South Charleston: rich in history and pride

History is everywhere in South Charleston: in its stories, in its scrapbooks and literally in its walls, Sue Mattinson says. Workers more than once have made discoveries within the old buildings they were renovating.

And yet even as the small village of 1,600 residents in the southeast corner of Clark County embraces its roots, the close-knit community and its businesses look toward the future.

“History is still emerging,” says Mattinson, a town historian who wrote a book on South Charleston’s preeminent architect.

The village’s history is celebrated throughout the year and in various ways.

At the annual Heritage Days Festival, held each September, residents and visitors are drawn to attractions like live music, food and crafts. The parade also is a connection to the surrounding agricultural community, some of whom drive their antique tractors in the parade.

At the New Year’s Eve Grand Ball, revelers dress in period costumes from the 1860s, participate in a grand march and dance as the floor “swirls with color,” Mattinson says.

And even South Charleston’s youth get a taste of the town’s past early on, when third grade students take a history tour of the community.

But the village’s history also is evident in its architecture. Mattinson, who last year published “Edward Edwards: The Man Who Built South Charleston, Ohio,” says that the architect’s 1897 obituary states that at least 95 percent of the village’s buildings at that time were “reared” by Edwards. She included 40 of them that are still standing in her book – and she can see nine of his structures from her own home.

“Part of the sense of history is simply living in the midst of a town that has looked like this for a long time,” she says.

The village’s Town Hall and Opera House, built in 1878, has long been the center of the community, says Mattinson who has lived in the village for 12 years and is a past president of the South Charleston Heritage Commission. The village’s municipal offices are on the ground floor, but the 2,400-square-foot-opera house on the second floor and its balcony are maintained by the Heritage Commission, which also rents it out for events like weddings, proms and parties.

Another center of village life is Village Chic and Village Cup, at 17 S. Chillicothe St. Karman Ogden and her mother, Jennifer McKee, began a vintage and upcycling business in 2015, purchased a storefront and added the coffee shop in 2018 and expanded the boutique a year later. Now the space hosts everything from art classes to comedy nights to baby showers.

The pair were instrumental in adding a new 12-by-15-feet mural welcoming visitors to South Charleston. Located on the side of their building and funded in part with a grant from the Springfield Foundation, the mural was finished this summer.

“We thought it would be a nice addition to this little area,” Ogden says.

The mural connects to the village’s history by leaning on the look of signs from the past, including its font, placement and frame, she says.

South Charleston is “small but mighty,” Ogden says. She has watched the community come together, whether it is in the face of tragedy or in other ways. As the new president of the Community Club, she knows how village residents work together to support the South Charleston Community Park.

The village has a selection of small businesses, but Ogden hopes that even more entrepreneurs will be attracted to the town.

“The more we do together, the more we can be successful together,” Ogden says.

South Charleston, which celebrated its bicentennial in 2015, is one of the older villages in the county, Mattinson says, but the town and its business community were connected more to Columbus than Springfield.

“Our early history is not closely tied with other towns in the area,” she says.

The town started at the corner of routes 41 and 42 and grew up to the railroad, Mattinson says. In fact, South Charleston’s early days saw two railroads, which made it easy to transport both grain and passengers. It was an easy hop to Columbus.

Today the railroad’s history continues to play an important role in the community, as a destination on the 326-mile Ohio to Erie Trail that connects the Ohio River to Lake Erie on former railroads and canals.

Bicyclists visit South Charleston, stop for a coffee and muffin and might come back later for the art classes and other events within the community.

“We’re really getting an eclectic group of people who come in and spend some time in the village,” South Charleston Village Manager Trecia Waring says.

But the village is family-oriented and filled with long-time residents, she says. Waring, who grew up in South Charleston, remembers sitting on the porch with her parents as neighbors stopped by to chat. There are new faces nowadays, but that friendliness has remained.

“I’m never not going to know what you’re doing and who you’re with,” Waring laughs, as she repeats what she reminds her two teenage sons.

Some residents want to see South Charleston grow, while others hang tight to its agricultural origins. Waring herself would like to see more people visit. It is a quiet town, Waring says, but others are surprised by just how much happens here.

“We kind of just fly under the radar a bit,” she says.
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Read more articles by Diane Erwin.

Diane Erwin is a freelance writer and former reporter for the Springfield News-Sun. A graduate of Ohio State University, her articles have appeared in a number of publications in Springfield and Dayton. In addition to her journalism background, she has worked in marketing and written copy for businesses throughout the country. In her spare time, she likes to read, dream about Schuler’s donuts, and travel near and far with her husband and two children.