Nestled alongside the Hocking River, Athens is home to Ohio University, charming small businesses and picturesque scenery. Although for some OU students, it might be difficult to imagine a world beyond the excitement and appeal of Court Street, the city and county have a lot to offer locals and visitors alike. Whether one was born and raised in the region or is merely a passerby, Athens possesses the unique talent of making sure it will not be forgotten.
According to Ohio History Central, members of the Ohio Company of Associates directed for settlers to reside in the area in 1797, beginning the history of Athens. The Company was a real estate enterprise founded by a group of men in Massachusetts. Their plan was to purchase land in the Northwest Territory, present-day Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and a part of Minnesota, believing the region had great potential. The Company purchased 1,500,000 acres of land for the price of $1,000,000 paid in increments. This is equivalent to nearly $33,000,000 today.
Some of the names of the men in the Company may sound familiar to Bobcats, including General Rufus Putnam and Brigadier General Benjamin Tupper. Both men have university buildings named after them Putnam Hall and Tupper Hall respectively. Additionally, Reverend Manasseh Cutler was selected to represent the Company in the government, thus earning him recognition at OU with Cutler Hall, the oldest building on campus.
Of course, it must be noted that these men were the first white settlers, but not the first people residing in the region. Prior to these men, the region was occupied by the Adena people, followed by Fort Ancient People, Hopewell, Osage and Shawnee tribes.
Part of the federal government’s requirements for the Company in their land grant was it was obligated to establish an institution of higher education. Thus, OU was born on Feb. 18, 1804. Although the university was established five years prior, students were not enrolled until 1809.
Regarding Athens, it became a county in 1805 but grew relatively slowly, with only 710 residents in 1840. The quaint community had three churches and eleven stores, according to Ohio History Central. Forty years later in 1880, Athens had 2,457 residents with two banks, three newspapers and six churches.
Nowadays, the city of Athens is home to 20,820 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Ironically, the population of enrolled students at OU surpasses that of Athens, with over 28,000 students enrolled.
Some could say it is common college-student fixation to live inside a sheltered bubble of campus life and forget the outside world exists. OU is unique, being so remote that the campus and city are often said to be intertwined.
Although this case could be argued, that does not mean that Athens is only the university and Court Street.
Jocelyn Schuckman, a junior studying early childhood education, subscribes to this belief.
“I feel like as college students, we’re becoming so privileged and stuff, having no idea that there’s more life than just our little bubble,” she said.
Many students at OU cite the city of Athens as one of the reasons they chose to attend OU. Isabelle Zimmer, a sophomore studying psychology, is originally from Sandusky. She said prior to attending the university, she knew little about the city or the region as a whole. However, as she enters her second year, Zimmer said she feels she has been able to put roots down.
“I would say I just fell in love with the city of Athens and the people,” she said.
Caroline Brenneman, a junior studying early childhood education, has a different story when it comes to her ties to Athens. Both of Brenneman’s parents graduated from OU, so she grew up visiting the city and campus and attending football games.
With being exposed to the school and community so much, Brenneman said she was initially very adamant about not wanting to go to OU.
“My family went here, and it made me not want to come here, and I wanted to do my own thing,” she said. “So, I looked at every single college in Ohio, and I realized that this was just the place for me, and it led me back to here.”
Although Brenneman was familiar with the campus, she said she was not familiar with the Appalachian region, being originally from the Columbus area. Inspired by her surroundings, she is growing her understanding of the land and culture by completing a four-year-long research study on Appalachian students and how student learning was affected in the region through the pandemic.
Whether one is searching for their forever home or merely just passing through, Athens is a hidden gem in Southeast Ohio. Known for its beautiful scenery and rich history, many say the main component for them to keep coming back is the people. As Bobcat Student Orientation begins, incoming freshmen have the first chance to understand the meaning of home spelled with “OU.”
“I have been here for two years, (so) when I think of home, I think of Athens,” Brenneman said. “I don’t think of Columbus because of the experiences that I’ve had here.”