- Amish Country
Jefferson County was legally formed July 29, 1797 with La Belle being the county seat. It was one of 10 counties formed before Ohio became a state in 1803. Years later the county seat was renamed Steubenville in honor of the abandoned fort located along the river.
The county was of course named for our third president, Thomas Jefferson who had taken office just a few months before the legal formation of the county. He was also a Virginian, the state just across the river. West Virginia was created from Virginia during the Civil War.
Early on, Steubenville was the third most populated city in the new state of Ohio. This was due for several reasons. First, Jefferson County could be called a gateway community. For pioneers coming down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh, it was the first major town they would come upon. There was also a fort located here which provided assurances to the new arrivals who had most likely heard many horror stories of Indian attacks on the new frontier. Seeing a large fort would have been greatly reassuring.
Named for Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben (1730–1794), a Prussian officer who aided the colonials in the American Revolutionary War and helped train those men into a fighting force, Fort Steuben was built in 1786 during a time of great upheaval along the western frontier. It was constructed in a hostile environment largely to protect the surveying parties that had been hired by the United States Congress to begin surveying the Ohio Country.
Not long after the construction of the fort, the community of LaBelle was renamed to Steubenville in honor o f the fort's name and importance in the early development of the community.
Next, Steubenville had become a major wool producing center that provided work for many migrant travelers not sure what they wanted to do. The same water power used for grinding corn and other crops could be used to power the large mills where raw wool could be converted into threads and woven into fabric. Steubenville became a major woolen fabric center. And of course, what was needed to produce wool were sheep. It turns out that the mountainous countryside that made large scale farming difficult, was ideal for raising sheep.
Quality sheep that were known for producing high quality wool had come almost directly from Spain to Jefferson County. The sheep were herded in the hills rising up above the Ohio River valley during the warmer months and then moved into town to over winter here where they could be fed and protected from predators. Then in the spring the sheep could be sheered and taken back to grazing in the country side.
Another important industry that had become part of the new county was the production of whiskey. At that time, whiskey was about the only way of transporting corn. Once the corn or rye had been converted to a liquid form, it could be barrelled and shipped anywhere in the world. Just a few years before President George Washington had led a military expedition into western Pennsylvania as a show of force to bring an end to a rebellion of distillers on the frontier that refused to pay a new whiskey tax. Some of those distillers moved across the Ohio into Jefferson County, where they could avoid the government's taxes for a few years more.
On April 1, 1874 the saloons in Steubenville closed as a result of the Temperance Society pressure to abolish alcohol from America and in 1908, the entire county became a "dry" county.
It was no mistake that John Chapman, (later became known as Johnny Appleseed) crossed into the Ohio Country in Jefferson County. Across the Ohio River in what was then the western edge of Virginia, several farmers were working on developing apple orchards. Although John Chapman disagreed with their method of grafting apple stocks, it became one way of creating new varieties of apples.
Apples on the Frontier
Many might think that Johnny Appleseed's popularity was because he planted apple trees far and wide across Ohio. The reason for that popularity wasn't because everyone liked to eat fresh apples... it was because everyone enjoyed drinking hard apple cider. Hard cider could without too much difficulty turn a small crop of apples into a beverage that could be kept for several years.
So important were apples and apple trees to the new homesteader, that it became a requirement to buy land on the frontier. To prove that a settler was serious about becoming a permanent resident of the area, were required to plant 50 apple trees and 20 peach trees within 3 years of their arrival.
Johnny Appleseed became a well known figure in the history of Ohio. He was born about the time when the American Revolution began in Springfield Massachusetts. His parents named him John Chapman. He learned the science of planting an orchard, caring for it and harvesting the fruit.
Interested in developing his own orchards, John Chapman first crossed into Ohio in 1801, crossing the Ohio River about 4 miles south of Steubenville. With him he carried a number of leather pouches filled with apple seeds and on that first night in Ohio Country, John Chapman planted his first set of apple seeds along the river in a place that had good soil, was unlikely to be flooded, and had plenty of light.
The locals living there urged him to remain and create a nursery where he could sell root stock to the new settlers arriving here. But John Chapman declined the offer saying another orchard grower had already established a nursery on the Virginia side of the river. His goal was to move further west, ahead of the rush of settlers coming into the Ohio Country. Then, when they arrived where he was, his apple trees would be ready to sell. This was the beginning of the legend that would become Johnny Appleseed. Johnny Appleseed returned to the orchard he planted in 1801 five years later and was pleased to see it thriving.
Nails had been produced along the Ohio River almost from the beginning, but it wasn't until the late 1840s that the first large iron plant in the area. By the time of the Civil War, there were a number of iron plants in the valley producing iron. This also included the large blast furnaces, coke ovens to turn coal into a necessary ingredient for the blast furnaces to operate. In the late 1800s steel was added to the mix.
Early in Jefferson County's history, it became a focal point of the Religious Society of Friends, better known as Quakers. Up above the Ohio Valley in the rolling terrain of the Appalachian Plateau, this peace-loving, non-violent, group of people found a spot where they could call home.
The village of Mount Pleasant had already been formed when the Quakers started buying land in an around this cross-road village. In time quick time they became the majority, not that this was important. The Quakers were a religious group that rejected excess in all things. They adopted plainness in their architecture, in the furniture they built and in their clothing. But, they were not a poor group. They were an industrious group that found comfort in spreading the word of God to anyone that cared to inquire.
Not content to just exist, the Quakers felt it was their mission to correct social injustices. In early 19th Century Ohio, that revolved around the issues of slavery. It was the efforts of the Quakers, and in particular the Quakers in Jefferson County, that brought this issue to the forefront on the minds of many northern Americans. The published papers extolling the pitfalls of a country involved in slavery. They began developing a way of helping slaves that had taken the initiative of fleeing their captivity but providing whatever needs these runaways required. They became the builders of the Underground Railroad that spread not only in Ohio, but throughout the country.
When Ohio became a state, it became the first new state on the western frontier admitted to the Union where slavery was prohibited by law. A group of Quakers living in North Carolina (a slave state) found conditions there growing increasingly more difficult at the beginning of the 19th Century. They decided it was time to move and follow some of their members who had already moved to the Ohio Country. By the time Ohio became a free slave state in 1803, they had already heard like many immigrants, that Ohio land was fertile and cheap.