Lawrence County, Ohio

Editor’s Note: This historical sketch of Lawrence County, was written by the late Attorney H.M. Edwards, one of the county’s leading history students, and was presented to the Tribune by him shortly before his death on Feb 19, 1939.

After the establishment of Ironton in 1851, the county seat was removed from Burlington to Ironton where it has remained.  Geographically Lawrence County is divided into fourteen townships, one city and six incorporated villages.
The townships are:

(1) Aid, so named because of a dispute and was decided to get the shortest name possible.

(2) Decatur, in honor of Commodore Stephen Decatur who served bravely as a naval officer in the War of 1812.

(3) Hamilton, in honor of Robert Hamilton, who was a pioneer iron master in that section.

(4) Elizabeth, in honor of Robert Hamilton’s wife.

(5) Fayette, in honor of Marquis Lafayette, who was a popular hero of that time and who visited Burlington in 1826.

(6) Lawrence, named in honor of Capt. James Lawrence, for whom the county is also named.

(7) Mason, in honor of the Masonic fraternity and in contradiction to the Anti-Masonic Party of that day.

(8) Perry, in honor of Commodore Oliver H. Perry, who defeated the British on Lake Erie in 1814.

(9) Rome, because of the seven hills that coverage at LaBelle like Rome on the Tibet.

(10) Symmes, in honor of John Cleves Symmes, in whose honor Symmes Creek was named.

(11) Union, in honor of President Andrew Jackson, who saved the Union from rebellion by promptly putting down the nullification of South Carolina.

(12) Upper, so named because it was the uppermost township in Adams County when that county extended to this section.

(13) Windsor, in honor of Windsor Connecticut, from whence its early settlers came.

(14) Washington, in honor of the father of the Country.

The six villages are Hanging Rock, Coal Grove, South Point, Chesapeake,Proctorville and Athalia. All other villages are unincorporated, such asBurlington. There are also places such as Greasy Ridge which goes through several townships.

Much could be said about the early political situation, the slavery question and many other interesting incidents, but space at this time forbids, but in order to give you an insight into living conditions of the early days, I quote from a diary record kept by grandfather who settled in this county very shortly after it was first settled.

“I was born in Eastern Va in 1812 and when a very small lad, my father decided to move west. He disposed of all his goods and chattels, except some bed clothing and some necessary articles, which he packed on a bay mare, then we started for Ohio, my mother riding the mare, father and I walking accompanied by a dog and father carrying a gun.
We crossed the Allegheny and Sewell Mountains and stopped at Carnfax’s Ferry, Nicholas County, Va, now WV, for the Winter. Ours was the fourth family in that neighborhood and it was several miles to the nearest settlement.
We all lived in common and passed the Winter very pleasantly. Bear and game of all kinds was very plentiful and I had the pleasure of accompanying the men to dig a bear out of his den. When they killed the bear, it was divided into four parts, each family taking a quarter.
We remained at this place the following Summer, raised a small crop which was disposed of, then we proceeded on our journey down the Kanawha Valley and crossed the Ohio River near the mouth of the Big Sandy. Finding the people along the river all shaking with ague, we moved into the hill country where it was said it was healthier and where game was more plentiful. Here we settled on the middle fork of Ice Creek in Perry Township, Lawrence County, OH. Here we built our log cabin on the public lands and began clearing out the forests, while our flocks and herds roamed in the woods.
In my easy memory, things were in a very primitive state. People threshed their wheat with a flail or trampled it our by horses on the ground and blew the chaff out with a sheet.
The farming tools consisted of a shovel, plow, mattock, scythe, cradle and hoes. Hay was gathered by hand rakes and forked sticks were used as pitchforks. There were a few if any wagons and a man with a light running sled was considerably well fixed. There were a few wagons in the county along the river, but a wagon at that time was rather a curiosity and when it was known that one to pass the road, the youngsters would gather at the roadside and follow it at some distance, in order to see its great wheels roll on the ground. It was said that they expected to see the big rear wheels catch up with the front ones.

Women made most of the clothing, taking it through every process from the raw material to the finished product. A smart woman was reckoned by the amount of work she could do. Our only neighbors were the Bruce’s and Sperry’s. The Bruce’s and Sperry’s were stone masons and as there was not much stone masonry to do, they had to go long distances from home in order to get work to do. John Sperry built the stone jail at Burlington after the log jail burned down. “There was a man who lived in that vicinity by the name of William B. Morrison, who was a cabinet maker by trade as well as as undertaker. He also practiced the medical profession, which consisted mainly in bleeding the patient. This was the first step in medical treatment and between a pint and a quart of blood was the amount taken from the arm and usually for only slight ailments.

Another pioneer was Jonathan Melvin, who when coming down the river in a small boat stopped for the night on the bank of the Ohio River, just above what is now Coal Grove. They had a small daughter and after landing, built a temporary shed and went into camp for the night. During the night a panther sprang upon the bed and took the child. They succeeded in making it drop the child a short distance from the shack with but slight harm. A few days later the panther was killed by Poagues Negroes from KY. Mr. Melvin remained and built a log cabin on the river bank, and being a cooper by trade made pails, churns and other vessel from cedar trees groaning near which were very much needed by the people. He later settled in the vicinity of Rock Camp, where many of his descendants still live. Getting the milling done was the one great chore and a man who had a boy large enough to go to the mill felt relieved of quite a burden. Many a boy was put at the business very young and encountered many mishaps, often having to go long distances across rising streams and over long hills, where the sack of grain thrown across the horse would slip back and he would have to turn the horse around and roll the sack back to its place.

There was not much system to the milling in those days and it depended a great deal upon one’s strength and ability to argue the case as to who gets his milling done first and if a boy was lacking in either of these, he usually found his sack in the bottom of the grist and was very late at night in getting home. Mill boys in those days had their ups and downs but they usually proved equal to any emergency that arose.

In the early days, there was no cooking utensils, except the pot and skillet and the cooking was done in the open wood fire, the pot hanging from a crane above the fire and the skillet covered among the live coals.
However, very early in the history of the county a man by the name of Davis, came to this county to live and almond his household effects was a wood cook stove. The family had many callers from near and far that they might get a peep at the stove. The subject was one of the neighborhood gossip. Some thought you would have to take lessons before you could cook upon it, while others said that food cooked on it would not be fit to eat and the general conclusion of all was that it was just calculated to burn up the house.
Wood was the staple fuel and it was more than plentiful while they were clearing the ground of the virgin timber. Fireplaces were wide and and high. A huge log two or three feet in diameter was used as the back log, while a smaller log was the fore stick and the smaller wood was burned in the center. Some houses had a door on each side of the house and would hitch a horse to the back log and drag it into the house and while the log was being rolled to the fireplace, the horse would go out at the other door.
Most of the houses were built of hewn logs cut from virgin timber and many of them still stand after more than a century of wind and rain had beaten upon them. The roofs were of clapboards rived from oak trees and the fences were built of rails split from the trees that were cut in the clearing.
In those days, not more than one person in a community took a newspaper and people would congregate at the county store or post office and one man would read the paper aloud. Later, however, roads were laid out and while none of them had hard surfaces, settlers began to move in and by the time of the Mexican War, things had taken a great step forward.”

At the close of the Mexican War, this county had a population of 15,246 and ten years later, when the Civil War began the population was 23,176, of which 4,000 lived in the city of Ironton.
In the great war between the states, this county stood loyally to the Union as it had when Andrew Jackson was President and sent 3,357 soldiers to fight for the Union cause of whom over 500were from Ironton.
Another subject which has always been a part of the history of the county situated as it is on the plain of the Ohio River is floods. A flood in the Ohio Valley is a calamity when the river rises to 55 feet and is a major calamity when it rises to 60 feet. The great floods of 60 feet or more are as follows:

1832—63 feet
1847—62 feet
1883—63 feet
1884—66 feet
1913—67 feet
1937—70.6 feet

While all the things enumerated were being enacted in the lower end of Lawrence County, fruit culture in the upper end of the county was making great strides and the original Rome Beauty apple tree was grafted in Rome Township and spraying was tried and tested for the first time in America by Ohio State University on the Nelson Cox farm in Windsor Township on Greasy Ridge.
During Ironton’s life history of 86 years, many great institutions have come and gone, playing a large part in the history of the age which it served. Most of those that began when the city was founded are now passed away, but at least three still remain:

The Goldcamp Mill Co.
The First National Bank
The Tribune Publishing Co.

Much could be said about some of the great industries that have come and gone, about the early public schools, the early churches and many more of the thing of interest in and about the community, but in the limited time, we have been able to touch on a few of the things I deemed of local interest.

SOURCE: Ironton Evening Tribune, Saturday 08 Oct 1949