My curiosity has been piqued over time about an outdoor play titled “Gallia Country” performed for several summers in the 1970s at the Bob Evans Farm in Rio Grande. The work appeared to be an intertwining of historical incidents and personages both in Gallia County and Gallipolis since 1790 when the French 500 first arrived on the banks of the Ohio River to establish a town and a new life for themselves.
This much is recalled from viewing part of a videotaped presentation that aired on WOUB-TV in the summer of 1979, by which time I understand “Gallia Country” was no longer performed at the farm. WOUB didn’t do the taping; it was apparently accomplished by a team from a Cincinnati-area public television station whose call letters escape memory. I did not finish watching the show, broadcast late on a Saturday night during my internship at the Gallipolis Daily Tribune, partly because its fixed-camera position looking straight at the stage grew a bit tiresome.
But as I think back on places and activities that formed my experiences here, I’m intrigued about what the rest of “Gallia Country” was like outside of the portion that introduced O.O. “Odd” McIntyre as a youth living in Gallipolis during the late 19th Century.
That wasn’t the only thing I remembered as the cast, introduced in the opening credits, included some local folks I had met that summer. That included at least one Gallia countian and Ohio University student whom I normally saw walking to and from classes from our residence halls on the East Green. So I’ve been curious about “Gallia Country” and its fate. However, a Google search of the topic reveals nothing.
I realize a stop at the Gallia County Historical Society could answer my questions about “Gallia Country,” but I’ve yet to make that trip in to its new quarters on the 300 block of Second Avenue. Still, now is as good a time as any to shout out a thank you to Amy Noble Summers, formerly of the Bob Evans Farm office staff, who did check its files for anything on the play for me. All she found was a brochure advertising the production, which presented an important clue. “Gallia Country” was first staged at the farm in 1973, providing me, a la “History Detectives,” with a starting date.
Don’t know when the production had its last hurrah, although in that summer of ‘79 people were still talking of it even if it wasn’t scheduled. The date of the premiere also narrowed down how to begin researching its background through microfilmed newspaper files, which I will hopefully do sometime in the near future.
As an occasional contributor to The Glade, the historical society’s quarterly newsletter, my goal is to put together an article on the history of “Gallia Country.” Some individuals with whom I’ve shared this brainstorm of mine have been dismissive, seeming to think it’s a waste of time and effort, better off remaining either forgotten or lost in the mists of shaky memory.
Well, they may have their point, but I have to disagree. It appears to have been something that involved a lot of people and deserves some kind of recognition as part of the local culture. “Gallia Country” debuted around the time the elaborate outdoor drama “Tecumseh!” near Chillicothe burst upon the scene, and perhaps there was some thought “Gallia Country” could benefit from that kind of interest in historical pageantry. I really can’t say if there was such a goal in mind, but it’s an interesting idea on which to speculate.
I’ll let you know what kind of progress is made.
In a related vein, the time period in which “Gallia Country” was produced was a watershed for outdoor presentations. As noted, “Tecumseh!” had been launched and celebrates its 46th season entertaining audiences this year.
As America approached its 200th birthday in 1976, there was more reflection on our heritage that yielded fascinating facts about everything from the split with England to the lives of the Founding Fathers. The outdoor drama, utilizing an area’s link to historic events, brought recognition of this nation’s origins, its subsequent struggles and eventual triumphs to life not only to entertain but educate in a venue beyond the classroom.
Some of these presentations have ceased gracing a stage under the stars, but enough remain to continue the mission of making history immediate and vital. Today, the Siege of Fort Randolph and Battle Days in Point Pleasant remind us of the area’s foothold in the past, not to mention the re-creation of the Battle of Buffington Island at Portland.
Given that, it’s interesting to see, thanks to a photo on page 102 of the 2017 history of the University of Rio Grande/Rio Grande Community College by Jacob L. Bapst and Dr. Ivan M. Tribe, that in the spring of 1977 the idea of living history inspired a campus reenactment of Pickett’s Charge from the Battle of Gettysburg.
The event was located on the hill behind Lyne Center under the direction of history professor C. Robert Leith. Presumably, a good time was had by all (we hope), to utilize an old (and practically ancient) newspaper catchphrase.
Kevin Kelly, who was affiliated with Ohio Valley Publishing for 21 years, resides in Vinton, Ohio.