SHAWNEE, Ohio — Tucked inside State Route 93 in Perry County, bordering Wayne National Forest, the town of Shawnee looks like a place that time has forgotten.

What You Need To Know

  • Shawnee is located off State Route 93 in Perry County, bordering Wayne National Forest

  • The town has hopes of becoming a tourist destination to rival Hocking Hills

  • Main Street has recently added a tavern, shops and is currently renovating a theatre that dates back a century

It's a coal mining village of around 700 people, but like so many other small towns in southern Ohio, it’s faced decline ever since the 1930s.

“When the coalmines left, it just slowly deteriorated. There wasn't work there. People would leave. You know, good quality people. And then they would want better education, better jobs,” said Mayor Beverly Trovato.

“So, as the wages went up, the mines couldn’t pay the wages and the coal fields shifted more to West Virginia and Eastern Ohio, up around Cambridge and that area,” said Historian and Promoter John Winnenburg.

After decades of stagnation, things on Main Street are beginning to change, due to a restoration projected headed by a group called Black Diamond Development, a nod to the coal industry that helped shape the area.

The Black Diamond Tavern is one of their first projects.

It’s one of the only non-chain, non-drive thru restaurants in the area before you hit Logan.

And then there’s Tecumseh Theatre — Winnenburg's crown jewel — an anchor of the historic district.

He bought the property in the 1970s for $500, and he has restored the outside and first floor.

It's been his life long dream to revitalize the second floor theatre, and in coming years, he hopes to restore it to its early 1900s glory years. Winnenburg knows it's a leap of faith, but he’s excited to take part in the revival.

“There’s gonna be pressure for different kind of development, no doubt. But we’d like to keep our story intact, so when people come there, they don’t just have a good time. They understand the story of these communities we call the 'Little Cities of Black Diamonds,' said Winnenburg.

Southwest Ohio native, historian and tour guide Grant Joy is on board as well. Joy said Shawnee has a rich tapestry of history, architecture, outdoor hiking trails and camping.

He looks forward to a time where the town can make its triumphant return to live performances in this 350 seat theatre.

“It’s appealing to me, but also I think hopefully can be appealing to a larger audience. It’s going to take all of us working together and working as a collective to ensure that Shawnee prospers,” said Joy.

Yes, there are some shops popping up here and there, but blight is an issue: Some of the buildings are condemned and some will need to be torn down. But there is also hope the Black Diamond Development partnership will create more retail shops, housing, Airbnb rentals and camp grounds for those seeking an alternative destination to Hocking Hills.

Trovato, who's not just the mayor but also a life-long resident who runs her own shop in town, Little Shawnee Mercantile, said she's encouraged by the progress being made and is on board for the long haul.

“The last year has been a little difficult with the COVID and everything, but we usually see a lot of people in the summer come through, and we're exciting about all this revitalization to make that store better also,” said Trovato.

Everyone involved knows it's going to take time, money and backing by local residents.

But history is in the making, and a town that was forgotten for generations is finally breathing new life. As of now, it's well on its way of becoming a diamond in the rough.​

“We all have the main goal is to make Shawnee the best it can be, and together, we can absolutely do that,” said Trovato.