VINCENT - When she was in school in the 1940s, a friend of Janice McGregor's asked if she could talk to her mother for a history report about the Vincent family.
"And I said, 'What do you want to talk about them for?'" McGregor, 77, recalled with a laugh. "Apparently, I wasn't quite aware of how important the Vincents were."
But over the years she's learned much more about the family from which she's descended and whose name endures as the name of the town where McGregor grew up and which she's called home again for the last 40 years.
Photo by Evan Bevins
Vincent resident Janice McGregor stands in front of the house built by Henry Earle Vincent, the namesake of the town and brother of her great-great grandfather.
And just like with Vincent, there's a story behind the names of villages and other sites throughout Washington County - some predictable, some strange, some not known to many.
While multiple members of the Vincent family were prominent in the area's history, the namesake of the town is Henry Earle Vincent, who purchased the land in western Washington County where the settlement grew. He paid 50 cents an acre to the Ohio Company, along with the promise that he would plant 100 apple trees on the property, according to research compiled by McGregor.
Vincent laid out the village in 1853 and donated a parcel of land for use by the railroad. Because of this, the Marietta & Cincinnati Railroad Company referred to the town as "Vincent," according to a history of Washington County post offices compiled by postal historian Jerry Devol. Henry Vincent was the first telegrapher at Vincent Station, and his son, Rollin C. Vincent, was the first postmaster.
McGregor's great-great grandfather, John Vincent, was Henry Vincent's brother. He is renowned in the area and beyond by gun collectors as the maker of the Vincent rifle. His son, John Caleb Vincent, carried on the trade, and McGregor remembers one of her older brothers relating an encounter he had with their great-uncle.
"You could come in and look at his shop. But you couldn't talk too much and you couldn't ask too many questions," she said.
McGregor's great-grandmother, Mary Vincent, married Levi Jones, who left between $8,000 and $10,000 to each of his children when he died. That might not sound like much today, McGregor said, but it was enough to allow each child to build a house in Vincent.
As a result, McGregor was surrounded by family as she grew up.
"When I was a child, I could run up and down the street and visit Great-Aunt this and Great-Aunt that," she said. "I thought it was my playground."
Vincent was once a very busy town before rail service was discontinued in 1916.
"Back in the early 1900s, late 1800s, it was really booming with the railroad ... and also drilling for gas and oil," McGregor said.
Things are much quieter today, and there are more businesses in nearby Barlow than Vincent itself.
McGregor and her husband, Miles, who is also from Vincent, have lived in Vincent since his retirement from the Air Force in 1972. Their house is just a few blocks from Henry Vincent's former home.
"I just like it because it's our hometown, quiet, I know almost everybody in town," McGregor said.
For years, it was believed this village south of Macksburg was named for the Elbe River in Germany, from which its initial settlers hailed. That's the origin Devol recorded in his work on post offices of the area.
But a handwritten note added by Devol to a copy of his writings at the Washington County Local History and Genealogy Library in Marietta tells a different story.
"It has since been determined that Frederick Kueck gave the place the name after the island of Elba where Napoleon was exiled because Kueck thought he was pretty well exiled or marooned in the wilderness this was in 1871," he wrote.
Local historian Louise Zimmer had only heard the river explanation for Elba's name.
"I could understand that," she laughed, referring to Kueck's description of the area as a wilderness. "I like the Napoleon story better."
But Elba would not always be as small and remote as Kueck, owner of the store that housed the first post office, felt.
Surrounded by three hills, the town was once on U.S. 21, and was the site of a railroad station, coal mines and a trio of general stores, each with its own claim to fame ranging from fragrant teas and fine candy to ladies apparel and fresh produce.
But the loss of the railroad and the creation of Interstate 77, which led to the route through the town becoming Ohio 821, resulted in fewer people traveling through Elba.
Although a handful of people remain, the small community has been all but wiped out in subsequent years by flooding on Duck Creek. A number of residents accepted government money to buy out and demolish their homes.
Dunham Township resident Rosemary Vincent, 75, left Elba at the age of 21. She has fond memories of it, but they also make returning too painful.
"The house I lived in is gone; they tore it down," she said. "I can't stand to go up back through there."
Nestled in Lawrence Township, Cow Run is home to an estimated current population of 25, said Gerald McGregor, Lawrence Township trustee.
But it wasn't always like this.
Williams' "History of Washington County, Ohio," listed a population of 2,336 in June 1880. In the 1860s, the small town began to capitalize on the presence of oil.
But before the fencing, drilling and population increase, cows freely roamed the land.
According to Williams' "History," milkmaids rarely had trouble finding their cattle. A particular stream, lined with saline springs, seemed to be a hot spot, warranting the name Cow Run. The stream became the namesake of the settlement, McGregor said, referencing "The Wilderness that Became Lawrence," a book compiled by Lawrence School eighth-graders in 1976.
Cattle weren't the only things attracted to the stream, however. Oilmen also found the eastern and western dips on Cow Run useful in locating wells.
The stream is no longer popular.
"I'm not sure if there is a Cow Run stream, but there is a creek that runs along the road," said Sharon Hurst, 63, of Lawrence Township.
Currently, "there is only one farmer living on Cow Run Road," said McGregor, a distant cousin of Janice McGregor's husband. "Right now, oil isn't being drilled."
The small town is no longer considered a production site, but rather home for those who remain.
"Most of the (residents) were born and raised in that area, and they just never left. It's a calm place where there is very little crime and no city traffic," McGregor said. "The people enjoy living there."