MEIGS COUNTY HISTORY
Meigs County traces its history all the way back to 1819, when the county was separated from Gallia County. The county was named after Return Jonathan Meigs, Jr., who served as Ohio’s fourth governor from 1810-1814. During the first few years, the village of Chester was the center of activity in the county. The town grew on the basis of its rich farmland, and the town was named the county seat in 1822. The following year, a new courthouse was built, and a schoolhouse was built beside it in 1839. Both of these buildings still stand today, with the courthouse being the oldest standing courthouse in Ohio.
The area in Salisbury Township, meanwhile, was well-known for its coal and mines. A town known as Sheffield was formed in the 1820s, and it became known for its cotton mill and flouring mill. The town eventually changed its name to Middleport, named because it is the “middle port” on the Ohio River between the cities of Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.
In 1835, an entrepreneur named Valentine B. Horton moved into the area. Horton was a revolutionary in the coal industry: not only did he order a new type of boat which was powered by coal, but he also invented the coal barges that could be pulled by these boats. This innovation paved the way for coal to be shipped from local mines down the Ohio River. Even today, one can still see coal barges passing by the river towns of Meigs County. Demand for these boats became so popular that Horton started a boatyard in Pomeroy in 1845. Due to the coal mines, shipbuilding, and docks, the town of Pomeroy grew so fast that the county seat was moved from Chester to Pomeroy in 1841.
Around this time, a small village known as Graham Station also began growing. This town featured a sawmill, a flour mill, and a tannery. Soon, flatboats were being built to make hay shipments downriver. As a result of these businesses, hundreds of people were being employed in the town. Eventually, the town of Graham Station changed its name to Racine, which remains its name to this day.
In the years leading up to the Civil War, Meigs County had a strategic location, due to its location just across the river from what was then-Virginia, a slave state. As a result, many Meigs County homes became stops for slaves on the Underground Railroad.
As the nation plunged into Civil War, many Meigs County men volunteered to serve their country. Many of these men served in the 63rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, which was formed in January 1862. This regiment fought under in battles such as New Madrid, Island Number Ten, the siege of Corinth, and Iuka under famous generals like John Pope, Henry Halleck, and William Rosecrans. In May 1863, the regiment served in General William Tecumseh Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign and participated in his March to the Sea. Near the end of the war, they served in the Carolinas Campaign. Many other Meigs Countians served in the 116th Ohio Volunteer Infantry which was formed in September 1862. These soldiers participated in several battles, before joining the Army of the Potomac shortly after the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863. After this, the regiment fought in such notable events as the siege of Petersburg and the Appomattox Campaign, which helped end the war. The names of the men who sacrificed their lives for the country can be found on the Civil War memorial located by the Meigs County Courthouse.
On the home front, Meigs County became the site of the only Civil War battle fought in Ohio. In June 1863, Confederate general John Hunt Morgan led almost 2,500 cavalry troops through Tennessee, Kentucky, and Indiana. On July 13—less than two weeks after the battle of Gettysburg and the surrender of Vicksburg—Morgan and his troops crossed into Ohio. Morgan’s plan was to raid across the state by stealing horses and supplies, then cross back over into West Virginia at Pomeroy. However, on July 18, Morgan and his force of 1,700 men found stiff resistance in Meigs County, as local militiamen blocked him from entering Pomeroy and denied him from access to the river. Morgan then turned his forces around and headed for Buffington Island, near Portland. Here again, local militiamen delayed the Confederate forces. The next day, Union troops and gunboats arrived, and the Battle of Buffington Island began. In this battle, 52 Confederates were killed, 100 were wounded, and 700 were captured. Buffington Island Battlefield Memorial Park can still be visited today.
In 1928, the bridge between Pomeroy and Mason, then known as the Pomeroy Bend Bridge was constructed. At the time, this bridge was a part of U.S. Highway 33, which was also known as the Blue and Gray Trail. This route stretched from St. Joseph, Michigan all the way to Richmond, Virginia. This bridge was an important part of this route, as it marked the crossing of the Ohio River. The bridge was also a toll bridge, with the toll booth being located on the West Virginia side. In 1936, the bridge was acquired by the State of Ohio.
Already struggling through the Great Depression, many of the river towns in Meigs County were further devastated by the 1937 flood. The heavy rains began in December and continued until late January. From January 13-25 alone, approximately six to twelve inches of rain fell, causing the Ohio River to rise significantly above its banks. At noon on January 9, the Ohio River in Pomeroy was recorded at 20.3 feet, and it reached a peak of 67.7 feet at noon on January 27. The waters flooded downtown businesses up and down the river, with waters so high they almost reached the second story of the Meigs County Courthouse! Pomeroy was described at the time as a “ghost city” due to closures and evacuations. The river did not return to its January 9, 1937, level until February 4, 1937. Due to records of the flood, many area business owners can tell you just how high the river was in their own stores.
The 21st century has also seen several exciting changes to Meigs County. After 75 years, construction on a new bridge to Mason, West Virginia began in 2003. The new Bridge of Honor was opened on December 30, 2008, and the former Pomeroy-Mason Bridge was detonated at 8:49AM on April 21, 2009.