New Straitsville, Ohio - A past full of secrecy, mystery and . . . bootlegging.
Start with a bunch of miners fed up with their meager wages who literally lit their town on fire, add in a few ardent bootleggers keen on outrunning the police and then throw in one of Ohio's most notorious horse thieves and what do you get? You've got just a few of the colorful characters who made up the town of New Straitsville, Ohio in the past century and a half.
Our recipe sounds like an old whodunit novel. But in fact, New Straitsville, Ohio has more than its share of excitement in its time. In the mid 1800s, the region was home to the handsome, if not disreputable, Shepherd Tinker. Shep, as he liked to be called, had a fondness for stealing horses from farmers all over the region, hiding them in a cave tucked into his property and selling them in Sandusky, Ohio. He was said to have stolen more than 4000 horses in his time and even aided a rogue group of Confederate soldiers called Morgan's Raiders during the Civil War by giving them stolen horses. You can visit Shep's cave off Coal Road near New Straitsville. It is in Wayne National Forest. Oh, by the way, the cave is said to be haunted by Shep and the stolen horses so be careful if you do.
If you take a few steps forward in time, you'll find New Straitsville caught up in some of the earliest labor union strikes. In fact, it has been called the unofficial birthplace of the United Mine Workers.
the early 1870s, the town of
Life was difficult in the early mining communities. It was a company town. Everything including those who worked in it were owned by the New Straitsville Mining Company. Homes were nothing more than tiny shanties Wages were low. Workers had little choice but to buy their food and supplies from the overpriced company stores.
There seemed to never be enough money so they owed and owed and owed. If that wasn’t enough, working in the mines was dangerous – there were rock falls and tunnel collapses quite often. Wages were meager, barely covering enough for food for the families, much less any extra comforts.
If it wasn’t family pride keeping the workers there, it was the constant poverty. Most early miners were born into their trade. At an early age, they began to work and were not given the option of an education higher grade school. Fathers and sons worked side by side. But there is a breaking point for everyone. From the very start of the town, labor organizing meetings were held by different organizations. They needed a place close to town, large enough to house a large number of men and one that was hidden from view. A perfect place was found just outside town in a recess cave – Robinson’s Cave.
For years, meetings were held at the cave. In 1884, fed up with the working conditions and a cut in wages, miners filled coal cars with wood, soaked them with kerosene oil and pushed them into the mines. The fire caught in the coal seam deep below the earth where the men had been working before the strike, but was not discovered until nearly a week later. The fire ended coal mining activity there in 1884. The fire still burns today and it is said that nearly two hundred square miles has burned.
Historically, New Straitsville is not only known for its fight for miners' rights, but also as the Moonshine capital of the world! During prohibition, many of the ex-coal miners from the town concealed hundreds of moonshine stills in the recess caves, abandoned mines, hollows and hillsides around New Straitsville. You can relive this part of New Straitsville's past each Memorial Day weekend at the annual moonshine festival!
Places to Visit in New Straitsville:
New Straitsville History Center - 200 West Main Street, New Straitsville, Ohio. Multiple exhibits to tell of the town's rich history which includes mining, oil, and moon shining booms that are world renowned. Call Connie Dunkle for current hours at 740-394-2535.
New Straitsville Annual Moonshine Festival - The Moonshine Festival celebrates New Straitsville's reputation of making Moonshine (an alcoholic beverage) in the 1930's. New Straitsville was known from New York to California and even places over seas as "The Wet Capitol of Ohio." Location: New Straitsville, OH Phone: 740-394-2838
Robinson's Cave - Take an historical step back in time at this outdoor museum documenting the coal miner labor strikes. You can even walk into the same cave the strikers met in secrecy to discuss the strike.
Directions to New Straitsville:
39° 34' 52.76? N,
82° 14' 8.17? W
It is situated at the intersection of Ohio State Routes 93, 216 and 595.
From Logan, Ohio, take State Route 93 North approximately 11.4 miles. Turn right on to Main Street.