Burlington once was an Urban Center

Burlington Once Urban Center
I.T. October 8, 1969
Submitted by Lorna Marks


“When this old hat was new, the people used to say
The best among the Presidents was former Henry Clay.”

The words of this old campaign song filled the streets of Burlington in Fayette Township during the famous campaign in 1844 between Henry Clay, the Whig candidate, and James K. Polk, Democrat.

The old Lawrence County seat was not only a noted place with much sentiment during the campaign, but also the urban center of the county.

The occurrences of the campaign, plus reminiscences of school days, court sessions, steamboat man, manufacturing firms, and general “old times” are recorded in a series of articles done by a resident of Burlington in the “Ironton Register” in 1895. The articles can be read in copies of the old paper at the Briggs-Lawrence County Library in Ironton.

Also available at the library are the microfilms of censuses from 1850-80, obtained through the National Archives.

The 1850 census recorded a total of 1,111 residents in the bustling township. Unlike the townships we have covered thus far in our series, Fayette Township and Burlington was more close knit in physical proximity. Actual inward growth had begun in Burlington, with a tannery, pottery, sawmill, cigar factory, drug store, carpet weavers, copper and silversmiths, printers, miners, lawyers, shoemakers, innkeepers, boatmen, mill wrights, and even a hatter.

On Nov. 20, 1817, $1,500 was appropriated by the first county court for the building of a county court house in the public square. Earlier that year on April 11, at the first meeting of the court, $700 for the building of a log jail was appropriated.

The court house no longer stands, but the jail, which replaced the original log jail after a fire on Nov 7, 1846, still stands in the town commons in Burlington.

The ledger recording the 1850 census, which was executed in the county by Elias NIGH, a 35-year-old Burlington lawyer at that time, notes even the seven prisoners lodged in the jail during the taking of the census.

The prisoners ranged in age from 16 to 29 years, with two charged with stabbing with intent to kill, two for horse stealing, and others with assault and battery, petty larceny, and burglary.

The court house was removed after the county seat of Lawrence County was changed to Ironton, due to Ironton’s closer proximity to the population center of the county. The Burlington Water Co. office now stands at the site of the old court house.

The census revealed that there were 196 dwellings in the township housing 199 families. There were 512 white males, 444 white females, 68 colored males, and 87 colored females. There were 180 residents over 20 years of age who could not read or write and 144 persons had attended school within the year.

The largest family in the township according to the figures on the census, was that of John and Marie TOMS, who had 16 children from one to 27 years of age. John TOMS was listed as a Negro farmer.

Also discovered among the names on the Fayette census was that of William F. HENSHAW, 50 years old, the father-in-law of Elias NIGH. Henshaw was the innkeeper and owner of the Harrison Hotel, one of Burlington’s three hotels, “of which the town boasted.” Elias NIGH was married to Henshaw’s daughter Alice, who was 28 years old at the taking of the census.

The town’s other two hotels were “No. 2,” located on the southeast corner of the square, owned by Thomas CLARK of Ironton, and the “White Hall,” located on Washington Street and owned by Dr. O. D. OWEN. The Harrison Hotel, which catered to the “most aristocratic, and the judges, lawyers, and furnace magnates were patrons,” was located on the northwest corner of the public square.

William DAVIDSON, perhaps the first settler of the township, came there in 1798, followed by James DAVIDSON, Samuel ANKRIM, George KOONS, and many other early settlers.

The first school in the township was taught by John PHILLIPS in 1812, with seven or eight scholars attending.

Burlington was laid out by Edward TUPPER of Gallia County in 1817. The original plat map is framed and handing in the Lawrence County Historical Society” museum near old Vesuvius Furnace at Lake Vesuvius.

The unusual spelling of many names was noted in that day, as the early pioneers seemed to refrain from the use of many double letters. Some such names noted in the 1850 census ledger were ROBISON, BRAMER, DUN, HAINS, BENNET, CRADICK, FURGUSON, ANKRIM, DOGGET, SHELTEN, HAMBLETON, DILLION, RICHISON and KOUNSE.

Today Burlington, still the center of Fayette Township, is home for over 5,444 residents, according to the 1960 census