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This remnant coal mining town features two opera houses, one under restoration, and a concentration of second story overhanging porches. These overhang proches provide the best collection of Gilded Age, coal-boom-era architecture east of the Mississippi. A visit to Shawnee allows the visitor a trip back to a town that resembles Tombstone or Dodge City. The Knights of Labor Opera House (circa 1881) stands as a symbol of the Hocking Valley Coal Region's nationally significant role in the nation's labor union movement. Nearby Tecumseh Theater has a series of outdoor panels telling of the town's rich coal, brick, ethnic, and environmental history, and a striking bronze miner statue. The Tecumseh Theater stood and still serves as the cultural beacon of the Hocking Valley. Shawnee is home to the Little Cities of Black Diamonds local history group (127 West Main), Ohio's Hill Country Heritage Area (117 West Main), and the Buckeye Trail Association (129 West Main), and the Tecumseh Theater (114 West Main).

  • Tecumseh Theater
  • The Opera Block, around 1909
  • Looking east at the end of West Main Street, 1909
  • Shawnee east end

Before white settlement, the area around Shawnee was the ancestral homeland of the Shawnee Indians. They, along with the Delaware, would travel here and use the hollows and forest throughout the area for hunting lands. 

Shawnee was platted on March 6th, 1872 by Thomas Jefferson Davis (under the Newark & Straitsville Coal, Coke and Iron Co). Early on the land around Shawnee was owned by either the Newark Coal Co or NY Coal and Iron Co. from 37 of 50 registered voters to incorporate into a village on Nov 20th, 1873. Early main concern was that of suitable roads, all were dirt.

Located in the heart of the Wayne National Forest, the village of Shawnee has a rich and vibrant past. Shawnee’s historical past serves as a beacon of understanding three themes found throughout United States history. Shawnee’s historical themes of labor, immigration, and conservation provide early examples of movements that played a defining role in our nation's history. Embedded throughout the village and surrounding hills are physical reminders that speak to Shawnee's geographical center as a place where these historical movements all intertwine and unfold together. We invite you to explore our rich tapestry of history, our nationally renowned architecture, and the bountiful natural beauty that encompasses the surrounding streets, hills, and valleys of Historic Shawnee.

Since its incorporation as a village in 1872, Shawnee played a significant role in the early years of the United States Labor Movement. Due in large part to the Hocking Valley coal boom of the 1870s-1920s, this led to a large influx of miners into the region. This area was at the geographic center of coal booms occurring in southern Indiana, western Pennsylvania, eastern Kentucky, and West Virginia. Coupled with unsafe working conditions, depressed wages, and inadequate housing, many labor organizations formed in and around Shawnee as a result. The Knights of Labor (KOL) was the first major labor union in America, having been founded in 1869. KOL's National Assembly #169 was formed in the village in 1876. "An injury to one is a concern to all" and "labor was the first capital" are two guiding principles that illustrate the KOL philosophy of giving autonomy and power to those who made a living with their hands. Shawnee gave rise to several notable union organizers including William T. Lewis, father of the "Ohio Plan '' William H. Bailey, and T.L Lewis, President of the UWMA in 1910. The KOL would play an instrumental role in helping lead to the formation of the United Mine Workers of America in 1890 at Robinson’s Cave, located two miles south of Shawnee, in New Straitsville.

Located in the heart of the Wayne National Forest, Historic Shawnee is surrounded by a vibrant, second-growth, mixed hardwood forest. However the natural landscape surrounding Shawnee has not always appeared this way. Pioneers started to settle the area in the mid-1800s, to take advantage of the abundance of the natural resources in the Hocking Valley. Soon after, the Hocking Valley coal boom of the 1870s led to clear-cutting large swaths of old -growth forest. Entire hillsides were cleared to fuel the coal boom and burgeoning timber industries that would catalyze American into the dawn of the 20th century. Southeast Ohio’s once forested areas were now scarred, barren, and eroded. As the Great Depression hit Ohio’s Hill Country especially hard, the United States government began buying up submarginal and flooded out farmland to begin the process of establishing the Wayne National Forest. The Civilian Conservation Corps played a large role in restoring the land as many pine plantations now appear, helping stabilize and replenish the soil. Many community groups lent a hand to help plant trees throughout the area. Tecumseh Lake is a prime example of a community coming together to help turn the site of the former XX Mine into a center for outdoor recreation.

The Hocking Valley Coal Boom brought in a plethora of ethnically diverse immigrants to work in the mines scattered throughout the hills surrounding Shawnee. Immigrants, first working in southwestern Pennsylvania and further south in Ohio quickly made their way to the coalfields surrounding the area. Coal companies would send representatives to eastern European countries to help recruit men to ensure companies would have an adequate labor supply to fill the demands of the coal companies. The Welsh had a large presence in Shawnee, in part because many Welsh immigrants already had prior coal mining experience back home in Wales. Scots, Irish, English, Germans, and Italians would soon find their way to Shawnee. Interestingly, these new immigrants faced immediate skepticism, as many villagers distrusted their new neighbors. Further illustrating this skepticism, immigrants settled the hillsides surrounding Shawnee; Welsh Hill, Scotch Hill, New England Hill, and Italyville quickly sprung up as a result. Over time, these new immigrants became accepted into the community. The KOL Opera House and Tecumseh Theater held Bobby Burns Society dances and Eisteddfods as a way to reflect the importance immigrants had on the social fabric of Shawnee. 

To visit a self-guided historic walking tour please visit:

Joy, Grant . Historic Shawnee Walking Tour. Shawnee, Ohio. Self-published , 2020.

Ohio History Connection. Knights of Labor Opera House, Remarkable Ohio. Accessed July 29th 2020.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

John Winnenberg