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Ghost towns and hamlets of the past

First Posted: 11:03 am - August 4th, 2017 - Views

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By Debbie Bullington

For Rural Life Today

MEIGS COUNTY — I can go back in history as far as 1891 (or even further) and see that within a 10 mile radius of our farm, there were so many small towns and villages in the area, that pioneers and settlers didn’t have to travel very far to get the goods and services that they needed or couldn’t make for themselves. Our farm was established circa 1865 and I use this year as a reference point.

The Kanawha & Michigan (K & M) Railroad made it much easier for people to get needed goods and services. The railroad connected all of these little towns and villages to each other by virtue of train travel. In 1886, there were six different passenger trains that traveled through Rutland every day. The route began in Columbus and went to Charleston, West Virginia and you could take it anywhere for two cents a mile. On Sundays, excursions to Columbus and back were available for $1.50. The last train stopped in Rutland June 2, 1951. No longer do passenger trains travel the railways around here. They are used solely to haul freight and never stop at any of these forgotten places anymore.

The village of Rutland was named after the Brewster Higley Family’s beloved city of Rutland, Vermont. There were so many Higley’s residing in Rutland at one point, I’m very surprised that they didn’t name it Higleyville. Rutland has had some very famous residents in it’s time. Brewster Higley VI was the composer of the tune “Home on the Range” (We’ve all sung that tune before). He was also involved in the patenting of the first lie detectors. Bert and J.L. Hogue patented the Langsworth Patent Bee Hive. Which were the first bee hives developed with removable frames, making it much easier to practice the art of beekeeping.

Eli Stedman was the first Postmaster of Rutland’s Post Office, when it opened in 1812. He wasn’t the only one in town though. Business was booming as there was a wagon maker, two blacksmiths, a shoemaker, tailor, milliners and dressmakers, a druggist, a machine shop, a General Merchandise, a mill, cider press and crate factory, undertaker, opera house and even a hotel! The Rutland Department Store (formerly Rathburn’s Department Store) was opened in 1858 and continues to serve the residence of Rutland today.

During the Civil War, when General Morgan’s men raided Meigs County, in 1863, it was reported by the settlers that they observed Morgan and his raiders loading their horses with bolts of calicoes and ginghams. Wonder why? For the ladies back home maybe?

We fast forward a hundred plus years to 1997 and the flood that nearly wiped Rutland off the map. We received 5 inches of rain in just a few hours and Leading Creek just couldn’t handle it all. I live seven miles from Rutland and it was the worst flooding we’ve ever seen here. My son’s friend and his mother had to be rescued by people who had to swim to the second floor of their house to get them safely out. When the water subsided and FEMA had gone, there wasn’t much left of Rutland.

Today there is a department store, 2 pizza shops, a new post office, an undertaker, a propane company and soon to be new Family Dollar store.

In 2016, the population of Rutland was 399.

And then there is Harrisonville, Langsville, Dexter, Dyesville, Carpenter and Pageville.

Harrisonville was founded in 1840 and named after William Henry Harrison, the 9th President of the United States. Harrisonville today is unincorporated and so small it’s now considered a hamlet. A hamlet is a small settlement, generally smaller than a village. In 1885 there was a population of 63 people in Harrisonville.

They received a Post Office in 1841, and it remained open until 1964. Along with the post office, it had a 1 room schoolhouse, 2 general stores, a wagon maker, 2 blacksmiths, 1 hotel, 1 physician and a lumber dealer. In June of 1850 the Presbyterian Church was built in the center of town and still maintains weekly services. A group of women from the church formed a “Lend-A-Hand Society” in 1934 to help disadvantaged families in their community. The group is still in service today.

My two sons went to school at Harrisonville Elementary until it closed in 2003. A new elementary school was built and all 8 elementary schools in the area closed and consolidated into one new, much larger school. At one point in time, there were 133 schools in Meigs County. Today there are three. The children spend a lot more time traveling on buses these days than they used to. But, don’t blink if you drive through Harrisonville — if you do you’ll miss the last grocery store (that doesn’t even sell gasoline anymore) and The Presbyterian Church.

Langsville is another unincorporated village/hamlet that was once a thriving community. It was named after Benjamin Langstreth and had a population of 200 in 1891. It had two general stores, a roller mill,a wagon manufacturer, a blacksmith, a physician, a post office and a flour mill. The flour mill was purchased by William L. McMaster in 1845. General Morgan encountered the local militia, trying to stop his military tactics, by burning down the bridge at the mill on July 18, 1863.

The small hamlet of Dexter was founded on land owned by John Longstreth in 1883. It’s former name was Martinsburgh for C.M. Martin. It had a general store that boasted of “Fancy fabrics from foreign looms,” but tragically burned down around 2000. The post office in Dexter, opened on April 25, 1857, closed in 2001.

Dyesville was named after J.S. Dye in 1882 and had a population of 47 people in 1895. Dyesville had two General Merchandises, a train station and a post office from Jan. 31, 1884 until Dec. 30, 1933.

The town of Carpenter was named for Amos Carpenter Sr. or Jesse C. Carpenter or Senator J.L. Carpenter. No one is for sure which of these men lays claim to its name. It had a population of 25 people in 1883 and a post office from Oct. 18, 1883 until November 8, 1963. The only thing left in Carpenter these days is a church.

Pageville is another hamlet that has so few people living there now that it isn’t even considered in the population census. Today, it has a firehouse and a grocery store.

All of these towns, villages, and hamlets are slowly disappearing with maybe the exception of Rutland. Rutland is trying to regroup and bring in more businesses. Someone had to have done enough research into the future prospects of Rutland or they wouldn’t have built a Family Dollar there, I’m guessing.

The saddest part of doing the research for this article is that there were 11 towns that have disappeared over the years, that I never knew even existed in the first place. Places like Horner Hill, Welsh, Snowville, (New) Lima, Wolfpen, Chase, Valley Ford (population of 20 in 1895, Post Office from Jan. 27, 1857 to Nov. 15, 1900), Point Rock (Post Office from May 5, 1886 to June 31, 1911), Mount Blanco (Post Office from May 13, 1858 to Dec. 15, 1904), Vales Mills (population of 49 people in 1895) and Zeal (Post Office from Feb. 19, 1892 until Sept. 30, 1904).

I don’t know what causes a small town to succeed or to fail. Maybe it was the improvement of modern transportation or people seeking a better life in bigger cities and getting away from farming. Who knows? I know all the coal mines closing didn’t help retain the population at all.

Sometimes I tell my husband that I was born 130 years too late. If I had been born 130 years earlier, I would have been around to enjoy all the hustle and bustle of these little towns and been able to shop at all the businesses and visit with all the people who came to this area long before us. I would have liked to have been able to do that.

Rural Life Today