OUS to present program on founder of Ironton tonight

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 9, 2003

Special to the Tribune

Ohio University Southern will continue a special series of Ohio history vignettes at the Lawrence County Fair beginning at 6 p.m. today.

OUS history instructor Bob Leith will portray Ironton founder John Campbell tonight..

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Other presentation include:

4THURSDAY: Lucy Ware Webb Hayes (performed by Jean Butler of Ironton).

4FRIDAY: Harriet Tubmann (performed by Marie Saunders Hope of Columbus).

The following is a short excerpt provided by OUS to help readers become more familiar with the characters prior to the presentation. Additional such features will be published in subsequent editions of The Tribune.

"Comin' Home"

My ancestors were Scotch-Irish.

They moved to Augusta County, Virginia, in 1740.

My grandparents came to Bourbon County, Kentucky, in 1790.

Lastly, my relatives came to Brown County, Ohio, in 1798.

I was born at Georgetown, Ohio, on January 14, 1808.

General Hiram Ulysses Grant was born near Georgetown (actually at Point Pleasant, Ohio) in 1822.

Grant would, when not "skipping, attend school in Georgetown until 1836.

I worked as a store clerk in nearby Ripley, Ohio, and later invested my wages in a steamboat called the Banner.

While traveling to Pittsburgh, I met Mr. Robert Hamilton of Hanging Rock, Ohio.

He told me of the business potential of iron ore.

In the early 1830's, I became interested in the "iron business" in the Hanging Rock Region.

I "paid my dues" prior to becoming an "Ironmaster."

I was an ox driver, manger, and proprietor.

In 1832, Andrew Ellison and I built Lawrence Furnace.

In 1837, I acquired controlling interest in Vesuvius Furnace, always my personal favorite?

In 1837, I married my life's joy and eternal mate.

Elizabeth C. Carter became my wife and our union produced seven children.

The Hanging Rock Iron District extended from Louisa in Lawrence County, Kentucky, to Hanging Rock proper and north to Logan, Ohio, in Hocking County.

It was said the "iron region" was around 100 miles long and 30 miles wide.

There were 94 pig iron furnaces in this region.

Production of iron began in 1818 and lasted until 1915.

Lawrence County, Ohio possessed 17 such furnaces itself.

I had interest in or control of 12 of these Lawrence County furnaces.

Such an iron industry was possible because of the abundance of iron ore, limestone, coal, and timber in the hills of southeastern Ohio.

Vesuvius Furnace was 10 miles north of Ironton and was named for the Vesuvius volcano near Naples, Italy.

It was built in 1833 and was converted to a "hot blast" furnace in 1836-the first such furnace of its kind in the United States!

Before 1840, 100 en and 50 yoke of oxen were needed to work the whole Vesuvius operation.

The production goal for Vesuvius was 3,000 tons of pig iron per year.

Vesuvius was worked for 9 months of the year and sought to produce 12 tons of pig iron per day.

The residents of the iron plantations worked 7 days a week and 9 months per year.

My laborers received $ .65 for a 12-hour day.

Our ore diggers received $1.00 per ton of ore.

Woodcutters received $ .25 for each cord of wood.

Vesuvius Furnace was silenced in 1906.

With such a thriving business, our company needed a railroad running to the Ohio River and a trading post to town near the river.

We began thinking of a settlement in 1848.

In 1849 the Ohio Iron and Coal Company bought 400 acres of land 4 miles above Hanging Rock.

Our company surveyed the proposed site and the iron workers bragged they could mine "iron by the ton."

At first, land above the mouth of Stormes Creek was set aside for a town-a temperance town.

All deeds were so structured as to provide for forfeiture to my Ohio Iron and Coal Company should any liquor be sold upon lands earlier surveyed.

Use of liquor and gambling were to be greatly discouraged in this town.

The proposed railroad was to run from the Ohio River north to Jackson County to bring the pig iron to the Ohio River.

The city and railroad would supply a lifeline to each other.

The land to be named "Ironton" stretched from the mouth of Stormes Creek to a point called "Jefferson Street."

Ironton's streets were first named in honor of my favorite pig iron furnaces.

Later, additional streets would be named after "Presidents."

The "long streets," parallel to the river, were numbered 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th.

My town, "Ironton," was born within an apple orchard and would lie, on paper, between Stormes Creek and Jefferson Street, and from the wharves along the river to 7th Street.

On June 20, 1849, our company held its first public land sale to sell lots for the proposed town.

Thomas Walton (the surveyor), W.D. Kelly, Dr. Caleb Briggs, and I approved of the ironworkers' boast and agreed upon the name "Ironton," actually suggested by Walton.

The new town was recognized by the State of Ohio on March 21, 1851.

"Iron-town" was organized as a city on April 10, 1865-one day after General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Grant in Virginia-the end of the Civil War saw the beginning of a southeastern Ohio city.

After raising $1,200 dollars in pledges, George Kemp, William Lambert, and I influenced the transfer of the county seat from Burlington to Ironton on October 23, 1852.

The census of 1850 stated that Ironton had 574 residents.

Reverend John Rankin of Ripley influenced my views about slavery.

I would not consider myself an ardent "abolitionist," but I definitely participated in the Underground Railroad network here in Lawrence County.

I loaned horses, saddles, and a covered wagon to assist "runaways" from my home at 5th and Lawrence Streets to Olive Furnace, 16 miles north of Ironton.

My furnaces were stations on the Underground Railroad to spirit the "passengers" in to Gallia and Jackson Counties.

Since the Democratic and Whig parties were divided over the slavery issue, I traveled to Buffalo, New York, to attend the Free Soil Party Convention.

While there, I saw Martin Van Buren nominated for the Presidency and Charles F. Adams (John Quincy's son) named as his running mate.

As I came back to Ironton, I knew that I had violated the "Fugitive Slave Act of 1793" many times.

I knew these two men could not win the Election in 1848 and I feared our country was heading toward Civil War as we entered the decade to the 1850's.

Civil War did come in April of 1861.

The next year, 1862, saw Abraham Lincoln appoint me as the Internal Revenue Collector for the 11th United States Collection District.

I proudly sought to raise money to support the "boys in blue."

My breast swelled with pride when the United States Army (with naval assistance) won the battles of Ft. Henry and Ft. Donelson, Tennessee, in February if 1862l.

The gunboats that pounded these forts from the rivers and enabled Grant to win the first northern victories had been constructed with iron from the Hanging Rock District.

Lawrence County sent 2,747 "Yanks" to Mr. Lincoln.

Our town saw 507 "dressed in blue."

It pleased me greatly to see the "town of iron" grow and prosper.

Ironton's first settlers were part of a genuine "melting pot"-Irish, Dutch, Welsh, German, and English.

The red hematite iron ore had been kind to all of the town's laborers and residents.

From its early origins, Ironton was to be a town to be enriched by educational and religious institutions.

However, I sadly saw my town become a "Saturday night town," known for its rowdiness and brawls.

As my town and I entered the 1870's, I had amassed a personal fortune of well over $1,000,000.00.

The "Panic of 1873" took away most of my wealth that had taken me years to accumulate.

The "Panic if 1873" was worldwide in it effects and lasted until 1879.

In 1888, an Ohio author asked me for an interview.

My, Henry Howe flattered me immensely by comparing my accomplishments in Southern Ohio to George Washington's contributions to the United States.

"Time and Age" began to slow my pace and dreams for my "city of iron."

I did not believe that I would survive very many years of the 1890's.

However, I felt that I would leave something good-a river city situated in a prime location with hard-working, God-fearing residents who would perpetuate my dream into the new century!

Recently I was approached and told that the town I helped found was celebrating its 150th year, or it's sesquicentennial.

I clutched my oaken staff and arrived in Ironton in late August of 1999.

Things had changed dramatically since 1890!

The city was bigger in area and had such wide thoroughfares!

When I lived in Ironton, the streets were narrow and bore witness to dray vehicles pulled by horses.

Upon my visit, I witnessed what looked like metal (iron?) carriages moving without horses.

People appeared to steer these contraptions from inside!

What are these grassy ramparts near Stormes Creek?

Progress labeled me a 19th century man.

I wandered the streets in awe.

There must have been a circus that visited Ironton or a political convention. I saw much broken brown glass, brilliant red and white packages, paper cups, and flexible, see-through bottles, too soft to be glass.

As I walked toward what I had known as "7th and Jefferson Streets," I wondered what the words on the debris meant.

Over and over again, I saw "Budweiser," "Marlboro," "McDonald's," and "Pepsi."

I even found "iron cans" that held one pint of liquor.

They also read "Budweiser." As the day passed to evening and night, I beheld a vast brilliance in the sky on 7th Street.

Could it be the aurora borealis?

Upon more extensive investigation, I saw heavily-dressed men with orange hard-hats hitting each other and the spectators were quite loud and supportive!

The next morning, I saw many vacant buildings and a new layer of litter on the streets.

There must have been a "panic," like the one in 1873, and businesses "went under."

I went to see my furnaces-now blast-furnaces-but there were no schools, churches, or company stores near them.

Tall trees and undergrowth were choking the former iron plantations.

People seemed in such a hurry to go somewhere.

Do the workers in Ironton in 1999 still produce "iron by the ton?"

Well, it's time for this spirit and "Founder of Ironton" to go back.

I am privileged to have visited my town, your town, Iron Town, as it held a celebration for its 150th year!

The city has certainly changed from that day in 1848 when a few businessmen stood in W.D. Kelly's apple orchard near Stormes Creek and dreamed of a city.

I'm glad we didn't go to California and become "forty-niners!"

Your Founder and Patron,

John Campbell, Ironmaster

P.S. I have been told that there is another "Ironton" in the United States.

Do you think Ironton, Mo., has as much to be proud of as you?