Get off of Court Street and explore Historic Nelsonville

Hayley Dashiell | Court Street Stories

Oho University students can get stuck in the bubble of campus life, house parties and the bar scene. It is easy to forget about the wealth of interesting activities in the surrounding areas. Nelsonville, OH is only a 20 minute drive from uptown Athens and offers a different view of southeastern Ohio. Take a look at four of the cutest, quaintest and most historic things to do in Nelsonville and Hocking Hills.

  1. Hocking Valley Scenic Railway – Hocking Valley Scenic Railway offers regularly scheduled train rides through the Hocking River valley, in between Nelsonville and Logan OH. While the HVSR began as an attraction in 1972, they have diesels dating back to the 1950s and coaches dating back to 1917! The railway even offers specially themed Christmas and Easter rides. Imagine riding through the snow-covered valley on a Santa themed train. What is more picturesque than that? The answer is nothing.

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    Families enjoy a ride on the Hocking Valley Scenic Railway
  2. Stuart’s Opera House – Located in Nelsonville’s historic Public Square, Stuart’s Opera House was built in 1879, and is still in use. According to their website the opera house “…is dedicated to its role as a regional leader in the arts community, a center for public expression, and an economic development partner for Southeastern Ohio.” They have concerts and shows on the daily, so buy some tickets, enjoy some music and take some pictures for Instagram because people love super old opera houses.
  3. Rocky Outdoor Gear – Rocky Outdoor Gear is a major outdoor footwear manufacturer and distributor. That might not sound very historic, but the company and retail store are based in the original factory building that was built in in 1932! Super old and historic! Stop by and buy a pair of locally sourced and manufactured hiking boots from one of the oldest shoe companies in Ohio. Learn more about their history here.
  4. Nelsonville Historic Public Square – The Square was once the main hub of activity in Nelsonville. Now it has been re-envisioned as Nelsonville’s artsy shopping district. Check out the Nelsonville Emporium to buy paintings, pottery and other products made by local artisans. Supporting local artisans is really hip these days, so get on it! Plus the Square is only a short walk from Rocky Outdoor Gear, Stuart’s Opera House, and the Railway stop.
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    Nelsonville Historic Public Square

     

     

Holy Guacamole owners crash in West Virginia

Local food truck phenom Holy Guacamole was temporarily put out of commission when the Nagy family, who own and run the truck, were in a car accident in West Virginia on Oct. 14, 2015. The family reported the accident on Holy Guacamole’s Facebook page and stated that “…Everyone is banged up and recovering. [The] Van totaled…” following with a message of uncertainty with regards to their reopening.

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Rudy Nagy, owner of Holy Guacamole, with his two sons. Image taken from Holy Guacamole’s Facebook page.

Fortunately for the Nagy family and the taco fans of southeastern Ohio, just one day later on Oct. 15, Holy Guacamole reopened at Little Fish Brewery at 8675 Armitage Rd. in Athens. The truck was at the brewery from 5 to 8 p.m.

This family accident comes on the tails of another fender-bender. Earlier this month, on Oct. 3, the taco trailer crashed into the truck while the proprietors were driving down U.S. Route 33 on their way to the Fiber Faire at the Athens Community Center.

The food truck serves traditional Guatemalan tacos and tamales, among other dishes. The Facebook page is filled not only with requests for new locations, but also messages of support and love in the wake of the accident. The community feels very connected to the family business with most fans calling Nagy by his first name, Rudy.

In response to concerns the family issued this response on Oct. 15, “Wow! Thanks everyone! We are touched by your kindness! We made it back yesterday. Rudy immediately started working, because that’s what Rudy does! Work! Work! Work! Nothing slows him down! He’s open today, even though his body is really hurting.”

For more information about Holy Guacamole check out this short feature from the Athens Messenger.

 

Bricks on Bricks: An Athens Tradition

Brick, brick, brick, brick.  -The mantra of one walking through Ohio University’s campus

Ohio University, with its brick-laden pathways and buildings, has a rich brick history. Athens is just one of hundreds of brick-faced college towns in the U.S., reflecting a bygone industry. Ohio University’s bricks have preserved this tradition.

According to Athens Ohio, The Village Years, a book written by Robert L. Daniel and found in the Athens Historical Society library, brick-building didn’t become a major industry in southeastern Ohio until the mid-1800s.

Before that time, brick-building served as a local business resource, where bricks were produced on site; it wasn’t considered a commercially viable product until the later part of the century.

That all changed when Robert Arscott built his own brickyard in the 1870s. Roughly 700,000 bricks were manufactured locally in 1850, but by 1893 that number had skyrocketed to 292 million bricks a year. These bricks were being shipped all around the world, according to a 1998 report issued by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) called The Paving Brick Industry in Ohio by Steven D. Blankenbeker.

“We don’t have seashells here in Ohio,” James Robinson, owner of Athens Block, was quoted as saying in a June 3, 2010, article from The Post. “This is almost like southeast Ohio’s version of a seashell because each brick is different.”

Southeastern Ohio became a prime location for the brick industry, based on the clay particles found underneath the hill-topped soils. In fact, the same earthen materials utilized by the coal industry – another significant trade found in Appalachia – were quite beneficial for brick production.  

Thousands of bricks were used to construct Cutler Hall, once known as College Edifice, while an estimated 8 million bricks were used to build the Ridges, home to the historic Athens Lunatic Asylum, during the 1860s-1870s.

Athens Brick Company once resided where the Athens post office sits today, on Stimson Avenue. The company churned out over 50,000 bricks a day at the height of the brick-building industry, and become a major economic force in Athens.

The first paving bricks in the state were actually produced in Malvern, Ohio, at the Canton & Malvern Fire Clay Paving Brick Company in Carroll County in 1855. These original “blocks” (short-hand for paving brick) measured only 2.5-by-4-by-8.5 inches; standard paving bricks were 9-by-4-by-4 inches, and weighed close to 10 pounds.

Unlike the 19th-century boom for bricks, brick-building isn’t considered a profitable industry in the modern era. It typically costs five-to-10 times more to pave a brick road than one with tar, according to an article published Sept. 11, 2012, in The Post.  Faced with a financial depression and the advent of asphalt roads in the late 1890s, regional brick-building facilities collapsed in the early 1900s.

Nonetheless, the brick industry remains a prominent part of southeastern Ohio history, especially in Athens County.

Ralph Bolls, known in neighboring Nelsonville as “the brick man,” takes his brick history seriously. In addition to buying, selling and trading locally manufactured bricks, Bolls is also the proprietor of the annual Nelsonville Brick Festival.

“The brick festival is largely about trading bricks and getting together with people who are interested in bricks and seeing them as not only history but a collective item,” Boll was quoted as saying in an article from AntiqueWeek.com, available at the Athens Historical Society.

The Nelsonville Brick Festival typically runs the last weekend of July, and this year was hosted on July 24 and July 25 in Nelsonville, Ohio.