Ghost towns in Ohio aren't much like the classic western ghost town; they don't usually leave anything behind to prove they were there. Interstates and shopping malls, apartment complexes and middle-class housing developments bury them. Sometimes the only thing left of a little town will be a word on a map. Some existed at country intersections which are now completely barren. The ghost town with the broken windows and flapping shutter is a real rarity in Ohio.
The town of San Toy, in Perry County, is an exception. It might not have the flapping shutters, but it has a lot left to indicate that a thriving town once stood at this intersection in the rural backwoods of Perry County. More than any other ghost town in Ohio (except maybe Moonville), San Toy is a fascinating place to see.
Between 1900 and 1927, San Toy was a prosperous company town. It was created by the Sunday Creek Coal Company to provide lodging for its employees at the two San Toy coal mines. How did it get its odd name? There are so many stories that it's impossible to say. It was a fad of the Victorian era to give things Chinese-sounding names, so maybe San Toy just sounded good. Another story says that the town's best boxer was named Sam Troy, and they wanted to name the town after him, but the handwriting on the town's charter was misread and misprinted. Probably the closest thing to the truth is the story that the Sunday Creek Coal Company had invested in a Broadway musical called San Toy (which actually did exist around the turn of the century). When it flopped they lost a lot of money. The story goes that, surveying the town, one said to another, "Let's hope this isn't another San Toy."
Laborers came from local areas or were imported from places as far-flung as Europe; the ridge near San Toy is called Irish Ridge. When the Ku Klux Klan revived in the 1920's they targeted Catholic immigrants in San Toy, but the company hired men to run them off. In the mines, everyone was the same color.
Mining is a notoriously dangerous occupation, and in San Toy regular blasting made it even worse. Frequent tremors shook the earth. Conditions were not the worst, but on occasion miners did die underground, as well as in the saloons.
Up on the surface, San Toy developed remarkably for its short life span. At its peak in 1917 it boasted a baseball team, several saloons, a jailhouse, the Lyric Theater, and even the only hospital ever in Perry County. The coal company took care of its workers when times were good--especially during World War I, when the demand for coal was at its peak.
Some of the most famous stories surrounding San Toy are those of the acts of violence committed in its streets. Some legends say there was a murder a day, although that seems unlikely. What is likely is that it was a little town full of men who carried guns and had little to do when not working other than drink their paychecks and fight. According to Addison Vanhorn, a local, "It was a tough place. If you took a walk up the railroad tracks with a lantern, somebody'd shoot it out."
In September 25, 1924, angry miners rolled a coal car full of burning railroad ties into mine #1, starting a fire which destroyed not only the mine but also the theater and the hospital. Mine #2 operated until March 31, 1927, when the Sunday Creek Coal Company decided to abandon the mine rather than modernize it. One miner commented that his tools and equipment are still presumably in the mine from the last day of work.
After that San Toy tried to hang on, turning to moonshine for a while, but it was a lost cause. The mine was what had kept things going.
San Toy achieved a dubious sort of fame in 1930: It was the town in the United States which had dropped the most in per capita population since the previous census. In 1931 the 19 registered voters elected by a margin of 17-2 to abandon the town. Today there are about fifty people living in the area which was once San Toy, but their address is more likely to be New Lexington, and they get their mail through rural free delivery.
I've made the trip to San Toy several times. The first was late at night with my friend Jesus, and we couldn't find anything but the intersection where the town was supposed to be (about a mile from Irish Ridge Road). If you go, you pretty much have to do it in the daytime, unless you know exactly what you're looking for. Going when the trees aren't full of leaves is also a good idea; the buildings stand in the woods on either side of San Toy Road. To explore San Toy, click below.