Instead of today’s thick forests and rolling farmland, much of Vinton County was once made up of many small but budding communities. These communities prospered from the lavish supply of materials found in the region to manufacture iron, which was greatly enhanced when the Scioto and Hocking Valley Railroad linked Vinton County to the outside world in 1849.
Vinton County was one of the southeastern Ohio counties included in the Hanging Rock Iron Region, which ran from Logan, Ohio to Mt. Savage, Kentucky. These counties produced much of the iron used by Union troops during the Civil War. Iron from the local furnaces was also used to produce farm machinery and equipment for the railroads.
Iron furnaces were built to extract iron from the iron ores native to the region. Ore was extracted from the local sandstone, processed at the furnaces, and the bars of iron transferred to a foundry for remanufacture. Stands of wood found throughout the region were burned nearly 24 hours a day to form charcoal. So much wood was used to make charcoal, in fact, that much of the area around the iron furnace region was once bare of trees! Charcoal, the fuel used to smelt the iron, was combined with iron ore and limestone into the top of the furnace. As the charcoal ignited, the ore and limestone melted together, worked its way to the bottom of the furnace, and was then poured into troughs. When the ore was removed from the furnace, there was a glassy waste product called slag which can still be found around the old furnaces in the form of black, glass-like chunks.
During the mid-1800’s, iron furnaces began to spring up around the Vinton County area. In 1854, the Richland Iron Furnace was built. Not long after, furnaces were erected in Hamden, Zaleski, Vinton, and Hope. Each furnace employed about 100 men, who were paid as little as 65 cents per day for 12 hours of work. Payment was provided in the form of scrip, which could be spent only in the company stores, where the prices of goods were marked up exorbitantly. In spite of such conditions, the region grew. With the building of railroad stations came newer roads, and with the newer roads, came a wealth of small towns. Towns like Wilkesville, Dundas, and Zaleski prospered during the iron era and still remain today. Others like Hope and Ingham Station are now nothing more than a few moss-covered foundation stones and scattered old cellar holes.
In the late 19th century, the discovery of high-grade ore in the Lake Superior Region brought the operation of the iron furnaces here to a standstill. In Vinton County today, all that remains are the remnants of the Hope, Richland, and Vinton iron furnaces, all of which started operations in 1854.