Higginsport - Yesterday & Today

Steamer at Higginsport Wharf

View of Higginsport, Circa 1910

Post Card of River Front - 1910

Higginsport Street Scene - 1910

View of Higginsport, Spring 2010

Higginsport Street Scene - 2010

 Higginsport, today, is a sleepy little river town with a population of just under 200, in a scenic rural area, about 1 hour from downtown Cincinnati. Most Higginsport residents operate their own small businesses, work in the neighboring towns, or commute to cities in the surrounding area for employment,or merely enjoy their retirement in a small rural community. In the immediate area, the economy is predominately agriculturally based, and the hills are dotted with small family farms.

It is certainly not employment opportunities, but rather the quality of life that makes Higginsport and the surrounding countryside just what it is; a great place to live and raise a family. Certainly off the beaten path, and a far cry from Dollywood in terms of a tourist attraction, Higginsport is not the type of town that attracts folks looking for a fast paced way of life. Village residents pride themselves in the fact that we do not have a McDonalds, and the nearest Wal-Mart is 20 miles away in Maysville, KY.

Higginsport is so small that there is no mail delivery, and town residents make the daily trip to the post office to pick up their mail. Especially in the summer, a walk to the post office (not more than 3 blocks from any point in town) can take up to an hour, as it presents a great opportunity to stop and chat with neighbors, and to listen to the sound of cattle grazing on the hill overlooking town.

A poem written by William Lyon, a gentleman farmer who once owned a stately home atop a hill off Free Soil Road, speaks of the growth and subsequent decline of Higginsport as a thriving river town. While in his poem, Mr. Lyon hopefully proclaims that "...But Phoenix-like, it may arise, and brush the ashes from its eyes, and grow again like it once grew..." for the most part, the residents of Higginsport, and visitors seeking a respite from the pressures of their jobs in the cities, are quite happy with life just the way it is today.
(scroll down for poem)

 Historically, Higginsport lies in that part of Ohio which was part of the Virginia Military Lands - an area set aside to be used as payment for the services of Revolutionary War veterans of the colony of Virginia. Although the coffers of the government of our fledgling country were bare, it was rich with land that was rapidly being claimed and settled. Many of the large older homes in the area have a decided "Virginia" style of architecture.

The village of Higginsport (first platted and recorded as White Haven in 1816) was founded by Colonel Robert Higgins, a Revolutionary War officer who received 1,000 acres of land for his services to the country. Colonel Higgins, who was born in Virginia, left his large plantation on the South Branch of the Potomac River, and emigrated with his family to Kentucky in 1798 - across the river from his survey in Lewis Township, OH. Col Higgins and his family crossed the Ohio River in spring of 1799, and occupied a crude cabin in what is now the village of Higginsport. Mrs. Mary Higgins (nee Joliffe), who died in 1806, was the first person berried in the Higginsport Cemetery. Subsequently,Col. Higgins donated the land for a public cemetery to the village of Higginsport.

Prior to 1820 the village consisted of but several cabins. In the 1820's the village started to grow slowly but steadily. Jesse Dugan, a merchant and tobacco dealer, arrived in 1832 and built the first brick house in town in 1835. The Dugan residence still stands at river's edge on Brown Street, a large and beautiful structure proudly proclaiming its deep roots in the town's history. Several homes in town date to the mid 1800's, and have survived the turmoil of the times and the ravages of the river.

From its rude beginnings, Higginsport grew into quite a booming river town. The 1880 History of Brown County indicates a population of 862. At that time, the town boasted 5 general stores, 2 drug stores, 2 tin shops, 1 hardware store, 4 "fancy goods" stores, a clothing store, 1 tobacco store and several groceries. The town also hosted 2 hotels (one, on Main Street at the riverfront, is now a private residence), as well as 5 practicing physicians, 1 minister and several teachers. In 1880 there were 10 tobacco warehouses and 30 tobacco merchants in Higginsport. Higginsport was also home to several saloons and a shoe factory. A lumber mill, grist mill and a distillery rounded out the economy.

Time and the river have brought a lot of changes to Higginsport, not all of them good. The expansion of the railroad severely and adversely impacted water transportation that had been the driving force behind Higginsport's early growth. Fires destroyed a number of the businesses, and what remained was further decimated by floods.

The circa 1910 post card in the center at the top of this page shows some of the now long-gone businesses, including the flour mill and distillery. Today the land upon which those businesses once stood is occupied by single-family homes. The once-busy public wharf where freight was the life-blood of the Higginsport economy has given way to privately owned riverfront residences.

Old Higginsport
a Poem by William Lyon- 1842-1939
Gentleman Farmer and Poet

Old Higginsport, a river town
In business lines, once held renown:
Her wharves and landings were the best
Ohio River then possessed.
Palace Steamboats, new and bright
Received her freight, both day and night:
Hogs, and cattle, calves and sheep
Were shipped on steamers, staunch and fleet.
Her sawmill men, with enterprise
conducted mills of giant size;
The public from the country wide
Came here to buy and were supplied
With choicest lumber, sound and prime -
Of oak and poplar, ash and pine.
These noble mills continued on
Till flame and flood had swept them down.

Distilleries and flour mill
Gave the town a magic thrill.
The belching smoke from towering stacks
Announced the never-failing facts
That whiskey, here, was being made,
To fill demand and hold the trade.
The farmers from the country came
To Higginsport to sell their grain
Of wheat and rye and corn in the ear
And found a steady market here.

The streets became a thoroughfare
Of moving traffic everywhere.
No grass was seen upon the street
For traffic wore it off, complete.
No idle men were loafing here
To interrupt or interfere;
This busy hive was minus drones
That eat the sweets and muss the combs.

Each man and boy had steady jobs
Of sawing wood or wheeling cobs,
Or working in the lumber yards
Where ready cash was their rewards.
The stores and shops along the way
Were run by men who made it pay;
Several men, beginning poor,
Accumulated wealth galore.
Tobacco men of life and cheer
Bought all the crops both far and near,
And prized the same, in hogsheads made
With the town's increasing trade.

Big sums were made - big sums were lost
As up and down the market tossed.
But many dealers in the trade
Were satisfied with what they made.
The blacksmith trade, as all should know
In by-gone years was in its glow;
Its work in iron did attest
A skill and genius of the best.
From early morn till dewy eve
Its hammers sang, without reprieve -
The Anvil Chorus that it made
Gave life to every branch of trade.
The minor details are not shown
In this description of the town:
But they were here, just all the same,
As any town, in truth, will claim.

But Higginsport, like plant or weed
Has made a growth and gone to seed!
And who shall say, among us now,
This seed will germinate and grow?

The seed is blasted, it is true,
By flame and flood and railroad, too.
But Phoenix-like, it may arise
And brush the ashes from its eyes
and grow again, like once it gray
In spite of flame or blighting dew.
Could this occur in coming days
Old Higginsport will shout her praise.