Near the end of spring earlier this year I went on a tour of southern Ohio, roughly in the area of what is known as the Hanging Rock Iron Region. I checked out Ironton, Gallipolis and Pomeroy along the Ohio River early on in the trip, and stayed at Lake Hope State Park.
The Hanging Rock Iron Region (also including Kentucky and West Virginia) was important for economic growth in 19th-century Ohio. From about 1830 to 1900, this southern Ohio area saw around 100 great stone furnaces built to create pig-iron for a growing nation. The iron in this region was prized for its rust and corrosion resistance, making products for pioneers and armaments for the Civil War (including armor for ironclad warships such as the Monitor and Merrimack). The plentiful forests of southern Ohio fueled these furnaces.
This same region had plentiful clay resources, which made for prominent pottery factories. A good amount of the bricks that paved late 19th century American streets came from this area.
We’ll see a furnace later in this post.
My drive through southern Ohio near the Ohio River showed me some interesting scenery. I lived for many years in central Ohio which is largely flat, so seeing the hills that were the scene of mining was different indeed.
US Route 52 (which becomes the Ohio River Scenic Byway) was quite scenic.
In Ironton (‘Iron Town’) I stopped at the Lawrence County Courthouse. Ironton was founded by prominent pig iron manufacturer John Campbell in 1849. The Ohio River was used as a transportation route to ship the iron.
The Ohio River has quite a few bridges across it over to Kentucky and West Virginia.
Gallipolis in Gallia County is the 2nd oldest town in Ohio- Marietta was the first (I’ll have a couple of posts about Marietta in the future). Founded by French refugees from the French Revolution, it was also a land swindle- but it all worked out in the end.
Gallipolis today has a great ‘small town’ feel, with the downtown area revitalized.
There are some nice examples of historic houses.
The riverfront park is a pleasant place to stroll.
Young birds fed by their parents were common here in late May.
As is common in Ohio, even smaller towns have memorials to veterans and other historic people such as their founders.
The Ohio River was broad and placid this warm sunny day.
Ohio Route 7 continued with the Ohio River Scenic Byway.
The Gavin Power Plant along the Ohio River.
Pomeroy Ohio in Meigs County.
Pomeroy was a smaller town, rather hilly, but downtown was revitalized, like many Ohio towns these days.
There was an interesting bridge going over to West Virginia.
Late in the day, I reached Lake Hope State Park in Vinton County. I was away from the Ohio River and into southeast Ohio’s wooded hill country.
My cabin was right next to the woods, and had some curious visitors who liked the occasional peanut.
Lake Hope State Park is in the Zaleski State Forest area. Recreation and logging abound.
Dirt roads led you miles from anywhere deep into mature woodland hollows. I think I was the only person for miles around. This is my rental car- I’d get out and take pictures and do some birding right in the middle of the deserted roads. I saw birds that I’d rarely see in flat west-central Ohio where I live. I felt like I caught a glimpse of what the pioneers saw when they came to this wilderness two centuries ago.
Back to the furnaces that give this region its name. The pig-iron furnaces were quite large- there was one in Lake Hope to study.
To fuel the furnaces, forests were repeatedly cut and the wood converted to charcoal. Each ton of iron required 190 bushels of charcoal, three tons of iron ore, and 300 pounds of limestone. The ingredients were poured into the top of the furnace and the charcoal was then ignited. Air was blown into the firepot through openings (tuyeres) on two sides of the furnace. Once heated to the proper temperature, the iron ore and limestone melted, and impurities in the mixture floated to the top and formed slag, a glassy waste product. The molten iron flowed out of the hearth and into pig iron molds where it was then cooled and solidified.
A lot of hard work went into making the Old Northwest Territory into the states we know now. It was fascinating to see some of Ohio’s story.