A SHORT HISTORY OF CONGO, OHIO
A Ghost Town with a Mining History
Congo is one of the small towns in Ohio that teeters on the edge of becoming a ghost town. There are still a few churches, and there are people living there, but the town has lost the luster it once had. Congo was one of the many towns started
by the Sunday Creek Coal Company in southeastern Ohio. At one point, the Sunday Creek Coal Company was one of the of largest coal companies in the country, with dozens of towns built around their mines in Ohio. Mine workers moved from as far away as the East Coast for a chance to work at one of their mines.
Congo, Ohio first began in 1891 when the Sunday Creek Coal Company established an offshoot of their company, known as the Congo Mining Company in the area. The area where Congo is located, was so famous for its abundance of coal, that it earned the nickname of the Black Diamond Coal Region. As for its name, the town became known as Congo for its prevalence of African American workers. Many coal companies segregated their workers based on race, and the majority of their African American workers were sent to this small town. One African American worker moved from Alabama to work in the mines, and became very outspoken in the African American community, urging others to work there. The mine workers themselves are the ones who jokingly called the town The Congo, and the name stuck.
The town was completely self-sustaining, as were many coal mining towns in Ohio. The coal company designed Congo to be a model company town. The company built 40 nearly identical houses, and allowed workers to choose between a one bedroom, or two bedroom option. They had a school that served all grades in one building, a general store, and a bar that operated for over a century, only closing in the late 1980s. Plans called for more elaborate additions to Congo, but they failed to materialize. The Turney-Jones Coal Company bought the mine in 1892, and quickly brought about their own changes. The new company brought it better equipment and more houses, before replacing the local workers with machines and workers from the Jeffrey Electric Chain. By all accounts that should have signaled the end for Congo, but the town struggled on.
Then the miners went on strike in 1895 due to contaminated water. The strike was resolved, but the miners were still severely unhappy. Congo was one of the towns where the workers were "owned" by the coal company. The company paid the workers with company mining, and forced them to make
their purchases at the company store, and seek help from company doctors. They even went so far as to build a fence around the town to keep non-company owned businesses out of the area. The mine closed completely in 1954.
As the height of its popularity, Congo produced some of the best slate, and biggest coal in the country. Some large coal specimens taken from the mine were displayed at traveling shows. The town also boasted one of the most diverse coal town populations, with Irish, Hungarian, Slavic, and African American miners working side by side in the mines. At one point the town was also home to a semi-famous baseball team.
Congo today, isn't quite a ghost town but it is one of the smallest towns I've ever had the experience of seeing. There are two roads, a few houses, and one church to Congo. The former company store existed for many years as a general store and a post office, but has since been torn down. The old bar still stands, and locals still occasionally gather on Sundays inside. And every July the Congo Church hosts an annual reunion for former residents of the area.
There isn't a lot of things left to see in this little ghost town known as Congo, but the residents are friendly and the history is great.
October 19, 2007 by
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