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Ironton is a city in and the county seat of Lawrence County, Ohio, United States. Located in southernmost Ohio along the Ohio River, 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.
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. He chose the location of Ironton because of its site along the Ohio River, which would allow for water transport of iron ore to markets downriver. He knew that the slope of the land would aid in transport of the raw material to the local blast furnaces.
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. Ironton was also known for its accommodating attitude toward sin and vice associated with the mine and ironworkers. It was home to a racetrack, numerous saloons, and brothels. Numerous chapels offered "quick and quiet" marriages.
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.
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. All of the easily accessible iron had been mined by 1899, and the continued production costs began to outweigh the benefit. 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.)
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.
Ironton is located at 38°31′51″N 82°40′42″W (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.
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.
As of the census of 2000, there were 11,211 people, 4,906 households, and 3,022 families residing in the city. The population density was 2,711.3 people per square mile (1,048.1/km²). There were 5,507 housing units at an average density of 1,331.8 per square mile (514.8/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 93.33% White, 5.24% African American, 0.09% Native American, 0.25% Asian, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 0.09% from other races, and 0.99% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 0.51% of the population.
There were 4,906 households out of which 25.9% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 43.6% were married couples living together, 14.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 38.4% were non-families. 35.3% of all households were made up of individuals and 18.0% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.22 and the average family size was 2.85.
In the city the population was spread out with 21.8% under the age of 18, 7.9% from 18 to 24, 24.6% from 25 to 44, 24.5% from 45 to 64, and 21.2% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 42 years. For every 100 females, there were 82.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 77.0 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $23,585, and the median income for a family was $35,014. Males had a median income of $31,702 versus $24,190 for females. The per capita income for the city was $15,391. About 17.2% of families and 23.1% of the population were below the poverty line, including 32.4% of those under age 18 and 17.0% of those age 65 or over.
The city is managed by a seven-member city council, the current members of which include Chairman Craig Harvey, Bob Cleary, Beth Rist, Dave Frazer, Kevin Waldo, Rich Blankenship, and Chuck O'Leary. The elected mayor is Katrina Keith.
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.
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 state-of-the-art facilities.
Portions outside of the Ironton city limits are served by the Rock Hill Local School District. The district has an Ironton mailing address.
Ironton has a public library, a branch of Briggs Lawrence County Public Library.
River Valley Health System (formerly known as Lawrence County General Hospital) operated a hospital in Ironton from 1937-2001. Since River Valley's closing, the closest inpatient facility to the city of Ironton is Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital in Russell, Kentucky. In 2012, St. Mary's Medical Center in Huntington, West Virginia, in cooperation with the Ironton-Lawrence County Area Community Action Organization, opened its Ironton campus which includes a free-standing emergency department, imaging services and lab services. There are also both ground ambulances and a helipad on-site so patients can receive emergency treatment at this facility and then can be transferred, if needed, to Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital, St. Mary's main campus in Huntington or other facilities in Huntington, Ashland, Kentucky or Portsmouth, Ohio.
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