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Ken Lahmers: Many small towns in Ohio are charming in their own way; here’s look at handful

By Ken Lahmers | Aurora Advocate Editor Published: May 6, 2013 7:58 AM
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During my travels around Ohio in the past few dozen years, I've driven through or visited a bunch of interesting towns. It's amazing what one finds in towns you wouldn't think have anything to offer.

There might be a unique museum like Matchstick Jack's in Monroe County, a fascinating business like the Columbus Washboard factory in Logan, a bunch of murals like those in Wellsville, Steubenville and Portsmouth or a quaint downtown like Sugarcreek with its Swiss motif.

Some towns might not have that much to offer other than unusual names.

Take, for example, Fly. It's along the Ohio River in Monroe County. A ferry back and forth across the river to Sistersville, W.Va., operates in the summertime. Except for a handful of homes, that's about all that's there.

Or how about Post Boy. There's really nothing there. It's not even a town and doesn't appear on the official Ohio road map, but it is shown on the official Tuscarawas County map.

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Post Boy is, or was, a place south of Newcomerstown in the southern part of the county close to Peoli, where legendary Major League Baseball pitcher Cy Young grew up.

It actually was a hollow not far from Interstate 77, where in 1825 young mail delivery man William Cartmell was murdered by John Funston of Newcomerstown as he was carrying mail to a tavern.

Funston was hanged from a gallows erected at Five Points on the west side of my hometown of New Philadelphia in December 1825.

Some residents of the hollow have reported strange happenings over the years, and some believe it's still haunted by the post boy's ghost.

And then there's Blue Ball, formerly a town east of Middletown in southwest Ohio. I became familiar with it when I lived and worked in Middletown in the late 1970s.

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Established in 1820, it originally was called Guilford after Nathaniel Guilford, a prominent state politician.

According to local legend, although it was on a busy stage coach stop between Dayton and Cincinnati along the Dixie highway, it kept being passed by because most stage coach drivers were illiterate and could not read the sign with the town's name on it.

So in 1862 the town council changed the name to reflect a landmark -- a blue-colored metal sphere that was suspended above the intersection of the two highways in the center of town.

A modern successor to that blue ball still hangs on Dixie Highway, but Blue Ball was annexed by Middletown in 1993.

OTHER NOTEWORTHY TOWNS

There are many unusual names of towns. I'll just mention a few here.

I'm not sure how Bangs got its name, but it's a hamlet on Routes 3 / 36 southwest of Mount Vernon. I was there last spring, when I checked out the huge abandoned Knox County Poorhouse, which was built in 1875 and is falling into disrepair after not being used for a number of years.

Seventeen is a former town in Tuscarawas County. It once was called Lock Seventeen because of its position on the Ohio & Erie Canal, but "Lock" was eventually dropped after the canal closed. About the only thing left there is a dilapidated canal warehouse along Route 36.

The name Dilles Bottom has always fascinated me. It's located on a bend in the Ohio River, south of Shadyside in Belmont County and just across the river from Moundsville, W.Va. The place got its name in the early 1800s from its first owner -- John Dille.

San Toy is a former coal mining -- now ghost-- town in Perry County which I visited in 2010. There's nothing left except dense woods, foundations and basements of former homes, plus a small square brick building which was the jail.

The town was built by the Sunday Creek Coal Co. and boasted about 2,000 residents in the early 1900s. Its two mines closed in the 1920s, and most of the inhabitants were gone a decade later. When it was thriving, it was a rough town; many assaults, robberies, shootings and murders occurred.

During Prohibition, moonshiners found it to be a good hiding place for stills.

Another ghost town I've read about was New England in Tuscarawas County. It was a mining town developed by Jeremiah E. Reeves to provide coal for his steel plant in nearby Dover. A unique 3-mile long tramway transported coal between the mines and the plant.

I've been told there are remnants of brick or paved streets, but the area is so overgrown that I've never found them, although I've searched several times. All that I've spotted are gob piles from the mines, which closed in the early 1920s.

Another old mining ghost town is Rogue's Hollow, just outside Doylestown in Wayne County. Like San Toy, it was known as a rowdy and dangerous place. People traveling through the area in the late 1800s tended to take other routes, even though they were out of their way.

There are many old coal mining towns around the state, including those in the Little Cities of Black Diamonds region in Perry, Hocking and Athens counties, as well as Roswell, Barnhill, Midvale and Wainwright in Tuscarawas County and Barton, Maynard, Lafferty and Neffs in Belmont County.

Barton, an unincorporated town, boasts the small but beautiful St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, plus a tunnel on the abandoned B&O Railroad. There's also a tunnel outside Neffs, which is on another loop of the same railroad line.

Ohio has its share of towns with Indian names, such as Gnadenhutten -- possibly the most mispronounced name -- Coshocton, Wakatomika and Ashtabula. Ohio's first pioneer village was Schoenbrunn, a Moravian Indian settlement now part of New Philadelphia.

SOME FAVORITE TOWNS

Since I was a teenager I've said that Sugarcreek in Tuscarawas County (population about 2,000) is the town I'll move to when I retire. I've enjoyed the town for more than 50 years.

It has a charming Swiss/German atmosphere, and is near the center of Ohio's largest Amish and Mennonite region. It's been home to the Ohio Swiss Festival since 1953 and annually hosts the Fabulous Fifties Fling, a very enjoyable classic car show.

Many of my favorite Amish-style restaurants dot the landscape in and around Sugarcreek.

I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for my hometown of New Philadelphia. It was the site of Ohio's first settlement -- Schoenbrunn -- and hosts the First Town Days Festival. Adjacent Dover hosts the annual Canal Festival and Italian-American Festival.

St. Clairsville (Belmont County) and Cambridge (Guernsey County) are towns I've lived in, and ones I enjoy visiting when possible.

Dickens Victorian Village, the Guernsey County Courthouse light show and the Paul Bunyan forestry show are notable annual events in and near Cambridge, and the Pennyroyal Opera House at Fairview along Interstate 70 is a great place to enjoy bluegrass music.

Less than 10 miles from Wheeling, W.Va., St. C -- as locals call it -- is home to the Ohio Valley Mall and Ohio Valley Plaza -- two huge shopping centers -- and probably has more popular restaurants -- including the iconic Mehlman's Cafeteria -- than any Ohio town of its size (5,200).

McConnelsville in Morgan County is home to the stately Twin City Opera House, Athens is home to Ohio University, Nelsonville in Athens County is an artsy town which hosts a big annual folk music festival, Marietta is a historic Ohio River city which hosts the annual Sternwheeler Festival and Coshocton boasts three of my favorite restaurants, plus the old canal town of Roscoe Village.

Some of my other favorite towns are Millersburg in Holmes County, Carrollton in Carroll, the old canal town of Canal Fulton in Stark, Woodsfield in Monroe, Loudonville in Ashland, Wellington in Lorain, Wooster in Wayne and Medina.

Millersburg boasts one of Ohio's oldest continuously operating hotels, Carrollton is currently in the middle of Ohio's gas and oil well "fracking" boom, Canal Fulton has a canal boat which operates in the summer and Loudonville is a centerpiece in the beautiful Mohican River valley.

Although there is nothing much to do there, former coal mining town Shawnee in Perry County is unique. Another of the Little Cities of Black Diamonds, it has about 650 residents and resembles a Wild West town of the past. Several buildings with unique bracketed second-story porches overlook the main street.

Email: klahmers@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4189


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