Athens County History Comes Alive In Two New Books

By
Bryan Gibson

Dateline
Updated Mon, Jul 23, 2012 12:23 pm
Photo Credit: 
courtesy of Ron Luce
Ice skating on the Athens Asylum pond around 1900. The Asylum was commonly used by townsfolk for picnics and get-togethers in the late spring, summer and early fall. The pond provided a much safer skating environment than the Hocking River.

Two new books about Athens County history will hit shelves this week.

Ron Luce, executive director of the Athens County Historical Society and Museum (ACHSM) has written a brief history of the area, titled Athens County, Ohio, part of the Arcadia Publishing Company's Images of America series.

Featuring a diverse collection of images and stories, the book begins with a brief synopsis of the land, pre-Ohio and Athens County, before moving on to early settlements and descriptions of area towns and villages. 

Stories and photos of area residents are intertwined with accounts of various fires, winds and floods.

Local historian Cyrus Moore is also presenting a new book about the Ohio National Guard, titled The Athens Maneuvers: The Ohio National Guard Maneuvers in Athens County, August 17-23, 1904, and the Remaking of the Guard, published by the Athens County Historical Society and Museum.

Dr. Ingo Trauschweizer, author of The Cold War US Army: Building Deterrence for Limited War, has high praise for Cyrus' book:

"This is a well-researched and clearly presented study of the Ohio National Guard in the 'Battle of Athens,' the maneuvers in 1904 that resulted in a riot and in the fatal shooting of a Guardsman. Moore draws on local events to demonstrate how the states developed a more effective National Guard prior to the First World War. The narrative of the maneuvers, resulting riot, and murder itself is well crafted. This is a commendable work of local history that should appeal to readers interested in the history of Athens, Ohio, the American militia and guard tradition, and in U.S. military history more generally."

Last fall, Luce and Moore discussed The Battle of Athens on WOUB's Conversations from Studio B. Click here to listen to that show and view photos of the troops.

Recently, WOUB's Bryan Gibson caught up with Ron Luce to talk about Athens County, Ohio.

BG: What inspired you to write this book?

RL: I have loved being in Southeastern Ohio ever since I first arrived from upstate New York in 1980. I moved away for a year to teach in Virginia in 1984, but missed the area and decided to come back.

My interest in history came out of my interest in being a performer. In 2002, I was asked to create a living history character for Thomas Worthington—a major force in Ohio gaining its statehood. To perform the character, I had to learn everything I could about the man, what he did, when he did it, why he did it, who he knew, loved, disliked, etc. I had to know the major politicians with whom he interacted and the major events of history going on at the time in which he existed from the late 1700’s to 1824 when he died. I learned so much about Ohio history that I was hooked on our state in ways I had only vaguely appreciated previously.

Later, I went on to do a living history presentation of Christopher Evans, who was a major force in the labor movement in Southeastern Ohio and the state and nation. I learned about coal mining, mine owners, politicians, common people, development of towns and so much more. 

BG: How did you utilize the ACHSM's resources?

RL: As soon as I accepted the role of executive director, I realized that I needed to know so much more to be effective in my job. I have read numerous books and articles and formal and informal documents related to all kinds of issues in the county. I’ve sought to know everything I can find out. I’ve looked at the artifacts the museum has and sat in awe of what such things say about the past. The research possibilities are endless!

BG: The book is filled with interesting stories and photos of Athens County's past. Are you hopeful that it will generate interest in local history?

RL: Amidst all of the exciting things I was learning, I wanted to share with people who are also interested in such things and to encourage those who think they are not, to give it a chance. 

I knew almost from the beginning of my experiences in learning Ohio history that I wanted to write a book, but it wasn’t until I started at the ACHSM that I knew I wanted to try to do a history of the county and organize it in such a way as to entice people who live here to want to learn more, and to tease those who don’t live here to want to come here and experience Athens County for themselves. 

BG: How did you come to work with Arcadia Publishing and how long did it take you to write the book?

RL: When Arcadia Publishing contacted me, I hesitated. Arcadia books are wonderful, but sometimes perceived as being largely about the pictures of the past. I wanted to write the history. I worked with good editors who allowed me to use a great deal of my historical text materials along with the pictures and to organize the materials in a way that tells the story of the county’s development and the basic stories of the major communities still operating in the community. Once I signed the contract, it took about nine months to get the book written, edited and printed. But, of course, I had been doing research for a long time prior to starting the writing of the book.

BG: Did anything surprise you while you were doing your research?

RL: Let me say that I was "delighted" more than surprised. I expected to learn things I hadn’t previously known and I enjoyed trying to find answers to why other writers said apparently contradictory things about the same people or events. 

History is a tricky business, and sometimes facts are elusive. Sources were not always accurate. I tried to check numerous resources when there were obvious discrepancies in statements of other historians.

I used multiple resources for research. I own a number of essential works on Athens County, I have a rather large personal collection of postcards and materials from Athens County that I used, I read numerous newspaper and journal articles, I traveled around the area and took pictures and asked questions, I checked online sources and I went through countless materials in the ACHSM collections and library and used the Ohio University Mahn Center Archives as well.

I think the whole experience of going out to sites and trying to figure out where things were and gaining photographs of structures still in existence, even those that are crumbling, was most meaningful to me personally. I developed a much better sense of how delicate history is when people cease to care and allow historical structures to slowly fall into the earth. I am saddened by the loss of those things that could have been saved and confounded by the lack of money and time to save our history. 

Perhaps that is why this book became so very important to me. I wanted to help preserve for future generations what they might not otherwise have known existed. In short, I was most surprised by my own desire to leave something for others who will come after me to show a world that once was.

BG: Do you plan to do a follow-up at some point?

RL: My intention is, ultimately, to write a much more indepth history of the county, incorporating numerous details about things far too complex to put into such a slim volume as demanded by the publishers of this book.

That expansive book will come. This book serves a different purpose. It's a quick-paced overview of the county, from our earliest history into the present. It's ideal for those who want to learn a great deal about the county in a compact form, and perfect for those who’ve lived here for years but have taken for granted some of the things that make us unique and that are beautiful and worth preserving.

I love Athens County and believe its history needs to be part of our thinking as we grow as a community, develop business and industry, and as we plan for creating communities in which people will be proud to live and raise children and call home. I hope this book provides a sense of pride and a desire to preserve what we can of the past for future generations.

Athens County, Ohio and The Athens Maneuvers: The Ohio National Guard Maneuvers in Athens County, August 17-23, 1904 are available at the Museum Book Store and at other locations around the area.

A public book signing and reception will take place Wednesday, July 25 from 5-7 p.m. at the Athens County Historical Society and Museum at 65 North Court Street in Athens. For more information, visit www.athenshistory.org.

Photo Credit: 
Bryan Gibson
Cyrus Moore and Ron Luce
Photo Credit: 
courtesy of Ron Luce
The Black Diamond Coal Company owned and/or operated several mines in Athens County. This mine (No. 2) was located in Lathrop, Bern Township. What is particularly interesting about this particular picture is that it shows one of the earliest uses of a cement tipple. According to Douglas Crowell, the tipple was constructed in 1911 to replace a wooden tipple that caught fire and burned the previous year.
Photo Credit: 
courtesy of Ron Luce
The Hocking Valley Fire Clay Company. At one time, Nelsonville was noted for its mills, brick manufacturing, coal mining, shipping on the canal, railroad accessibility and prosperity. In the History of Hocking Valley, Ohio, published in 1883, the town was referred to as being "destined to retain the prestige she now holds of being the largest and most important city in the rich and beautiful valley of the Hocking River." Today the community struggles to find ways to reclaim its former glory. Though its mineral resources have been consumed, active community groups continue to try to lure businesses and customers to the city and are working to maintain its rich history.
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