IBERIA — This village that sits on Ohio 309 is home to a Dollar General, a manufacturing plant, a dog park and a large volunteer firehouse.
But research into Iberia finds a number of fascinating facts from its past.
• It once was home to two whiskey distilleries, according to Dorothy Poast Predmore’s piece in “The Threads of Time.”
She wrote that there was no ready market for surplus grain before the roads and railroads were built; so the grain was put into a product that could be used or stored.
• Another item of note is there were as many as 11 cemeteries in Washington Township, some only having one or two graves each. One cemetery, Blaney, is named for a deserter who was court-martialed and short.
• The Big Four (Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and St. Louis Railroad) was looking to build a train station in northern Morrow County around 1850.
But when railroad officials were spurned by Iberia residents, who thought a railroad would be too dirty and noisy, they looked about a mile southeast. Instead, Saint James, also known as Iberia Station and Harwood, got the depot a few years later.
• Street lights were first installed in 1954; brighter vapor lights added 15 years later.
Today, it remains the main passage between Marion and Mansfield. Census Bureau records indicate 529 residents live there.
Smitty’s Carry-Out is still a popular stop, says owner Louie Cortez, who bought the store in 2018.
“We had intentions of remodeling and opening back up. There were a lot of hiccups and hurdles to get through to get there. We ended up opening in July 2019,” he said.
“We’re expanding all the time and adding new inventory to meet the village of Iberia’s needs. The community support has been phenomenal. We were a little nervous because it was shut down for so long, but we kept plugging away … and here we are today.”
Cortez also owns Iberia Earthworm Construction, LLC.
“My wife Karen and I purchased Earthworm in 2012. It’s been around since 1978. We’re highly involved in the Northmor Schools and the community is very, very important to us,” Cortez said.
“For us giving back is a huge factor in support of the community. We just give. The Good Lord has blessed us.”
Cortez sees the village and surrounding area growing.
“The village is doing absolutely good things. There is a lot coming here with the new solar panels. When that gets going it’s going to be huge for the community and for Northmor schools.”
The first business in Iberia, ironically, was a grocery and general merchandise store operated by John Coleridge. It sold buggies and boots, eggs, cookware and even hats.
The village continues to grow commercially along the corridor.
Van’s Auto Service and Tire Pros, based in Wadsworth, purchased an Iberia icon in 2018. Smitties Tires had been a village mainstay since 1956. Owner Tom Smith, then 61, sold the business and retired.
Dollar General opened its doors a couple of years ago.
Iberia’s landmark restaurant Eileen’s had closed several years before a fire destroyed that structure in January 2020. Prior to that it was a popular place to grab a bite for locals and those driving through.
Few towns this size have a dog park.
In 2016 Steve and Kathy Ball opened Adventure Mountain Dog Boarding and Park.
“We love doggies and wanted to provide the area with a true dog park. Some cities, like Marion, have a fenced-in area for dogs at municipal parks but there is nothing for the dogs to do. We have created a park that the dogs will love,” Steve said at the time. “It is a dog lover’s dream.”
There were two major fires during its first century, the first being 1894 at the Working Home for the Blind was gutted and had to be abandoned.
The second occurred March 30, 1920, and it was devastating.
The John Garverick farm building next to the railroad caught fire. It spread quickly and “hop-scotched from one small barn to another down the alley.”
The blacksmith shop was lost, along with several homes and the township house.
Decades later the Iberia Volunteer Fire Company was formed. In 2016 it became a Joint Fire District and serves the community well.
“2021 was quite a year for the Iberia Joint Fire District. We responded to 143 calls, which is an 18 percent increase over 2020. We were able to acquire a FEMA grant that will allow us to replace two aging fire trucks. This will save our taxpayers $450,000 in the end,” it said.
The fire department gained a couple new members and said good-bye to a pair of members who retired after 50-plus years service each.
The Methodist denomination held classes in homes prior to forming a church. The first building was erected in 1841, on the south side of Marion-Mansfield Road.
On Sept. 24, 1867, the original structure was replaced by a larger building on the same site.
It was remodeled in 1920-21 with President Warren G. Harding sending a check to the congregation to help with expenses. He had attended the church often while a student at Ohio Central College and he helped paint it the previous year.
Iberia’s role in the Underground Railroad and anti-slavery movement shouldn’t be overlooked.
Local historians talk about Rev. George Gordon, who was Iberia’s Free Presbyterian minister and fierce anti-slavery advocate. Gordon is buried in Iberia Cemetery.
Several families in the Iberia area were “stations” on the Underground Railroad. They were considered by some to be radical for breaking the law and harboring slaves.
Iberia has a rich and diverse history and appears poised for future growth.
This is the 18th and final installment in our Country Roads series featuring towns and villages, past and present, in Morrow County.