," he said.

Tracking down a population count can be tough too, considering that the community lacks defined borders. People wise? Perhaps 500; maybe 700, depending on the flow of the fluid boundaries.

Pettisville's locale code error could be connected to the community's rural factor. The school district's post office address apparently isn't a recognizable legal address by the National Center for Educational Statistics, and so Pettisville defaulted into the urban fringe label, the superintendent speculated. In an attempt to correct the error, the district has submitted the street address for its bus barn.

The tiny rural district stands to gain dollars from government programs if the code is corrected, Mr. Switzer said.

Geographically challenged or not, Pettisville probably won't become the butt of bad jokes that haunt some cities. Example: Where, you ask, is Engagement, Ohio? It's halfway between Dayton and Marion.

Pettisville? It's smack dab "in the middle of nowhere," said Mrs. Esterline who noted that the community has no mayor, no town council. There are no stop lights, no traffic jams. Pettisville perks along with a "Hi, how are you?" personality and a sunshine spirit.

Pettisville? It's farmers and a feed mill. Church picnics and potluck dinners. A cider mill, meat locker, and grain elevator. As rural as it gets.

Pettisville? It's home. It's here.

Contact Janet Romaker at:

jromaker@theblade.com

or 419-724-6006.



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