Long before Ohio became a state, the men that first met to form the Ohio Company of Associates firmly had in mind that this new territory they were dreaming of developing had to have a university, something that would rival Yale. It would be called American Western University and that was in 1786. They decided to set aside two townships along the Hockhocking River (Hocking River today).
When the first group of the Ohio Company of Associates got settled in after that first year, a small number of them came north up the Hockhocking River in canoes to pick the site for the first college that would be developed west of the Allegheny Mountains. They selected a height overlooking the Hockhocking River and platted a town that would surround the college. They called the town Athens.
When it came time to create the county, Athens was the largest town. and so they called the county Athens in honor of Athens, Greece for its devotion to classicism. But, when the county was formed there were only 6 cabins located in the county seat.
In 1774 at the mouth of the Hockhocking River and the Ohio River, a small stockade called Fort Gower (honor of Earl Gower, a British politician) was built by the royal governor of Virginia. The Governor, Lord Dunmore, left a handful of soldiers to tend the small stockade while he set out to reconnoiter the area north of where Athens is located today in search of Native Americans that might have been causing problems along the Ohio River. Among those soldiers remaining at the stockade, rumors were running rampant about the rebellion building along the east coast. They heard reports of the speeches being given in Philadelphia by men such as Patrick Henry that were protesting the British closing Boston's port. To that end, the soldiers at Fort Gower wrote out a statement that should trouble between the Royal Crown and the Colonists break out in war, they were going to fight on the side of the Americans. Thus being the first to declare their independence of the British in 1774. That document became known as the Fort Gower Resolutions.
The site of Fort Gower is today where the small town of Hockingport is located, and George Washing slept there in 1770.
In 1770, George Washington made a journey down the Ohio River, and in his journal on October 27 he wrote:
"Encamped at the mouth of the great Hock-hocking, distant from our last encampment about 32 miles." and when Washington made the return trip stopped at the same site on November 7. He noted that the weather was a little "gloomy". See, November's grey weather in Ohio has been around for centuries.
In an effort to maintain control of their colonies and protect Native American homelands, England prohibited American settlers from moving west of the Appalachian Mountains in the Proclamation of 1763. Taxes and other restrictions were also place on the colonists to prevent them from moving west. These disagreements led to the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
Resolved, that we will bear the most faithful allegiance to his Majesty King George the Third, whilst his Majesty delights to reign over a brave and free people; that we will, at the expense of life and every thing dear and valuable, exert ourselves in support of the honour of his Crown and the dignity of the British Empire. But as the love of Liberty, and attachment to the real interests and just rights of America outweigh every other consideration, we resolve that we will exert every power within us for the defense of American liberty, and for the support of her just rights and privileges; not in any precipitate, riotous, or tumultuous manner, but when regularly called forth by the unanimous voice of our countrymen.
Resolved, That we entertain the greatest respect for his Excellency the Right Honourable Lord Dunmore, who commanded the expedition against the Shawanese; and who, we are confident, underwent the great fatigue of this singular campaign from no other motive than the true interest of this country.
Signed by order and in behalf of the whole Corps.
Nov. 5, 1774
Athens county was officially established as a county in 1805. As already mentioned, the town of Athens was sited primarily as an educational community. However, not long after the county was formed, it was discovered that there were even more resources that would add to the prosperity of the county.
Coal became one of the most productive minerals to be removed from the Athens County. Once the coal mines became active and productive, then the next natural mineral to become profitable was iron ore. Most of the iron ore that was mined was sent to other areas where iron ovens had already been established. Perhaps the most valuable mineral to the early pioneers was salt. Salt had so much value that it was often used as a trading or bartering mineral, worth more than coins.
Early on new settlers arrived in Athens by either the HockHocking River or overland from Marietta.