Thomas Gaylord and the Beginning of Portsmouth's Iron Industry

Thomas Gould Gaylord provided the capital and entrepreneurial drive to establish Portsmouth as a major center for iron manufacturing, securing his pig iron from the numerous charcoal furnaces in what was to become known as the Hanging Rock Iron District, which stretched from northeastern Kentucky deep into southeastern Ohio, including the eastern part of Scioto and all of Lawrence County.

The original “Portsmouth Iron Works” were constructed by Glover, Noel and Company in 1832 on the Ohio river front, "on the southeast corner of Front and Washington Streets on what is known now as York Park." The land was owned by the City and leased for $100 a year. "The mill consisted of nobbing furnaces and was equipped to roll bar iron and make cut nails." Powered by a steam engine, built in Pittsburgh, and constructed with castings from Maddock's Foundry in Portsmouth, the works operated "under the management of the original owners until 1834 when it failed, no doubt, because of poor management."

As the fates would have it, Thomas G. Gaylord found himself in Portsmouth in 1834, not long after the closure of the original “Portsmouth Iron Works." Gaylord, a native of New York, had made a small fortune in the Queensware business in Pittsburgh and had attempted to expand his business in Maysville, Kentucky, where he established a store, placing his brother over its management. A cholera outbreak in Maysville, however, killed his brother and wife, and depressed the business prospects of the city. Gaylord was passing through Portsmouth after having settled his affairs in Maysville and he must have been moved by the prospects he saw at the new southern terminus of the Ohio and Erie Canal. In Frank Rowe's telling, "While in Portsmouth, Gaylord traded his queensware business in Pittsburgh and some mountain land in Pennsylvania for the rolling mill of the Portsmouth Iron Company. The land involved in the deal was later thought to be of no value and those receiving it disposed of it as soon as possible. Afterwards this same land became very valuable when oil was discovered in Pennsylvania."

Gaylord installed new boilers, replacing the old “knobbling” furnaces with “puddling” furnaces, and changed out “the old fashioned” hammers with “rolls” to create the first “complete and modern rolling mill” west of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 1835, he added a steam-powered forge to the mill (known as Bloom Forge) and built "a rail road from the mill to the river for the purpose of taking up his coal, bloom and pig metal." The new firm became known as Thomas G. Gaylord and Company and "it continued under that name for the next thirty-eight years."

Thomas Gaylord and his family made their residence at the northeast corner of Court and Front Streets, a short walk from his river front manufacturing operation. In 1846, Thomas G. Gaylord moved his family to Cincinnati, ultimately leaving management of the Portsmouth works in the hands of his younger cousin, Benjamin B. Gaylord. During the Civil War, Benjamin Gaylord took several large Federal contracts for the manufacture of iron plates that were used in the construction of the first Ironclad battleships deployed by the Union Navy. Rowe notes that "machinery was improved and considerable money spent to equip the mill for this purpose. It was a good investment and Gaylord made a great deal of money on these war contracts." In 1872, the company was reorganized as a stock company and became known as the Gaylord Rolling Mill Company.

The old Gaylord Mill operated until 1889, when it was shuttered and its machinery eventually sold to the city's other steel mill, the Burgess Steel and Iron Works. In 1895, L. C. Turley, as a member of City Council, proposed converting the abandoned mill into a public park. The Portsmouth Times noted "there can be no question but that such a park will add greatly to the appearance of the city. The old mill has been an eyesore for many years and tends to give persons passing up and down the river the idea that Portsmouth is a dead town -- a town whose factories are deserted and silent and a roosting place for owls and swallows." While the old Gaylord Mill is now long gone, Thomas G. Gaylord's House still stands today, a testament to the earliest days of the iron industry in Portsmouth, Ohio.