Day-trip destination: Last washboard manufacturer in US still thriving in Logan

·4 min read
A wide variety of washboards and other items are available at the factory gift shop.
A wide variety of washboards and other items are available at the factory gift shop.

LOGAN — The last washboard manufacturer in the United States has proven as tenacious as ring-around-the-collar.

The Columbus Washboard Co. probably shouldn’t have made it into the 21st century.

The company, established in 1895, nearly closed forever in 1999, joining many similar companies that fell victim to progress, foreign competition and the Maytag repairman.

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But the manufacturer of old-timey washboards overcame long odds and the steady march of laundry technology.

The company was purchased and moved to Logan and now is going strong, supported by preppers, tourists and a small but loyal band of die-hard washboard enthusiasts that includes both launderers and musicians.

Workers at the Columbus Washboard Co. use modern tools as well as antique equipment to hand-assemble the washboards.
Workers at the Columbus Washboard Co. use modern tools as well as antique equipment to hand-assemble the washboards.

Company making a move

Business is so good, in fact, that the company is planning a move this summer from its current home in an old factory building to a new headquarters and visitors' center downtown.

Travelers still have plenty of time, however, to tour 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 we’re still around,” said James Martin, one of the company’s owners.

Martin bills himself as “factory director emeritus” when leading tours at the site and also works for the Hocking Hills Tourism Association.

The Columbus Washboard Co. will soon move from its old brick factory to a new home in downtown Logan.
The Columbus Washboard Co. will soon move from its old brick factory to a new home in downtown Logan.

“You don’t want to lose this kind of history,” he said.

But the washboards the company produces are still useful tools and not just nostalgic collectors’ items, Martin said.

“We’re not making toys or trinkets.”

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Watching how the washboards are made

Visitors to the factory can watch as washboards, practically identical to those produced a century ago, are handmade by workers employing both modern and original equipment.

The factory, which is practically a museum in itself, also houses a display area showcasing the dozens of washboard varieties once and still produced by the company, including century-old brands such as Maid-Rite, Sunnyland and Mama’s Helper.

James Martin shows off a display of dozens of brands and varieties of Columbus Washboard Co. washboards.
James Martin shows off a display of dozens of brands and varieties of Columbus Washboard Co. washboards.

The boards are made with wooden frames and glass, stainless steel or galvanized steel surfaces in several sizes to match the chore — or sound — for which they’re intended.

The site also hosts a large gift shop with a wide variety of the company’s products as well as local crafts and gifts.

Washboards music to the ears

During a tour, visitors can learn about the washboard’s long history as a rhythm instrument in traditional Appalachian, folk and bluegrass music and maybe even participate in a fun and all-too-brief washboard-playing lesson.

Although any washboard will serve the purpose, the factory sells a model designed for playing, complete with literal bells and whistles and other accoutrements often desired by the washboard musician.

But to really get a feel for — and listen to — the joy of washboard music, visitors should return for Logan’s Washboard Music Festival (www.washboardmusicfestival.com), held each summer on Father's Day weekend.

Martin demonstrates a musical washboard during a factory tour.
Martin demonstrates a musical washboard during a factory tour.

Company officials say a large number of the washboards sold today are used as instruments. Many enthusiasts also, understandably, hang the lovely boards as decorations. But most of the 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 failures when modern equipment just won’t work, Martin said. The company also sends washboard laundry kits to U.S. troops serving in areas without reliable electricity or laundry equipment.

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Many people equipped with the latest in washing technology, however, still find washboards unequaled for purposes such as removing tough stains, Martin said.

“I use them myself on my cuffs and collars,” he said. “There’s nothing better.”

Guided tours are available for groups of four or more. Admission is $8, or $5 for children and students 17 and younger and includes 10% off most items in the gift shop. To schedule a tour, call 740-380-3828.

For more to see and do in Logan and the surrounding area, visit www.explorehockinghills.com.

Steve Stephens is a freelance travel writer and photographer. Email him at sjstephensjr@gmail.com.

This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Columbus Washboard Co. factory, museum in Logan Ohio worth trip

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