Connecting Rural Ohio
Connecting Rural Ohio: Crown City
Crown City is a village of 411 residents (U.S. 2000 census data) in Guyan Township of southern Gallia County, about 100 miles southeast of Columbus, Ohio, and 14 miles northeast of Huntington, W.V. The village is situated at the intersection of Ohio State Routes 7 and 553, nestled between the Appalachian foothills and the banks of the Ohio River.
William Garlick and E. Hobbs, who settled in 1814 at the present site of Crown City, erected the first cabin in Guyan Township. The village was surveyed by G.L. Shirkey, assisted by John Sowards, William Crawford and William Bishop, and lots were laid out by Hiram Rankins, assisted by Vincent Daley.
A post office was established nearby in an area known as Bay’s Bottom, named after family by the name of Bay. With the establishment of the post office, came the building of a river landing to service the boats that carried the mail in those days. The Bay’s Bottom post office building was abandoned in 1859.
Elijah Fowler taught at the first school in Guyan Township in a small log cabin, which stood one-half mile west of Crown City. In 1816, a school building was erected near the mouth of Georges Creek. The Rev. John Lee, a Baptist minister, was perhaps the first minister in the township, preaching at the house of John Swindler.
The first settlers in the region discovered limestone, coal and some iron ore in the hills of Guyan Township. In 1847, ironmaster John Campbell built the Gallia Furnace in the western side of the county, providing jobs for some Crown City residents until it closed in 1890. By 1850, farming was prevalent in the area surrounding Crown City, with fruit, corn and wheat the prevailing crops and hogs and cattle the most numerous livestock.
Much of early Crown City commerce was found on or near the Ohio River. As an example, a side-wheeler named the Mill Boy began making regular runs between Crown City and the county seat of Gallipolis in 1857. According to the Navy & Marine Living History Association, the Mill Boy was built to be a “floating gristmill,” but was pressed into federal military service during the Civil War to transport troops and supplies. Crown City was mentioned in the New York Times when the Steamer Greenwood sank after hitting a rock in the Ohio River near Crown City in September 1914. The passengers and crew, traveling from Cincinnati to Charleston, W.V., were rescued.
The river traffic also attracted lesser elements to the area, according to Lost Treasure magazine. Outlaws had a base on a bluff overlooking the river about one mile northeast of Crown City. As late at 1876, a band of riverboat brigands camped there attacked a passing steamboat in a raid that netted $24,000 of gold and silver valuables. However, at this late date authorities were no longer willing to put up with such menaces and stormed the camp, cutting down the entire gang in a hail of gunfire.
One early resident, Melvin Sims, paid the supreme sacrifice while serving with others from Gallia County in the Federal Army during the Civil War. A skirmish with Confederate soldiers took place in July 1863 near Crown City. The Gallipolis Tribune noted, “…One segment of [Confederate General John Hunt] Morgan’s men who strayed into the hills of southern Gallia, tried to make their escape to the Virginia shore near Crown City. A brief engagement took place with several of the Morgan men being killed and several who reached the river lost their lives in the crossing.” Later, a number of Morgan’s raiders were captured by members of the Clay Township Militia in a home near Crown City.
In the prosperity of the post-civil war years, a railroad was built along the West Virginia side of the river. A wharfboat was anchored near the landing and a steam ferry operated by T. “Jeff” Jenkins began carrying supplies, crops and livestock from Crown City to the West Virginia shore. A large gristmill and a copper shop were erected near the riverbank and steamboats made daily landings at the wharfboat. Crown City quickly became an important shipping point for tobacco, keg-wood, and farm products.
In 1867, Postmaster Cincinnatus B. Blake reestablished the post office in the village above the bottomlands and needed a name for the new location. Known earlier as The Crown, The Point, and Crown Point, local politicians settled on Crown City after the Postal Service rejected Crown Point because another town in Ohio had that name. The village was officially incorporated as Crown City in 1874. Residents established Masonic lodges and formed a Grand Army of the Republic post, and a Methodist Episcopal church, “with frame church edifice,” was established there in 1876.
By 1880, Crown City boasted a population of 248, which included farmers, carpenters, a postmaster, a preacher, a physician, a justice of the peace, former soldiers, a blacksmith and buggy maker, a mayor, and a teacher.
On June 6, 1898, the village was almost wiped out by a fire that originated in a defective flue in a tenement house. The Duluth-News Tribune reported, “The fire raged all day in spite of the efforts of the residents, who formed a bucket brigade and worked until many fell exhausted. Several large tobacco barns, many houses and two hotels were destroyed before the fire was placed under control.”
In 1913, Crown City and much of the Midwest were inundated with 6-11 inches of rain, forcing rivers out of their banks and into cities and villages. A marker on a sidewalk in Crown City denotes the high-water mark to this day.
A 1918 Washington Post article remembered one example of Crown City residents responding to the nation’s call for troops: “Mrs. J.R. Barnes, of Crown City, Ohio, wearing a gold service bar containing five stars has come to New York on her way to Washington and will visit one of her sons, who is at Camp Upton. Mrs. Barnes has three sons among the fighting forces of Uncle Sam. Two sons are fighting in France: the other son and two grandsons expect to go over shortly.”
The Ohio River Canalization Project provided jobs during the “Great Depression” and helped river traffic by stabilizing the water level. The Gallipolis Roller Dam at Eureka, upriver, was not finished until 1938, the year following the 1937 flood that devastated the Ohio River Valley.
In 1945, Crown City citizens again responded to a call for troops. The Associated Press wrote about one such patriot – village resident and naval electrician Richard Houch – who survived the Japanese torpedo assault of his ship, the USS Indianapolis, along with only 315 of his 1,200 shipmates. The Indianapolis was on its return voyage after delivering several components of the atomic bomb later dropped on Hiroshima.
In 1952, the Ohio Valley Electric Corporation opened the coal-fired Kyger Creek power station up Route 7 near Cheshire, which continues to provide employment to Crown City residents. The power station has one of the tallest chimneys in the world (305 meters), erected in 1980.
Route 7, as it passes through Crown City, constitutes a part of the Ohio River Scenic Byway that runs 452 miles through 14 counties in southern Ohio. This route is also designated a National Scenic Byway. The terrain surrounding Crown City is very broken, some of the hills being quite high. About 2.5 miles outside of Crown City lays Big Four Hill, a mountain summit that reaches 873 feet (266.09 meters) above sea level.
Nearby, the Crown City Wildlife Area provides access to hunters, fishers, wildlife watchers, and outdoor enthusiasts. Abundant wildlife species include deer, turkey, grouse, rabbit, quail, and waterfowl as well as a variety of songbirds and raptors for the avid birder.
Crown City residents have access to higher education opportunities through nearby University of Rio Grande and Rio Grande Community College, as well as through Ohio University Southern in Ironton and its Proctorville Center.
Following projects in New Straitsville, Chesterhill and Vinton, the OSCnet/OSU technology team, along with several other local, regional, state and federal partners, in 2008 identified Crown City as the fourth location at which to provide non-traditional educational services and workforce development training. The educational center established there provides Internet-based distance learning programs and adult education classes, as well as new small business and entrepreneurial opportunities.
Some of the information on this page was taken from an interview with Crown City resident Mrs. Jessie Mae Beals, from “A Short History of Crown City, Ohio” by R.C. Hall, and from copies of articles that appeared in the Gallipolis/Pomeroy Sunday Times-Sentinel.
Click on the images below for a slide show.
On top of the roof of Village Hall in Crown City, an antenna relays wireless signals coming from a dish attached to a cell phone tower on a nearby hill. Another antennae provides Internet connectivity in a 180-arc throughout the village.
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