Nelsonville (population 5,200) is located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in southeastern Ohio. Settled in 1814 and incorporated in 1838, Nelsonville grew into a regional mining center with the completion of the Columbus and Hocking Valley Railroad in 1869. Rich deposits of coal, iron ore, and clay attracted thousands of people in search of work and prosperity in the late 1800s. In the early 1900s, more coal was shipped from its mines by railroad and canal than from any other city in the country. After the downturn of the coal mining and timber industries, the city struggled to rebuild its economy. The 1970s and ‘80s, saw reinvestment in the community including the restoration of the Stuart’s Opera House, construction of new public facilities, and other private/public improvement projects.
The Nelsonville Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, contains a variety of sites that reflect the city’s history from 1814 through the mid-20th century. The Nelsonville Rotary Club publishes an Auto Tour of the Historical Area. Walking tours of the downtown arts district and the city are also available.
The Little Cities of Black Diamonds tour features cities that have a common history in coal mining. The Little Cities of Black Diamonds Council uses the cities’ common history to promote regional heritage and bring tourism to the area. Nelsonville, the original “Little City,” is one of the key attractions along the route.
Located in the historic Glenford Dugan Memorial Building, the Athens County Military Museum in Nelsonville features local war memorabilia and history. The Nelsonville Library houses an extensive local history and genealogy section with records dating to the 1800s. Robbins Crossing, which is located on the campus of Hocking College, serves as a living history lab and museum and has antique tools, crafts, and a log structure. About 1,000 elementary students visit each year for a hands-on experience and become actively involved in the 1800s lifestyle.
Produced by Stuart’s Opera House, the Nelsonville Art and Music Festival features country, bluegrass, folk, and other music from Appalachian-based performers, as well as artisan products from local crafts people. Stuart’s Opera House, Robbins Crossing, and the Nelsonville Public Square are venues that feature local and regional foods, fiddlers’ contests, and historical exhibits, as well as guest authors who speak about regional Appalachian coal mining towns. In addition, Parade of the Hills celebrates local culture using historical resources in the community.
The city relies on the tremendous efforts of community volunteers. The Nelsonville High School Restoration Foundation manages two former high school buildings that were considered for demolition. The group has mobilized hundreds of volunteers from the community to maintain the buildings over the past several years. The Hocking Valley Scenic Railway, a nonprofit organization, is dedicated to preserving, restoring and operating the rail line. Since 1972, the volunteers have repaired and maintained the track, cars, and locomotives.
Designated a Preserve America Community in December 2008.
For more information
Southeast Ohio History Center-Athens County Military Museum