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Ironton, Ohio
City of Ironton
Ironton, as seen across the Ohio River in Russell, Kentucky
Ironton, as seen across the Ohio River in Russell, Kentucky
Location in Lawrence County and the State of Ohio
Location in Lawrence County and the State of Ohio
Country United States
State Ohio
County Lawrence
Founded 1849
 • City 4.46 sq mi (11.54 km2)
 • Land 4.16 sq mi (10.78 km2)
 • Water 0.30 sq mi (0.77 km2)
551 ft (168 m)
 • City 11,129
 • Estimate 
 • Density 2,531.12/sq mi (977.30/km2)
 • Metro
Time zone UTC-5 (EST)
 • Summer (DST) UTC-4 (EDT)
ZIP code
Area code(s) 740
FIPS code 39-37464
GNIS feature ID 1076122

Ironton is a city in and the county seat of Lawrence County, Ohio, United States. Located in southernmost Ohio along the Ohio River 20 miles (32 km) northwest of Huntington, West Virginia, the city includes the Downtown Ironton Historic District.

The population was 11,129 at the 2010 census. Ironton is part of the Huntington-Ashland, WV-KY-OH, Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). As of the 2010 census, the MSA had a population of 287,702. New definitions from February 28, 2013, placed the population at 363,000.

Ironton is a contraction of "iron town." The city has a long history with the iron industry. It also had one of the first professional football teams.


Lawrence County, Ohio Courthouse
The Lawrence County, Ohio courthouse in Ironton, Ohio

Ironton was founded in 1849 by John Campbell, a prominent pig iron manufacturer in the area. Interested in expanding his foundry business, and due to the area's rich iron-ore content (particularly in the hills to the north), he became interested in the lands surrounding what would later become the city of Ironton.

Between 1850 and 1890, Ironton was one of the foremost producers of iron in the world. England, France, and Russia all purchased iron for warships from here due to the quality. Iron produced here was used for the USS Monitor, the United States' first ironclad ship. More than ninety furnaces were operating at the peak of production in the late 19th century. Owners and managers who gained wealth from the pig-iron industry constructed many opulent residences in the city.

The iron industry generated revenues that were invested in new industries, such as soap and nail production. The Detroit, Toledo and Ironton Railroad was constructed through two states, carrying iron to Henry Ford's automaking plants in Michigan. The city had a street railway, the Ironton Petersburg Street Railway, four daily newspapers and a few foreign-language publications.

Underground Railroad and Civil War

With its location on the Ohio River, Ironton became a destination on the Underground Railroad for refugee slaves seeking freedom in the North. John Campbell and some other city leaders sheltered slaves in their homes during their journeys.

During the American Civil War, local military regiments were mustered, quartered, and trained at Camp Ironton, a military post located at the county fairgrounds. Among them was the 91st Ohio Infantry, which was organized at Camp Ironton on August 26, 1862.

Changing economics of iron industry

The downfall of Ironton came as the market for iron changed. The quality of the iron that had once made Ironton one of the leading producers of pig iron was no longer considered as desirable. Also, the nation was making the transition from a demand for iron to steel. After a nationwide economic recession in the late 19th century, Ironton was no longer growing.

The Norfolk and Western Railway built a new railroad station downtown in 1906, and it continued in operation into the mid-20th century. Two major floods (1917, 1937) caused extensive damage to the city and its industries. The second flood came during the Great Depression; together with the shift in the iron industry, it devastated the city. The iron industry declined, affecting other industries as well. As the iron industries closed, Ironton had little with which to replace them.

An industrial city, Ironton worked to attract other heavy industry to the region. Companies such as Allied Signal and Alpha Portland Cement did build in town. The region has had difficulty creating an alternate economy. By 2004, both Alpha Portland Cement and Allied Signal were gone, and Ironton had shrunk by nearly 30% from its peak population in 1950. (See US Census table below.)

Professional football & Thanksgiving Day Football tradition

Ironton had one of the first professional football teams in the United States, called the Ironton Tanks. The team was organized in 1919 and played through 1930. It earned a record of 85 wins, 19 losses, 14 ties, including an undefeated season in 1922, a state championship in 1926, and dual victories in 1930 over National Football League (NFL) powerhouses the Chicago Bears and New York Giants. The football field previously used by the Tanks is now home to the Ironton High School Football team, the Ironton Fighting Tigers.

The Tanks began what is now the National Football League's Thanksgiving Day Game tradition of the Detroit Lions. The Tanks played a game in 1920 the day after Thanksgiving with the Lombards, a crosstown rival, winning 26-0. In 1922, they played and defeated the Huntington Boosters 12-0 on Thanksgiving Day, Nov 30. The Tanks continued playing on this national holiday each year thru 1930, which was the Tanks final season. Several Tank players (including Glenn Presnell) continued their football careers by joining the nearby Portsmouth Spartans, who continued the annual tradition until their demise after the 1933 season.

The Spartans' assets were acquired by businessman G.A. Richards and moved to Detroit, where they were renamed the Lions. Asked by Richards about ways to improve ticket sales, the players replied that they always got a good turnout on Thanksgiving Day. He promptly scheduled the first Thanksgiving Day game in Detroit.

Geography and climate

Ironton is located at 38°31′51″N 82°40′42″W / 38.53083°N 82.67833°W / 38.53083; -82.67833 (38.530720, -82.678309).

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 4.46 square miles (11.55 km2), of which 4.16 square miles (10.77 km2) is land and 0.30 square miles (0.78 km2) is water.

Ironton is located within the northern limits of a humid subtropical climate (Koppen Cfa) which is typical of southern Ohio and northern Kentucky. The region experiences four distinct seasons. Winters are cool to cold with mild periods and summers are generally hot and humid, with significant precipitation year round. Ironton is largely transitional in its plant life, sharing traditionally northern trees like the blue spruce along with Magnolia and the occasional Needle Palm from the Upland South.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1860 3,691
1870 5,686 54.1%
1880 8,857 55.8%
1890 10,939 23.5%
1900 11,868 8.5%
1910 13,147 10.8%
1920 14,007 6.5%
1930 16,021 14.4%
1940 15,851 −1.1%
1950 16,333 3.0%
1960 15,745 −3.6%
1970 15,030 −4.5%
1980 14,178 −5.7%
1990 12,751 −10.1%
2000 11,211 −12.1%
2010 11,129 −0.7%
2019 (est.) 10,532 −5.4%

2010 census

As of the census of 2010, there were 11,129 people, 4,817 households, and 2,882 families residing in the city. The population density was 2,675.2 inhabitants per square mile (1,032.9/km2). There were 5,382 housing units at an average density of 1,293.8 per square mile (499.5/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 92.6% White, 4.7% African American, 0.2% Native American, 0.3% Asian, 0.1% from other races, and 2.1% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 0.5% of the population.

There were 4,817 households, of which 28.1% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 39.0% were married couples living together, 15.3% had a female householder with no husband present, 5.5% had a male householder with no wife present, and 40.2% were non-families. 35.9% of all households were made up of individuals, and 16.2% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.23, and the average family size was 2.87.

The median age in the city was 42.1 years. 21.1% of residents were under the age of 18; 8.6% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 23.8% were from 25 to 44; 27.1% were from 45 to 64; and 19.2% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 47.1% male and 52.9% female.

Downtown Historic District

The Downtown Ironton Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places listings in Lawrence County, Ohio on January 8, 2009, It includes portions of 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, Center Streets, Park Avenue, Vernon Street, and Bobby Bare Boulevard. The district includes Early Commercial architecture and Modern architecture representing periods from 1850 through 1974. The buildings serve commercial trade, government, social, and transportation industries, and include businesses, City Hall, financial institutions, meeting halls, United States Post Office buildings, professional service buildings and railrioad industry-related structures.


Annual cultural events and fairs

Name Location Date Description
Charity Fair St. Joseph Central Catholic High School Memorial Day This involves carnival games, crafts, inflatable rides, food, and musical acts.
Gus Macker Tournament Late May, Early June
Ironmaster Days Downtown
Ironton-Lawrence County Memorial Day Parade Downtown Memorial Day The nation's oldest continuously running Memorial Day parade, it has been a tradition since 1868. The first parade was held May 5, 1868 by order of Major General John A. Logan, commander of the Grand Army of the Republic in honor of the soldiers who died fighting the Civil War. The parade has 12 separate divisions and draws tens of thousands per year .
Rally On the River Mid-August A yearly motorcycle event.
Lion's Club Christmas Parade End of November or beginning of December


There are three public and one private elementary schools, one public and one private high schools, and a regional university campus in Ironton. One non-traditional school also serves the city. The public city schools recently completed the building of new facilities.

School Grade Description
Ironton High School 9-12 Sole public high school for the city; houses grades 9–12.
Ironton Middle School 6-8 Opened in 2009. Ironton City School District.
Ironton Elementary School K-5 Opened in 2009. Ironton City School District.
Saint Joseph Central High School 7-12 Private, Catholic junior high & high school; smallest school in Ohio
Saint Lawrence Central Elementary School K-6 Private, Catholic kindergarten & elementary school
Lawrence County Board of MR/DD Open Door School All Serves the educational needs all of Lawrence County's MR/DD citizens.
Ohio University Southern Campus Post-secondary The largest branch of Ohio University

Ironton has a public library, a branch of Briggs Lawrence County Public Library.

Notable people

  • Coy Bacon, pro football player
  • Bobby Bare, country music singer
  • Ritter Collett, Dayton sportswriter, winner of Spink Award from baseball's Hall of Fame
  • Terry Enyart, baseball player
  • Ken Fritz, football player
  • Harlan Hatcher, eighth president of the University of Michigan
  • Elza Jeffords, member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Mississippi, born in Ironton in 1826
  • Joseph Kimball (1836-1909), Civil War recipient of the Medal of Honor
  • William C. Lambert, achieved the second highest air victory totals for an American flying ace in the war with 21.
  • Bob Lutz, former football head coach, all-time winningest coach in Ohio high school football with 381 wins and two state championships in 1979 and 1989
  • W. Terry McBrayer, Kentucky state legislature and politician
  • Clint McElroy, podcaster, comic book writer, radio personality
  • Butch Miles, legendary jazz drummer
  • William Henry Powell (1825-1904), Civil War recipient of the Medal of Honor; born in Wales and entered service in Ironton Powell managed the Iron works at Lawrence, Ohio.
  • Gardner Rea, cartoonist
  • James Ancil Shipton, senior US Army officer
  • Kelli Sobonya, politician
  • Marion Tinsley (1927-1995), mathematician and checkers player; widely considered the greatest player of all time.
  • Terry Waldo, pianist, bandleader and ragtime musician

See also

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