Stories
Corning, Ohio

Early History

Corning, Ohio was established in 1879 when Joseph Rodgers, the founder of the town, sold the entire town site in a period of seven months. The reason for the sale of lots was that the Ohio Central Railroad was arriving from the north, ready to transport the coal deposits of the Sunday Creek Valley to coal markets to fuel the great Industrial Revolution that was in full swing in the country. In 1871, an attempt was made to form a town at this same site, but the steep range of hills north of town required that a tunnel be built before the railroad could enter this valley. That town was called Ferrara and grew to over 300 people who eventually left, frustrated with the failure of the railroad to arrive.

The village of Corning grew fast. The 1880 census reported 271 residents and by 1890 the town had grown to 1,551 persons. Coal mines surrounded the town. A stone quarry and brick plant were also established. The ethnic mix of miners to the Sunday Creek Valley was one of the most diverse in the region. Experienced miners of Scotch-Irish, Welsh and English descent had frequented area mines established nearby in the 1870's, but labor strife and great influx of immigrants to America in the 1880's and 1890's led to Corning becoming more ethnically diverse. Germans, Italians, Hungarians and other eastern Europeans lived along side one another in this narrow valley. Just to the north, the village of Rendville became home to this ethnic mix as well as African Americans. In 1880, miners from Corning and neighboring coal towns, marched north from Corning toward the village of Rendville to rid the town of "Negro" miners, who has been brought in to work for cheaper wages. This near violent confrontation, resulted in the National Guard being summoned to the town to avert what historians refer to as the "Corning War." The disturbance was quelled and the African American miners remained, allowing Rendville to become a historically significant community with leaders of African descent becoming prominent leaders in local, state and national circles.

Shortly after the railroad reached Corning, the Kanawha and Michigan Railroad arrived from the south and connected with the Toledo and Ohio Central and in 1917 became part of the New York Central system that eventually merged to become the Penn Central Railroad and then Conrail that is the only railroad line that remains to this day (1998). The thirst for southeastern coal continued to grow, resulting in new mines and the need for additional rail lines to reach the mines. The Zanesville and Western Railroad reached the village in 1890 from the northeast, resulting in the creation of another mining community, Congo, just several miles to the east of town. A tunnel from Corning to Congo was dug to open up this coal field. The Z & W moved westward to the mining towns of Drakes, Buckingham, Hemlock, Ludington and Shawnee. The intersection of the north-south T&OC line, and the east west Z & W line, at Corning, resulted in this town becoming the railroading center of the Hocking Valley Coal Fields, also know as the Little Cities of Black Diamonds region.

By the turn of the century the primary source of employment in Corning became that of railroad worker, rather than coal miner. The local high school's ball teams were called the Railroaders. A round house was built to the south of town, where train engines were placed on a turntable, serviced and placed back on the track. The railroad took over the town with numerous buildings including two depots, a freight station, yard office, two signal towers, scale house, oil house, ice house, sand house, tool shed and a telegraph office.

Although coal mining in the Little Cities of Black Diamonds region had dwindled by the 1920's, Corning maintained its population and commerce due to its tie to the railroad. It was not until the early 1950's when the steam engine was replaced by the diesel eliminating many jobs, that the town began its rapid decline. This development, along with the post war dominance of the automobile led to termination of passenger train service to the town at the same time.

The other significant early economic influence played upon the town was that of oil. When drilling for water for the new round house in 1889, oil was discovered, setting off an oil boom in the area. To this day, jobs in the local oil fields are a source of local employment.

Rugged hills and inadequate highways have blocked any other significant industrial development in the community. Today, the population of the town is approximately 750 people.