In 1849, Ironton was founded by John Campbell, a successful pig iron manufacturer in Southern Ohio. Interested in expanding his pig iron operations, he chose what would become the Ironton area because of the hills to the north of the Ohio River that housed a great deal of iron-ore.
It was his interest in the lands along the Ohio River that would result in the establishment of the city. He saw an area that would be ideal for the transport of the high-in-demand iron-ore commodity. Even the slope of the land made the area ideal for moving raw material to the various blast furnaces throughout Lawrence County, Ohio.
Between 1850 and 1890, Ironton became one of the most significant producers of iron in the world. France, Russia, and England acquired iron for their warships from the area because of the high quality. The iron from the Ironton region was also used in the construction of the USS Monitor, which was the first ironclad U.S. ship.
At the peak of production, there were over 90 furnaces in operation.
History of Ironton, Ohio
In addition to its industrial heritage, Ironton is also recognized as being a part of the Underground Railroad. The John Campbell was a major player in helping runaway slaves escape the South, as well as a number of other notables throughout the community that hid slaves in their homes.
During the Civil War, a number of military regiments were organized and trained at Camp Ironton. This military post was located at the county's fairgrounds. Among the regiments trained here was the 91st Ohio infantry, organized on August 26, 1862. The 91st Ohio Infantry mainly served in West Virginia and Virginia's Shenandoah Valley.
They fought in the Battle of Cloyd's Mountain in Pulaski County, Virginia as a part of Major General George Crook's mission to disrupt the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad. The railroad was a very important supply line for the Confederate army. They later fought in the Battle of Piedmont, and played a major part in the Valley Campaigns of 1864. The Valley Campaigns consisted of the battles of Cedar Creek, Berryville, fisher's Hill, and Opequon or Third Winchester.
Ironton takes pride in its patriotism and is home to the longest continuously running Memorial Day Parade in the United States. Since 1868, tens of thousands of people have lined the streets to watch this tradition of memorializing the fallen. The parade is made up of groups and individuals from the Huntington-Ashland-Ironton metro area and beyond.
This semi-professional football team began in 1893 and they were called the "Irontonions." Later, two rival football clubs, the Lombards and the Irish Town Rags, would combine to form the Ironton Tanks in 1919. The name was a reflection of the town's deep roots in the iron industry, as well as the desure of soliders returning from World War I to overrun their opponents.
The Tanks saw a great deal of success with an 85-19-14 record. In 1922, they had an undefeated season, a 1926 state championship, and two victories in 1930 over the New York Giants and the Chicago Bears.