by Lara Thiel, Grace Wolfe, Alyssa Fowers, Bailey Feick, Amelia Myers, Norbert Fosu, Makayla Hughes, Johnathen Sweeney
Perry County was established in 1812, the 55th county to be formed in Ohio. Saltlick Township was organized in 1823, named for the saltlicks in the area. Rapid settlement began after the Civil War. By 1880 the population rose to almost 4,000 individuals.
Shawnee, a village in the township, was laid in 1872 by T.J Davis. After population and land growth, it was incorporated in 1873. Due to the local railroad lines and mining industry, the population quickly bloomed, already reaching a population of 2,770 by 1880. The peak was nearly 4,000 residents in the early 1900s.
To match the rising influence of Shawnee, social life options increased. Venues included an Opera House.
Churches and fraternity organizations also provided social life. Another example is the currently named Tecumseh Theater on Main Street.
Chris Evans was the leader of the historic Hocking Valley Coal Strike of 1884-85.
Evans was born in England in 1841. In 1875 he founded the first Knights of Labor union in Hocking Valley. The Local Assembly 169 in Shawnee was founded by Evans. He was instrumental in bringing the labor movement to the area. Evans would actually go on to move to New Straitsville, Perry County, in 1877. Sadly, he died in 1926.
An increase in mining in the Hocking Valley area, in addition to the expansion of rail lines, lead to the expansion of localities, such as Shawnee.
In 1907, the Improved Order of Red Men built the building that now houses the Tecumseh Theater. They operated it until 1912, when they sold it to a local business man. Eventually, the theater would be sold to another local man, operating it until 1959. After it closed down, the building went into severe disrepair.
In 1976, the owner of the building decided to sell the building for $500. After hearing these plans, a local waitress told her boyfriend, Skip Rickets, about these plans. They decided to scrounge up the money and save the building. They got the money and bought the building, forming a nonprofit to operate and repair the building. To this day, the building is under repair.
Although not a Hocking Valley native, Cheryl Blosser has dedicated a great deal of her life to preserving and sharing the history of the Hocking Valley Coal Industry. She moved to New Straightsville, Ohio after she married her husband, and began learning and falling in love with the history of the area when she was helping her daughter with a school project in 1995.
Not only has she (and several others involved in the Little Cities of Black Diamonds group) kept the history of the area alive, she also continues to push forward in the effort to revitalize the area. She is highly involved with community programs at Tecumseh Theater in Shawnee, Ohio, as well as other committees dedicated to revitalizing the area’s businesses and commerce, so that young people have the option of staying and working here.
Cheryl is a prime example of the perseverance and spirit of the region, and when asked what she would like strangers to know about people of the area, she said, “Well the ones that have stayed are stubborn, family oriented. Yeah, you know, there’s a certain amount of bravery and creativity to think about staying here, because it’s easier to leave.”
The hope for new life in Shawnee is not an empty one, as Cheryl states “It’s coming along, I’ve seen more progress in the last two years, than I have seen happen before. I’m seeing things happening, on that one block at least.”