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Athens, Ohio
City of Athens
Athens in 2003
Athens in 2003
Location of Athens in Athens County and the state of Ohio
Location of Athens in Athens County and the state of Ohio
Athens, Ohio is located in Ohio
Athens, Ohio
Athens, Ohio
Location in Ohio
Athens, Ohio is located in the United States
Athens, Ohio
Athens, Ohio
Location in the United States
Athens, Ohio is located in North America
Athens, Ohio
Athens, Ohio
Location in North America
Country United States
State Ohio
County Athens
Named for Athens, Greece
 • Total 10.05 sq mi (26.02 km2)
 • Land 9.83 sq mi (25.45 km2)
 • Water 0.22 sq mi (0.57 km2)
719 ft (219 m)
 • Total 23,832
 • Estimate 
 • Density 2,496.79/sq mi (964.02/km2)
Time zone UTC-5 (EST)
 • Summer (DST) UTC-4 (EDT)
ZIP code
Area codes 740, 220
FIPS code 39-02736
GNIS feature ID 1075290

Athens is a city and the county seat of Athens County, Ohio, United States. Athens is the home of Ohio University, a large public research university with an undergraduate and graduate enrollment of more than 21,000 students. Located along the Hocking River in the southeastern part of Ohio about 65 miles (105 km) southeast of Columbus, Athens is the principal city of the Athens, OH Micropolitan Statistical Area. The population of Athens as of the 2010 U.S. Census was 23,832.

Athens is a qualified Tree City USA as recognized by the National Arbor Day Foundation.


College Edifice
The College Edifice was the first building of higher education in the Northwest Territory
Richland Bridge
Richland Avenue bridge, spanning portions of the city with the Western Hills in the background

Athens is located in what was once the eastern region of two major Native American mound-building groups, the Adena culture from c. 1000 BC to 200 AD and the Ohio Hopewell tradition, c. 300 BC to 700 AD. By the middle of the eighteenth century, the Shawnee, an Algonquian tribe, were the primary tribe of Native Americans living in what would become Athens County. According to a 1794 map by Thomas Kitchin, no settlement existed in the Athens area during the time immediately prior to the founding of the city.

The first permanent European settlers arrived in Athens in 1797, more than a decade after the United States victory in the American Revolutionary War. In 1800, the town site was first surveyed and plotted, but it was not incorporated as a village until 1811. In the meantime, Ohio had become a state in 1803. Ohio University was chartered in 1804, the first public institution of higher learning in the Northwest Territory. Previously part of Washington County, Ohio, Athens County was formed in 1805, named for the ancient center of learning, Athens, Greece. Ohio University in Athens was established with the first federal endowment of an educational institution in the United States. In July 1787, the Congress of the Confederation gave to the Ohio Company of Associates "two townships of good land for the support of a literary institution" in the newly created Northwest Territory. During The First Session of the Second Territorial General Assembly, held in Chillicothe from November 23, 1801 to January 23, 1802, the General Assembly passed an act establishing the "American Western University" at Athens. The act was approved by Arthur St. Clair, Governor of the Northwest Territory on January 9, 1802. However, no university with the name of American Western University would be established. Ohio became a state in 1803 and on February 18, 1804, the state legislature passed an act establishing the "Ohio University" in the town of Athens. Athens received city status in 1912, following the 1910 census showing the population had passed 5,000 residents, the requirement for city status in Ohio.

Originally, large tracts of land in Athens and Alexander Townships were set aside through a contract between the Congress (under the Articles of Confederation) and the Ohio Company of Associates, a group of American Revolutionary War veterans. These lands were given to Ohio University by the Federal government. This was the first federal land grant for a university, pre-dating the Morrill Act by more than 70 years. At first, lands were mostly leased out, but the failure of many lessors to pay their rents resulted in most of the land being sold. The sale of these lands funded the growth of Ohio University. Today it is one of the largest institutions of higher learning in Ohio, with an enrollment of over 19,000 on the Athens campus and over 28,000 for all campuses.

The earliest industry in the area was salt production, followed by iron production and coal extraction. Today, the largest employer in the county is Ohio University. In 1843, the Hocking Canal opened, enabling shipping from the Ohio River up the Hocking River, which passes through Athens, to Nelsonville, Ohio, and points beyond. However, the canal was closed during cold winters when it froze over.

The first railroad reached Athens in 1857. In the late 19th century, an interurban line opened between Athens and Nelsonville and operated for some years. The Athens Lunatic Asylum, then called the Athens State Hospital, opened in 1874. This was located on high ground to the south of town and to the south of the Hocking River. In the late 19th century the hospital was the town's largest employer. The state hospital was eventually decommissioned and the property was deeded to Ohio University. It is now known as The Ridges. Much of the building space has been renovated for offices and research space, and most of the grounds have been set aside as open space, including a land lab.

The University and in turn the City saw large growth during the post-World War Two era and again during the Vietnam War era. Growth slowed in the 1980s with small increases in growth into present times.


Hocking Athens
Hocking River valley facing Ohio University
Academic Hill
The Academine Hill at the city's center with its many university buildings

Athens is located in the unglaciated Allegheny Plateau. Athens is surrounded by hills that rise about three hundred feet from river valley to the narrow ridge tops. The county extends west from the Ohio River, mostly centered around the lower Hocking River watershed. According to the 2010 census, the city has a total area of 10.05 square miles (26.0 km2), of which 9.83 square miles (25.5 km2) (or 97.81%) is land and 0.22 square miles (0.57 km2) (or 2.19%) is water. Large sections of Athens and Ohio University are located in the floodplain of the Hocking River. Over the last two centuries the town suffered from many destructive floods, including notable floods in 1832, 1873, 1907, 1937, 1949, 1964 and 1968. In 1969 the Army Corps of Engineers completed a major work that rerouted and expanded the channel of the Hocking River, for a stretch of several miles around the town, moving the river hundreds of feet to the south. That project and the ongoing efforts to maintain the channel have greatly reduced the negative effects of seasonally high river levels.

Athens is located mostly on and around a south-jutting ridge bordered by a loop in the Hocking River. The underlying geology is mostly sandstone and shale, including "redbed" shale that presents a severe slip hazard when structures are built over it on hillsides. However, there are safe zones above sandstone beds, most notably the Connelsville Sandstone that outcrops high on the hillsides. The old Athens Mental Hospital grounds (now part of the university) was built on the top of a hillside in the late 1860s, and is completely stable due to its position atop the hill rather than on a slope. The recent University Courtyard Apartments is also built on similar underlying geology across a small valley, but the hilltop was extensively removed in order to create a stable base. The city receives all its water supply from wells in unconsolidated river aquifers, and is reputed to be the largest city in the United States to do so.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1810 578
1820 1,094 89.3%
1830 728 −33.5%
1840 710 −2.5%
1850 808 13.8%
1860 2,852 253.0%
1870 1,696 −40.5%
1880 2,457 44.9%
1890 2,620 6.6%
1900 3,066 17.0%
1910 5,463 78.2%
1920 6,418 17.5%
1930 7,252 13.0%
1940 7,696 6.1%
1950 11,660 51.5%
1960 16,470 41.3%
1970 23,310 41.5%
1980 19,801 −15.1%
1990 21,265 7.4%
2000 21,342 0.4%
2010 23,832 11.7%
2020 23,849 0.1%

2010 census

Downtown Athens OH USA
Court Street, the main street in Uptown Athens

As of the census of 2010, there were 23,832 people, 6,903 households, and 1,842 families residing in the city. The population density was 2,424.4 inhabitants per square mile (936.1/km2). There were 7,391 housing units at an average density of 751.9 per square mile (290.3/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 86.4% White, 4.4% African American, 0.2% Native American, 6.1% Asian, 0.6% from other races, and 2.3% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.4% of the population.

There were 6,903 households, of which 11.8% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 20.5% were married couples living together, 4.2% had a female householder with no husband present, 2.1% had a male householder with no wife present, and 73.3% were non-families. 33.8% of all households were made up of individuals, and 5% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.28 and the average family size was 2.74.

The median age in the city was 21.6 years. 5.8% of residents were under the age of 18; 67.6% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 14.4% were from 25 to 44; 7.9% were from 45 to 64; and 4.3% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 50.0% male and 50.0% female.


From the mid-1800s until the 1950s, coal and brick-making were major sources of employment in the county. They became a minor source after the best and most available coal had been extracted and cheaper brick-making became available outside the area. A former manufacturing company was the Midget Motors Corporation, makers of the small automobile, the King Midget.

Ohio University is the largest employer in Athens County. In addition to direct employment through the University, much of the local economy depends on tourism and events related to the University, through local restaurants, bars, stores and hotels. Manufacturing and technology related businesses, including Quidel Corporation (formerly Diagnostic Hybrids), Stewart-MacDonald, Sunpower, Fastenall, and Gorman-Redlich.

Since the 1970s Athens has earned a reputation as one of the more progressive (liberal) communities in Southeastern Ohio. That reputation includes Democratic political leaning, presence of some international communities, support for use of alternative energy, calling for 'smart growth' development, development of small farms emphasizing sustainable and organic-produced crops, and support for local businesses. The Athens Farmers Market is open year-round.

Court Street has a number of small to large student apartment buildings. Ohio University's main 'college green' entrance is located at Court & Union. The student center (John Calhoun Baker University Center) is at one end of Court Street. Several Athens shopping areas are located outside the uptown area; the largest is on East State Street with a small mall, several shopping strip centers, large box stores, car dealerships, hotels/motels and many local and national sit-down / fast food restaurants. On the north side of town is Columbus Road area with some shopping, car dealer, motels, eateries and office buildings. On the south side, Richland Avenue has large student housing apartment complexes. West Union St. has a hospital complex, some student housing and the county fairgrounds. A large fire in Nov. 2014 damaged or destroyed six buildings on West Union (near Court St). The buildings housed businesses and upper floor student apartments, no one was hurt in the fire with one business reopened for business in early 2015 and rebuilding on the sites started in the summer of 2015.

Museums and cultural events


Athens is home to the annual Halloween Block Party, a massive international spectacle that draws attention from news media across the world each year. Ohio University's citation as the world's most haunted institution of higher education by the British Psychical Institute; Athen's citation as one of the 10 most haunted American cities; and the annual Halloween celebration, have dually added to Athens' reputation as one of the 10 most terrifying places on Earth and the “The World Capital of Halloween.” Athens was vaunted as one of the top fifteen most haunted cities in America on the Fox Family Channel special "Scariest Places On Earth" that aired on October 23, 2000. Locals with knowledge of the history of The Ridges criticized the Fox portrayal as sensationalistic and misleading on details of the situation. The block party has welcomed more guests each year, and festivities and security have grown in it for that reason. The event caters to roughly 20,000 to 30,000 dressed up partygoers on four closed blocks of uptown streets.


  • Athens County Historical Society and Museum DBA The Southeast Ohio History Center: Historic items relating to life in Athens County
  • The Dairy Barn Arts Center: Contemporary arts and crafts.
  • Kennedy Museum of Art at Ohio University: Major collections include Southwest Native American textiles and jewelry. Contemporary prints.
  • Ohio Valley Museum of Discovery: Interactive children's center.

Annual festivals

  • Blackout Fest is held annually at The Union Bar & Grill and features many local, national, and international indie rock acts.
  • The Athens Community Music Festival is held each August and features dozens of local bands.
  • Concert "Under the Elms" is held on the OU College Green from June until early July with the 'Communviersity Band' (made up of OU faculty, students, alumni as well as community members)
  • The Ohio Brew Week has been held every year in Athens since 2006. It features the best of Ohio craft brews, a homebrew competition, and a wide variety of scheduled events.
  • The Hockhocking Folk Festival is held annually in May at Hocking College.
  • High Street Festival - student spring street party
  • Ark Fest and other student-organized festivals.
  • The Athens Area Sustainability Festival is held annually at the beginning of October at the Athens Fairgrounds; it began in 2001.
  • The Pawpaw Festival has been held annually since 1999 in September at Lake Snowden just southwest of Athens, near Albany.
  • The annual Boogie on the Bricks is a fast-growing, all-day event held in July.
  • For many years, an annual Springfest was held on the OU Campus. It was replaced by an annual event at Ervin's Big Red Barn (and field), a private "party-farm" just outside the city. Starting in 2004, Ohio University Seniors Dominic Petrozzi and Timothy Kehoe created One Fest. The festival name is changed each year to represent the number of years it has been held (for example, 2011 was 8Fest). As of 9 Fest, the event has been held at its new location on West Union St, just outside the campus. It has become one of the largest independent collegiate music festivals in the country, boasting previous performances by national recording artists such as Mike Posner, Machine Gun Kelly, Timeflies, Chip Tha Ripper, Wiz Khalifa, Kendrick Lamar, Steve Aoki and more. in 2008, the name of the festival was changed to "The Number Fest" with an updated "edition" for each year it takes place. Number Fest - 14th Edition will be held on April 16, 2016.
  • Athens DIY Fest (Do-It-Yourself Festival)
  • Palmerfest and other street parties attended by mainly university students.
  • Lobsterfest is an annual free concert hosted by the university's All Campus Radio Network.
  • Ohio University sponsors an annual Literary Festival every spring. The three-day festival began in 1986 and includes lectures and readings by visiting authors. Recent guests: Billy Collins, Amy Hempel, Marilynne Robinson, George Saunders, and Tobias Wolff.
  • Since 1983, the 970WATH-Power 105 Chili Bowl has been an annual event and each year raises money for a charity. Currently it takes place in October, at The Market on State.
  • Hookah in the hills, an annual festival held twice a year at Poston Lake Music Park in the Spring and Fall, featuring the Columbus-based band Ekoostik Hookah, as well as other local bands.
  • The annual Athens International Film and Video Festival is one of the few festivals that are on the official list of Academy Award-qualifying festivals.

Weekly events

  • Local, regional to national bands (groups) perform in up-town bars, clubs, coffee houses or in performing centers in the Athens area.

Parks and recreation

Athens recreation facilities include a community recreation center, several city parks and play grounds, public gardens, soccer fields, an arts center called Arts West, two off-leash enclosed dog parks, and an extensive scenic trail system in the city lands, adjacent Strouds Run State Park, and the Blair Preserve owned by the Athens Conservancy. The Athens Skate Park is the second largest skate park in Ohio. The City of Athens Ohio Community Recreation center offers programming in athletics, childcare, sports camps, community events and more. Located in the East State Street area, the center is accessible from the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway. Recreation facilities include an outdoor swimming pool, a skate park, fitness equipment, an indoor walking and running track, event rental facilities, and playgrounds. The Arts, Parks and Recreation Department actively supports a variety of community recreation initiatives. It sponsors adult summer and fall slow-pitch softball that is popular among residents in Athens and the county. The recreation department has organized men's, women's, and co-ed leagues, although the co-ed leagues have seen strongest participation in recent years. Soccer leagues are organized year round, with programs offered through the Community Recreation Center, Ohio University and the Athens Soccer Academy. Youth sports, such as soccer leagues, summer camps and little league, are also supported by local residents. Programming for the arts are facilitated through Arts West, the Dairy Barn, and Ohio University. Strouds Run State Park is located just outside the city, bordering the city line. This park features 2,606 acres (10.55 km2) of wooded hills, including many bluffs and rock shelters, centered around a man-made lake. Camping is available. The City of Athens has recently established the Strouds Ridge Preserve project, currently including some 345 acres (140 ha), to save land from development adjacent to the state park. This preserve includes an 85-acre (340,000 m²) old-growth forest known as "Hawk Woods", or, more formally, the Dale & Jacki Riddle State Nature Preserve. Also adjacent to the state park is the 75-acre (300,000 m2) Blair Preserve, owned by the Athens Conservancy.

The Hockhocking Adena Bikeway is a multi-use asphalt trail with its main hub (mile marker 0) at the Athens Community Center on East State Street. The trail extends 16.4 miles (26.4 km) northwest to Robbins' Crossing and Hocking College in Nelsonville and on to the Rocky Brands complex near the Public Square, and approximately 1.5 miles (2.4 km) further east along East State Street to Holzer Clinic. Construction currently underway will extend the trail farther in this direction. Access points with parking are located at mile 4 at the West State Street Park, mile 10.2 off Rt. 682 in The Plains, and mile 16.4 at Robbins' Crossing and Hocking College. The trail, which generally follows the course of the Hocking River, provides access to the East State Street commercial areas, Ohio University's campus (at South Green and Peden Stadium), The Plains, and Hocking College. It is designed for walking, running, biking, cross-country skiing, skating, and wheelchairs. Additionally several city streets are marked as bike lanes.

Sells lookout
Sells Park Lookout


The Athens Trail Network is a multi-use trail network branching out from Sells' City Park at the end of Avon Place. A series of twelve trails and connectors branch out into the surrounding woods, heading eastwards to eventually connect with the trails of Strouds Run State Park. The trails are designed for hiking, running, and biking, although some sections are off-limits to bicycles. The trails provide scenic views of the East State Street commercial area and travel past and through notable features such as Sells Pond, Riddle State Nature Preserve (also known as Hawk Woods), Boulder Cove, Turtlehead Cave (also known as Blue Ash Rockhouse), Finger Rock, Pioneer Cemetery, and Dow Lake at Strouds Run State Park. The trail network is maintained by community and university volunteers.


Athens OH 1st Presby PHS850
City Hall and the First Presbyterian Church on a pre-1923 postcard

Ohio University is a public university located in Athens (30,000+ students) that is situated on an 1,800-acre (7.3 km2) campus. Founded in 1804, it is the oldest university in Ohio, oldest in the Northwest Territory, and ninth oldest public university in the United States. Known as the Bobcats, Ohio University hosts over 250 academic programs, 5,300 employees, and has been recognized by the John Templeton Foundation as one of the top character building institutions in the country. In addition to its main campus in Athens, Ohio University also operates regional campuses in Chillicothe, Cleveland, Dublin, Ironton (Ohio University - Southern), Lancaster, Pickerington, Proctorville, St. Clairsville (Ohio University - Eastern), and Zanesville.

Outside of Ohio University, the residents of Athens are served by the Athens City School District, founded in the late 1840s, made up of five elementary buildings: Pre-K (Chauncey), K-6 (East, Morrison-Gordon, The Plains & West), a Middle School (grades 7-8) and Athens High School home of the 'Bulldogs'. A large tax levy was passed in 2018 to demolish and reconstruct East, Morrison, and the high school. The Plains Elementary & Athens Middle School will be renovated. When complete, West will be closed.

On the city's east side, Athens has a public library, a branch of the Athens County Public Libraries.


Athens to Nelsonville on bike path - panoramio
Hockhocking Adena Bikeway from Athens to Nelsonville


Railroad came to the city in the 1850s, with the last passenger train ending in the early 1980s. That left a few freight trains passing near the city. The first 4-lane road into and out of the city came in the early 1970s. SR 32 from Athens to Cincinnati was completed in the early 80's. Four lanes from Athens to Belpre/Parkersburg was completed in the late 1990s on US-50, SR-32 & 7 hooking up with I-77. In the early 2000s, SR-33 'Super-2' highway was complete, linking Athens to I-77 at Ravenswood, WVa. In October 2013, the last section of the 4-lane highway was completed, bypassing Nelsonville's two lane road on SR-33, linking Athens with Columbus.

Ohio University has a modern regional airport about 15 miles southwest of the city near Albany off US-50/SR-32 called Gordon K. Bush Airport. The runway is just over 5,000 feet long with landing system, lighting and hangars.

Athens has a public bus system which is free to OU students & staff and at a reduced price for seniors & school age students. It has several routes inside the city and one to The Plains. OU has a bus system that links with a city bus system. Many student apartment complexes have their own bus shuttle. Athens also has an inter-city bus line from Athens to Columbus, Cincinnati, Marietta, Ohio, and Cleveland running twice a day with stops in-between.

Notable people

  • Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals quarterback and 2019 Heisman Trophy winner for the LSU Tigers
  • Earl Cranston, bishop in the Methodist Episcopal Church
  • Joe Dolce, musician and poet
  • Eilaf Egap, chemist and professor
  • Dow Finsterwald, professional golfer best known for winning the 1958 PGA Championship
  • Israel Moore Foster, U.S. representative from Ohio
  • Atul Gawande, surgeon who has written extensively on medicine and public health
  • Kevin Hartman, professional soccer player
  • David Hostetler, sculptor
  • Elizabeth Orpha Sampson Hoyt (1828–1912), philosopher, author, lecturer
  • Stephen Kappes, Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency during the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations
  • John Lefelhocz, artist and quilter
  • Maya Lin, architect and designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
  • Jon Loomis, poet and writer
  • Sandy Plunkett, comic book artist
  • Fred Swearingen, NFL referee
  • Art Tripp, percussionist noted for his work with Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart, among others
  • David Wilhelm, chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 1993 to 1994
  • Jane Corner Young, composer
  • Skeletonwitch, an American metal band

Images for kids

See also

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