Best Hometowns 2013–2014: Logan
Logan offers family-friendly neighborhoods and access to natural beauty.
Year founded: 1816
Location: Hocking County, 50 miles southeast of Columbus
Size: 4.9 square miles
Local Flavor: The Pencil Sharpener Museum — a collection of more than 3,400 unique pencil sharpeners assembled by the late Rev. Paul Johnson — is on display at the Hocking Hills Regional Welcome Center.
The Columbus Washboard Company’s production floor looks as if it were transported from a different time, and in some ways it was. Factory manager James Martin points out a century-old saw that still cuts with precision. A few minutes later, he demonstrates a museum-worthy 1926 box-stitching machine.
That’s not to say modern touches haven’t found their way into the small factory’s handmade production process. Hammers have given way to nail guns and new, more efficient saws have replaced older ones. Still, the tidy space evokes a bygone era while making merchandise that is a carryover from it.
“A lot of people are getting back to traditional methods,” says Martin, who adds there is still a market for washboards. “People want to buy something that’s made in the USA and that’s going to last.”
The small business, which offers factory tours and has a charming adjoining gift shop, caters to musicians, campers, crafters and those who simply want a backup for their washing machine. A Washboard Music Festival is held every Father’s Day Weekend and draws thousands of people downtown.
America’s last remaining washboard manufacturer moved to Logan in 1999, after the 118-year-old company was sold to new owners. Martin moved from London, England, four years ago to become a business partner in the operation.
“I fell in love with the town, I fell in love with the weather, I fell in love with the traffic — as in, there is no traffic,” he says. “Living here has been a life-changing experience. I feel much more free.”
Logan was originally built on the coal and iron ore industries in the 1800s and then buoyed by clay and brick production a century later. That history is evident in the striking stone churches and Victorian-era homes that dot the town. A self-guided walking tour helps visitors locate dozens of architectural treasures, such as the 1853 Immanuel United Methodist Church and lumber king J.J. Snyder’s 1906 home.
Today, the city faces many of the same challenges other southeast Ohio towns do in the face of dwindling manufacturing jobs and a tough economy. But its solid schools — the Logan-Hocking Local School District received an “excellent” rating on the state’s 2011–2012 School Year Report Card — and beautiful public library are clear reflections of what the community holds dear.
Ever since it was founded in 1816, Logan has benefitted from its location along the Hocking River, but Mayor J. Martin Irvine, who took office in January 2012, sees the town’s proximity to the Hocking Hills as one of the biggest assets to its future. The hulking rock formations, thick forests, secluded trails and comfy cabins that lie just south of Logan’s border draw around 3 million visitors to the region each year.
Attractions such as the Logan Antique Mall and Olde Dutch Restaurant along state Route 664 are already popular stops for travelers. But Irvine now wants to bring those visitors to downtown Logan by embracing new businesses that offer a dose of small-town civilization to outdoor adventurers. Utopia, a wood-fired-oven-and-craft-beer spot, is set to open along West Main Street, and a new locally owned Mexican restaurant is in the works.
“I’ve been trying to help people change their minds about how things can be done,” says Irvine, who grew up in Logan before moving away as an adult to work 30 years in the community- and economic-development fields. “Just because something didn’t work 20 years ago, doesn’t mean it can’t work today.”
It’s no coincidence that a quote attributed to Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw is taped to the corner of a cabinet behind Irvine’s desk. The mayor recites it as if on cue: “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”