Discover Ohio: The State's Best City or Town Name

By Nick Clarkson on July 15, 2017 at 8:45 am
Welcome to week one of the Discover Ohio series!

Welcome to the Discover Ohio series! In this weekly article, we will unpack the best parts about the Buckeye State by determining Ohio's best name, history, food and more every seven days.

Best Name: Knockemstiff, Ohio

Like many of you, I had never heard of this incredible area until just recently. But now I feel obligated to take a day just to go see it with my own eyes. Thank you to readers, JohnnyKozmo and Toad1204 for the strong suggestion of this town name that is synonymous with words used to describe certain types of alcohol.

The small community of Knockemstiff, Ohio (also known as Glenn Shade or Shady Glenn) is located in northeastern Huntington Township in Ross County, just southwest of Chillicothe (also a really great name). Per my in-depth research, there are a handful of old stories that explain how this extremely small town received its namesake.

One claims that a brawl broke out early on in the community's history. A second is the narrative of a woman who confronted her preacher during a Sunday service, informing the clergyman that her husband was cheating on her. She wanted the preacher's advice, and his response was very straightforward: "Knock 'em stiff."

Another thought was that the name is a slang word used for moonshining, which apparently was a popular activity in this rowdy area.

The New York Times wrote an article in August 2008 discussing how Knockemstiff got its name:

The town’s name is a source of folklore and conjecture. At the Ross County Historical Society’s McKell Library in Chillicothe, an archivist, Pat Medert, has a 1955 article from The Dayton Daily News about the town’s effort to change its name.

Ms. Medert said it quoted a resident saying that the origins dated far back, perhaps 100 years, to an episode in which a traveling preacher came across two women fighting over a man. The preacher said that he doubted the man was worth the trouble and that someone should “knock him stiff.” But variations on that story exist, as do ones that say the name is associated with moonshine and bar fights.

Just as much a source of debate is when Knockemstiff actually became Knockemstiff. The historical society has a county road map from 1940 showing its existence, and one from 1919 that does not. It has also been hard for county officials to decide on the town’s boundaries to estimate its current population. A Knockemstiff native, Lyle Johnson, 59, said there were about 200 residents.

A former resident of Knockemstiff, Donald Ray Pollock, was so inspired by the name that he used it as a setting for a book of short stories that he authored.

Pollack said “Knockemstiff had a reputation for being a really rough place,” and that when he began writing, he "took that and cranked it up a few amps.”

More from the New York Times article:

E. Gordon Gee, president of Ohio State University — where Mr. Pollock, a 53-year-old former paper mill worker, is studying creative writing — recently drove through Knockemstiff on a tour of the state. He said he had read the book and wanted to see for himself; Mr. Pollock said Mr. Gee even wanted to get his picture taken next to the sign.

If only there were a sign — or more of a town — left to visit.

There are no stores or bars left in Knockemstiff, only the ruins of several, including one that was run by Mr. Pollock’s parents, who still live in town. Souvenir hunters have taken whatever they can find. The sign on the book’s cover, which had extra bullet holes added by a graphic artist, had disappeared by the time of publication.

The name of this community that lies a little over an hour south of Columbus is something that would spark your interest if you saw a sign marking its city limits as you drove past it. But after learning more about its history, it will never be forgotten (at least by me).

Other "Best Name" Nominees:

  • Coolville
  • Blue Ball
  • Reminderville
  • Gnadenhutten
  • Wapakoneta
  • Put-In-Bay

Next week, the Discover Ohio series will determine the city in the Buckeye State that owns the best history. So unlock your memory banks, get your Google skills ready and crack open the books (if you for some reason own a book about Ohio cities' histories).

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