At Home On The Ohio Riviera

The Girl from the House Across the Street

Peggy Proudfoot Harman

Lawrence County Ohio was established in the early 1800s by a handful of pioneer farmers, many of them from the same families traveling in groups from Virginia and other states. To this day, these names can be found throughout Lawrence County and in the City of Ironton in positions of standing. They provided the foundation for a city that has stood the test of time. The names Campbell, Briggs, and Payne are names that are especially well known in these parts, among a host of Lawrence Countians who have left their legacies here,_Ohio

An Ohio River town, history tells us that Ironton was formally established in 1848 as a center of trade In Lawrence County following the boom of iron and coal mining.  The extraction of natural resources brought with it great wealth and a trove of services and goods. By the early 1900s Ironton had several newspaper offices, churches, and three banks, was the home of the largest blast furnace in the world, the richest woman in the world, and the only “known American female ironmaster” -  Nanny Kelly Wright… “Ironton is an industrial city that pioneered in helping to build the nation with iron, nails, lumber, brick and cement”

I arrived in Ironton Ohio, which is the epicenter, the of the Ohio Riviera, toward the end of the last century with two young children in tow. I was an adventurer and had been in Alaska working as a social worker for several years and my daughters were growing up quickly. I decided that the need for them to know their family outweighed my need for adventure so when given the opportunity to move to an area several hours drive to my hometown in West Virginia I accepted. 

When our family rented a house built in the early 1900s on a street that could have provided the backdrop to Thornton Wilder’s 1938 play “Our Town” I made a mental note of the beauty of the treelined streets many of which were made of brick. Ironton looked exactly as I pictured Grover’s Corners New Hampshire looked on a May morning in 1901. Our house stood directly opposite a home that was built in the same era as our house and luckily was the home of another girl around the same age as my oldest daughter. I was very aware that many of the kids on our block and “our town” were related and had grown up together and knew that school would not be an easy adjustment for my newcomer daughters, so I was grateful that they had neighbors their ages. As I began to know the families in Ironton the similarities of the Webb and Gibbs families from “Our Town” to some of our neighbors was remarkable. For those of you who are not familiar, “Our Town” follows the lives of several families from 1901-1913 with a focus on the relationship between Emily Webb and George Gibbs from childhood to adulthood. Although I watched many of those kinds of relationships, this story has a particular focus on my oldest daughter and the neighbor in the house across the street. 

As it turned out, the houses of my daughter and the neighbor in the house across the street were situated in such a fashion that the two girls could literally talk to one another out of their respective windows. Our family was small and primarily located in West Virginia. My daughter would often talk about how her friend across the street was so fortunate to have her grandparents and cousins within walking distance. Her friend was a firecracker, blonde with an infectious laugh, she regularly pulled pranks on everyone and especially enjoyed telling my daughter how her family had locked her sister in their attic and would not let her out. My daughter was sure this was true no matter what I told her and spent at least the better part of a summer worrying about how to set the hidden away sister free. Although not easy, my daughter managed to adjust to Ironton life. Throughout the years I watched my daughter and her friend from the house across the street engage in everyday life – study, school plays, sports, dances, graduations, weddings, and funerals and the simple act of walking home from school. Both Grover’s Corners and Ironton have the foundation of human traditions and the comforting dependability of a town that has withstood the test of time. Football is one of those dependable comforts in Ironton as well as the oldest continual Memorial Day Parade in the United States. Another observation of life during those years was the care and concern of many of the teachers in the area. The father of the girl in the house across the street was for many years the city superintendent of schools and would write personal notes to those students who made the honor roll. To this day, I have saved those notes filled with words of encouragement. 

My daughter married a cousin of the girl from the house across the street and the two celebrated many events together including family vacations and each other’s weddings (which were, oddly enough on the same dates years apart). In Ironton as in Grover’s Corners, the dependability of tradition and place are always overshadowed by the ebb and flow of birth and death and the rapid passage of time. The moral of the story is that we often do not appreciate the transient beauty of everyday life.  So just as in Grover’s Corners, our town of Ironton witnessed the rapid passage of time and grieved the untimely passing of the girl from the house across the street. 

Several years later, I received a call in June, well after midnight from my son-in-law and cousin of the girl from the house across the street – “she’s here” he said – I noted the excitement in his voice – her name is “June Allison” he said.  Of course, I knew immediately that she was the namesake of the girl from the house across the street and now carries on her legend and the heritage of the pioneer Payne family on the Ohio Rivera.

At Home On The Ohio Riviera

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At Home On The Ohio Riviera The Girl from the House Across the Street Peggy Proudfoot Harman Lawrence County Ohio was established in the ear...