Monday, March 30, 2009
Portsmouth, My Hometown
Founded in 1803, my small hometown of Portsmouth, Ohio, used to be the hub of most area functions and activities. Once a center of commerce (the Shoe Manufacturing Capital of the World), Portsmouth reached its peak population of 50,000 in 1907. Its glory days past, Portsmouth presently has a population of about 20,000 people. Portsmouth sits on the confluence of the Ohio, Scioto, and Little Scioto rivers and is only 90 miles away from Columbus, Cincinnati, Charleston and Lexington. The area is rich in history, including an NFL franchise, the Portsmouth Spartans, which moved to Detroit in 1934 and became the Detroit Lions. Sitting in the beautiful foothills of the Appalachians, Portsmouth remains a lovely setting for those fortunate enough to find jobs in the depressed area (about 18.3% of families and 23.6% of the population are below the poverty line). Notable residents of the area include Roy Rogers, Branch Rickey, opera singer Kathleen Battle, Speaker of the Ohio House Vern Riffe, football standout Chuck Ealey, and present-day Ohio Governor Ted Strickland. Being a lifelong resident of the area, I often find myself looking back- back to times when businesses and activities flourished in Portsmouth City proper. Like many downtowns, Portsmouth has changed; in this case, primarily from an industrial and business center to a small college town featuring Shawnee State University, its supporting commerce and student housing. Gone are many features of a booming, thriving city. I love my town and its well-worn claim to being "The City Where Southern Hospitality Begins." But, I must be a little sad when I hear other long-term residents crying for a return to its heyday. Change is rooted in reality, and Portsmouth's future reality remains rather dim in respect to being a thriving economic community. Some might disagree, but rivers and railroads and canals do not help establish centers of industry as they did long ago. It seems P-town's strongest points are education and the health fields, which also offer most of the local job opportunities. So, what do I want you to know about my hometown? 1. Portsmouth is a great small place to live and raise a family. 2. Portsmouth, though Appalachian through and through, is not full of ignorant, toothless rednecks. 3. Portsmouth takes great pride in preserving its rich heritage of history and culture. 4. Portsmouth never forgets a native son/daughter and waits with welcome arms for any who wish to return. 5. Portsmouth remains a place where roots are established that past residents proudly branch into new places and new opportunities throughout the nation and throughout the world. Crowded downtown streets on Friday night present images to my mind of a town of long ago. Driving down Chillicothe Street now on Friday, I notice the bustle of shoppers has been replaced by an occasional skateboarder or restaurant patron. I, like my town, am much older. We both have considerably slowed down and I wonder if, in both cases, anyone could have done anything to change that. And, may all changes be for the better?
Posted by Frank Thompson at 9:23 AM