Traveling Gallia County, one gets the essence of The Buckeye State, Birthplace of Aviation, The Heart of it All; Ohio. Gallia has many of the staples unique to Ohio; a tight- knit Amish community, thriving farm life, open spaces and vibrant greenery. However, Gallia also has unique characteristics of its own; nestled in the expansive hills of Appalachia this small county of Ohio, only 31,000 residents, are only a stones throw away from West Virginia across the Ohio River.
Gallia is made up of nine small towns; Bidwell, Cheshire, Crown City, Gallipolis, Kerr, Patriot, Rio Grande, Thurman, and Vinton. Each town has a humble downtown lined with brick buildings and the history of the hard working people that have called this place home since 1803.
Walking the historic streets of the hidden villages of Gallia County, you will surely stop to say hello to your neighbors, stop and ask your friends how their kids are and no doubt ask your friend how his sweet corn is coming along this summer; after all this is a close community with deep roots in farming. No hiding from your neighbors here. In these counties you can’t escape the local gossip and you enjoy sending you children to small high schools, likely the one you graduated from. In Gallia County, nearly 8-% of the population graduated high school but not too many people left afterwards, only 15% went on to college to earn a Bachelor’s degree or higher education. It’s hard to leave a town so small, because everywhere else feels so big and who wants to move away only to call your neighbor a stranger?
But unless you live in one of the old houses a short walk from downtown, marked by the beauty only centuries of family tradition can leave behind, you likely don’t have a close neighbor at all. Unless you count the livestock and crops as neighborly company. Not surprisingly, 60% of the land in Gallia County is dedicated to crops and livestock.
The hard stock people of Gallia County are hidden in the rolling hills and green valleys of Appalachia, characteristically Ohioan. When the French settled here, they spread out and marked the land for their crops and family generations to come, they also left their mark in the name “Gallia” itself; thelatin word for “France”. These people are surrounded by the rich green vegetation of Ohio, and they are the first to notice the orange hues of fall. After all, fall is harvesting season and once you leave the sparse metropolitan areas like Gallipolis, the largest town in Gallia County, you are doing 55 or 60 down the country roads, whizzing by acres of sweet corn and beans, hoping a deer doesn’t decide to test your brakes in the middle of the night.
Gallipolis is the largest village in Gallia County, a population of 3,642 residents according to the 2010 census. The meaning of this little village is also derived from a rich French history; the “city of the French” was settled by the “French 500” who were escaping the French Revolution in 1790. Just like the rest of Gallia “France” County, the people here are protectors of their heritage and history; one post office has been running since 1794 in Gallipolis. “The City of the French” is a thriving hub along the Ohio River Valley. The Silver Memorial Bridge and an old, rickety railroad bridge, stretch across the Ohio River to Point Pleasant, West Virginia. Gallipolis features the Elizabeth L. Evans Waterfowl and Bird Sanctuary as well as a skate park and recreational park at Memorial Field where the experimental teenagers may escape the watchful gaze of their parents and teachers. Gallipolis was awarded the distinction of one of Ohio’s Best Hometowns, no wonder no one leaves. However, with this award the humble village of Gallipolis may not stay a small town forever and the whirr of development has already begun; The Ohio Economic Development Association was given an award of Excellence in 2015 for innovative economic development.
If we continue our walk down some of the historic “downtown” streets of the villages of Gallia County, we stop into local mom-and-pop-shops to grab locally grown produce and the locally owned Amish store, which has the best fudge in town and the most savory slices of ham off the bone.
Gallia County is quaint as much as it is quiet. It takes a lover of the outdoors to appreciate the nature preserves, crops and the humble daily lives of its residents. It may not look like there’s much to boast about for a county this small and spread out, but it takes a special pair of eyes to appreciate the history here, a keen nose to smell the first signs of fall, a healthy ear to stop and listen to the “wish” sound of corn husks dancing in the wind and a special appreciation for the boisterous bullfrogs that will lull you to sleep at night if you let them.
After we have gather the supplies we can in town, we leave the main street of downtown, pass the old houses with their tall columns, broad windows and creaky joints. We head outside of town for the other items on our shopping list; new arrows for our cross bow, deer hunting season is just around the corner. We need to stop at the tractor supply store outside of town for a new set of tires for the lawn tractor which got stuck in the ditch again, but that’s what you get for buying a John Deer as Grandpa would say.
On Sundays after Church, we can meet the rest of our friends and neighbors at one of the local Amish restaurants, despite an impressive number of churches and numerous religious affiliations, everyone remains friendly towards each other. The farmers have their own table and can skip the line of church goers that stretches out the door every Sunday, but we don’t mind because it gives us a chance to gossip. After a hearty meal, we take a drive through the back roads of Gallia County to visit some of the remarkably unremarkable landmarks the county has scattered around its edges. We stop at the old stone towers at the historic Ohio Hospital for Epileptics and take a meander through the Garden Lots Historic District in Gallipolis. Next, we drive passed fields upon endless fields of corn and beans, stopping every once in a while to admire a friendly competitors crop, towards the old Bob Evans Farm in Rio Grande, Ohio. Bob along with friends and family members originally made sausages for local groceries until they purchased the farm in 1953.
After our tour of the farm, we make the slow drive back home, it’s Sunday after all and family dinner is almost as important as Church.