- Amish Country
In French Belmont means "Beautiful Mountain" and no better name can describe the rugged beauty of Belmont County. Besides being an incredibly beautiful piece of Ohio, it also has a lot of mineral wealth just below the surface and Belmont County citizens have taken advantage of these natural resources.
Before environmental regulations cut back on the amount of coal being used in industry and power, Belmont County was Ohio's largest coal producing county. Many of Belmont's early settlers came here from Europe and they not only recognized the black rocks exposed in many of the streams, they knew how to dig long tunnels into the ground to remove even more.
In time, those black rocks were worth millions of dollars to those who risked everything to dig it out of the ground. In the 1940s a new mining process was introduced into northwestern Belmont County known as surface mining. As kids we called it strip mining.
Strip mining was the process of removing everything above a seam of coal using heaving equipment which was possible because the layers of coal being mined was shallow. At the time these strips mines left an ugly scar on the earth, but in time, the earth healed itself.
Coal mining has almost disappeared as an industry in Ohio resulting in a deep set back for Belmont County. However, where strip mining once scared the country side, it has been reclaimed by the state and transformed into several recreational areas.
A great example of this is the Egypt Valley Wildlife Area in Belmont County. It was was formed in 1994 and is managed by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Long before this area was mined it was known for its rich tradition of local folklore.
Today, with the demand for coal decreasing, the demand for oil and natural gas have greatly increased. Using a process developed in the last century, areas that were thought to have been depleted of oil and natural gas has now become highly attractive and productive.
A process commonly called fracking has once again driven up revenues for landowners that understand the process and worked closely with oil and gas companies. The process involves drilling deeply into a special shale layer that contains minute quantities of natural gas and oil. Using special high-pressure drilling techniques, these precious fuels can be retrieve from an incredibly small foot print.
Some groups have formed among the farmers and land owners that negotiated with some energy companies not only for a fair price, but to setup endowment funds that will remain long after the drilling rigs have left.
While coal in Ohio provided thousands of jobs from the mid 1800s to the late 1900s, and helped fuel America's industrial giants, that coal became known as dirty coal. Most Ohio coal contains about 3.5% sulfur. When this coal is burned it forms sulfur dioxide which is a natural compound, and besides coal burning, it is released in even greater quantities during volcanic activity.
Coal mined in Ohio had higher levels of sulfur because of its geologic location when it formed. Millions of years ago as the great seas began to recede it left behind many swamps. The decaying organic matter in the swamps are what became coal. But, because these swamps were near the salt water, the swamps were often briny, which when combined with decaying matter forms iron sulfied. These sulfur compounds then became embedded in the coal and is released when it is burned.
The Clean Air Act of 1970 caused a decline in Ohio's coal production from its annual high of 55 million tons in 1970 to about just 25,000 tons of coal today. Scrubbers installed on the smoke stacks of coal burning power plants have been able to remove sulfur compounds that have helped keep Ohio marketable.
Coal has always played an important part of Belmont County's history. In the 1830s coal was mined along the Ohio River by some energetic entrepreneurs who sold their coal to the new steam boats traveling from Wheeling to Cincinnati. At that time there was no easy way of getting coal out of the ground and to market. This began to change when the Ohio Erie Canal was built, and special canal boats were built that could carry larger loads that became more profitable.
In the 1850s the steam engine and the railroads not only made it easier to move heavy loads of coal out of Belmont County, but also created a totally new market: all of those steam engines required fuel. With the abundance of a cheap fuel, Belmont County began attracting larger industries: glass plants, iron mills, blast furnaces, and machine works.
It was in St. Clairsville that the first abolitionist group was formed west of the Appalachian Mountains (the Union Humane Society) which started with just 6 members but eventually had over 500 members. This group was formed by Benjamin Lundy, an early voice and anti-slavery publisher that helped spark the abolitionist movement in the United States.