KILVERT

The name on the map might be Kilvert, but most residents in this tiny hamlet located 15 miles northeast of Athens still call it "Tablertown".

In 1830 Michael Tabler made his way to Southeast Ohio with his wife, Hannah. Hannah, a mulatto slave on the Tabler's family plantation in Virginia, was sold by Michael's father, in an attempt to thwart their attraction. But their's was literally a run-away love. Young Tabler, indignant and determined, left home, found Hannah, and bought her freedom. Sure of the wrath of his father, Tabler brought his bride to the wilderness of Southeast Ohio. It was there that they purchased a plot of land and raised their family of nine sons. Today, it is estimated that some 500 of their descendents still live in the surrounding hollows and in the small town of Kilvert.
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William Tabler and his wife Ruth Corbin Tabler


Kilvert's citizens hail from mixed blood lines, a heritage of which they are proud -- but that didn't mean it was always easy. Early residents, victims of discrimination, were excluded from activities in neighboring towns. These citizens, forced to keep to themselves, intermarried. As a result, Kilvert, once sanctuary to many run-away and later freed slaves, I
rish immigrants and a variety of Native Americans now has the distinction of being home to a unique cultural group, described by sociologists as WIN, or of white, Indian and Negro ancestry.

There were two distinct migrations of African Americans to the area. The first arrived in the late 1700s from Virginia. Tales have it that many slaves who came later, before the Civil War, escaped on an underground rail system, part of
which extended from Athens to Morgan County. The second migration was an influx of freed slaves. Aided by the neighboring abolitionist Quakers who lived nearby, both groups were offered land at reasonable prices.

Tracing the Native American influx has proven to be more difficult for historians. After reviewing the 1850 census which lists many Rome Township residents as Indian, speculation has it that this may have been because of a Shawnee war trail that ran Northwest from Marietta to the now neighboring Morgan county. Many residents, however, ascribe their heritage to the Cherokee.

Though residents are proud of their mixed-heritage, which is estimated to be at least fifty-percent Native American, Kilvert has continued to suffer discrimination from outsiders. Services, easily taken for granted by neighboring villages, were hard to come by for Kilvert residents. Electric lines arrived in 1952, and natural gas lines were only were made available to residents in 1967. Many residents with dark skin were refused seats in local restaurants, barber shops and schools; for many years Kilvert had its own one-room schoolhouse. The neighboring town of Chesterhill, at one time, even outlawed blacks altogether. But like the times, things have changed.

Today, the pulse of Kilvert can be felt in
The Kilvert Community Center. In 1981 the Center was named the State Headquarters for the North American Indian Council, serving persons of Indian descent (1/4 blood line) in a 10 - country area. But five-years ago they lost their Federal funding through no fault of their own. Then to add to the hardship, three-years ago the original center burnt down in a fire.

Irene Flowers, who runs the center today, says that it used to offer groceries at wholesale prices, firewood, free use of a roto-tiller. It also was host to a wide variety of activities for area residents such as sewing, woodworking, softball teams, and a very strong 4-H program. But since the devastating fire and loss of Federal funding, the center has had a hard time getting back on its feet. Today it is only able to offer its residents a place to gather. Flowers says, "We get no help anymore. Nothing. We live from hand-to-mouth." Raising what funds they can, with events such as a Thanksgiving dinner for relatives and friends, she says that the center is barely staying afloat. .
The center sponsors an annual summer celebration -- Kilvert's Pioneer Days, attended by some 150 people. The festival, which developed over the years, was first known as The Kilvert Old Fashioned Days, and then The Kilvert Community Center Indian Harvest Festival. Activities include music, cooking and old timey homemaking demonstrations, camping, covered wagon tours, horseshoe pitching, an ice cream social, and a variety of contests. The rich cultural heritage on display at these festivals is a reminder of what life was like back-when.
In its hey-day, thanks to the bustling coal and iron ore industry, Kilvert, like so many which sprang up along the rail system, was a boisterous, wide-open, wild western, no-holds-barred type of  town, according to a 1938 article published in the Athens Messenger. Kilvert boasted saloons, numerous houses, a blacksmith's shop and a watering station for the railroad. The Marietta and Cincinnati railroad, in operation from 1857-1876 connected to the B&O system along Federal Creek and passed right through Kilvert. The name "Kilvert" is attributed to a southern plantation owner, Kilvert  who moved his slaves to the area to work the mines when he himself got in on the boon and became a coal operator.

When the coal mines flourished, so did Kilvert.
In 1876, when the MC&C Railway abandoned its lines and expanded west, many of the Irish immigrants moved north leaving their shanties and cottages to the area's darker skinned residents, most of whom found themselves unemployed. The area became a virtual ghost town.

In 1937 a tornado touched down and destroyed most of the buildings in Kilvert except for one concrete block store. But even at that time residents didn't see this as the end of Kilvert; they maintained that the real end came in 1887, when the coal dried up. Windows and roofs were blown out, three were killed and dozens injured.   But the town has an indefatigable spirit and they held together. After the disaster, Ike Tabler told reporters, "I'm gonna patch my roof for summer. I came near enough to leaving this part of the country yesterday [after the tornado]. I was born here, and I don't intend to leave anymore."

But many of Tabler's descendents, forced to leave because of unemployment, weren't so lucky. Calvin Tabler was raised on the edge of the inner city in Akron, without the support of the community. Not white, black or Native American, he confessed to having an identity crisis. Searching out his roots, he began to unfold his family's rich heritage. Thanks to local historians and researchers, who helped him verify the oral histories he had heard growing up, he was able to put the pieces of his past together. Filled with understanding, his ancestry has become a source of pride. After all, he says, his family is one of the first to be everything that is American.