Think Ironton has problems? Look at its sister city

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 3, 2005

Curiosity got the best of Ironton's Nick McMahon last week.

After watching hours of television coverage detailing how Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Louisiana and Mississippi Gulf Coast, McMahon pulled out a road atlas just to get his bearings straight.

After a few minutes he found something interesting.

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"I've never been to Louisiana in my life," said the 76-year-old, third-generation Ironton native. "I looked at it and I saw a little town called Ironton. I said, 'I bet that little town is gone.'"

What McMahon found was a small dot on a map marking the community of Ironton, La., located approximately 27 miles south of New Orleans.

"I saw a tiny little name on it and I thought, 'well, that's about the size of Hanging Rock or something,'" McMahon said.

He was correct.

Ironton, La., is pretty small - too small to garner much in the way of a U.S. Census mention, but one can figure out just how small it is by noticing that its postal ZIP code, 70083, is shared with approximately half a dozen other small towns and communities.

With his curiosity piqued, McMahon searched the Internet for a few details on the south Louisiana community that shares a name with his birthplace.

He found an article written by a Toledo newspaper reporter and published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's online newspaper about Ironton and other small towns made ghost towns by the amazingly powerful storm.

The article's first few lines tell of the devastation.

"Four streets. Forty home. Not a single soul in sight."

With the images of the hurricane's destruction and the familiar town name running through his head, McMahon couldn't help but reminisce a bit about the 1937 flood, which swallowed much of Ironton, Ohio, in water.

"I can remember the flood just like it was yesterday," McMahon said. "I was 8 years old.

"The water came up slow," he said. "I remember seeing outside toilets floating down the street, garages floating by … A liquor store caved in and all those bottles started floating around.

"I remember people out in their boats getting them," McMahon said with a chuckle.

While some folks look at Ironton and see what's missing, McMahon said he sees what was always there.

"My father always said, 'this is the garden spot of the world.'

"It used to be a dirty town," he said, referring to a number of heavy industries that once dotted the area. "It's clean now."

And, he said, a great place to live.

That's something he's not sure about the Louisiana town some 900 miles south.

"I doubt if anybody would go back there and live."

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Ironton Tribune. He can be reached at (740) 532-1441, ext. 12 or by e-mail to