Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Then and Now: Shawnee, a Preserved "Black Diamond"

BY: Danielle Nowicki

Shawnee, nestled precariously beside a hill in southern Perry County, is barely visible from state Route 93. A product of the Industrial Revolution’s coal mining boom and decline, it rests preserved in its original state. It’s a residential museum where, if only the walls could talk, visitors can hear the stories of struggling migrants and coal mining moguls. It was a town built on the hope and the promising future of “black diamonds.”Now it is a town struggling to survive and tell its story to the passerby. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Hocking Valley was booming with migrants looking for work in coal mines. The Industrial Revolution was in full-swing and coal was in demand. Shawnee was among the dozens of mining towns to spring up in this time period. Unlike most coal boom towns of the period, Shawnee has remained a well-preserved semi-ghost town.

Laid out and plated in Salt Lick Township by T.J. Davis of Newark in 1872. With only 156 lots and less than 1,500 people at its beginning, Shawnee’s population grew to nearly 3,000 in the early 1900s.

Three railroads ran through Shawnee: Newark, Somerset and New Straitsville line, later named the B&O Railroad. (Yes, the same from Monopoly.) Four brick plants were erected due to the abundance of clay in the region, in addition to the coal. However, like many small industrial towns, the area was eventually depleted of its resources, and its economic stability was wiped out. With the work gone, so went the labor force. Shawnee has since been in a state of purgatory; unable to regain momentum yet refusing to turn to dust. The town now has 608 residents, according to the 2000 U.S. Census.

The Shawnee branch of the Perry County Public Library is located on the first floor of one of the town’s original opera houses. The building was in bad shape but has been saved due to the efforts of the community.

Main Street, which was placed on the National Historic Register in 1976, is characterized by its numerous awnings and balconies that line the road. Another historic opera house is still there. Built in 1881 as a meeting hall for the Knights of Labor Union, later the Knights of Pythias Hall, it is also one of the tallest buildings in Perry County.

A Shawnee Coal Mine Museum was recently opened by Jack Shuttleworth. Shuttleworth is willing to demonstrate and explain mining techniques and discuss the region’s history.

Another component essential to the preservation of historic Shawnee is the Hannah family. The Hannah Brothers Furniture and Appliance Store opened in 1928. As properties surrounding the store on East Main Street became vacant. The Hannahs bought them to expand their store. Because of their continued interest in Shawnee, the family has saved numerous buildings.

Other signs of life are apparent in the post office, restaurant and bar that continue to operate in town. With the help of people like Geoff Schenkel, who worked with kids in the community to paint a mural, and the“Little Cities of Black Diamonds”, who work to promote the history of the region and revitalize the towns, Shawnee is sure to stay on the map.

No comments: