Iron Furnaces Booming in Decatur

Iron Furnaces Booming in Decatur
I.T. September 1967
Submitted by Lorna Marks


In 1850, most of the 550 male settlers of Decatur Township in Lawrence County were engaged in farming or laboring in the two iron ore furnaces in the township.

The furnaces, Mount Vernon and Buckhorn, both established in 1833, were booming at this time. There were few roads in the area over which to transport the finished iron. But the Delphos and Burlington Railroad ran through the township in a north-south direction connecting with the Iron Railroad, enabling direct contact to river transportation.

Few of the 502 females in the township engaged in activities other than keeping house and rearing the families. One woman of that time who “was educated for the high calling of teaching” was Mary Jane SPENCER Junior, who was born March 12, 1860, the daughter of George and Mary Jane SPENCER, settlers of Lawrence County in 1857.

When she taught approximately 25 scholars in Symmes Township, she made a monthly salary of about $25. Later, when she taught at Centre Station in Decatur Township, she made approximately $50 per month and taught 60 students.

In 1850, before Miss SPENCER’S birth, only 86 of the 1,052 township residents had attended school within the year and 144 of the settlers over 20 years of age could not read or write.

Other settlers were on record in the 1850 census as holding occupations such as merchant, tailor, molder, blacksmith, clerk, carpenter, iron master, or furnace manager.

The total property value estimate of the township’s 21,311 acres in 1856 was $122,424. The individual estimates ranged from $100 for a farmer’s property to $40,000 for an iron master’s estate in 1850.

It was about the year 1850 when the move of the county seat from Burlington to Ironton was being urged by influential citizens, led by John Campbell, the founder of Ironton.

CAMPBELL and his followers charged that “Ironton is nearer the center population. . . more than two-thirds of the inhabitants of the county are nearer to Ironton . . . The townships of Elizabeth, Decatur, Upper, Washington, and Symmes, containing half the county’s population, are closer to Ironton than Burlington”.

When it became resolved that the county seat should be moved, Ironton and Lawrence County residents subscribed to $1,200 in 1852 for the erection of a new court house in Ironton.

Enumerated in the 1850 census were 181 families residing in 177 dwellings in Decatur. This number included 535 white males, 15 colored males, 491 white females, and 11 colored females. Approximately 650 of the settlers were born in Ohio, while 107 were born in Germany, 88 in Pennsylvania, 87 in Virginia, and 51 in Kentucky. The remainder of the settlers came from France, England, Ireland, Scotland, Canada, and the states of Tennessee, New York, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Indiana, North Carolina, Vermont, Maryland, and Wisconsin.

Among the earliest settlers of the township, which was just beginning to grow at the time of the 1850 census, were George W. FLOWER, who settled there in 1841, and Jefferson MORRIS, in 1850.

As late as the year 1882 there were five school houses in the township, but there was still no post office. A post office was later established at Campbell.

Among the unusual name-spellings noted in the microfilmed ledger pages of the old census available for public use at the library, were MYRES, SHIREMAN, DOUGLASS, CALAWAY, BACCUS, SULAVANT, HEWET, DAVISSON, SHOAP, ROWLINS, POWEL, EACHUS, HARMAN, RAP, PHILIPS, LUMBAGO, and HICKENBOTTOM.