Lawrence County was formed on December 20, 1816 and named in honor of Captain James Lawrence, a naval officer in the War of 1812.(1) On February 16, 1817, the Ohio General Assembly passed a resolution appointing Judge John W. Campbell and Moses Baird of Adams County and John Barr of Pickaway County as commissioners to determine a county seat. A small settlement at the southern reaches of Lawrence County, with a population of 665, was chosen and named Burlington after Lawrence’s hometown of Burlington, New Jersey.
In November, the commissioners ordered that $1,500 be spent for the building of a courthouse.(1) A contract was awarded to Asa Kimball for $1,696 and work was finished in the fall of 1819.
Early industries revolved around the pig iron blast furnaces and associated trades. The first in the county was Union Furnace that was constructed in 1826 by John Means who had earlier settled in Manchester in 1819 and had freed his slaves there.(1) Lagrange Furnace was built at the mouth of Storms Creek in the 1830s.
In March 1849, the Ohio Iron and Coal Company was founded on lands that eventually became part of Ironton.(1) Its directors resolved on May 3 that John Campbell, C. Briggs and W.D. Kelley be authorized to lay out a town on the lands of the company above the mouth of Storms Creek at its junction with the Ohio River. The towns name was to be called Ironton and was platted in June 1849.
In 1851, John Campbell, George N. Kemp and William Lambert circulated a petition for the removal of the county seat from Burlington to Ironton. Citizens and boasters of Ironton had already subscribed $1,200 for the construction of a courthouse, and $400 for the removal of the jail.(1) Some donated services, others cash; Thomas Murdock agreed to donate $50 worth of brick, while Voglesang and Buchanan agreed to donate $30 in carpenter work. The Ohio Iron and Coal Company agreed to donate the land. The petition called for a courthouse 70-feet in length, 45-feet in width, two stories and 36-feet high, walls to be 12-inches and built of brick, with pilasters between the windows four-inches thick, three-feet in width, and the roof to be covered in white pine shingles with a heavy brick cornice. The front was to contain 25 windows total, ten feet in height, with a double door was to be installed in the front.
The courthouse removal petition was successful and a new courthouse in Ironton was finished in 1852.(1) A sheriff’s residence and county jail were constructed on the opposite side of 6th Street in 1887. The original courthouse was replaced in 1906-1908 with a new two-story and basement facility.
The first industry was the Ironton Rolling Mill, which complimented the many blast furnaces in the region.(1) Between 1850 and 1890, Ironton was one of the largest producers of iron in the world, and countries such as England, France and Russia purchased iron from the mills in the city for the production of warships overseas. In the United States, iron from the local foundries was used to construct the USS Monitor, the first ironclad ship in the country.
At the peak of the iron industry, there were more than 90 pig iron furnaces operating in and near the city. Other industries that blossomed under this time included several soap and nail industries, later expanding to include a tar plant, a cement production operation and manufacturers of various sundries.