Lawrence County: A proud past

Published 10:11 pm Saturday, July 24, 2010

We are still proud of the southern most part of Ohio.

I received the following from a historian who was originally from here and wants to get the information to the gentleman who questioned Lawrence County and its iron ore.

Although Lawrence County is not as prosperous as it once was, we are still proud of our history.

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This will be proved as you attend the Lawrence County Historical Society walk, which will be performed on Sept. 25 at the Woodland Cemetery.

Maybe the following will answer some of your questions about iron ore.

John Campbell, who was a prominent pig iron manufacturer in the area, founded Ironton in 1849. Interested in expanding his foundry business, and due to the area’s rich iron ore content (particularly in the hills to the north), he became interested in the lands surrounding what would later become the City of Ironton.

The location of Ironton was chosen for its position along the Ohio River, which could allow for transport of the much-needed commodity, iron ore and the slope of the land itself, which facilitated movement of the raw material to the local blast furnaces.

Between 1850 and 1890, Ironton was one of the foremost producers of iron in the world. England, France and Russia all purchased iron for warships from here due to its quality. Iron produced in Ironton and surrounding areas was used for the USS Monitor, the United States’ first ironclad ship.

There were more than 90 furnaces in operation at the peak of production in the late 1800s. The immense wealth that was created from the bustling pig-iron industry led to the construction of many opulent residences.

With much wealth pouring into the city from the iron industry, new industries opened that included soap and nail production. The Detroit, Toledo and Ironton Railroad, which stretched through two states, helped fuel Henry Ford’s plants in Michigan.

The city had a street railway, the Ironton Petersburg Street Railway, four daily newspapers and a few foreign language publications.

Ironton was also known for its lax attitude towards sin and vice. It was home to a racetrack, numerous saloons and brothels. Numerous chapels offered “quick and quiet” marriages.

The downfall of Ironton came as the market for iron changed. The quality of the iron that has once made Ironton one of the leading producers of pig iron was no longer considered as desirable.

All of the easily accessible iron (close to the surface) had been mined by 1899, and the continued production costs began to outweigh the benefits.

Also, the nation was making the transition from a demand for iron to steel.

After a nationwide economic recession in the late 19th Century, Ironton was no longer growing. The Great Depression of the late 1920s and two major floods (1917, 1937) devastated the city to the point that most, if not all, of the city’s industries had closed down for good.

Naomi Deer, Trustee

Lawrence County Historical Society