Friday, December 02, 2005

Knox County: A trip down memory lane

Sitting here one day past my anniversary of thirty years on Earth, I thought I’d go back to where it all began, or at least my memory of it begins. Knox County, Ohio.

Being honest, I was actually born in Mansfield and lived in Butler for a couple of years, but my family moved to Danville in the summer of 1978.

But enough about me, that’s not why you’re here to read this.

Knox County is an interesting county in that it sits at the very foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Head east or south and you’re into Appalachia, head west and it becomes the plains area and if you head north your getting into the glacier region of Lake Erie. But, Knox County blends all of them.

Mt. Vernon (city Web site) is the county seat and serves the county well – now. There is a tale told about how Mt. Vernon landed the county seat. According to local lore, Cavallo and Mt. Vernon were locked in a battle to be named the county seat and on the day when the county elders were surveying Cavallo, Mt. Vernon hired men to serve as “vagrants” on the streets of the thriving river town. The bid went to Mt. Vernon and the community hasn’t looked back since, being named “Ohio’s Most Livable City” by Ohio Magazine a few years back.

By contrast, as the river and train traffic began to leave, Cavallo has collapsed into a virtual “ghost town” with only a few old – and mostly in disrepair – home remaining. These towns dot the majority of the county’s eastern edge. Brinkhaven is even named after one of these feuds. Gann was a thriving river town served by two railroads and was going gangbusters on the Mohican River (just off St. Rte. 62 today), when its founder (Gann) got into a feud with the railroad and they quit stopping in the community. Which gave it the nickname Brinkhaven, of course the numerous Mohican floods – including one that wiped out 65 percent of the community – didn’t help.

But at least they rebuilt, the community of Funk was located off the Kokosing River and when the flood of 1913 came through, it was wiped off the map, never to be rebuilt.

In the extreme northeast corner of the county is Greer a community of 45 residents that used to be home to the most hopping baseball field in central Ohio. It sat a “good ride” from Columbus, Cleveland, Akron, Canton, Mansfield, and Wooster and the report was that teams would just catch the train to Greer for a game on the weekends. The old backstop is all that remains in this community of less than 50 people.

Danville is the lone “thriving” town in eastern Ohio with about 1,000 residents. The community has undergone a bit of resurgence in the past 3-4 years as more Amish have moved in from Eastern Holmes County. They have brought with them the tourism and travel dollars which is helping the community to shake that “sleepy” look.

Gambier, located about 10 miles from Mt. Vernon is home to Kenyon College and is the “crossing spot” for the Kokosing Gap Trail – one of the most successful Rails-to-Trails experiences in the country. The Gap runs from Mt. Vernon to Danville, through Gambier and Howard. In Danville another trail – this one a multi-purpose trail – will take riders the four miles to Brinkhaven and across the “Bridge of Dreams” – a covered bridge on the old railroad trestle – to Holmes County.

On the county’s western side sits, Fredericktown. The Leedy and Merrin families were cornerstones to this community’s development and I happen to be related to both of them.

Head south and you’ll come to Centerburg, which surprise, sits in the geographical center of Ohio according to the marker on St. Rte. 36 just north of town.
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