The Little Cities of Black Diamonds

John Winnenburg

Member of School Board of Southern Local School District

The Little Cities of Black Diamonds Region

The Little Cities of Black Diamonds region is made up of a series of small towns and rural townships in the rugged hills of southern Perry, northern Athens and eastern Hocking Counties of Ohio who share a common story as it pertains to the significant and sudden growth of population and culture in the region during the period 1870-1920. The arrival of the railroad to the Hocking River Valley in the 1870's led to major development of the area as a rush to extract coal, oil, clay and iron ore brought thousands of people to this remote area resulting in the formation of bustling "Little Cities," whose population formed a rich racial and ethnic mix of immigrant and pioneer Americans in search of work, opportunity and prosperity. Opportunity and prosperity were short lived , however, but the rich story of this period is one symbol of the region's wealth that remains to this day.

The Little Cities of Black Diamonds also share a common story of economic decline, community decay, environmental degradation and population loss during the decades since 1920, that has resulted in the Little Cities region becoming one of the least politically potent regions of the state.

Today, the Little Cities of Black Diamonds region is defined by small towns, and the townships that surround them, with a significant portion of the land in the region being part of the Wayne National Forest.

The reforested lands of the region make it a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts including hikers, campers and hunters. Community and environmental regeneration efforts are underway in the Little Cities region, including various efforts to collect and share local history, sponsor cultural events and to clean up local streams. Population decline has bottomed out and gradual, steady growth in population is being experienced. The communities and hillsides of the region still are home to many landmarks and remnants of an earlier day with modernization having bypassed most of the communities. In many ways, there is an on-going battle between restoration and decay. Which force will prevail still remains uncertain.

The Little Cities of Black Diamonds Region is influenced by nearby county seats in each of the three counties where it lays. These small cities: Logan (Hocking County), Athens (Athens County) and New Lexington (Perry County), were highly impacted by the significant growth in the Little Cities region during the period between 1870 and 1920. The region is also influenced and enjoys being in close proximity to Burr Oak State Park, just to the east; and Hocking Hills State Park, just to the west of the region.

The Little Cities of Black Diamonds region currently includes the following townships and all communities within these townships: In Perry County, Coal Twp., Monday Creek Twp., Monroe Twp., Pleasant Twp., and Saltlick Twp.; in Athens County, Trimble Twp., Dover Twp., and York Twp; and in Hocking County, Falls Gore Twp., Green Twp. and Ward Twp. Othering neighboring townships in each of these counties may be considered for inclusion at a future date, particularly Ames Twp. in Athens County and Bearfield Township in Perry County.


The Little Cities of Black Diamonds Council's Mission

To keep alive the past stories and traditions of the Little Cities of Black Diamonds Region and through our history, culture and environment help enrich the future quality of life in the region.

Little Cities of Black Diamonds Council Purpose Statement

The purpose of the Little Cities of Black Diamonds Council is to promote the story of the Little Cities of Black Diamonds Region in southern Perry, northern Athens, and eastern Hocking Counties of Ohio where the impact of the extractive industries of coal, oil, clay and iron ore have significantly impacted our way of life since the late 1800's.

The Council, made up of individual citizens and representatives of community organizations, governmental bodies, tourism related entities and educational institutions, will plan and carry out events, tours, and educational projects that will promote the historical, cultural, civic and environmental assets of our region.

We believe that the understanding of our region's story and assets by the residents of our region will help citizens and organizations become more actively involved in the regeneration of the Little Cities of Black Diamonds area

We endeavor to share our story and assets with others who live outside this region as well, utilizing a low impact tourism strategy that will economically benefit our region without displacing the positive aspects of our rural culture. (local control and ownership, limited traffic, privacy, etc.)

Finally, through our efforts, we seek to move the image of our region away from one of poverty and decay, toward an image of quality small town and rural living where historical and cultural exploration are common- place and where community and environmental regeneration are a way of life.


Corning-Monroe Reader-A collection of stories written by local citizens and professional researchers on the history of Corning and Monroe Township. Published 1-2 times a year. $5 plus $1 shipping to Corning-Monroe Local History Group, c/o Patricia Keller,9322 St. Rt. 13SE, Glouster, Ohio 45732 (740-347-4706). Currently four volumes are now in print.

The Journey Continues: The History of New Straitsville, Volumes I & II-The first volume covers the period 1870-1925 while the second volume covers the period 1925-1950. Published in 1995 & 1996 by the New Straitsville Local History Group and Sunday Creek Associates. Written by John Winnenberg and Chris Bogzevitz. $8 per volume, plus $2 shipping per volume, to New Straitsvill Local History Group, P. O. Box 534, New Straitsville, Ohio 43766. Contact Connie Dunkle (740-394-2535).

The First 125 Years: The History of Shawnee 1873-Present-The history of Shawnee, written by Rob Dishon and John Winnenberg celebrates the town's 125th Anniversary in 1998. $18, plus $2 shipping to Shawnee 125th Anniversary Committee, c/o Dorothy Dishon, P. O. Box 32, Shawnee, Ohio 43782. Call 740-394-1101.

Little Cities of Black Diamonds- The book that got the history fever started. Writtern by Ivan Tribe, Professor of History at University of Rio Grande. Published by the Athens County Historical Society, Court Street, Athens, Ohio.

Sprinkled With Coal Dust-The companion book of Tribe's Little Cities of Black Diamonds. Also available from the Athens County Historical Society.

All books are available for sale over the counter at the Community Exchange Gift Shop in Shawnee.

For more information about the Little Cities of Black Diamonds Council contact John Winnenberg at Sunday Creek Associates, P. O. Box 109, Shawnee, Ohio 43782 or call 740-394-2852 or e-mail


One of my first experiences with the Little Cities of Black Diamonds was through their Chautauqua Festival which was held in Murray City, Ohio last June. I met the above historical actors and educators Kathy Deveka and Kenneth Bowald. They presented wonderful living portrayals of historical persons of the communities. With information, photo's, and a diary, that I was able to provide to Kathy she brought one of my deceased relatives to life, Mary Alice Lee-Campbell-Palmer-Holt who was a typical coal miner wife of the year 1900. In the second picture above is Ken Bowald. He did a wonderful portrayal of a typical coal miner John Holt, and Mary Alice's husband who wrote the above mentioned diary. In the photo above Ken was portraying Peter Hayden, the founder of Haydenville, which he presented at the Haydenville, Ohio festival. If you get a chance this coming summer to attend one of these festivals, you will not be disappointed! Please watch for updates for the coming year!

Sandra Mitchell-Quinn

webmaster of Athens county on OHGenWeb