Ohio’s Winding Road Stories: Morgan County (part 3)

The Joys of Ohio’s Winding Road: Historic McConnelsville

View from the center of the second-floor balcony at the Twin City Opera House.

BY GRANT JOY

One of the county’s greatest assets is the county seat of McConnelsville. Nestled in the Muskingum River valley, on the banks of the river, flanked by the hills that envelop the town to the east and west, McConnellsville is the centerpiece of Morgan County’s historical and architectural lineage.  Local businesses, restaurants, and unique specialty shops such as Meyers Speciality Market and Hometown Nutrition, lined Main Street, decisively acting as the hub of county commerce. 

As I walked around the downtown area everything just felt older. There’s a beautiful charm to this town. The yellow-brick building, adjacent to the Morgan County Courthouse known as the Adams House, was erected in 1820 and is a great example of late Federal-style architecture. Just down the street, Morgan County Historical’s Button House was constructed in 1836 while construction on the Greek-Revival county courthouse, at the center of the historic square, was completed in 1858. The 1884-J.C. Bolen Building sits across the street on the square. Serving as the focal point of the downtown, Twin City Opera House was completed in 1892, Ohio’s oldest continually operating theater. To read more about the Twin City Opera House click here. One of the biggest draws to Main Street McConnelsville is Morris Hardware, Ohio’s oldest family-owned hardware store. They are celebrating 175 years of service and have an eclectic mix of offerings for visitors of all sorts, aside from traditional hardware supplies. Check out Morris Hardware online at https://www.facebook.com/morrishardware/. The beautiful downtown district is akin to a small town found in Vermont, given the walkability of McConnellsville coupled with the abundance of historic architectural character that is present. The historical identity and mix of federal, Gothic-Revival, and Victorian-style structures remain to give the town a beautiful historic aesthetic. Given the architectural beauty of Main Street McConnelsville to go along with its idyllic location along the Muskingum River, McConnellsville is a hidden gem nestled in the Muskingum River valley of Ohio’s hill country. Those wishing to immerse themselves in the history of the county should reach out to Morgan County Historical Society and take a personal tour of the Button House, contact them at 740-962-4785 or email atinfo@historicalmorgancounty.com. The Chesterhill Multicultural Genealogical Center also is a great resource for historians and genealogists alike to learn about the rich African American and Quaker history that lies within the south-central portion of the county. They can be reached at 740-554-3257.

Inside the Twin City Opera House, as Executive Director Adam Shriver gives a personal tour.

The cultural and communal frontier of Morgan County centers around the historic Twin City Opera House and southeast Ohio’s newest brewery, Old Bridge Brewing. Twin City Opera House serves as the cultural beacon of Morgan County. The historic opera house serves much of the same purpose as it did back when it started in 1892, as it strengthens the fabric of the community through cultural arts programming. Executive Director Adam Shriver said the Opera House has been creative in its programming during COVID. Twin City has been featuring family-friendly movies that local businesses sponsor as a way to generate some revenue. The theater continues to provide cultural entertainment for older and younger generations despite the ongoing COVID crisis. This allows for intergenerational experiences while simultaneously cultivating a tangible connection to the Opera House for future generations. It provides a way for the community to come together. If you’re interested in learning more about the Twin City Opera House or want to donate please visit their website at https://www.operahouseinc.com/

Twin City Opera, the seminal structure of the McConnelsville historic square.

The centerpiece of Twin City programming efforts is the Ohio Valley Opry. Founders Deana and Marvin Clark provide Ohio’s signature music show feature live performances of country, bluegrass, and gospel. Unfortunately, the Opry has canceled its live on-stage productions until March 2021 as a result of COVID. Displaying fortitude and resolve however, the Clarks will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Opry through hosting a virtual show on Saturday, September 19th. To check out Ohio Valley Opry visit them online: https://www.facebook.com/ohiovalleyopry/. The Ohio Valley Opry is uniquely Appalachian and reflects the region’s musical traditions. Twin City Opera House provides a physical space for the Ohio Valley Opry to be held, thus, connecting individuals and audiences to the rich musical lineage that exists in Appalachia, as experiencing traditional music provides listeners an immersive experience into Appalachian culture and the value that music has in shaping Appalachian culture. Traditionally, Appalachian music has played a defining role in shaping the region’s culture and identity while simultaneously fostering community.  Appalachian music provides a key way for the trials and triumphs of Appalachian life and authentic stories of everyday people to be shared and heard. Thus, fostering greater understanding and community within the region. Despite the uncertainty of COVID, the Opry is still able to be viewed virtually and continues to foster community and a better understanding of Appalachian life through music, in the same fashion as MountainStage.

The Chalkboard, behind the custom-made bar, where customers at Old Bridge can buy a prepaid pint for other customers.

Old Bridge Brewing also provides a way for the community to come together while experiencing craft beer unique to the area. Old Bridge is southeast Ohio’s newest brewery and is on the craft brewing frontier of Morgan County, as it was the first brewery to open in the county. The brewery is housed in a 1919 structure that was used as a mechanic shop and Chevy dealership. The brewery features an outdoor patio, coupled with a traditional taproom and custom-built bar space. On the other side of the taproom is a community space that can seat 90 plus people when safe to do so. 

A spacious outdoor patio is part of Old Bridge Brewery’s sitting options.
Brewer Dean is responsible for brewing Old Bridge beer and is a fan of all beer.

While learning a bit about the brewing process, I sipped a sample of the Blood Orange IPA at the custom-built bar and I noticed a chalkboard at the back of the bar. Atop the board, in white chalk, it read “Pre-paid pints here.” Customers can buy pints for other individuals in the community and they’re able to enjoy an Old Bridge Brew whenever they come in for a visit as long as their name is listed on the “To” section. This helps to continue to foster the spirit of community that is palpable in small towns. It’s also a great way to thank a neighbor.  Old Bridge also partners with four local restaurants, Chatterbox Tavern, MoCo Sip-n-Dip, El Palenque, and Maxwell’s Pizza. If you order on the phone at one of these four local businesses, they will deliver your food straight to your table at no delivery cost. In this way, Old Bridge can work with local restaurants to create more business that expands the economic benefit across the community. Old Bridge supplies the beer while existing local restaurants supply the food. It is a mutually beneficial partnership for all and exemplifies how small town businesses can work together and support one another especially in turbulent times. It also allows customers a chance to experience a taste of Morgan County while enjoying a fine-crafted brew. To learn more about Old Bridge Brewery and to see what’s on tap, visit them online at http://www.oldbridgebrewing.com/.

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