Reading about the upcoming relocation of the Gallia County Historical Society to a site across from the Gallipolis City Park prompts some thought that an organization like the GCHS is a necessary ingredient in the community. Why, you may ask? Because without a historical foundation to reference, how can we look forward? No doubt there are those individuals who would plan for the future without consideration of the past. But by forgetting where we came from and how our communities originated, we ignore the qualities that make our area unique.
The GCHS is moving from a historic location in Gallipolis’ downtown that once housed the Davis-Shuler Co. retail operation to a site that also serves as a reminder of the community’s heritage. “With this day and age, nonprofits are having a hard time making it,” GCHS volunteer Mary Lee Marchi said. “So we felt it was time to downsize.” The organization may be moving into a smaller space, but the treasures to be found within are not diminished.
I approach this from an admittedly prejudiced view because I’ve always been a history buff. The more I came to know about this region as I settled in, the more I wanted to know about its history. Working at a newspaper was a great way to collect chunks of reference to various past events that helped shape the area. I already knew something of the major historical events coming in to my new job duties after being a college student. But after hearing people talk about things that I didn’t understand, I’d ask questions of Hobart Wilson Jr., our executive editor at Ohio Valley Publishing, and “Peeps: A Gallipolis Diary” author J. Sherman Porter, among others, just to get some kind of clue to how what happened 30 or 40 years ago related to today’s issue of local interest.
Delving into the microfilm files when time allowed was also a great help. When the Ohio River reached flood stage, the well-worn typewritten table of how high the water level got to at Gallipolis in the past usually came out for comparison’s sake. Hey, what can I say? Readers wanted to know.
The desire to see what local history was remains strong, given the anticipation surrounding April’s publication of a new history of the University of Rio Grande for Arcadia Publishing’s “Images of America” series. The volume is co-authored by Dr. Ivan Tribe and Jake Bapst, scholars whose longtime association with the institution speak to an understanding of its role in area heritage. As with other Arcadia books, in which Point Pleasant and Mason County as well as other communities have been well represented, photos are the main attraction for showing us what existed before and now, and for stirring memories for those folks who remember long-ago events and activities. Area history also shines in the work of Rio Grande faculty member Dr. Sam Wilson in his recently-published “Bill Lambert: World War I Flying Ace,” the biography of an Ironton native who left an impressive record in the first conflict where aerial supremacy mattered.
Having and preserving an archive of such photos, along with publications and memorabilia, is so critical and deserving of the public’s support and patronage, be it the GCHS, Gallia County Genealogical Society, Meigs County Historical Society, the Point Pleasant River Museum, the Mothman Museum or our local public libraries.
At the close of his 1901 study of Gallipolis’s early days, “The French Five Hundred,” William G. Sibley quoted a future president, Woodrow Wilson, in summing up the significance of looking back: “A spot of local history is like an inn on a highway: it is a stage upon a far journey: it is a place the national history has passed through.”
Kevin Kelly, who was affiliated with Ohio Valley Publishing for 21 years, resides in Vinton, Ohio.