Prehistoric Ironton

Ironton, Ohio

BEFORE THE BEGINNING 

Compiled and Researched by Sharon Kouns and Martha Martin

 I.R. Aug. 13, 1908MR. D. NIXON RETIRES – The 31st of July, 1908 is a memorable day in the business annals of Ironton as it marks the retirement from active store-keeping of the man who has been in business longer than any one living here. This is Mr. D. Nixon for so many years, the furniture man. Mr. Nixon packing up his furniture and wall-paper which he has still in stock and removing it to his home and other places for storage.

            Mr. Nixon came to Hanging Rock from Pennsylvania in 1848. Hanging Rock was even then a good sized village. When Mr. Nixon was back at Beaver, Pa., on business he saw the soldiers of the Mexican war returning one day when he was on the wharfboat at Rochester, Pa. Mr. Nixon was in the office of the Ohio Iron and Coal Company when the conclusion was reached to purchase the ground on which Ironton now stands and lay out a town. In the party were John Campbell, Hiram Campbell, Samuel Dempsey, Dr. Scott and Dr. Briggs. The company desired to purchase the land about Hanging Rock instead of this but gave it up as Robert Hamilton refused to sell the Hanging Rock railroad. They then purchased the present site of Ironton which, was owned chiefly by W. D. Kelly, Mr. Bumgardner, John K. Smith and Mr. Heplar. They then proceeded to lay out the new town and construct the Iron Railroad, now the D. T. & I. line to Center Furnace. Ironton Kelly was born the day the town was laid out.

            The engineer who laid out the railroad was Mr. McNeil, who is in the safe business at Cincinnati, with factory at Hamilton. The contract for the construction of the road was taken by Mr. Daniels.

            As Mr. Nixon rode his horse back and forth from the Rock he watched the construction of the old Buckeye House which was built by David Cochrane, from Burlington, in 1849. The iron weeds along the road were then so high that he could hardly see the building.

            In 1850 Mr. Nixon removed to Ironton and built the brick building on Second street now occupied by Hugger the jeweler. Here he started a notion store, that being 58 years ago. The first house built in Ironton was on the site of the present Ricker house but was a frame built by a man named Gillen. The first preaching in town was in the old frame school house now Cooper & Stewart’s office. Mr. Nixon was a charter member of the Presbyterian church, the old part of the structure being built shortly after the town was laid out, under the pastorate of Rev. Chester.

            It was Mr. Nixon who carried the message signed by John Campbell to the county auditor at Burlington informing him that by vote of the people the county seat should be moved to Ironton. Ironton at that time was growing rapidly.

            In 1859 or 1850 shortly before the war times were hard here and being compelled to borrow gold at 10 per cent interest Mr. Nixon traded his building for a store-boat and made a trip down the river, finally selling out at Mt. Vernon, Indiana. From there he returned up the river going to Parkersburg just as the war broke out. During the war, Mr. Nixon conducted a feed business in the building where the Western Union office is now located. He also did a teaming business at about this time. In 1865 he erected the frame and the brick buildings at the corner of Third and Railroad streets and embarked in the furniture business which he followed until now, making 43 years in this particular business. He then purchased the building on Second street which was built in 1872 by Henry Wilson. Here his furniture store was found for thirty odd years until he sold the building to Dr. Lowry last year.

            In all these years Mr. Nixon never failed in business, the firm name being D. Nixon. He has seen every business house in Ironton start, and hundreds come and go. The next oldest business man in Ironton is Mr. R. Mather and the late E. Bixby, stood second in time of continuance in business.

            The many friends of Mr. Nixon regret to see him retire but cherish the recollection of his uprightness and steadfastness in his long activity. May his days as a private citizen be many and happy even after his days as merchant are ended. 

IR July 5, 1877 – Death of John K. Smith. – Last Monday afternoon, John K. Smith, a well known and esteemed citizen of Ironton, died at the age of 81 years.  He was born in Berkeleycounty, Virginia, in 1796, and came to Lawrence county in 1816.  In 1824, he married Penina Lee, a daughter of Rev. John Lee, the pioneer Baptist preacher of this region.  She survives her husband.  The deceased held the office of Upper township trustee for fifty consecutive years.  He was a kind hearted man and many poor people in this region will remember his efforts for their welfare all their lives.  His funeral takes place at his residence today, (Thursday) at 9 o’clock a.m. 

IR Mar. 31, 1881 – In 1837, the river road ran along and near the riverbank from Hanging Rock to what has since become Ironton.  Just below Storms Creek, it passed between StormsCreek Baptist Church a log structure on the riverbank and a small graveyard.   The ground on which were located the church, road and cemetery has been taken away by the river.  The present bridge was erected in 1854; of wood and iron work done by Uriah Evans of Gallia County on 8 Feb of that year…

 IR Aug. 9, 1900 – …[do not have beginning] succumbed to the pressure and the two known as West Ironton.  My father also sold sixty acres to the company known now as “Welsh Town.”

     Here is where I need some figures as to the age of the town, but the citizens wanted a wharf for there was nothing but a road through the timber to the river.  Improvements began, and in a short time the river bank was leveled and a grade established, and a wharf boat adorned the city front.  Some years had come and gone, but in the meantime, a bridge across Storms creek had been built.

     The bridge, the Lawrence mill and the Baptist church all built in 1854.  Many other improvements rapidly sprang into existence as time went on.

     From the mouth of Storms Creek up the Ohio river to the “Hecla Landing,” near the Parker property, was one continuous growth of timber with here and there a path through to the river.

     Now where Etna furnace stands, there was a farm house owned and occupied by Uncle Isaac Davisson, father-in-law of W. E. R. Kemp.  Back of Ironton was my father’s farm, now known as Seventh, Eighth and Ninth streets, with here and there a strip of timber he owned years before Ironton was dreamed of.  The portion of ground owned by father lay above Quincy and north of Seventh, including the hill.  I mention this particular farm by way of recollection, and to call attention to other things which may be mentioned in connection with other farms and their owners fifty years ago.  J.C. SMITH. 

IR Oct. 10, 1858 – The Ohio Iron & Coal Co., the company that founded Ironton, was organized in the year 1849, with twenty-four members.  Eleven of the number have gone to their “final account,” – Andrew Dempsey, Henry S. Willard, George Steece, Henry Blake, Joseph W. Dempsey, Washington Irwin, James W. Means, James A. Richey, James O. Willard, John E. Clark, and Robert B. Hamilton. – Two have disposed of their stock – Smith Ashcraft, and H. C. Rodgers.  This leaves now in the Company only 11 of the original members.  These are John Campbell, Wm. Ellison, D. W. Woodrow, Jno. Ellison, James Rodgers, Hiram Campbell, Wm. D. Kelly, John Culbertson, John Peters[paper cut off  do not have end]

John E. Clarke – died May 18, 1858, age 47, in Ironton of typhoid pneumonia.  partner in the firm of Culbertson, Means & Co., of Lawrence Furnace.

Robert B. Hamilton – Fayette Co., Pa., born abt. 1807, died Oct. 21, 1858 age 51

There were two Robert Hamilton’s – smk. 

IR May 29, 1873 – The first buggy introduced into Scioto and Lawrence counties, upwards of fifty years ago, was on our streets Saturday last.  The present owner, Dr. Hempstead, purchased it when he was quite a young man and just entering into the practice of medicine.  In those days tops were unknown but in their stead a large linen umbrella was placed in a socket that was made in the seat to receive it, to protect the occupants of the vehicle from the weather.  The rig is stoutly constructed, has four very small [do not have end] 

I.R. Sept. 27, 1888 – 50th ANNIVERSARY – (of Mr. and Mrs. W. D. Kelly)

. . . Mr. Kelly built a small frame house, on the river bank not far below Union Landing, where he lived until in August, 1848, when he came up to where Ironton now stands to bid on the John Davidson farm, that was then offered for sale.  He bid in the farm which comprised 300 acres lying above the mouth of Storms creek, and running up to about where the Court house now stands.  He paid $17 per acre for it. 

            Peter Lionbarger attended the sale, and right after Mr. Kelly bid in the Davidson farm took him aside and said: “Now, you have offered me $20 an acre for my place several times; if you offer it again I will accept,”  Mr. Kelly didn’t do so just then, but did shortly after.  Lionbarger’s farm was a tract of 200 acres just above the Davidson farm which he had just bought.  Mr. Lionbarger’s frame house stood about the middle of the Neal-Ellsberry lot. 

            A few days after buying Lionbarger’s place, Mr. Kelly bought Isaac Davidson’s farm, where his present home now is.

            The old brick home near the Goldcamp flour mill was the farm house of John Davidson, and went with the first purchase, and into that Mr. Kelly moved in August, 1848.  It was his intention, by all these purchases to have one splendid plantation, but about that time Dr. Briggs, John Campbell and others came to him with the Ohio Iron & Coal Co. project, and the Ironton scheme, and he sold the John Davidson and Lionbarger tracts to them at just double what he gave, and took stock in the Ohio Iron & Coal Co., and thus became one of the founders of Ironton. 

Before the beginning:  HRIR pages 802-803:  Judge John Davisson – … Judge John Davisson was born in Maryland in 1777, came to Ohio and about 1801 settled on a tract of land beginning with the south bank of Storms Creek, following the Ohio river south to a point near where the D. T. & I. depot now stands, thence by due a due east line out over the “Chronacher Hill” near the tunnel on Park Avenue.  He was one of the pioneers who cleared away the timber and farmed the land on which the lower portion of Ironton now stands.  He built his first log cabin about where the “old mill” used to stand, and set out fruit trees around it.  Each year saw more land cleared and brought under cultivation until in 1812 he built a modern hewn log house; which stood about where Buckhorn street crosses Fourth street.  Being one of the most prosperous farmers in the neighborhood, in 1822 he built the first brick house ever erected in this part of the country.  For that purpose he brought brickmakers from Columbus, and they made and burned the brick on his own land and laid them in the walls.  This was a two-story residence and marked a new era in home building for the surrounding neighborhood, and attracted no little attention.  It stood just back of the present New Exelsior shoe factory, fronting the river.  It was occupied by his widow and family after his death until 1848, when the farm was sold for a townsite for Ironton, and the first lots were sold in June, 1849.  This old house stood as a landmark long after the town started, but was torn down in 1892 to make way for improvements…. His wife was Susanah Lambert, born in New Jersey just twenty days after the Declaration of Independence.  She died in 1848.  They reared a splendid family of twelve children, nine sons and three daughters, who in turn have founded some of the best families of this region and in western states. 

IR Nov. 16, 1893 – John Davidson, a highly respected old gentleman, well known in this county, died last Saturday, after a long and painful illness at Pocahontas, Va., where he has been living with his son for the past three years.  His age was 74 years.  He was one of the pioneers of this locality, having been born on the present site of Ironton in 1819, and was a grandson of Judge John Davisson.  Clay Henry, who is a cousin of the deceased, received news of his death this morning. 

Before the beginning:  IST Feb. 27, 1927 – Old Hanging Rock Furnace Now Only a Relic of Distant Past.

            One of the land marks of this section of the country, especially the Hanging Rock neighborhood is being slowly dismantled and soon will be but a memory.  The old Hanging Rock blast furnace, operated until November, 1923 continuously from the time of its construction in 1883 by Means, Kyle and Company, has outlived its usefulness and is being junked.  Salvage work to date has removed all possibility of the furnace ever being placed in operation again, it has been announced by Wm. Jefferys, president of the Hanging Rock Iron company owners.

            The furnace at Hanging Rock has fast crumbled away since it was put out of operation in 1923.  Recently the heavy steel smoke stacks were pulled down because of their menace to travelers on the A. P. highway through the village.  There was always the danger of their being blown over the road and officials of the concern took the necessary safety steps.  The wooden ore trams have fallen down, the casting “shed” wrecked and other equipment removed.  The blast furnace remains intact with other buildings, but indications are that these too will soon be razed and the site cleared.

            In passing from operation the Hanging Rock furnace joins the other furnace skeletons which remain in Lawrence county as bleak reminders of those turbulent days when the heart of the nationally known Hanging Rock Region, was in its prime.  The Pine Grove, Vesuvius, Hecla, Oak Ridge, Union and other of the older furnaces have passed, but only a few of these were of the modern blast type at Hecla, Pine Grove and other points the heavy stone stoves remain as reminders of active days when charcoal furnaces were in vogue and before the new hot blast era in 1837.  A hot blast experiment was conducted at old Vesuvius furnace in 1837 by William Firmstone, the first in the United States, and it revolutionized the industry.

            The Hanging Rock furnace story brings to light other interesting features.  In the years of charcoal business all iron was brought to Hanging Rock as a river shipping point, there being no railroads.  The Hanging Rock Railroad, the narrow gauge line familiar to all residents of this section of the country, was built for the transportation of coal and iron from Pine Grove to Hanging Rock and the river.  That was when the New Castle mines were in full operation and the road was successful from its start in the 40’s.  Two by four inch rails of oak were first used, being nailed to under supports.  Later flat, wide steel rails raised on one side were used and some of these may still be found along the mine entrances of the company’s right of way.  Later 60-pound charcoal iron rails were installed and the railroad is still in shape for operation.  The small 50-ton engine has been seen by all Hanging Rock residents and it is even now put in operation when occasion demands for transportation of forest products from the Pine Grove neighborhood.  The property is controlled by the New Castle and Ohio River Railway Company and that concern recently filed application with the Interstate Commerce Commission for permission to abandon the line.

            The Hanging Rock Iron Co., 8000 acres of land between Hanging Rock and Pine Grove, all rich in timber, mineral products.  Property is being liquidated and capital stock retired.  Soon the concern will be dissolved and another interesting chapter in the history of Ironton, and this section of the country concluded.

IR Nov. 17, 1887 – A meeting of the Hanging Rock Stove Co. will be called to consider the project of moving the foundry to Ironton. 

Before the Beginning:  Glorious Past:  The Land Option. – W. D. Kelly owned the apple orchard near the mouth of Storms Creek, and dealing through him, the neighboring lands were optioned with promissory notes… Thomas Walton surveyed the land and made the blue print of the new town… The original and cost of the land was as follows:  Isaac Davidson [Davisson], 49 1/2 acres, on which was paid December 13, 1848, $819, and notes payable in 9 months with interest, $800…Elizabeth Copenhaver’s farm, 23 acres – cash, $550 – notes on demand $550… Daniel Fort’s [Feurt] farm, 100 acres, cash $400, notes for one year for another $400… P. Lindenbarger [Lionbarger, Lionberger] 2 1/2 acres, cash $248… E. E. Adams, one acre, cash $100 notes in sum of $400… J. L. Collins, fram, 66 acres, cash $1,500, note $1,500…The land back of the river known as the Davidson and Lineberger farm – 325 acres sold at $33 per acre…These deals were all completed May 12, 1849. 

Before the Beginning:  IR Apr. 2, 1857 – Died in Ironton, March 26, of consumption, Isaac Davisson, in his 61st year.  Mr. Davisson was born in Harrison co., Va., Aug. 8, 1796.  When about five years of age his father, John Davisson, who afterwards became the first Associate Judge in this county, removed to Greenup co., Ky., opposite Hanging Rock; resided there one year, and removed to the farm now in possession of Andrew Davisson near the lower line of the county, and five years afterwards, when the subject of this notice was about twelve years of age, in 1808, we believe, he removed to one of the farms on which Ironton is now located; and here Isaac Davisson lived until his death last week.  He united with the Baptist church in this place in Jan. 1832, and was a deacon in the church about 21 years… 

Before the Beginning:  Glorious Past First Child Born – When the town was laid out in lots, Judge Davisson, who presided in the early courts at Burlington, owned a big brick house facing the river near where Buckhorn street was located…W. E. R. Kemp was living in the house when the town site was purchased, and when the first lost sale was held, W. D. Kelly purchased the house and lots, and it was in this house that the first child was born, named “Ironton” Kelly.  

Before the beginning:  IR July 2, 1868 Death. – Daniel Bumgarner, one of the oldest citizens of Lawrence county, died near Haverhill, last Monday.  When a young man he used to teach schools in this county, and several of our present and influential citizens were his pupils.  He formerly owned a part of the land on which Ironton stands.  He was an industrious and useful man.  His death caused much grief in our city. 

Before the beginning:  IR Feb. 7, 1884 – We asked C. T. M. Kemp if he knew old Peter Lionbarger, who owned the farm which is now a large part of Ironton.  He said he knew him well.  He lived in a log house on H. S. Neal’s lots, corner of 4th and Vernon streets  and had a large family.  Peter, himself, was a widower at the time he sold his farm to W. D. Kelly for the Ohio Iron and Coal Co.  He had two daughters and several sons.  One of his daughters married U. B. Scott; another a Mr. Davidson, now living in the West.  One of his boys is a steamboat engineer; another a hammerman in Portsmouth rolling mill, at last accounts.  Peter Lionberger’s lower line ran about with the present line of  Olive street, and the upper line started from near where Grant furnace is.  Above that was Isaac Winter’s farm, who sold to W. D. Kelly. Below Olive street and clear to Storms creek was the widow Davidson’s farm, who lived in the old brick, below the flour mill.  Mr. Kemp tells us he had to ride to Coalgrove to mill when a boy.  Rev. D. Young had charge of the mill, and he made the boys turn a crank to bolt their own flour. 

IR Nov. 3, 1887 – The old Lambert homestead burned yesterday, was 75 years old. 

Before the beginning:  IR May 5, 1892 – A letter from our old friend T. A. Walton, gives this little reminiscence of the prehistoric days of Ironton.  The incident, Mr. Walton writes us, will do to publish for the boys to read:

            “Peter Lionberger and Jacob Hepler saw a bear in the Ohio river.  They took their gun and ax and got their canoe and went after the bear.  When near it, they shot at it.  It turned and came to get into the canoe; in trying to keep it out, they broke their gun to pieces on it, they then struck at it with the ax.  The bear knocked the ax out of their hands into the river; it then climbed into the front of the canoe, (they leaning on the side of the canoe while the bear climbed in, to prevent it upsetting the canoe,) and sat there very well satisfied while they paddled to shore.  When the canoe struck the shore, the jar of the canoe caused the bear to look around and when it saw it was at shore, it quietly got out and went to the woods and made its escape.”  This landing was made near where the Water Works now is. 

Before the beginning:  IR Mar. 3, 1892 – A Reminiscense. – Our old friend S. R. Bush called to see the Register this week.  He and Mrs. Bush came down from Gallipolis to attend the funeral of Samuel Samples.  Mr. B. looks better than he has for years; heavier and more youthful looking.  He was one of Ironton’s earliest citizens, and the first school teacher.  He tells us he remembers his first visit to Ironton, then a town on paper.  He and Mr. Wait came up to buy some lots.  The Ohio Iron & Coal Co’s office was then the little frame building on Olive [now Park] street, near the lower corner of George Willard’s residence lot.  When they stepped into the house, they found Dr. Brigg’s there alone.  He was the first Secretary of the Ohio Iron & Coal Co.  While there transacting their business, which resulted in their purchasing the lost where the Second Ward hose house is, Mr. Campbell came in, attended by a young man of light hair, and blazing spectacles, whom Mr. C. introduced to Dr. Briggs, as Mr. Stimson.  Mr. Campbell then went on to remark, that Mr. Stimson had been teaching school at Wheelersburg, but wanted to start a paper at Ironton.  This, said Mr. C. is what we want too; if we have a town, we must have a newspaper; and then he went on to say to Mr. Stimson that the Ohio Iron & Coal Co. would back him to a certain extent, and then when the paper was established, the money should be refunded.   That was the start of the Ironton Register – over 40 years ago.  Mr. Bush and Mr. Stimson still live, but Mr. Campbell and Dr. Briggs have gone to their long homes. 

In the beginning:  IR June 16, 1892 – From An Old Citizen. – … [letter from Col. I. W. Kelly, Seena?, Ill., June 13] … I enjoy the honor of being the first merchant in Ironton, having erected the first two story building, and sold the first yard of calico Ironton ever saw.  This was in the summer of 1849; under the firm name of Irwin & Kelly.  – I see in the June 9th issue, that my old friend, J. T. Irwin, claims the honor of hauling the first load of pork to Ironton, and the difficulty experienced in getting it to town.  Right you are, John, and I am the very man that bought those very same three loads of dressed hogs.  I remember this instance very distinctly.  He arrived in town shortly after daylight Sunday morning, amid rain and mud, and completely fagged out.  Myself and partner, with the help of Mr. Irwin, cut those hogs up same day I bought them. …

December 6, 1948 Number 14

            When the city of Ironton was laid out, the streets were named for the pig iron furnaces of the county…  Those streets paralleling the river were called First, Second, etc., while those from the river to the hill starting at Storms Creek south to Jefferson were given the furnace names… The first named was John Campbell’s favorite furnace — Vesuvius…  It was at that furnace Mr. Campbell’s “hot blast” idea worked successfully, hence this was his favorite furnace… The next street named was Hecla then Buckhorn, Lawrence, all for the furnaces… The builders of Ironton expected the railroad to be the dividing line in mid city, so that street took the name Railroad…  Next came Center, Oliver, Vernon, Washington, Adams and Jefferson… Three of these were names of Presidents, but they were also names of well-known furnaces in 1849 [corrected later-smk]… Just why the name of Olive street was changed to Park ave. fifty years later is not known…  We know of only one other Olive street — that being the one of the leading streets in St. Louis.

            On Nov. 20, 1849, William Kelly presented to the Ohio Iron and Coal Co. a map, which included land from the river to Sixth street, in that section between Jefferson and Chestnut streets…  His proposal was to dedicate to the town land needed for the extension of all streets from the river to Sixth, and new streets and alleys, with the exception of within two blocks between Fourth and Fifth streets, … The map shows that section of the city described above, with all streets and alleys named…  The Ohio Iron & Coal Co. accepted the plot, but did not adopt the names of the streets, as set forth on the map… Had the map been adopted, today Ironton would have an Iron street, Mine street and a Farmer street, as those were the names used on the map, for Madison, Monroe and Quincy streets…  However Mr. Kelly did name Chestnut street on his map, and that name was adopted.

            The inscription on the map, written in long hand with pen and ink reads:  “Know all men by these presents that we, Wm. Kelly and Sarah Kelly, his wife, proprietors of Kelly’s addition to the City of Ironton do hereby donate to the public all streets and alleys designated in the plat of said addition of the city of Ironton with the exceptions of alleys comprised in lots number 43 to 66 inclusive…  Given under our hand and seals this 20th day of November A. D. 1849” … The signatures were subscribed to in the presence of Elias Nigh, Esq. Notary Public.

            A close study of the map shows that lots 43 to 66 are on Fourth street and include the lands from Monroe streets to Chestnut of which a part is now the Deaconess hospital, which was the Kelly home at that time…  Whether the streets named on the map by Mr. Kelly were ever called by those names is not clear, but the Iron street became Madison, Mine street, Monroe, and Farmer Street, Quincy, while Chestnut street continued with that name… No doubt the directors of the Ohio Iron & Coal Co. decided that since several of the streets had already been named for the early presidents, that they would continue from Jefferson, and name the streets, Madison, Monroe and then came the bump – the town already had an Adams, so they selected the middle name of John Quincy Adams, and left Chestnut remain as Mr. Kelly had named it.

            The next plots or sub-divisions to be adopted followed the street naming policy…  Those in West Ironton adopted names of Union for a furnace, Eagle for the Ironton Mills, and Mill street…. In the south they took on tree names starting at Chestnut – Mulberry, Walnut, Spruce, pine, Maple, Oak, Heplar, etc….  later as new streets were opened in west Ironton, and they took on tree names — Sycamore, Elm and Orchard…. Tomorrow begins the year 1850.

See also: A New Beginning

Lawrence county Ohio genealogy and historical website