The county contains about four hundred and eighty-four square miles of land, some portions of which are admirably adapted for grazing and agricultural purposes, while others are rich in minerals. It is well watered by the Hockhocking river and its tributaries, Sunday creek, Monday creek, Margaret’s creek, Federal creek, Shade river, etc. The Hockhocking, entering at the northwestern corner of York township, traverses the county diagonally for a distance of about fifty miles, flowing into the Ohio river in Troy township. The average width of the stream throughout the county is about fifty yards. The region drained by its numerous tributary streams, and which may be called its valley, will average about twenty miles in width. The whole extent of the valley (in Athens county) is hilly and broken, the hills rising from two hundred to three hundred feet above the beds of the neighboring streams, which, in times past, appear to have worn their way through the strata, so as to give the surface of the country, once a plain, the features which we now observe. The alluvial lands of the Hockhocking and .its tributaries are very rich, though liable to occasional overflow from the sudden floods that take place in all the streams of this region. The hill lands are covered with a fertile soil, and clothed with a heavy growth of forest trees.
Of this wonderful product of nature-so mysterious in its origin, and so incalculably useful to the comfort and industries of men-vast deposits exist within the county, there being at least eight or ten beds, or veins, varying in thickness from a few inches to several feet.
It is probable that the most valuable vein is that one which, as it has been most extensively worked in the vicinity of Nelsonville, has been called the ” Nelsonville coal.” This bed is unquestionably one of the most, if not the most, valuable in the state; not only on account of its superior quality and its proximity to canal and railroad facilities, but also for the comparative ease with which it can be obtained. The average thickness of the vein may be rated at six feet, but it varies from five to nine. As we descend the river from Nelsonville, it gradually dips and finally disappears below the bed of the Hockhocking, about five miles below Nelsonville, on section eight, in York township. Taking into account the fall of the river, the dip between the two places is between twenty and – twenty-five feet per mile, in a south or southeast direction. West of Nelsonville, it extends up the river, gradually becoming more elevated until it runs out on the tops of the hills, three or four miles above the town. The same vein has been traced over to the head waters of Raccoon, in Waterloo township.
About a mile and a half northeast from the point where the vein above described dips below the river, occurs a bed of coal about forty feet above. It is found in the eastern part of Dover township. This vein, sometimes called the “Denman vein,” has been opened in several places east of this point, as far as Sunday creek, at the mouth of which it is found near the bed of the stream. North of this it extends into Trimble township.
Another bed, sometimes designated as the ” Federal creek coal,” occupies an area, from north to south through the county, of from six to ten miles in width, embracing the townships of Lodi, Carthage, Rome, Canaan, Ames, and Bern. Several shafts have been opened near Big run, in Rome township, and from seven hundred to a thousand bushels of excellent coal have been shipped from that point daily during most of the last year. This vein is best disclosed along Federal creek and its branches, and from a point about two miles above the mouth of Federal, it can be found upon almost every section to the north part of the county, varying in thickness from four to eight feet, while its average is not perhaps over five. This vein has not been so extensively worked as the Nelsonville, but of its existence in vast quantities, of its good quality, and of the potent influence which at some future day it will exert on the wealth and prosperity of this section of country, there can be no doubt. The aggregate amount of coal that may be mined within the county has been estimated, by competent authority, at two thousand five hundred millions of tons.
Thus the Creator, working through the agencies of nature, has deposited, where the industry of future generations will make it available, this incalculable store of fossil fuel which will not only supply, for ages, the region it pervades, but will form an article of extensive commerce with other sections and states. Heretofore only about one hundred thousand tons of coal have been annually mined in the county; but the greatly increased railroad facilities which the coal region will soon enjoy, must give a powerful impetus to this important branch of industry. The Mineral railroad, now nearly finished, from Mineral station, on the Marietta and Cincinnati railroad, northerly, some five miles into the coal region, commands access to very extensive deposits, and ample preparations are making for placing the coal in market. The Hocking Valley railroad, also, extending from the capital of the state to Athens, seventy-three miles, will soon be completed, thus opening up the central and northern parts of the state, and even the great northwest, to be supplied with cheap fuel from the hills of Athens county. Already, and more and more each successive year, the industry of the county feels the healthful effects of the growing coal business. But who can say-what imagination shall dare to conceive-the influence which will probably be exerted by these exhaustless coal fields on the society of a hundred years hence? Then, when the population of the state of Ohio may be twenty million souls; when the commercial metropolis of the state may exceed in population the present city of New York; when the smoke of many great manufacturing cities shall roll over the land; when almost every acre shall support its family, and the ground shall be tilled up to the edges of the railroad tracks, then this rich mineral region of southern Ohio, will have taken its proper place in the march of progress.
In natural sequence to coal, without which it can not be utilized, comes iron-the weapon, the utensil, the lever, the support of modern civilization. Of this metal, which, in its countless uses, enters so largely into the demands of agriculture, commerce, science, and art, there are very extensive deposits in the county. Though, as yet, the manufacture of iron has never been undertaken in the county, excellent iron ore exists here in great abundance, and in close proximity to the great coal mines in the northwestern part of the county. The most continuous and probably the most valuable deposit, is a few feet below the Nelsonville coal. This is a heavy, compact ore, of a bluish color, and the vein varies in thickness from eight to twelve inches. In explorations for this ore, the Nelsonville coal affords a sure guide. It is found on the head waters of Monday creek, in Trimble township; on Meeker’s run, in York township, and along the branches of Raccoon, in Waterloo. The vein is well exposed at other points, and probably extends through the southeast part of the county. There are also exposures of other veins in different parts of the county, affording conclusive evidence that iron ore, suitable for smelting, exists here in large quantities.
The production of salt in the county, has been long and successfully tested. For more than twenty years about fifty thousand barrels of excellent salt have been annually produced in the county. Salt water, varying in strength from six to nine per centum, is found in several localities, by boring from six hundred to eight hundred feet; and the brine thus obtained is speedily reduced to salt by the use of coal, which is generally conveniently at hand, and is found to be the cheapest fuel known for the purpose.
The principal operators are M. M. Greene & Co., at Salina; Messrs. Ewing & Vinton, in Chauncey; Mr. Joseph Herrold, near Athens; and Pruden Brothers, at Harmony, two miles below Athens, in Canaan township.