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Railyard in the port of Ashtabula
Hubbard House
Projected primary nuclear strike targets for Ohio, circa 1990 (FEMA Image, with Ashtabula labeled)
Ashtabula is a city in Ashtabula Countymarker, Ohiomarker, United Statesmarker, and the center of the Ashtabula Micropolitan Statistical Area (as defined by the United States Census Bureau in 2003). A major location on the Underground Railroad in the middle 19th century, the city today is a major coal port on Lake Eriemarker at the mouth of the Ashtabula Rivermarker northeast of Clevelandmarker. The name Ashtabula means "river of many fish" in the Iroquois language. As of the 2000 census, the city had a total population of 20,962.

Poet Carl Sandburg wrote a poem titled "Crossing Ohio when Poppies Bloom in Ashtabula." There is also a novel called The King from Ashtabula by Vern Sneider, published in 1960.

Ashtabula hosts an annual Blessing of the Fleet Celebration, usually in late May or early June. As part of the celebration, a procession and prayer service is held at Ashtabula Harbor.Ashtabula was also home of the FinnFestUSA in 2007.


Ashtabula was founded in 1803 and incorporated in 1891. The city contains several former stops on the Underground Railroad which was used to convey African-American slaves to freedom in Canadamarker in the years before the American Civil War. Among the stops is Hubbard House, one of the handful of termination points. Ex-slaves would reside in a basement of the house adjacent to the lake and then leave on the next safe boat to Canada, gaining their freedom once they arrived in Ontariomarker. Its harbor has been a large ore and coal port since the end of the 19th century and continues to be to some extent with a long coal ramp draping across the horizon in the current harbor and the ore shipments unloaded from lakers that is sent down to the steel mills of Pennsylvania.

Many newcomers to Ashtabula in the late 19th century and early 20th century were immigrants from Finlandmarker, Swedenmarker, and Italymarker. Ethnic rivalries among these groups were once a major influence on daily life in Ashtabula. A substantial percentage of the current residents are descended from those immigrants. The population in the City of Ashtabula grew steadily until 1970, since when it has been declining just as steadily.

Rail history

On December 29, 1876, one of the nation's most notorious rail accidents occurred, known as the Ashtabula Horrormarker, and the Ashtabula River Railroad bridge disastermarker, Ashtabula, Ohio, United Statesmarker. As Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway Train No. 5, The Pacific Express, crossed the Ashtabula River bridge, the Howe truss structure collapsed, dropping the second locomotive of two and 11 passenger cars into the frozen creek 150 feet below. A fire was started by the car stoves, and of the 159 people onboard, 64 were injured and 92 killed.


The 1900s saw great changes in Ashtabula. Its access to Lake Eriemarker and nearly 30 miles of shoreline helped position Ashtabula as a major shipping and commercial center.

During the 1950s, the area experienced growth with its expanding chemical industry and increasing harbor activity, making Ashtabula one of the most important port cities of the Great Lakesmarker. Historical industries in the area included a Rockwell International plant on Route 20 on the western side of Ashtabula that manufactured brakes for the Space Shuttle program and the extrusion of depleted and enriched uranium at the Reactive Metals Extrusion plant on East 21st Street, prompting the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to, as recently as 1990 (the year the plant ceased operations), place Ashtabula on its list of expected primary nuclear targets for the Soviet Union.

Ashtabula Harbor hosts an annual Blessing of the Fleet community festival. The origin of the Blessing of the Fleet can be traced to Portuguese and Irish fisherman and tugmen who settled in Ashtabula. Sometime in the 1930s, the Blessing of the Fleet was a small, almost private affair in early April conducted by a few tugmen, their parish priest, and an acolyte. By 1950, it had become a public ceremony under the auspices of Mother of Sorrows parish. In 1974, the Blessing of the Fleet became a community affair involving all of Ashtabula's religious and harbor community. Today the Blessing is held annually, usually in late May. The Coast Guard Station and the Harbor Museum and other sites have been established to preserve Ashtabula's maritime heritage.


Ashtabula is located at (41.877138, -80.796976) .

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 7.7 square miles (20.0 km²), of which, 7.6 square miles (19.6 km²) of it is land and 0.2 square miles (0.4 km²) of it (2.20%) is water.

Ashtabula borders Lake Eriemarker to the north and has a prominent harbor where the Ashtabula Rivermarker flows into the lake. The Ashtabula Harbor was a primary coal harbor and still serves to ship . It has two public beaches: Walnut Beach, near the harbor, and Lake Shore Park, originally a Public Works Administration project, on the opposite side of the harbor.

The Ashtabula River and harbor are a significant superfund site due to past industrial abuse of the waterway.

Part of the city lies in Ashtabula Township, and part lies in Saybrook Township.


As of the census of 2000, there were 20,962 people, 8,435 households, and 5,423 families residing in the city. The population density was 2,775.9 people per square mile (1,072.0/km²). There were 9,151 housing units at an average density of 1,211.8/sq mi (468.0/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 84.69% White, 9.79% African American, 0.29% Native American, 0.40% Asian, 0.05% Pacific Islander, 2.51% from other races, and 2.26% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 5.32% of the population. 16.5% were of Italian, 14.6% German, 9.2% Americanmarker, 8.1% Irish and 8.1% English ancestry according to Census 2000. 93.1% spoke English and 5.4% Spanish as their first language.

There were 8,435 households out of which 32.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 41.9% were married couples living together, 17.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 35.7% were non-families. 30.6% of all households were made up of individuals and 13.3% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.45 and the average family size was 3.03.

In the city the population was spread out with 27.6% under the age of 18, 8.8% from 18 to 24, 28.1% from 25 to 44, 20.5% from 45 to 64, and 15.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 35 years. For every 100 females there were 88.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 83.3 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $27,354, and the median income for a family was $33,454. Males had a median income of $28,436 versus $22,490 for females. The per capita income for the city was $14,034. About 17.8% of families and 21.4% of the population were below the poverty line, including 31.2% of those under age 18 and 13.6% of those age 65 or over.

Historic population figures

  • 1900—12,949
  • 1910—18,266
  • 1920—22,082
  • 1930—23,301
  • 1940—21,405
  • 1950—23,696
  • 1960—24,559
  • 1970—24,313
  • 1980—23,449
  • 1990—21,633
  • 2000—20,962
  • 2003—20,355 (U.S. Census Estimate)

Notable residents

Sister cities

Ashtabula, Ohio has one sister city, as designated by Sister Cities International:

See also

Gallery of Ashtabula

Image:pbalson_20060527_IMG_3701.JPG|American Merchant Marine Veterans Memorial in AshtabulaImage:pbalson_20060527_IMG_3702.JPG|Point Park in Ashtabula


The city is not the county seat of Ashtabula Countymarker, as the city's name may imply. The county seat of Ashtabula County is Jeffersonmarker.

Ashtabula was mentioned in Bob Dylan's song "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go" off of his 1975 album Blood on the Tracks.

Toledo, Ohiomarker-based rock band The PB Army's song "Ashtabula" is a semi-serious ode to the town, written in honor of singer Keith Bergman's wife, who was born and raised there.

Jack Kerouac passes through Ashtabula in a Greyhound Bus in his novel On the Road.


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