“It’s a nice little place that some people decided to settle down in and call home,” Mayor James “Jim” Wooddell says of McArthur, a town of nearly 1,700 residents. “And others thought it was a nice little place to drive through.”
Celebrating its 200th birthday in November, McArthur’s singular claim to fame is having appointed Ohio’s first female sheriff, Maude Collins, in the late 1920s.
Little danger lurks in today’s town, other than an accident-prone intersection. But even that hiccup may be gone soon, as plans are finalized to improve safety and decrease accidents at the troublesome spot.
McArthur, formerly McArthurstown, was formed in 1815. The original 160-acre parcel was once a piece of Athens County. Named after notable War of 1812 Army general, Duncan McArthur, it’s known for its timber industry. The town and its surrounding region were depleted of coal and never fully experienced industrialization despite a railroad’s presence.
There is a pride and acknowledgment of history in McArthur that is not seen in most modern communities. Everyone has a story, and with many older residents inhabiting the aging town, the events and celebrations of the past hold even more significance.
Local Residents Reflect
Deanna Tribe, retired community development specialist and author of the historical book Vinton County, was a young child at the time but still hears tales of the beard contest at Vinton County’s legendary centennial celebration in 1915. The memorable contest and the entire celebration frequently pop up in conversation between older residents, especially after a town meeting.
Growing up five miles outside of McArthur’s center, Tribe recalls a time when her family shared a telephone line and lived without electricity and running water.
“We didn’t get a telephone until I was in the eighth-grade. I remember when we got the telephone and it was a party line and it had that old dial,” Tribe says. “There were five or six families on the same thing and you’d pick it up several times just to make a call.”
Working for the County Sheriff’s department during the ‘70s, Mayor Wooddell tells similar tales of McArthur’s past. He recalls being the only on-duty officer and source of emergency support for the entire county and having to rouse the Sheriff from his bed on multiple occasions.
“Back then there was a half-equipped first aid kit in the trunk and if you come across an accident, you were it. If it was bad enough, you had the funeral home send a hearse out to come get the person and take them to the hospital,” Wooddell says.
One Store’s Impact
According to Tribe, McArthur was once brimming with retail shops including multiple grocery and clothing stores, a hat shop and even a jewelry store on the corner, but now the remaining shops offer a minimal glimpse of the town’s prosperous past.
Fond memories bubble to the surface when a long absent odds-and-ends store called Cox’s, or Ethel Cox’s to those who knew the unofficial matron of McArthur, comes up.
“Most of us remember the penny candy. [Ethel Cox] would have all of these glass jars lined up, it seemed like a lot but it was maybe 20. There weren’t any large bags of candy back then, you would buy one piece at a time,” Tribe says. “[Cox’s] was where I bought my first perfume—my Evening In Paris perfume. It’d be in this tiny little bottle for maybe a quarter and you’d save up forever.”
Few shopping locations remain, as the current Main Street includes only a hardware store, a flower shop, select restaurants and vacant buildings.
Those empty storefronts represent the serious economic hardship that sliced through America in recent years. The closing of locally owned SuperValu, the only grocery store in McArthur, in 2013 dealt the town a unique blow—the residents no longer could grocery shop in the county.
Without a source of fresh produce and meat, locals have yet another reason to move or travel outside of Vinton County. The store’s closing eliminated 36 jobs in a town where the loss of two jobs is devastating.
Many of the residents travel considerable distances to find employment with decent wages, which aids the creation of a “bedroom community.” Tribe describes the term as meaning a township where everything other than the bedroom must be found outside its borders. Despite the complications, McArthur remains as tight-knit as ever.
The annual Wild Turkey Festival is held in McArthur and run entirely by volunteers. It was created to bring tourists to Vinton County. In the past, its focus stayed on a local level including booths run by churches, a turkey and noodle dinner and barnyard games for children.
In recent years, the Wild Turkey Festival has expanded into a street fest lined with fair food vendors, amusement park rides and musical acts. McArthur’s ties to the street-closing event have loosened due to the festival’s relationship with the Ohio Festivals and Events Association.
The current weekend-long event shares little with past festivals, but residents continue to look forward to the event that takes place in early May. The festival and many other community events are planned for the remainder of the year to commemorate the town’s Bicentennial.
McArthur has may be changing but much of the town stays the same. Its quaint spirit and civic pride remain intact, and its familiar streets and friendly natives create a homey atmosphere reminiscent of a sweet memory from decades past.