Establishment and boundaries: The county was
established Jan. 29, 1813, the older counties Washington, Belmont and
Guernsey giving up portions of their territory to make the new county.
Monroe County in turn in 1851 surrendered four or five townships on its
west side to contribute to Noble county's area. All of Monroe
County lies in the first surveyed portion of the United States public
domain, the Seven Ranges. The original survey therefore divided
the land into blocks six miles square, bounded by range and township
lines. These lands were sold by the Government, at first at two
dollars an acre, and in tracts not less than half a section. The
area is 448 square miles.
Physical features: This is part
of the hill country of southeastern Ohio. The original rock
surface was worked upon by the chemical and mechanical agencies of
weathering, and eroded by the action of water courses until the
topography became a succession of ridges and valleys, in many places
roughly picturesque, and elsewhere rolling off in waves from one horizon
to another. Geologically the rocks at the surface were those laid
down in the Permian period, consisting of the Dunkard shales, sandstone
and coal formations. In the western part of the county the
Monongahela formations of the Pennsylvanian period outcrop. Coal
was found in all portions of the county and approximately two thirds of
the county's area is embraced in the Belmont coal field, producing the
superior Pittsburgh or No. 8 coal. The county, particularly the
western half, is rich in the mineral resources of oil and gas, and this
has been one of the leading petroleum producing counties in the State.
On the eastern side of the county the drainage is
directly into the Ohio through Sunfish creek and Opossum creek and other
smaller streams. Waters that fall on the northwest corner of the
county find their way into Duck creek and reach the Ohio near Marietta.
The southern and southwestern parts of the county are drained into the
various tributaries of the Little Muskingum River.
First settlements: Monroe County was off of the main
routes of migration. Pioneers who reache3d the Ohio in the
vicinity of Wheeling traveled by Zane's Trace after 1796. Those
who embarked their goods on boats at Wheeling or at Pittsburgh seldom
stopped short of Marietta. In the Virginia country opposite Monroe
County few settlements were made until after 1800. Since the lands
in Monroe County were held at the same standard price of two dollars an
acre as in other portions of the Seven Ranges, better selections could
be found in Belmont and Jefferson counties than in the region
subsequently blocked off as Monroe. One family settled along the
Ohio in the southeastern corner of the county in 1791, and three years
later some other pioneers selected bottom lands, and before the end of
the century there was a small group of settlers near the mouth of
Sunfish creek. Settlements in the interior scarcely began before
1805, when some parties located along the forks of the Little Muskingum
and also at the northern edge of the county at Beallsville.
Two of the townships along the Ohio River are
Switzerland, and Ohio, where in the spring of 1819 were planted some
colonies of German-Swiss families, headed by their minister Jacob
Tisher. But most of the early settlers were from western
Pennsylvania and western Virginia.
The commissioners in 1815 selected a portion of the
unbroken forest as the site of the county seat and the first task of the
proprietors was to clear a street through the trees. Woodsfield
had only eleven householders by 1818 and two years later the town
consisted of eighteen cabins. In 1820, when the county's area was
much larger than today, the total population was about 4,600, whereas
the adjoining county of Belmont had more than 20,000.
The Ohio River borders Monroe County for a distance of thirty miles
and for over a century after the establishment of the county was the
supreme artery of transportation. There are several ferries but
even yet no bridges from the Monroe County shore to the shores of West
Virginia. Only two improved roads lead from the banks of the Ohio
inland toward Woodsfield, but a paved highway runs down the right bank
of the Ohio and another paved highway leads into the county from the
north to Woodsfield.
Only one railroad was ever built in the county.
In 1875 was organized in Bellaire, Zanesville & Cincinnati, and it was
built from Bellaire to Woodsfield as a narrow gauge. In 1882 it
was extended to Caldwell, but this portion of the road was long since
abandoned. After 1902 the line was operated under the name of Ohio
River & Western, by the Pennsylvania system. It was the last of
Ohio's narrow gauge railroads.
Monroe County has only a small part of its original forest covering,
and the greater part of the county's cultivation." Its agriculture
is typical of that of southeastern Ohio. It was one of the early
counties to cultivate tobacco on an extensive scale, and as late as 1923
its tobacco crop exceeded eight million pounds. Sheep and wool
growing were also early industries.
For thirty years or more the chief wealth of the county
came from the mineral riches of petroleum. The earliest drilling
for oil in the county was in the district adjacent to Sistersville on
the West Virginia side of the river. The Sistersville field in
1893 was regarded as the greatest producing oil field in the world.
The first productive well in this district in Monroe County was put down
in 1891. In these early drillings it was difficult to keep the
petroleum and salt brine separated. The field opposite
Sistersville was spread out to a considerable width along the Ohio and
narrows as it extends inland into Perry township. From this field
development moved inland and by 1900 Graysville was one of the important
centers of production and about the same time other wells were brought
in at Lewisville and in two or three years the productive oil territory
extended from the villages of Beallsville and Jerusalem on the northern
edge of the county6 through Woodsfield to the southwest corner of the
county. East of Woodsfield were several small areas more
distinctively gas than oil producing. Here as elsewhere the oil
and gas resources are subject to the law of diminishing returns.
1820, 4,645; 1830, 8,768; 1840, 18,524; 1850, 28,351; 1860, 25,741;
1870, 25,779; 1880, 26, 496; 1890, 25,175; 1900, 27, 031; 1910, 24,244;
1920, 20,660; 1930, 18426. After the county was reduced to its
present boundaries the population was almost stationary, reaching a
maximum in 1900, and since then gradually declining so that in 1930
there were more than 7,000 fewer people living in the county than in
The county has nine villages, the largest of them being Woodsfield, the
county seat. In 1900 Woodsfield's population was 1,801; in 1910,
2,502; in 1920, 2,394; and in 1930, 2,317.
The other villages with population in 1930 were
Stafford, 145; Jerusalem, 168; Miltonsburg, 69; Antioch, 138;
Clarington, 506; Lewisville, 231; Beallsville, 479; Graysville, 192.
Monroe County was the early seat of the Okey family
in Ohio. John W. Okey, one time Justice of the Supreme
Court, was born there.