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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

Eastern Ohio in State History

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, December 06, 2015

Relating to my article of the past Sunday, I was discussing the role of Steubenville and Jefferson County in Ohio History, and how that has developed.

 

Over my years as a librarian, I have read and researched what is said about our area in books about the history of Ohio.

 

A new school textbook published in the 1990s had some slight mention of our area, accompanied by a photo of the hills and a bridge crossing the Ohio River in our area.

 

The problem was that I had never seen this photo or the bridge-in-question, so I wrote to the publisher to point out the error.

 

It turned out that the photo was in Indiana on the Ohio River, and the photo had been obtained from the files of the Ohio Historical Society, where it was mis-labeled.  (It was supposedly been removed from the collection)

 

When a librarian reads a nonfiction book, we tend to skim the Bibliography to see where the author found the information.  Early Ohio books tend to use state and federal government documents, or some standard early Ohio authors’ works.

 

Dr. Joseph Barker was an early Ohio author who wrote well-written and researched books; but he was from the Marietta area and his research-area tends to be southerly along the Ohio River.

 

Perhaps the most well-known 19th Century Ohio author was Henry Howe (1816-1893) who traveled the state in 1846 and authored “Historical Collections of Ohio” the next year, covering every county, city, and village from his travels.

 

Over 18,000 of these books were published.  From 1885-87, Howe repeated his journey and updated and expanded his book, but this time his highly acclaimed book sold poorly.

 

The State of Ohio finally purchased the copyright and sold his book after his death for many years as a state document.

 

Howe’s books contain wonderful sections on our area, and could have been used as research, but were not.

 

Books about the history of Ohio published between 1850-1920 lacks much substance about our area, and unfortunately today remain a basis for new works.

 

My observation, based only on my opinion, is that early Ohio history was developed by teachers that served Ohio’s early colleges.  Look at those institutions --- Miami, Ohio University, Marietta, Kenyon, Wittenberg, Western Reserve to name just a few.

 

Eastern Ohio was devoid of colleges and therefore of the authors of early Ohio history.  Muskingum College in New Concord was the closest institution to our area, and Normal Schools even in our county were closed and merged into larger colleges by the early 20th Century.

 

The cornerstone of Ohio history was Randall & Ryan’s 5 vol. “History of Ohio,” published in 1912.  Authored by two of the greatest educators and researchers in Ohio, the work is biased away from Eastern Ohio.

 

Emilius Oviatt Randall (1850-1919) was born in the Akron area, but resided in Columbus most of his life, writing numerous legal works as well as historical books.  He was associated with the Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society (today’s OHC) for 25 years editing and writing profusely.

 

Daniel J. Ryan (1855-1923) was from the Cincinnati and Portsmouth areas, and was equally prolific in his writing as well as serving as the Ohio Secretary of State and a member of the Ohio House of Representatives.  He, too, was an attorney, and together they wrote the massive multi-volume work.

 

I am sure that these men were not planning to short Eastern Ohio history, but the same continues today as Columbus has no binoculars to see the edges of the state.

 

The problem is that today’s newest Ohio history books continues to use Randall & Ryan for their works, so it is difficult if not impossible to shift emphasis of history in later years.

 

The problem is enhanced by our location at the intersection of three states, with our respective state capitols located hours distant.

 

We have to keep chugging away at promoting and writing about our area, and slowly we will become included instead of excluded.