LOGAN – America’s last washboard maker has proven to be as tenacious as the ring around the collar.
The Columbus Washboard Co. probably shouldn’t have entered the 21st century.
The company, created in 1895, nearly closed for good in 1999, joining many similar companies that had fallen victim to progress, foreign competition and the repairman Maytag.
Hocking Hills:Cold climates and rolling climbs mingle with warmer pursuits on a winter trip to Hocking Hills
But the old-fashioned washboard maker overcame long struggles and the steady march of laundry technology.
The business was bought out and moved to Logan and is now thriving, supported by preppers, tourists and a small but loyal group of avid washboard enthusiasts that includes both laundresses and musicians.
Company on the move
Business is going so well, in fact, that the company plans to move this summer from its current headquarters in a former factory to a new headquarters and visitor center downtown.
Travelers still have plenty of time, however, to visit the current site (14 Gallagher Ave., www.columbuswashboard.com), which offers its own nostalgic charm.
Guided and self-guided tours of the factory are available.
“We’re proud to still be here,” said James Martin, one of the company’s owners.
Martin bills himself as “Plant Manager Emeritus” when leading site tours and also works for the Hocking Hills Tourism Association.
“You don’t want to lose that kind of story,” he said.
But the washboards produced by the company are still useful tools and not just nostalgic collectibles, Martin said.
“We don’t make toys or trinkets.”
Hotel Bottleworks:Travel: Indianapolis’ Bottleworks Hotel and nearby Arts and Entertainment District offer plenty of gems
See how washboards are made
Visitors to the factory can observe that washboards, virtually identical to those produced a century ago, are handcrafted by workers using both modern and original equipment.
The factory, which is practically a museum unto itself, also houses a display area showcasing the dozens of varieties of washboards once and still produced by the company, including century-old brands such as Maid-Rite, Sunnyland and Mom’s Helper.
Panels are made with wooden frames and glass, stainless steel or galvanized steel surfaces in multiple sizes to match the task – or sound – they are intended for.
The site also hosts a large gift shop with a wide variety of company products as well as local crafts and gifts.
Ear-to-ear music washboards
During a tour, visitors can learn about the long history of the washboard as a rhythmic instrument in traditional Appalachian, folk, and bluegrass music and maybe even take part in a fun, all-too-brief lesson. of washboard game.
While any washboard will fulfill the purpose, the factory sells a model designed for playing, with literal bells and whistles and other accessories often desired by the washboard musician.
But to really feel — and hear — the joy of washboard music, visitors should return for Logan’s Washboard Music Festival (www.washboardmusicfestival.com), which takes place every summer on the weekend of the fathers Day.
Company officials say many of the washboards sold today are used as instruments. Many enthusiasts understandably also hang the beautiful boards as decorations. But most washboards made in the 21st century are still used as they were in the 19th: as laundry aids.
Washboards are invaluable for people living off the grid or during power outages when modern equipment just won’t work, Martin said. The company also sends washboard laundry kits to US troops serving in areas without reliable electricity or laundry equipment.
Voice of America:A voice heard around the world: the Voice of America museum near Cincinnati, a historical marvel
However, many people equipped with the latest washing technologies still find washboards unmatched for purposes such as removing stubborn stains, Martin said.
“I use them myself on my cuffs and collars,” he said. “There is nothing better.”
Guided tours are available for groups of four or more. Admission is $8, or $5 for children and students 17 and under and includes 10% off most gift shop items. To schedule a visit, call 740-380-3828.
For more things to see and do in and around Logan, visit www.explorehockinghills.com.
Steve Stephens is a freelance travel writer and photographer. Email him at [email protected]