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New Straitsville’s History
Robinson’s Cave – On a forested hillside south of New Straitsville, the spacious 1000 square foot Robinson’s Cave offered a secluded location with great acoustics where large groups of Hocking Valley coal miners could meet in secret. Beginning in about 1870, labor-organizing meetings were held at the cave by various emerging unions including the Knights of Labor. New Straitsville resident Christopher Evans, a well-known union organizer, used Robinson’s Cave to lead miners throughout the long Hocking Valley Coal Strike of 1884-1885. These meetings gave the miners a voice in the formation of a national organization called the National Federation of Miners and Mine Laborers, later renamed the National Progressive Union. The cave was also where non-union miners met to plan to set the Columbus & Hocking Coal & Iron Company mines on fire in a desperate attempt to end the Hocking Valley Strike. In 1886, the Knights of Labor founded the National District Assembly #135, a rival for the National Federation of Miners and Mine Laborers. Oddly, both headquarters were located in New Straitsville. Dissension between the two groups hurt labor negotiations, but Christopher Evans continued to hold meetings to settle differences. In response to a miner’s death in 1889, the feuding miners used Robinson’s Cave to reconcile once and for all. Evans called miners together again in 1890 for the first organizational meeting of the United Mine Workers of America, the name formally adopted at their next meeting in Columbus. This series of historic meetings is why Robinson’s Cave is referred to as the secret birthplace of the United Mine Workers.
Address: W. Main Street, New Straitsville
Location: Dunkle Hall/Robinson’s Cave Museum, behind the New Straitsville Fire Department
World’s Greatest Mine Fire – During the 9-month Hocking Valley Coal Strike beginning in June 1884, tensions between the Columbus & Hocking Coal and Iron Company and striking miners led to violence and destruction. Starting October 11, 1884, unknown men pushed burning mine cars into six mines located around New Straitsville to protest being replaced by “scab” workers. Mine operators attempted to plug all fissures to no avail. As years passed, ground collapsed under buildings and roadbeds, and mine gases seeped into schools and homes. Residents were evicted and homes demolished. Potatoes baked in the heated soil and roses bloomed in the winter. At times, the fire soared 100 feet in the air and could be seen for five miles. Ripley’s Believe It or Not broadcast a radio report on the fire and local landowners marketed “The World’s Greatest Mine Fire.” Thousands of tourists paid 25 cents to see guides cook eggs over fire holes and make hot coffee directly from a well. By 1936, the fires burned all the coal in a 36 square mile area. In 1938, the Works Progress Administration tried to create barriers to slow the fire by replacing coal and wood with brick and clay. Journalist Ernie Pyle reported on the fire for NBC Radio and in his syndicated newspaper column. The Wayne National Forest purchased many ruined fire lands in the 1930s. In the 1970s, the State of Ohio shifted a sinking Route 216 to more stable ground. Steaming ground areas stay green and snow free in the winter. The World’s Greatest Mine Fire endures.
Address: OH 93, New Straitsville
Location: In small pullout opposite Rock Run Road
Knights of Labor Opera House – In 1869 a secret organization, The Knights of Labor, was founded in Philadelphia. The K.O.L. promoted an ideal society based on bettering life for others with the slogans, “labor was the first capital” and “an injury to one is the concern of all.” Shawnee’s Local Assembly #169 Knights of Labor was organized in 1876, and quickly became a powerful voice for labor in Ohio. National labor leader, William T. Lewis, later Labor Commissioner of Ohio, taught free grammar classes at night for the miners. Lewis initiated “The Ohio Plan,” the first free employment bureaus in the United States. William H. Bailey, later head of National District Assembly #135 of Miners and T.L. Lewis, President of the United Mine Workers in 1910, also started their careers here. Meetings involving these leaders led to the formation of the United Mine Workers in 1890. The K.O.L. became and open organization in 1879. The Opera House was built in 1881, a demonstration of pride that the K.O.L. was no longer a secret organization. The building cost $8,200 for basic construction. The bricks were molded by hand and hauled to be fired at the edge of town. The building housed a cooperative store on the first floor, a theater on the second floor, and a library with a classroom and meeting space on the third floor. The centerpiece of social life and entertainment for the area, the auditorium was used for plays, graduations, dances, and gatherings such as the annual Bobby Burns celebration and the Welsh Eisteddfods. As a more trade union oriented labor movement led to the formation of the American Federation of Labor, K.O.L. membership diminished. The building was sold in 1902 to the Knights of Pythias and was sold again in 1943 to Hannah Brothers Furniture.
Address: 101 W. Main Street, Shawnee
Location: NE corner of W. Main Street and 2nd Street
Joseph Rodgers sold his land in 1879 to dozens of businesses and individuals. The land was desirable because the Ohio Central Railroad was going to pass through this community. This land was to become the site of Corning, Ohio.
The Ohio Central Railroad was to transport coal deposits from the Corning area to the nation’s various industrial centers. Because of this economical boom, Corning grew quickly. In 1880, the population was 271, but by 1890 that number had grown to 1,551 residents. Corning was primarily populated with Scotch-Irish, British, and German descendants until the Great Hocking Valley Coal Strike of 1884-1885. This is when coalmine owners started hiring Italians, Hungarians, and other various Eastern European nation groups, who were to work as strikebreakers. The desire to seek preferential status with the coalmine owners caused tension between these various nationalities.
Even through the nationalistic and racial tensions, Corning continued to prosper. But by 1990, the demand for coal began to decline and with it the communities, of the Perry County region, began to dissipate. Corning was able to steer clear of this economical downswing by becoming a popular railroad hub. The Ohio Central Railroad, the Zanesville and Western Railroad, and the Kanawha and Michigan Railroad all converged in Corning by 1900. Additionally, the discovery of oil in 1889, was helping Corning economically. The oil industry continues to assist the economy and many residents of Corning still to this day.
In 1872, a pioneer settler named Benjamin Sanders and an engineer named James Taylor, established the small mining town of Hemlock, Ohio. James Taylor discovered many coal fields in Perry County. This discovery led to the establishment of many mines, which in turn brought about coal furnaces and the construction of railroads throughout the county.
Hemlock was named for a grove of Hemlock trees that were growing there when the town was first established.
Sophia Mitchell was the first African-American woman to serve as a mayor in Ohio. In 1976, Mitchell was appointed as mayor of Rendville, Ohio, which is located in Perry County. Rendville was a mining town established in the late nineteenth century. Unlike most other mining communities in Ohio, Rendville included large numbers of African Americans. Traditionally, white miners had refused to allow companies to hire African-American miners, but William P. Rend, the founder of Rendville and owner of a mine in this community, hired large numbers of African Americans as well as Europeans. Rendville also was the first community to have an African-American male serve as mayor. In 1888, Isaiah Tuppins won election as Rendville’s mayor. Mitchell’s life illustrates the gradual increase in opportunities for people of all races in Ohio.
Roberta Preston was the first African-American woman to serve as a postmaster in Ohio and in the United States of America.
Roberta Preston served as postmaster of Rendville, Ohio, which is located in Perry County. Rendville was a mining town established in the late nineteenth century. Unlike most other mining communities in Ohio, Rendville included large numbers of African Americans. Traditionally, white miners had refused to allow companies to hire African-American miners, but William P. Rend, the founder of Rendville and owner of a mine in this community, hired large numbers of African Americans as well as Europeans. Preston spent a majority of her life in Rendville, and she was educated at local schools in Rendville and nearby Corning. She eventually moved to Gallipolis, Ohio. Her life illustrates the gradual increase in opportunities for people of all races in Ohio.
Isaiah Tuppins was the first African American to serve as a mayor in Ohio. He also was the first black man to earn his medical degree in Ohio. Tuppins was born in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1854. As a child, his family moved to Xenia, Ohio, where Tuppins spent most of his youth. He eventually returned to Tennessee, where he became a schoolteacher. Tuppins eventually relocated to Ohio, settling in Columbus, where he spent several years working as a barber. He accumulated enough money to enroll at the Columbus Medical College. Tuppins was the first African-American man to graduate from this institution and also was the first black man to graduate with a medical degree from any Ohio college. Upon receiving his medical degree, Tuppins found employment as a doctor with the Ohio Central Coal Company in Rendville, Ohio, which is located in Perry County. Traditionally, white miners had refused to allow companies to hire African-American miners. William P. Rend, the founder of Rendville and owner of a mine in this community, hired large numbers of African Americans as well as Europeans. Tuppins won election as Rendville’s mayor in 1888, becoming the first African-American man to serve as mayor of any community in Ohio. As mayor, Tuppins had to defend his town from white residents of the nearby community of Corning, Ohio. Corning’s residents, who were principally miners, did not like the presence of African Americans in Rendville. In 1888, a mob of Corning whites prepared to descend on Rendville, following the murder of a white Corning man presumably by an African-American man from Rendville. Tuppins convinced Corning law enforcement officials to disperse the mob and to protect the accused man. Tuppins also served as Rendville’s coroner. Tuppins died in 1889. His life illustrates the gradual increase in opportunities for people of all races in Ohio.
“I say white brother, because I believe that to be the proper phrase, inasmuch as I believe in the principle of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of all mankind no matter what the color of his skin may be.” Richard L. Davis championed the cause of racial equality throughout the eastern coalfields, calling for an end to the color line and for all miners to unite against wage slavery. He was born in Roanoke County, Virginia in 1862 and arrived in racially integrated Rendville in 1882, where he became an organizer for the Knights of Labor. In 1886, a year after the Great Hocking Valley Strike, Davis wrote his first letters to the editor of the National Labor Tribune, establishing himself as voice for miners in the labor movement. From 1890 to 1899, he wrote a total of 168 letters to the editors of the National Labor Tribune and the United Mine Workers Journal about the need to organize for fair wages and working conditions, and for racial equality in the mines. Davis was one of two African Americans from Ohio who attended the founding convention of the United Mine Workers of America held in Columbus, Ohio in January 1890. He next served for five years on the executive board of District 6 (Ohio) of the United Mine Workers of America before being twice elected to serve on its National Executive Committee in 1896-97. Blacklisted by mine operators, Davis fell on hard times and died in 1900. He is buried in Rendville Cemetery.