Portsmouth was platted in 1803, but it's history extends back to the establishment of a community called Alexandria on the west bank of the Scioto River, an Indian word meaning "fresh water". Repeated flooding of the lowlands on which Alexandria was built prompted Major Henry Massie to lay out a new community on the higher east bank. He named it Portsmouth to honor his former home, Portsmouth, Virginia. The floods eventually destroyed Alexandria, but Portsmouth grew.
The city was incorporated by the state legislature in 1814, but it was not until the legislature authorized the town council to provide support for schools in 1838 that the first public schools were established. Prior to that, several fee schools were conducted by trained educators, the first established in a log house in 1823.
The first religious services were conducted in 1813 by a Methodist minister. The following year saw the arrival of the first circuit preacher. By 1875, Portsmouth had 15 church buildings and a synagogue.
Two factors contributed to the early growth of the community. One was the Ohio River, a major transportation asset. Completion in 1832 of the 300-mile-long Ohio-Erie Canal added significantly to this asset. It meant that goods produced in northern Ohio could be brought to Portsmouth for transfer to steamboats which navigated the Ohio River. The second contributing factor was iron. Smelting furnaces sprung up throughout the Portsmouth area and have left behind names like Franklin Furnace and Scioto Furnace, now assigned to the small settlements that developed around them.
The railroad arrived in the area in 1853 and continues to be an important asset to the economic health of Portsmouth and the neighboring communities. The Chesapeake and Ohio Eastern Railway bridge at suburban Sciotoville, built in 1917, is one of the world's longest continuous spans. The bridge and its approaches extend one-third of a mile. It is considered to be one of the world's ten most notable railroad bridges.
Flooding of the Ohio and Scioto Rivers plagued much of the early history of Portsmouth. Certain floods were gauged by high water marks on the walls of a local tavern. The particularly disastrous flood of 1937 spurred construction of a flood wall system that has since held back high water.
One survivor of those early floods is the Boneyfiddle district of Portsmouth with its pre-1900 architecture. Today, this area is the subject of intensive restoration and surely will become one of the state's most notable attractions for tourists, historians and architecture buffs. Its beautiful Old Market Square sector, with its collection of shops and splendid housing for senior citizens, has already become a prominent cultural focal point in the community. A long range plan for redevelopment calls for continuing expansion of business in the area, construction of riverfront condominiums and recreation areas, revitalization of other housing in the area and development of the district's distinctive cultural assets.
Portsmouth is the home of a number of notable personalities in the arts, sports, politics and business. Among the prominent names are Jesse Stuart, poet laureate of Kentucky; artists Woddi Ishmael, Richard Zoellner and Clarence Carter; cowboy actor Roy Rogers; band leader Clyde McCoy; William Lucas, an early Ohio governor; Shakespearean actress Julia Marlowe; baseball greats Branch Rickey, Del Rice, Rocky Nelson, Al Oliver, Larry Hisle, Don Gullett and Gene Tenace; and two novelists: Barbara Webb Robinson, author of "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" which has been produced for television; and Lou Anne Walden, a popular romance writer.
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