A Brief History of Pike County
By Thomas Adkins, Director
Garnet A. Wilson Public Library of Pike County
The lands on which Pike County now sits were first occupied by the "Mound Builder" culture. Several burial mounds can be seen in Pike County, the most prominent being the one located in Mound Cemetery near Piketon. At the time of the first Europeans in the area, the Shawnee Indian tribe made their homes in southern Ohio.
Pike County was created by the Ohio General Assembly January 1, 1815, and was organized in February of that year. The present boundary of Pike County was once portions of Ross, Scioto, and Jackson Counties, with nearly two-thirds coming from Ross.
The county is intersected by the Scioto River, which runs north to south. The land west of the river was originally part of the Virginia Military District, lands which were given to Revolutionary War veterans in lieu of payment for military service. Lands east of the river were Congress lands, surveyed and sold to settlers at the Chillicothe Land Office by the Federal Government.
Hezekiah Merritt is given credit with planting the first crop of corn in the area. He came to what is now Pike County in December 1795, constructing a crude log cabin near the present location of Wetmore in the extreme southern portion of the county. After government surveyors entered southern Ohio after the Treaty of Greenville in 1795, Mr. Merritt was forced to move, he having no title of ownership to the Congress Lands. He and his family purchased lands across the river from an owner of Virginia Military District property and settled in present Camp Creek, where the Merritt Family Cemetery can still be visited today.
Other early settlers include the Chenoweth brothers (Arthur, John and Abraham) who, along with John Noland, established a settlement near the present location of Piketon in 1796. While it is impossible to list all the early pioneers in Pike County, a representative listing follows:
- John Kincaid
- John Parker
- Ezekiel Moore
- Joseph, George, and Isaac Peniston
- Snowden Sargent
- James Sappington
- William Beekman
- Daniel Daily
- Presley Boydston
- George Steenberger
- John Barnes
- William S.D. Wynn
- John Satterfield
- Rev. William Talbott
- John Guthery
GOVERNOR ROBERT LUCAS
Robert Lucas first settled in Scioto County but around 1814 he relocated to Seal Township, Pike County. Also came two of his sisters, Rebecca wife of Judge Samuel Reed and Lavisa, wife of George Steenberger.
He was elected Governor of Ohio in 1832, serving two terms. During his governorship, Lucas was the President of the first national political convention that was ever held in the United States, which met at Baltimore in 1832 and nominated Andrew Jackson of Tennessee as President.
Robert Lucas later served as first Territorial Governor of Iowa, being appointed by President Martin Van Buren. He died in Iowa City, Iowa.
The construction of the Ohio-Erie Canal in the late 1820's spurred growth in Pike County. The canal followed a route through the county on the west side of the Scioto River roughly parallel to the river.
The town of Waverly was platted along the canal in 1829 and within a few years became an economic competitor with the county seat of Piketon.
Piketon was at a disadvantage because the canal did not pass through the town as originally planned. It was rumored that Robert Lucas pushed for the canal to be located on the opposite side of the river from Piketon, on lands that he owned. While he denied the charge, it is interesting to note that Lucas did plat the town on Jasper on his land along the canal.
Pike County's first millionaire was James Emmitt, a native of Armstrong County, Pennsylvania, who came to Ohio with his parents in 1814. Emmitt developed into one of the leading businessmen in southern Ohio during the nineteenth century.
He provided the initiative and ideas, and joining with a succession of financial partners, operated a fleet of canal boats, a large distillery, flour and woolen mills, and numerous smaller manufacturing concerns.
He also established the Emmitt House restaurant and tavern in 1861, which was in operation until January 2014 when it was tragically lost to fire. Its construction was due in part to carpenter Madison Hemings, who claimed parentage by President Thomas Jefferson through his slave Sally Hemings. (Click here to see the complete details and photos of the fire)
Emmitt's last mansion, a fine example of brick Victorian era architecture, still stands on Walnut Street in Waverly.
COUNTY SEAT IS RELOCATED
Due in large part to the influence of James Emmitt, the seat of Pike County was removed from Piketon to Waverly in 1861, after a bitter struggle between those who approved the move and those who wished for the seat to remain in Piketon. Emmitt offered to build a new courthouse if voters approved the relocation. A special election was held, and despite quite legitimate claims that the election was riddled with irregularities, the county seat was moved to Waverly. The courthouse built by Emmitt still stands on Second Street in Waverly.
TOWNS AND VILLAGES
Pike County has several communities, the largest of which is the city of Waverly. Piketon follows in size with Beaver being the third largest community in Pike County. Other towns and villages include Buchanan, Byington, Cynthiana, Elm Grove, Idaho, Jasper, Latham, Morgantown, Nipgen, Omega, Stockdale, Wakefield and Wetmore.
The lives of Pike Countians were interrupted by the Civil War (1861-1865). More than 100 residents died in the conflict. One of them, Joseph McDougal, was killed when Morgan's Raiders passed through the county in 1863. He was put out in a boat in the Scioto River and was shot by the raiders. The Jasper school teacher was 47 years old.
Still others gained fame during the conflict. Samuel Slavens was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his participation with a party of Union soldiers who cut off railroad connections in the Confederacy. Slavens, along with several other soldiers, were captured by the Confederate troops. Seven of them were hanged at once on June 20, 1862, and Slavens was among those who died that day.
Also during the Civil War, Pike Countian Wells Jones rose to the rank of Brigadier General. He participated in the battles of Shiloh, Corinth, Vicksburg, Jackson, Mission Ridge, Resaca, Dallas, Kenesaw Mountain, Atlanta Jonesboro and was with Sherman during his "March to the Sea".
The population of Pike County remained fairly stable from the 1870's through the 1940's. Agriculture and timber-cutting were the primary jobs for residents during this period.
Many Pike County residents represented the area through service in both World War I and World War II. The need for workers in war industries during World War II gave area residents alternatives to working on the farm or saw mill.
After World War II large farming operations began to consolidate their holdings by buying up smaller family farms. Pike County had 1,700 farms in 1940 but a short 30 years later the number had dropped to 450.
THE ATOMIC BOOM
In 1953 the Federal Government chose Pike County as the location for a gaseous diffusion plant designed to enrich uranium. The time around the construction of the facility is still referred to as the "Boom", as literally hundreds of new people flooded the county to construct, and later work, at the facility.
During this time, government housing projects were undertaken, school facilities were expanded and improved, and many new businesses were started in Pike County.
The plant covered nearly 4,000 acres and provided employment for over 2,000 workers at its height of operation.
The Pike Heritage Museum, located in the former German Evangelical Church on Market Street, houses a wonderful collection of early Pike County history. Additional historical material can be found in the Pike County Room of the Garnet A. Wilson Public Library, 207 North Market Street, Waverly.
Many historical buildings still stand in the city of Waverly, including the Vallery Building and the Grand Hotel.
"Bring the Hosses Past the Start in a Straight Line, Gentlemen"
Click here to view A Century of Horse Racing at the Pike County (Ohio) Fair.
Beekman, Blaine. A Brief History of Pike County (pamphlet). nd. np.
A History of Lower Scioto Valley Ohio. Interstate Publishing Company, 1884.