I Knew John Campbell






John Campbell, the founder of Ironton, was born at Georgetown, Brown county, Ohio, January 14, 1808. He was a farm boy and received the ordinary school education of those days. When he was a young man he went to clerk in the store of Mr. Humphreys, father of W. S. Humphreys, who later lived in Ironton. This was at Ripley, Ohio about 1828. Afterward he started a store with Mr.. Humphreys at Russellville. He was described then as a fine looking young man, devoted to business, and universally respected. Getting tired of the slow life of a storekeeper, in a quiet village, he left Russellville, and invested his savings, about $600, for a part interest in the Ohio river steamer Banner, and took possession as clerk on the boat.

During his second trip on the boat to Pittsburgh, he sold out his interest. While returning on the steamer, he fell in with Robert Hamilton, the pioneer iron man of the Hanging Rock iron region, and ask him if there was an opening for a young man at the Rock, and was told to stop off and see. This he did in 1832 and was given a position as clerk at Pinegrove Furnace. The next year he became associated with Mr. Hamilton in the building of the Hanging Rock forge, which was dismantled before the town of Ironton was laid out. The same year he became associated with Andrew Ellison and assisted in the building of Lawrence Furnace for J. Riggs & Co.

In 1834, in connection with Robert Hamilton he built Mt. Vernon Furnace and moved there to manage it. Here he remained for some years, though his interests in the iron business kept spreading all the time. It was through his suggestion that the first hot blast was erected in America — this was at Vesuvius Furnace. He was also the first to put boilers and hot blast over the furnace stack. This was in 1841.

In 1844, with John Peters, he built Greenup Furnace in Kentucky; in 1846 he built Olive Furnace; and in 1847, Gallia. He assisted in building Howard and Washington furnaces in 1853 and in 1854 he built Madison. The last furnace he built was Monroe in 1856. He later purchased and owned interests in other furnaces notably Hecla Furnace.

About 1845, Mr. Campbell moved from Mt. Vernon Furnace to Hanging Rock, where he lived until 1851, when he moved to the new town of Ironton, which he had organized two years before. He built a handsome home on fifth and Lawrence streets, now the Baker Funeral home [today 1998 it is the home of Community Action Organization].

All the while he was building some of his first furnaces, he had a great scheme in his mind. He had seen hundreds of ox carts some with as many as 6 yoke of oxen pulling the long wagons loaded with iron over the hills to the Ohio river where the iron was loaded on the boats. He was thinking all the while of a steam locomotive operating on a track to speed up the movement of the iron from the furnaces to the river. With this in mind, he organized the Ohio Iron and Coal Co. on April 23rd, 1849 [sic 1848]. Thought he, if there is to be a railroad, there should also be a town with a name. He called the new town Ironton, which means iron by the ton. [see naming of Ironton]. On May 3, this new company purchased land at the mouth of Storms creek, and on June 20th the first land sale was held for the public. This was the beginning of Ironton.

The Ohio Iron and Coal Co. was organized among about 20 furnace men and others prominent in the region. As soon as the new town was laid out, people flocked here seeking employment, many attracted by the moral, as well as its industrial promise. Relative to the morals of the new town, one important provision was ordered into the deeds of all land sold by the Ohio Iron and Coal Co. It read: “that in case ardent spirits be sold in the premises, there shall be a forfeit of the property to the company, on payment to the owner of one half of the appraised value.”

The study and forethought given the new town by the genius Mr. Campbell included provisions for churches, school houses, for manufacturers — for every healthful influence and infused his energy into everybody. Every good work he encouraged with money and personal influence. His good nature and his clear insight of things made him the ideal founder of anew town. He despised shams and delusions, and built only on honest worth and merit.

In the early days, to give the town a start, he took stock in every good enterprise — in the Iron Bank, in the mills and foundries, the nail and plow factories. There was scarcely anything worthy but what received his substantial encouragement. He was interested in 14 furnaces during his life and a score of other enterprises. He was an original stockholder in the Ironton Rolling Mill and Olive Foundry and Machine Shops, both of which were established in 1852. It was through his influence that the first telegraph wire was extended here. He was the president of the great Union Iron Co. and proprietor of Hecla; and for years president of the Iron Railroad Company.

In those early days he was a most indefatigable worker for railroad communications with Ironton, taking an interest in every project. He was the leading promoter of the Scioto Valley (now the N. & W.) which first connected this town to the world by rail. He was accounted by railroad men and financiers as a man of truthful forecasts. The great railroad enterprises that now reach this city, he foresaw and predicted at at time when all others were incredulous. No man saw manifest destiny clearer than John Campbell did.

Notwithstanding Mr. Campbell’s life abounded with great enterprise, he was approachable to all. He took an interest in every man who tried to do something for himself. He was the Friend of the unfortunate. At the time of his funeral the colored people of the city flocked to his funeral, and tearfully viewed him for the last time. He was their friend and in the dark days of slavery, no fugitive ever came to this town, searching for freedom, but that Mr. Campbell took his hand, gave him money and sent him on. His home was the asylum for the oppressed in those days.

He had a keen mind for the right, and he was simply immovable when he took a stand. At the same time, he was a man of most equable temper; never getting impatient or mad. In the most trying circumstances he was calm and gentle as a child.

Mr. Campbell had been a rich man in his life time. In 1872, an inventory of his property figured up over a million dollars. But he kept on and reverses overtook him. Several unfortunate investments made inroads on his wealth, until 1883, when the Union Iron Co. failed, and this compelled him to make an assignment. Old age and fierce competition in the iron business prevented his recovery from financial disaster, but he went down a brave and honest man. His financial distress never effected the sincere esteem in which he was held, or abated a jot the great influence he had in the community.

When Mr. Campbell was clerking in the store at Ripley, he became acquainted with Miss Elizabeth Caldwell Clarke, who was attending a seminary there, conducted by Rev. John Rankin. She had lived at Manchester, but was making her home at the time with her uncle, Robert Hamilton, at Hanging Rock. There she lived except when at school, and Mr. Campbell’s employment at Pinegrove gave opportunity for the ripening of a friendship begun at Ripley; so that on the 16th day of March, 1837, they were married at Pinegrove Furnace by the Rev. Dan Young. They forthwith took up their residence at Mt. Vernon Furnace, where they lived for several years. During this time Mr. Campbell was making money in the iron business and constantly extending his industrial operations. From Mt. Vernon he moved to Hanging Rock, where he occupied the former residence of Robert Hamilton, which later became the Hempstead home. It was in 1851 he built his Ironton home, at Fifth and Lawrence, which today is a funeral home, although he was the first to be buried from that home.

There were seven children born to Mr. and Mrs. Campbell, viz: Mary J., Martha, Emma, Clara, Albert and Charles, who survived at the time of their father’s death, except for Mary and Emma, and the baby that died during infancy.

These facts about Mr. Campbell’s life were taken from stories printed in Ironton newspapers about his life and at the time of his death.

The funeral of John Campbell was held on Tuesday, September 1, 1891 … The newspaper said “for a square, the people congregated in throngs, testifying to the universal respect in which he was held. The attendance included everybody, of all beliefs, colors, conditions, the rich and poor, the old and young. Never was there such a funeral in this town. In the large parlor where the casket rested were the City Council, the county officiary and the Bar. All the rooms and spacious halls of the residence were filled with people.

Richard Mather had charge of arrangements with Messrs. Frank C. Tomlinson and Charles Hutsinpillar as assistants. The front yard was filled and the streets blocked with people.

Rev. E. E. Morgan of the Presbyterian church conducted the services, assisted by Rev. W. V. Dick of the Methodist Church. A quartet choir, consisting of Messrs. Thomas Lewis, Otto Otten, Thomas J. Davies and Robert Simpson, conducted the music.

The active pallbearers were: John Hamilton, I. N. Henry, W. G. Lambert, J. R. C. Brown, P. Ritter, J. A. Turley, W. A. Murdock, G. W. McConn. The Honorary pallbearers were Dr. Livesay, C. Culbertson, John Peters, D. W. Voglesong, Thomas Winters, W. N. McGugin and E. Nigh.

The cortege was very long, comprising over 60 carriages, the city police and U. S. mail carriers attended mounted.

Members to date:
Rev. Wm. Falls
A. W. Abele
R. D. McKnight
George C. Hugger
Miss Mary Fullweiler
Louis L. Sheridan
Mrs. C. M. Eakins
John Tyler
T. Howard Winters
William “Kid” Litteral
William Mahle
John W. Delong

Joe Sagar, 1329 south Sixth street remembers John Campbell. Mrs. “S” was born near Eighth and Hecla streets, and attended Lawrence street school. At the age of 12 years, he went to work in the keg factory at Belfont Nail Mill for 25 cents a day. He knew Mr. Campbell as one of the big business men of the town.

Mr. Sagar later learned the art of saw filing and worked many years at the Yellow Popular Lumber Co. at Coal Grove. About 1925 he was named city fireman, and retired in 1944.

Mr. “S” is quite a souvenir and relic man, and has a pocket full of cut nails made at Belfont as well as more modern nails made at the Kelly mill with a “checker board” head. These odd nails were made for the Chinese government. Among other souvenirs is his father’s honorable discharge medal from the Civil War.

He has two pictures of Iron Railroad engines with their crews taken many years ago. The crew of the engine named “John Campbell” taken in 1904 shows Jake Schrader, Harry Moore, Theo. Massie, J. Henthorn, E. Hannon and Andy Foit. Engine No. 45, taken in 1917 shows Joe Garthee, Leo Lawless, G. C. Beatty, A. Heberline and Bill Farmer.

George J. Goldcamp, 811 south Fourth street, doesn’t remember John Campbell, only the name, but what he does remember is that the schools closed for his funeral, and that holiday from school is something no boy forgets.

At that time, the Goldcamp family Mr. and Mrs. Isadore Goldcamp, lived on south Front street in the other end of the city from the Campbell home, and as George recalls it, he nor his brothers, which included Robert S. Goldcamp, of Fourth and Vernon were allowed to visit in the north side. That part of the city was known as “Irish Town” and the Goldcamp boys attended the German school and there was always an exchange of rocks when the boys from one end of town met the boys from the other side of Center street.

George and Robert Goldcamp engaged in the furniture business on Second near Park avenue, in 1902, and their business grew and grew until they moved to Fourth street opposite the court house in the four story building.

In 1924 they erected the big building on Third and Vernon, now occupied by the Penney Co. They retired from the furniture business shortly before Pearl Harbor.

John H. Brice, circus detective, not only recalls John Campbell, but was among the boys who pestered him on Halloween night, throwing “whiskers” from the nail mill at the windows of his home, on Fifth and Lawrence.

Mr. Brice thinks that he was a water boy at the mill, at that time. He joined the police force in 1899, and chased boys for doing the same thing on Halloween nights that he did at the Campbell home when he was younger.

Mr. Brice became chief of police of Ironton early during the twentieth century, and then joined the circus. Last year he served his 43rd year as circus detective, most of the years with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey – the greatest show on earth.

William G. Lambert, better known as “Nickel” lived on Center street between Sixth and Seventh, when a boy, and recalls John Campbell on horse back as well as seeing him other times.

Mr. Lambert started life as a mechanic at the Lambert Bros. Machine Shops, Second and Etna, and walked past the Campbell home almost daily on his way to and from work. When the Spanish American War broke out, Mr. “L” was a drummer in the 17th Regiment Band, Ohio Volunteer Infantry, under direction of E. J. Bird. When the 64 member band reached Chillicothe on President McKinley’s call, Mr. Lambert failed to pass the medical examination and was returned home.

For several decades “Nickel” Lambert was rated the best snare drummer in southern Ohio, playing with the 7th Regiment Band, and all others from 1890 to 1940. He recalls playing in the Apple Show parades back in 1914.

Mr. Lambert who is now 77, was a mechanic at the Alpha Portland Cement Co. for many years and in 1945 was hit by an auto while crossing the street and was confined to the hospital many weeks. He is looking forward to the Centennial.

Mr. John Clutts, a patient at the General Hospital the past six months, remembers John Campbell. He remembers him as a dinner guest at the Clutts House, when operated by his father, Mr. Charles Clutts.

In 1891 Mr. Clutts left Ironton and took a job in Chicago. For almost a half century he was a street car motorman and conductor in the Windy City. Retiring in 1939, and returned to this city to make his home with Mr. and Mrs. George W. Clutts. Mr. Clutts is now 82.

David Morgan, of Bush & Morgan, printers, has real reason to remember John Campbell. As a boy Dave sold newspapers, and the best place to sell newspapers back during the 80’s was at the wharf boat, when the packets landed.

One reason I’ll never forget Mr. Campbell is that he sorta blames him for three whippings he got one day because he played hooky from school. It was the first and only time I ever was truant, said Mr. Morgan yesterday.

It was during the time that Kingsbury building was under construction and the grade school was being held in a frame building across Seventh street from the school building. Dave and two other companions decided to skip classes one afternoon, and naturally the first place they went was down to the river. They were playing about the Ironton House, and he recalls that Mr. E. V. Dean, John Campbell and Col. J. H. Moulton were sitting on the front porch at the Vernon Iron Co. building, just below the hotel. This is where the Western Union Telegraph office was located for many years.

As the boys approached this building, Mr. Campbell stood up and inquired, “why aren’t you lads in school?” This sorta frightened the boys, and they went back to school. The teacher whipped Dave, so did his mother and dad, for playing hooky. The next day he was sent to Superintendent Page who was getting ready to lay the strap on him the fourth time, when Dave told him of the other punishments, and he escaped that one.

Dave Morgan started carrying the Daily Republican in the 80’s, became a printer in that newspaper office during the Gay 90’s, and since 1900 has been engaged in the printing business. During those many early years he was usher at the Masonic opera house, then ticket seller and finally manager.

Dave Morgan is very much interested in the Centennial, and while have not reached his three score and ten years yet, he has lived much of the early history of the city in his business dealings.

Dr. Walter Corns, Columbus Grove, Ohio, remember John Campbell.

Dr. Corns was the son of Mayor and Mrs. John M. Corns, who served the city in its highest position from 1870 to 1897. He was on south Sixth street, and both Walter and his late brother John B. Corns, got their early life in as newspaper reporters. Editor Corns never gave up printer’s ink, but Walter took up pill rolling in later years and has been a very successful physician for many years at Columbus Grove.

The doctor wasn’t very old at the time he recalls John Campbell, but being a wide awake young boy at the time, he recalls the big man with his tall cane.

Although he has been away from Ironton more than 40 years, Dr. Corns still holds his membership in Ironton Lodge No. 177, B. P. O. Elks, and likes to visit the old home on every opportunity.

Judge E. E. Corn, now at Bradenton, Florida with his daughter, Mrs. Lillian Crichlow, is among those who remembers John Campbell in 1891.

At that time Mr. Corns was studying law under the tutorship of his late brother Atty. W. D. Corn, and was working during that time as bookkeeper at the Standard Gas Retort & Fire Brick Co. He made his home with his brother who lived on what some people called “Cemetery or Cullen’s Lane.” The city director of 1891 listed it as “Woodlawn Ave.”

Judge Corn served during the Spanish-American War as a commissioned officer with Co. I Ohio National Guard. Later, while serving as Common Pleas Judge and with all the other honors accorded him, in state and lodge, his most keen interest has always been with the veteran.

Richard W. Dovel, better known as “Dick” is among those who remember John Campbell.

In 1891, when Mr. Campbell’s funeral was held, Dick was clerking at C. B. “Jake” Clarks grocery on Center street, where the Grand Theatre is now located. The stores all closed for the funeral, and Dick says “we clerks didn’t mind that, but I be dinged if Jake didn’t make us clerks carry in all the bunches of bananas that always hung on the side walk, and when the funeral was over, we had to carry them back out and hang them up for a couple of hours until closing time.”

Mr. Dovel was appointed deputy probate clerk under the late Judge Russell, and while serving in this capacity, he studied law. Later, he was elected Probate Judge. During the man-power shortage of the recent war, Judge Dovel served as police court desk officer at the City building.

George P. Mahl, 1047 north Fifth street, retired contractor, remembers John Campbell, his tall walking cane, his big horse and everything.

Mr. Mahl went to work early in life at the nail mill. His parents lived in West Ironton, and like all the other prominent families in West Ironton raised hogs for their own use. One of George’s jobs once a week or oftener was to take a wheelbarrow and go to the Ebert Brewery, where they sold mash at 10 cents a tub. This was excellent food for hogs. In going to the brewer, he usually passed the Campbell home at Fifth and Lawrence.

Mr. Mahl and his brother Charley, now a resident of West Ironton, engaged in the contracting business many years ago and built some of the best streets, finest sidewalks and most dependable sewers in the city today.

In recent years Mr. Mahl has been interested in building and loan associations. He was very active in building the Beechwood Stadium.


My letter concerning my acquaintance with John Campbell may be different from that of others, but I feel it will be quite like John Campbell would have it. Mr. Campbell was not a man who sought publicity, never showed any “Holier Than Thou” attitude, did not believe in bit “I” and Little “U”. I have a deed of land executed March fifth which bears the names of eight grantors. John Campbell’s signature is last. He was just a fine old gentleman of the old school. I have seen him many times at our old house and when a boy, I delivered butter to his home as well as his brother, [note from smk – Hiram was his first cousin] Hiram and their brother-in-law, John Moulton twice a week for years. Mr. Campbell was an early riser.

I well remember his big bay horse with the white blaze in his forehead. His saddle was one of those with a horn in front and saddle pockets behind with extra rings for luggage, a rain coat and leggins. His hat was of the Tom Jenkins style and he always wore a white lay down collar with a black tie. He always spoke in a slow impressive way and seemed to weigh every word, always make the proper distinction saying Miss or Mrs. and all boys, big or little were sonny. He could address a dozen people with his usual “Hello Boys” and look each of them in the eye when he spoke. There never was a man in Lawrence county with the possible exception of Fred G. Leete, who knew the topography of Lawrence county as did John Campbell. He knew where every section line crossed every road and ridge, where every section corner was, how it was marked and witnessed. He knew every spring with an usual flow of water also whether the water was soft, limestone or sulphur.

While John Campbell was interest in many industries, there were four things uppermost in his mind, viz, ore, limestone, charcoal and pig iron. Get his mind off these for a few moments and he was just one of us. He has raised his office window many times to listen to a street faker play and sing “The Arkansas Traveler” over on the corner, and has stopped many times to watch boys make a few shots in a marble game. I never saw a man get more kick out of an incident than he did. One unusually cold morning along about 1889 or 1890. At that time there lived in Ironton an old Dr. Wilson (not D. C.). At this time he was around 70 years young as he termed it. I had just arrived at the Campbell home and the old Dr. and Mr. Campbell were talking when up drove a grocery delivery wagon driven by a colored boy named Racer Kiser. He took out a basket of groceries and ran into the house and as he passed the two men said, “Don’t you old men know this is no morning for old men to be about?” His remark flew all over the old Dr. and he retorted, “Thank you, thank you, if I see any old men out I will tell them what you say.” Well whether it was the old Dr.’s words or the expression of his face, but you could have heard John Campbell laugh to Railroad street.

Hecla Company used to issue script in place of money and their wood choppers used to pay for things bought at our house with it and when we would collect enough to make it worth a trip to Hecla, trade it for merchandise. These trips were an excursion to me as I got to see the furnace cast iron or flush cinder which was a great sight. I would get as much out of them as the boy who went “Down to Camp Along with Captain Goodwin.”

It was on these trips that I got acquainted with the late I. M. Henry who was clerk and bookkeeper in the Hecla store and office and in later years we often talked of days gone by and he has told me of the many good deeds done by John Campbell to his employees.

We are all familiar with the old hymn, “Take Your Burden to the Lord and Leave It There,” but Hecla Furnace was one place where they did not follow this admonition. No sir, regardless of the fact that 95 per cent of the old settlers were good old Methodists, they all took their burdens to John Campbell. When tax time came around and a fellow did not have the dollar dog tax (about all one had to pay taxes on in those days) the company would pay the tax and charge it to his account. School books were bought in the same way along with numerous other items the store did not handle.

Here’s a story Mr. Henry told me. A certain couple were engaged to be married but when their wedding day drew near neither the boy or his family nor the girl’s family could raise seventy-five cents to pay for the marriage license. That used to be the price I guess but they soaked me for $1.50 when I got mine in a larger town but at any rate I got the girl and have still got her for that matter. Well the thought of praying never entered into their minds so the fellow as usual went down to the store to tell his troubles to John Campbell, who after listening to his tale of woe called Mr. Henry into the office and told him to give the boy a note to the probate judge, who at that time was Lot Davis, to issue the license and mail the bill to the company which he did. The boy stopped at the company office to show the license. Mr. Campbell congratulated him while sympathizing with the girl. The wedding took place, likewise the belling, the crowd being treated as usual out of the store and all forgotten until a week or so later when the groom got his monthly statement on which Mr. Henry had neglected to make the license charge. Well the groom was going to take advantage of the error but the wife said no. She took the view that they were not legally married unless the license was paid for so she made her lord beat it right down to the office and show Mr. Henry his error which he did and the charge was entered on his current account. Mr. Campbell was not at the office at this time and never knew of the incident as Mr. Henry did not like to tell his boss of his mistakes, and believe me a mistake of seventy-five cents those days was a real mistake.

Yes sir, Hecla Furnace was a great old place and the name of John Campbell brings to mind the old saying that “To Live in Hearts We Leave Behind Is Not to Die.”