In 1799 Alexander Parker established Alexandria, a small community on the west bank of the Scioto River at its junction with the Ohio River. Located on low ground and by two rivers, Alexandria was prone to flooding. Shortly after settlers arrived in Alexandria, some residents began to move to higher ground on the eastern bank of the Scioto River. Here, these people, many of them of German ancestry, established the community of Boneyfiddle.
The residents of Boneyfiddle prospered in comparison to the settlers in Alexandria. By the early nineteenth century, they had abandoned Alexandria and had relocated to Boneyfiddle and the neighboring community of Portsmouth, which Henry Massie founded in 1803.
Portsmouth grew quickly, and soon, this community enveloped Boneyfiddle. Boneyfiddle ceased to exist as its own entity, and much of this community became the bustling downtown center of Portsmouth during the remainder of the nineteenth and the first decades of the twentieth centuries. Portsmouth residents continued to refer to this portion of their city as Boneyfiddle, and today, this area is known as the Historic Boneyfiddle District.
Boneyfiddle’s development was similar to that of many other Ohio communities. The community declined during the early and mid twentieth century, as businesses moved to the northern and eastern sections of Portsmouth.
In recent years, Boneyfiddle has experienced a period of growth. Residents have repaired homes and businesses. Restaurants and antique stores have moved into this portion of Portsmouth. The area has also seen increased tourism traffic, partly due to the antique stores and other businesses, as well as the historic architecture of the buildings. Also, increasing tourism has been the addition of two thousand feet of murals, which have been painted on the floodwall that protects Portsmouth from Ohio River flooding. These murals depict Portsmouth’s development from prehistoric times to the late twentieth century. This revitalization offers visitors a glimpse of Portsmouth’s past in both the architecture and services available in the district.
From “Boney Fields” to “Bean Poles,” it remains unclear why early residents called the community Boneyfiddle. Numerous explanations exist, including that Boneyfiddle was an anglicized version of the German term for good times, good will, or good health. Some people have claimed that it was in reference to fields of bones from slaughtered livestock. Whatever the meaning, many stories have been passed down describing the meaning of this special place.