What does it take to preserve small town history? Nelsonville, Ohio, has found the answer. Working together, the community has preserved many unique historical aspects of this town of over 5,000 residents. It is also the home of Hocking College and world famous Rocky Boots, as well as being known for the historical Nelsonville Brick Co.’s “Star Brick.”
Community action in Nelsonville can be traced as far back as during the Civil War when Morgan’s Raiders passed through the town and attempted to burn a covered bridge over the Hocking Canal. Nelsonville citizens put out the blaze which enabled the Union cavalry to pursue the Confederates, and then the town went all out to prepare a feast for the Union Soldiers.
In spite of the fact that a new highway bypass diverts some of the heavy traffic that went through the town for years, historical landmarks and community events continue to draw visitors to experience what it has to offer. A newly constructed archway, built by Blacksmith Doug Lockhart of nearby Logan, was recently raised marking the entrance to the historical district and town square.
A number of interesting and important features may be found within this historical district. The restored Stuart Opera House, which is Nelsonville's venue for live music, plays, and other entertainment, is the cornerstone of the town square. It was built in 1879 during the area’s coal boom when Nelsonville’s nickname became the “Little City of Black Diamonds.” The Opera House was finally restored in 1997 and has an ongoing fundraising campaign to continue to preserve and expand the building and its programs.
The Dew Hotel, built in the town square in the 1830s, was the site where four U.S. presidents, Taft, McKinley, Harding and Roosevelt, all campaigned. The Hocking Valley Scenic Railway operates its vintage train between Nelsonville and Logan on a scenic tour of the area.
The historic district also has a fair amount of arts and crafts related businesses and galleries which help perpetuate the arts and historical handcrafts. The Paper Circle, Southeast Ohio’s center for paper and book arts, makes various types of paper in-house which can be purchased online. One special type of paper that they make is not made anywhere in the United States except there.
The Nelsonville Quilt Company boasts the fact that none of its vast array of cloth material for sale in their store can be found stocked in other major outlets anywhere. Quilting classes are offered along with what anyone could possibly need to produce a beautiful quilt.
Nelsonville’s historical landmarks and stories are so numerous that it would take several books to describe them all. It may be noted as recent history that Hollywood actress Sarah Jessica Parker was born in Nelsonville. Each year, music lovers from all over the United States flock to the Nelsonville Music Festival held at the Robbins Crossing Historical Village on the campus of Hocking College just outside of Nelsonville.
Nelsonville also holds its Final Fridays event on the last Friday of each month (excluding December) where the shops and galleries on the historic square stay open late and host special events.
Perhaps these days, Nelsonville might aptly be dubbed the "Little City of Historical Diamonds."
Nelsonville is located in Athens County on State Route 33 between Logan and Athens, Ohio.