Best Hometowns 2013: Gallipolis

Every year, Ohio Magazine honors five communities across the state for their livability, as measured by education, parks and recreation, arts and entertainment offerings, services and, most important, citizen involvement. The 2013 Best Hometowns meet and surpass these criteria. In the following pages, you'll get a glimpse of Findlay, Gallipolis, Greenville, Grove City and Peninsula — and some of their proud residents.


Year founded: 1790
Location: Gallia County, 50 miles southwest of Marietta
Population: 3,641
Size: 3.8 square miles
Type of government: City manager and five-member city commission

Bob Hood knows how to knock a visitor’s socks off.

He points his Jeep up the nearly vertical driveway to Fortification Hill and on toward the sky. It’s where Union artillery once kept watch over the Ohio River Valley, and where the Gallia County Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director likes to begin every tour of his hometown, Gallipolis.

The hilltop picnic area and adjoining Mound Hill Cemetery offer breathtaking, bird’s-eye views of the Ohio River — with downtown Gallipolis on one side and pastoral West Virginia farmland on the other. Massive barges look like bathtub toys as they float gracefully through the bends in the big river.

“I think it’s the prettiest view in all of Southeast Ohio,” Hood says.

If you’re looking for a laid-back, down-home vibe, you’ll find it in Gallipolis — but don’t let its clever disguise as a sleepy river town fool you. Its frontier heritage, culture and entrepreneurial spirit make The Old French City a rewarding place to live — or to tie up your raft at the downtown dock for a visit.

Founded by French immigrants in 1790, Gallipolis is the second-oldest settlement in the Northwest Territory. The French aristocrat and Revolutionary War hero Gen. Marquis de Lafayette himself visited in 1825 — and, luckily for us, forgot his jacket. Today it’s on display at the Our House museum along with many fine pieces of early Americana.

The heart of Gallipolis is its sycamore-filled public square, City Park. Framed on three sides by stately brick homes and storefronts, its remaining side offers a clear view of the Ohio River. Public access for boaters is just down the bank from the square. Anglers can find a fishing tournament there just about every summer weekend.

City Park hosts everything from car shows to the annual River Recreation Festival, a four-day Fourth of July celebration. This year, the Gallipolis-based Ohio Valley Symphony — Southeast Ohio’s only professional orchestra — accompanied the fireworks.

Gallipolis is also the town where an entrepreneurial young farmer named Bob Evans bought a 12-stool diner in 1948. When customers began asking for 10-pound tubs of his freshly made sausage to take home, Evans knew he was on to something. He went whole-hog into the sausage business on his farm in Rio Grande, just eight miles west of Gallipolis. Today, Bob Evans is an iconic Ohio business with more than 600 restaurants in 18 states.

Overlooking the farm is the University of Rio Grande, which offers a liberal arts education on a 160-acre, 2,400-student campus. Among its strengths are the Holzer School of Nursing and a national-powerhouse men’s soccer program.

Support for education is strong here. Gallia County Local Schools and Gallipolis City Schools each are engaged in major building and renovation programs — made possible by the approval of recent bond issues by local voters.

Gallipolis Career College is an independent two-year college that partners with businesses to provide job and career skills. Local employers include Holzer Medical Center, American Electric Power and Ohio Valley Electric.

For seven years, Gallipolis has participated in America in Bloom — a national community-beautification project. Visiting judges score municipalities in six areas, including floral displays, heritage preservation and overall impression. In 2011, Gallipolis won first place in the nation in its population division.

If all this makes Ohio’s Old French City sound like a place where people, ideas and streetscapes blossom, you’re right.