A crisp evening lay upon the community of Millfield, Ohio. The streets are quiet, with the occasional car zooming by. The smell of burning firewood fills the air as the sky grows dark over Main Street.
The houses that line the road are illuminated by dim fluorescent lights and the flickering of television sets. Today, what remains of the once-bustling town are the people who love their family heritage and call Millfield home.
Nestled among the Appalachian valleys of southeastern Ohio, along State Route 13, is the entrance to the town founded in 1818 named Millfield. Located just nine miles north of Athens, one could easily miss the turnoff if they weren’t paying attention.
Fifty years ago, the state route wound through the heart of the community, passing by the gas stations, convenience stores, post office, the church, country Doc’s clinic, and at some point, an auto store. Main Street grew quieter when the road bypassed the community in the 1970s. While the businesses faded away, the quaint houses, post office, and the church continued to endure the passage of time.
A tall, two-story building with peeling white paint lies at the crossroads of Main Street and Millfield Road. For the unincorporated community, this was the location of the old Company Store — a convenience store for the coal mining families.
An essential resource possessed by the Appalachian region of Ohio was coal. In 1903, corporate coal mining landed in Millfield, operated by Sunday Creek Coal Company. The advent of the mine in the area brought more than just a workforce; it produced a community. To accommodate the sudden influx of residents, the company built settlements, thus giving rise to the (former) company town of East Millfield.
As Millfield Road exits Main Street to the east, it comes to a bridge over the Sunday Creek and into East Millfield. Continuing a mile farther down the road leads to the Sunday Creek Coal Company Mine No. 6 — where one of Ohio’s historical markers’ designates the site of the Millfield coal mine disaster.
On the afternoon of Nov. 5, 1930, an accidental short circuit caused by a steel trolley rail culminated in a mine explosion. The accident killed over 80 men, the most massive loss of life in any mining disaster in Ohio’s history. Due to the mass causalities, the Company Store was used as a makeshift morgue while authorities recovered the rest of the bodies. The tragedy left the community in shambles, families, and livelihoods destroyed entirely. A month after the accident, Mine No. 6 was reopened and operated for another fourteen years. Today, what remains of the incident are the historic landmark and second-hand accounts of that fateful day.
Although healed, the community still bears scars from the mining accident. It shook the commerce of the area. Those who could leave did so in search of better opportunities. Even though businesses around town have slowly dissipated, the community continues to persevere despite the limited resources.